Enterprise Resource Planning: What Is an ERP System?
by William Aimone
Ever have one of those days when nothing goes right? When you get dressed in the morning and realize all the socks are in the dirty laundry basket? When you attempt to run a quick load of laundry but realize your teenager has just started a load consisting of one pair of jeans? In a rush and out of options, you find your son’s skateboard socks with the very professional Incredible Hulk pattern.
Note to self: don’t sit cross-legged today.
Later, in the middle of a meeting, a call comes in from the wife checking if we made the quarterly donation to the local children’s home.
Great question… I have no idea.
After a tedious day in the office, grilling some steaks sounds great. After fighting traffic all the way home from the grocery store, it’s time to fire up the grill but somehow there’s no charcoal.
It would be great to have some miraculous visibility into planning laundry better. Or a way to check home inventory at any time. Or to quickly see all our expenses by category for the year.
Now imagine a large corporation dealing with similar issues. How do they handle planning their resources? Back in the seventies, someone came up with the idea to create a resource planning system for companies. Later, someone added the word “enterprise” to make it sound official, and voila! “Enterprise Resource Planning” or ERP was born. Since there’s already so much confusion around what an ERP system is, it might be most effective to clarify what an ERP system is not.
An ERP system is not a cure-all for a company’s woes, as many expect. Unfortunately, the acronym ERP conjures bad memories due to previously unmet expectations. One of the keys to making a system successful is setting the right expectations while prioritizing between necessary functions and “magic button” requests.
Example of a “magic button” request: “Wouldn’t it be great if after partially completing a purchase order, the system automatically completes the order and knows exactly what we need to order? And then when they complete it, the shipment arrives on time with the right amount?”
Companies often bog down their systems and implementation efforts with these “magic button” requests in an attempt to cure all, which leeches time, resources, and budget from the critical requirements that should be the main focus. Just because something can be automated, doesn’t mean it should be.
One of the most common misconceptions is that an ERP system will make bad data an issue of the past. No system—no matter how smart or laden with data-validation—will prevent human error 100% of the time.
Furthermore, an ERP system will not cleanse existing bad data from an old system or Excel spreadsheets. Bad data refers to data that is outdated, contains duplicate values, and includes data entry errors or typos or incomplete data sets. If a company has bad data in its old system, that data will remain bad when migrated to the new system unless a human being with human logic takes on the task of cleansing the bad data first. If a company’s customer list has the incorrect contact details for 20% of the customers and that list is loaded into the new system, the new system will reflect the incorrect data unless someone takes time to manually correct the bad data.
No ERP system can spin straw into gold.
While an ERP is set up to streamline standard business processes (i.e. purchasing, accounts receivable and accounts payable, inventory management, and accounting) and to generate basic financial statements, there are some things an ERP system simply will not do:
- Eliminate the need for every other system in a company’s IT environment
- Eliminate the need for every third-party service in a company (sales tax rate updates, bank accounts)
- Reduce operational headcount by automating jobs
- Reduce IT headcount by simplifying the IT environment (ERP actually adds IT headcount)
- Create sophisticated and dynamic reporting dashboards out of the box
So what is an ERP system?
In its most basic definition, an ERP is a tool that supports a business. It provides a company with the tools to purchase supplies, fulfill orders, bill customers, pay vendors, manage inventory, and maintain accounting records from a single system.
A well-implemented ERP system allows a company to streamline and standardize business processes, provides the opportunity to store company data in a centralized location, and empowers companies to capture an almost endless list of metrics, which can be compiled into sophisticated reports. If implemented properly and used for its intended purposes, an ERP is a powerful tool that positions a company for growth by allowing it to standardize processes, streamline operations, and capture data that can be leveraged into well-informed, strategic decisions.
Now if you could only implement an ERP for your house, dads might not be subject to wearing their son’s skateboard socks to work.
This article has been adapted from a chapter from the author’s book, Jar(gone).
Preparing for an ERP Implementation: Reducing the Pain
by Peter Purcell
Implementing a new ERP is never easy and comes with risk, expense, and business disruption. However, the benefits of implementing the right ERP the right way far outweigh the costs. For example, the right ERP will enable larger organizations to have controls needed to allow the CEO, board, and stockholders to sleep at night. The right ERP will allow growing organizations to quickly integrate acquisitions into existing operations and provide a clear picture of how the combined entity is performing.
Unfortunately, horror stories about never-ending or failed ERP implementations abound. So how does a company avoid becoming a failed ERP implementation statistic? It’s all in the preparation. The most successful ERP teams take all or most of the following into consideration prior to implementation:
Select a Fit-for-purpose ERP
There are a variety of ERP solutions to choose from with as many price points. It’s no longer necessary to choose a tier one SAP ECC or Oracle E-Business solution to support a complex business model. Tier two solutions provided by Microsoft, Sage, NetSuite, and even SAP have come a long way and should not be ignored. In many cases, they provide specialized functionality and a more intuitive user experience than tier one products.
Understand Systems Integrator Culture
Ask candidate software providers to team with a recommended system integrator through the ERP selection process. That provides the ability to determine if the system integrator really understands your business. More importantly, it provides the ability to see if the systems integrator’s culture matches yours.
Engage Independent Project Management
Asking the systems integrator to manage the project is a little like asking the fox to watch the hen house. Hiring a third party to help manage the project and ensure change management is not overlooked greatly reduces the chances of a project overrun and ensures acceptance of the new system after go-live.
Pick the Best and Brightest
A new ERP opens the door to rethinking how to run the business. Putting the best and brightest on the project team will ensure the new processes and organization structures are optimized. If you want top results, put the A-team players on the team. C-team players will make decisions that overly complicate the solution and delay the project.
Rationalize Reporting Needs
Developing a comprehensive reporting strategy before design helps drive the right process and configuration decisions. It is critical to determine what information is required from the system before designing processes and making critical configuration decisions, driving what and how information is entered into the system.
Justify an Implementation Approach
Developing and executing a comprehensive roadmap that takes into consideration organization complexity helps ensure success. A Big Bang approach where all functionality is implanted at one time works well for a centralized company. A phased approach works well for decentralized companies. Phased approaches could consist of rolling out functionality in logical chunks or mini-Bangs where full functionality is rolled out by business unit. This helps prevent the never-ending ERP implementation.
Align the Organization
A simple exercise of inventorying all key business processes and assigning team or individual ownership for each business process is a must before launching an ERP. Having clear alignment of who owns which business decisions is a must and will reduce decision delays during the implementation.
Understand the Audience
We all hear about change management, and it really boils down to selling the new business processes to the end users. Develop a solid understanding and approach for communications, acceptance, and training is key to starting an implementation.
Trenegy helps companies select, prepare, and implement the right ERP. We help our clients get value of out their new system quickly and relatively painlessly.
3 Ways to Prepare for a System Implementation
by Lindsey Ligon
New technologies, like artificial intelligence or cloud-based accounting systems, have created new opportunities for companies to increase efficiency and competitiveness. Taking advantage of such technologies will require implementations. Data needs to be converted, configuration decisions need to be made, and employees introduced to change. Proper preparation is critical to success. Following are three ways to prepare for an upcoming implementation:
1. Get a head start on data cleanup
Data will eventually need to be migrated into the new system. Successful data migration is achieved when information in the new system is correct and matches what was in the old system. But there’s more to it. If data in the old system is messy, inaccurate, or inconsistent, cleanup is necessary before uploading it into the new system.
Determine how much cleanup is required as early as possible. Many companies perform this assessment during package selection. The information gathered from the assessment will give the implementation team a realistic idea of how much cleanup is needed so they can allot resources accordingly. A large amount of inaccurate data will substantially slow down the project.
Time and money can be saved by cleaning up inaccurate data beforehand. Assign a point person who has extra capacity and a good understanding of the data to spearhead the cleanup in the months leading up to the implementation.
2. Make structural decisions quickly
Decisions about structural elements will drive basic system configurations. Elements like company, reporting hierarchy, and customer and item numbering schemas need to be decided quickly. Take heed, because changes in these configurations cannot be made without a considerable amount of rework and expense.
Reporting needs will also drive many structural configuration needs. Creating a reporting strategy early on decreases the chance that changes will be requested later in the project. A helpful hint: Maintaining a log of key decisions and proper documentation is a good way to keep track of decisions throughout the project.
3. Embrace change
Different systems operate… well, differently. Employees should expect and be prepared for processes, responsibilities, and vocabularies to change. It’s important for employees to understand change isn’t simply happening for the sake of change. The new system is being implemented to improve the business.
Employees should be told the truth. Change can be hard, but the long-term benefits are worth it. This will encourage commitment to the new system and reduce the chances that employees will find workarounds after go-live. Key benefits will never be obtained if employees don’t use the new system to support their day-to-day activities.
A system implementation can be a long, difficult, expensive process, but it can be a powerful asset to a business. With some prep work, a deliberate decision-making process, and a team ready for change, the results will be worth it.
ERP Change Management
by Peter Purcell
Late in the 1800s, a large freight ship owned by the Magellan Tea Company carried massive amounts of cargo across the Atlantic Ocean, enabling textile trade between Europe and the United States. After a few years, there were issues with the crew’s ability to meet scheduled deliveries and minimize cargo loss. Magellan’s owners hired a consultant to observe the shipping practices and make recommendations for improvement. The consultant quickly learned the underlying cause of the Magellan Tea Company’s issues was crew morale. Crew conditions on the freight ship were deplorable, and many crew members complained of the ship’s foul odor.
The consultant provided the ship captain with a long list of recommendations for crew hygiene and odor control. The first items on the captain’s list involved providing the crew with a change of undergarments. Early the next morning, the captain called the crew members together on the deck and announced, “To begin our new hygiene program, I would like for each of you to change your underwear every day. Smith, you change yours with Jones. Johnson, yours with Vickers. Peterson, yours with Michaels…”
Clearly, the captain did not have the expertise to understand what the consultant really meant when he said “change.” Many organization’s leaders find themselves in similar situations. When a change is attempted but not communicated properly, failure often results. Therefore, organizations take painstaking measures to incorporate what is called “change management” into any significant transition or change to how business is conducted.
Changing how a business operates occurs every day in virtually every organization. In other words, change is an inevitable part of business. Changes can include the introduction of new technology, a new competitor in the marketplace, or even the acquisition of another company. Change management becomes a key component in any change effort.
What Is Change Management?
Change management is an art, not a science. It involves an orchestrated combination of communication, training, bargaining, and listening techniques to help people adopt new ways of working. Note the word “combination.”
Holding a safety training session for a group of employees alone is not change management. Merely sending a one-way communication email regarding a new company policy is not Change Management. Rather, these things become change management when a series of techniques is used to thoughtfully consider how to change the hearts and minds of the people involved in a process. Change at this level is what makes change stick.
To ensure sustainability, change management typically involves a series of steps:
- Understand: Assess the current environment, including the who, what, when, where, and why. For example, the why includes understanding the current mindset of the people and why they do what they do.
- Inspire: Develop the inspirational message to motivate why the change is being made. This includes the “what’s in it for me?” messaging and possibly some bargaining techniques.
- Plan: Develop communication, training, and implementation plans for making the change. This includes identifying who receives what communication when.
- Act: Begin the implementation process, including the inspirational messaging, communications, training, and other eyeball-to-eyeball activities.
- Gather feedback: Validate the change is sticking. Depending on the scale of change, this might include surveys, audits, feedback forums, and possibly reorganization.
Why go through all of this? Why not just tell people to change and deal with it?
Many skeptics will say, “We don’t need change management,” and prefer mandates with a dictatorial approach. However, the need for change management becomes critical when quality, staff retention, company morale, and/or safety are concerns.
Change management happens at both at an organizational level (organizational change management or OCM) and at an individual level.
Organizational Change Management
Let’s walk through an example at an organizational level. Milliken Enterprises, a global brewing company, acquires Hipsteria, a regional craft brewery in Portland, Oregon. Milliken has been losing market share to local craft brewers. The move to acquire Hipsteria is a way for Milliken to regain market share and remain profitable. Once the acquisition is signed and approved, Milliken has two options moving forward:
Option 1: Milliken mandates Hipsteria adopt all of the Milliken global brewing procedures. Hipsteria’s employees are told “our way or the highway.” Several results might occur:
- Hipsteria adopts the Milliken way and buying Milliken’s mass-produced, inexpensive hops (oops, they are GMOs) causes customers to stop buying Hipsteria.
