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Dos and don'ts for ERP selection success

The ERP selection process can succeed or fail based on seemingly small factors. Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind as you embark on the process.

An ERP implementation doesn't succeed through luck. As the project leader, you must develop a solid plan and focus on the most important aspects of the project early on.

While some items on this list may seem obvious, teams often skip them, thinking they'll get to them later or that they don't need them this time. That's a mistake -- and it can lead to ERP failure.

Here are some dos and don'ts to make sure the ERP selection process goes as smoothly as possible.

Do start with business requirements

Documenting what you require from an ERP system may seem time-consuming, but it is a crucial step. You need clear, stakeholder-vetted requirements so you can choose and implement the right software. If you select the wrong ERP system, you'll need to pay for change requests and third-party software to fill in the gaps.

If you have a good set of requirements in hand, you gain multiple advantages early on, including the following:

  • You can confirm during your first meeting that a particular vendor meets your must-have requirements. If it doesn't, you can move on to the next vendor and save yourself and your team a lot of time.
  • If the vendor's sales team says its software meets your most important requirements, you can ask them to actually demonstrate that functionality during their demonstration. This ensures they don't gloss over the software's limitations.
  • Once you begin speaking to vendors and watching demonstrations, you can incorporate new requirements into your existing document rather than starting from scratch.

Do create demonstration agendas

Work with the vendor's team to develop a good meeting agenda. They should get time to showcase the company and product. But you should also have plenty of time to evaluate the features you're most interested in seeing. Discuss the length of the demonstration, and make sure subject matter experts (SMEs) are available at the appropriate time.

While some items on this list may seem obvious, teams often skip them, thinking they'll get to them later or that they don't need them this time.

Don't put off involving key stakeholders

Key stakeholders can make or break your project. They'll be more likely to support your initiative if they're brought in early and allowed to give input about requirements, schedules and your planned process. If you leave them out until the end, they may not get behind your initiative and may continue doing things the old way.

Include individuals at all levels of the organization. A successful ERP system roll-out requires employee support as well as executives' sign-offs.

Do pick a trusted implementation partner

Often, software vendors will recommend that you work with their professional services team or one of their implementation partners. However, taking the time upfront to identify the vendor with whom you're most comfortable and building a good relationship with them will benefit you throughout the project.

You can strengthen this relationship by meeting with them during good times and bad, being fair during negotiations, and working as a team rather than taking an adversarial approach. A good implementation partner relationship will pay dividends over and over, and it will make the project much less stressful.

Don't assign an inexperienced project manager

An ERP project can be a big undertaking with high expectations. Pick a project manager who has experience with similar implementations. They also need to be able to handle the high stress that comes with multiple deadlines, missed deadlines and unexpected change.

Your company's more junior project managers can still be involved. They can support your chosen project manager and take on specific areas of responsibility. These will be good learning experiences.

Do include a contingency fund

Financial surprises will undoubtedly crop up even if you documented your requirements and negotiated a good vendor contract. They'll also appear even if you selected the best ERP system for your organization and chose an experienced implementation partner. A reorg could occur, or another system may be implemented that you suddenly have to interface with.

You should add a contingency fund from the beginning so you're ready for any unexpected events.

Do include the right SMEs on your team

You will need the support of subject matter experts to succeed with your project. They'll play an important role whether they're part of your core project team or your extended team. Your SMEs should validate requirements, contribute during meetings and take part in testing. They will ideally be a supportive voice for your project within the organization.

Do supplement your team with external resources

Your project team members' day jobs likely won't go away when the project starts. You may want to consider adding temporary resources to help your team members with their workload. Options include the following:

  1. Backfill a portion of the project member's role with another employee. That employee will gain additional experience and your team member will have more time for the project.
  2. Add a contingent worker (temporary or contract) to backfill some of the project members' work.
  3. Add contingent workers to the project team. The contingent worker may have worked with the selected ERP system or on implementations in general, and they may bring additional insight.

Don't be afraid to ask for help

At some point in the project, you may be asked to make a decision or take on a task for which you don't feel qualified. Reach out to colleagues for help rather than taking your best guess.

Many people feel pressure to know everything, but that's unrealistic and often inefficient. Ideally, you can talk to trusted colleagues within your organization. However, if you aren't comfortable asking other employees, reach out to your network and bounce ideas off them. A rushed and uninformed decision will have implications long after go-live.

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