The benefits of a modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution are clear. Get the implementation right - and you will have up to the minute information about your business processes and resources.
But achieving a great ERP implementation is no walk in the park. Getting it right requires time and hard work. And although implementing an ERP solution is a technology project, it is also very much a people project.
Indeed, the critical success factor is not one of technology. It is one of humans. You simply cannot have a successful ERP implementation project without taking your people with you.
Having seen IFS through a six-month period of implementing our own ERP solution - IFS Applications 10 - across the business, I think I’ve gained some useful insights.
Sharing and contribution
It’s important that all those staff who want to be involved in the project have the opportunity. In our case, we pulled together subject matter experts in workstreams to focus on particular parts of the project and break activities down into granular processes. These groupings cut across usual working teams and were a great way for people to share insights, collaborate, generate ideas and contribute in a really practical way.
There’s no point taking that approach if you are not going to see it through to the end. We listened to feedback and ideas and made changes on the basis of what we heard. Sometimes this meant rethinking things we’d thought we had dealt with. But the end product is better for it. Indeed, a stop-start-continue approach really benefited the project.
We brought a change management professional on board, and I think that was a really sound investment. Someone coming in from outside can ask questions that people inside the organisation might miss, and their fresh perspective along with their expertise helped us engage well. The resources and experience that the change management team have built up from their own experience of implementing IFS for IFS can now be used to help customer implementations.
Guidance and sponsorship needs to come from the CEO and the whole senior leadership team, and not just on Day One but throughout the process, for as long as it takes. A CEO needs to exhibit presence in the organization, validate the needs and importance of getting the project right, demonstrate a commitment that the technology will underpin the business processes, explain the importance of the programme, and motivate and reward people to work at speed to deliver value quickly. Other senior leaders need to do the same. They will likely need more visibility than they think. When morale is good, the trick is to keep it high, not to wait for it to fall and then shore it up again.
But leadership doesn’t just come from the senior team. If people across the organization feel positive about a project and involved in it, then peers will lead peers. Leadership can come from department heads, line of business managers, and indeed anywhere in the organisation that teams of people work together.
To give one example from my experience, we had a number of superusers who were skilled up early. Some of these were people who had put themselves forward to help with, for example, data entry tasks. They’d learned new skills and had become able to share what they learned. Our superusers even wore special t-shirts during the launch week so they were easily identifiable by employees who needed to turn to someone for hands-on, specialised assistance.
Engage through testing
Even where the system is developed using staff feedback, there’s still no real way of knowing how well it will work until it is out there in the wild. So, we ran pilot tests. Partly the pilot testing is about ironing out minor bugs in the system - and no matter how careful the development and implementation teams are, there will always be adjustments needed.
But the pilot testing is also about seeing how well end users get on with a new system when it is integrated into their day-to-day work. Involving real users at this stage means they stay engaged with the project and continue to feel they are a part of the process. At this pilot stage, it is not too late to go back and make changes on the basis of user experience. The project timetable should make sure there is time for more stop-start-continue evaluation at this stage. In short, identifying what things we need to stop doing, the things we want to start doing as well as the things we wish to continue doing.
Communicate and involve
It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of high-quality communication across the whole business for the duration of the project. Issuing a newsletter once a month telling teams what’s been going on won’t cut it. That’s just telling people what’s being done to their work environment.
We used lots of different communication strategies in our implementation at different times, always with a view to keeping the communications fun and inspirational. We used videos from project leads on Workplace, town halls, lock-screens on PCs, TV screens at our office locations, an intranet hosted FAQs and milestone updates.
Organizational change is most successful if it is achieved by involving people rather than being presented to them. Change leaders need to be very mindful throughout the whole process of the need to ensure that change management is as proactive, inclusive and open as possible. External change management expertise can really help, but in the end, the organization itself must lead from the front.
Looking to the future, change means that we are never ‘done’. It is a constant. Businesses will always evolve. To ensure that ERP is always delivering on its promise means marrying agile technology with a change mentality.