How to achieve ERP success: part 1 – the A-Team

Over the years there have been many headlines about ERP projects going wrong and, paradoxically, fewer stories about the much greater number of projects...

Over the years there have been many headlines about ERP projects going wrong and, paradoxically, fewer stories about the much greater number of projects which have gone well - for example, SAP currently has over 82,000 ERP customers across 120 different countries most of whose ERP systems run smoothly, writes Ian Anderson, director at DNAStream.

However, there is no denying that implementing ERP software is a major undertaking and needs to be recognised as such - with expert project management and controls applied throughout.

So what are the main things that determine the relative success or failure of an ERP project? It's impossible to be completely prescriptive on this as no two projects are ever the same, but one critical factor is the quality of the key members of the project team.

Engage the best consultants for key roles

Although there are many thousands of ERP consultants in the marketplace, there are significantly fewer best qualified to deliver your specific project successfully.

It is wise to spend sufficient time to ensure that you get the right people in key project roles in the project team. I call this the project team "A-Team". The number of these A-Team positions will depend on the size of the project but will include the project manager, solution architect and technical architect.

In larger projects there may be a number of similar roles across different work-streams and other positions, such as training manager, testing manager and data migration manager, may be equally important.

You should interview people for the A-Team roles, even if they are being proposed as part of a consultancy team. Don't just engage with the consulting firm; engage with these key individuals directly to ensure that they are right for your requirement. Take up references to verify that they have previously successfully delivered similar projects to yours.

Once you have identified them, ensure, contractually if possible, that the A- Team will remain in place for the whole period required by the project. It is not uncommon for consulting organisations to use their best people to help win the initial work and then move them on shortly afterwards to win further business at other customers.

In short, aim for the A-Team for these key positions and try to keep them there. Experience has shown that a small select team of experts can deliver significant value to ERP projects.

Use consultants with combined industry and system knowledge

The A-Team should understand both your business and the ERP solution to be implemented. This combination of business and systems knowledge will ensure that they will develop and implement the solution in the way which best suits your business requirements.

ERP software can often be configured or developed in a number of different ways to handle a single business process; a consultant who understands your business will know the best approach for you, rather than simply repeating the method he used at his previous client.

The combination of business and solution skills can make a significant difference to the success of the project by driving through the IT processes which are ultimately going to enhance your business.

The A-Team will direct the rest of the project team

Getting the A-Team will deliver significant benefits to the project and make a successful delivery more likely. They will ensure that the optimum IT approaches are taken for your business and they will have the character and determination to drive these through. They will manage the remainder of the (less experienced) project team ensuring they properly carry out their specific tasks to plan.

But that's not all folks...

While the project team is a critical factor in ERP projects, there are also other important elements such as the software, internal staff, support and future developments and these will be covered in articles to follow in this series.

Read more on IT project management