- Hipsteria employees leave and start a competing craft brewery with all-natural hops.
Option 2: Milliken decides to take a soft-handed approach and try some change management magic. Milliken’s management team visits with Hipsteria to understand their current customer base and what makes Hipsteria great. Milliken takes time to listen to the Hipsteria staff, understand what is important, and collaborates with the staff to develop an inspirational action plan for moving forward. Better results occur.
- Milliken learns what makes Hipsteria successful, and management decides to maintain the integrity of the craft brew’s natural ingredients, and customer loyalty is maintained.
- Hipsteria employees find that working for Milliken is not all that bad and stick around.
Effective use of change management can make or break an organization. Organizations avoiding the artful orchestration of the steps virtually become programmed to resist change. Once the organization becomes averse to change, the downward spiral toward the organization’s leaders being usurped through a takeover, mass exodus of talent, bankruptcy, or divestiture becomes inevitable.
Change Management at an Individual Level
Change Management can also be utilized at a very tactical and personal level. This is frequently seen when a new technology is introduced into an organization.
For example, the accounts payable department is replacing paper invoices with electronic invoices. The AP staff may respond to this change, and the path toward adoption is what is called the “change management curve.” The curve typically includes the following steps:
- Denial: Immediate response to any change – “There’s no way we can get all our vendors to comply with electronic invoices.”
- Anger: Frustration following the denial – “I think this is an effort to eliminate my job by automating invoice processing.”
- Desperation: Realizing there is no other option – “I give up and I’m going to quit fighting the new process.”
- Exploration: Giving the new process a try – “I’ll try calling a few vendors to see if they’re willing to send electronic invoices.”
- Acceptance: Experiencing the benefits – “Wow, processing invoices electronically is much easier than paper invoices, and I don’t have to stay late during the end of the month.
- Ownership: The new way is the only way – “All of my vendors are submitting their invoices electronically.”
The objective for change management is to engage each of the individuals involved in the change and move from A to F as efficiently and quickly as possible. Change management, crafted properly, results in seemingly skipping A, B, and C.
Whether change management occurs at an organizational level or an individual level, communication, training, bargaining, and listening tactics can make the difference between success and failure.
This article has been adapted from a chapter from the author’s book, Jar(gone).
Why Change Management?
by William Aimone
Notre Dame leads Georgia Tech 24-3 in the final 28 seconds of a 1975 football game in South Bend. The game is essentially over. The crowd is relatively calm and the Notre Dame Bench is quiet as the season winds to an end. Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine puts number 45 in for the last few plays of the game and the fans and players erupt in excitement. Number 45 makes an inconsequential sack on the last play of the game. The crowd goes wild and number 45 is carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders in celebration. Why all the excitement over a trivial end-of-game play?
Grown men shed tears of joy seeing the moment recaptured in the film “Rudy.” Understanding the excitement and tears requires explanation. Number 45 was Rudy Ruettiger. Rudy was the first in his family to attend college after shirking the destined life of a melancholy factory worker in a small Illinois town. Rudy’s learning disabilities did not prevent him from being admitted to Notre Dame. However, Rudy’s 5’6″ and 185-pound frame was far below the standard for collegiate football. Despite Rudy’s physical and mental challenges, Rudy persevered and joined the elite Notre Dame football squad. The film “Rudy” immortalizes Rudy’s heartwarming story and helps viewers understand why the seemingly trivial football play is important.
Understanding why makes a difference.
Business changes are often delivered without an explanation of why they are important. Change is met with resistance, good people leave the organization, or people decide to work around the change.
One of the most common causes of change occurs when a growing organization faces the challenge of implementing new business or ERP systems. The new ERP system impacts everyone in the organization. However, the only tears shed are tears of frustration and the only eruptions are those curses hurled at computer screens.
People in the organization only see how the new ERP is impacting them at a personal level. In most cases, the new ERP system makes their job more difficult. More information is required to process an invoice, shortcuts cannot be taken, and reports take longer to run. Paper is eliminated! People in an organization need to understand why the new ERP solution is being implemented.
A large oil and gas company was recently faced with the challenge of replacing all of their business systems. Prior to implementation, the organization’s leadership took the time to clearly communicate why the organization needed to implement a new ERP system.
Give Everyone a Reason Why
There are plenty of small-framed men who break collegiate football barriers. However, Rudy’s plight was multidimensional with physical, socioeconomic, and mental barriers.
The “why change” at the oil and gas company also had multiple dimensions. The why at the CEO level was to support acquisition growth. The why at the revenue accountant level was to clean up data and streamline prior period adjustments (one of accounting’s most significant headaches). The why for operations was more timely production data. The ERP team ensured that each group understood their personal why.
Do More Than Just Implement
Rudy’s academic success was attributed to befriending an intelligent yet awkward graduate student named D-Bob. D-Bob tutored Rudy while Rudy helped D-Bob overcome his awkwardness with the co-eds.
During implementation, the ERP team looked for quick wins to help sustain the excitement. For example, the ERP team found a simple way to improve the planning process and helped the finance team develop a plan to eliminate manual data entry. A parochial ERP team might have declared the improvement out of scope. However, the investment to assist the planning group was small in comparison to the benefit of improving the planning process. This gave the ERP team one more why.
Never Give Up
Rudy applied for admission to Notre Dame and was denied multiple times. Once admitted, Rudy did not make the roster until the final game of his senior year.
Likewise, perseverance was key to the ERP implementation team’s success. During process design sessions, the team was told the new AFE process would not work. However, the team knew the AFE process would improve well scheduling and accelerate production. Most ERP teams would throw in the towel, but this team persevered through the design sessions and conference room pilots and ultimately proved the new AFE process would work during user acceptance testing.
In the movie, Rudy makes a passionate plea to convince his doubtful family that he will play football for Notre Dame. Emotions run high, but Rudy turns his family’s doubt when he is honored at the Georgia Tech game.
At the oil and gas company, the project sponsors and steering committee were not afraid to be passionate about the project. For example, an engineering group started a conflicting initiative. The ERP steering team made a passionate plea, supporting why the company needed to change. This halted the conflicts and kept the ERP project on track.
The “why change” is the cornerstone of ensuring a successful change effort.
The North Wind and the Sun: Effective ERP Change Management
by Peter Purcell
Aesop’s fable about the strength competition between the North Wind and the Sun is a classic metaphor characterizing the difference between persuasion and force. The challenge was to see which could make a passing traveler remove his cloak. No matter how hard the North Wind blew, the traveler only wrapped his cloak tighter. However, when the Sun shone gently, the traveler became warm and had to take his cloak off.
Unfortunately, it’s common for ERP implementation teams to take the North Wind approach to change management. Mass emails are distributed, conference calls are held, and corporate mandates are communicated. Similar to the traveler and his cloak, people continue to resist change regardless of what they are being told. The longer the web meetings and communications, the more resistance is encountered.
How can the ERP project team help people overcome resistance to change? The most effective ERP change management teams use the following techniques during implementation:
Engage Early and Often
People want to be heard and treated as if they are important. Visiting with employees in their environment is a clear indication the project team members are listening to concerns and care about what happens when the new ERP is implemented. People will listen to tough messages if they believe the project team cares enough to make an in-person visit. The message is not considered an edict from faceless tyrannical headquarters staff on a conference call.
Share the Why
People want to know more than the what and how. Everyone wants to know the why. Sharing the reason for moving to a new ERP provides people with a perspective. A district manager once said, “Now that I know why we’re making this change, I’ll follow the new policy. I want to do what’s best for the company.” Dictatorial edicts for operating in the new environment often leads to people digging their heels in and ignoring the changes.
Ask for Input
People understand change is inevitable once the ERP project is announced. Most people have good ideas for how to improve operations or make day-to-day activities more efficient. Ask for the ideas and find ways to incorporate at least one or two ideas into the new process. Obtaining input from a wide variety of people allows the ERP project team to create demand for change.
Involve People in Design Confirmation and Testing
It’s surprising how often key people are first presented with the new processes and system during training. Until then, only the core project team has designed and tested the new environment. Involving a larger group of people in unit, integration, and user acceptance testing is a low-cost and easy way to involve people and increase acceptance. Participation in testing new processes and system functionality helps identify “show stoppers” and creates goodwill.
Effective ERP change management involves persuasion through involvement. By enlisting help and support as opposed to demanding change, people will be more accepting of their new processes and roles in the system. Trenegy helps companies create demand for change to ensure new ERP systems are used to support day-to-day activities.
3 Reasons Why Documenting the Current State for an ERP Implementation Is a Bad Idea
by Lindsey Ligon
When ERP system implementations were in their infancy, system integrators recommended documenting the current state processes as one of the first steps in an ERP implementation. The approach for ERP implementations has changed, yet many system integrators still advocate for documenting the current state processes. The traditional process of documenting current state processes is a tedious task, because documentation requires a considerable amount time and resources to complete. Is it worth it? Simply put, not really. It’s more useful to start where you want to go, not where you’ve been. The disadvantages of documenting the current state are high costs, poor design decisions, and often wasteful customizations.
Wasting Time and Money
A substantial amount of work goes into documenting the current state process. Interviews are conducted with each person involved in the process. The collected information is typically illustrated using Visio or another process flow program. Different symbols are used to identify different tasks. All the steps are documented, linked, and put in the proper lanes to show who is responsible for each task. Follow-up interviews are conducted to make sure everything is documented properly. Any corrections are made and reviewed again. Finally, the current state process is fully documented. The point of configuring a new ERP is to fix the problems in the current process. An analysis of current issues is needed, but writing out the details of every current step is unnecessary.
Think of implementing an ERP as designing a new house. You wouldn’t take the time to create a detailed blueprint of your current house. You already know what your house looks like and what you want differently in your new house. Likewise, it is unnecessary to document each detail of the current process before you start designing the new process for an ERP implementation. Instead of spending time and money documenting current state process, the company should focus on value-added activities.
Setting It in Stone
After spending time to fully understand the current process, the ERP project team is more aware of the details required to conduct business using the current system. The project team will typically get lost in the details and not consider better ways to conduct business during design. When the current state process is on paper, ERP project team members see it as something they can easily rationalize into the future design. Conversations are more likely to center around “we’ve always done it this way.” A benchmark of the current state has been created in their minds which every design decision will be based on, making it more difficult to get rid of old and inefficient habits.
Configuring to the Old System
When it’s time to configure the new ERP, the systems integrator will tend to fall back on the current state. Rather than coming in with a fresh set of eyes, the system integrator will configure the system around the old processes. This leads to unnecessary customizations and extensions to the implementation timeline, which is inefficient and costly. For example, a company knows they want to automate the procurement process, but they don’t know exactly how. The system integrator asks the client how they would like to automate the process and not enough information is provided. The current state documentation becomes the only information the systems integrator can rely on for configuring the new system. Then, the system implementer copies the current system functionality instead of building an optimized procurement system. Undergoing an ERP implementation should not result in patches to the old system, but rather create an ERP that’s best for the company.
When it’s time to build your new house, you start with a fresh foundation. You don’t start with the frame of your old house and try to manipulate it to resemble the blueprint of your old house. Starting with a clean slate instead of working within the confines of the current state will reduce rework and give freedom to create efficient processes.
Documenting each detail in the current process is a waste of time and money during an ERP implementation. Spending too much time on the current state creates a benchmark in the employee’s minds that makes it more difficult for system implementers to start from scratch. Instead, conduct an analysis of issues and bottlenecks in the current process to understand what improvements should be made in the new ERP system. Reallocate saved resources to design a future state enabling the organization to meet management goals.
Addressing Critical ERP Issues Early: Fighting ERP Fires with Forethought
by Mary Critelli
In 1730, a fire started on a ship in Philadelphia which spread to the nearby wharf, causing a large amount of damage. The only thing preventing that fire from spreading into town was the lack of wind that night. The fire compelled Benjamin Franklin to start the first organized fire brigade in his city. His famous saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” was meant to be firefighting advice.
