An ERP implementation is not a technology project – it is a business transformation project. Harvard professor and change management expert, John P. Kotter, describes the most successful transformation efforts as still being “messy and full of surprises” (Kotter, 2007). Hearing one of the industry panellists at the last ERP HEADtoHEAD™ event describe her experience of ERP projects – that people account for most of the moving parts, and technology the least – made me think about why ERP projects are challenging. Is it a lack of clear vision, structural and cultural challenges, and people’s fear (real and imagined) of change that prevents stakeholders buying-in to the idea of an ERP project? I think so. I also believe that the same issues apply to all change projects – not just ERP – for they are human factors. For this argument, let us assume that a technical and/or business case for some type of ERP exists, has been independently validated but needs more support if it is to proceed.
Create a sense of urgency and synthesise the message
Few would relish the idea of embarking on an ERP project unless there is a burning platform from which to move, i.e., some disruptive event has occurred. It is easier to create that sense of urgency when is it obvious that current technology is at its end of life but it can be more difficult to sell an idea when the justification is more subtle and therefore difficult to comprehend.
Burning platform or not, no one likes jumping blindly into the dark, so if the vision, i.e., what life will be like post-ERP go-live, cannot be explained to non-experts in five minutes or less, it will be difficult to convince them to support the idea. Instead of throwing facts and figures at a wall in the hope that some of them stick, distil the message to something clear and concise. Start with a problem statement that is quantified (avoid data overkill), qualified (why, and for whom it is a problem) and most importantly personalised, to make it relevant to each specific audience. If the organisation has a business systems strategy, demonstrate how this proposed ERP project aligns to one or more of its key tenets.
When pitching to an audience, let them own the decision by presenting pain points, business benefits and consequences in a balanced way. Humans respond more to risk than a reward (this is how pensions and safe cars are marketed) so if there are risks associated with delaying or not going ahead, then it is only right to make people aware. Synthesising the vision lets people see beyond the dark very early on in the change process – vital if an idea is to gain traction. This message is something that the most effective communicators will repeat often so it’s best to craft a 60-second elevator pitch that is concise, consistent, and optimised for different audiences and communication channels.
Understand how decisions get made around here
Every organisation has its way to evaluate project funding proposals. Whether it is clearly defined or opaque, understand how it works before presenting an idea. At a minimum, identify decision-makers, know how they prefer information to be presented and of course, consider wider stakeholders such as the resources who will do the work, as well as any potential blockers. There will likely be macro-environmental factors outside the organisation (e.g., competitive, sociological or technological drivers) or perhaps within (e.g., internal politics, other projects competing for the same funding), that should be considered. Some organisations have a culture of “socialisation” whereby proposals are floated discreetly for feedback and modified before being presented formally. Regardless of the decision-making process and politics, be prepared to modify the approach, and always act with integrity.
Creating a sense of urgency, communicating a clear vision and getting stakeholders to buy-in is fundamental to starting on a successful digital transformation journey. These are only the first steps and much will remain to be done later, as new processes and technology are deployed and change managed to ensure transformation efforts are successful.
Kotter, J. P., 2007. Leading Change. Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), pp. 96-103.
If you are in the market for a new ERP or currently thinking about replacing your ERP solution, attend the next ERP HEADtoHEAD™ virtual event taking place on March 23 – 24 and see 14 leading ERP systems in action.
This web based event offers a unique opportunity to compare and experience leading ERP vendors and their products. Find out more by visiting the ERP HEADtoHEAD™ website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org