Enterprise Systems Projects – Ownership & Engagement
by Ken Edwards

Enterprise System projects, like ERP and CRM, are not easy. They require many resources, careful planning, top down and bottom up management, and a host of other requirements. These projects normally involve many people from different areas of the business, all of whom have a different vision, expectation, and opinion about how things should be done.

But, Enterprise System projects succeed or fail based on two very simple role concepts: Ownership and Engagement.

Ownership is all about which area is responsible for the Enterprise System project. Responsibility around software system projects is not about who manages the technical resources, or who approves technical designs. Responsibility is more about who has the final word on Business Process, Core Team Members, Business Readiness, Testing, Training, Go Live Authorization, and Support Level Agreements.

There is a classic argument during ERP and CRM: The business and operations groups say they cannot be the Owner because they don’t understand how to implement software. The IT and technical groups say they can’t be the owner because they don’t know business process.

Frequently (too frequently!) the IT and technical group assumes the Owner role because it is a software project but this is where things start to go off the rail.

The Owner of an Enterprise System project, like ERP and CRM, should always be someone high enough in Senior Management, on the Business or Operations side, who can make the final decision, assign tasks, assign responsibility, and sign off on necessary project stages. As a result, many successful ERP and CRM projects are owned by the Chief Operations Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, and even the Chief Executive Officer.

These executives, through leadership, set the tone, define the objectives, approve spending, and hold resources to measurable goals.

With the right Ownership assigned within the Business and Operations group, the project then has the necessary leadership for the next key role concept: Engagement.

Engagement is the necessary involvement of key business and operations resources to ensure the enterprise system properly matches business process. These key project members define the requirements, test the solutions, test the data, test the reports, define users for training, Go Live planning, and a laundry list of other necessary activities and plans. Engagement is critical for these defined resources. Missing a meeting or not making a timely decision can set a project back significantly in terms of time and dollars.

With the proper Business or Operations Owner in place, this person can ensure the necessary Business-side resources participate at a level to ensure success. Because Engagement requires participation, awareness, attention, and response.

While the IT and technical team play a very important role in any Enterprise System project, they are merely facilitators and help adapt the system to the business needs. They provide a service and follow the instructions of the Owner and the Ownership Team.

Think about Enterprise System projects like buying a new pair of shoes: The customer visits the shoe store and picks out a pair of shoes. The clerk goes into the warehouse and, first, finds out if the shoe is in stock, and then, brings back a pair to try on. The customer tries the shoes on and makes a decision if the shoes fit, if they want a different size, or maybe they want a different model altogether. If the customer likes the shoes, they buy them and take them home.

In this example, the Business and Operations groups are the customer. They define the requirements (find the right shoe), test the solution (try them on), ensure that it works (make sure it fits), and authorize a go live (buy the shoes).

The IT and Technical groups are the shoe store clerk. They evaluate the customer needs (check for the shoe in inventory), prepare a solution (bring the shoes from the warehouse), offer it for testing (offer the shoes to be tried on), and assist with the purchase (assist with Go Live).

When the IT and Technical groups are the project Owner, think about the shoe store clerk telling the customer what shoes they need. It just doesn’t work.

When the Business and Operations groups are the Owner, they ensure the process is run correctly and that the system matches their needs.

Without this simple concept in place, Enterprise Systems projects have a very high rate of failure. Consider Ownership and Engagement roles carefully for your next ERP and CRM project. They truly contribute to the project success.


About the Author:
Ken Edwards is the Microsoft Dynamics Practice Lead at Centric Consulting in Ohio.  Ken has been focused on delivering Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM solutions for over 15 years. With a focus primarily on manufacturing, distribution, and retail industries, he has successfully lead teams through global deployments of Microsoft Dynamics AX, NAV, and CRM.
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