An ERP implementation team can be compared to firefighters with the issues or complications arising during the project being the fires. A good project manager and implementation team will catch a fire at the onset and adjust resources and priorities to get the issue addressed with as little impact to the timeline as possible. A great project manager practices what Ben Franklin preached and anticipates issues before they arise in order to prevent implications to the project.
An ERP system implementation involves many moving parts, which makes it easy for small fires to creep up throughout various stages of the project. A survey conducted by CFO magazine found less than six out of 10 ERP implementations actually meet their planned go-live date due to unforeseen problems with timing and resources. ERP fires are commonly started by the following issues:
1. Low or nonexistent SME involvement
Many major American corporations have downsized in the past few years. The benefit of downsizing allows businesses to cut costs and remain competitive. The unintended impact of downsizing becomes apparent when it is hard to start a big project and get subject matter experts (SMEs) involved. SME’s are critical to change management and project success. These individuals need to come to meetings and complete important project related tasks on time. Project managers should estimate the time needed from each SME and be sure to communicate the requirement to each resource as well as their managers. This ensures appropriate expectations are met and short-term hiring needs can be identified to avoid a bottleneck of incomplete tasks for any one SME.
2. Spending too much time designing/blueprinting the system
Requirements tend to grow as team members see the robust functionality the new system provides. “Nice to haves” can quickly become critical. Budgeted implementation hours can burn up quickly if project scope and end user expectations are not managed carefully. The project team should limit the number of design meetings and attendees. Design meetings should be kept focused around business processes as opposed to system functionality. Once business processes are clearly defined, configuration can be tweaked during unit testing.
3. Insufficient testing
Waiting too long to get SMEs and other end users in the system for testing can be risky and potentially detrimental, creating a change management challenge. The project team and superusers are sometimes nervous to show little pieces of the system and would rather wait for the functionality to be perfect. However, the unit testing approach has proven the most effective and, from a change management perspective, delivers small wins and ownership of the system. As pieces of the system get built, system integrators should notify superusers as to what they can test. As superusers are testing the system and documenting any issues and changes, the system integrator should be building the next piece for testing. This iterative process proves successful in both large and small scale implementations for getting designs thoroughly tested and approved.
Project teams should always anticipate unforeseen issues and leave a little room in the timeline to account for contingency and change management.
Trenegy helps companies successfully implement their ERPs by providing experience and solutions for avoiding the common risks of ERP implementation. Trenegy assists organizations in creating a project governance and resource plan, managing the project, facilitating design, planning and executing testing, and assessing and mitigating risk.
How to Prevent Murphy’s Law from Overtaking Your ERP Implementation
by Adam Smith
Murphy’s Law (the simple, folk version) states that what can go wrong will, and at the worst possible time. Whether they admit it or not, this is the mindset of the vast majority of employees when it comes to system implementations. From the staff accountant to the VP of operations, there is a high level of doubt that a system implementation of any kind will be successful.
Why is this pessimism so pervasive? The answer is simple: experience.
Almost everyone has an implementation horror story where the go-live date was pushed out a year, vendors weren’t paid for six months, accounting was unable to close the books, or the budget was blown away. Or all of the above!
If asked what caused these issues in past implementations, the most common answer is, “That’s just how these things go,” as if the implementation gods are in control and waiting to impose Murphy’s Law on the project.
Truth is, there are proven ways an organization can modify their implementation approach to prevent Murphy’s Law from overtaking the project. (Author’s note: I realize that Sheldon Cooper would fill up a whiteboard with formulas proving that, mathematically, Murphy’s Law can’t be prevented. But that’s not the point of this article!)
There are three oft-overlooked steps in an ERP implementation, which companies can incorporate into their implementation approach to drastically increase the probability of success:
1. Invest time and effort in the selection and planning phase
Understand what every function is responsible and accountable for in the current state. Appreciate the amount of change an organization can absorb at one time when developing the implementation timeline. Develop a detailed and realistic budget that takes into account the magnitude and complexity of the implementation.
2. Understand the upstream and downstream impacts of the key business processes
Conduct cross-functional design sessions to ensure that suppliers and customers of a process understand the requirements. This will prevent the system from being designed and configured in isolation, thus avoiding failure when attempting to integrate the system modules and associated business processes.
3. Clearly document decisions as they are made
Too often, companies run in to trouble by failing to document decisions and revisiting them unnecessarily. Doing this ultimately results in rework and delays. Decisions should be clearly communicated and documented in a log maintained by the project manager. These decisions should be revisited only when changes in the business require the project team to change course.
There will always be bumps in the road when implementing and deploying an ERP system. However, by performing the activities described above, a company can significantly reduce the probability of the worst possible outcome happening at the worst possible time.
3 Warning Signs of a Never-ending ERP Project
by Peter Purcell
This article first appeared on Peter Purcell’s blog, Tech and the Business of Change, on CIO.com.
ERP implementations are never easy. Many projects start with excitement and high levels of participation but quickly devolve into run-on projects that are over budget and rife with change orders. Team members are deflated and often feel as if the project will never end.
Recovering and bringing the project to completion often costs as much as the original budget, and end users do everything to work around the new system. ROI is nowhere near what was originally promised, key stakeholders lose their jobs, and the system is universally hated.
There are three warning signs that an ERP project is starting to spin out of control. Addressing them quickly helps avoid going through a project recovery cycle. Warning signs include:
- Steering committee apathy
- Out-of-date project plan
- Inconsistent issue tracking and status reporting
IT will have visibility to these signs long before key stakeholders become aware that a problem exists. IT needs to take responsibility to notify business partners and help make sure the weaknesses are addressed quickly and effectively.
1. Steering committee apathy
A steering committee comprised of key stakeholders with P&L responsibility provides a company-wide perspective when considering recommendations from project team members. The committee needs to meet on a regular basis throughout the project to ensure the project stays on track.
The euphoria of creating a steering committee and kicking off a long-term ERP project is often replaced by indifference and apathy. Key stakeholders who were very active in the ERP selection and project kickoff phases stop coming to meetings. Critical decisions made by the remaining attendees are second guessed. The steering committee no longer has power over the project and becomes ineffective.
Steering committee disengagement is a clear sign the project is at risk. The project team members will do their best to make business decisions, often in a silo. As a result, change orders will be generated on a regular basis, processes will be inefficient, and end users will not be eager to accept the resulting changes in how day-to-day activities will be performed.
2. Out-of-date project plan
Good project managers create an overall plan and budget at the beginning of the project then parse out one or two-week chunks of work to responsible team members. The plan and budget is updated and communicated throughout the project to ensure team members understand how tasks are interrelated and do no lose sight of the overall end-goal. Most importantly, an updated plan and budget helps the team identify issues and roadblocks early, preventing unnecessary surprises.
On many projects, the overall plan and budget stop being updated on a regular basis as the manager starts focusing on day-to-day activities. Issues logs, team and company politics, status reporting, and integrator delivery problems take up the bulk of a project manager’s day, leaving little time to update the plan.
A lack of an updated project plan is a second sign the project will not be completed on time or on budget. Project team members will get lost focusing on tactical day-to-day activities that may not be necessary. Critical tasks are overlooked and the project seems to go on forever. Worse, third-party participation never seems to end—the consultants just don’t go home.
3. Inconsistent issue tracking and status reporting
Issue tracking and status reporting are key tools for clear communications among all impacted by the ERP project. Steering committee members are kept up to date on key issues requiring decisions. Team members understand where to focus efforts to keep the project on track. Roadblocks are tackled as a team and the project is kept on track. End users clearly understand when to participate in the project and plan accordingly to help minimize overload.
Project issues logs and status reports can be tedious to create and can be easily overlooked when the steering committee loses interest in the project. Project managers expect issues to be resolved once identified and rely on word of mouth to keep team members up to date. End users lose interest in the project.
Critical issues, configurations, enhancements and reports seem to get stuck at 80% and are never completed when issues are no longer tracked. Project team members become frustrated because solving one problem creates another elsewhere. The systems integrators focus on completing simple configuration and development tasks, leaving critical project components incomplete.
Completing the Never-ending Project
The three warning signs need to be addressed by revamping the overall project governance model to ensure project success. The project manager should start by updating the project issues log while gathering the latest status for ongoing tasks. This information is then used to update the project plan, considering tasks that are behind schedule and the impact on project budget.
The team should use the updated information as a way to reengage the steering committee. The first sets of meetings should focus on confirming or redefining the meaning of success and obtaining approval for necessary changes to the project budget and schedule. Once the changes have been approved, the committee members need agreement on continued participation through project completion. Most importantly, committee members need to agree on a protocol to hold each other accountable going forward.
7 Keys to ERP Implementation Success
by Patricia Dewey
System implementations are complex projects demanding much of an organization’s time, energy, and resources. Companies desire projects of such magnitude to be done on time, one time, within budget, and done well. As a consulting firm, Trenegy has witnessed companies go through system implementations with great success and great failure.
How does a company avoid becoming another failed system implementation statistic? Seven keys to implementation success are as follows:
1. Build organizational support
Organizations are often resistant to change, or at least hesitant. Create a groundswell of support for the new system by explaining to employees at each level why the change is beneficial. Executives can benefit from the support ERP or accounting systems provide to acquisition growth. Revenue accountants will have the opportunity to clean up data and streamline prior period adjustments. Operations will have access to timely production data and accurate lease operating statements.
Creating a well-rounded implementation team is vital for organizational support and project success. The project team must have the right skill set and decision-making authority. Large-scale system implementations require a team of devoted project members who are committed to making the implementation a success. These members should have the right skills, a strong work ethic, and the ability to see the project to completion.
Subject matter experts (SMEs), such as the assistant controller or land manager, are also critical to change management and project success. SMEs are critical decision makers. They know where the business is going and can provide insight to ensure the system will meet future needs. Their knowledge of potential acquisitions and projected growth is invaluable. It’s important for them to be aware as critical decisions are made throughout the project.
2. Understand business process requirements
“Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” —Bill Gates
In order to implement an effective system, an organization’s business process requirements must be clearly laid out, step by step. Initially, this requires asking the right questions, such as, “What does the current process look like? How could it be improved for the future? What information is needed to quickly and successfully create an improved process?” Specifics are important so processes can be revisited as little as possible. General ideas are subject to uncertainty, which leaves system implementers guessing.
This is where process flows come in handy and make understanding specific requirements easier. It is crucial to capture which steps occur before and after the process as well, because that heavily influences the process itself. Seek to understand what the process currently looks like and what changes need to be made to make it more efficient in the future.
3. Identify critical reporting requirements
The importance of defining critical reporting requirements at the outset of an implementation cannot be overstated. Reporting is derived from the Flexible Business Structure—the backbone of data organization.
To create a system that pulls clean reports, an organization must predetermine the data hierarchy. Will budgeting occur by region or business unit? It’s important to determine a standard method of booking certain costs. For example, management may decide that lease operating expenses (LOE) should be booked at the lowest level of detail (i.e. completion instead of well) to provide a greater level of accuracy in reporting.
Maintaining the integrity of the data model, reporting hierarchies, and KPIs ensures that management reports will be consistent over time, giving decision makers valuable insight into performance trends.
At this stage, it’s important to consider the trajectory of the business. If growth through acquisition is planned, understand that budgets and reporting views will need to accommodate additional divisions and support more transactional data.
4. Cleanse data prior to conversion
The purpose of an ERP or accounting system is to provide accurate, timely, and insightful reporting that helps managers and executives make better decisions. Clean data is needed to make the most efficient use of a system. Without clean master data, executives lack reporting confidence and are tossed back to square one: making business decisions with inaccurate information.
When critical master data comes from systems that are not integrated, major errors are prone to occur during data cleansing and validation. Merging master data requires experienced oversight and coordination, especially when different business functions own the systems being merged.
5. Practice, practice, practice
It ‘s important to create training tools specifically designed for each organization. Standard technical documentation alone is not enough. It often leaves employees confused and frustrated. Tailoring training materials to the organization prepares employees to confidently acclimate to the new system.
