An ERP Implementation in the Wild
By Erin Koss, CPA is an Andersen Business Consulting Alumni (1993-1999), and CEO of Syte Consulting Group, Inc.
I talk a lot about the processes and frameworks we use to help our manufacturing clients identify and implement the ERP solutions that are right for their business. But how does that actually play out in real life?
While every business and ERP project is different, we’ve developed a solid framework and philosophy for how we approach each one. We recently put these to work in a client engagement where we helped a family-owned manufacturing company implement a new ERP solution — and I can honestly say that it was one of the best professional experiences our team has ever had.
Today, I want to walk through this real-life case study and talk about the key elements that, in my opinion, made this engagement such a success.
A Successful Journey, Two Years in the Making
ERP projects are not short-term commitments, and this one was no different. We first started working with this manufacturing client in February 2020, and we began the same way we always do with these engagements: with a discovery phase to deep dive on their business, their current capacities, their goals, and so on.
We always like to do this work on-site so we can get a better sense of where they’re at, start to build relationships with key stakeholders, and generally see for ourselves how the business operates. We find that in-person meetings and interviews help us build rapport that carries through every phase of the project and is a big part of making it successful.
You can probably see where this is going. Unfortunately, about a month into the project, we were suddenly faced with a global pandemic. Everything changed.
Suddenly, like every other business, we had to pivot. But the fundamentals stayed the same. Our decades of experience helping family-owned manufacturing companies implement ERP solutions to move their businesses forward paid off. Our people-first approach and the methodologies we’ve developed ensured that our team members and processes were resilient and adaptable, even as the whole world seemed to change on a daily basis.
The result? One of the smoothest ERP rollouts we’ve ever had the privilege to help plan and execute, across 23 different branches of the business, all on the same day.
But it wasn’t magic. It was the result of intentional planning, commitment from all parties (and at all levels), and experience.
Planning Pays Off
Obviously, a big project like an ERP implementation requires a lot of planning. And before you can create the plan, you need to get clear on where you are. That’s why we developed our Business Transformation Framework. We use it to help our clients think intentionally about their business goals and what they need to have in place in order to reach them.
I know for a fact that a huge part of this particular engagement’s success was diligent, continuous project planning. And I don’t just mean for the big pieces and milestones. We spent months meeting regularly with our client to create a cutover plan for our “go live” day. The plan really focused on the last week before we switched over to the new system, and then the first week in, but it was an incredible amount of planning for a relatively short period of time.
And it paid off. You see, while planning is absolutely about creating a roadmap that you can follow, it’s also about removing as much of the “unexpected” as you can. It’s about risk management and risk mitigation.
Let me give you an example. The day before we planned to cut over and go live with the new ERP solution, we ran into some hiccups while we were importing data. We found some discrepancies and things were just taking a little longer than we expected. Nothing catastrophic, but we needed to get to the bottom of it quickly — and we did. We pulled the right people together on a call and were able to resolve the issue. It didn’t derail us at all, and that’s in large part because everything else had gone so smoothly. We’d done so much thorough planning up to that point, preempting all kinds of unpleasant surprises, that it was really the only major issue we had.
People Make the Difference
At Syte, we’ve always taken a people-first approach with all of our client engagements. We operate on a philosophy that we call the 3 Cs — connection, collaboration and communication. And this project was a perfect example of the 3 Cs in action.
Let's start with connection. This was evident in the commitment that everyone brought to the project, at all levels — from the client, to the solution provider, to our team. Everyone was connected to the mission. There was full buy-in and participation from the executive sponsors, as well as significant employee involvement all the way through.
We also set a collaborative tone early on, which resulted in the actual rollout going much smoother than if we’d taken a more siloed approach. For example, in the first few days after we went live with the new system, we were handholding everyone through the change. But we quickly saw that team members began relying on each other to adapt. Day by day, they shared information and learned from each other, and were able to wean themselves off outside support.
The communication piece was also front and center. Not only did we help our client put together an effective communication plan, but we also made sure that communication was timely and continuous. This enabled everyone to stay aligned and roll with the punches as things changed.
I’m also going to add a fourth “C” here as a critical success fact, and that’s “consistency” — by executing on the three Cs consistently, over the two-year span of this project, we were able to get it over the finish line.
At the end of the day, it really came down to people working hard and being committed to, and aligned with, the work that we were all doing.
The last thing I want to say about this project is that we, as external partners, really brought a lot to the table. Our deep expertise, the strong relationships we’ve built in the industry, and our decades of experience with similar projects were invaluable in making this ERP implementation a success.
I’m not saying this so much to toot our own horn, but rather to emphasize that it truly is a team effort. I like to think of it like the three legs of a stool: a committed client, an engaged solution provider, and an experienced partner to bring it all together. We were “the glue,” if you will.
Our frameworks and methodologies stood up to all the stresses of a sudden pivot to remote work. Our business analysts were agile, adaptable, and committed to whatever needed to be done. Our deep network allowed us to call in subject matter experts to help when the solution provider didn’t have the bandwidth to meet the schedule.
But I think one of the biggest contributions that our team (and specifically our business analysts) made was eliminating friction — friction between supervisors and employees around project involvement and work priorities, friction around not understanding new tools and methodologies, and so on. Our business analysts really got in there and rolled up their sleeves to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible, from doing unit testing, to documenting new processes, to creating training materials to share with the team.
I won’t deny it: I’m really proud of the way we were able to pivot and figure out how to execute ERP implementation best practices in the middle of a pandemic, without missing a beat. We were there with our client on a Monday morning at 5:00 a.m., when the new system came online, two years after we started the journey with them.
We’ve worked on many, many successful ERP implementations over the years, and the elation and satisfaction of a successful rollout never gets old. But this particular engagement was special, in no small part because of all the unique challenges thrown in our way. But we were all up for it, and today we’re celebrating our client’s win.
Speaking of celebration, here’s a video of us all dancing at the post-launch party!
Are you thinking about implementing a new ERP solution for your manufacturing business? We’d love to help. You can schedule a complimentary consulting session right here.