Look closely at a flawed ERP system, and you may find a flawed project plan, says Malcolm Wheatley.
When contemplating a new ERP system, it’s a safe bet that many manufacturers confine themselves to an evaluation of the ERP systems under consideration, and of the vendors that are supplying them. Relatively little attention though, is usually paid to how the chosen system will be implemented.
Which can be a mistake, and a costly one at that. For when an ERP system fails, or under-delivers, the root cause is often not the system itself, but failures within the implementation process.
“A flawed initial diagnosis, poor process design, blurred accountabilities, and botched training and testing: each of these can cause an ERP implementation to fail or fall short of its objectives,” warns Derek Duffy, a project manager with Microsoft Dynamics AX manufacturing specialists Columbus.
Accordingly, says Duffy, there’s recently been something of a sea change in implementation approaches – at least among savvier manufacturers. “Columbus has always followed a structured implementation approach but now there’s a growing awareness of the importance of implementation methodologies,” he explains. “Which is logical enough: our customers are hiring us for our implementation expertise, and our implementation methodology is the tool that enables us to harness that expertise, and deploy best practices to deliver an assured implementation.”
Indeed, stresses Duffy, a sound methodology is absolutely vital, if a manufacturer’s expectations in respect of their ERP systems are to be met. Look at instances where ERP isn’t delivering on its promise, he points out, and the problem can often be the choice of implementation approach, or the way that it has been followed – though the effect of rapid technology change should also be reckoned with.
“That’s why we’re sometimes asked to reimplement, following a failed implementation by another reseller,” he notes. “It’s usually not the choice of system that was wrong, but how the business has gone about implementing it.”
And while an implementation methodology isn’t an absolute guarantee of success, it does heavily stack the odds in favour of success, explains Duffy.
“SureStep+ has been proven on both national and international implementations, so you know it’s going to work in a cross-border environment” – Derek Duffy, Project Manager, Columbus
“Simply put, a thorough and structured implementation methodology will deliver implementations that are more likely to come in on time, on budget, and be of the right quality,” he stresses.
And Columbus itself, he explains, has recently updated its own ERP implementation methodology. Formerly known as Diamond, it’s now called SureStep+. A change of name that is far more than cosmetic, Duffy claims.
“Diamond was a distillation of our experience over twenty years and 6,000 ERP implementations,” he says. “But SureStep+ builds on that. We’ve taken Microsoft’s own Microsoft-specific SureStep methodology, and significantly enhanced it with the insights that were embedded in Diamond. It’s aligned with Project Management Institute guidelines, and contains clearly defined roles and process ownership definitions, utilising recommended best practice. Better still, it uses fewer project control documents – so it’s more efficient – and has a multiproduct capability, as well as offering a more detailed view of roles and responsibilities.”
So how does it work? Look at an ERP implementation following the SureStep+ methodology, explains Duffy, and you’ll see that it carefully follows a six-phase process flow.
The project starts with a diagnostic phase, where the business’s business requirements and project objectives are collected, and the project scope and approach determined and agreed. Then comes an analysis phase, in which the business’s existing processes and systems are evaluated, and shortcomings and improvements identified.
A design phase comes next, where the business’s new and improved ‘to be’ processes are laid out, together with the system steps that will turn these into reality, following any relevant best practices and pre-existing templates. Then, during the development phase, the ERP system is configured to deliver these processes, along with any required customisations, integrations and interfaces, and data migration scripts.
Next is the deployment phase, in which activities take place to prepare the system for ‘go live’ and hand-over to the business. During this time users are trained, data migration plans finalised, process testing is completed and the live ‘production’ environment set up and checked. The final phase, operation, sees the handover complete, and any required ‘go live’ support carried out.
“Having a detailed methodology in the form of SureStep+ makes an enormous difference to a project, and helps to reduce risk while improving implementation quality,” emphasises Duffy. “Built on a structured and detailed analysis of customer expectations, it has comprehensive and disciplined documentation, provides clearly-defined roles and responsibilities, and has a rigorous approach to change management and resource allocation.
In short, everyone knows what has to be done, and everyone knows who is responsible for doing it.”
Better still, he adds, that very thoroughness offers a layer of insurance against mis-steps in the project, once it is underway. “Members of the implementation team are aligned with each other from the start, and are working towards the same goals and expectations,” he says.
“What’s more, everything is well-documented, so that even if there are changes in the project team there is no data loss or delay. Plus, it includes a number of ‘project types’, enabling the approach to project management to be tailored to the size and complexity of the client’s business. And finally,” Duffy concludes, “it’s been proven on both national and international implementations, so you know it’s going to work in a crossborder environment.”
So how then, does Duffy sum up the importance of a methodology to manufacturers contemplating an ERP implementation?
“It’s absolutely vital, and you’ve simply got to have one if you want to succeed,” he says. “Part checklist, part project plan, and part ‘to do’ list, an implementation methodology says what’s got to be done, when, and who’s got to do it. And without formalising that, any ERP project is running an enormous risk.”