Developing a training strategy that will facilitate learning and produce a change can be challenging. Training must be completed in a way that resonates with the audience and speaks to their learning style. What works for one person might not work for everyone.
Before the system is fully implemented, users should receive a broad overview of the system to become familiar with the interface. Then, prior to go-live, training sessions should be held specific to each function. Simulation training is more in-depth, as a system expert sits side-by-side with users to walk through daily processes.
However, it’s unlikely that every possible scenario will be covered in training. Training should focus on critical elements and common scenarios. Training provides employees with the initial tools they will need to understand the system.
6. Communicate major decisions
Too often, companies get into trouble by failing to document decisions, only to unnecessarily revisit them later. This ultimately results in rework and delays. Often, those affected by these decisions were not involved in the decision-making process.
Decisions should be clearly communicated and documented in a log maintained by the project manager. SharePoint is helpful for clearly recording when, why, and by whom decisions are made, as well as resulting task lists. These decisions should only be revisited when business changes require the project team to change course.
7. Motivate your team
System implementation is hard work! It can be easy to grow tired and impatient, so keeping team members motivated is vital. Sitting together in an open room can keep teams energized and in constant communication. Urgent issues can be discussed immediately and when a problem arises, the entire team is aware of it. High cubicle walls and individual offices create physical and communication barriers.
There is value in ensuring project team members are able to get to know each other and relate on a personal level beyond a work environment. Knowing someone’s name and job description is one thing, but understanding their personality, learning style, and how they best relate to others lays the foundation for a more cohesive team. The most successful projects are completed by cohesive teams who communicate well, work hard to complete the tasks at hand, and share a common goal of seeing the project succeed.
Boiling the Frog: How ERP Implementations Go Wrong!
by Peter Purcell
A frog put in boiling water will jump out. But if the frog is placed in cold water that is gradually heated, it will not understand the danger, adapt, become complacent, and cook to death. This metaphorical story is often used as an example of how adapting to small changes over time, without understanding the big picture, has significant consequences in the end.
Unfortunately, it’s common for ERP implementation teams to suffer the same fate as the frog. Teams may feel confident throughout a project because of a focus on managing big items (enhancements, specialized configurations, and bolt-on applications) while little things fall through the cracks. But it’s not unusual for ERP teams to feel as if they are in boiling water as go-live approaches. The system is not completely configured, reports aren’t written, interfaces have errors, technology environments are not stable, critical data is not loaded, and end users aren’t prepared.
How can the ERP project team avoid being boiled? It’s all about managing the little things throughout the implementation to prevent a disastrous go live. The most successful ERP teams do (or avoid) the following during implementation:
1. Don’t wait to develop reports and critical documents
A reporting strategy with a supporting data model should be developed in advance of an ERP implementation. The reporting strategy not only defines the information and reports required to run the business but determines critical configuration needs. Key attributes such as the chart of account structure, item categories, and customer attributes are determined. The reporting strategy can be used to develop the reports earlier in the project to be tested along with the configuration.
2. Only convert master data
It’s difficult to impossible to convert detailed transaction data into a new ERP. Data quality is typically bad in the old system and the chart of accounts will be redesigned. Cleansing the data is a full-time job for more than one person and is never really complete. Additionally, developing a crosswalk translator from the old system’s master data to the new will rarely map correctly. Converting the history will cause the team to focus more on reconciliation and less on testing the system’s ability to support new and more efficient processes. It’s best to convert and rationalize master data and keep the old system running to research history.
3. Consider interfaces to payroll, banks, and benefits companies non-trivial
Software vendors will state that their solutions will seamlessly integrate with payroll services, major banks, and benefit providers. This simply is not the case. These interfaces should be treated no differently than an interface to a non-standard system. Pushing off developing and testing these interfaces will invariably lead to project delays.
4. Don’t allow milestones to slip
It’s surprisingly easy to allow critical milestones to slip. Planned configurations, interfaces, enhancements, and reports are not ready for testing. However, the team is pressured to meet the milestone, so testing is started with the justification and assurances that the unfinished objects will be included in the next round. This slippery slope can create significant issues later in the project. Key components from one milestone get pushed to the next milestone. Every milestone. Good project managers create pre-milestone checkpoints to ensure the associated project tasks will be completed before a key milestone is achieved. Surprises are eliminated because adjustments can be made earlier.
5. Don’t ignore system integrator staffing issues
System integrators are human and enjoy their fair share of staffing issues. Staff can get sick, quit, or become otherwise unavailable to the project during critical times. Making sure the system integrator addresses these situations immediately is important. Don’t wait beyond a short, set time to determine whether the individual needs to be replaced. A two or three-week delay early in the project has significant ripple effects that are magnified by the end of the project.
ERP Dream Team: Myth or Reality?
by Tony Shurtleff
The Dream Team is synonymous with one word: perfection. The year 1992 marked the first time NBA players were placed on the Olympic basketball roster. All-star players including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson joined together in a seemingly effortless display of teamwork to win the gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Many sports enthusiasts have hailed the Dream Team as the best team ever assembled.
Organizations embarking on ERP implementations need to understand, as with the creation of the Olympic Dream Team, how to select and create the best team for the implementation. ERP implementations can be difficult and require changes in the organization, processes, and technology.
To ensure the ERP dream team is properly formed, a multi-vendor strategy should be considered. The dream team strategy will allow each vendor or consulting team to provide specialized execution of components within the implementation project. An ERP dream team can be accomplished by adhering to the steps followed by the Dream Team: instilling a draft, calling the plays, and playing by the rules.
The U.S. Olympic Committee brought together the best players from around the NBA to form the greatest team in the history of basketball. Each player was carefully selected based on position and performance.
A few years ago, an oilfield services company hired Trenegy to review their fledgling ERP implementation. The company had initially decided to use a one-throat-to-choke approach to implement an ERP system using only one vendor. The client believed taking this would save both time and money, allowing them to complete the ERP implementation under budget.
They quickly found the consulting firm they selected had little to no industry experience and lacked the ability to manage the change process for field employees. They also found that no one vendor or consulting firm has all necessary core competencies needed to implement a complete ERP system. The project suffered as a result. The oilfield services company quickly discovered that they were not equipped to handle such a large undertaking with limited resources and decided to postpone the implementation efforts until the following year.
When the time finally came to implement the ERP system, the company requested Trenegy’s services to facilitate the transition from the single vendor approach to a multi-vendor approach. The client hired a strong technical team from a large technology firm, a controls team from a regional accounting firm, and a change management team with the requisite industry experience. The company identified the necessary components for success as well as the roles that needed to be filled.
Creation of a well-rounded team for any ERP implementation is vital for project success. Before the selection process can begin, a company must first determine the roles needed for the implementation in question. Every ERP implementation contains seven potential functional areas that must be filled. These include core ERP technical expertise, infrastructure upgrades, reporting strategy, data conversion, controls, industry expertise, and change management.
Vendor selections based on the seven key positions identified will allow a company to choose the best vendor for each respective position. The best vendor in this case will include one whose core competency is directly related to the area of the project in which the company is trying to fill. For example, technology firms should be considered for ERP configuration and infrastructure upgrades. Meanwhile, a firm with core competencies in strategy and change management should be selected for change management positions. The bottom line is that technical guys are not well-versed in change management and vice versa. The ultimate goal of the process is to find the most diverse and well-rounded team based on the company’s needs. Failure to identify the proper roles may lead to an ineffective delivery of one or more of the seven core functional areas, resulting in a project delivered past deadline or over budget.
Calling the Plays
With a single hand gesture made by a player or a simple phrase shouted by head coach Chuck Daly, all the players knew the play called and moved to their correct positions. This process was effective in communicating the plays to the players on the court and further welded the Dream Team into a well-oiled machine.
Pundits argue the multi-vendor approach can create barriers and miscommunication. A good project governance process can alleviate these issues. Knowing the critical nature of the communication process within a multi-vendor implementation, Trenegy recommends that project teams have both an individual status update with each project team, as well as regular group meetings to bring the whole project team together. Additionally, we recommend each project team have a representative on the steering committee.
Communication is the element that brings each piece of the project together into one cohesive unit. Companies must convey what constitutes a successful project and how everyone involved in the process can benefit from its success. As a control, the company is tasked with establishing open communication from the projects inception while enforcing the idea throughout the project’s duration.
Playing by the Rules
Chuck Daly had one of the most difficult jobs on the Dream Team. As head coach, it was necessary to appropriately manage the large egos of some of the best players in the world. Before, during, and after each game, he communicated every player’s responsibilities and kept them in line with the overall goals of the team.
A manufacturing client undergoing a yearlong, multi-sourced ERP implementation began to see confusion with its vendors and a lack of responsibility between parties. When we reviewed the company’s project at the request of the new CEO, we found the issue to be a lack of proper project governance. Efforts were duplicated and there was no active project sponsorship to take responsibility, which led to an ineffective implementation. The company had relied too heavily on vendors.
To put the project back on track, the company redesigned the project governance process. The first order of business was for the company to elect someone internally to accept accountability for the project. Next, the company clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of the members involved in the implementation process to eliminate duplicated efforts and to increase communications. In the end, with solid governance systems in place and project ownership assumed by the company, the ERP implementation finished on schedule.
Effectively implementing a strong governance model eliminates duplicated efforts and establishes a chain of command. A strong governance and controls model will effectively tie the selection and communication processes together. Defining roles and responsibilities for all personnel within project teams allows for fluid communication and provides clear objectives for all members of the team. Much of this hinges around having a seasoned internal project manager to represent the team and to enforce the governance model. Without a solid internal project manager, or head coach, projects can lose direction, thus disrupting the project schedule. By developing a strong governance model, the manufacturing company could avoid ending the ERP implementation past schedule and over budget.
The Highlight Reel
The 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team play in Barcelona was monumental. The gold medal game was not even close, with a deficit of more than 30 points in favor of the Dream Team. The culmination of the skill and diversity of players on the team, strong communication, and visible leadership and control displayed by Coach Daly created the greatest team ever assembled.
Whether a company is undertaking a $20 million ERP implementation or one that’s only a fraction of the cost, a strong, well-rounded implementation team is essential for any successful ERP project. By properly selecting the team, efficiently calling the plays, and adhering to effective rules, an ERP dream team is possible and easier to acquire than one might think.
ERP Implementation: 4 Reasons You Need Outside Help
by Nathan Irby
Type the phrase “ERP implementation” into Google’s search bar and “ERP implementation failures” automatically pops up. Unfortunately, for companies investing in ERP systems, this is indicative of the challenges ahead. A system implementation requires changes in multiple business processes, an overhaul of data management and reporting functionality, and an enormous change management effort.
While systems integrators are good at configuring software, additional consulting help will be required to ensure that ERP go-live is on time, the project is on budget, business requirements are met, and your team is properly trained and supported to move forward in a new environment. When making an ERP investment, change management and ERP expertise are critical to project success.
The right consultant will guide an organization to ERP success by amplifying:
A successful ERP implementation requires dedicated resources. Resources can be full or part-time, but there can be no mistake as to their priorities. If workload distribution is mismanaged, project responsibilities can easily overwhelm staff and lead to burnout of key personnel.
At the outset of a system implementation, all master data must be validated and organized. Data accuracy is a critical and nonnegotiable step in preparing for configuration. The cleanup process begins with defining and documenting the data model. Weeks of work go into confirming the data structure for vendor and employee files, charts of account, and bin locations.
Major errors are likely during cleansing and validating of master data, especially when the master data comes from systems that are not integrated. Merging master data requires experienced oversight and coordination, especially when different business functions own the systems being merged.
A good consulting firm will augment capacity the right way by combining their ERP-specific expertise with the project team’s company knowledge to execute a comprehensive implementation plan.
A common misconception is that a system integrator is capable of setting up an ERP that is technically sound and meets an organization’s business requirements. This misconception stems from the belief that a technically correct system is the always the right one. In reality, the two are often quite different.
The proper third party helps close the gap between a system’s base configuration and an organization’s desired future state. Third party consultants define requirements so the system is tailored to the organization, not vice versa. Consultants will guide implementation teams through a series of testing cycles designed to conform the system configuration to process changes.
