A Succesful ERP Project Management Philosophy

ERP Selection and Design: Mitigating Risk through Industry Experience

the Gilfus Education Group is the world’s leading independent strategy, research, and advisory firm for education and training organizations and businesses. The team partners with today’s organizational and industry leaders to develop effective and lasting improvements and provides independent advisory, strategic consulting, technical implementation, and industry research services to educational institutions, eLearning organizations, industry investors, and the educational companies that serve them.

Our highly experienced team can help you delineate vendor hype from reality and, more importantly, lead a process to create and implement a plan for improved ERP and SIS software.the Gilfus Education Group has created a rapid implementation methodology that allows us to work with our strategic partners to deliver immense value to new customers. We have focused much of our attention on small to mid-sized universities and government agencies and have tailored our delivery model.

Overview of an ERP Project Management Philosophy

Project management processes and tools are designed to (1) keep the implementation on schedule, (2) manage project costs, (3) manage the project vendors, (4) help the agencies and/or institutions avoid problems and ensure a successful implementation or upgrade of enterprise resource planning  applications.

What to do in the Planning Phase of an ERP Project

The first step in a successful project is to develop the best possible and most realistic project plan. the Gilfus Education Group team will play a lead role in carrying out the following planning steps.

  1. Agree on and document the project scope
  2. Determine staffing requirements and develop a staffing strategy
  3. Develop a realistic budget and construct a budget expenditure model
  4. Identify and resolve critical project issues, including project risks
  5. Develop a project organization and project roles and responsibilities
  6. Decide on the implementation sequence and develop the detailed project schedule
  7. Develop a stakeholder engagement and communication plan
  8. Install the most appropriate project management processes and tools that will be needed, as outlined below.

Installing ERP Project Management Processes and Tools

Based on the needs of the client, the Gilfus Education Group team will recommend the use of various project management processes and tools.  the following components need to be put into place:

  1. The most effective method of scheduling, tracking, and controlling tasks for this project
  2. Procedures for updating project schedules on a weekly basis
  3. Guidelines for determining when schedules are to be considered behind or even in jeopardy
  4. Processes for collecting data on the critical project metrics that will be tracked
  5. Methods for producing weekly schedule dashboards by module and by institution
  6. A  budget expenditures model for use in tracking expenditures against plan
  7. Methods for producing monthly executive dashboards for reporting progress against budget and progress against schedule
  8. Optimum team meeting tools and processes
  9. A scope management process
  10. A change management process

How to Develop ERP Project Schedules

Our team has developed dozens of project schedules for different government and education client’s ERP implementations.  In developing a project schedule for an ERP system  its important to use previously developed schedules as a template, and then alter the schedule to best meet the needs of your organization.  Once a schedule is developed, leadership should review the schedule with each of the project teams to ensure “buy-in” and “ownership” of the schedule.

The four steps we follow in developing a project schedule are:

  1. Decide on the optimum implementation sequence, given your budget periods, reporting schedules, pay-cycles and the “readiness” of the various module teams.
  2. Adapt one of our existing project plan templates to fit the needs of your organization
  3. Meet with the selected ERP implementer to adjust the schedule tasks according to the implementer’s preferred approach as well as recent changes in implementation approach
  4. Meet with the various implementation teams to show them the project schedule and to get their input on the schedule.

The purpose of step four  above is threefold: (1) educate the teams as much as possible about the upcoming tasks and the timeline, (2) get team member input on changes in the schedule, and (3) achieve “buy in” and commitment to the final agreed-upon schedule.

How to Keep the Project on Schedule

One of the barriers to staying on schedule is that people working on the implementation team often have other responsibilities in their administrative departments.   When faced with a “go-live” date several months out, it is natural for project team members to postpone project tasks in favor of carrying out pressing other duties that they have.  We have learned if teams can’t “keep up” it will be almost impossible to “catch up.”  It is therefore important to develop a regular habit of performing project tasks on time.

A process to use for keeping a project on schedule is as follows:

  1. Send weekly reports to each of the project teams with lists of the tasks that must be started during the upcoming project window and the tasks that must be completed during the upcoming window (usually this is a three-week window)
  2. Gather task updates from each project team at week’s end, and then incorporate this information into a weekly “flash report” of the progress against schedule for each of the module teams.
  3. Widely circulate this information in the form of a metrics dashboard so that all can easily view their team’s progress compared to the progress of other project teams

Display the weekly “flash reports” in a dashboard format as in Exhibit A below.  Note that this dashboard is for a single agency’s implementation.  It is shown for illustrative purposes only and may not be the same type dashboard that we develop for your implementation.

Exhibit A

ERP Executive Dashboard

The dashboard in Exhibit A shows a weekly snapshot for an ERP implementation at a single institution.  Data reported for each module include the percentage of tasks actually started that should have been started during the week, and the percentage of tasks actually completed that should have been completed during the week, broken down by module.  This particular dashboard illustration also gives a historical record of schedule performance of previous weeks.

Tools of this sort will be invaluable in tracking and reporting progress of the project.  Our experience has shown that providing feedback motivates behavior change, and project teams quickly learn to stay current in their team schedules.

How to Manage Project Costs

The following five components are critical to keeping project costs under control:

  1. Keep the project on schedule (schedule delays invariably lead to increased costs)
  2. Manage the scope aggressively according to a pre-established scope management process (“scope creep” always increases project costs)
  3. Limit any challenging proposed software modifications (modifications drive up project costs as well as ongoing costs)
  4. Manage vendor hours (unmonitored hours will drive up implementation costs)
  5. Frequently publish a budget expenditures dashboard (feedback through frequent dashboard reporting raises the budget awareness level for all project participants)

Strategies for Staying within Budget

Staying within the project budget starts with ensuring that there is a realistic budget in place, containing both known costs and “hidden” costs.  Another important element for staying within budget is to put in place a monitoring and feedback process to provide the client’s leadership team constant information concerning budget expenditures against plan, broken down by budget categories.  Finally, the client must have a strong project manager and strong project sponsor to control scope “creep,” limit modifications, manage vendor costs, and prevent project delays, which invariably lead to increased costs.

Exhibit B below shows an example of how the Gilfus Education Group team tracks project expenditures, by category, according to a project expenditure model that will be developed in the planning phase of the project.  This information is shown graphically to the steering team and various other client executives so they can instantly grasp the status of the project at a high level.  At the same time, executives can drill down to discover details needed for further analysis.

Exhibit B

the Gilfus Education Group team developed the executive dashboard in Exhibit B for a “lock step” system implementation of an ERP solution across nineteen higher education institutions and a system office.  the Gilfus Education Group team provided the program management role for these institutions, and, among other duties, was charged with ensuring the system stayed within budget.  The gauges on the right hand side of the dashboard gave system executives a high-level understanding of budget expenditures against the plan.  The bar graphs in the center of the dashboard gave executives specifics, broken down by several budget categories.