I’m a big fan of American football and I get excited with the start of each new season. One of the things I like most about the sport is that each moment of the game is carefully scripted and executed, with a tremendous amount of detail going into each play. Each team has eleven people on the field at any given time and with each snap of the ball, each player has clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Whether a team member is on offense or defense, he has to know what is expected of him, where exactly he needs to be on the field, and what he needs to do to help his team make the most of each play.

One intriguing aspect of football is how every little detail seems to matter. From how a receiver runs his route, to how the offensive linemen protect their quarterback or help the running back run the ball, to how a defender covers his receiver, each play hinges on the little things, each of which can ultimately affect the outcome of the game. It’s also a game of inches – a ball thrown just inches from a receiver’s fingertips can be the difference between a touchdown and an interception to the other team, just as a defensive lineman lined up just inches off of his position can be the difference between sacking the quarterback and not moving off his position.

Whether or not you follow or enjoy football, the sport provides some important lessons for ERP implementations. Similar to football, ERP initiatives require a great attention to detail, carefully scripted project team roles and responsibilities, and clear orchestration among the various project activities. Perhaps most importantly, it is the little things that can make or break an ERP implementation.

Here are a few details that may seem like subtle nuances of an ERP implementation, but they are actually very significant and important differences between managing a successful ERP project versus an ERP failure. These minor adjustments in your ERP system playbook can be the difference between winning and losing during your ERP implementation:

1. Business blueprint vs. technical blueprint. Most ERP vendors and system integrators provide software design or blueprint activities, as it is a critical step in helping them design and configure the software for your business. However, there is a subtle but big difference between creating a technical blueprint and creating a true business blueprint. The technical focus tends to define transactional details, such as how the screens will look, user options will be defined, and master data will be set up. However, traditional and common technical blueprints do not address the more important fundamental issues, such as how the overall business process will flow, employees’ specific roles and responsibilities in the system, and performance measures that will be used to drive performance in the new environment. So while most vendors and consultants use the term “blueprint” loosely, it is important to ensure your organization develops a business blueprint rather than a more limited technical blueprint. Without a business blueprint, you will have a configured ERP system that may work technically, but won’t necessarily work for your business.

2. Organizational change management vs. software training. Training employees on the new software is probably one of the more obvious needs of a successful ERP implementation. However, a common misconception is that employee training is the sole requirement from an effective organizational change management perspective.  The reality is that training is just one of many components of organizational change and is, in my opinion, the least important. Just as a business blueprint is more important than a technical blueprint, business process training is more important than transactional-based software training. Employees need to understand end-to-end business flows in the context of your organization’s unique operations and how it relates to the current environment that they’re used to, much more so than they need to understand how to punch buttons or choose menus in the software. For this reason, generic transactional-based vendor training materials need to be tailored to fit your specific workflows. In addition, employee communications, clearly defined job roles and responsibilities, and change discussions are all things that are arguably more important than training to use the software.

3. Program management vs. project management. Managing a software project is much different than managing an overall business transformation program. Sure, software vendors and consultants provide “project management” services to ensure the software is delivered, configured, and tested to your satisfaction, but this does not cover the broader and more important aspects of a successful project. For example, there are a number of activities that require more time, resources, and oversight than delivering the software, such as process design and blueprinting, organizational change management, benefits realization, making operational decisions that affect the software, and business process testing and acceptance. These activities are typically outside the scope and capability of software vendors and consultants, but this ability to program manage the ERP initiative is critical to its overall success.

4. Benefits realization vs. go-live. Perhaps the most important but subtle aspect of successful versus failed ERP implementations is the definition of a successful go-live. Most system integrators, vendors, consultants, and their clients define a successful go-live as when the software works from a technical perspective and things are a complete operational mess. This definition sets the bar for success way too low and causes many companies to leave millions of dollars of lost business benefits on the table, and in some cases, results in project failure. If you don’t measure it, you won’t achieve it, so it is important to not just get the system up and running, but to also optimize the business benefits you expect to see. As with any multimillion dollar investment, you should expect the best ROI possible for the risk that your organization is taking. A comprehensive benefits realization plan and methodology is the best way to ensure that this happens.

On the surface, the above variables may seem subtle or immaterial, but they are in fact critical success factors for any effective ERP implementation. These minor adjustments will have a huge impact on the likelihood of your project’s success and the overall risk profile of your initiative. We recommend making these adjustments to your ERP playbook before getting too far along in your ERP system implementation. Contact us today to learn more about how our team of independent ERP experts can help your organization bring home a win.

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