System integrators have a tendency to solve issues in a silo. However, changes in one area often have far-reaching impacts on reports and add-ons. An experienced third party will understand the end-to-end process and ask important questions about the effects of system alterations. Without proper oversight, changes to the configuration can result in inadequate reports and difficulty integrating add-ons.
The ideal consulting firm works with many systems and configurations. Extensive knowledge of technical capabilities and limitations helps organizations prioritize additional work.
3. Change Management
A new, fully functional ERP system is only as effective as the people using it. Change management and training are crucial to a successful ERP implementation.
Employees will be concerned about how a new system impacts their roles. They may not like the resulting changes in their jobs. Effective training will bridge the gap between how things are done today and how they will be done in the future.
Expert change management consultants will create training specifically designed for the organization. Standard technical documentation isn’t enough. It will leave employees confused and frustrated. Third-party consultants who make communication a priority will work side-by-side with struggling employees and develop a network of subject matter experts who can be used as long-term support.
4. Return on Investment
Without expert help in selection, planning, and execution, an ERP project can easily exceed budget targets by 50-80% or overrun projected completion dates by months.
Installing a new system is not enough. People must embrace the new processes and tools in order to work more efficiently and use data more effectively. Third-party consultants should decrease the time required to realize your investment. Effective consultants will provide short-term support to ensure long-term success.
Trenegy is management consulting firm with extensive experience in change management and ERP projects. We help companies plan and prepare thoroughly so ERP implementation is successful the first time.
Selecting the Right System Integrator: How to Score Candidates
by Michael Critelli
Selecting an ERP or accounting system is a complex process that requires focus on a variety of issues. Most teams spend time selecting the ERP package based on how well the software candidates fulfill key requirements, budget, and preferred implementation timeframe. However, a key component is usually missing—the System Integrator (SI). Selecting the right SI to support planning and implementation can be as important as selecting the right ERP package.
A good SI has critical knowledge of how an ERP system functions within a variety of business environments. Functional knowledge helps an SI determine the configuration options that best support critical future-state activities. Successful project teams select the SI based on depth of resources, industry experience, implementation approach, and support capabilities.
Depth of Resources
A deep bench is one of the most important factors to consider when evaluating an SI. One of the biggest risks to a project occurs when an SI team member performs poorly or leaves. The chosen SI should be able to backfill any position without difficulty. The location of SI consultants is another important consideration given the cost of travel.
The following considerations help define which SI offers the depth of resources needed:
- Number of SI resources
- Location of SI resources
- Existence of a development/customization group
- Use of third-party contractors
- Access to the implementation team members during the selection process
- Qualifications within the industry
- Cultural fit
SI industry experience pays dividends during the system design process. The SI team should be able to provide practical, functional, and efficient alternatives to unexpected scenarios based on past experience. Most experienced SIs can catch issues before finishing design to avoid unexpected problems or changes in configuration. If an unorthodox problem arises, a good SI will call an industry peer and ask them to walk the client through their process.
The following reference criteria will help define an SI’s industry experience:
- Industry-specific projects
- Simple projects within the industry
- Challenging projects within the industry
- Cross-industry knowledge that may apply
The system integrator’s approach is by far the most important part of the SI scorecard. Most implementation approaches are very similar across the software tier. Tier one packages, like Oracle and SAP, are implemented with large SI teams on-site throughout the project. Tier two packages, like MicroSoft Dynamics or SAP Business One, are implemented using the homework model* with part-time SI resources. However, there are critical components to a successful implementation approach.
Make sure an SI’s implementation approach includes the following:
- A change management plan
- A certified project manager with industry experience
- Access to the system within the first few weeks of the project
- An industry-specific data model to drive key metrics and master data setup
- Comprehensive reports, interfaces, conversion, and extension (RICE) approach
- End-user participation in design, unit, conversion, and integration testing
- A link to the support organization
The SI’s project and post-implementation support methodology is a commonly forgotten step. Bad support can turn into an unwelcome surprise. A poorly developed support model during implementation can affect the overall project timeline and budget. End users develop negative perceptions about the ERP or accounting system when impacted by system downtime or poor performance during implementation. Day-to-day business operations can be severely impacted if the system is not performing well after go live.
Ask about the following elements of an SI’s post-implementation support model:
- In-house or contracted applications support model
- Number of people staffed as support
- Third-party add-on support
- Access to system environment performance statistics
- Service level agreements
*See next article for more information about the homework model.
3 Warning Signs the Homework Model Isn’t Working
by Brenna O’Hara
If the check oil light comes on and your engine is running louder than normal, it’s probably time to stop and check your oil. Ignoring these warning signs can lead to costly repairs for a seized engine. The same is true during ERP system implementation. The popular tier two implementation method uses the homework model, an assignment-driven implementation task list to complete go-live preparation. This model proves challenging for companies and often leads to costly overruns as overworked employees do not complete assignments given by the system integrator.
ERP implementation teams often fail to identify the warning signs of a failed homework model:
An unclear vision for moving from current to future state creates confusion. Employees are primarily concerned with their areas of responsibility and ignore assignments that require coordination across multiple functions. From operations to the back office, this isolations leads to incomplete and inaccurate data. The calendar of homework assignments is not to be confused with a project plan. A detailed vision and work plan provides clarity and ensures a comprehensive approach.
2. Missed milestones
Internal resources are often dedicated to implementation efforts on a part-time basis. Resources are forced to split priorities between fulfilling the expectations of primary job responsibilities and completing project homework assignments. Strained employees miss meetings and critical assignments that may delay go-live. Employees feel frustrated and overworked as they essentially have two roles and two bosses during implementation. Dedicating full-time internal resources with a comprehensive project understanding can bridge potential knowledge gaps and reduce the need to scramble as go-live approaches.
3. Lack of ownership
Without clearly assigned project roles and responsibilities, accountability is low and critical tasks fall between the cracks. An inability to answer basic project questions is a telling sign that employee ownership is low. This gap may arise due to overconfidence with the system integrators’ ability. There is no alternative for an internal project governance model that provides vision and delegation of responsibilities.
What Is the Right ERP Methodology to Use?
by Nicole Higle
Solve this riddle: A project manager, system implementer, and third-party developer each create a plan for implementing a new ERP system. Who has the best plan?
A. The project manager who swears by the traditional waterfall methodology delivers a 400-row Microsoft Project plan with dates and dependencies for each task.
B. The system implementer who has never worked outside the Agile methodology is not familiar with Microsoft Project, but assigns dates for three iterations of development and testing for each key deliverable.
C. The third-party developer who keeps up with annual Scrum certifications sets a daily schedule to discuss status updates and roadblocks with weekly milestones.
The answer? D. None of the above.
There is no single ERP implementation methodology that guarantees success. Each methodology—waterfall, Agile, and Scrum—has its strengths. However, each has deficiencies that arise in certain phases of implementation. Trenegy blends the best components of each method to successfully complete ERP projects on time and within budget.
The traditional waterfall methodology is a structured practice where progress is made in succession only upon completion of the preceding phase.
The waterfall approach is the best methodology for identifying project dependencies, planning for necessary business decisions, and establishing timelines for gathering requirements, all prior to configuration and development. It’s overkill to develop an implementation plan that includes scheduling weekly data refreshes and granting user permissions before training, but when seemingly menial tasks are not accounted for up front, project deadlines will be delayed. In addition to proper planning, the waterfall methodology allows for consistent communication to executive teams on the status of the project.
The waterfall structure is rigid and involves significant upfront planning and requirements definition. Trenegy uses these components of the waterfall methodology during planning and design phases to ensure the implementation team has a clear vision for deliverables before development and testing begins.
Agile methodologies break down projects into tasks, which are completed in short iterations and delivered to stakeholders as packages of functionality. The deliverable evolves with each iteration of development based on input from users.
Executing an Agile approach requires flexibility and the ability to deliver while operating under constantly changing requirements. Although little upfront planning is required, success is dependent on resource availability from project team members for testing new improvements as they are delivered.
Trenegy applies the flexibility of an Agile approach during construction and user acceptance testing when there is difficulty prioritizing in a time crunch. Typically, the months leading up to a system go-live are hectic and more work remains than time or resources can keep up with. This method offers the flexibility to adjust scope to preserve budgets and timelines by delivering smaller pieces of functionality, knowing a future iteration for improvement will be necessary.
Scrum is an even deeper form of the Agile methodology, designed for rapid development and release updates in short, two to four-week sprint cycles in order of stakeholder-defined priority.
Scrum models are highly effective for rapid development and problem solving to address critical issues once the system is live. The first weeks of a system go-live can be overwhelming with busy support lines and a flood of help desk emails. This approach enables the project team to knock out blocks of open items by quickly identifying handfuls of the highest priority issues to fix during the next release cycle.
Trenegy practices the short release cycles and rapid issue resolution frameworks from the Scrum methodology during post-go-live support. With this approach, it’s imperative to keep an up-to-date issues log to review during regularly scheduled sprint planning sessions. Reprioritizing improvements and sticking to defined release schedules is key.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all methodology, but there is an optimal way to use each of the various implementation methods. Trenegy’s extensive ERP experience allows us to leverage the advantages of each to ensure successful go-live.
Driving Your ERP Project to Success
by Jim Schwalbe
How do you know if your ERP project has gotten off track? Pinpointing the root cause might be challenging, but the symptoms are usually clear: confused stakeholders, sidetracked teams, repeated delays, and inflated budgets. We hope you walk away from this article—your pit stop—with improved mechanics for driving success.
Step 1: Getting Your Integrator to Tell the Truth
ERP projects can easily fall apart, particularly amid system implementations or upgrades. They can consume your people, budget, time, and rob you of the opportunity to focus on business growth. If you’ve succeeded on your first try, congratulations! You have accomplished an impressive and rare feat. However, if you find yourself caught in a struggling ERP initiative and this is hitting a nerve, you should know that you are not alone, the truth is necessary, and success is possible.
You are not alone. As an executive sponsor, you might be the last person to learn your project is off track. Why? Because your project leadership is either unaware of the ugly truth or not willing to share it. This makes your job nearly impossible. You hear a common refrain from project leadership: “We are behind, but we can catch up. The status report shows yellow, not red.” Despite having been stuck for weeks, they assure you this is the week they will get back on track.
As is often the case in life and business, what people say is motivated by who cuts the check. Internal project leadership is often motivated by those to whom they report, and no one wants to be on the team that takes the blame. Complicating matters even more are performance reviews and bonuses, which may offer greater rewards for staying the course than telling the truth. So they don’t share the truth fast enough, hoping to soon catch up. Your integrator, much like project leadership, is often motivated by contract terms. So they claim things are on track and try to redirect attention elsewhere. At this point, you might see a trend developing about the hidden, ugly truth.
The truth is necessary. In many cases, the person equipped to put your project back on track is an experienced, independent leader. This person’s job is to protect your budget, timeline, and resources by:
- Getting to the truth quickly
- Helping the project managers focus and take action proactively, not reactively
- Arming the steering committee with facts so they can make informed decisions
This independent leader must be given the ultimate project leadership position and report directly to the steering committee. If you have ever seen a large project fail two or three times before succeeding, it’s likely that the leader who carried the baton over the finish line played a critical role. They also likely gave the executives the truth and facts needed to make difficult scoping and resourcing decisions. The mantra, “We just worked harder,” was probably not the secret to success.
The integrator and your internal project leadership may push back on this prescription, because an independent leader takes away their ability to manipulate the truth and makes them more accountable than ever. But if you pull together and confront the ugly truth, it can lead to a career-defining win for everyone involved.
Success is possible. Your people, budget, time, and opportunity to focus on business growth may all rely on taking a strong stance and embracing a new direction. But remember, success is possible. We have seen this approach to ERP projects save millions of dollars and drive great success.
Step 2: Focusing on the Essential Work First
Let’s assume you have reached the truth. Now you have work to do, and it’s essential to focus your energy on the most important work first to establish the path to success. Defining the essential deliverables and standards will be the foundation of your entire project. If this sounds like the point at which you are stuck or a step your team bypassed, we encourage you to take time to do this right, either at the beginning or as a reset. It will save you time and money and directly impact results.
