JIT is Just Plain Wrong for Cloud ERP

Given that we are well in the third decade of ERP implementations, I still observe ERP implementations following outdated/misguided concepts that do not utilize limited resources to the fullest.  One of these misapplied concepts is Just-In-Time (JIT) training.  End user enablement continues to be an implementation challenge primarily due to the limited investment made for the most important component of an ERP business solution.  This limitation must be addressed in order to realize the value of ERP in the Cloud.

Evolving Traditional ERP Testing for Cloud ERP

Consider the following illustration that highlights the tradition user involvement model:

Limited User Involvement

Traditional User Involvement

Traditional ERP implementation approaches view end users as an audience versus an active participant to leverage during the entire implementation.  End users by far make up the largest stakeholder group in an ERP implementation however; they have the least amount of involvement and responsibility.  Let’s further contrast and identify opportunities where end-user involvement can have a positive influence on ERP implementations.

Rethinking the Waterfall Testing Paradigm

If we take a stroll down memory lane we can recall the standard testing approach we learned from the Waterfall Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC):

Limited ERP Testing

Traditional Testing Approach

Consider the following:

  • The majority of testing and hands-on experience occurs with a limited group of users leaving a small window for direct users to gain confidence and experience with the ERP system.
  • The limitation with direct user involvement is based on the premise that a working system is not available until the end of the implementation.       This is not the case with a Cloud ERP system that can be provisioned early during the implementation life cycle.
  • JIT End User training is a big bang approach – one time shot to get end-user training right. It also gives end users limited time to internalize the change. This approach naturally requires additional support and creates a greater potential for user errors.

Waterfall is based upon software being developed from scratch – i.e. you could not actively involved end users until the software existed.  When ERP came to the market many approach/processes designed for software development were incorrectly applied to ERP implementations.  The next section we will discuss how to involve the target audience sooner during a Cloud ERP implementation.

Increasing End User Involvement

There are two key value propositions for increasing end-user involvement:

  1. Additional validation of the solution via testing.
  2. Greater user adoption and enablement.

For robust testing business users should first be trained on the ERP Cloud service.  Remember that testing can be “hands-on” learning for business users.  Consider the following illustration:

Increasing User Involement

Incremental User Involvement with ERP Implementations

Let’s expand on some key themes.  First, education/learning is an iterative process where new information needs to be assimilated by users before knowledge is created.  Second, an educated user is a better contributor to the project.  Third, it is easier to manage and support educated end users.  A forward-thinking end-user enablement process drives greater participation and ownership.

Consequences of Not Evolving your User Enablement Approach

As ERP Cloud adoption continues we will see an increase in the following implementation drivers:

Market Drivers for Cloud ERP

Market Drivers for ERP Cloud Implementations

Consider that traditional ERP implementation approaches do not effectively leverage the largest resource pool available.  I can appreciate that with additional resources comes greater coordination and communication channels (N * (N-1) / 2) yet I have witnessed that the business value outweighs the associated project risk.  With the above said I do not recommend we start involving end users without some level of enablement and guidance.  Just as an individual user learns a new system over time the end-user training approach should incrementally prepare the user for greater involvement during the ERP Cloud implementation.

Following are key consequences if we continue with a JIT user involvement strategy:

JIT User Enablement

Potential issues/risks from take a JIT user enablement approach

The JIT approach is being used to squeeze pennies out of an ERP Cloud implementation when the potential risk that results is far greater and eventually must be solved through additional dollars or lost opportunities.

Challenge to Cloud ERP Service Providers and Implementation Partners

Cloud ERP Service Providers and Implementation Partners should take the lead in promoting and supporting end-user involvement earlier during the implementation.  Unfortunately, Cloud ERP Service Providers are not providing a robust set of tools and services for incremental user enablement.  Test cases should be business process focused and not just business function oriented.

Implementation Partners must also adapt to this new paradigm.   It is unfortunate that many implementation partners choose to address ERP Cloud Implementation drivers (mostly cost) by reducing project leadership and transferring user enablement to the customer – regardless if the customer have the required tools/competencies for incremental user involvement.  This short-sighted approach ultimately leads to an unfavorable customer experience with Cloud ERP.

