We all know that two people will fall in Love with each other if the right ‘chemistry’ exists between them! Similarly, any system implementation will be a cakewalk if the right chemistry exists between the people & the processes, and between the process owners & the system owners. But this is an ‘ideal’ situation to have and that may not exist in the real world. Can we make the ‘union’ work even when there is no ‘chemistry’?
In one of our system implementations, we went through such a challenging situation, where nothing was in sync. We ran the risk of getting our project scrapped or getting into the ‘blame’ game or losing that customer once for all by walking out on them. But we turned it around. Let us share with you the story.
Not so long ago, on a fine morning, we received an ‘order’ to implement our ERP at a client’s place. We were excited and started the project on the right track. Our ERP system was delivered (in as is where condition) and got installed on time. Next was the ‘customization’ & implementation’ period for which we had budgeted ‘200’ number of man-days. Having completed the ‘Installation’ phase and having begun the ‘Implementation’ phase on time, we were sure that we will complete the project on time and within the ‘budget’. We did not realize then that the ‘Chemistry’ that we talked about earlier did not exist between the people and the processes. Also, the implementation phase was not taken very seriously by either party. The implementation was being done by users who had no experience with large IT projects and did not know what to ask or demand in ‘customization’. In addition, they were used to their manual system and hence could not visualize the impact of any changes/customization they have asked for until it was delivered and implemented! This led to a lot of customization, modifications, and enhancement that we were not expecting. As the months went by, the scope creep was widening, the frustration level was increasing, we were out of the budget, the deadlines were slipping and both the parties started to think if there is any light at the end of the tunnel? This is when we decided to turn around the situation and make our ERP implementation a success. Was it a tall order? Yes. Did we succeed? Yes.
When things were at ‘nadir’, we took a breather, had a meeting with their Managing Director & other Department Heads to take a second look at how our ERP system & their related processes work, and where we need to make improvements. When analyzed, we found that though there were some ‘technical’ problems with our ERP solution, most of the other problems were ‘Human’ & ‘Business’ related, which we felt were beyond our scope! We told the client, that ERP implementation requires them to re-engineer their key business processes by revamping old ways of conducting business and redefining job responsibilities. But for this, the client was not ready and they felt that it was OUR responsibility to implement the ERP, and make the users use it correctly in their company!
It was very clear that the implementation process did not receive enough attention from the parties concerned. Also, our own limited understanding of our client’s business and their business processes have added to the ‘vows’. Though late in the game, we realized that many problems or system shortcomings might have been avoided if the implementation team had addressed the issues properly!
Quickly we got into the action mode. By addressing 1) How our system has been set up and 2) The type of training or support that needs to be given to the users to use the new system correctly and fully, we took care of the following
Organization resistance to change: We observed that the main obstacle was in human—resistance to change. Workers or the users had to learn new processes, not just a new software interface and for this, there was a lot of resistance.
Data problems: Cleansing the dirty data & Integrating the data from silos, was a nightmare. They failed to understand the ‘Garbage in Garbage out’ principle and they felt that our ERP solution is wrong!
A project coordinator was hired by the Client as ‘one point of contact for us’ and we started to work through him in handholding the users, and giving them proper training. We learned the hard way that leaving it up to the users to figure out how to use a newly delivered system significantly decreases the opportunity for it to deliver on its potential.
W also learned that fixing a bug or carrying out a modification in one module, as and when it is reported by the user, is not going to make our ERP solution deliver better results. Success will come from taking a big picture view and addressing if we need to fix our ERP solution or their internal processes? Uncovering problems from the process owner’s perspective provided far more insight to us as to what requires improvement. For example, in some cases, the software was functioning properly, but the staff was not using it correctly and hence the MIS report was wrong. In another case, the manual reporting to the Head was still being followed, because they have not entered all the data in the new system.
A three-pronged approach has been put in place now:
- Conducting a process review and walking through the end-to-end process to uncover the real needs of the users. We feel that the more we (ERP provider) understand how day-to-day processes work and the client understand the system’s capabilities, the more can be accomplished.
- Conducting training that marries system functionality to the users’ specific needs, to provide significant productivity improvements both for the process owner and the system itself.
- Putting in place a better project tracking system, which was either not adequate or was not good enough all along. As things cannot change absolutely and in a overnight, we should have achievable milestones defined for all the affected parties. We should also have the full list of issues to be tackled, prioritize them in terms of their severity and urgency. If there are dependent events then they should be sequenced as per their dependency. We should also try and understand the situation and absorb what are the problems, why they have occurred and what should be done to resolve them before giving a half-baked solution.
After putting in our new ways of working, things have started to improve and we have started to see light at the end of the tunnel. While one can debate, if this ERP implementation can be called a success, there can be no doubt that after addressing the issues, the client has started to derive significant benefits. Also, we are happy that we could bounce back and make the ERP initiative work for the organization. Most of all the Client has realized that ERP is more about using and learning day by day rather than being straightforward like buying a shoe and wearing it.
What is your story?