Chart the real critical path. There are excellent courses that define a “critical path,” as well as tools that enable a critical path to be input and monitored. Both are great options. However, at some point, you need to be able to discuss the real critical path at an executive or board level. We suggest creating three critical path perspectives—technology, process, and people—and then showing how they integrate into one project-wide path. This will help you establish focus, staffing, and communication and prevent vital deliverables from becoming afterthoughts. The real critical path drives attention and visibility, providing relevant information for the steering committee, executive sponsor, and board.
Make decisions that stick. There will always be significant decisions to make during a project. A critical path is navigated most efficiently by ensuring you don’t have to revisit or remake these key decisions.
If you adhere to the following, you can make decisions that stick and benefit the entire project:
- Proactively communicate upcoming decisions
- Clearly and completely document impacts
- Involve the proper decision makers, including the steering committee
- Succinctly document reasons for decisions
- Record a physical sign-off to deter reopening later
Be meticulous with the deliverables that matter most. In a 280-character-limit world, creating thorough documentation and meticulous records is becoming a lost art. Here’s a simple example of a sequential structure of interdependent deliverables:
Requirements -> Future Processes -> Test Cases/Scripts -> Training Materials
If the team shortcuts the requirements, you will miss some of the processes. Resulting will be incomplete testing and training that falls short. This can snowball into project delays, budget overruns, or post-go-live problems.
Maintain quality control on the deliverables that matter most and establish critical completion points before moving on. Take time to ensure standards and templates are in place so no matter how many people are involved, they will produce common results with excellence.
Step 3: Remembering That Value and ROI Are Paramount
Does your team understand the business reasons for your ERP project? The fundamental question, “Why are we doing this?” too frequently gets lost in the shuffle of a large-scale project. Some will answer that corporate says it’s necessary or it’s an IT upgrade. Some have no idea. By documenting the real business value, rallying your employee base and your team, and making value the core of project communications, you can create ongoing motivation and drive positive results.
Make the targeted business value clear. The following actions proactively answer the question, “Why are we doing this?”
- Solicit input from the ground up by using words or phrases that matter most to employees. For example, “This project will help us send more product out the door every day and beat our personal and company goals.” Remember the employee perspective, not just the board of directors. The employees can make this fail or succeed.
- Make a short list of metrics that matter and focus on three big impacts that everyone can understand. For example, inventory cost reduction, new product revenue growth, and customer satisfaction.
- Never lose sight of the phrases and three big impacts. Publish them on project boards and in digital communications, and reference them at project meetings.
Enlist a value champion. Most large ERP projects cost millions of dollars and have a targeted value of 3-5x the cost. Enlisting a dedicated value champion or a Value Management Office is highly recommended to ensure the target is reached. The value champion must spend time understanding the business and overall project so they can chart and navigate the path to value.
Successful navigation requires:
- Quality time in the field and in focus groups with the employees to help them remove obstacles and give them ownership
- Escalation of key decisions that will impact speed or value achieved
- Understanding metrics and agreement on measurement standards so impact can be measured and celebrated
- Knowledge of benefits at the company and employee levels so motivations are aligned
- Aggressive support for improvements
- Disciplined measurement and reporting to steering committee during and after go-live
Leadership, Discipline, and Value
While project management may only report the news, leadership drives projects to success.
While execution might only entail working hard to get things done, discipline enforces quality and completion necessary for successful results.
While decision making along the way becomes blurred by noise, focusing on value enables the team to stay motivated to achieve success.
It’s easy to get caught up talking about processes, technology, data, and change. We urge you to regularly ask your team these questions so percentages and green status reports don’t cover up critical truths:
- Can you show proof we are doing this well?
- Can you show proof we have completed the essential work required to move on?
- Can you show proof we are reaching our targeted value?
Finding the answers will be crucial to the success of your ERP project.
6 Ways to Think like a Project Manager
by Caroline Oakley
Expecting the unexpected is critical in project planning. However, even the most carefully designed project does not always go according to plan. The least predictable element, the human element, heavily impacts the timeline and outcome of any project.
The responsibility of organizing project team members generally falls on the manager. Tasks and responsibilities are divided, and each member is expected to contribute accordingly. So, the project manager’s success is a reflection of individual effort.
For most team members, a project is an opportunity for career advancement and development. Below are several habits of effective project team members and a few practices to avoid:
2. Be willing to help in whatever way possible. You may not want to build spreadsheets, but successful completion of small tasks shows your ability to take on more complex assignments.
3. Be on time. For everything. Whether it’s a lunch meeting or deliverable, respecting deadlines builds trust among team members and clients.
4. Be versatile. Understanding the ultimate goal keeps the focus on the end result and less on the individual tasks. Be willing to take on or change responsibilities when necessary to ensure the goal is met.
5. Be considerate of other work styles. No two people are the same and neither are work habits. Being flexible with scheduling and communication styles will create fewer obstacles in the workplace.
6. Be available for questions. Remember that not all team members will have the same knowledge and experiences. Encourage questions and discussion.
1. Don’t act like you know everything. This will cause you to miss out on the chance to learn and develop your own knowledge base.
2. Don’t withhold assistance. When you limit your team, you limit yourself. Discussion cultivates new questions you may have not yet covered.
3. Don’t prioritize your time over others’ time. If you need coffee for your 2 o’clock, don’t head to the coffee shop at 1:59. Showing up late gives the impression you’re lazy and ill-prepared.
4. Don’t put on blinders once you have a task. You will limit your perspective and understanding of the project. Keeping your eyes open will keep you in the know.
5. Don’t get bogged down by differences. From work styles to breathing habits, it’s easy to find annoying ticks. Looking past personal habits will cause you less stress during the project.
6. Don’t race away from conversations. Leaving unanswered questions leads to misunderstandings. After a meeting or at the end of the day, sharing your time will make others more willing to do the same.
Trenegy works with project teams to promote behavior and thinking which aligns with a project manager. This mindset produces a flexible, adaptable team that can succeed should challenges arise through the project.
Going Global: Overcoming Challenges in International ERP Implementations
by Chelsey LeMaire
An increasing number of today’s international companies recognize the benefits of connecting the entire organization through one accounting and operational platform. A global ERP system eases the pain of consolidated reporting, increases the speed at which the company communicates, provides innumerable efficiencies in terms of global master data, limits dual data entry, and simplifies the intercompany transaction process.
However, with the many benefits of a global ERP system come the challenges inherent in launching an ERP system across borders, oceans, and cultures. The most common and significant challenges encountered during a global system implementation are outlined below.
1. A global system requires global support
The need for round-the-clock system support for offices overseas is often overlooked in a centralized company. Companies with centralized IT support underestimate the frustration employees across the world feel when waiting hours for assistance. If end users experience technical difficulties or are stumped by system functionality for hours at a time, productivity drops and the company loses money. Lack of support damages user acceptance and encourages “neglected” users to devise external, and often detrimental, workarounds.
Companies launching a system overseas should be prepared to have on-site support in each regional office for two to three weeks prior to and post go-live. Long-term, companies should offer at least one full-time system support expert in each time zone. System support experts can be new employees hired for the express role of system support, such as business analysts or system administrators. Alternately, existing employees can be identified as superusers during design and training. Superusers should be employees who demonstrate a strong understanding and comfort level with the new system and a knack for helping other users learn the system. At a minimum, there should be one system support expert in each hemisphere to ensure an increased overlap of business hours.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew: Regional rollout vs. Big Bang theory
Many companies are overly eager to launch a new ERP system globally and are tempted to opt for the Big Bang approach to go-live, meaning all regions flip the “on” switch at one time. This approach does offer benefits such as cost-savings, high levels of enthusiasm and momentum, streamlined processes and training schedules, and consolidated reporting efficiencies. However, companies should elect this approach with one key caveat: only go for Big Bang if you have the resources to support it.
Companies should only attempt the Big Bang launch if they have a large enough implementation team to put people on the ground in each region for go-live. In the vital weeks of training prior to launch and the critical weeks of operation post-launch, one of the most essential requirements is responsive, competent, and timely support. Without it, user adoption will suffer and the new system and its processes will struggle and eventually fail.
A company with a smaller implementation team is better suited to launch using a regional rollout model, which ensures one region is relatively self-sufficient before rolling out the next region. This phased approach usually means a longer timeline and increased implementation cost, but it mitigates the risk of launching everything at once and experiencing global failure because the implementation team’s attention and effort was spread too thin.
3. Be aware of cultural differences and leverage them wisely
One of the joys of working on international projects is making connections with people around the globe, appreciating similarities and learning cultural differences. Generally speaking, Westerners are generally less hesitant to express dissent, disagreement, or dissatisfaction. Companies should be aware of this tendency during the system design phase of the implementation and strongly encourage Eastern offices to contribute system requirements and design suggestions. An effective way to encourage this is to approach the system blueprinting as a collaborative effort instead of, “Tell us everything that is wrong with the current system.”
End users in Eastern countries are often quicker to rely on training manuals and self-troubleshooting before reporting an issue. Conversely, end users in the West are inclined to reach out to system support immediately upon encountering an issue. Because of this dynamic, it’s a best practice for companies to begin regional rollouts starting in the eastern hemisphere and progress west. The East’s propensity toward self-sufficiency means that they usually require less intensive post-go-live support, which will free up the implementation team to focus on the next regional launch.
In an international implementation, the increased size, scope, and complexity of the project increase the likelihood of complications. Trenegy has helped companies successfully implement ERP systems around the world. To learn more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Dog Ate My Homework: Completing Critical ERP Implementation Tasks
by Peter Purcell
The start of each school year is met with excitement and nervousness as students look forward to new teachers and classmates. But the excitement of the first week of class is doused when the homework schedule is published. Students do their best to mitigate the impact of homework on social activities, but the reality is that summer is over.
ERP implementation teams often fall into a similar trap. Client team members are assigned to the ERP project with the excitement of a new challenge. However, team members typically have a day job, and it’s impossible to commit them fully to the ERP implementation. ERP project tasks are often considered homework and the level of effort is underestimated, leading to missed milestones. “The dog ate my homework” is not a good excuse when data is not cleansed, reports aren’t designed, system functionality hasn’t been tested, training materials are not developed, and end users aren’t prepared.
How can the ERP project team avoid missing their homework deadlines? By admitting that extra help is needed and focusing on the important tasks. The most successful ERP teams:
Assign Critical Tasks to the Best and Brightest
A recent CIO Magazine Panel in Houston indicated assigning the wrong resources as the number one or number two reason for why ERP implementations fail. Implementation quality and schedule is directly impacted by how well and timely ERP homework assignments are done. Critical report, process, and master table definitions need to be completed early in the project to allow the systems integrator to configure the system for testing. The foundational decisions for reporting structures and item, customer, and vendor definitions need to be made by the most capable in the organization. Unfortunately, those employees are often distracted when other non-ERP project issues arise.
Focus on Processes and Reporting
It is easy to be distracted by the number of features and functions that are supported by ERP packages. Various studies by the Gartner Group and other organizations have shown that less than 15% of available functionality will support critical requirements. System integrators have a natural tendency to encourage the use of as many features and functions as possible. Focusing on all features and functions is distracting and creates unnecessary homework. Moreover, additional features overcomplicate the business process. Project teams need to have a laser focus on the future state reporting and process requirements. Clients should push back on system integrators if a feature or function does not make sense.
Don’t Count on the System Integrator to Throw the Red Flag
System integrators will make assumptions regarding expected customer work requirements in ERP implementation contracts. The level of effort is often understated by the system integrator during the sales and pre-implementation planning processes. Once the project starts, system integrators assign work to the customer and quickly focus on system configuration tasks. Customer team members are not actively managed and lack the experience to know when it’s time to request help. Someone from the customer team should monitor assignments and know when to request additional assistance or time to complete homework.
Get External Help
Most parents will quickly hire a tutor if their child is struggling with schoolwork. Similarly, company leaders should not hesitate to hire third-party assistance to help internal team members be successful. The right third party should be independent, able to come up to speed quickly, provide simple answers, and share external knowledge with client team members. The third party can also throw the red flag at the right time to ensure implementation success.
