“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Mr. Dali, of course, was not referring to the implementation of a new system, but his famous quote is quite pertinent to the topic at hand. 

There is no such thing as a perfect software implementation. There will always be issues, whether minor or significant. Problems can be mitigated when they’re minor, but in some cases, details are overlooked, or mistakes are made during implementation processes that are too significant to deem the project anything but a failure.

The implementation of a new, top-tier system, whether it be for Enterprise  Resource Management (ERP), Electronic Document Management (EDMS), or a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), is an exciting endeavor, but it’s also a precarious undertaking. 

For all of the opportunities that lie ahead from obtaining a new system, there is an even more significant amount of threats should it not be implemented correctly. 

How do we avoid this? Here are some notable ERP failures we can learn a thing or two from.

  • Waste Management ERP Implementation (SAP): failure was due to a lack of cohesion between the organization and the vendor.
  • Washington Community College ERP Implementation (PeopleSoft): the third-party company that was responsible for assisting the college in the implementation went bankrupt.  
  • PG&E ERP Implementation (PeopleSoft / Oracle): the implementation itself was not the failure but rather the testing required to ensure the security of the organization’s data was not conducted well, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of all who were involved.

In these instances, there were some unfortunate and unpredictable circumstances, and not all system implementation failures are created equal. The blame can fall on the software vendor, any external, third-party implementation team assembled, or even on the organization’s very own process owners. 

The best way to learn of the dangers of hasty implementations is to simply go through the process, but that is certainly not recommended. Although, even a well-planned, well-thought-out implementation plan has the potential to tank due to unforeseen circumstances. 

The harsh reality is that only during the implementation itself are the problems fully exposed, and hindsight is 20/20. The best way to avoid the failure of a system implementation is to educate and become aware of the hazards because knowing what not to do is sometimes more valuable than knowing what to do. 

Poor implementation team 

How well do you know the team that is taking you through your implementation? 

Often, organizations take extensive amounts of time to find that dream solution. They develop the Request for Proposals (RFPs) detailing what it is that they are looking to obtain. They conduct reference calls to neighboring organizations to gauge their satisfaction with the system. Then it’s done. The decision has been made. 

Before they know it, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed consultant is showing up on their doorstep, holding the key to their future. But is this person qualified? Do they understand the expectations of the organization they are serving? 

The point is, the same amount of effort, or even greater than, should be put into making sure the implementation team that is responsible for introducing a new product into an organization’s existing environment is competent and well-equipped with the tools necessary to ensure a smooth transition. 

Lack of workflow understanding (internally)

The lack of understanding of an organization’s workflows has been the culprit on many occasions for bringing a system implementation to a screeching halt.

A great deal of internal guidance to the external implementation team is necessary to ensure workflows are being configured in a way that aligns with their processes. Needless to say, “this is just how we do it,” does not cut it when attempting to describe a workflow. 

That’s why it’s crucial to have a firm understanding and step-by-step outlines and models that can accurately represent the lifecycle of an organization’s various processes. The extra work ahead of time will pay for itself in the long run.

Vague system requirements

It’s imperative for an organization to understand its workflows, and what’s equally important is that our software providers share that understanding. 

All of the big players in the software market nowadays claim their systems can do it all. Every integration, every function, they have the best reporting features, and their mobile features are off the charts. 

Rather than taking those responses at face value, organizations need to be willing to sit down and get into the nitty-gritty of their needs. If an organization has already taken the time to map out its various processes, they’re halfway there. 

Defining requirements for general needs, reporting functions, key integration points, and so on, and then holding the vendor accountable for answering to them is a fantastic way to ensure the system being considered is genuinely the right fit.

Lack of staff time 

We have all seen it before. The organization that decides a system implementation can be handled internally, and that its staff are skilled enough and have the amount of time necessary to ensure success. The result, however, is often frustration, disenchantment, and wasted resources (green ones). 

Sometimes, the skillsets are there, but the time and dedication necessary to complete the effort are not. For the price organizations are paying for systems nowadays, “good enough” simply does not cut it. 

Insufficient training

It has often occurred that the failure of a system implementation had little to do with the application itself, but rather the lackadaisical training effort that followed.

An implementation of a new system that hardly any staff members know how to use is a failure. Many of our more seasoned staff members have been doing things “the old way” for decades. How can they be expected to learn the ins and outs of utilizing a completely foreign system in a matter of weeks by way of a few virtual training sessions? 

Demanding support from vendors from the beginning and ensuring they have a team assembled who can hold staff members’ hands during the early days will have a tremendous impact on the way the software is accepted by staff.

Inadequate infrastructure

Whether an organization chooses to host their new system on-premises or access the system through the cloud, it is essential to be certain their IT environment has the capacity to support it, regarding both workforce and infrastructure. 

Large systems, when hosted on-premise, put enormous demands on all of an organization’s hardware (everything down to the network wiring!). A good rule of thumb: if the system introduced to your environment is state-of-the-art, your equipment should be too. This will prevent crashing and system downtime in the long run. 

Additionally, it is essential to evaluate the skills of your IT staff. Do they possess the knowledge and experience necessary to support the system being introduced? If not, how do we get them there? 

More often, nowadays, an organization’s business-critical systems are being hosted in the cloud. This takes much of the pressure off IT staff and puts that responsibility on the vendor.

Lack of a skilled project manager

Sometimes staff simply don’t have sufficient time to work with a vendor or implementation team. This results in deadlines not being met and resources being paid for a job NOT well done. 

This is where the value of experienced project managers and external consultants comes in. Project managers provide organizations with the relief of knowing they’re not solely responsible for keeping the vendors accountable. They’ll also be responsible for controlling the scope of the initiative and ensuring that milestones are met at their agreed-upon date.

The planning effort of any software implementation must be significant. Unknown variables will always crop up, but having a solid plan in place that addresses potential threats is a strong start. 

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