Summary

Just in Time (JIT) is an operations management approach for improving ROI by minimizing inventory and related carrying cost for a production process.   JIT is a viable strategy given that the process is production quality and all input variables are within controlled tolerances.   Implementing a Cloud ERP solution is not a production quality process nor are all input variables can be controlled.  This concept has been applied to ERP end-user training with the intent of maximizing training investment.  JIT training reduces the need for refresher training due to ERP knowledge loss experienced if training precedes the go-live event over a long period of time.  JIT training may be a valid approach for end users after the ERP Cloud service is in Production but it is a limited strategy to employ during an ERP implementation.   Make the end-user an active partner not a passive customer.

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Troubleshooting ERP Projects

During my career in ERP consulting I  had several opportunities to be involved in deployment of emerging ERP products and services.  As with any innovation rollout there are challenges to overcome and I had to learn how to quickly triage ERP projects for success.  Troubleshooting an ERP project is more than just performing an assessment – it’s implementing a realistic action plan and making it work for all stakeholders involved.   Following is a tested and proven approach to jumpstart stalled ERP projects.

Method

Similar to a Forest Fire Hotshot I typically got dropped into a “hot” ERP project that had stalled or had serious show stoppers.   Time is always against you.  However, you must first put in the effort to objectively understand the situation and establish your credibility:

Troubleshooting ERP Challenges

Troubleshooting ERP Projects

Too often I see project managers jump into the details (WBS, Risks, Issues, CPI, SPI, Cost) without first understanding the context.  You cannot be perceived as a busy body looking for who dropped the ball.  Vendors, Customers, and System Implementers are made up of people.  People make mistakes – especially me.  People don’t care what you know until they know you care.   It will be people – not technology – that will play the biggest role in getting the ERP project back on track.

Before hitting the ground running you first need to do your homework.  As part of an ERP assessment it is important to review the key project artifacts generated and updated throughout the project.

Key Project Documents

Key Project Documents

This is the easy part and it is usually a simple process to review and evaluate.  If a project scope statement does not exist or is not well-defined then chances are this absence is contributing to the problem.  Creating or refining the project scope statement is a very small part of the action plan you need to execute.  Now, let’s turn our attention to the implicit artifacts and information that are harder to identify and resolve.

Understand the Underlying Drivers

ERP vendors,  System Implementers (SIs), and Customers want their ERP implementation to be successful.  Yet there are fundamental drivers for each stakeholder  appears to be in contradiction.  Consider the following illustration:

ERP Stakeholder Implicit Drivers

ERP Stakeholder Implicit Drivers

Understanding the fundamental drivers of your stakeholders enable you to relate, empathize and align the efforts of all project stakeholders.  It is important to note that you need the efforts from ALL stakeholders for success – regardless of who is at fault.  I humbly submit that it is extremely rare when a single stakeholder is responsible or is at fault.  On the flip side it is even more extreme to have a single stakeholder solely responsible for saving the day.

Strategy & Execution

It is a straight-forward exercise to develop a plan for troubleshooting an ERP project but providing a plan by itself does not add business value.  How you execute and implement the plan is more important than the plan itself.  Many of my project management colleagues may not agree with my assessment but I am  convinced that this is true.  Following are my guiding principles for ERP troubleshoot efforts:

  1. Create quick wins.  Triage is required to stop the bleeding.  You need to quickly seize the initiative  and  create positive events.
  2. Attack problems from multiple angles.  If you have one approach get stonewalled you still have other ongoing activities to continue the march forward.  This means that you have contingency plans in flight.  Be aggressive.
  3. Triage is not the time for lessons learned.  There will be opportunity for reflection after the immediate problem(s) have been addressed.
  4. Problem solving is not about assigning blame.  You need every individual to have laser focus on resolving the problem and not on how to protect them own interests.
  5. All stakeholders must be willing to stretch outside their comfort zone.       Customer and vendors limit their response based upon contractual arrangements.  Partners think outside the box for mutual success.
  6. The answer lies within the team.  Many times the greatest impact you can have is to enable the  key players to recognize the solution. Communication skills will be vital to your success:
Communication Skills

Survival Skill – Communications

Summary

There is a fair amount of information available in books, articles, and blogs related to avoiding ERP problems and I agree that you should take reasonable steps to minimize known ERP problems.  However, I believe that it is prudent to be prepared for the “unknown unknowns” that always occur with any ERP project.  Troubleshooting ERP projects require process knowledge of project management fundamentals, problem solving techniques, and most importantly – perseverance.  Just like the rudder steers the ship, finding small success(es) can get your ERP project back on the path for success.

Cloud ERP – New Dog, Same Fleas

I am very excited about Cloud ERP and the potential opportunities for customers, however, I like to speak to the minority opinion for a balanced discussion.  Just as ERP was deemed the panacea for all business automation pains, Cloud ERP is positioned as a revolutionary approach to deploying an ERP solution.  Cloud ERP provides a solution that is flexible, adaptable, scalable, efficient, and affordable.  Customers can enjoy painless upgrades, rapid deployment, and easy customization along with availability “anywhere at anytime”!  Practically speaking, Cloud ERP is just another deployment option available to customers.  The activities required for an “on premise” ERP implementation are also required for Cloud ERP.  The scope and responsibility for the implementation activities may be different but most assuredly they are still required.  Let’s further discuss the key impacts that a Cloud ERP deployment will have on the implementation.  For our discussion, we will refer to the following standard ERP life cycle.

 

ERP Phases

ERP Life Cycles

 ERP Life Cycle: Implementation

A repeated value proposition for Cloud ERP is a quicker implementation and deployment.  However, it is important to note that technology has a limited impact on accelerating implementations.  The deployment approach for cloud will naturally encourage a fixed, limited implementation scope – however, this is not unique to Cloud ERP.    I agree that from a technology perspective Cloud ERP offers a faster installation timeframe.  Nevertheless, it is important to note that Cloud ERP is only one component of a business solution.  There are still multiple disciples required for a Cloud ERP implementation – especially organizational change management.  Cloud ERP can provide very robust functionality but if the organization is not prepared to properly use the software then the value of Cloud ERP will quickly dissipate.  Also, note that data conversion and the quality of the data converted will have a significant impact on both the speed and value cloud ERP can provide.  Third, integration will be a greater challenge in a Cloud ERP model versus an on-premise ERP model – if only because the Cloud ERP will be outside the company’s internal network.   Now, let’s consider the impacts Cloud ERP will have on the maintenance life cycle.

 ERP Life Cycle: Maintenance

 There are two areas of consideration for the Cloud ERP deployment model: customizations and integrations.  These two areas are impacted based upon the cloud model.  Following is a summary of the most common cloud models.

 

Key ERP Cloud Offerings

ERP Cloud Models

The key consideration is whether the customer has a dedicated software instance or a shared software instance.  In general, a customer will have greater flexibility with integrations and customizations if the customer has a dedicated instance.  If multiple customers are on single software then the Cloud ERP provider may limit the level of integrations and customizations because the software changes may have an adverse impact on all the customers on a shared instance. 

ERP Life Cycle: Upgrade

ERP upgrades are necessary for software maintenance compliance and generating opportunities for greater return on investment.   The responsibilities may shift for performing the technical upgrade, however the customer must provide resources for providing input to the delta fit/gap process, conducting organization change, testing, and validation.  Another key consideration is if the customer has any flexibility on the frequency and timing of ERP upgrades.   Lack of flexibility may result in the customer managing to the Cloud ERP vendor’s timetable. 

ERP Life Cycle: Decommission

In general, the typical ERP life span is 10 years.  As most customers are “going concerns” focused on growing and becoming more successful, it is important to consider the options available to move across delivery models.  Consider the following illustration:

 

ERP Deployment Options

ERP Deployment Model

There is a relationship between customer size, integration requirements, customizations and ERP deployment models.  As a customer matures and grows there will be a need for greater integration and customizations to address unique competitive requirements.  Customers must balance cost and flexibility in selecting the right ERP deployment model.

Summary

Cloud ERP is providing additional opportunities for customers to leverage ERP as a viable option to support business operations – especially for smaller businesses with limited resources that require out-of-the-box functionality.  However, it is important to remember that Cloud ERP is not a short cut to success.  Responsibilities may change but the same activities are required to ensure a successful solution.  As with every deployment model, there are advantages and disadvantages to consider.  It is in the customer’s best interest to consider all phases of the ERP life cycle when selecting the appropriate deployment model. 

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