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Curing the Underlying Disease
When a patient develops a fever, it means more than just the fact that someone has an elevated temperature.  The patient may have

  • a serious communicable disease
  • ingested a poison
  • exercised vigorously
  • exposed too long to the sun
  • stayed too long in the heat 

Regardless, symptoms are sometimes a disguise for issues different from those shown at first glance.  In other words, something other than a hot forehead is causing the fever.  This adage is almost universal and even applies to businesses, that is, the exhibited behavior is an indicator that there is a different cause at it root. 

When looking at businesses, a large number of similarities exist between the effectiveness of the business management system and how fluid the flow of information moves through the company.  Where there is good information flow, a shared business vision and a common language exist to compliment the common understanding.  Where information flow is not high, the business vision is blurred and a common language does not exist.  The consequence is that there is not a common approach to problem solving and departments work from silos of information in an attempt to make their world a better place.  The better place cannot exist because users cannot see the ‘big picture’ from within their silos.

Business management systems have a common theme that details how the pieces fit and how they comprise the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.  A prerequisite for understanding an ERP System is the same prerequisite for sharing a common business language, i.e. education.  The presence of an ERP System therefore requires sharing:

  1. a common business vision
  2. a common language
  3. a common understanding of how to approach problem solving 

The role of ERP Education is to create that single vision, create a common language, and create a common understanding of how to approach problem solving.  Where education did not take root or was not in place at an organization prior to looking for an ERP System, common symptoms appear.   Not only that, but the symptoms that appear are different in the implementation phase than they are after the system goes live, if the project does go live, according to Mike Roman, Business Capabilities Architect and founder of Manufacturing Practices, Inc.  According to Mike, lack of proper ERP education “strongly contributes to a number of reasons Business Management Software (ERP) Implementations do not achieve their desired results”.  Mike distinguishes between ERP Education and ERP Training.  “ERP training starts after the software install and prior to users’ interaction with the new business management system.  ERP education prepares the company for the ERP training and is best undertaken prior to looking for the new business management tool.” 

“ERP education is like the farmer’s efforts to create an abundant harvest.  The tilling and aeration of the soil, and use of healthy seed stock, and the application of pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers are all a prerequisite for an abundant harvest but they are not sufficient”, says Mike.  “For an abundant harvest, the farmer needs a contribution from weather.  For a business to come an abundant force in the marketplace, a strong business leader will contribute to the organization to add the additional ‘missing element’ that cannot come with education,” according to Mike. 

For more than 3 decades, Mike has assisted small and mid-sized manufacturing and distribution organizations find and implement the business management system that grow the client’s business.  In his work, Mike has found 10 common symptoms that indicate that the education program in the organization needs attention.

During the Implementation

Symptom #10 - Resource requests exist to create reports “just like the old system”

New business management software usually requires new business processes; those processes often require a small change in business management approach, which include changes to the business reports.  Users that insist on the same information provided in the same manner in their new ERP System may not have understood that the new business system will require users to ‘think outside of the box’.  Too many requests for reports like the old system usually indicate rigid thinking is still abundant in the organization.  The Users did not understand the opportunities available by looking at performing their work differently.  Mike recommends, reviewing the ERP Education process and re-introduce the topic again.

Symptom # 9 - People request Resources requests exist to add additional data fields available “in the old system”

As in Symptom #10, rigid user think creates requests to perform work, “just like we used to”.  This behavior is an indicator that people may not be dedicated to finding the advantages offered in a different way of performing their work.  This is also an indicator that the education was not successful at helping users understand that new procedures will be necessary to use the new software.  When a company exhibits both systems (#10 and #9), it is a clear sign that ‘thinking outside of the box’ requires reinforcement in people’s attitudes.

Symptom # 8 - People arrive late/leave early for training/testing sessions

When people do not honor time commitments during the project implementation, three issues could be at the core of the problem. 

  • People are not dedicated to the success of the project
  • Management is not providing effective project leadership
  • Education was not effective in helping users understand their role in the success of the project

Regardless of why people are unable to honor the time commitments of scheduled activities, management must address the issue.   Regardless, if people understood why their presence is required, the problem would not exist.  Proper ERP education addresses this issue.

