I’m a huge fan of professional football (American football, that is). Perhaps the thing that fascinates me most about the sport is how much each play matters, and how within each play, every little thing matters.

If an offensive lineman protecting the quarterback is just one inch too far off his position on just one play, it can be the difference between a touchdown and the quarterback being sacked for a loss. When an offense is moving down the field, one key block that pushes a defender just one inch further downfield can be the difference between keeping the drive alive with a first down or having to punt to the other team. And we’ve all seen many episodes of Sports Center where the receiver makes a spectacular catch in the end zone, only to have one foot just one inch too far over the line. Sixty minutes may seem like a long time to play a game (especially if you don’t like football), but it’s often not enough time to overcome one “mistake of inches” from earlier in the game.

Just as in football, ERP implementations are much the same way. The average deployment takes 18 months from start to finish, which seems like plenty of time to make and overcome a mistake or two. But that is not the case. Every little thing counts, from the way you choose your software to the way you design your system to the way you communicate changes to employees. We’ve seen projects fail because the project team forgot to define that one little critical requirement during the ERP selection process, only to find that the software they chose couldn’t handle the functionality. This creates a domino effect of customization, cost overruns, and ultimate project failure. Had the company just remembered that one little requirement early in the process, that may have made the difference between success and failure.

And just like football, an ERP implementation is a brutal contact sport. Facilitating business changes, managing organizational resistance, controlling project scope creep, and ERP software that doesn’t always fit your exact needs can take it’s toll. By the end of the game, you’re just glad to have survived the whole thing in one piece.

ERP projects may be like football games in many cases, but they are different in one way: football has a clearly defined goal-line and scoring process, while no one has created a universal definition for ERP implementation success. In other words, where is the goal line and when do we declare victory? How do we define go-live? Are we done once the system is up and running? Which business processes do we have to have addressed in the new ERP software before we call it a day? How do we know when the business has fully adopted the software? And how will we know that the business has realized a strong ROI from the investment?

The problem is that most people in your company, including the ones running the project, probably don’t have answers to these and other key questions, which can lead to big problems later on.

This issue is becoming even more pronounced during the current recession. Companies are cutting IT budgets, cutting ERP scope, rushing decision processes, and doing whatever possible to reduce risk. However, these actions don’t necessarily lead to success or put a “W” in the game column. So how do we define victory? And how do we orient ourselves with the playing field enough to understand how big the field is and where the goal lines are?

Below is a video we recently produced that addresses this question head-on. As you will see, winning in the game of ERP implementation requires us to redefine what we mean by “go-live,” or what we mean by winning.

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