The 4 traps of an ERP implementation

Apr 30, 2015
Typically, the following topics are considered as common traps of ERP implementations: process flow definition, program management, globalization/localization, underestimating technical architecture, underestimating the necessary resources, too much customization and insufficient testing. Although these are certainly traps to take into account, it is striking that almost none of them consider the human impact.

The human perspective

Let me add the perspective of the human being. Handling the people dimension well, can make the difference between a successful implementation and a less successful one. Both the consultants who implement the ERP solution, and the end-users of the tool are … people. They are the most valuable asset to the project as well as the most critical one.

But still, we tend to overlook or minimize the human interaction in these kinds of projects. This in itself is the most important trap of all.
Let’s focus on this.

Trap 1: Resistance

When you believe that people will resist the implementation, you unintentionally create some destructive dynamics. You want to avoid an ‘us against them’ mentality. IT against business, project team against steering committee, management against employees.
When you are stuck in this negative atmosphere, the project is slowed down. Valuable energy is lost.

It can also generate the ‘foie gras’ approach. Some leaders do not want to spend time ‘explaining’ why the implementation is necessary. Instead, they make people swallow it, whether they like it or not. Although this works in certain contexts, it is a trap!

The users do not usually resist the implementation itself. They resist the effect of the new software on their daily operational job. Do not forget that they also want the best for your customer. They also want your company to prosper and grow. As one smart guy once stated:

“People do not resist change, they resist being changed.”

Maybe I was wrong to call this ‘resistance’. It is too vague and too broad. Look at Knoster’s model. What you perceive as ‘resistance’ might be ‘anxiety’ or ‘frustration’. These states of mind should be handled differently than resistance.

The trick is to redefine this ‘resistance’ into a resource. What are the people trying to tell you? Finding your people’s intrinsic motivation is the best way to enable them to change.

Do not waste your energy fighting resistance. Work with your people’s motivators instead. Handle them as valuable resources who want the best for your project and your company. And help them being the best version of themselves.

Trap 2: It is every manager’s job to manage the human impact of the change

Agree. Every ‘modern’ manager should be able to enable people to change.

The trap is that leaders assume that in their organization this is actually the case. A more subtle trap is that some think that managers do not need to have these skills.

25 years ago, the same mistake was made with ‘project management’. Leaders also believed that any manager should be able to manage projects. And thus, a separate role called ‘project manager’ was unnecessary. Again, they were right expecting this, but not all managers were capable of doing this. In the meantime projects have become larger and more complex and nobody discusses project management anymore.

I believe we are experiencing the same evolution when it comes to ‘change management’. Techniques to enable people to change have been perfected, leadership tracks and management courses usually treat techniques and models used in change management. So most managers have become ‘conscious competent’ when it comes to enabling change. In most daily operations, this is sufficient. In complex projects and changes, it is not (yet).

Therefore, when you consider your ERP implementation as a strategic change for your company, do not fall into the trap of overestimating the skills of your managers. Nor underestimate the complexity and subtlety of human reactions to change.

Trap 3: Sponsorship

The Delaware Operational Excellence Survey 2014 shows that more than 50% of the interviewed organizations state that ‘lack of visible involvement of leadership’ is the biggest issue in projects.

Assuming that every leader knows how to be a sponsor is a ‘high impact’ trap. When you look at a typical organization, leaders are appointed as ‘sponsors’ with the same frequency and ease, as one would assign a simple task to an employee. Some of those leaders will be ‘natural’ sponsors, others will need help, usually in the form of a coach.

Often, the behavior of a sponsor is a copy of the behavior of a supporter. This is not what sponsoring is about. A sponsor has the authority to make the change happen. He has the intention to make it happen, he knows where to put the attention, and he has control over time, money and people to take appropriate actions.
This is a complex set of skills and behaviors, and it is a trap to assume that every leader automatically knows how to be a sponsor. The good news is that support is at hand. There are expert coaches that know how to get the sponsor out of every leader.
All you need to do is to recognize the importance of the sponsor(s), to consciously appoint them and to give them the necessary support.

Trap 4: SMART

Sure, we need to define objectives, budgets, timelines and project plans. You need to make sure that goals are clearly defined. Leaders need to be analytical and logical. These are all vital skills to have a successful ERP implementation.

The trap lies in the fact that we start to live by our check lists, project plans, action lists and smart objectives, and that we are no longer capable of embracing the unexpected. Because to do that you need intuition and a holistic approach.

There are two parts to your brain: one that likes SMART, and one that does not. This is an oversimplification of course. Leadership and management layers are filled with so-called left-brainers, the ones that like SMART. And this is a good thing, do not get me wrong.
At the same time, this is a limitation because the right-brainers also have value to add.

They see patterns, think outside the box easily, are creative, react unexpectedly, et cetera.

It would lead us too far to explore this vast subject in a short blog, the risk of oversimplification is too large. My statement is to use SMART as much as possible, but not to use SMART ONLY.

Another trap of Smart thinking is that you can go on ‘smart-ing’ objectives and goals forever. There is no end to the level of granularity you can bring into your action plans. And there is no end in the division of roles and responsibilities neither.

For me , the limit is reached when people start to spend more time updating lists and schedules than actually working, and when one simple task takes too many people to perform. Smart is not a goal in itself, it is a means. And every means has its limitations.

The real trick lies in the fact of (re)combining methods and means into something that works for your ERP implementation, in your context, with your people.
Find the value in everyone’s contributions, not only in the ones you feel familiar and comfortable with. And this requires genuine, appreciative understanding of other human beings.

Sounds familiar ?


Author: Hein Poblome. You can follow Hein on Twitter (@heinpoblome) or connect with him on LinkedIn