The difference leadership makes when it comes to successful ERP projects

ERP projects can be complicated to implement, but sometimes it's not just technical difficulties that can derail smooth adoption. Andrew King illustrates the importance of leadership in a project plan.

A new client contracted with us to come in and clean up a really "bad" ERP implementation. By "bad," I basically mean the following:

  • the integrations between various systems sometimes worked and sometimes didn't
  • users lacked training in various elements of the system
  • management couldn't get timely or accurate reports out of the system

Like any other objective consultant, we first looked at the work that was done to integrate the systems, training, reporting, and general system operation. The system was Dynamics GP, a mid-tier ERP and accounting system specifically for small to medium-sized businesses.

Shockingly, we found little wrong. Technically speaking, the system worked well.

We then looked through all the documentation supplied by the implementation vendor and, to our surprise, found numerous documents outlining how the interfaces worked, the training classes delivered, and even exams that the staff had taken to ensure that they were comfortable with the application.

Baffled by the fact that we had looked at all the "technical" aspects of the implementation and come up empty, we then focused on the "people" side of the business.

We asked a simple question: "Who, in the company, was the project sponsor?"

It was as if we had dropped a bomb. No one could definitely answer that question. We probed further:

  • "Who is responsible for making sure that any interface errors are handled in a timely manner?"
  • "Who refines policies and procedures as part of a continuous improvement process?"
  • "Who trains new users when they join the company?"

No matter what we asked regarding the "people" aspect of the project, there were very few answers.

Bingo! We knew what had gone wrong.

So our simple recommendation was for someone to be designated as the "implementation sponsor," and we, in concert with this individual, designed a plan to clean up the existing interface errors, retrain the staff, and modify policies and procedures to address operational problems. We also designated individuals in the organization to be responsible for various aspects of the system (training, continuous improvement, policies/procedures) on an ongoing basis.

Ironically, there were few system changes that we ended up making.

Although it's not "rocket science" that every successful ERP project requires leadership and project sponsorship (something I've written about before), this was a great example of what can happen when leadership isn't present or fails. The only significant change that was made was in the leadership and ownership of the project. With an individual at the top to drive the results and hold individuals accountable, everything fell into line.

Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult.