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Put people at the centre of your ERP implementation

As organisations face into ongoing economic disruption and grasp the realisation that we’re in a different supply chain and labour operating environment post-pandemic, there is a renewed focus on continuous improvement, rationalisation and driving efficiency through the deployment of integrated ERP systems. Implementing and upgrading ERP systems is a considerable undertaking and has far reaching impacts including organisational processes and operating models. However, when implemented successfully, these projects can unlock significant benefits, eg.: provide whole-of-business transparency, data governance for better decision-making, improved customer and partner experience and support future business growth.

Understanding how to implement and optimise your ERP system is vital for all leaders within the organisation, not just IT departments and yet little is written about how to maximise the effectiveness of these significant investments, efficiently and sustainably.

ERP systems are only as good as the people that use them and thus, they need to be regarded as people projects and process projects just as much as they are technology projects. Perhaps this offers us an insight as to why poor Change Management is the number one reason for underperforming projects.

Digital transformation is by necessity, impacting all businesses and no matter how complex your supply chain, organisations must be able to respond faster to change. They also need the agility for tactical shifts like reducing excess inventory, removing non-value adding human effort, removing duplication and waste. To sustain the pace of change, many organisations are putting their faith in, agile, modern ERP solutions that are flexible enough to handle both the opportunities and challenges faced today and tomorrow.

Increasingly, ERP renewal is moving away from being a system of record-keeping of past events to a system of engagement for the whole organisation, driving simplification, standardisation and efficiency along with bringing together people, processes, technology and data in harmony. There has been a fundamental shift away from the single dimension view of lift and shift system implementations to root and branch platforms, business processes and organisational re-design.

Contemporary ERPs are designed to improve business performance and while some improvement comes from installing the technology, most benefit realisation is tied to people changing their behaviour and how they do their jobs; being ‘enabled’ to improve.

Inadequate focus on the people side of change creates risk and in our experience, we see project teams and sponsors place a disproportionate focus on technical design and execution. They take their eye off business requirements, user experience and how it is delivered and embedded with users (including external stakeholders). This risks the necessary alignment of people, process and system and shows up in the form of resistance, redesign, rework, revisit, redo, retrain, re-scope and in some cases, retreat.

Our tips for delivering successful ERP change programs:

Here are Blue Seed’s tips for delivering successful ERP change programs, from over two decades of experience delivering human-centred tech change:

1. Have active and visible leadership of the project

Active, visible and credible sponsorship by leadership, throughout the organisation and for the duration of the project is crucial to delivering the project on time, within scope, to quality expectations and budget, achieving the business case and driving the realisation of the benefits needed to be a true transformation. This is not turning up to meetings or signing a staff notice but rather a wholesale engagement in the project that builds accountability across the business as the workforce takes their cues about what is important from their leader, not necessarily the Project team. Where appropriate, leaders’ KPIs should reflect project deliverables and outcomes.

2. Assemble and mobilise the right project team

Select the best possible team to design, build, test, train & assess, deploy, support, embed and govern the processes and systems. This job does not finish at go-live or even at the completion of the dedicated ‘care’ period. Building a new governance model for systems and processes becomes a critical activity during the Project. Technical prowess is just one of the selection criteria for the right participants. Whilst it is often easy to assess that the organisation may not have the capacity, nor capability needed to resource projects of this scale and complexity and therefore rely heavily on external labour, our experience tells us that hybrid teams are the most effective. The best long-term outcomes are achieved when transformation programs are led by the business and supported by those with a proven track record of having done this before.

3. Develop a meaningful project plan

Properly mapped as-is/to-be system and non-system processes, that make sense for your business, are signed off by your business and will be implemented by your business. You need to know where you are coming from to articulate to your people where you are going, plus bridge the gap between the two. At Blue Seed, we use our Change Readiness Accelerator to rapidly align stakeholders around change needs and a change plan. In addition, the application of our Single View of Change helps both the Project and the business make informed decisions about balancing a range of organisational initiatives and BAU operations with the Project itself.

4. Integrate your change management and project plans

The adoption of a structured and disciplined change management methodology and engagement of suitably skilled resources are critical to deployment success, embedding new ways of work and benefits realisation. Blue Seed brings the tools, frameworks and customised approach that your specific program of work requires. Most importantly, our people have the depth and breadth of experience and skillset required. We deliberately recruit industry experience that drives value into your projects from day 1.

But a change plan stand-alone is not enough, change is a team sport. Ensure your change plan is tightly coupled, integrated and aligned to the overarching project activities and plan.  There can only be one integrated plan and you can only go live when your people are ready for a system that’s ready.

5. Empower your ‘super users’, to inject their knowledge into the system, and listen when they scrutinise it.

Rigorous selection and release from BAU activities of your super-user group will inject the necessary business intelligence and scrutiny into the system and business process readiness. The building of expertise and ownership within the frontline workforce who will actually use the new systems and processes both drives adoption, utilisation and compliance and insulates against high-cost service providers and IT help desks. We are passionate about building lasting capability within the organisation and we set about doing this from the commencement of the Project, building the hard skills and soft skills necessary to affect lasting transformational change.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Frequent and open communication about the change and the need for change with your people is essential. Never underestimate the need to inform and engage at all levels of the organisation with clear purposeful communications and engagement. In addition, focus on sophisticated yet simple communication approaches with 3rd parties such as suppliers, customers, unions and regulatory bodies. Not all of it will be glossy PowerPoint presentations or town hall meetings; a lot of the change that needs to be managed will be hard and needs to be tackled directly and head-on with leaders and the affected workforce.

7. Engage early and engage often

Engage employees early as they have a critical role to play in administering the change and owning it. Engagement is a two-way street and needs battle-hardened expertise to engage across all levels of the organisation and exploit all available channels. Leader-led change is the most sustaining – change cannot be done to an organisation, it must be done by the organisation. Blue Seed prides itself on the way we embed within an organisation; you won’t know us as consultants, rather, we are one of the team.

8. Map stakeholders thoroughly

A thorough stakeholder analysis, that is rigorously maintained, underpins effective and targeted communications. Efficient security role mapping, including segregation of duties and delegations of authority within the system, targeted training and assessment and a sustainable ongoing business governance model are critical change infrastructures to establish. Take the time to dig deep when identifying the stakeholders – in our experience, they lurk and hide everywhere. Ignore, forget or bypass them at your peril!

9. Analyse your training needs – all of them!

The learning needs associated with ERP change are significantly more complex than systems training alone. Training and assessment of people should be integrated and based on business processes, business rules, business roles, business data and delivered by business SMEs. Too often, we see Projects conduct system transaction-based training as a set-and-forget. Lifting capability to drive and support new systems, business processes and operating models must be structured and targeted to the individual. An integrated systems and process landscape need to be reflected in the training plans.

10. Develop a ‘Single View of Change’ for your organisation

Having a dashboard of the change projects happening in your organisation will reap many benefits. Where possible project and change teams should leverage existing processes, channels, and people, as well as align with other concurrent projects or change efforts. Our Single View of Change approach regularly snapshots the business as a whole to ensure parallel projects are maximising resource utilisation, taking advantage of synergies and providing senior leaders with clarity to make agile decisions.

Despite what the salesperson told you (or what you may wish for), there is no such thing as an out-of-the-box or plug-and-play ERP solution. The undertaking is time-consuming, soaks up a significant amount of resources, is very distracting to normal operations, is a lumpy and bumpy project effort and will push people out of their comfort zone. When planned and executed well, however, the business will leap forward to a new operating rhythm, a continuous improvement culture will stick, a newfound internal capability and expertise will emerge, relationships with customers and suppliers will solidify and quite rapidly, your people will be freed up from non-value adding activities to be able to drive the organisation forward. There is a significant people-dependent portion of ERP project ROI and there is a distinct correlation between change management effectiveness and meeting the project and long-term business case objectives.

Change management is not just orchestrating communications and training; it is about driving a fundamental cultural shift in approach and ways of working. Ineffective change management impacts the morale, engagement, productivity and BAU deliverables of employees, as well as customers and suppliers. To ensure success, an effective change management effort is required, which wins the hearts and minds of your people, coherently explaining to individuals, “What’s in it for me?” “Why are we changing?” “What are we changing?” “How are we changing?” and “What is the risk of not changing?” and most importantly, doing something about it!


Further reading:

To understand how change management delivers lasting value for people, your culture and strategic success read Blue Seed’s whitepaper: The True ROI of Change Management.


About Blue Seed Consulting

Blue Seed is an organisational change consultancy that focuses on the people side of change. We deliver exceptional and lasting outcomes for emerging, disrupted and transforming companies.

Our consultants are experienced multi-industry ERP deployment specialists and know how to manage a network of people, technology, data, and resources efficiently and economically, to get results. ERPs are more than a platform implementation; they require driving end-to-end, whole-of-organisation, behavioural change, building new ways of work, business disciplines, rules, and processes.

We hit the ground running. We know the fast-paced and high energy rhythm of ERP implementations. We think outside the box because we know ERPs have tentacles throughout your organisation and beyond. We strategically manage up and downstream relationships for mutual benefit and expectations. Explore our service offering here