A New Kind of Implementation Journey

The speed of change in most businesses is arguably running at the fastest pace we have seen. There are overarching standards in ERP project management, and then there are several methodologies you can apply to your work. In the traditional approach, there are standard steps to follow, as you would imagine. These steps come with structure, formal sign-off and no concept of revisiting the defined solution once the process moves on. Stages cover determining the business needs, designing and testing, then implementation can take place. It sounds like you’ve covered all basis and you’re in control. So, why do we hear that so many ERP projects fail?

We know that there is no one size fits all, and the same goes for methodologies within a project management environment. Some of the most common methods which you may have heard of:

  • Agile
  • Lean
  • Kanban
  • Waterfall

Two conventional approaches to ERP implementation are Agile and Waterfall. The Waterfall approach is considered the traditional way, and Agile has offered an alternative ‘that recognizes the difficulty of managing technology projects over longer periods of time in an environment of change’. At Gradient, we follow defined steps during each implementation. Our method differs from that of others as we take a more agile approach. Instead of a formal closeout, with control gates, to move from one stage to the next, we recognise that there are elements of the project that can and in fact should work in parallel. This optimises the timing of the overall project and understands that not every activity is sequentially dependent on the previous one.

Based on our experience, it is foolish to believe that all ‘methodologies’ can ever really work for ERP projects. However, there are valid elements to specific approaches that work better in this environment.

What is Agile Project Management?

In reality, a system implementation is a complex project and not one you can speed through following a series of steps. Agile Methodology has grown up to address the issues of trying to implement any business system in a purely sequential way based upon a scope determined right at the beginning of the process. Agile ERP project management offers flexibility while still encompassing controls and procedures. It recognises that the key to successfully managing projects is to break them into stages, plan the current step in detail while maintaining flexibility about subsequent stages.

Agile knows that you don’t often get it right the first time so is focused on evolving quickly. Agile listens to the user responses and then adapting the solution through a series of iterations. It makes sense to build more straightforward solutions that are fit for purpose, easy to test, smoothly adopted, and simple to maintain. Subsequently, modify these solutions based on user feedback.

What is Waterfall Project Management?

A project with a waterfall approach is aptly named. Ideally, each stage of the project will flow like a body of water falling over a ledge into a plunge pool below. You can look at this one of two ways: the approach is aptly named in a sense that:

  1. Water flows seamlessly over the edge as each stage in a project should flow, on the way to a successful outcome.
  2. Water crashes to a steep fall over a rock ledge, wearing away at the earth beneath — not necessarily a predictable or successful outcome.

Regardless of which way you choose to look at the waterfall methodology, the premise behind it is that you should follow specific steps on any ERP implementation. Typically, this approach requires that steps are completed in a sequence and have a formal sign-off procedure before you can move on to the next step. In an ideal world, if we have clearly defined requirements and we know that there will be not many changes involved, then we select Waterfall. So, if we believe that the speed of change in business is more rapid than ever before, how can we use a method that assumes we can predict what’s to come in the future?

Why do ERP projects fail?

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Here are some common reasons that ERP projects end up unsuccessful:

  1. You base your budget and implementation plan on anything other than the reality of the situation.
  2. Critical business processes and requirements are not formally documented at the beginning of the process.
  3. Scope changes running out of control.
  4. There is a lack of management engagement and commitment.
  5. Too functionally rich and too heavily reliant upon customisations, to allow for robust but straightforward testing.

Business needs and goals change so quickly these days. You cannot afford to spend months designing the ultimate business process by following the traditional method of ERP system implementation. An agile approach builds minimum viable processes, deploys them quickly, testing the results against the old process.

Mistakes and modifications can be quickly spotted and change rapidly made. Also, bringing people from different divisions within the business together to develop a single business solution represents a significant shift from previous thinking.

What makes an agile team successful?

We want to help you understand how an agile approach can address the five reasons provided previously for project failure.

  1. The team’s focus, in the beginning, is on selecting a system that closely meets the business’s The budget and implementation plan should also focus on implementing a vanilla system as soon as possible. This focus will control costs but also enable the business to start realising benefits quickly – while allowing solutions to improve through further iterations.
  2. Ensure business processes align with the standard functionality in the system, instead of spending a lot of money and time on add-ons to replicate the old way of working.
  3. With a robust solution based on standard functionality, changes should only happen where there are business-critical gaps. Gaps should be formally documented and signed off before you carry out any modifications.
  4. By introducing shorter, more focused timescales make it easier for management to engage in the process. They can see when the new system should start delivering business benefit within their area of responsibility.
  5. By implementing the base system, then developing the solution iteratively and by focusing on business-critical processes defined at the start of the process, the overall solution should be simple to test and easy to adopt.

Why is Agility important?

Methodologies never deliver projects; people do. At Gradient, our people follow criteria which are outlined in our APEX© Framework, designed by Gradient’s Director, Stephanie Snaith. The APEX© Framework is both a methodology and an approach which you can apply to any project. The framework has been built on learning from previous experience, of what works and what does not, and what clients genuinely need. It would be foolish to believe a project can run successfully on a rigid set of steps used over and over again in today’s business environment.

Vendors should look critically at the way they implement projects. As experts on the solution, they should actively encourage their client to see the benefits but also to challenge the solution; this is the only way to ensure the system really does meet your business needs. As a result, everyone will see projects that deliver more business value, also at a lower cost than projects following waterfall principles can ever hope to achieve. As Arcus Universe put it, ‘as a term, agility is defined as the ability to effectively manage and apply knowledge so that a business has the potential to thrive in an ever-changing and unpredictable business environment’.

To find out more about working with us, contact us today for a no-obligation discussion about how we will help you and your business.

Author’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2018 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.