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You made the choice to change your ERP system.  You also managed to select your new system.  Congratulations, these are 2 very big hurdles.  Unfortunately, you are not out of the woods just yet.  Someone has to lead your company to the ERP promised land.   Who is it going to be?  How should they be positioned in the organization?  These are some of the big questions you must answer before you proceed.

I cannot point to a specific person in your organization to lead your ERP effort (obviously, we just met!).  However, I can help you build a general persona of the ideal ERP implementation leader.  Additionally, I can offer you some tips on traits you may want to steer clear of.  This article contains tips and suggestions on who you should be looking for (and staying away from) in your ERP leaders.

Traits of Good ERP Leaders

  • People Skills: ERP is about managing change, and managing change is all about people.  There needs to be a clear, inviolable “no jerks” rule.  Toxicity, arrogance, and tyranny kill projects before new technology ever has a chance to.  Look for people who understand the concept of servant leadership, have a great deal of patience, and genuinely like to work with other people.  This doesn’t mean you want a people pleaser, it just means they need to understand how to exert influence to achieve a desired result.
  • Practical Experience: Some of the most valuable people who can make ERP change work have a lot of “boots on the ground” experience in the organization.  They enter orders, count inventory, or do receiving on a daily basis.  Nothing is worse than someone two levels removed explaining how a process works.  Often, the people actually doing that process shake their heads and reply “that’s not even close to how it works”.
  • An Open Mind: From day 1, your implementation leaders need to have a fundamental, core belief, that this change is going to happen.  They must believe that there will be a successful ERP change out.  Additionally, Good leaders understand that ERP workflows are built on generalized best practices.  These workflows are absolutely not built on “the way we have always done it”.  Ideal ERP leaders find the middle ground that bends the ERP system a little and also bends “the way we have always done it” a little.  They will need to come up with a solution that works without reinventing the wheel.
  • Organizational Skills: You are looking for people who can plan their work, and then work their plan.  Flexibility is key because an ERP implementation evolves along the way.  It is very natural, and also very necessary for this to happen.  However, is it important to balance this flexibility.  The team must believe that deadlines are sacred. The leadership must espouse an unwavering faith that they will ultimately prevail.
  • Humility: This one is very important.  You are not looking for the person who has all of the answers.  What you are looking for are people who are humble enough to know that their are not omniscient and will listen to those who do have the answers.  Again, ERP implementations evolve over time.  They don’t look at the end like they did at the beginning.  The successful leader will gather input, try to understand the issues from all sides, and make the decision that best suits the organization for the long haul.

Positioning the ERP Leader is Important

Once you have identified your leader, or leaders as the case may be, it is time to position them in the organization.  I have a strong belief that the ultimate leader of the project needs to have authority on par with your executive team.  Hundreds of decisions will be made along the way.  Some have far reaching impacts, and others are infinitesimally small.  Your ERP leader needs the flexibility to make the calls without having to run to the COO or CEO every 5 minutes.  The executive team and the ERP leader need an up front understanding of decision making authority and boundaries, but once those are laid in, it is the responsibility of the executive team to publicly communicate and support the ERP team’s mission.  After all, you are staking the future of your business on it.

Summing it Up

Hopefully this helps you get an idea of the person you are looking for.  They are a rare mix of traits, but not so rare that they do not exist.  Chances are, this people already exist in your organization.  Don’t make them pull double duty,  If the project is really that important, let them spend 100% of their time on the project.  If they are successful, promote them after implementation!

Remember, this person doesn’t need to be a tech expert, they need to be a [insert your company name] expert with an uncanny ability to get along with a wide range of personalities.

Still interested? Read more articles on ERP.