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Project managers need a thick skin

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Observing the decision-makers who select an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution is something of a study of the human condition. From the highs of imagined benefits and anticipated advantages, to the lows of failed expectations and ballooning costs, all the emotions of life can play out.
That’s because a great deal of ERP projects aren’t delivered on time, on deadline and within budget. Ensuring that yours does, says Johani Marais, country manager of HansaWorld, requires stringent project management which starts with a healthy dose of realism. And, she stresses, good project managers are typically not the most popular people in the office.
“That’s because ERP projects are by their very definition complex and very demanding on all who participate in them. The benefits of a good ERP solution are abundantly clear, but getting to those benefits is rarely a simple or pleasant journey,” Marais says.
Marais is adamant that at the start of such initiatives, the project manager has to make certain allowances where especially budgets and time are concerned.
“These projects tend to be lengthy; even six or eight months is a long time. Anticipate that people will get sick, the unexpected will crop up and the addition of new features or modules which were never part of the initial plan may well become necessary some way into the project,” she says.
These are practical realities which crop up time and time again in enterprise projects, says Marais, and acknowledging them at the start means being in a position to more accurately plan execution and manage expectations.
Once the configuration and implementation of the software is underway, she says attention quickly turns to the quality of the data.
“Despite the fact that ‘garbage in garbage out’ is a widely accepted truth in the ICT industry, data is a constant problem. Not only are there routinely issues with duplicates and inconsistent formatting, but in many instances the data just isn’t provided in good time,” she says.
What’s more, many business owners don’t want to spend on two critical, yet on the face of it, low value activities. “These are testing and change management.”
Testing depends on using the data sets which will be processed in the production system.
“Unless this is done, and done thoroughly, there really is no way of knowing for sure how the system will perform at go-live. However, it is a neglected discipline which many managers see as a costly inconvenience. It’s not. It is a vital step,” she stresses.
These necessities which underpin project delivery fall to the project manager to insist upon if the advantages of the new system are to become a reality.
“For that reason, good project managers are not always the most popular people. They have to be resolute; they have to make sure that everyone sticks to deadlines and milestones. They have to devise and implement change management strategies; they have to get the data and make sure it is tested.”
In short, in stringently executing the necessary steps which go from project initiation to project delivery, the project manager is likely to get on a lot of nerves.
“Certainly, a thick skin is required, as is a good deal of firm diplomacy. But the project manager must accept that their gambit is not to win friends. It is to deliver successful ERP projects,” Marais concludes.