Symptom # 7 - Training sessions do not take root

  • Silos of information proliferate
  • Departments do not interact to find cross training opportunities
  • Departments do not interact to help find better ways to share company information
  • Departments are not timely in their reporting efforts

When the user community continues to work from silos of information, the probability of project failure is high.  More than anything else, an ERP System is a repository for company wide information.  Complete information flows from one department to the next, if information does not flow properly the ERP system will not produce the results management expects.  When people do not understand their role in the project, why their information must be timely and accurate, the lack of proper education is again at the core of the issue.

Symptom # 6 - Users are not excited about the new system

  • Users display “same problems – different day” attitudes
  • Users do not look for ways to increase their productivity with the new system

Although excitement is not a requirement for a new system, most people find joy in being able to learn something new, even when they approach the ‘new thing’ in a timid fashion.  In most companies, excitement replaces timidity in short order.  Lack of excitement midway into the ERP implementation is a harbinger of project failure in part or in whole.  A proper ERP education program lights a fire of success for all involved.  People understand their roles; they understand how their data affects others in the organization.

After “Go Live”

Symptom # 5 - Users comment that the new system doesn’t work

  • Users create an attitude  to “show me the benefits”

The “Go Live” event is not something that just happens after a certain time.  Testing in all departments and between all departments proves how well the ERP System manages the business.  The conference room pilot is the conclusive demonstrator of that event.  When people perform their jobs as the ERP System expects and if the results of those transactions produce the expected business and accounting outcomes, the system proved itself.  If users continue to doubt the validity of the system after the conference room pilot, it can only mean that they are not sure of why they have to do things in such a rigid fashion (as in timely and complete).  The lack of a proper ERP education process is again at the core of the problem. The why for their level of effort is a deliverable in a proper education program.

Symptom # 4 - Users do not demonstrate “system knowledge”

  • Users are not evolving into Subject Matter Experts

When users have a good understand of how the software functions, they start thinking in a manner that facilitates the business system use.  Customer service may look and use a Capable to Promise date when they promise a delivery where in the past, they have quoted a fixed lead-time regardless of the work on the floor.  This type of thinking is the result of both a practiced system use and an understanding of how to define and meet customer expectations.

Symptom # 3 - Spreadsheets rule

  • Users spend time inordinate amounts of time learning how to create spreadsheets from various parts of the system
  • Users design a network method of sharing spreadsheets
  • The Silos of information exist
  • Users do not share system information as system generated reports
  • Users did not learn that ERP Systems create shared data for various departments

Let us face facts.  Spreadsheets are convenient tools to help understand and to extrapolate data in a business system.  There is always a reason to look at data in a fashion that gives comfort to the user.  Nevertheless, with the deployment of proper education, users realize early on that spreadsheets may only be as valid as the most recent data download. 

Symptom # 2 - Expected ROI does not appear

  • Expectations were not properly aligned prior to selecting the ERP System (the Implementation partner and the organization had different goals)

Without proper ERP Education, goal setting is like tugging on Superman’s cape or pulling the mask off the Lone Ranger.  It is an impossibility.  There is no button in an ERP package that states, ‘press here to lower inventory’; there is nowhere to find a process to run to ‘improve customer satisfaction’.  These are the results of executing processes and procedures governed by Management Policies.  Improving customer satisfaction happens by meeting customer shipment dates, by selling at a good price and by delivering a quality product and again.  There are no software modules to use or buttons to push to make that happen.  A proper ERP education program discusses how to define a forecast, who to involve in defining that forecast, and how to review and manage the forecast.  A proper ERP education program discusses what shop capacity is, how to manage it, and how to improve it.  All of these things add up to understanding how to set expectations for and manage the customer.

Symptom # 1 - The ERP System is not the Top Priority for the organization

  • What is more important to a company that creating a business with a healthy bottom line?
  • Other projects make move high in the priority list but at all times, users must dedicate themselves to making the ERP System a company success

More often than not, as evidenced by research (see our discussion of “putting the cart before the horse”) ERP projects experience problems during implementation.  Managers cannot light a fire under the user community unless users hand management the matches.  When management sponsors and supports ERP education telling the users:

Seen in this light, users respond in a positive manner.  In essence, users are handing management the matches and not just that.  The user community is first lighting those matches and then handing them to the management team.