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Author: Hanna Kounov

Successful ERP Implementations: Fact or Fiction

I recently published an article in the Project Times about Project Personalities and the impact they have on the outcome of a project.  In the article I used the word failed much to the chagrin of my employer.  He pointed out that the word failed is too harsh and has many far reaching connotations, and that it should always be quantified.  His comment did get me thinking; what is a successful ERP Implementation and how do we measure whether it was successful or not.

I know there are the standard measurements that can be used:  Was the project completed on time, within budget and in scope?  These measurements only measure the hard facts.  I am not referring to meeting project objectives as stated in the Project Charter or even meeting the scope as defined in the Scope Documentation.  These milestones are often met, completely leaving the vendor scratching their heads when the client is not pleased with the outcome.  I am referring to the soft expectations of the client.

 The client may have a very different understanding of success versus the vendor’s idea of success.  How many times have I heard the following sentiments voiced by vendor’s “they are using the software” or “we have met the project objective” to justify that the client is using the new software and therefore the implementation must be a success.  The fact is however that in many cases this is not the client’s perception of success. 

These expectations are established early in the sales cycle.  The account manager is doing what he/she does best –selling the dream.  It is their job to get the client swept up in the big picture — what the future could look like.   Sometimes they oversell the dream a little too well and the dream doesn’t fit within the budget, resources, time frame or technical ability of the client.  The client however has “seen” the big picture and somewhere the perception is set that the system is going to do everything.  Of course this is true, the system can do almost anything the client can dream of, but reality dictates what is done.  Resources, budget, scope and time determine what is actually able to be implemented and the size of the gap between the dream and reality is dependent on the client’s perception of the dream. 

Systems have become so much more sophisticated now that it seems it has become necessary to revert back to a phased implementation approach.  During my career I have seen projects go from a phased approach, to turnkey with all the bells and whistles in place and back to a phased implementation.  There is so much that can be accomplished with ERP software in this day and age that a line has to be drawn in the sand or the cost, time or scope of the project would become unrealistic and by default the chance of a successful implementation. 

Managing the client’s expectations while maintaining a realistic face on the project is often left up to the project manager.  However a strong account manager is sometimes better suited to the task.  If the account manager can clearly communicate which part of the dream is actually being implemented then the perception of the client can more closely reflect reality.  When this happens you are able to achieve maximum success — an implementation which is 100% successful. 

 Below are the percentages which I use to measure the soft success of a project. I believe that ERP Implementation can’t afford to be a downright failure.  The client and vendor have both made far too large an investment in time and cost to merely throw in the towel and walk away.  Therefore most ERP Implementations are deemed successful.  What varies is the percentage of success. 

100% Successful

Every project manager lives for these implementations and hopefully we are fortunate to have a large number in our repertoire of completed projects.  These are the projects where everything is synchronistic.   The client’s expectations are managed, which by default stabilizes the scope, and therefore very few, if any, change requests are received.  The budget is not exceeded and the project is completed on time.  The “Go-Live” date comes and goes without major hitches.  The client’s employees are confident, able to continue with their day to day tasks as if nothing has changed.  You are able, after a couple of days of post implementation assistance, leave the client to continue on their own. 

The proof of the success is that the client is pleased! 

The key to the resounding success of the project rests on the fact that the perception of the outcome by clients, project managers and vendors was precisely the same.  The client fully tested the results and ensured that everyone received the correct amount of training.  Above all the client was an active partner taking responsibility for the implementation, and owning the outcome. 

99% to 85% Success

Realistically this is where the majority of ERP Implementations fall.  In most cases the reduced success rate is due to the omission of something small.  They do not have a big impact on the day to day processing.  The client is still able to implement the new software and process the majority of the day to day transactions without encountering major issues.  However at times the omission can be more substantial and the impact more invasive, and drops the percentage of success down to the 85% mark.  I have found that the more customization that is requested, the higher the risk that the success rate will be in the lower percentage range.  Even with the best of intentions and the strictest testing and stress testing protocol there is usually an issue that needs to be addressed and resolved very soon after the implementation date.  Until one month of processing is complete the implementation should not be deemed ready for sign off.  In most cases it is the sheer volume of day to day processing that places a strain on the custom work that may bring issues to the forefront.  The good news is that addressing the issue is usually a simple bug fix.  Even though the client was an active partner during the implementation, there was a slightly larger gap between the perception of the dream and the reality of the project.  The client and the vendor relationship remains mutually beneficial after the project sign off.

The client is generally pleased with the outcome of the project.  Important transactions can be processed and the system is stable and functioning properly to support day to day operations.    