Trenegy helps companies successfully manage ERP implementations using a proprietary project and change management methodology. We help our clients get value of out their new system quickly and relatively painlessly.
7 Tips for Effective Training
by Annie Duhon
Two generally accepted approaches to learning—passive and active—drive most training activity. Passive learning is reading, seeing, and hearing. Active learning is saying, writing, and doing. Studies show that retention rates are 20-40% higher in active learning. Unfortunately, the passive approach is taken all too often via streaming videos, death by PowerPoint, long-winded lectures, and e-learning. When the thunder and lightning ends, employees quickly revert to the old way of doing things because none of the training resonated.
Developing a training strategy that will facilitate learning and truly change how employees do their jobs on a daily basis is not an easy feat. By following a few simple steps that leverage active learning techniques, an organization can ensure that trainees are armed with everything they need to be successful.
1. Allay fears
Fear is the biggest driver of the “this won’t work!” mentality. It’s normal for trainees to feel concerned or confused. Change, no matter how little, can make life more difficult at first. Don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist or minimize trainee feelings. Instead, work together to understand and eliminate those feelings by gathering individuals or small groups to discuss specific ways day-to-day tasks will change. Link the change to tangible end goals with desirable outcomes. Lastly, provide support so trainees have a direct lifeline when they need it.
2. Read between the lines
Often, a trainee’s concern is not what is being directly stated. “This won’t work for me” could mean, “I have no clue as to what is going on,” or “I’m really afraid that my job is going to change for the worse.” Address these concerns immediately. Try to get the root of the issue and find answers. Even if the issue cannot be resolved completely, take the time to investigate and follow up. It will go a long way in calming anxiety and building trust.
3. Leverage subject matter experts
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are the people who know their areas of the organization inside and out. The SMEs know their purpose in the organization and how their jobs fit into the bigger picture. Find these people early—at least one for every function within the organization. Do what it takes to enable the SME to become a champion for change. SMEs will know their people and processes well and can help develop the best strategy for training. Because of their comprehensive knowledge, SMEs can also predict where disconnects or trouble may arise.
4. Get to hands-on training as fast as possible
Hands-on training can be done in groups or in a one-on-one setting. What works for one person might not work for everyone. Regardless of how it’s done, the faster trainees can practice real-life scenarios, the faster they will learn. Even if trainees don’t fully understand the changes that will be taking place, allow them access to the new way of doing things and give them time to understand the concepts while at the helm. Don’t rely on pre-made, step-by-step lists. Instead, devote more time to hands-on training where users can build their own lists in their own language.
5. Highlight the positive, but don’t gloss over the negative
There will be a number of differences in how work is performed in the future. For example, documents may be handled differently, or there may be more approvals (aka red tape) because there were no controls in the old process. Focus on the desirable end goals and the big picture, not on how perfect everything will be as a result of the change. Be realistic. Acknowledge that processes might take longer than before, but explain why.
6. Bridge the gap
Asking trainees, “How did this process work before?” can be extremely powerful. Understand how employees worked before and map out the new process in terms of the old, pointing out what has changed and how the new process handles each step. This will not only dispel fears, but also help trainees make individual connections to the process.
7. Teach employees how to problem solve
There’s no way that every scenario or situation can be covered in training. Instead, training should focus on critical elements and common scenarios. Trainees should be given time to fundamentally understand their new work. Arm trainees with all the back up they need through training materials and a lifeline. If trainees understand what they are doing, why they are doing it and where they can find more information, they will be better equipped to handle a problem if it arises.
Change is hard on an organization and its people. Pushing change down to employees without proper preparation will most likely lead to failure and disconnects. Trenegy helps companies address change head-on. We design training strategies that help employees move past their fears and become a part of the organization’s future.
The Best Training Is on the Job
by Natasha Tahan
Companies waste a lot of money each year using the wrong techniques for mandatory training. Employees typically need training when joining the company, new products are released, or new processes are rolled out. Traditional classroom or web-based courses are expensive and ineffective. Employees spend most of their time in the classroom doing the “iPhone prayer” or surfing the net instead of following online instruction.
The best training technique is on the job.
Learning fundamentals and procedures while on the job reduces error and increases learning retention resulting in better compliance. Attempting to train an employee how to adequately roll steel in a classroom setting is challenging without the physical environment of the job. The noise made by the machine while the mill is spewing hot sparks are incredibly important for experiencing the full effect of the functional process.
Following an iterative three-step process of listening, communicating, and providing hands-on training is the best way to provide the most effective on-the-job training.
This step is often overlooked. Many companies create their training plan without feedback from impacted employees. Gaining insight into the process from the perspective of someone currently doing the job makes it easier to develop materials that will support the new process or procedure. Creating graphics to support a process that takes place in a dark environment is better than written procedures that cannot be read.
Employees also want their concerns to be heard. Employees should be encouraged to share concerns they may have regarding the process change. Listen to their ideas and take the time to review the feedback received. Gathering employee input will ease tension, ensure change is embraced, and make the process go over smoothly.
Training materials typically focus on how new processes or procedures should be performed without sharing the expected impact on roles and responsibilities. Employees engage and comply to the new processes and procedures when their contribution to the overall company goals and objectives is clear. Effective training must be straightforward, concise, and simple to understand to maintain an environment of continuous improvement. Remember to consider any language barriers to effectively communicate all new processes and changes to the company.
Tell the truth. New processes and procedures will make employees uncomfortable when day-to-day activities change. When the company acknowledges the discomfort, employees are more likely to push through without resentment. Knowing the end goal will produce a more efficient process in the long term.
The following iterative training technique is the most effective way to teach field employees how to execute new processes:
- Watch. Have the trainer show the steps that need to be done. Explain each step as they are completed. Trying to describe the control system for steel rolling is difficult without physically showing how it is maneuvered. Don’t forget to get an interpreter to consider the possible language barrier.
- Try. Have the employee try to do the process with heavy coaching. Knowing exactly what pressure is required to roll steel into a tube is an art that is developed through practice. Physically having them complete the task is the most effective way to learn the new techniques. This step helps the employee develop muscle memory and technical skills as the process is trained.
- Do. The employee is now ready to carry out the tasks independently. The trainer ensures every step is being completed correctly, without interference unless the employee will cause catastrophic failure.
Iterate the training process until the errors are minimized. Employees need to develop confidence associated with learning from mistakes.
Training is required. Make the effort to listen to the employees’ opinions, communicate clear and intentional training procedures, and implement the training in an iterative observe-collaborate-execute process. Progression will never happen without the desire to continuously improve. On-the-job training is the most effective approach for field employees to learn new processes while remaining productive. Doing so will produce the most valuable results for the development of the company.
This iterative training technique is also highly effective for onboarding new employees.
The Secret to ERP Go-live Success? Test Well and Test Often
by Nicole Higle
Students from first grade on can recognize a direct relationship between studying for a test and the final class grade. The more preparation, the better the grade. Promising students study through repetition, often using flash cards. Students who postpone studying to play find themselves scrambling to learn the material the night before the big test. Come test day, the grade reflects the preparation. Implementation teams face the same situation when testing new system functionality.
The more preparation and emphasis placed on testing repetition, the smoother the transition to a new system.
Most project teams plan for testing but get distracted with development, and spend a minimal amount of time testing at the 11th hour. Much like cramming the night before a vocabulary test, not allowing adequate time to cover key testing objectives will result in a chaotic and unplanned go-live.
How can project managers avoid running out of time for testing? It’s essential to break down the main components of testing and plan for the critical objectives associated with each phase:
Unit testing is the most simplistic testing phase during a system implementation. The objective of unit testing is to validate small pieces of functionality within a larger business process. Test scripts need to be developed to ensure all components of functionality are tested. Many teams forego developing scripts for unit tests. This is a mistake because key test steps can be missed. Done correctly, the scripts can be strung together to support subsequent testing cycles. Unit testing without scripts is like learning multiplication tables without flash cards.
Integration testing is critical to determining if a combined system and business process supports the future state vision. This testing should focus on making sure transactions, interfaces, reports, and business process handoffs are all working correctly. Project teams often segregate the system and business process testing, which leads to issues after go-live. Not including end-to-end testing is like studying for a vocabulary test but only memorizing the spelling.
User Acceptance Testing
User acceptance testing is often the final test before go-live. User acceptance testing is a set of integrated tests performed by non-project-team members to ensure the system will support day to day activities. To truly simulate everyday processes and activities, representatives from each functional area need to recreate the processing of historical transactions. This is the first time many users interact with the system and also the last chance to break the system before go-live. Not performing user acceptance testing is like a student skipping the final exam when they have an A in the class.
Companies should involve as many end users as possible during the integration and user acceptance testing phases. Testing can serve as the start of training and increase buy-in of key end users. It’s a strong change management tool. Trenegy helps companies successfully implement new systems to support growth and change.
Your ERP System Is Live. Now What?
by Adam Smith
Congratulations! The ERP system you spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars on over the last 12 months is now live. If the proper implementation approach and project management methodology was applied, then this arduous task was completed on time and on budget.
So it’s smooth sailing from here, right? Unfortunately not.
There are a number of post-go-live challenges inherent in releasing a new ERP system, which will quickly derail the system’s launch if not addressed. The most common challenges are: project team burnout, limited end-user knowledge of the system, enforcing the data governance plan, and handling the myriad questions from end users.
Your organization can carry the successful implementation forward by following these steps:
1. Recognize and reward effort
The best employees from each department across the organization have spent nights and weekends building, testing, and priming the system for go-live. The final weeks leading up to go-live can be the most challenging, and this same group will be heavily relied upon to lead and support the organization during the first few months post-implementation.
Recognize the real, negative consequences of employee burnout and work to prevent its impact by:
- Understanding the workload required to complete the tasks assigned to each individual
- Identifying supplemental resources early on
- Creating a clearly defined incentive plan before the project kicks off
- Rewarding each team member accordingly (additional vacation days can be as valuable as cash or equity)
2. Keep training
User acceptance is a predictable challenge. Help users understand why and how the system operates to improve acceptance rates. Yes, there were a number of training sessions conducted before go-live, but those sessions alone will not suffice to prepare end users for day-to-day system tasks. More often than not, end users find training sessions held three to four weeks (a complete business process cycle) after go-live the most beneficial.
Post-go-live training sessions with participant-driven agendas are the most effective. This allows the trainer to focus on addressing the process steps and system functionality the user group is most concerned with. This approach will also increase attendance, as users will feel a sense of control over the utility of the training session.
3. Set up governance
Eight or nine months have likely passed since the process owners came together for design sessions and agreed to improve process efficiency and data quality through cross-functional collaboration. In reality, that cooperation will not be so easy to maintain once the system is live. A governance model for managing process changes must be in place.
The governance model should not be convoluted or overbearing. Create standard forms and workflows to approve proposed changes (e.g. new account, account structure change, new vendor, etc.) to help manage these requests. Ensure that proper security is applied and maintained to help eliminate rogue changes.
4. Create an issue resolution process
Regardless of how thorough the test plans or how diligent the testers, issues will arise post go-live. You must be prepared to manage and address them. The majority will be quick fixes, but a handful will impact closing the books or paying a vendor.
Establish a process to prioritize, resolve, and communicate post-go-live issues. Provide users with an easy way to submit issues and keep them in the loop as technical changes are made. Managing this well prevents users from working outside of the system or falling back into old routines.
Trenegy helps companies successfully manage ERP implementations all the way through go-live support. We help our clients get value of out their new system quickly and relatively painlessly.
Resolving Issues After ERP Go-live
by Katy Wyrick
Issue resolution is a critical aspect of ERP go-live success. When an employee using a new system finds a technical glitch or an error in the process, there must be a way to address and resolve it quickly and efficiently. The first week of go-live sets a precedent for the rest of the company. If issues are not addressed promptly and resolved accurately, end users will work around the system. Workarounds make it difficult to ensure employees follow new and more efficient processes, eliminating one of the key benefits of a new ERP.
Successful companies assemble an issue resolution team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and a resolution process to address immediate post-go-live activities. The following steps are critical to address and resolve problems in a timely manner.
Create an Issue Resolution Process
An issue resolution strategy should be developed in advance of an ERP implementation go-live date.
