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3 Reasons Why ERP Projects Need the President’s Involvement

By Wayne Strider

In a previous post, “A Unique Role for the President in ERP Projects”, I suggested that an organization’s president has a unique role in ERP projects and gave examples of what the president can do that no one else can.

In this post I want to tell you why it is so important that the president be actively involved in an ERP project.  Here are three reasons:

1. ERP Projects Are Risky

ERP projects are not like most other IT projects. They tend to be highly visible. Internally they can affect how employees do their work in almost every part of the organization or institution. Externally they can be media magnets. They typically have very large price tags.  They have a track record of troubled implementations. They deeply touch the operations that you depend on to run your business. If an ERP project goes badly there are significant risks:

• The ability to achieve your mission and strategy can be jeopardized if you are counting on your ERP system to increase your competitiveness and it doesn’t work as expected.

• The ability to run your day-to-day business can be compromised if your ERP produces errors in payroll, accounting, purchasing, accounts receivable and so on. What would it cost your organization per hour or day to have any of these functions inoperable or producing errors?  Hershey Foods several years ago suffered order processing and shipping problems during the Halloween and pre-Christmas sales periods due to a glitch in their new $112 million ERP. Third quarter sales were down 12.4% or $151 million. Share price fell 27% from the year high. (Source:

• There could be an uprising among staff who don’t want to change how they do their work.

• Your organization could get a black eye in the press.

• A ton of money could be spent with little or no value realized.

• Your president’s career could suffer a setback.

2. You Can’t Just Leave It To The IT Department

The IT department can handle getting the technology up and running. That’s what they do best. But, most IT departments typically do not possess the skills or experience to handle the political, organizational, and human change management issues that are inevitable with ERP projects. When ERP projects go badly it is almost never because of  technical issues or lack of technical skills.

3. You Can’t Just Leave It To The Project Governance Structure

Many ERP projects have a governance structure that includes executive sponsors (i.e., direct reports to the president) to handle decisions that cross organizational boundaries or that are outside the authority of the project manager. The president may not be included in the governance structure. The idea is that executive sponsors will handle the most difficult enterprise decisions; and therefore, not bother the president. Even under the best of circumstances this governance structure can fail to keep the project on track. Here are three reasons why:

• It is human nature not to want to be the bearer of bad news. The project staff, team leads, project manager, project office, and possibly even the CIO do not always reveal the most serious problems to the governance structure. They have so much hope and belief in themselves that they keep thinking they can fix the problems. However, this belief can become a trap. They can lose their objectivity. They can lose their ability to notice they need help.

• Executive sponsors often don’t know which questions to ask of the project leaders or how to interpret their answers. Just because they are executives does not mean they know how to oversee an enterprise IT project. What they don’t know about the project can become a trap. They can lose their ability to understand the significance of the information they’re given and of the information that they’re not given.

• Presidents are too busy to get involved in all the details of an ERP. Many do not want to be seen as micro managing the executive sponsors nor give the appearance of not trusting their IT staffs. This belief can become a trap. They can become isolated. They can lose their ability to know what is really going on with the project. Yet boards still hold presidents responsible and accountable for the significant dollars these projects consume.

Notice how these three traps can conspire to keep anyone from noticing the project is in trouble, and therefore asking for help. ERP projects get into trouble gradually over time, not all of a sudden overnight–although when the top finally blows off, it might seem like it happened overnight.



The Project Observer – What Do You See?

by Marie Benesh

In our most recent podcast, How To Know Your Project is in Trouble, we mentioned the role of observer. This is a person who is charged with looking at the project from a different perspective – from an observer point of view.

This doesn’t have to be a full-time role, and usually isn’t. It can be you, the project manager, who decides to sit back and observe the project and team without interjecting. Or it can be a shared role, something that everyone on the team takes on at one time or another.

But what are you looking for? What behaviors or indicators will give you more information than the words that people are speaking? Or what are the words you can listen for that might tell you something is amiss or that there is meaning and information under the words that are being spoken?

There are some obvious signals that most of you will be aware of:

  • Body language cues: in a meeting, a person sits with their arms crossed, doesn’t speak up during the meeting, and may look angry, disgusted, or “closed” to ideas and discussions going on in the meeting
  • Angry words or behavior from a team member; slamming doors or drawers, walking out of a meeting, raising his/her voice during a discussion
  • Isolation – this is when someone (or a sub-team) works in silence, does what they want to do and generally ignores anything else going on around them. This one can be a little tricky, as there are people who are just really good at staying out of the fray and are focused workers. Learn the difference.
  • Words that might indicate “more going on underneath” are: concerned, am not comfortable with, “whatever,” words of acceptance but with a different body language… Okay, (but with a sigh at the end).

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Putting Yourself in the Picture

By Eileen Strider

Who could possibly be missing from your project? The least noticeable and most important person – you, all of you, your whole self, not just your brain.

How do I know this? Because I have ignored key parts of myself as a project manager. And yes, I am willing to admit it, here, publicly to you.

You might be thinking “Isn’t this self-serving and arrogant?” I say a resounding no. It is about giving your very best effort to your project, your client and your company. Yes, if your project is successful, hopefully you will be seen as a valuable contributor, but that’s not selfish or arrogant. That’s doing a good job.

What in the world am I talking about when I say “your whole self”? I mean using not only your head but also your body, five senses, sixth sense (intuition), your emotions, and your free will to manage and lead your project. I know this sounds crazy but I’m not making it up.  Speaking from personal experience, my project outcomes were always better when I used my whole self. Here are some ways you can use your whole self to help lead your project:

Your Body

Pay attention to information that your body is giving you. Your body is an important source of feedback about the project that often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged. Are you experiencing headaches, a stiff neck, colds and sinus infections, digestive problems, sleepless nights, etc.? These might be warning signs that your project is in trouble. If your stomach is hurting, it may not be the flu. It may be something is not right on your project. Ask yourself what is it about your project that you are desperately trying to ignore but that your body is telling you to notice? This is one of the parts of me that I tried to ignore for too long on a failing project.

Your Five Senses

Seeing and Hearing: Observe with a critical eye; that is, see what’s really happening on your project, especially what’s happening to you, your customers, your project team and your vendors. Go beyond reading status reports. When you attend project meetings, listen for what’s being said between the lines and notice how people appear when they are giving their status report or listening to issues being brought up. If you notice that someone’s words don’t match how they look, then something else may be going on. Ask if there is something more they would like to tell you.

Smelling: Read more

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