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In this special blog series, we’ll be discussing common challenges we’ve seen in our 25 years deploying ERP systems for manufacturers big and small. Over the next few weeks, you’ll come to understand the moving pieces that contribute to a successful implementation and walk away with a game plan for managing them all.
As you’re planning for ERP deployment, your discussions and concerns likely revolve around project management. While Gantt charts, roadmaps and timelines are all necessary components of a well-managed ERP implementation, a project of this scale requires something even bigger, and something often overlooked in the rush to get started: project leadership.
Before getting too deep into the details, take the following steps to ensure a clear view of the project’s big-picture goal, the milestones along the way and the leadership support needed to get there.
Define your vision.
Because an ERP system has the power to connect multiple departments and integrate your operations, it’s not uncommon for it to take on a sort of “silver bullet” quality during the early stages. An administrator may be dreaming of a real-time dashboard of department happenings, while on-the-floor managers foresee a new system that inherently reverses the logistical problems of the old. Your ERP system may very well hold the power to accomplish these things, but before settling on an implementation partner and sketching out a scope statement, it’s important to reign in expectations and define your goals for the project.
Consider your corporate strategy, your industry and your specific business objectives. How can the system drive your bottom line, deliver value to your customers or help your business grow? Do your research and set realistic expectations for what you want to accomplish with the software. These are the promises your project will need to live up to in order to garner immediate support, maintain momentum and be viewed as a success long term.
Set – and celebrate – milestones.
Once you’ve got your sights set on the end goal for your project, take the time to plot out how you will get there. This will likely be an exercise you work through with your implementation partner, but once your progress benchmarks have been defined, they should not be monitored within a vacuum. As you move down your implementation checklist, keep your employees informed of notable accomplishments. Explain each milestone and provide some context around its importance in the scope of the project as well as your business’ daily operations.
The acknowledgment of these small successes will allow employees to feel like they are a part of the initiative and help build trust in the system prior to user adoption.
Find your champion.
It’s impossible for ERP implementations to succeed without base-level leadership support. Executives who drive the overarching goals for the project see better odds for success than those without an active and vocal leader championing the project.
This doesn’t mean that a C-suite executive needs to relinquish his office and camp out in the IT department for the foreseeable future. But, ideally, you will have a leader at this level who is informed not only of your project’s purpose but also its progress. This should be someone who has the power to influence your organizational stakeholders, from board members to new hires. By taking on the role of champion, he or she can set a positive tone, communicate consistently across the organization and create a sense of importance for the project. With this kind of momentum being generated at the top, you are more likely to power through unforeseen obstacles and win over the support of skeptical employees leading up to deployment.
A standard ERP deployment can take many weeks. There are technical requirements, scheduling conflicts and operational changes to consider. But as you tackle these details, make sure your project doesn’t veer off course. Revisit your vision statement. Celebrate your milestones. And when things are going well, enlist your project champion to shout it from the rooftops.