This column is by Sandeep Dubey, Vice President – Strategic Initiatives, Ramco Systems
Do you recall that moment in Jaws when Roy Scheider looks down the barrel of the camera, face shining with sweat following another brush with death, and says ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat”?
Oddly enough, it’s a scene from which I often draw parallels in boardroom conversations. With global spending on enterprise application software swelling to $150 billion in 2015 (Gartner Inc.), business leaders the world over are waking up to the need for a bigger and better vessel, technology wise.
But industry forecasters like Gartner still tell us survival rates are low—your ERP project reportedly has just a 25-45 per cent chance of making it to shore. So many CXOs continue to play the efficiency game instead, dipping their toes in the water with piecemeal projects or band-aid fixes.
It can be a difficult choice, raising a plethora of questions like: Do we have the capacity for a project of this size? Will our people adapt? Have we chosen the right delivery partner?
I field these on a daily basis from experienced leaders who understand the myriad business benefits of a transformational project, but are put off by the mortality rates.
When it comes to root causes, there are a handful of usual suspects. From poor management, inadequate sponsorship to unrealistic expectations, underwhelming project implementations can be expensive and time consuming.
On the flip side, successful projects share common characteristics that set them up for success and enable business benefits to be fully realised.
The 7 Critical Success Factors
So, how do you avoid your project winding up in Jaws’ mouth?
The first step is to understand that project challenges are generally not unique. They are a naturally occurring phenomenon and, as such, can be combatted with the right strategic approach and execution. Certainly, every project has its own critical success factors that are influenced by factors like size and complexity, and as well an organisation’s change readiness and appetite but, in the main, an experienced delivery partner should be well versed in the pitfalls to avoid.
Success is not a silver bullet scenario, but a carefully weighted balance between the following anchors:
1. Clear vision and goals
2. Culture and team
3. Adequate participation of required stakeholders
4. Executive sponsorship and commitment
5. Strong project management and implementation approach
6. An appropriate governance structure
7. Organisational change management.
For the purpose of today’s post, I would like to focus on the first three which relate to purpose, people and participation.
Clearly defined project vision and goals
Vision and goal-setting are both elementary ideas, but being obvious doesn’t make them any less important. It’s staggering how often these foundational activities are fudged over in the early stages of major projects.
Consider your favorite sporting team. Would you be happy for players and coaches to fumble their way through the season, without a clear vision of how they intend to reach the final? Imagine what would happen within a few games if they did. Players would divide into factions, and start pulling in opposite directions, coaches would blame players and players would have zero faith in coaches. Cohesion disintegrates, and the system falls apart.
Your strategic project is no different. Whether the aim is to reduce costs, to future-proof your business, to become an industry leader or simply to be easier for your customers to do business with, vision and goal-setting give your key players a united purpose and direction.
These can be reinforced by simple activities like sharing a monthly communication that touches on a vision point or goal. Reinforcing them in this way keeps everyone focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Project vision and goals are also designed to save you from yourself, by making it difficult to add extra layers on the fly. It’s a common pitfall; someone decides they can’t live without a certain piece of functionality, the project team agrees, and a whole stack of ‘must-haves’ come out of the woodwork. Before you know it, your project team is so far off the beaten track everyone is standing around, scratching their heads, and wondering how they got there.
Building culture and team
It’s easy to get tied up in knots over technical aspects when, in fact, it’s the human ones that can bring you undone.
Firstly, get the right people doing the right things at the right time. Secondly, adopt a culture of collaboration and trust. After all, culture is the engine room of your organisation—if it’s chugging away nicely, with all the pieces moving in sync, you’ve won half the battle.
One of the core activities that should be undertaken in the very early stages of a deployment is to define what is actually meant by ‘team’ in a Shared Value Framework. Instead of waiting for it to evolve, it should be designed and enforced.
If not adequately addressed at project charter level, these critical elements can leave gaping holes in the day-to-day working of your project machine. (A Shared Value Framework should also be supplemented with a robust governance model, but I will cover this in a future discussion).
Adequate stakeholder participation
Getting all your key stakeholders playing their role can be challenging, but it’s also vital. This includes doing your best to ensure resource continuity from pre-project to implementation.
Resource inconsistency creates the perfect breeding ground for scope creep, so it’s important to engage people who can participate from the start to finish. You want to avoid too many new contributors walking around with question marks, as this will soon grind progress to a halt.
Also remember that, in case of an ERP implementation, business transformation first, technology second. Get the project outside the four walls of IT, so you can benefit from broader business input.
The positive impact of these three factors were profound in a recent ERP implementation at Norske Skog Australasia (NSA). NSA a subsidiary of one of the largest paper producers in the world, successfully went live with Ramco public cloud based ERP platform in a record time of eight months.
Underpinning the project’s success was a well-adhered to Shared Value Framework, and a clearly crystallized vision and set of goals.
In summary, successful programs are a sum total of technology and people working in harmony. If the elements above are not prioritized, realizing business benefits becomes an uphill battle that is certain to absorb more time, money and energy. Bring people together in a meaningful way, nurture the environment they work in, and stick to the path. These are the fundamentals of any successful project.
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