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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: CIO.com)

• 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.

 

 

Being Understood

by Wayne Strider

“Pay attention to what I mean, not what I say.” my father would sometimes say to me when I was a kid.  I did not know what to make of that. To me it appeared that sometimes he said what he meant, and sometimes he did not. My problem was I could not tell which was which.  On a good day I could get it right about half the time.  On a bad day I could not get it right at all.  As a youngster I was confused and frustrated by my apparent inability to understand what my father wanted.  I was equally frustrated that I could not seem to make myself understood. Though we never talked about it, my father probably did not feel understood by me. I certainly did not feel understood by him. As a result we were not very good together.  By that I mean he and I could not effectively do the work of creating the family we wanted to be, and though we enjoyed many happy moments together, we missed out on a lot of potentially satisfying experiences with one another.

What does my story have to do with project management?

The work of your project team is to create something of value together. The created value lies not just in the current product or service being built and delivered. There is also value in growing your team’s capability to effectively work together to build and deliver the next product, and the next, and so on. There are lots of aspects to “effectively work together.”  Some typical ones are roles, responsibilities, decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, clear lines of authority, assigning and tracking work, and communication.  All of these are facilitated by understanding one another.  When you and your team members feel understood by each other, the team is better able to do its work of creating such value. Read more

When You Want to Run Away and Hide

By Wayne Strider

Being an experienced project manager does not make you immune to errors in judgment, puzzling interactions, bumpy relationships, or the physical and emotional responses that go with them.  These things are natural for us all.  Sooner or later we all will be confronted with a project situation that will stretch us beyond our capabilities at that moment. When that happens, it is possible to feel many things, both physical and emotional.  Here are some ways project managers have described to me how they felt.  I have at various times felt each of these myself.  See if any of these ring a bell.

  • “It was difficult to breathe.”
  • “I felt numb.”
  • “I felt paralyzed.  I could not move my feet.”
  • “My mouth dried up.  It was difficult to speak with my tongue stuck to the roof of mouth.”
  • “I felt nauseated.”
  • “My brain would not work.  My voice was fine. I just could not think of anything to say.”
  • “I was sure my absolute worst self was out there for the entire world to see.”
  • “I felt incompetent and stupid.”
  • “I wanted to hit something.” Read more

What’s Stopping Me?

 

By Wayne Strider

“I fantasize about what it would be like if I could do what I’m really passionate about in this company”, Curt said as he drew a savory mouthful of coffee from his mug and swallowed it.  Melissa didn’t say a word.  Her expression, however, was clear to Curt.  It was one of empathy and familiarity.  “Back to the grind”, she said as she crushed and tossed her recycled paper cup into the paper only bin.  Under her breath she sighed, “Me too.”  Curt was already half way down the corridor when Melissa half shouted, “What’s stopping us?”  Curt didn’t hear her question.  Softly, she said to no one, “What’s stopping me?”

Is there a familiar ring to this interaction? If you’ve been in this situation or know someone who has, you can empathize with the feelings.  Feelings such as stuck, trapped, unappreciated, like you are wasting your time and talents, playing for second prize, and so on.  It can be an awful, unsettling phase of your life’s timeline to keep sitting on your passion.

So What Is Stopping Me?

The oversimplified albeit obvious answer to the question, “What’s stopping me?” is “me.”  But, here are three answers that can make it seem like someone else, i.e., your boss, or your company is conspiring to stop you.

  • Boss’s Perception of You Defines You

Your boss may have a perception of you that too narrowly defines your project manager role.  He or she may be aware that you have other talents, but may not value those talents or is not able to see the opportunities to apply those talents. It also could be that your boss too narrowly defines his own management role.

  • Job Description Paralysis

For whatever host of reasons, you may find that the value you want to add is not aligned with your program manager job description.  In fact that value may not be aligned with anybody’s job description.  You perceive there is a gap that you can fill, but the response you get when you offer your talents is “It’s not your job.” Read more

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