The five design sins on implementation

How to avoid five design sins when implementing an ERP system subjective look

Ingrid Krasnowska

This article is addressed primarily to people who already know that they will participate in or in an IT implementation project or will supervise such a project. It does not have to be active participation, it is possible that in your company such an undertaking will take place and you will have a smaller impact on the fate of such a project... it is worth being aware of what factors may affect the success of the ERP system implementation.

When I was asked to write a few words about mistakes made in IT implementation projects, I thought of examples from recent years of work, specific projects, and clients... and I wanted to present you a few lessons on how not to act by using exact examples of specific errors... However, after reflection and observation that both in the press on project management and in various publications on this subject, and even on the blogs of expert colleagues and fellow project management specialists, there is a lot of good advice on how not to act, lists of errors, conclusions managerial staff, charts showing the perception of the success of the project. All these articles, entries, notes, and even the entire training and presentations available tell you what not to do! Therefore, I will try to present how to proceed so that the project we have in front of us ends with success, satisfaction with the work done and is perceived as one that makes sense for the company, not to mention something as obvious as completing the project in time, with the assumed scope and in the assumed budget.

How to avoid mistakes - committing design sins

From my professional experience, from contacts with other people, or readings, I consider the most valuable threads where I learned how someone coped with a difficult situation, how he made a discovery, solved a problem, etc. The described "other people's cases" can become a ready-made recipe or just help, a hint on how to act in a given situation, if I encounter a similar challenge.

This is learning from the mistakes of others.

Being a project manager of several serious implementations of the SAP ERP and CRM system, I encountered many adversities and, unfortunately, I did not always have the appropriate experience to deal with them quickly, but many of them I managed, among others, thanks to literature and publications, the support of more experienced people or after simply helping to do more than planned by the team.

Thinking about the critical success factors of the project in the literature on the subject called Critical Success Factors - CSFs, I allowed myself to subjectively choose five of them. Ignoring any of them, in my opinion, is a design sin.

Critical success factors are the conditions on which the success of a given project undertaking depends to the greatest extent. In publications on this subject, we come across a list of several dozen factors.

Due to my experience and the position of perceiving these problems, let's assume that our implementation project is already after the stage of selecting a specific IT solution - an ERP system and implementation service provider.

Sin No. 1

Inappropriate project manager

When recruiting a project manager, you will probably mention the following requirements:

  • experience in project management
  • PMI, Prince II or IPMA certification,
  • ability to work under pressure…
  • ability to work in a team
  • Independence in carrying out assigned tasks
  • Etc.

All of this is very important, but choose a person who has the talent and willingness to do such work. This, in my opinion, is one of the most important factors. I am not suggesting ignoring other qualities here, but having a choice between the candidates to be compared, the scales should tilt in favor of the person with stronger will and talent.

According to Robert Newton, the author of the book 'Effective Project Manager', the project manager himself, in particular his knowledge and competencies, is of great importance for the success of the project, which is manifested in the ability to extract the best elements from teamwork and focus on quality.

At one of the project managers' meetings, I heard that statistics show that as much as 60% of the success of a project depends on the right project manager. I did not find information on how it was researched, but I agree that the project manager is the key to the success of the project.

Sometimes in ERP system implementations, the project management consists of two (or more) people cooperating and sharing responsibility for individual tasks. It is very important to properly distribute these responsibilities, but a hundred times more important is to fulfill them and be able to do more than planned. Willingness to non-standard actions when necessary, to creatively solve problems, but also to 'manage' successes. A project manager is a person who not only knows what actions should be taken in a day, week and month, but will also be able to modify these plans with the goal of the project in mind. A good project manager is also a person who can talk to people - both with his team, as well as superiors or partners in the implementation, a person who will listen to others and find time for them. A person who will find the right balance between formalisms, planning and drinking coffee together, or having lunch in the canteen with other project participants.

Therefore, when faced with choosing a project manager in your company, act in such a way that you do not have sin No. 1 on your conscience.

Sin No. 2

Lack of management involvement in the project

A little provocative towards the managers of companies where the implementation of the system takes place, let me recall the proverb 'Fish breaks down from the head'. Let this popular saying be a warning against committing this sin.

The project team, its members responsible for smaller, partial tasks can do them very well, simply well or well enough that no one will blame themselves for the way they are done. To a large extent, the level of quality of execution of certain project tasks will depend on the work culture in a given company. Sometimes you hear complaints that there is no incentive system in the project and that is why individual tasks are so poorly performed. It probably has an impact if it is. However, the staff always looks at how the managers and managers of the company work and operate. With their real involvement or interest in the fate of the project, they feel safe and it influences the project progress better.

The best projects are always those where the management board finds time for regular meetings and familiarization with the course of work, where it is natural and not surprising. After all, usually one of the main beneficiaries of a well-implemented IT solution is the company's management.

Therefore, if you are facing the challenge of an ERP system implementation project in your company, do your best not to make it a project detached from contact with the company's management.

Sin No. 3

There are no project goals in definition - that is why we implement a given IT solution

Defining the goals of the project is the answer to the fundamental question about the essence of activities in the ERP system implementation project. One of my favorite project experiences was the SAP implementation where the whole team knew the goals of the project, and before that many people on the team were involved in defining those goals. In the context of this knowledge, decisions were made about the shape of the processes implemented in the system and the scope of programming changes, the team knew its limitations (deadlines, project budget). This knowledge and awareness influenced the final result and, in general, the possibility of achieving success.

