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How many articles have you read about selecting the right ERP system, or 10 steps to successful ERP implementation?  I am not knocking any of the advice, a lot of it is true, and the more prepared you are, the better off you will be.  The cold hard reality is, you will never be totally ready for go-live.  There is going to be chaos, there are going to be struggles, and tempers will flare after your ERP implementation project goes live.

ERP Implementation can be like Battle

General Colin Powell once said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.   The basic premise is simple, you can prepare as much as possible, but there are so many unknowns when the proverbial switch is flipped.  You can never really know what is going to happen.  In my experience, the farther away from the “stock, out of the package” configuration you are, the higher the incidence of issues and firefighting will be.  Even small deployments, like 10 users, can be fraught with difficulties and challenges.

The battlefield is a complex, fluid environment.  The opposing force never does what you think they are going to.  The success of the battle or campaign often boils down to training.  When all else fails, fall back on your training.  That is a big reason that military leaders spend so much time ingraining those basic fundamentals into those whom they lead.  It is a daunting task to say the least.

The difference in business is that there is no repetitive, career long training regimen for changing out your computer system.   ERP implementation happens for a company on average every 10 to 20 years.  It just isn’t something that your people and your leadership team are ever going to be fully prepared for.  So what do you ?

Set the Right Priorities

Staying with the quotes from military leaders…General David Petraeus says that one of the four key principles of leadership is “Getting the Big Ideas Right”.  This could not be more applicable to major technology projects.  If you don’t have a very clear vision of where you want to end up, how will you know if you got there?  When setting out goals for ERP implementation, don’t go for a fully functioning utopia on day 1.  Vendors may want to you buy or configure every bell and whistle they think you need, but the reality is, less is more.  Here are a few tips:

  • What is your minimum viable product?  This is the bare minimum functionality you need to operate the business.
  • What are the most critical functions that need to work on day 1?
  • For non-critical functions, how will you feed data into the ERP system until they are folded in?

More on Critical Functions

Make sure not to get distracted during the ERP implementation process.  Think about your business in its most basic sense.  What do you really have to do to conduct a business transaction?   This is an extension of setting the right priorities.   For instance, if you are a distributor you might need to:

  • Take an Order
  • Ship It
  • Bill it
  • Get Paid for it

On the purchasing side:

  • Place a PO
  • Receive it
  • Pay for it

Your two fundamental workflows are Quote/Order to Cash and Purchase to Pay.  Sure there are a lot of nuances that are part of that, but those really are the main processes.  If you have to sacrifice on any of those pieces, make sure they are the ones furthest away from the general ledger.  If you can keep your financial data in good shape, you can win the day.  There are always ways to record inventory movement and get it back into the system.  You can probably upload orders , PO’s and receipts from a spreadsheet if you need to.  On the other hand, if your banking, payables, and receivables get out of sync, nothing else can be right.

It’s About the People, not the System

You business most likely doesn’t run on technology.  It runs on people.  Don’t forget that.  An ERP implementation is difficult and disruptive.  You are asking people to completely change they way they are used to doing things, all at the same time.  That is not an easy thing to ask of your team.  It’s not all going to go according to plan, and when that happens, there will be frustration.  Be realistic and be prepared for that.  It’s a natural thing, and it always happens.

Be up front with the team about the state of things: good, bad or otherwise.  The worst thing you can do is paint a picture that doesn’t reflect reality.  The water cooler conversation will be about out of touch with reality you are.  You will most likely find that if you are realistic about the situation, the people around you will work harder to help overcome it.

Last Thoughts on ERP Implementation Chaos

To wrap it up, don’t forget that an ERP implementation is one of the hardest things your company will ever go through.   Make sure to set the right priorities.  Once you have that done, focus on your most critical functions, and protect your financial transactions above all else.  Finally, remember that this is more about people than it is the technology.  Take it one step at a time, and make sure that you get quality of execution in whatever you choose to tackle.