Your ERP project can be improved by... ’80s movie quotes?

What do Ferris Bueller, Darth Vader and James Dalton have to do with implementing an ERP system? Not much, unless you apply some of their more famous movie lines to help make your project a success.

Implementing a new ERP system is a full-contact sport. As the project lead, you need to deal with a new technology, competing priorities for scarce resources, multiple vendors and a very stressful environment. You need to be ready to deal with the unexpected, because you are the captain of a ship heading out into a stormy sea. Here are three great pieces of advice from three famous movie characters.

1. Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The pace of an ERP system implementation is quick. At the beginning of the project, you need to educate the vendor about your business and requirements. The vendor in turn needs to educate you about its product. Together, you need to determine how to best utilize the system to meet your needs. This can be a confusing time. It is best to slow down and document the key design decisions, review them with the vendor and key stakeholders, and be sure that before you begin the build everyone is educated and in agreement on the overall solution. If you proceed to the build phase without this common understanding, you will miss “it” (an acceptable solution), and run into challenges in subsequent phases.

2. James Dalton: “Be nice.”

In Road House, Patrick Swayze's character Dalton is the “cooler” and is in charge of the bar. He needs to make sure the bartenders, servers, bouncers and band work together to provide a great experience for the customers. As the project lead, you have a similar responsibility. No matter how great the technology you are implementing, you need to get a large group of people to work together to make the project successful. The best piece of advice is to be nice and work well with others.

There are very few occasions in my career where I thought someone was actively trying to disrupt a project. Most people have good intentions and try hard, but make mistakes. It's easy to get upset with each other, especially with a vendor that you are paying a significant amount money to assist you with the project. Whenever there is a miscommunication and times are stressful, bring the team together to discuss the issue and work together to solve the problem without pointing fingers. A high-performing team that respects each other is the key to success.

3. Darth Vader: “No. I am your father.”

The scene in Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader reveals that he is Anakin Skywalker is one of the greatest movie surprises of all time. No matter how well you manage a project and anticipate risks, there will always be a major surprise (key resources leaving, a major business event that changes scope, etc.) that the team will need to react to at the last minute. But if you took the time look around, documented key decisions and built an outstanding team, you will be ready for such a surprise.

When the surprise hits, don’t just give in to the challenge and turn to the dark side. Instead, document the impact of the surprise. Does the development affect the project budget, timeline or quality level? How big is the impact and do we need to address it immediately, or can it be deferred to a later stage? What are our options?

Share your analysis with a predefined steering committee of key stakeholders to review the analysis and mutually agree on a path forward.

On one project, my client wanted to roll out a full procurement solution. The system included significant policy changes, automation and controls that would allow the company to better manage expenditures. Previously, each department managed spending in a silo with no system controls or formal policy. This was a significant change. The team worked hard to build a great system and actively engaged senior leadership and the organization to educate them on the change. During the final stages of testing, a few system “surprises” threw the senior management team off balance. They considered delaying the go-live. After gathering the facts and brainstorming options, they chose to not delay the go-live, but to roll out the system to a smaller pilot group. The pilot was a success in the sense that it revealed four major issues that the team was able to resolve. When the system was rolled out companywide, it was seen as a major win.

In summary, ERP projects are run at a fast pace, with a lot of people working together, and there will always be surprises that you will need to address. May the force (and good project leadership) be with you.

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