04 February 2010

The New ERP – Part 38

Yet another "Why ERP implementations fail"

Sue Bergamo, former CIO at Aramark's WearGuard & Galls companies, recently posted an article entitled "Is Your Implementation in Trouble?" (Bergamo 2010) In her writing, she listed seven "high level categories…. in the order from the highest to lowest number of responses" from her informal LinkedIn survey. Here is how the list shaped up:

  1. A misconception of business expectations
  2. The lack of top level leadership involvement in the project
  3. Business processes were not correctly redefined and continued to be inefficient
  4. The impact of the organizational change was not addressed properly and caused a major upheaval in the company
  5. The vendor wasn't managed correctly and over-promised, then under delivered [sic]
  6. Project management was weak and over-customizations lead to increased scope and time
  7. The integration of diverse applications was harder than anyone expected
    (Bergamo 2010)
We are going to drill-down on these and put them into the context of the New ERP – Extended Readiness for Profit, contrasting them with traditional ERP – Everything Replacement Projects to see if using the New ERP approach would have mitigated the failures.

1. Misconceptions of business expectations 

Ms. Bergamo does not explain in her short article precisely who had the misconceptions of business expectations. We do not know whether, in the Bergamo survey, the misconceptions were held by all or part of the management team involved in the ERP acquisition, by the vendors and resellers involved, and/or by third-party consultants that may also have been a part of the ERP project. My experience tells me, however, that if persons were involved in a traditional ERP – Everything Replacement Project the likelihood is very high they had and held "misconceptions of business expectations."

Why do I say this so boldly?

Because, unfortunately, most organizations do not begin their search for traditional ERP with clarity on the three critical factors we have discussed earlier in this series:

Management Factor Number 1: What needs to change

If executives and managers applied rational tools to determine precisely – not vaguelywhat needs to change so that the business could make more money tomorrow than it is making today, the "business expectations" would be clear.

Sadly, many organizations today still pour in traditional ERP like some kind of "miracle-working additive" that is supposed to make their whole enterprise run smoother, cleaner, faster and, as a result, produce more profit. It seems that 20 or 30 years of experience with ERP not delivering its supposed miracle-working power in so many implementations is not yet enough to convince some. Such executives continue to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid offered by ERP software vendors and VARs just as if the hundreds of bad experiences being reported are only mirages and the same could not and would not happen to their firm.

I have walked into dozens of traditional ERP projects where, if asked, no one in executive management could tell me what measurable improvements were expected when the implementation was complete. If they were able to reply at all, their answers sounded more like they were drawn from a séance than from a the mouth of an executive. They might sound something like these:

"We expect that this new ERP system will enable us to grow while holding down our operating expenses."
"We are counting on this new system to help us ship more efficiently."
"Our ERP vendor told us that this new system should help us reduce our inventories without sacrificing customer service. Plus, it will help us build 'best practices' into our back-office."
Now, I have no problem with "We expect that this new ERP system will enable us to grow…" provided that statement is followed by specifics like:

  • How much is it likely to "help us to grow"?
  • What specific changes will the new ERP system bring about that will lead to the expected growth?
In the absence of specifics, how can those who complained in Ms. Bergamo's study even complain that they had a "misconception of business expectations"? Was their expectation that they would mystically grow, but they did not, in fact, achieve their concept of mystical growth? Did they expect that profits would mystically improve, but the mystical improvement in profits never appeared?

Just what were their "business expectations"?

If "business expectations" were not defined in clear cause-and-effect terms up front: if the executives and managers could not – in advance – link specific anticipated changes in the "system" (i.e., how the organization itself functions) to the anticipated and measurable improvement, then they have no one to blame for "misconceptions of business expectations" other than themselves. If they drank the vendor's or reseller's Kool-Aid about ROI (return on investment) and did not establish for themselves the metrics for specific and measurable change, they cannot blame the vendor or reseller. It is management's job to know these things and not to simply take a salesperson's (or even a consultant's) word on such matters.

Management Factor Number 2: What the change should look like

If executives and managers have proactively worked out rational cause-and-effect relationships, and have determined clearly and specifically what needs to change, the next step become relatively easy. That step is for the management team to establish what the change should look like.

If applying new technology in the organization (i.e., the system) will "increase Throughput by an estimated 12.5% over 12 months by providing improved market segmentation for Product Line C," then what the change should look like will be described in terms of the changes required to "improve market segmentation for Product Line C." That change might take the form of new market data collection techniques, new automated surveys, or some other form. Nevertheless, there should be no confusion in the management team members' minds as to what the change should look like when it has been implemented.

Similarly, the management team should understand the changes necessary to leverage "improved market segmentation" into "an estimated 12.5%" increase in Throughput over 12 months. The executives and managers should have a clear understanding of how the new market segmentation data will lead to new "offers" in the marketplace that will, in turn, lead to the anticipated growth.

Management Factor Number 3: How to effect the change

What we have described above are real and concrete "business expectations." There is no easy way to misconceive "business expectations" that are so clearly articulated. This kind of "expectation" can be the basis of concrete action. These kinds of "expectations" can become a guide for how to effect the change.

The meaningless séance-induced "business expectations" so frequently articulated by executives and managers surrounding traditional ERP hold little hope of functioning as a guiding light for concrete action on the part of anyone in the organization. It is no wonder that "expectations" are only met in so few traditional ERP implementations.

[To be continued]

©2010 Richard D. Cushing


Works Cited

Bergamo, Sue. CIO Update: Is Your ERP Implementation in Trouble? Feb 01, 2010. http://www.cioupdate.com/features/article.php/3862056/Is-Your-ERP-Implementation-in-Trouble.htm (accessed Feb 02, 2010).


No comments: