Project ahoy! Are we ready?

Paula Aaltonen, Midagon Oy
Lähde: Midagon Oy

Let’s be honest, large scale business transformation projects like an ERP implementation are scary as hell. There is no other development initiative that can cause nightmares already before it has started, or even before it even has been decided. Just mentioning ERP makes some people run away as fast as possible, or do everything in their power to avoid it. In most cases the company cannot run away and hide from these kinds of projects. What can they do then? They can either go with the flow and pray for the best, or they take control of that flow, prepare well and make the best out of the project.

Prepare well. Yeah, easy to say. Project readiness is a combination of several elements in addition to practical project preparation activities. Resource readiness is about ensuring the project manning is optimal in the given circumstances. Technical readiness ensures IT environment and services are in shape to build and eventually take new ERP as new part to the IT puzzle. Business readiness means that expectations for the project are realistic and they are not contradicting between different parts of the organisation. To fit these three elements together and establish efficient cooperation and communication between project and running business, there is also need for a common discussion frame for the project scope and expected changes.

Resource readiness. Ensuring the project has right resources is not just approving the budget and defining allocation percentages. Resource planning starts by defining what are the roles and responsibilities in the project. The second phase is to find suitable persons to step into those roles and responsibilities, either from existing organisation or from outside. What makes a recourse suitable? The same law of nature applies in casting project organisation as filling in positions in any other. A person must possess certain level of expertise, knowledge and skills to manage a specific role, but his or hers attitude and mindset need to be quite exact match. Knowledge and skills can be learned and improved if the attitude is there. Vice versa it unfortunately does not work. Without right attitude and mindset even expertise level knowledge and skills may turn out not to benefit the project after all. The third part of resource planning is often lacking the attention it deserves. When internal resources move from line duties into the project, they leave a hole in the line organisation. The hole needs to be patched, otherwise the resource keeps occupied with his or her previous duties on top of the new project duties; it is only a question of time how long it takes a person to burn out. By taking temporary resources into line organisation and with some re-arrangement of operational responsibilities, we give project team possibility to do their project work with full focus and motivation.

Technical readiness is the area often best prepared for the coming project. This is fully understandable; ERP or any other technical system is typically the concrete main deliverable of the project. It is obvious technical readiness needs to be taken care of: system environments established, interfaces defined, user access created, etc.

Business readiness is closely related to the business case of the project. The clearer the business case, the easier it gets adopted by the receiving organisation. Picture this: people in the organisation have been given a clear and honest picture of plans and expectations, with the depth of information relevant for each organisation area and level. They have an idea what will happen during the project, what improvements are expected as outcome of the project and how the project potentially will affect different areas and operations. Part of a heathy business case is also recognizing challenges and risks the project is likely to face. People deserve to hear about potential challenges as well, not only about benefits the project is expected to achieve. People need to see that there are procedures in place to manage challenges, and management is taking the responsibility to overcome them. What you see next: a project with a strong start in focused atmosphere. To be clear and honest, this does not mean change resistance would be dealt with and gone, no way! – but there has been set a solid foundation to start the project and lead the change. Realistic information and management’s positive support create trust, and increase organization’s resilience to manage the change.

Communication is basis for all cooperation, decision making and leadership. It is also a process with lots of room for errors and misinterpretations. To strengthen the common understanding between the project and the business, a common map and terminology are needed. If there is an operating process model or quality management system defined, that can serve as the frame where different topics can be pinned to. If no process model or similar management system is available, defining one for the project purpose is worth the time and effort.

After all preparations, how do we know if we are ready or not? The fact is the same as with the world itself – we can never make it complete or perfect. There will always be a zone of surprises and uncomfort. Being ready is among other things being ready to commit; having trust and confidence that we will manage the upcoming project with its ups and downs, being ready to say, “We can do it!”

Major project like ERP is massive effort and go-live is a significant change for the organisation and its operations. Change inevitably causes disruption. We can though control the spirit and scale of disruption – by ensuring understanding on what the change will touch, and preparing for different scenarios. Preparation to avoid nightmares and unwanted newspaper headlines needs to start already before the project itself kicks off – by ensuring your organisation is ready for the project.