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EPIC FAIL – Chapter One


How NOT to implement your ERP system; Chapter One

(Chapter One in an eBook titled the same)

By Phillip G. Perkins, ACUMEN Corporation, President and CEO       

As I was conceiving an appropriate title for this eBook I necessarily had to recall hearing about those big, bad implementation failures of the past and the price paid by the companies and people involved. The legendary botched Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation at a major chocolate company comes to mind. That was well documented and much discussed. I’m certain that the client company and the software provider are still feeling the impact(s) of that journey.

Closer to home I recall sitting in the office of a friend and business colleague who had been placed in charge of implementing one of the largest ERP suites on two occasions. He recalled burning the midnight oil sorting through myriad problems on his issues list while worrying about how he would convince stakeholders to “buy in” to the new operating environment.

It was particularly disturbing to hear him say that he nearly lost his marriage as the second of the two implementations bogged down time and time again. He admitted that he felt as if he was neglecting his wife and children in an effort to “pull the project out of the ditch”.

To be sure all ERP implementation projects are time consuming and require attention to detail, dedication, proper goal setting and, as mentioned, buy in from key staff members. I would never advise a client to take projects of this magnitude lightly. After all by the very nature of ERP software suites they touch virtually every department in an organization from the executive suite to the shop floor or warehouse.

So right away those implementations that go south might be considered (in today’s jargon) as one big FAIL. In fact a fail of epic proportions. That’s where I had to pause for a moment to determine whether our subject matter was best described as an “Epic Fail” or and “Epoch Fail”.  Now I am a relatively well read individual but before committing to a title I just had to reference my handy online dictionary to determine which word best quantified and qualified the failure. Turns out both might work. Epic might be used as a synonym for “monumental”, indicating a really big failure. Epoch on the other hand has to do with time. A particular era in history might be called an epoch. Of course those failed ERP implementations seem to drag on forever if you are constantly correcting problems, screaming at the software vendor and being called on the carpet for missed deadlines. So epoch might be appropriate as well.

I finally settled on “epic” but not before considering what the Urban Dictionary had to say.  Mind you that particular site is meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek but here is what the folks there had to say about the word epic and even my title (removing the profanity of course).

“the most over used word ever, next to “fail”. For even more xxxxxxx points use them together to form “epic fail”.

Sorry, but I still think my title is descriptive and I’ll have to risk the wrath of the folks at Urban Dictionary.

Let’s Get Down to Business

I want this eBook to be informative and easy to read. My hope is that it will help you insure that any future software implementation that you have a stake in stays out of the metaphorical ditch. We will be discussing several elements of ERP project planning and execution over the course of the next several weeks. My commitment to you is that I will release the book chapter by chapter, one per week, and then release the entire eBook in electronic and print format once our journey is complete. I encourage feedback and questions as we go since it may well help chart the course for the entire book. We will be spending time on several key elements that can scuttle a software implementation project including:

  • Improper advance planning for the appropriate number and type of human resources both internal and external that it will require to insure success.
  • Short cutting the planning process in favor of “let’s get started”.
  • Missing the opportunity to “cleanse” and update your valuable data and improve business processes
  • Failing to take the time and make the effort to gain user “buy in” (I can’t stress the importance of this enough by the way).
  • Setting unrealistic goals whether it be an unachievable “go live” date or business objectives (reduction of inventory, increased service level, reduction of headcounts) that are not based in sound human logic (no software system alone ever drove cost reduction or boosted sales or profitability. But you know that.)

So Why Are You Qualified to Talk About This Topic

If you are asking that question in your minds, I don’t blame you a bit. After all, ACUMEN is a 25 year old consulting firm and SAP partner. So you might reasonably expect that we have an agenda in talking about failed projects. We certainly do. We are bit unique in the software world in that most of us started out as clients of software companies and consulting firms. Some of us have lived through those bad implementations.

Just to give you an idea of our perspective, our CFO was at one time an executive with a large national retail organization at a time when important enterprise wide software was being (poorly) implemented. Our VP for Business Development was an internal project manager for an ERP implementation, several of our consultants were recruited from wholesale and retail enterprises with national scope and were intimately involved with software deployment, both well executed and not so well executed. One consultant was in charge of implementation of an ERP system worldwide for a nonprofit.

In my case I was involved in a massive (you might even say “epic”) rollout of enterprise software with a transportation company. We had good days and we had bad days. For further insight into our perspective I suggest you read the blog called “How We Do What We Do” here on our website.

So yes, we have an agenda with our little eBook. We are opinionated and passionate about insuring that any project we manage is done properly. Having seen the world from the ERP ditch, we hope to keep you up on the pavement and on track.

In the next blog/chapter we will begin discussing the human elements involved in ERP projects and why projects that do not involve the right people at the right place at the right time almost always fail.

See you next week!