5 Ways to Keep Your ERP Implementation from Derailing
Many business leaders are excited about the functional and technical promises of a new ERP system. But it’s rare to find a CIO, CFO, or COO who’s really looking forward to the implementation process itself. Whether you’ve personally been through the experience before, or you’ve heard stories from peers about the delays, additional costs, and hiccups experienced along the way, if there is an ERP implementation on your horizon, you’re probably feeling some degree of trepidation.
While we can’t guarantee that a project of the scope and magnitude of an ERP implementation will ever be entirely without its glitches, there are steps you can take to help you steer clear of some of the most common sources of implementation derailers and frustration. Having been down this road many times before, here are what we see as best practices that can get you through the implementation process with as few bumps and bruises as possible.
1. Respect the provider’s timeline
As human beings, we are wired for immediate gratification. And it’s normal to want results fast, especially if your business will be in a state of some flux during the implementation process or if your employees or customers are impatiently waiting for new or improved functionality.
Sometimes, those with the final authority to purchase the solution or sign the contract are not fully aware of the business implications or scope of work to be done. But if the team has done a good job of defining the solution requirements, including any integrations with existing systems, and of vetting potential providers, then you need to trust your chosen solution provider to give you a fair and realistic timeline. Expecting or pressuring the provider to speed things up is typically not a good choice as the stakes are likely high and having things done right is much more critical than having them done fast.
2. Be realistic about resources and priorities
In the digital era we operate in, an ERP is increasingly a top priority for most companies. But scheduling an implementation does not mean that people can suddenly forget about their daily responsibilities and duties. Even if you smartly steer clear of your busiest seasons when you schedule the implementation, your team members still have day jobs, and they can usually not devote unlimited attention to the ERP project during the weeks and months required for implementation.
While your solution provider can help with a lot of the heavy lifting, you still need people on your team to oversee the process and keep things on track. Most solution providers do not spend the time on change management planning needed within your company to support the new process and tool. Many companies find that it makes sense to bring in some outside help, independent of the provider, who can solely represent the company’s interests as well as offer the specific expertise to project manage the implementation process. This leaves internal business leaders free to focus on other equally important priorities. There is a very long list of companies that tried to manage an implementation on their own before quickly realizing they didn’t have the time, resources, and/or expertise to tackle such an undertaking. Planning for outside help actually saves time, money, and employee frustration.
3. Clean up your data
Before introducing any new solution, it’s important to make sure that the data you are inputting is reliable and that there is not obsolete or out of date entries unnecessarily taking up space or clogging the system. Retailers who use pricebook often find that they haven’t kept up with streamlining the inputs as much as they should. Often, a supplier’s entire catalog is entered into the system even if the company only purchases a fraction of the available items. Or companies forget to remove an old supplier’s product information when they make a switch to a new supplier. Or they don’t remove data for products they no longer sell. One business leader shared with us that every time his company had a price change on candy bars, his system would automatically spit out 300% more labels then needed simply because of old product information in the system.
Other systems, including accounting, HR, and CRM systems, are equally notorious for housing out-of-date information. By making sure the information in your legacy systems is as clean as possible, you can set the stage for greater implementation and operational efficiency as your new ERP system gets underway.
4. Allocate enough time for testing
Companies often think that a couple of weeks should be enough time to test a new ERP. It’s understandable to want to keep the timeframe for this phase as tight as possible as running two systems simultaneously requires significant effort. However, the new system should be ideally tested for a full month or a full financial cycle to make sure everything is working properly before rolling it out across the organization.
It’s the non-routine events and transactions that typically cause issues if testing is shortened. New products or services, a first-time promotion, a change to the chart of accounts, seasonal changes to the POS keyboard, or an organizational realignment that isn’t fully mapped are some of the events that show up during the financial cycle of a store or company’s reports, that then require rework in the ERP to solve the problems. Adequate testing time contains most of these issues to just a few stores at most, limiting the amount of work to fix them.
5. Make the most of your training
Like testing, training is another area where companies think they can shave days or weeks off the overall project timeline. But it’s important to set your team up for success. New technologies and systems don’t just introduce new interfaces; they often go hand-in-hand with process and methodology changes, and it takes some time for people to learn and adopt new ways of doing their work.
Including the training team throughout the entire build process is key to successful ERP training and rollout. The most successful deployments we have been a part of engaged the trainers in both the tactical and change management aspects of the implementation. Learning the technical aspects from the system provider first-hand gives them insight into the necessary process changes to come. This helps the training team understand how the new interfaces will impact the trainee’s processes and routines and enables them to develop more comprehensive training sessions and material. Training to the “day in the life” helps drive the change management necessary with any new tool.
Take advantage of any training and support your provider offers, and even leverage outside resources to augment it. Remember that not everyone will be eager to make the necessary changes or feel like they have the time to learn the new protocols. Whatever you can do to simplify and support the process will be important to adoption success and realizing the full advantages your new system affords.
Get help sooner than later.
While many companies realize they can benefit from outside support to supplement internal resources, bring targeted expertise to the table, and help manage all aspects of the implementation process, nothing does more to ensure a successful ERP implementation than proper selection of the right solution from the beginning. Yes, consultants and advisors can be instrumental in troubleshooting issues that can and will arise during implementation. They can help keep disruptions to a minimum. But entirely avoiding as many issues as possible through proper ERP requirements planning and solution vetting is always the most cost-effective and efficient approach.
To learn more about how vendor-neutral advice can help early on in an ERP project, check out our post on the keys to choosing the best ERP for your business. Avoiding these pitfalls gives your ERP implementation its best opportunity to succeed.
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