Implementing a change in any organization will produce challenges. Implementing a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solution creates some specific challenges of its own. Combining potentially companywide changes with a completely new system calls for a whole new level of change management. This takes a truly special individual to fill the Project Manager’s (PM) role.
Ideal Project Manager
When considering an ERP implementation the natural choice for the PM is an IT person, or someone else who is considered a “techie”. Here, I am going to discuss some additional considerations that will challenge this logic. This type of project requires some uncommon skills that need to surface during the PM selection process. The success of an implementation is directly correlated to the strength of the person appointed to guide the entire process as the PM.
Identify a Champion
Every project will have unique requirements, but all projects have some common needs. The first, and potentially most important, is the “Executive Champion” (EC). The EC selection process has to be as thorough as the PM selection technique. He or she has to be in a high enough position within the company to truly initiate change that may require the use of authority. This isn’t to say that a dictator is needed, but there will be times when an individual, or a department will have to concede for the health of the entire organization.
The EC has to be committed and active, or the knowledge required to make the right decision will not be used and poison his/her credibility in relation to the project. This is where the PM needs to have the skill to recognize a tenuous situation before the boiling point is reached and when to call on the EC to step in. The PM requires the gumption to have challenging conversations with someone that is several levels higher in the organization, that may include requesting that his/her commitment level be increased, while citing the potential derailment of the implementation.
Getting Users Involved
The second major need is the “User Testing Group” (UTG) that will actually use the software in an environment designed to identify functionality gaps before the solution goes live. The selection for the UTG is another crucial consideration, otherwise your company will be rolling the dice when the switch is flipped and the new system becomes one of the major tools to manage your operation.
It is crucial to assemble folks from various departments that will be the heaviest users of the software. People that are currently executing activities in your old system need to be encouraged to try and “break” the new solution. This step appears to be counterproductive on the surface because the real lesson is how to fix it using the new tool.
Optimal results will be realized when the “best” people from these departments are recruited for this mission as in investment in the future. The reasons why they are considered the “best” are the same reasons why they will produce the greatest conference room testing experience. The painful truth here is that the results will reflect how much of this team’s time has been committed to this project. This is a prime example of “you get what you pay for”.
Managing Old Data
The third critical piece is legacy data management. The GIGO (garbage in = garbage out) adage is paramount for this segment. The PM has to relentlessly pursue all of the tribal knowledge that has accumulated since the birth of the organization while filtering out the “garbage”.
A company is like an ecosystem, so when the butterfly flaps its wings, changes will ripple throughout the firm. The vision to examine the impacts in each area of the business does not come into focus without a certain level of understanding in ALL areas of the business and this is not limited to data.
The PM will have to maneuver within the company and identify current gaps, shortcomings, and other pieces of information that people generally do not like to admit to easily. We are all built differently, so the route to this information will not be the same for everyone. Ironically, the hardest intelligence to collect, is the most important information to use so that the same challenges are not transferred to the new ERP system.
Ready to Succeed
Selecting the appropriate PM and arming him/her with the proper tools is essential to the success of any project. An organization has to be sure that the optimal choice is made, not the easy and/or convenient one for all areas described above. It might be uncomfortable to lose key personnel from their normal job duties, but assigning the wrong person in any area can be downright dangerous. A new ERP system is a major investment that the ownership is trusting to the PM.