Teamwork in ERP implementation
Implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can be a humbling challenge for any company. Four critical factors will determine the success of your new ERP implementation:
- Defining proper ERP implementation roles and responsibilities for your internal team
- Selecting the best enterprise solution for your business
- Choosing the right ERP vendor to guide your implementation
- Defining proper ERP implementation roles and responsibilities for your internal team
Repeating number one and four isn’t a mistake. The importance of your ERP project team can’t be stressed enough -- everyone needs to be 100% committed to the success of the project.
Companies come in all sizes
To begin defining the ERP implementation roles and responsibilities for your particular project, first decide whether your company should be categorized as small, medium, or large:
Small: Companies with no current enterprise resource planning tools.
Companies in this category usually start as “mom and pop” shops and then grow into successful, smaller organizations. The internal tools used by employees will run the gamut: estimates may be done in Microsoft Excel, warehouse inventory tracked in a different Excel sheet, and sales orders and purchasing in QuickBooks. One-off custom programs are developed to serve a specific need or department, without any alignment to other tools within the company.
Medium: Companies replacing an ERP package they are unhappy with.
In the medium-sized category, a company likely went live with an ERP system years ago and, at the time, it worked well. Over the years, the software became difficult to use and unreliable. Even if a company’s business has remained relatively static, an ERP system’s usefulness can be eroded by turnover, lack of written procedures, and lack of effort. A new ERP system is expected to solve those issues.
Another company that might fall within this medium category would be one that has been acquired and wants to implement a system it currently uses, or one with more familiarity.
Large: Companies that have outgrown their current ERP solution.
There are hundreds of enterprise resource planning solutions on the market today that can be categorized into tiers, based on the depth and breadth of their functionality. Small or medium-sized companies should not try to force the more sophisticated tier one ERP packages into their businesses and invest in more moderate packages, with a smaller IT and maintenance footprint. As a company grows from small to medium, or medium to large, the need for more functionality and inherently more complex systems are required to handle the change in business and will launch a search for a new ERP solution. Or, a company’s existing ERP system might no longer be supported by the software developer and that will trigger a need for a new solution.
It is important to understand which of the three previous categories your company falls into, so you can define the ERP implementation roles and responsibilities of the team you will assemble. In a perfect world, the team would be the same for any of these categories, but one size never fits all. Not only does this apply to the actual ERP software itself, but also the method to implement the total solution. Every implementation requires a slightly different approach.
ERP implementation teams can vary in terms of roles, but most will include certain specific positions. It’s also recommended that the entire team be involved in both phases of an ERP project – selection and implementation. The main benefit of this is ensuring that each member feels like they have a say in which package is chosen, and therefore has a sense of responsibility to make sure it is successful. If the team cannot agree on one ERP solution, a strong project owner will need to mitigate that fallout.
Who should be on an ERP implementation team?
Here are the five main members needed on an ERP implementation team:
- Project Owner
- Project Manager
- Super User
- Functional Team Members
- Report Writer
In the next section, we'll describe who is in charge of what during the implementation process.
How to Get Your Employees on Board
The simplest way to get employees on board is to have executive management show full support for the project and make the new ERP a mandate, not a suggestion or an option.
However, it is critical that the employees know the positive aspects of the new system. Many times, the connotation of a new process or technology is that employees will have to change how they do their jobs. That change can be significant (and intimidating) for veteran employees who have built their own “systems” and a new ERP is typically met with reluctance.
The implementation team needs to partner with the executive team to consistently deliver the positive message of how the new system will help the organization run better and make employees’ jobs easier. A better-run organization and happier employees will lead to a more competitive company, which can lead to improved business performance. The improved performance can lead to job security, upward mobility, and improved wages for all employees in the company. This message of both short- and long-term benefits needs to be delivered frequently to maintain and grow buy-in during the trials and tribulations that are common with the rollout of a new system and change management.
Suggested ERP implementation roles and responsibilities
This is a C-level company executive who will have high-level ERP responsibilities. In larger companies, this role may be a committee of executives, rather than an individual. Ultimately, it is the project owner’s decision to buy and implement a new solution. They may not be involved in the actual implementation, but are responsible for making sure that both the ERP implementation team and the ERP vendor are meeting goals and expectations. Risk mitigation, solving unforeseen issues, and change management will ultimately be the project owner’s responsibility, too.
Here are four characteristics that great ERP implementation project owners have:
If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? We’ve heard this before, and it’s true. For this project, the goal isn’t to implement ERP software. That’s only a part of what you are trying to do; the project is bigger than that. The mission is to achieve the business goals that were set. (Don’t have defined business goals? Read this.)
