by John Hoebler

What role should the CFO play in a system implementation?

Sep 15, 2016
C-SuiteFinancial Services IndustryIT Governance

Like Goldilocks, you have three options: serving on the steering committee, getting into the weeds or the one that's 'just right' -- providing strategic direction but hopping in as needed.

We all know the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. The three bears return home to find that someone has sat in their chairs, eaten their porridge and slept in their beds. In each case, Goldilocks had to try out all three options before selecting the right one for her.

As the CFO or vice president of finance, you are the Goldilocks on your company’s new finance and accounting system implementation project. There are three basic options for you to choose from: serving on the steering committee, getting in the weeds and being involved in major aspects of the project, or providing strategic direction but hopping in to play a supportive role as needed. It’s up to you to find the fit that’s “just right.”

1. Steering committee (Mama Bear)

The CFO or VP of finance (or other senior executives) can be Mama Bear and play a guiding role on the project as a member of the steering committee. As a key member of the steering committee, the executive can be an escalation point for key design issues, migrating risks and removing overall roadblocks.

This is a very traditional role for senior executives; it allows them to stay above the fray. This option will work well if you have strong project leads and strong domain experts in each functional area (e.g. financial reporting, AP, etc.).

The downside of this option is that executives who just serve on the steering committee would play limited roles in solution design and may miss opportunities to provide valuable input on day-to-day design decisions.

2. In the weeds (Papa Bear)

Senior executives who play the Papa Bear role would be involved in major aspects of the project. They could lead design decisions and be the key decision-maker in many functional areas. This role works well for executives who can afford to spend a significant amount of time on a project. It’s common for executives to be engaged at this level in smaller companies, or in cases where project leads and domain experts lack the capacity or capability to lead their design sections, evaluate options and make decisions.

The downside of this approach is that an actively involved executive may become a bottleneck in the decision-making process. It may also decrease the likelihood of the core members of the accounting team becoming experts in the system.

If you’re leaning toward the Papa Bear role, think carefully before deciding, because this approach can slow down the project and decrease the team’s ability to own the system short term and long term.

3. Just right (Baby Bear)

The option that I recommend is the Baby Bear approach. Senior executives should provide overall strategic direction by serving on the steering committee but hop into key design areas as needed in a supportive role. They should let the project leads come to conclusions and decisions on their own, but support them throughout the process.

An executive who plays the Baby Bear role will take part in key requirements sessions, coach the team on resolving issues and encourage them to come up with their own solutions (that the executive can support or tweak).

The benefits of this approach are that CFOs or other executives spend time focusing on the areas that are critical to the solution and/or where their help is needed most.


Every project is different. Every team is different. You might find yourself playing all three roles, depending the needs of your project. Whenever possible, be like Goldilocks and choose the option that’s “just right” — the Baby Bear role. You will find that this approach allows your team to shine, grow, be accountable and learn the new solution because they built it.