ERP workflow and avoiding the post implementation blues

ERP workflow is one indicator of whether or not an implementation project can be considered a success. When a new software system is fully integrated and working seamlessly from the data entry points through to the real time performance and financial reports, it validates the decision to implement ERP.

But implementation projects seldom go that smoothly and there is a letdown when the anticipated, fully integrated ERP workflow does not materialize. Shortfalls on the deliverables can happen even after months of careful planning, especially in a large and complex ERP implementation such as SAP ERP.

For example, a major grocery chain made an eleventh hour decision to add a purchase order module to their ERP software solution. This created a data conversion nightmare when the first 200,000 asset records were blank after conversion. Order processing for hundreds of properties came to a virtual standstill and it created a critical interruption in the workflow immediately after go live.

Post Implementation Blues

The most common complaint that I have heard after an implementation is that “the software isn’t working”. In every case a review of the project indicates that the software is working well but the people using it are having numerous issues.

End users who learn the screens and functions of a new system in a test environment often have a hard time grasping the concepts when they are back at their workstations.

When people have been doing things the same way with the same tools for years they are quick to look for the reassurance of a familiar routine. If this is the case, it won’t be long before some of them circumvent the system by using add-ons such as spreadsheets to mirror the old process. This duplicates effort and it can potentially compromise the organizational goal of achieving an optimal workflow.

The real work begins after the implementation

Every organization implementing ERP should have enough contingency built into the project budget to continue problem solving and training post-implementation. Resources should be readily available for another three to six months to deal with issues as they arise.

Unless it is a very small company, you want to have several people on call. Some issues might be a minor irritation but others can be a production stopper. When they happen simultaneously it is best if they are dealt with at the same time to ensure that the company’s core operations are not disrupted. Also, the support team will continue to sell the benefits of ERP systems with every problem solved.

Logistically it is impossible for one person to respond to every end user in a timely manner once they are out of the training room and back in their own work environment.

I remember getting on the plane to fly home at the end of one implementation, feeling like I had just run a marathon! I was the sole support person and I probably had run at least twenty six miles - rushing from department to department, answering end user questions and fixing issues.

Help them to see the "Big Picture"

One thing I always do to promote the ERP workflow is to spend as much time as possible developing site specific and end user specific ERP tutorials. User manuals are very generic and end users need to have instructions that relate to their work environments to help with the transition. It really helps people to accept the new system if they can visualize how it works, especially if this is the first fully integrated software system in the company.

Knowledge of how the whole system works can also help avoid errors. An end user needs to know, for example, what happens when they enter a sales order and how this affects manufacturing.

This could be good time to invest in some ERP consulting. Bringing in an "outside expert" can create a fresh perspective and will usually get everyone's attention.

One company asked me to meet with their engineering project managers who were generally unhappy with the new ERP system. Their biggest complaint was that billable time and expenses were always missing from the draft invoices generated at the end of each month so how were they supposed to bill their clients?

When I talked to the accounting department I discovered that time sheets were being submitted late, especially when engineers were in the field. Expense invoices sat in project managers’ offices and missed the month end cut off.

We should all hold hands and sing

The thing I found most interesting was the total lack of communication. The project managers and the accounting department had never actually sat down to discuss the issues. When we finally had a meeting with all departments in attendance the atmosphere was distinctly hostile and I was tempted to suggest that we all hold hands and sing.

I often get that urge in a roomful of unhappy people because I know that once they start communicating, things are going to get a lot better. And so it did in this case, when the project managers were provided with the list of accounting cut off dates and a process was created for timely time sheet submission.

With a sound understanding of the entire process, people find it easier to remember not only what they need to do, but how what they do affects others.

Going forward, the benefits of a seamless ERP workflow are typically realized in increments over time rather than all at once immediately after implementation.

Barbara Craven

Box 433, Enderby, British Columbia, V0E 1V0, Canada

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