5 ERP Implementation Strategies for Deploying Ahead of Schedule
As the CIO ultimately responsible for the success of your company’s biggest IT project, you naturally worry that time-consuming disagreements, misunderstandings, and procrastination from team members will sabotage your ERP implementation. You don’t want to waste time backtracking to solve issues that could have been avoided in the first place. You’re also concerned that involving users will open up the project to all kinds of scope creep. What you need is a comprehensive plan and methodology that works. The method you use has to keep everyone focused and on track.
Failing to roll out successfully creates enormous risk for your company. Your new ERP will impact how the company does business, affecting users, employees, management, customers, vendors, and the IT department. Everyone is counting on you to lead this project through to an on-time successful conclusion.
What 5 key strategies should you use to ensure your ERP deployment objectives are met on time, and perhaps even with time to spare?
1. Involve Key Users From the Start.
While implementing new technology is a huge component of your ERP rollout, it’s important to recognize that this is not just an IT project. Your ERP’s purpose is to manage business processes, which impacts your entire operation. To understand the functionality needed by your company, you must involve users.
At the very beginning of the project, meet with key users from your accounting, purchasing, sales, manufacturing, warehouse, distribution, and other departments who will have access to the system. These users know the practical details about how the ERP impacts daily operations, not only for their own departments, but also for customers and vendors. If your ERP is not configured to manage necessary processes effectively, the end result is dissatisfied customers and complications with vendors.
Hold a kickoff meeting to inform key users about the project goals and timeline. Then, ask these key users to document their departments’ processes and stories of how they need to use the system. What essential features are required in the system in order to do their jobs? What new functionality do they wish they had? What problems do they face in accomplishing work? All of these details and ideas can be rolled into your project plan. Getting this information from the start reduces the hassle and time of trying to shoehorn additional required functionality into your system later on.
Some or all of your key users may become members of your implementation team. They will help you carry out tasks involved in planning for and configuring your system. Since they will become familiar with the system before other users, they may transition into super users post go-live. During rollout, they will help co-workers adapt to using the new system.
2. Bring in an Experienced ERP Consultant at the Beginning.
If you plan to use an ERP consultant, it’s wise to bring them on very early in your project. Your consultant has in-depth knowledge of ERP capabilities and has successfully implemented these solutions for many other companies. Depending on your needs, your consultant can provide project management to help keep you on schedule through configuration, testing, rollout and beyond.
3. Communicate the Big Picture and Provide Access to the Details.
Clearing up misunderstandings is time-consuming. To keep everyone feeling involved and informed, begin sharing project details right away. At your kickoff meeting with the project team, spend time on the big picture so that everyone understands the overall goals and timeline. Also communicate with the rest of the staff. Project details people look for include:
- The Big Picture
- Establish goals that identify what business value your new ERP brings to your customers. Why is change necessary? What is the vision?
- Provide an overall project timeline with phases and milestones.
- The Details
- Objectives should specify what necessary functionality is required at rollout and how this functionality will be achieved.
- Within each objective, identify the required tasks along with assignments and deadlines for each task.
Have a central place where project information is shared, such as on your company intranet. Many companies also post the project’s meeting notes in the shared company space so that employees who are not on the implementation team or who missed the team meeting can stay informed. Refer back to the goals, objectives and timeline whenever you see scope creep start to happen. Always circle back to the plan for what needs to be accomplished by rollout.
Put together a communication plan that identifies the timing, content and method of sharing updates with stakeholders. Your stakeholders include management, users, employees, customers, vendors and others who are impacted by the project. You will likely adjust and re-adjust your communication plan as you go along, but that’s okay. Your communication plan serves as a guide and reminder about how important it is to keep everyone informed.
4. Establish a Project Methodology That Focuses the Team.
Use a methodology like Agile Scrum, which encourages breaking projects into smaller, more manageable tasks with short deadlines. Assign tasks to members of your implementation team. Then, hold very brief team meetings at regular intervals to review progress. The main point of these review meetings is to prevent procrastination and to quickly identify and remove any stumbling blocks your team members have encountered. By having these short meetings, you are better able to hold the team accountable to complete their tasks before their deadlines, so that the project continues to progress on schedule. Often, a 15-minute meeting at the start of the day is enough time to allow each team member to state what they’ve accomplished and whether they have blocks. Follow up afterward to make sure blocks are removed. Allow team members to call in or email details about their progress if they are not available to attend a meeting in-person.
5. Maintain a Wish List for Future Enhancements.
Don’t let scope creep sabotage your rollout date. If a new idea or feature isn’t part of your initial rollout, work with your consultant to assess whether you can implement without the enhancement. Establish a difficult process that requires sign-off from the project sponsor to allow any changes in the plan. Your project sponsor is usually the highest authority over the project, often the CEO. The harder it is to get a new idea added, the more likely people will stick with the original plan. Capture ideas and then move forward in completing current tasks to keep your project on-track. You might even consider allowing project team members to add ideas to the wish list themselves. By having such a wish list, people will generally feel satisfied that their idea will be considered when the timing is right. The wish list often includes some gems that will help you get the most out of your ERP later in its life cycle.