Project Management: What Level is Right for Your ERP Project

At a minimum, any ERP implementation is challenging. Don’t make it more so by project managing it to death, or not providing an adequate amount of project oversight.

Table of Content

    Project management is a business. As in any business, to survive, there is a constant need to add new goods and services to reach a larger number of customers, to drive sales.

    There are project management courses and schools. Degrees can be earned in project management at many universities and through various project management groups. A Project Manager (PM) can also earn several different certifications such as PMP and Six Sigma. There are many different project management applications and tools to be purchased.

    Different project management methodologies and frameworks abound.  Agile, waterfall, scrum and critical path are examples touted by the experts as the best way to control projects. The last time I looked I found at least ten different frameworks and methodologies!

    All of this is probably very confusing to a small or medium sized company trying to implement an ERP. The good news is that there are different levels of project management, one of which is right for your ERP project. The challenge is to find the project management level that meets your needs.

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    The take home point is that the success measure for project management is to bring the project in on time and on budget while meeting project goals. Keep it as simple as possible, and don’t let the methodology or tools overwhelm a sensible implementation approach.


    ERP implementations are controlled using a specific methodology. An example implementation methodology appears below. The example consists of five implementation phases. Notice how project management spans the entire implementation process.

    change of VAR flow chart - different font

    Best practices

    This document discusses some best practices that help ensure a successful implementation. The document also identifies some “pitfalls” which often result in a less than optimal result.

    Over the course of dozens of projects, five top best practices have emerged that positively impact an ERP implementation’s success.

    • Executive ownership
    • Know your project goals, scope, and budget
    • Assign responsibility and accountability
    • Align your resources
    • Stay within yourself

    Executive ownership

    Visible executive ownership is the number one ERP implementation success driver. Employees look to company executives for both direction and a sense of the importance associated with company initiatives. If the executive team doesn’t take the project seriously, chances are that the project team won’t either.

    Executive ownership is critical to effective project management. Company executives must support the Project Manager throughout the project.

    Assign a company executive as the Project Sponsor. A Project Sponsor assists in resolving major project issues, lends support and experience to the Project Manager and acts as the liaison between the project team and the other members of the executive team.

    Each project can have only one sponsor. Avoid the situation of other company executives providing comments and direction outside of the project structure. This situation creates conflicting information and confuses the Project Manager and the project team.

    The Project Sponsor should meet with the executive team to review both project progress and issues. Decisions can be made in the meeting and communicated to the Project Manager through the Project Sponsor.

    To learn more about the value of executive ownership take a look at: Preparing for ERP Implementation: Getting Started on the Right Foot.

    Know your project goals, scope and budget

    If you’re at the project implementation stage, you may have completed a needs analysis, selected the VAR, executed an SOW (statement of work) and convened a project kick off meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of scope and deliverables.

    Project scope and budget should be described in the SOW. Use the SOW to build your project budget. Budget any additional internal costs related to project such as personnel and equipment purchases.

    Have the VAR review samples of their project invoices with you. Work with the VAR to ensure that you will be getting the level of invoice detail you need. Most VARs are happy to define this up front, as they don’t want to have to support their invoices with additional spreadsheet analyses of time and expenses.

    Review project scope in the kick-off meeting and be sure that all parties agree upon the deliverables. This understanding is critical in multi-phase projects. The project scope should be clearly defined in the SOW. Be sure both the VAR and internal project teams have an accurate and agreed to scope statement.

    Remember, the most dangerous word in implementing an ERP is “assume”.  I’ve seen companies invest over a hundred thousand dollars implementing an ERP solution and then just assume that certain functionality, controls or reports are available out of the box. They find out too late that what they assumed the system provided out of the box, is in fact not standard functionality at all.  A best practice is to assume nothing and validate everything.

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    Assign responsibility and accountability

    I’ve personally project managed dozens of implementations over my career. The number one thing that negatively impacts a PM’s success is being assigned project responsibility, without the applicable authority.

    It’s impossible to effectively control a project when you have no authority over the project resources. A Project Manager needs to be able to set project priorities and resolve personnel conflicts. It doesn’t help matters when a PM thinks a resource is completing a scheduled project task and discovers that the resource is working on something assigned by someone else. Other times, a project resource may take it upon themselves to schedule other work without communicating with the PM.

    I’m not saying that the PM is the company’s “be all and end all” during the project. What I am saying is that communication between all project resources and the ability to resolve basic scheduling conflicts is a pre-requisite to successful project management. The Project Sponsor is a critical resource in this regard, and should be used by the PM to resolve these issues when needed.

    Now that the PM has all of this authority, assign some accountability as well. The Project Sponsor should supply the PM with a set of clear and effective project goals and objectives. The goals and objectives need to be easily measured and agreed to by the PM and the Project Sponsor.

    Use a project plan to assist in assigning and controlling resources. Keep the plan simple. I’ve seen project plans with well over 500 lines including several levels of dependencies. In practice I’ve found that few small and medium sized company managers understand these complicated plans and are much more comfortable with a simple summary type plan. Use the level of complexity that fits your company and project.

    Have the PM build their status reporting around the project plan, project status, project issues and their goals and objectives.

    Align your resources

    Implementation tasks are completed by many different company resources. It’s important that each resource understands their role in the process and that all resources are moving in the same direction.

    Select resources from each functional area. Resources may differ depending on the tasks being completed. Match resource experience and strengths to the tasks assigned. Move team members in and out of the project as needed.

    If you can, use outside resources such as temporary workers to complete tedious tasks such as data entry and basic reconciliations, to ease the pressure on the project team. Don’t forget to add those costs into the project budget.

    Select your teams with members from different company levels. In many instances staff level employees have a better understanding of day-to-day processing and can complete tasks more efficiently than more senior personnel. Of course, managers and other executives are valuable team members. Just be sure to correctly align the resources with the appropriate tasks.

    Stay within yourself

    Anyone who has played an organized sport is probably familiar with the term “Stay Within Yourself”. Coaches use it all the time to remind players not to try to perform at a level beyond their capabilities. Some coaches refer to it as “Pressing”. Whatever you call it, the results are usually not favorable. Trying too hard results in errors, delays, poor decisions, and a less than desirable outcome. I can best describe what I’m trying to get at, by way of an example.

    Early on in my career, I had a medium sized customer who was implementing an ERP. When I arrived at the kickoff meeting, I was shocked. They had every kind of committee and manager that you could think of. They had IT project managers, accounting project managers, a facilitation committee (I still don’t know what they did!), change management liaisons and a number of other committees and team members.

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    While they seemed to be prepared for every eventuality and issue, in fact they forgot one detail. No single person or committee was tasked with a successful implementation. The level of detail and communication needed to control this project management structure was not in place, and as a result, team communication and coordination was lacking.

    Gaining a consensus to resolve issues was nearly impossible. As a result, the project could have been completed much more successfully and efficiently.

    This client did not stay within themselves!

    Final Thoughts

    At a minimum, any ERP implementation is challenging. Don’t make it more so by project managing it to death, or not providing an adequate amount of project oversight.

    Speaking with business contacts who have gone through a similar project, to see what worked well, and what could have been improved, is a good exercise. You might want to speak with your auditors. Your VAR can also serve as a resource as well.

    Stay within your skillset and keep things as simple as possible. You’ll be happier in the end.

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