- Create a way for all issues to be funneled and documented in one common location. The issue resolution team should add every incoming issue to an online database, document the problem, and send the issue to the person who can address it technically.
- Set up multiple ways for users to communicate issues to the resolution team. A phone number and email address are two requisite platforms for issue submission. Additionally, missed calls and voicemails can be recorded and forwarded to the database through an email attachment.
- Identify the point person, or person the issue is assigned to, for different types of problems. It’s important for the issue resolution team to conduct practice runs to test the process and become familiar with potential types of issues. In most instances, there will be one point person assigned to each department, but there will be circumstances that require multiple departments to work together.
- Include the issue submission process plan and contact information (email address, phone number, etc.) in all go-live communication.
Communication among all parties involved in an ERP implementation is critical for a successful issue resolution process. The most critical parties include the end user identifying the issue, the point person working to resolve it, and the team receiving and tracking the issues. The issue resolution team should contact the issue identifier when the issue is submitted, resolved, and ready for testing.
As issues filter through the resolution process, take note of specific trends in issues submitted in order to gather future requirements for process improvements. Patterns need to be identified by issue type, which can lead to resolving several issues with one solution. It’s critical to verify with the end user that the issue was in fact resolved. End users will be more responsive and patient when kept in the communication loop.
Plan for Technical Support
Bring the ERP vendors on-site to aid the project team and provide technical support. These technical experts are critical when specific situations arise that weren’t covered in-depth during training. The specialists can quickly assess and resolve complex issues. ERP vendors will typically support the go-live effort for a month, and in most cases, this is only via phone. Instead, keep the additional help on site for at least a month and again during major financial closing dates (for example, month, quarter, and year-end closing). This will ease the end user through the day-to-day and closing process transition.
The initial high pressure of an ERP implementation will dwindle after a couple of weeks, and issues progressively tend to fall through the cracks. In most instances, the project team will transition back to their permanent roles after the initial go-live date. Don’t lose sight of the issue resolution process. Continue to communicate and follow up with technical experts.
E&P Company Systems: 4 ERP Implementation Land Mines to Avoid
by William Aimone
Exploration and Production (E&P) companies face unique data challenges when implementing new ERP systems to support accounting, land, revenue, joint interest billing production, asset management, and reporting. The sheer volume of land ownership, working interest, market contracts, and well information crossing multiple functions requires extra time and effort to clean up during ERP migration. Therefore, many E&P companies experience significant implementation delays, causing project cost overruns and disappointing the executive team and board of directors.
Avert major implementation setbacks by planning accordingly and paying close attention to these four areas:
1. Revenue and land decks
To process revenue accurately and eliminate manual revenue calculations, new enterprise systems often require land and revenue decks to have complete information. However, royalty and working interest data in legacy systems is frequently incomplete and inconsistent across various business functions. This happens when critical information is housed in different places, often in spreadsheets. The effect is exacerbated when data updates do not happen concurrently across the business, leaving a wake of inaccurate data.
Set expectations for a deck analysis and cleanup effort to ensure all interest and ownership is complete and accurate before go-live. If a company makes the mistake of implementing a system with inaccurate working interest data, accounting staff will continue to build revenue calculations and maintain reports outside the system.
For example, an E&P company found a significant number of royalty interest and working interest burden discrepancies between the land and revenue decks. The company realized that the deck information set up in the legacy accounting system was not sufficient to process revenue in the new system. The company conducted a lengthy research and reconciliation process to align working interests, which allowed the revenue process to be automated in the new system.
Take time to understand what information is required in new system. Armed with that knowledge, begin the cleanup process.
2. Well master
E&P companies often find the legacy system’s well master data is incomplete or contains a mix of completions, gathering points, storage facilities, and other cost centers. Moreover, the information describing each of the wells or completions may be inconsistent. Each well or completion has dozens of assigned attributes in the well master database for reporting and analysis. Attributes include spud date, production status, bottom-hole location, API number, impairment group, etc.
A new, integrated ERP system is useless without a clean well master. A significant well master design and cleanup effort must be included in the implementation plan and completed before go-live. Any manual processes to report and analyze well information outside the systems should be eliminated as a part of an ERP implementation.
3. Well lifecycle
Well information is stored in various systems and departmental databases within an E&P company. This includes land, revenue, production, economics, drilling, AFE, reserves, and accounting. The challenge is sharing well information across each of these systems and departments when a new well comes online, changes status, or is plugged and abandoned.
For example, the well lifecycle process often starts in accounting when initial expenses are allocated to the well. If property accounting assigns a cost center to a well which is not cross referenced to a well in the production system, consistent production and revenue reporting will be an issue.
A clearly defined well lifecycle process is a must, regardless of whether the sharing of well information is automated or not. The well lifecycle process should be designed during the early stages of the ERP implementation and before any significant interfaces between systems are built.
4. Cost, production, and revenue tracking
E&P companies often struggle with defining the level to capture and track certain costs, production, and revenue. Two major decisions need to be made regarding information capture early in the ERP design phase.
First, decide whether to capture operating costs and revenue at a field, well, or completion level. This should be consistent across the company. Second, identify the operations management hierarchy of rolling up costs, production, and revenue. The management hierarchy should be consistent with the economics and budgeting process.
Consistency and alignment across the entire organization are key, and the cost, production, and revenue tracking decisions should be made early in the implementation process. Mock up reports during the decision process to give all parties involved an idea of the information they will get at certain levels. Without consensus, companies run the risk of dissatisfied departments managing their own reports outside of the system.
These are merely a few of the issues causing significant delays in rolling out new ERP systems in an E&P company. A company may state, “We’ll clean up the data later,” and find themselves unable to make time to do so. Trenegy encourages companies to include the data alignment and cleanup efforts in the ERP implementation plan from the start.
Best Practices When Conducting a Virtual System Implementation
by Brendan MacCallum
In March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic flipped the world upside down. In the span of a few days, public gatherings were canceled, classes were moved online, employees were forced to work from home, and company projects were postponed or canceled. More than a year and a half later, we are in a similar position as companies continue to provide flexibility for employees to work remotely.
Since the pandemic’s peak, companies and their employees have found ways to work efficiently in a virtual environment. However, companies may still be holding off on moving forward with major projects, such as system implementations, until all employees are back to working in-person. A newly implemented system, such as an ERP, can provide numerous short- and long-term benefits to an organization. So why wait any longer? The following are five best practices to ensure a successful and on-time virtual system implementation.
1. Overhaul How Meetings are Conducted for Accountability
A system implementation will require numerous meetings with various members of the project team. Too often, people join these meetings just to join them and they end up being a waste of everyone’s time. It is important to have a well-defined structure that participants can follow so every meeting counts. At the beginning of the meeting, the goal for the call should be stated to set expectations. For example, once all participants join a system requirements call, the organizer can say, “The purpose of today’s meeting is to gather system requirements related to inventory management in the new system.” As the meeting is wrapping up, it is important to restate the open items to those participants who are responsible for completing them. It is easy for open items or tasks to get lost in the shuffle as these calls can run long and cover a wide variety of material. After the meeting is over, the organizer should send a recap email to all participants with open items and next steps.
On a recent virtual 19-week ERP implementation project for an oil and gas company, numerous half- and full-day meetings were conducted. Each meeting started with an opening statement by the organizer to state the meeting objective. The organizer took notes on all open tasks as they were identified and repeated them at the end of the call. For example, throughout 4-hour ERP walkthrough sessions, numerous system modification questions were noted. At the end of the call, the organizer repeated these questions to system developers to remind them to investigate if the modifications inquired about were possible. These notes were put into an email and sent to all meeting participants. This ensured everyone stayed on the same page and open items or key milestones were completed on time.
2. Structure Status Update Meetings for Clear Communication
As each person handles their responsibilities during a system implementation, it can be easy to lose sight of progress, especially in a virtual environment where everyone is in a different room. It is important to hold daily or weekly status updates with the project team to keep track of the implementation progress. The party leading the status update should create a deliverable, such as a single PowerPoint slide, that includes the initial project timeline, recent accomplishments, upcoming activities, open items, and issues or risks. Often, meetings turn into a competition of who can create the most slides to show off to the group. Why overwhelm people with a bunch of irrelevant junk? The slide should include a table with open items, the responsible individual, and due dates to remind everyone of their responsibilities. Those leading the meeting should speak to key accomplishments or upcoming activities as well as project status (on time, at risk, etc.). It is important to leave time at the end of the call for team members to ask questions. Lastly, the deliverable should be sent to all status meeting participants.
On a recent virtual ERP implementation for a growing midstream company, status updates were held for 30 minutes every Friday morning with the steering committee. A single PowerPoint slide containing the project timeline, recent key accomplishments, upcoming key activities, issues and risks, and open items was shared and sent out post-meeting. This provided an opportunity to keep discussions at a high level and avoid minute details that lead to rabbit holes. The new ERP system was implemented on time and within the project budget.
3. Utilize Instant Messaging Platform Capabilities
Throughout a system implementation, questions may arise that require a quick response. In a virtual environment, the benefit of leaning over to your neighbor or popping into someone’s office to ask a question is lost. Instant messaging platforms such as Microsoft Teams or Slack have numerous capabilities that can be leveraged throughout a virtual system implementation. They allow for quick communication as opposed to relying on email or scheduling a call with someone just to ask a quick question that could be hindering progress. These platforms also save all discussions for future reference. If a question arises surrounding a key decision, it’s easy to reference discussion archives for clarification. Additionally, instant messaging platforms hold the team accountable and prevent the “I never said that” conversation. Instant messaging platforms provide a log of proof for key decisions and help ensure everyone is doing their job throughout the course of the project.
On a recent virtual implementation for an oil and gas client, numerous data mapping activities were performed to translate historical financial transactions from the old system to the correct accounts in the new system. There were several scenarios where old system accounts did not match new system accounts 1:1. Microsoft Teams was utilized to clarify account-specific questions with the Financial Reporting Manager on the client side. Questions were answered quickly, which allowed the team to continue moving forward with the data mapping process. As similar questions were identified, the archived discussion with the Financial Reporting Manager on Microsoft Teams was leveraged for clarification. These features helped save significant time and effort. All historical financials were transferred to the new system swiftly and accurately, which ensured the implementation was completed on time.
4. Employ the Technological Features of Teleconferencing Platforms for Training
Any type of system implementation requires numerous testing and training sessions to ensure end user readiness and knowledge retention. Teleconferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WebEx have a screen sharing function that should be utilized for these virtual sessions. System trainers can walk end users through applicable scenarios and processes in the system to ensure they feel comfortable. On a recent virtual ERP implementation for a midstream client, the screen sharing function on Microsoft Teams allowed end users to walk through various system scenarios. In one instance, the procurement team was guided through creating a purchase order and route for approval. End users were able to complete system processes on their own prior to ERP go-live.
The recording function should also be used to record all testing and training sessions. The recordings of these sessions should be organized into a training library or folder that end users can access for future reference. This will also benefit those who missed the meeting.
5. Leverage Shared Calendars for Scheduling Meetings
One of the most crucial aspects of an implementation is coordinating meetings. There are a few ways to streamline this process. Team members’ calendars should be visible, shared, and color coded to display the importance of blocked off time. For example, blocks of time in red indicate important meetings that cannot be moved, and blocks in green indicate meetings that do not require attendance or can be rescheduled. Team members must also keep an honest calendar, especially when everyone is working from home with limited supervision. There always seems to be one person on a project that blocks off their entire calendar. Half the time, they are just grabbing coffee or setting their Fantasy Football lineups. Keeping an honest calendar will allow necessary meetings to be scheduled and the system implementation to stay on track.
On a recent virtual ERP Implementation, the project team streamlined the scheduling process to the point where it took less than five minutes to organize a meeting that fit everyone’s schedules. All meetings were scheduled on time which led to an on-time and within budget ERP implementation.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Trenegy has worked with numerous clients to implement systems virtually. All projects have been completed on time and within budget. Although new challenges arise constantly, following these best practices has helped ensure organizations complete a successful and timely implementation.
Connect with Trenegy for more non-traditional insights.