Essential strategies for ERP project management success

By JP van Loggerenberg, CTO at SYSPRO

The ongoing pandemic, along with ongoing supply chain disruptions across the world has led many manufacturers and distributors to explore the benefits of a digitalization strategy to remain resilient.

According to the recent SYSPRO research report entitled ‘Realigning the links of the disconnected supply chain’, in response to the immediate impact of the pandemic, 69 percent of manufacturers and distributors built a digitalization strategy and 29 percent built a fully-fledged digital transformation strategy with the aim to optimize operational processes  and improve customer services.

The problem however may have come in with the way many businesses have opted to execute on those strategies. As many as 71 percent of businesses that were surveyed engaged with outsourced external service providers with no real understanding of core business challenges or everyday reality of what was affecting the business. As a result, digital strategies have not aligned to digital execution. For example, whilst almost half of manufacturing businesses included the improvement of customer services in their digital strategy, only 18 percent of businesses invested in business systems to improve external collaboration with those customers and even their supplier base.

It is therefore vital for manufacturers to develop and manage their own digital roadmap – owning that process is important. And Instead of reliance on a service provider for the execution of that strategy, businesses should partner with a trusted advisor that can provide advice along the entire digital journey so that digital strategy meets digital execution. This is where the role of the project manager becomes vital.


How a project manager unlocks technological value for manufacturers

Once a digital strategy is in place, a  project manager is assigned to lead the implementation of a solution and oversee the whole project. This manager ensures that the strategic objectives of a business are met, while also ensuring that the full capabilities of a technological investment is unlocked and will draw up a scope document at the outset of the project. For many manufacturers and distribution businesses this may include the implementation of a new ERP system that enables the visibility, control and the single source of data needs that they so desperately require.

The project manager’s role is multi-tiered. They will manage the implementation project, maintain communication at all levels inside and outside the project team, manage any scope issues, manage conflicts that may arise and make the decisions delegated to them and escalate those that require Steering Committee resolution.

If a project is poorly managed, a business could run the risk of running over target dates, exceeding budget by staggering percentages and wasting valuable time. While project delivery is a collective effort, the project manager can ensure ERP project success by employing a number of essential strategies.


Mitigating the risk of stakeholder buy-in

Any implementation project comes with risks and the key role of an ERP implementation project manager is to mitigate these risks. A major risk factor is stakeholder buy-in as people are generally resistant to change. This includes top management support. The SYSPRO study showed that  the true champions of digital transformation within businesses was middle management (60%), while only 44% of C-level management supports digital transformation. Top leadership support is imperative for businesses to digitally transform.

Upfront stakeholder buy-in is dependent on whether or not a digital strategy is accurately defined. A digital strategy should be addressing the key pain points that a business may be experiencing and should be revisited often. For example, during the pandemic, 60 percent of businesses were unable to have ongoing engagement with customers. While external collaboration with the external eco-system has been identified as a key pain point, many have realized that Enterprise Resource Planning may be a solution to increase agility and visibility across the supply chain. With that realization and statistics to back-up the ERP decision, project managers can ensure stakeholder buy-in to avoid ongoing shifts along the supply chain.


Incorporate a change management strategy

With the ongoing risk of stakeholder buy-in, the project manager should also work closely with the project management team to incorporate a rigorous change-management strategy. There are a number of change management models to consider, but one of the more popular or tried and tested models is the Prosci change management methodology. This model equips practitioners with a purpose-driven, performance-oriented process to achieve adoption and usage—and realize successful outcomes from change.


Measure, monitor and reassess

At the outset of the project, the project manager should set up a regular cadence of meetings with the project team to establish project milestones. Questions that would need to be assessed on an ongoing basis include whether the ERP implementation is unlocking value such as time efficiencies. Whether wastage is being minimized. Whether the supply chain is becoming more efficient and whether there is a higher degree of visibility and co-operation between functional areas. The project manager also needs to focus on continuous incremental improvement.

Here working with an ERP vendor that places value on the customer relationship over the transaction by providing additional value through specialist consulting services and ongoing support as well as advice. It is important to partner with trusted advisors to help you along that journey so that you minimize your mistakes and maximize your value.

When implemented well, ERP can offer multiple benefits and returns. The key to success is to appoint a project manager that not only manages and implementation, but always places the customer experience at the center of ever decision along the way.