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Choosing wrong ERP implementation partner: 10 warning signs

Working with an ERP implementation partner can sometimes bring some warning signs. Learn these 10 indicators that your project team is working with the wrong partner.

An implementation partner can bring various benefits to an ERP implementation project, including access to vendor contacts, knowledge about ERP system issues and limitations, and experience keeping the project on schedule and on budget. However, a project team should watch out for certain red flags that indicate their implementation partner is not the right fit.

An implementation partner missing deadlines, failing to provide training and ignoring a company's specific business needs are all warning signs that an ERP project team should heed. 

Here are 10 warning signs that the project team should watch out for during an ERP implementation.

1. Implementation partner misses deadlines

If an implementation partner misses key deadlines, particularly early in the project, everyone on the project needs to figure out what went wrong and how to address it.

A partner can miss deadlines for a variety of reasons, and the implementation partner may not be entirely responsible for the mistake. Ideally, the partner will give the project team a clear explanation about what happened and share how the implementation partner plans to get back on schedule. Their plan may include pulling in additional resources or working with the project team to defer features that are less important.

However, the project team should be wary if the partner suggests simply having the implementation consultants work longer hours. Longer hours may help in the short term, but the consultants may need to work those longer hours anyway to hit the next milestone.

2. Implementation partner experiences frequent employee turnover

The project team should take note if multiple key employees resign from the partner's company.

Losing one person is understandable, but if company departures become a trend, the project team should be concerned. Employee departures put the project at risk, and this trend can lead to longer-term issues with future project phases or software support post go-live.

In addition, significant turnover at the implementation partner's company may lead to the project team needing to contribute more resources. The team may need to repeat knowledge transfer sessions with new implementation consultants or the implementation partner may struggle with hiring a new project consultant.

3. Implementation partner offers little or no training

The project team should be wary if their implementation partner doesn't offer the proper training.

The implementation partner should help the project team understand available vendor training and which training is mandatory, and the partner should supplement the vendor's training in key areas. In addition, the implementation partner should explain the ERP system configuration to the project team so they can support it post go-live without the implementation partner's help, and they should supply documentation and instructions for key items.

4. Implementation partner encourages dependence on them

The project team should keep an eye on the implementation partner taking on additional work during the project, especially when the partner volunteers to do so. It can lead to problems for many reasons. The partner may charge extra for the implementation because of the extra work, and if the implementation partner isn't working with many other customers, the partner may be using the implementation to keep their consultants billable.

The implementation partner taking on extra work may also lead to the project team not learning the ERP system properly and struggling to maintain it on their own after go-live, leading to dependence on the implementation partner.

5. Implementation partner ignores business needs

The company is undertaking an ERP implementation to address the organization's unique business needs, so the project team should feel concerned if the implementation partner isn't listening to suggestions and isn't working to understand company needs. Downplaying the organization's needs is another bad sign.

The implementation partner may ignore a company's business needs because they're inexperienced in general or are inexperienced in a specific business area and are trying to deflect. They may also have omitted the business need when scoping the implementation project's cost.

No matter the reason, the project team should be concerned if the implementation partner isn't paying the proper attention to the organization's business needs.

6. Implementation partner assigns too many junior employees

Typically, an implementation partner assigns employees with a range of experience to an implementation project team. However, the project team should confirm that the implementation partner has assigned enough intermediate and senior consultants.

Senior consultants can mentor those with less experience, but if too many junior employees are working on the project, senior consultants may not have enough time to complete their own tasks because they're helping less experienced colleagues. Also, junior employees may make errors because they haven't yet gained an in-depth understanding of the ERP system.

7. Implementation consultants are overworked

The project team should view after-hours and weekend emails from the implementation consultants as red flags.

The consultants may be overworked because the implementation partner didn't assign enough employees or the right employees to the project. Also, the consultants may burn out before the project is complete, leaving the project team shorthanded.

8. Implementation consultants' work is unevenly distributed

The implementation partner may assign multiple implementation consultants to the project, but a few key consultants usually have oversight over the project. The project team should monitor how much other consultants rely on these key colleagues early in the project.

If everything must go through the key consultants, a bottleneck may arise later.

9. Implementation partner submits costly change requests

The project team should keep a close eye on change requests. Change requests occur when the team realizes a requirement is significantly different than the implementation partner believed, leading to a potential change in cost. Large implementations often include many change requests, but the project team should track them closely and validate the reason for the change request.

In some cases, the request may not include an extra cost and the implementation partner may simply want to document a decision made during the implementation. However, many change requests cost a company extra because the request leads to new work. Change requests may also lead to project delays because the team must now fit the new requirement into the project schedule.

Project team members should confirm that the requirement is new and not just something the implementation partner missed earlier in the project.

10. Implementation partner's documentation is insufficient

Typically, the implementation partner is responsible for documenting the ERP system configuration. The documentation helps ensure the project team and implementation partner are both on board with the project direction and becomes a valuable resource when changes are required post go-live.

If an implementation partner isn't documenting the ERP system configuration, they may be inexperienced or the implementation consultants are cutting corners. Lack of documentation may also be another sign that the implementation partner is attempting to make the company depend on them after go-live. All are red flags.

If one or more of these warning signs crops up, the project leader should consider having an open and honest discussion with the vendor as soon as possible. Before the meeting, the leader should identify specific examples of the issues and potentially share a few of them with the vendor before the meeting so they can also prepare.

If the issues persist after a vendor meeting, the project leader should consider escalating the issue within their own company and the vendor's and avoid signing any additional contracts with the vendor. The vendor should address all concerns before the company signs them up for more work.

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