The Human Side of ERP Projects

By Heike Peters | May 15, 2019

At some time in 1999, I came across a book that had been on the market already since 1987, called “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams,” written by software consultants Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. (A revised version of Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams from 2013 is currently available.)

At the time, I was looking for something that would help with the human side of things on large software development and/or implementation projects. A lot was written about the development side, the testing, requirements gathering, and, of course, the technicalities of project management. What I had been missing up to that point was the people side, the “Peopleware.” I really do like this term and wish I had come up with it.

I read somewhere that we humans have a biologically-based need to belong—to feel included, supported, and valued by others. That sounds right to me, and that tells us a lot about what humans need when one of the staples in their lives, a job, undergoes a major change. We need to feel that we are not alone in this, that we have a voice, and that our input matters.

I like stepping back and looking at ERP projects in a broader context and look at all people. Not just the ones on the project team, but participants in the effort at all levels. I like to use the term “Peopleware” from that more holistic organizational change readiness perspective. When we embark on a large, transformative project, we need to look at all aspects. Is the Hardware ready? (yes that does include the cloud) Is the Software ready? And, most importantly, is the “Peopleware” ready?

Thinking about all aspects of readying an organization for a significant change means to think through:

  • Does the org chart support the potentially new decision making workflow?
  • Is HR recruiting for open positions with the new required skill sets in mind?
  • Are there jobs that will go from no computer use to computer use?
  • What is the overall computer literacy in all parts of the organization?
  • Is there a fear of job loss in the organization?
  • What is the impact on Work/Life balance during the project when people do their regular job and participate in the project, or learn the new system and processes?
  • Are the benefits of the project well understood by everyone?
  • Is there enough trust in the organization to assume best intentions?
  • Are communication paths in place to ensure all employees are in the know and can contribute in some way?

There are more questions to ask, but these are a good start.

In my experience with project work and company-wide transformations, the toughest part is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I have seen great teams put a lot of effort, time and money into Organizational Change Management (OCM) and communication strategies for implementation projects, and still not address the real concerns.

Start with a survey

I really do like to start work on OCM with a survey. Ideally, an anonymous survey of all employees with open-ended questions allowing them to voice what they hear, fear and what they look forward to. That gives me and the client a great baseline to compare to surveys later in the project and see if the communication and training strategies are working.

I also find that there are incredibly good ideas in the responses. Imagine your employees telling you that there is a department without clarity about who the ultimate decision maker is because the organizational structure is not clear. There are also some employees who do not fear job loss, but rather fear that they will not be given enough time to learn the new system. You can alleviate a real concern or fear rather than a perceived one, and you can demonstrate that you actually do something tangible with the feedback you received. It is a great trust building method.

However, the suggestion of doing a survey seems like you just asked someone to open up the expired can of tuna in the back of the fridge. They need to brace themselves for the potential smell. My recommendation will always be to find out what is really going on, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can only address what you know.

Develop strategies

Once you go through the survey data you develop your very own Organizational Change Strategy, exactly right-sized for whatever your company/your project needs are.

You can now develop a communication strategy that takes into account what employees are most curious and concerned about, but also most excited for. You can also focus your resources on the media that they most connect with (emails, newsletters, town hall meetings, videos, intranet, etc.).

Further, you can develop a training strategy that is geared towards filling the gaps that would prevent optimal use of the systems and processes you are implementing. You have a much longer runway to improve your overall computer literacy if needed. You can even take a "train the trainer" approach and prepare your organization to do large portions of end-user training yourself, and onboard new employees for years to come. That helps the project's budget, and fosters confidence in the system, and ownership of the new tools and processes.

There is probably a formula somewhere that says how many dollars you should spend post-go-live for every dollar you tried to save on training before go-live. Training employees on a new system and new processes can generate positive excitement and energy, and will be perceived as an investment in the workforce.

Your OCM strategy should include working with HR, and making sure that job descriptions are updated where needed. This should include hiring for new and open positions, taking into account the skills that you will need to operate on the new system and with new processes.

Another staple should be a detailed Stakeholder analysis that looks at the various groups of impacted employees and the unique journey they will go on. Understanding their needs, and catering communication and training to those needs will ease the change for them, and likely speed up adoption.

Addressing the challenges of change

All of this is part of addressing the well-researched challenges people have with change. There are phases we all go through when we are told to change, and a mindful approach to this will not mean people will skip phases such as Anger, Grief, Denial, etc., but it will help get to Acceptance much faster.

Once you...

  • Put these measures in place
  • Understand your stakeholders,
  • Can help each group understand their respective journey
  • Have a communication plan in place
  • A training strategy that fits your company culture
  • Partner with HR on talent management are well prepared for the change that keeps coming after the project is long done. OCM will likely become an ongoing practice, a mindset, acknowledging the never-ending updates, changes and improvements users will experience in an increasingly agile work world. And we have a passion to help with this.

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