In 2001 the United States Military began developing a new plane, the F-35. The aircraft was envisioned as a replacement for four different planes: the F-15, F-16, F-18 and A-10, and would be used by the Navy, Air Force and Marines. Essentially this plane would be all things to all people.
Fast forward 15 years, and full-scale production of F-35s has still yet to be achieved despite an original target go-live of 2008. Now it’s projected that full-scale production will begin in 2019 (11 years late).
Fighter Jets and Your ERP Project
What happened? It turns out that there were issues with virtually every part of the machine — both hardware and software. Everything from software forcing pilots to reboot in midair to cracked airframes plaguing the project. I argue that the underlying issue was that this plane was supposed to be all things to everyone. This one plane is supposed to replace four others for three very different branches of the military — each with unique needs and requirements.
So what lessons can we learn from this project? Here’s my take away: your project shouldn’t be all things to everyone, but it can be the right things to the right people. Your ERP can’t include everyone’s requirements, but it can meet a majority of key stakeholders requirements. I believe that a philosophy of a big bang, “ERP for everyone project” is one of the major reasons why 75 percent of ERP projects take longer to implement than planned, 60 percent receive less than 50 percent of their expected benefits and 55 percent come in over budget.
The problem with any project, but especially ERP project management is that there are three pillars that must work in harmony: budget, timeline and scope. How do you successful establish those three?
Governance and Consensus Building For Your ERP Project
- Break Down Silos and Establish Governance: An ERP project will only be successful if the right members of the organization are engaged. Specifically:
- Establish a steering committee of key functional executives and one executive sponsor; by doing this early on, you will be able to internalize the requirements of each functional executive — not that you can meet all requirements to start, but you’ll know where pain points and drivers really lie. Hint, you should probably engage all company executives at some point so they buy into the plan!
- Create a project team of key functional leads. Similar to the point above but this group will be doing the day to day heavy lifting. Be sure that it’s representative of the functions that will use ERP most frequently — not just IT or systems individuals.
- Enlist an experienced project manager. The project should be led by a seasoned project manager, preferably a PMP (Project Management Professional) that is not part of the IT organization. This will ensure that the goal of the ERP project is not technology and feature-focused and the goal is not “get the system live” (more on goals later).
- Remind Governance Teams that “This Isn’t the End.” Unless you’d like to end up like the F-35 example, there will be times where you cannot meet every need of the organization with the initial go-live, and that is fine. Focus on an achievable percentage of scope (based on budget and timeline) and stick to that. This ensures that you set your organization up for continuously evolving the ERP so that phase two, three, etc. are guaranteed to take place. A phased approach with quick wins will help improve support for the overall project as time to benefit is accelerated for key functions.
- Have overarching goals, strategies and KPIs to guide every decision. By developing a framework of metrics / KPIs, linked to strategies, that link to a few goals (at most), you’ll ensure that you have a clear hierarchy to meet the needs of the different functions. This will be your “north star” guiding you toward project completion, and will also allow the project team to push back when an executive puts in a unique requirement that doesn’t match project goals. Here’s a basic example framework for an inventory-related goal:
Just as with the F-35, if you try to include everyone’s requirements, and have one big bang go-live, your project won’t get done. Had the military created three different planes to meet three distinct branches of the military’s needs, I suspect that all three would be operational by now. And like your ERP project, having the right team, with the right goals, practicing continuous improvement, I’m confident that you’ll achieve success.