Implementation Is All About People

This article is reproduced with the permission of CAmagazine, published by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, Toronto.

By Michael Burns

Many organizations think they just need to find an ERP system with a good fit, and they are off to the races. But they really need is the right people at the right time.

In last month’s article (“Enterprise software survey 2008” ), we said we would describe the people behind a successful implementation. It should be no surprise that all projects depend on people not only outside, but also inside, the organization. Nevertheless, many organizations think they just need to find a system with a good fit, and they are off to the races. Unfortunately they stumble out of the starting block and sometimes never finish. What they really need is the right people at the right time.

Don’t select a new system unless you know the key people involved in your implementation. Typically the vendor or value-added reseller will assign a project manager, functional expert(s) for each main functional area and IT support. The project manager needs previous experience in managing similar projects and ideally one of his or her references should be contacted. The functional experts need knowledge not only of the system but also of the business. Ideally they have helped other organizations improve business process by leveraging their system. It’s also a good idea to check the reference on the key functional expert(s). At the very least, meet those involved before signing a contract.

Three groups of internal people are usually needed in any ERP project – a steering committee, project manager(s) and subject matter experts. The steering committee could be the management group or executive group for a small company. Larger companies will often delegate responsibility for projects to a steering committee whose members will include some members of the management or executive group. Project managers are accountable for accomplishing the stated project objectives. Subject matter experts are those involved in the day-to-day work and who can speak in detail on the existing business process and all of its problems. They are heavy users of the system and are usually considered valuable resources. You want one of these people for each main business process in scope.

Steering committee: It could spend about 2%-4% of its time on the project during selection and implementation. The committee’s responsibilities include:

  • Sponsor project
  • Set objectives
  • Establish scope and timing
  • Approve system selection methodology
  • Select project manager(s) and structure of project
  • Approve subject matter experts
  • Define critical success factors/key requirements
  • Prioritize requirements
  • Approve potential vendors
  • Approve vendor short list
  • Approve vendor finalists
  • Select the vendor/solution
  • Monitor implementation and resolve any scope issues.

Project managers: They could spend about 10-25 % of their time on the project during the selection process and 50-100% of their time during implementation. The number is lower for the selection process because it takes time for the vendors to respond. Using external consultants in the selection process will substantially reduce the time project managers need to devote to the project. Their responsibilities include:

  • Manage scope, budget and timing
  • Assist in gathering requirements and documenting business process
  • Manage schedules
  • Direct and motivate the project team
  • Report project progress to the steering committee
  • Point of contact for resolving all issues from employees and the vendors
  • Optionally become product expert.

Views differ on who should be the project manager. Often, existing employees lack formal project management training, and some organizations outsource the function. I think that is a mistake, except for high-level project management. Any day-to-day project management should be done by an employee. The project manager should learn a lot and become a valuable resource internally during the implementation. You don’t want to lose this person. Project management can be learned. The Project Management Institute ( is a good source of information. Courses are available at university, and there are also plenty of books and articles out there. You can also refer to experienced project managers for guidance.

Opinions also differ on whether the employee should become a product expert, or just stick to process without getting involved in the business side. Large multimillion-dollar projects can justify pure process project managers, but smaller projects should use employees that know the business and will become product experts.

More disagreements arise about what kind of person or persons should be the project manager(s). In the March 2008 issue of CAmagazine, we noted that “a good project manager listens well, sees the big picture, is also detail-oriented and can communicate effectively. The project manager is highly motivated to succeed and enjoys challenges. Finally, the project manager has the backing of senior management and the respect of his or her peers.” For an ERP project, the project manager should also know the business, and the scope of an ERP project typically includes at least financials and operations. It’s not easy to find one person who combines the right attitude and aptitude with business knowledge of both financials and operations. And to make matters even worse, the project manager will be very busy with the ERP project and unable to work on other tasks. I recommend picking the person who comes closest to meeting all the attributes, which actually leads to one more characteristic – the ability to delegate. Take your time on this decision, as the project manager can make a big difference in the success of the ERP project.

Subject matter experts: They could spend about 3% of their time on the project during selection and 20%-25% during implementation. The subject matter experts’ responsibilities include:

  • Conduct interviews to document business process and requirements
  • Review business process documentation
  • Review the script to be given to vendors for the detailed demonstration
  • Attend portions of detailed demonstration
  • Provide evaluations of systems
  • Play key role in the implementation of the new system (design, setup, testing and training).

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” An ERP implementation will be challenging and controversial. Make sure your people are up for it.