Fostering Partner Collaboration

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

Collaboration is one of those values that most companies strive for as part of their culture and their ERP projects, but many fall short of in terms of achievement. ERP implementations are multi-million dollar projects where so much is at stake that some companies hoard information and put up barriers in an attempt to protect themselves. Whether you are a customer, a software vendor, or an implementation consultant, looking out for your own interests in this manner is counter-productive. It doesn't lead to the ultimate goal of project success, which is a win for all partners involved. 

I have worked on projects where you could spend time in the project room or attend a meeting and not know the difference between customers, vendors, and consultants. These were some of the greatest examples of partner collaboration. On these projects, team members worked together and freely exchanged information for the primary purpose of project success. I have also worked on projects where partners huddled within their own groups, only coming together when necessary to talk about a particular deliverable.

It is important to choose the best team. A team that interacts in a productive manner, not just taking into account individual abilities. There are great benefits in a true collaborative environment. It has the purpose of promoting the creation of project teams and an environment with a culture of working together as one team.

I’ve identified three things that will foster the right environment for collaboration on ERP projects:
1.    Strong leadership from willing implementation partners
2.    Open lines of clearly defined communication channels between partners
3.    Defined roles and responsibilities for implementation partners

1. Strong Leadership

“Leadership should be responsible for making sure that contractual obligations are in line with ERP success and allow team members to focus on being successful.”

Collaboration must be part of the culture of the implementation partners, driven by the leadership. You should consider company culture, organizational culture within the company, and the culture of individuals within the organization, in particular the leadership, when choosing your implementation partners.

Leadership must set the tone for collaboration. Whether it’s the customer, vendors, or consultants, the team needs to hear from their respective leadership that collaboration is expected. In addition to setting expectations, the leadership must set examples for collaboration by working collaboratively with their counterparts. Disputes regarding contracts, statements of work, work product, etc. should be handled by the leadership amongst the leadership. If the leadership is holding back information or operating in CYA mode, the team will follow suit. The team should be focusing on what it takes to be successful, not fulfilling line items in the contract. Leadership should be responsible for making sure that contractual obligations are in line with ERP success and allow team members to focus on getting the work done.

2. Open lines of clearly defined communication channels

“Establishing times when partners will communicate, and using tools such as web meetings, video calls, and conference calls, will foster collaboration...”

Partners need clearly defined communication channels in order to facilitate collaboration. Those communication channels need to be conducive to solving the issues that arise during ERP projects. They should be between parties that not only have the ability to resolve issues, but are also responsive. It’s not necessarily the best decision for customers to reach out to the CEO of the vendor on every issue or for the consultants to reach out to the President of the customer regarding the next phase of work. It's more efficient (and more respectful) to communicate with the most appropriate person for the topic at hand. Open communication means understanding:
  • To whom we are communicating: who gets contacted for which types of issues
  • How we are communicating: email, customer service call, direct call, meeting requests, Project Management tools
  • Escalation: when the first level communication doesn’t yield results to whom and how do we escalate
For the team itself, co-location as much as possible is extremely valuable. The ability to meet face-to-face, and to do so quickly, will help teams to discuss cross-functional issues and solve problems. Ad hoc meetings are not always possible with global and virtual teams where members can be in multiple countries and time zones. While ERP projects can maximize the advantage of global teams by having work done around the clock, they must work to minimize the disadvantages. Establishing times when partners will communicate, and using tools such as web meetings, video calls, and conference calls, will foster collaboration and minimize the disadvantages of having global teams.

3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities

“The best designs come from the collaboration of ERP partners with the customer, leveraging their unique business requirements that provide a competitive advantage with proven best practices and industry standards.”

One thing that I do not like to hear on projects is: “That’s not my job”. I prefer that everyone be willing to pitch in for the purpose of getting the work done. Another barrier to collaboration is a partner taking responsibility for areas that should be led by another. Doing so can suppress important information that is needed to produce the best solution and alienate those who have important information to share. Some information must come from customers while others should come from consultants or vendors. Everyone should know what their role is as well as the knowledge, skills, and abilities that they bring to the table in order to play that role. Once that is established and the correct party takes the lead, everyone can provide input where they can be helpful.

For example, an implementation consultant should provide the best practice processes and solutions to a customer, while the customer should provide the business requirements to the consultant. Working together they can come up with the solution. It is a dangerous precedent to have the consultant (or the vendor) developing the business requirements. While they may know best practice, ERP solution capabilities, and perhaps even have strong industry knowledge, they will not know the business as well as the customer. Their knowledge and insight is important, but this is an area where the customer must lead. The consultant can then provide insight that may alter business requirements but will do so having full knowledge of the current needs.

The best designs come from the collaboration of ERP partners with the customer, leveraging their unique business requirements that provide a competitive advantage with proven best practices and industry standards. The illustration below describes some common high-level responsibility between customers, vendors and consultants when it comes to designing solutions.



Willing Partners Collaborate
Collaboration is not a natural occurrence. It is natural to make the best decisions for oneself, one’s organization, or one’s company. Being collaborative has to be part of both company culture, and the culture of the individuals charged living up to company values. The success of the project must align to each individual partner’s goals and be the overall driving factor. If a partner’s primary incentive for their own success is simply to sell software, sell services, or meet contract terms, then that will be their primary goal and collaboration for the overall success of the project will be secondary.