At one meeting, the facilitator told the story of the construction of the cathedral, which is a good illustration of sin number 3. Well, when in the quarries workers were asked why they split marble into strange, undersized cubes, many workers reluctant to this unusual task said: 'Because they told me to do that, I have to do this, otherwise they won't pay me. And I have got a family to support, and I have no choice. It is stupid in my opinion because we have always formed normal stone blocks, but whatever they say, I do it'. And the only diligent worker, after asking him a question, replied: 'I am building a cathedral! It will be a beautiful cathedral, with unusual portals, these small stone boulders will support sculptures by the windows with colorful stained glass windows. I dig the marble, then I form blocks according to the design. They will be taken to the city and the masons will use them there to build a cathedral... ' etc...

Only this worker was the only one who knew what he and the whole team were doing, how important his work was in the entire project. He worked with enthusiasm. Communicating to all project participants the goals and other aspects of the overall project must be an integral part of the project plan. A good project manager can take care of this and thus avoid the risk of making mistake number 3.

Build the most magnificent 'chairs' as part of your ERP system implementations!

Sin No. 4

Choosing the wrong project team and improper assignment of roles and responsibilities within the team

A project to implement an ERP system in an enterprise cannot be carried out without the participation of the project team. Even if the implementation would cover a small area scope, at least a few people collaborate in it. And here is another aspect of avoiding sin.

It is important to select the team so that all tasks can be carried out efficiently. In this regard, we encounter purely technical tasks and interpersonal challenges. People start working in a new team, so they have to quickly learn new topics, learn to work with employees in other positions, in other departments, sometimes there are also cultural aspects (different customs, standards). Forming a project team requires a lot of attention and reflection due to the appropriate assignment of people to all roles in the project. The project manager, based on the principles of project management, must also properly assess the possibility of implementing the challenge by individual team members, set the rules of operation and boundaries, and properly sort tasks and their allocation. Hiring external specialists for the team should not be avoided. The goal of any project itself is to complete it successfully. Therefore, let's choose the team skilfully, encourage them to cooperate, remind them of the goal, formulate tasks appropriately, but also accept minor failures and conflicts, striving to achieve this goal of the project.

Sin No. 5

Not ready to make changes to the project

It is wonderful to see our own or someone else's accomplishments when we look back to the past and can conclude that we have achieved what we set ourselves up to do. The farther the time perspective is, the fewer details of our plans are noticed, the main goal and the result are remembered.

The whole process of achieving the goal - in our case, the implementation of the ERP system, is an everyday struggle with larger and small tasks, verification of plans, coordination of various threads, monitoring resources, budget, quality, etc. What is unchanged in each implementation project is the fact that we are dealing with changing needs. So change is unchanging. Must be an accepted guest on the project. The whole design masterpiece is to define the rules and limits of acceptance of this guest - change.

There is certain linearity between the size of the project and the amount and size of changes that the needs appear in the project. Mature project managers in organizations used to the project culture can cope with this to tame the bull called change. Risk monitoring and management are strongly related to how the level of acceptance of changes is possible in the implementation process. This acceptance of change must be discounted by assertiveness and a strong drive to achieve the project goals.

Sometimes failure in the implementation of project tasks causes changes, in this case, it is necessary to ensure that the failure in the project costs as little as possible. One of the design commandments is: Fail cheaply. They can also be borne cheaply when we can translate them into benefits in the form of lessons learned or building a knowledge and experience base for further project implementation, or future projects in the enterprise.

The project should create a culture that will tolerate failures, accept changes, but also one that will leave experience in the organization and build excellence for the future.

I have focused above on selected individual critical success factors of projects. Today, in design-mature enterprises we deal not only with the implementation of one project, in such organizations many projects are carried out, which make up the entire project programs. In companies, experience and learning from individual projects are translated into success to a much greater extent.

Enterprises managed with a project approach to achieving goals achieve several benefits, including:

  • Projects are well suited to the needs of the organization - the requirements resulting from the business environment are better met.
  • Better efficiency - thanks to better repeatability of project results
  • Better communication in the organization - teams are appointed for individual projects, people know each other better from other projects, they reach agreement faster
  • Flexibility - thanks to projects (especially those successfully completed), enterprises are better prepared to introduce changes in response to business needs
  • Better use of resources - temporary delegation of the team to the project, temporary use of other resources (rooms, devices, etc.) allows for more effective work
  • Knowledge base - there is a knowledge base in the company resulting from other experiences (preferably if it is written down)
  • Risk control
  • Better financial results

Coming back to the main thread of the article, I would like to emphasize once again that the success of the project is influenced by many more factors than those presented above. In various projects, their success may be influenced by factors that will remain marginal in others. Based on my experience, however, let me state that none of the five distinguished aspects is ever marginal. I wish that you always have competent project managers in your projects, the company's management board supporting the project, well-defined project goals, a well-chosen project team, and that you accept design changes while maintaining the direction you want to achieve in the project.


Ingrid Krasnowska

Member of the Management Board of SI-Consulting

Expert in logistic processes, supply chain connections, and validation of computerized systems under GMP requirements. She has many years of experience in working as a delivery manager and manager of implementation and service projects for IT solutions.