Don’t you just love old Westerns? And don’t you just hate old-fashioned ERP implementations? By now, we’re no stranger to the process. In our experience, The Bad and The Ugly have been our faithful teachers, and thanks to their (sometimes painful) lessons, we’ve been able to help develop The Good. The same way they say, “you can tell a true cowboy by the type of horse that he rides,” you can tell a lot about a company by the way they prepare for an ERP implementation.
So, let’s start with the ugly…
Many moons ago, when the company that I worked for was trying to choose a new ERP system, it was my job to filter through available alternatives to learn, test and try to understand each one. As manager of the tech department, my feedback would provide the management team with information to make an informed decision.
Over a two-year period, we tried out three different systems.
The first option didn’t come with training or a method to automatically load data into the system. And we couldn’t have any input as our data was entered in, so this meant that our team wouldn’t know anything about the system that we’d be working with. The second system had an implementer who didn’t understand how her ERP worked so she couldn’t really help figure out how to make it work for us. The third system was… pretty okay, all things considered, so we ended up settling. But, even then, the assigned implementer didn’t understand our business. Questions we asked were often answered with, “I’ll get back to you on that…”
Over two years, we stressed over the decision, lost sleep, invested countless hours of overtime, and were still not completely confident in our final choice. Overall, the experience was just ugly.
Five years later, I was now on the other side of the table. Working for this company called Jonar that sold, implemented and supported an ERP system, I was now on the implementations team. You’d think that my time as a user would have made me a great implementer. Instead, I realized that I was not the only one with bad past experiences. My customers were often gun-shy when it came time to start actually using their ERP system.
On the morning of one customer’s go-live date, the staff walked in with such fear in their eyes that you’d have thought they were heading for a meeting at the O.K. Corral. One user ran out of a training session in tears. Another broke out in hives. Someone else confessed she was having heart palpitations. I realized that their fear was caused by the idea of change, the unfamiliar, and the knowledge that, no matter what, their goods still had to get out the door. Money had to keep coming in. And, they were the ones that needed to figure out how to do that.
We are happy to say that change is on the horizon. Today at Jonar, things are very different. It starts with an ERP system that is easy to learn and flexible enough that people don’t have to change how their business runs in order to use it. Then it continues with a strong implementation team that understands how the system works and takes the time to understand what your business really needs. There are three key things we have learned from these bad and ugly experiences that help shape how we help our customers today:
In the beginning of any implementation project, it’s important to acknowledge that we have limited knowledge about our customer’s business, so it’s only natural for us to ask them to teach us everything they know. We spend time with all the stakeholders throughout the project, tracking the daily progress and sharing opinions and ideas as they come up. Basically, we listen. Customers feel free to ask questions and challenge our logic. It’s amazing how much we learn from each other during every single implementation.
We don’t sell best practices or standard industry processes. Instead, we offer suggestions to create new practices based on each customer’s requirements. We use key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine how well an implementation is going, which allow us to make changes before we find ourselves going down a rabbit hole. These KPIs are generally set by the customer to establish how to evaluate success. We also submit concrete deliverables to our customers every two weeks, supported by weekly internal tests.
We believe in a phased approach to implementing your ERP. Tests of the most recently achieved tasks are presented to the team as each module nears completion. This removes a lot of that fear that we spoke about earlier. At the end of the implementation, “Go Live” is not just another phase, it’s almost a new project. This is where the real magic happens, where you see that all of the hard work and planning has paid off. This is also where we get some surprises. Requirements or tasks that were not considered during implementation suddenly become apparent. Scope changes are common occurrences so you need to be prepared for that.
Before we ride off into the sunset, we want to leave you with this last phrase from the Old West: “Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.” We’re thinking that the Wild West may have had some budding implementers riding around with the other folks, because that saying works for us. Adaptability is the key to all successful projects.