ERP Implementation Tips: Selecting the Right Executive Champion

Will The Assigned “Executive” Really Be My “Champion”?

Jason NiclaouThe collapse of the late 90’s showed the world that a weak foundation leads to failure even in large, cash-heavy segments.  A critical building block for a successful Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system implementation is the “Executive Champion” (EC).  If a weak selection process (or maybe none at all) assigns the wrong EC, then all of the money and time in the world will not lead to the targeted results.  An outstanding Project Manager (PM) may soften the blow, at best.  Keep reading to learn how to avoid this fatal error.

Project Champion

Executive Champion Selection Tips

The very first selection criteria has to be to identify the leadership level required for this project in order to create a pool of candidates.  Depending on the size of the firm and the complexity of this change, this may require the direct involvement of the CEO.  The ERP system will not only becomes the backbone of the organization, but it may be the largest single investment, beyond buildings, for this company.  If you were the owner of this organization, who would you choose to make long-term, system shaping, and transformational decisions?  Would it be a young, middle manager or a veteran who has experienced successful projects and had to survive the opposite?  A certain level of authority is required for this role to signify the importance of the project, and to ensure that new procedures are internalized by everyone.

Now that the appropriate layer of the organization has been identified, the real selection process can begin.  An EC has to be committed to the positive outcome for the project and must be active during all stages.  This will require a major interruption to his/her routine, subordinate, and his/her department in general.  If the EC can’t, or won’t, legitimately allocate time to the project, then the wrong choice has been made.  “Active” means participating in ALL team meetings, spending time examining challenges directly related to the project, contributing to process development, and executing independent testing, if needed, to root out an answer to a challenge.

Tie Breaking and Decision Making

At the highest level, the PM is asking people to change by using the leading-edge tools being implemented by the new ERP system.  This is where the people puzzle becomes incredibly important and where the EC must serve another purpose.  During the project there will be situations where different departments and/or people will have differing, potentially opposing, objectives and horns will inevitably be locked resulting in a stalemate.  The EC now becomes the deciding vote even though there are compelling arguments from each side and one will have to concede.  This is extremely important for two reasons:

  1. The decision will stick because a superior deemed it so with his/her stamp of approval.  The idea here is to reduce reversion over time because the EC made the decision and now knows how the procedure should be followed.  Since the EC is an active contributor to the project, credibility cannot be questioned.
  2. This intervention also allows the PM to avoid becoming the bad guy/gal because the boss made the decision and it is his/her job to implement it. If a wedge is driven between the users and the PM, the rest of the project will become exponentially more difficult to complete.

This is only one example of how the people puzzle increases the complexity of this assignment.  Another example is that the PM will be required to recruit a user testing group of the heaviest users of the current system who are typically the “best” of their respected departments.  Persuading supervisors may be required to extract the “best” individuals from various department in order to optimize the testing results that will ultimately lead to future best practices.  The EC may need to insert some political magic with his/her colleagues to build the greatest team of testers possible.  Ultimately the EC will have to maintain consistent communication with the PM so that all pieces of the project are moving forward.

Be an Agent of Change

An ERP implementation requires an extremely high level of change management because all parts of the firm will be impacted.  This requires the touch of an effective Project Manager who will drive this endeavor forward by leveraging every tool that is available, including the Executive Champion.  If the organization isn’t ready to commit the proper resources including assigning the “right” EC and PM, then the organization isn’t ready for this type of challenge.  An investment of this caliber needs to be directly managed by the premier individuals of the organization.


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