Project Management – Why It’s Key to Your ERP Project Success

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Working with literally hundreds of software implementations over the past 20 years or so, I’m often surprised at client’s request to reduce or remove project management as a line item in their overall project budget. At first glance, maybe it seems redundant (we know how to manage our people), a throw away (you’re just adding cost for no reason), or not really necessary to the success of the project (we can get by fine without it, thank you).   Unfortunately, that approach often leads to failed implementations and lots of unhappy stakeholders.

So what is Project Management?
Project Management (PM) starts with a careful analysis of your system needs, objectives, and goals. Building on that definition, good project managers develop a proactive approach to ensuring your project successes. PM can take on many forms, all of which are designed to make sure you complete the project on time, on task and on budget.  This includes such things as a detailed work plan that describes tasks, timelines, and perhaps most importantly, who is responsible for each step. PM also involves defining project risks before you start, recognizing them when they inevitably come up, and marshalling the resources to quickly head them off at the pass.  This means regular meetings throughout your project to go over the project status, who is on time, who isn’t, and why.

Ok, so why do I care?
Let’s say you’re the person in your company whose marching orders are to select and implement a system that meets all the company’s short term requirements, is up and running quickly while minimizing interruptions, and fits the strategic long term goals of the firm for at least the next 10 years.  Simple enough!  Just pick one of the best of breed systems out there, type D:setup, and away you go.

The first problem you’ll likely encounter is the beast known as “change”. Let’s face it, people don’t like being out of their comfort zone.  Resistance and even sabotage can be one of those risk factors that threaten your plans at every turn. You struggle to gain the team’s acceptance of the system, but you soldier on only to find out that a few key personnel decided to take a vacation right in the middle of your important project.  You can’t continue with the next step until their piece is complete, so you punt and try to skip over it or do other things while they’re sipping margaritas in Cancun.

You’re now 6 months into the project and the system is not even close to being ready for prime time. The boss is wondering what happened, and the finger pointing begins.  Staff members are unsure of their role or responsibilities and management is beginning to feel the software system was simply the wrong choice.

On time, On Task, On Budget
Good project management focuses on identifying all the potential risks and take measures to nip them in the bud as soon as they show up. A well defined and clearly stated written work plan is absolutely critical. The work plan should detail project phases, tasks, deadlines and the persons responsible for each one.  It’s important to name names, and gain acknowledgement of the work plan prior to starting your project. When the big boss asks you why the project is stalled, or even where you’re at, your work plan will save you every time!

Knowing when it’s done
Ever feel like your project will never end? ERP implementations without proper project management seem to drag on forever. Somehow things keep getting added or changed and the light at the end of the tunnel gets dimmer all the time. Great project management includes setting specific tasks and goals, and completing them before moving forward. There’s something satisfying about checking off a major milestone in your project and I’m betting the other project team members will agree.

Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
Project management includes the ability to incorporate unforeseen changes without derailing the entire project.  Unexpected changes in staffing, delays in completing tasks, and technical problems are some of the most common culprits.  You and your management team must be able to absorb the change and revise the plan on the fly. This is a little difficult to do if there is no plan. As the old saying goes, you can’t all be on the same page if there is no page.

Stacking the cards in your favor
Projects of different sizes require varying amounts of project management, but they all require it. Even relatively small projects will be more likely to succeed with basic project management techniques applied.  A written work plan, regular status meetings, management support and the help of a great business partner will help you deliver a successful project that returns real value to your firm.