A reoccurring -- and unfortunate -- theme in ERP project planning is that lack of senior management commitment to the project is a major reason for system implementation failures. Yet one basic question continues to perplex many within the industry:
In most companies, do senior managers sign up for expensive ERP projects with the intention of not supporting the implementation?
Since the correct answer to this question is generally no, there appears to be a disconnect with regard to what executives think they should be doing during the project, versus what is actually occurring. It is time to dig deeper into this longstanding ERP implementation issue.
Managing executives and ERP projects
It should be recognized that even with the best executive staff, it is not wise to assume they understand what ERP is all about or specifically how to participate in it. Overseeing an ERP project is not something executives tend to do every day. Senior managers also have a business to run, which always competes for their attention.
No doubt, executives want all the benefits of the new system, but when they don't understand how best to support the ERP initiative, executives can unintentionally become a detriment to success. Perhaps the real problem is a project management team that has no strategy or plan to foster executive commitment.
Creating ERP project commitment from management
Developing ERP executive sponsorship is a journey, not an event. It is a process that runs throughout the ERP implementation cycle. For example, organizing a project steering team is only the first step. The following are some additional tips:
1. Senior management education -- This up-front education is not specific to any software package, but should focus on these questions:
- How does ERP affect the way we run the business?
- What are the steps required to implement the system?
- What are senior management's key responsibilities?
- What are the project success factors or lessons learned?
2. Executive site visits -- This is a second form of education and includes a site visit to another company that has recently installed an ERP system. The objective is to understand what they did right, what went wrong, and the organizational challenges they encountered during the implementation.
3. Steering team's role in software selection -- When selecting ERP software, the steering team should do more than just wait for the evaluation team's software recommendation. They should be asked to set priorities and help define what new software can do to better manage the business at the strategic level. Some of these high-level needs will make the list of must-have software requirements used during the evaluation.
4. Evaluate consulting firm leadership -- When selecting the implementation service provider, make sure their partner or project director has the experience to quickly gain the confidence of senior management and keep them on the right track.
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5. ERP software awareness -- Before executives evaluate a software package recommendation, they should have at least a high-level understanding of system capabilities within key areas of the business. During the ERP project, targeted software overviews on important topics can help sustain their involvement.
6. Project team members -- Getting the right people on the project team can be a battle, but don't take no for an answer. Having your best employees participate is required for many difference reasons, but from a senior management commitment standpoint, it sends the message to the organization that the ERP project is important.
7. Communicate the need for action -- Ask the steering team to articulate the project business case and key objectives. Before the ERP project gets started, the executive sponsor should communicate to all employees why the project is important and how it supports the goals of the organization.
8. Enlist executive involvement in the benefits -- Once into the design phase of the ERP project, focus the steering team's efforts on benefits realization. This includes reporting the team's progress in achieving the desired outcomes, new improvement opportunities uncovered and proposed business changes necessary to be successful. Here is the perfect chance to obtain executive feedback, gain their support for the change, involve them directly in decision making and help remove barriers to success.
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