5 Change Leadership Lessons Learned from an IT Implementation

One of my favorite areas of Change Leadership is leading and supporting huge IT projects with Enterprise Resource Planning (or ERP) implementations. ERP software provides a business management solution that enables integration of software and data across all facets of an operation (including manufacturing, Customer Resource Management, or CRM, finance, and sales). While there are many different software options, the most common solutions I’ve worked with include SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle.

So what’s different and challenging about an ERP implementation? Part of the answer is the magnitude and scale of the change. Part of it is about the complexity & reverse engineering often required to come up with the right technical architecture, processes and data. But the most interesting part is about addressing the change leadership challenges with such a large-scale and impactful change.

At a glance, my top 5 “hazards to avoid” include:

  • Don’t assume that the standard “one size fits all” technical solution will be ready in a short time, out of the box. Be wary of redesigning your business processes around the system “standard”. Adopting the software out of the box implies promised savings of time and money, but I’ve never seen that work successfully for the business. From my experience, it actually costs time and money to try to fit a square peg in a round hole. The best way to ensure that business leaders and users won’t utilize the capabilities is to ask them to change their business based on the system design.
  • Stakeholders and users aren’t limited to one specific function; they span across the company. I typically identify as many as 50 key stakeholders and thousands of users across the enterprise. It’s like unraveling a tangled web – the more you delve into it, the more you find people who touch your process, the system or rely on the data. And beware – users in one part of the business almost always need different things from than those that are downstream (and vice versa). Make sure you invest in a thorough and detailed stakeholder analysis / change network and build your communication and training plan accordingly.
  • Define the behavioral changes (and knowledge gaps) that users will experience. Providing a solution that integrates your business through a new software solution requires people to behave differently too. Define what new behaviors (i.e, new ways to solve problems or interface with a downstream team) and skills (e.g., data analytics) are required from the outset and build a robust change plan to address the changes and knowledge gaps.
  • If you don’t have a roadmap and a definition of success, you’re toast, from the start. Implementations are typically broken up into modules but each piece sets the stage for later work. With any multi-year project, knowing how to measure success along the way is crucial to the overall success of the program. Expect to make adjustments to timing and scope as you learn along the way.
  • Don’t expect bells and whistles. It’s a common truth for users who have adopted these new solutions – while the capabilities are fantastic, the user interface (including data, reports, etc.) are almost always…well…less than fantastic. Make sure you build in time to train, teach and then train and teach again to get users ready.

Of course, all these challenges can be addressed proactively and effectively with a good change plan!  It just takes investment and commitment upfront.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults who specializes in leading change on a variety of IT and business projects. You can reach her at sbrowning@www.people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults.