Lighting the ERP Afterburner

By Scott Robinson

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Imagine calling your employees together and telling them you're going to tear down the building. However comfortable they may be in their existing space, they'll love the new place better you assure them.

It will only take a couple of years and a few million dollars. Assuming they're agreeable up to this point, you add one final point: "Oh, by-the-way, we're going to keep you here in the old building while we're tearing it down around you and building the new one, and we'll ask you to just keep working in the middle of it all."

Now imagine their response. That's pretty much what you're going to face, once your ERP implementation gets rolling.

If there is a single issue that determines the degree of completion, let alone success, of an ERP implementation, it's buy-in. From the lowliest clerk to the company CEO, you need the cooperation and support of every participant, if you're going to make ERP work.

The sobering truth is that more than half of the companies that set out on the ERP course do not meet their goals. And of those that do achieve reasonable success, a staggering 90-percent go significantly over budget, over schedule, or both.

So, what can you do to wind up on the happy side of those statistics?

Create an Atmosphere of Change

Before bringing down word from on-high that the whole company is going to be turned upside down, it's a good idea to get your people (your line managers in particular) thinking about change: What have they wished they could do? What changes would they be making in their area (or in the company overall) if they themselves had the resources and the opportunity? You can create a lot of potential for positive reception by stimulating discussion along these lines, whether formally or informally.

Once these thoughts are encouraged, start getting people together in casual meetings. Have people share the ideas, and get some synergy happening. Play "What If," and play it liberally. And when the participants wistfully dismiss the game, let them know that soon they may have an opportunity to put their ideas to work.

It's important to let everyone in on this exercise, not just management, and not just decision-level management. Some of the best input -- and most helpful cooperation -- in the ERP implementation will ultimately come from the people in the trenches.Give the People What They Want

When you announce the impending implementation, do so in a way that invites participation and input. Don't take the approach of telling your employees how it's going to be. Instead, create an atmosphere of change that is driven by their needs and ideas.

How do you achieve this? One approach is to assign a liaison in each department. Let that person be a repository for all the fresh ideas and concepts for process change that the local brain trust can muster.

Then bring that person in for a negotiating session. Since the point of an ERP implementation is to create significant new efficiencies and operational cost savings as well as profound time savings in processes then you have something to bargain with.

Work through each wish-list, pointing out the benefits that could be realized if an efficient, successful ERP implementation were made to happen. Point out that the enthusiastic cooperation and efficient assistance of each department will create new resources and realize long-term improvements in cycle times.

The idea is simple: trade a piece of the pie created by ERP process improvements for "local" improvements that will make your employees' lives better.

Are you compromising your authority by negotiating in this manner? Not at all. While senior management may best know where to apply effort to broaden the scope and effectiveness of company operations at the market level, it's at the hands-on level that you ultimately want to see real trickle-down benefit from the ERP implementation anyway.

By giving away some authority to the people on the spot, you not only get the fine-tuning you are after in the long run, but you've created the goodwill needed to get enthusiasm where you might otherwise have reluctance.

Community Endeavor

ERP is like nuclear power: it has potential to do great good or great harm depending on how it's handled, and everyone in the neighborhood will be affected by it. By giving everyone in your company a stake in the implementation's success, you'll get the extra effort that accompanies personal investment. By urging creative and pragmatic participation in the change process, you'll get valuable insight you wouldn't otherwise have.

ERP is ultimately a community endeavor. Handle it that way, and everybody wins.

Scott Robinson is an enterprise software and systems consultant with Quantumetrics, Inc., a consultant's collaborative. Robinson has worked with such well-known organizations as the Dept. of Defense (DOD), Dept. of Energy (DOE), Wal-Mart, and Roche Pharmaceuticals. As well as CIO Update, he is also a regular contributor to TechRepublic and can be reached by email at drsrobinson@att.net.