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3 Key Challenges for ERP Project Managers

ERP project management is a highly complex task. Often people think that anyone with good project management or line management skills should be capable of managing an ERP project well. In our experience, this is generally not the case.

A key difference between ERP project management and line management is that while each of the team members will be an expert in their own area, very few will have any expertise, or even any knowledge of what is required of them in an ERP project. Therefore, the ERP project manager has to provide that expert guidance. There are also some challenges that are specific to the management of ERP projects, three of which I will cover in this blog.

3 Key Challenges for ERP Project Managers

1. Managing ERP Data Migration

One of the key advantages of ERP is a single data model, which provides the basis for process integration and a single source of the truth for management information. The process of transferring data from legacy applications to the new system is called ERP data migration. This is a highly complex area to manage involving data collection, extraction, cleansing, harmonisation, transformation, loading and testing. In addition, most projects will also need to plan for what will happen to data which is not going to be migrated.

Generally, stakeholders outside of the ERP project team will also have a key role to play in data cleansing, harmonisation, transformation and validation activities. Knowing which resources from the organisation to involve and telling them how much of their time will be required at each point in the project requires a lot of experience. It’s also important for the ERP project manager to ensure that the process and structures are in place to manage data post go-live so that data quality is maintained.

Larger ERP projects will often have a dedicated data manager, but even in this situation, the ERP project manager still needs to know how the various data migration activities should be structured and how to dovetail these into the overall project plan.

2. Managing ERP Testing

As with any software implementation, testing is a key part of an ERP project. Even where ERP is implemented using a “vanilla” approach with little customisation, it is still necessary to rigorously test that each part of the solution works as intended once it has been configured. The test processes in an ERP project tend to be particularly complex because of the functional breadth and integrated nature of ERP and because testing involves validation of both the ERP application and the underlying migrated data. This complexity causes two challenges in particular for an ERP project manager.

The first challenge is the need to develop a test strategy and plan. The test strategy will set out how many so-called test cycles will take place and what the scope of each will be from both a functional and data perspective. It needs to be defined early in the project and will have a significant impact on subsequent resource requirements and timelines. The test plan needs to integrate with other parts of the ERP implementation plan.

The second major challenge is managing the project team to develop realistic and sensible test scenarios and to write and execute test scripts. In our experience this is the area that teams struggle with the most in an ERP implementation project. Generally, at least some team members will require significant guidance and support. An ERP project manager needs to have a really good grasp of the business processes in scope, how ERP systems work and what an ERP test process should look like to provide that support.

3. Effective ERP Steering Team Reporting

In an ERP implementation, the steering team has ultimate responsibility for the project. One of the ERP steering team’s responsibilities is to assist in the removal of any issues that may cause the project to be delayed or otherwise compromised. To be effective, it is vital that they are made aware of problems early enough to allow the issues to be addressed. The ERP project manager is responsible for making sure that this happens.

Fact-based, quantifiable metrics are an essential tool for keeping the steering team up to date on ERP project progress. It takes a lot of experience to understand what should be measured and how. Also, some of the reporting and Key Performance Indicators will change as a project progresses. For example, KPIs that are useful during the design stage of a project may be meaningless once testing has started. Selecting the appropriate measures and presenting them in a concise and coherent manner requires confidence and experience that only comes from previous ERP implementation projects.

In summary, in our view, the complexity of ERP means that many people with generic project management or line management skills may struggle with an ERP project. Consequently, organisations should try where possible to appoint an ERP project manager who has successfully led a number of previous implementation projects.

This blog was written by Ursula Browne, Consulting Manager at Lumenia. For further information please send an email to Ursula Browne.