ERP Success Factors: Choosing the Best Team

By Ocie Anderson, PMP, Director of Consulting Services at Navigator 

It is not necessarily the integrator you choose that is important for ERP success, it’s the team that they bring to the project. ERP projects are complex and require all integration partners (customers, consultants, and vendors) to bring their best available resources to the implementation. Experience is important at all levels, from the executives to the team members. Each resource will have an impact to the overall success of the project. 

Internal Resources
One challenge that many clients face is how to choose a team that will best set up the project for success. Team members usually come from the business, which will have an impact on how current business operations are being run. Business managers will offer resources from their pool and back-fill those positions with new or temporary staff. Sometimes the project positions are filled from the new or temporary staff. Regardless, it is often a challenge to pull the highest performing resources from their day-to-day duties and assign them to an ERP project.

First, let me convince you that your ERP project requires the best people that you have available with a simple question:
Who would you rather have to define how your business will run for the next decade?
  1. Someone who has operational knowledge of your business based on years of experience succeeding and excelling in what they do; the best that the business has to offer.
  2. Someone new to your business who is not as knowledgeable, or whose performance has not met expectations; someone that the business can “spare to lose” for a period of time.
In these terms it may appear to be an obvious choice. But these are real issues that companies and organizations grapple with when staffing an ERP project. When making these decisions it’s important to consider the following:
  • Running the business in the short term is tactical.
  • Designing business processes for the future is strategic.
The project manager and team lead positions should be filled with the “best of the best” that the organization has to offer. These individuals should have deep knowledge of the business, the organization, and the leaders within the areas that they are focused in. Other project team members should be highly qualified as well, with a mix of strong business and ERP solution experience.

Here are 5 important strategies to ensure the engagement of the best resources on your ERP project:
  1. Plan. Provide the business with as much lead time as possible to allow them to source, back-fill, and train replacements.
  2. Communicate. Change management methodologies tell us of the importance of communicating the strategic importance of ERP projects, their alignment to overall company strategy, and the critical nature of project execution. What you are doing is not as important as why you are doing it.
  3. Acknowledge. Be understanding to the business. Acknowledge the potential impact to efficiency and performance as a risk and engage in risk mitigation strategies. Provide additional resources to the business to enable risk mitigation.
  4. Engage. Make decisions that will help the business operate and minimize outside impacts. The organization may experience inefficiencies but steps should be made so that customers are not affected. Hiring extra staff or carrying additional inventory are ways to minimize the impacts of inefficiency.
  5. Support. As discussed in my prior article on Engaged Sponsorship, resources on an ERP project will need support and understanding of how time spent on the project and away from their jobs will impact their personal career goals. If the project is perceived to be of real strategic importance to the company, the best resources will desire to be a part of it. 
ERP projects are too important to not have your best people designing the future of your organization. Business performance will always be important. An ERP project can dictate how major parts of your business will perform for a much longer time-frame than the duration of the project.

External Resources
Another challenge that many clients face is how to determine that external team members have the necessary experience for project success. Interviewing potential consultants is a practice that is not always done. When practical, I highly recommend that clients interview potential resources. For critical roles on the project they should interview multiple qualified individuals and choose the best resource.

For large projects, the number of consultants and the deep technical skills they bring may be a challenge if the client does not have the time or the technical knowledge to properly interview them. Here are some simple questions to ask of your consulting partners regardless of your ability to properly interview them:

Which of the people that we have met will actually be on the team?
You will typically meet very impressive individuals during proposals or oral presentations. Will they be on the team? Full time? This is a challenging question for consultants because scope, timing, and resource availability is always a challenge. You can expect some changes but a red flag is if very few or none of the individuals you have met through the proposal process are full-time on the team. This may be a sign of the firm having limited resources and can result in an inexperienced team being staffed.

What does each person bring to the project?
ERP projects are unique opportunities for all involved to learn and grow, including consultants. However, it is important for customers to know the value that they are receiving in each person. Whether it’s industry experience, process knowledge, or solution experience with a particular ERP package, there should be some qualification that makes each individual uniquely beneficial for the project. Some firms will staff individuals directly out of college onto projects. This is not a problem, but it’s important to understand the role they will play, and the experience that they bring to enable them to effectively play that role.

Are the bases covered?
So you have reviewed each person and they all bring something valuable to the project. Now it’s time to look at the team as a whole. Are your bases covered? Do your project leads have a good mix of industry, solution, and process expertise? Are they experienced facilitators? Do the project team members complement the strengths of their leads? A Finance lead who is strong in General Ledger and Accounts Receivables, should have a team member who is strong in Accounts Payable or Fixed Assets.

The best ERP project teams are made up of the best of the best project leads and experienced project team members who understand the business, the industry, the processes, and solution design. Together, these teams will bring the best practice methodologies, business processes, and creative solutions for the industry that is tailored to the unique requirements of the business.

One Final Point
There is another factor that determines whether or not you will have a high performing team and that is personality. There are many personality tests which may or may not predict the ability of some individuals to work together. In the absence of such test it’s important to monitor how teams are performing together. Conflict is natural on an ERP project but it’s important to discover if the conflict is beyond the normal Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing stages of Tuckman’s group development model. Significant personality conflicts can stifle collaboration and create a negative atmosphere that is difficult to overcome. Sometimes differences can be worked out, creating an even higher functioning team. Sometimes it’s necessary to make a change to the team in order to change the dynamics. Regardless of how, personality conflicts should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Choosing an ERP project team is no easy task. Both internal and external team members have critical roles to play. The absolute best performing teams however, are those teams without designations. When you can walk into a project room and not be able to tell the difference between the internal and external team members, you may very well have the best ERP project team. A team consisting of "clients" and "consultants" have agendas that intersect at the project's success. A single integrated team has the success of the project as their primary agenda.