Replacing the old ERP with the new ERP will be an element of your business goals. The new ERP needs to be configured and new processes and procedures developed that support the business goals. Remember, ERP is just a set of tools. On its own, it changes nothing. How you use it can transform companies. That’s why implementing ERP is not the goal. You want to use it to achieve something and having that vision is critical for a project leader.
Humility is an admirable trait in general, but it’s particularly important here. The project leader probably has not implemented ERP for a living before and there’s a good chance implementing ERP isn’t anywhere in their background. Here is where the humility comes in: It’s fine that the leader isn’t an expert on implementing ERP. A good leader embraces their lack of knowledge and becomes an excellent listener. The people to listen to are the consultants who implement ERP for a living. In exchange, the consultants will have the humility to know they aren’t experts in your business; the project leader is. (If the project leader isn’t an expert with the subject matter at hand, your consultants should have access to someone who is.)
Remember: Embracing your lack of knowledge is a strength, not a weakness. It opens doors to learning and fosters good communication. Besides, the consultants see right through someone who is faking their expertise.
The project leader of an ERP implementation is going to make, or assist in making, hundreds of decisions. That person needs to have the authority to do so. I’m not suggesting you give that person unquestionable authority or toss aside a chain of command. But I am saying if the project leader isn’t trusted to make a lot of informed decisions, you don’t have the right project leader.
The person with the traits above probably also has a full-time job. Therefore, they do not have extra time to spend on an ERP implementation project. Unaddressed, this issue of a project leader’s time constraints will derail an ERP implementation. Notice I said “will” and not “might” derail.
How this is addressed varies by company, but it usually involves removing enough responsibilities from the project leader’s regular job so that 60 to 75 percent of their time is freed up to work on the ERP implementation. I know this is easier said than done, but the project is destined to derail if it is not done.
This person is responsible for the overall organization of the ERP demonstrations and implementation. The project manager will work with the project owner to identify the key team members in the organization that will develop the requirements and goals for an ERP solution, along with a budget. Some companies may contract a selection consultant to assist with developing a requirements document and narrowing down your vendor choices.
The project manager is responsible for choosing several ERP vendors with solutions that most closely meet the company’s requirements, and then scheduling and managing any vendor assessments and demos. After the final selection is made, the project manager will coordinate with the vendor to develop a project plan for the implementation. It is then the project manager’s responsibility to coordinate the internal implementation team with the implementation consultants, and update the project plan as required. The project manager will liaison with the project owner on the status of the implementation along the way.
You may have been wondering by now, "What is the role of the users in the ERP implementation process?" This is where we designation a super user.
The super user is someone who will learn the new process and solution for every department. They will be cross-functional experts and the internal “go-to” person once the implementation is completed. The super user will dedicate the most time to the project, as he/she works with the vendor consultants in each functional area. Larger companies should have more than one super user, and some may have different super users for finance and operations. In other companies, the project manager and super user are the same person.
The stronger the super user(s), the more self-sufficient your company will be once you launch your new ERP system. This is arguably the single most critical team member in the long-term success of your ERP solution.
Functional Team Members
There are many different ways to build and define functional team roles. It could simply be a team with representatives from each of the core functions – finance, manufacturing, and technical. In smaller environments, this may be just one person from each discipline. In larger environments, each of these disciplines might have a representative from different areas, such as A/P, A/R, collections, and so on from finance. The key is to involve individuals who can clearly define and explain the current process and future requirement needs for their core area. This team will also be the trainers for the folks in their respective departments, so be sure to choose members who have this ability.
There is also a solid argument for building cross-functional teams. The more team members who learn about other areas of the company, the more they understand how the entire system ties together.
Inevitably, your company will need to modify existing reports that come with your newly selected ERP software or create completely custom reports using a third-party report-writing tool. You can pay your ERP vendor to modify and write your reports, but many companies prefer to have that talent in-house. An internal report writer is a valuable asset who knows the reporting tools and table structure of your database. There will always be reporting needs well beyond your “go-live” date as users learn more about the system, and strive to grow and improve upon the initial scope.
In smaller companies, the report writer may be the super user also. In larger companies, it generally falls into the role of information technology. If it is indeed an IT role, loop the super user into the process to avoid writing reports that already exist.
Also, consider which team members will be responsible for documenting business processes and work instructions. In smaller companies, the super user might write all the standard operating procedures. In larger implementations, the functional team members will be responsible for this task. While your implementation vendor may help direct this task, your internal resources should be responsible for the actual creation of the processes to take ownership of the final implementation stages.
Plan for ERP implementation success
There are many other ERP project team members, roles, and responsibilities, but the above ERP project team structure is the core of any implementation. As long as these roles and responsibilities are filled and committed to, a company stands a greater chance at success. Concentrate on building the five essential roles (or teams) listed above, and then lean on the experience of the chosen implementation partner to help determine the balance of the project team.