84% to 50%

This project is going to cost additional resources.  The perception of the dream and reality was completely unrealistic and from the outset: the scope, time and budget were therefore out of proportion and even with the best of intentions this project is doomed.  The biggest issues with these implementations are that the scope becomes a moving target.   Every time the vendor project manager thinks they have established requirements, something changes and the client project manager has to produce a new change request.   The client’s perception of the outcome is unrealistic given the constraints of the project.   If the time for the implementation can’t be extended and the budget is fixed then the vendor is assuming the extensive risk. Most vendors and project teams have the client’s best interest at heart and their intention is to provide the client with the best possible solution — within the constraints of the project.  The problem though is that no one knows exactly what the end result should be.  It is as if the scope of the project has become merely a suggestion, even though everyone agreed to the objective and goal of the project at the kick off meeting, and the scope document was approved.  The closer to the 50% success rating, the more likely the cost of the implementation budget could double.  Needless to say the negative impact on all involved is substantial.  This is the type of project where the client is unable to perform one or more very important functions.  In reality, these failed projects limp along until the major issues are resolved or everyone agrees to throw in the towel.  The relationship between the vendor and the client suffers permanent damage and in most cases will be dissolved by the time the dust settles.

The client is not pleased with the outcome of the project.  Suffice it to say that the distance between the dream and reality was far removed. 

Below 50%

These projects do not even make it to the “go-live” date.  In these implementations I have found that the dream and the reality are not even remotely the same.  I also believe that the client often suffers buyers’ remorse but the contract is signed anyway and some pressure is made to proceed in spite of all the omens.  The client is not in any way involved in the implementation.  The project managers find it impossible to move the project ahead.  These projects could end in litigation if the contract can’t be dissolved to both parties satisfaction.


It is my opinion that the success rate of an ERP Implementation is directly affected by the client’s involvement.  Where the client has been an active partner taking responsibility for the project and the outcome, the rate of success is much higher than a project where the client has only had limited involvement.  When the outcome of the project is left up to the implementation team, and the clients’ project manager doesn’t have the authority to make the necessary decisions, the project is not able to move forward successfully.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Hanna Kounov is an ERP Implementation Project manager.  For the past twenty two years she has specialized in the implementation of SYSPRO ERP Software.  The last fourteen years Hanna has worked in Canada for Phoenix Systems, a Value Added SYSPRO partner with four branches across Canada and a branch in Portland Oregon USA.  Hanna Kounov is also a published author.  Hanna can be contacted  at [email protected]

Project Personalities

Feb23_FeatureOver the last twenty two years I have implemented various sized ERP systems.  Although most implementations have been successful there have been some that have failed. In looking back over my career I noticed that it was not the methodology that was lacking but the way the team came together as a group.  With that in mind I started to analyze the different personality types I have come across over the years and how they influenced the outcome of the project.  I have arrived at the following five types.  Of course these are generalizations but you will find that every person in the team will lean towards one particular type when the chips are down.

The Over Achiever

Positive traits:  This person has exceptional knowledge and a skill set second to none that is an asset to every project they are involved in.  Their work is flawless and their approach to their tasks professional and each task will be delivered on time and on budget.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that they haven’t exceeded their initial time estimate, it just means that they have not billed for all the time spent on completing the task.  This is especially true if they feel that some of the time overrun was due to their own learning curve.  They will do whatever is necessary to complete a task.

Negative traits:  Subconsciously their goal is not necessarily the overall project success.  They see the project as an opportunity to showcase their talents.   It is their time to shine!  Their communications are often intimidating.  They will see any form of criticism as a personal attack and vehemently argue their point of view.  They find it very difficult to take direction from anyone whom they feel does not match their own intelligence or skill set.

Underlying Objective:  Glory!

The Work Horse

Positive traits:  This person has a positive approach to their work and tackles every task with enthusiasm.  Nothing is too much, and they will often volunteer for tasks where a resource has not yet been assigned.  They are an asset to any project due to their work ethic and ability to get huge amounts of work done in a limited timeframe.  They are efficient and structured in their approach to assigned tasks and will work evenings and weekends to deliver tasks on time.  Their loyalty to the project is unwavering.   They communicate well and document meticulously.  Above all they enjoy their work and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Negative traits:   They can’t say NO!  These personalities have a tendency to bite off more than they can chew.  Saying no is perceived as a form of weakness.  They will take on other peoples tasks “because it has to get done” should they have the skills to do so.  Eventually they end up a burnt out shell of themselves and by the time that the end on the project is in sight they are overworked and exhausted.  They have an underlying need to be at the centre of everything and need to be the go-to person.  However when their nerves start to wear thin and the weariness starts to show they can become intolerant of other team members.  They also have a tendency to put enormous pressure on themselves.  They feel their work defines who they are.

Underlying Objective:  Martyrdom

The Artful Dodger

Positive traits:   The artful dodger usually has very specific skill sets that are required for the success of the project.  If you can keep this person focused on priorities and all the tasks that have been assigned to them, they will perform well and get the job done.

Negative traits:   They prefer to handle the tasks they like and find ways to hand off the tasks they don’t like or are not comfortable with.  They identify the work horses in the team way before anyone else does and artfully shift their responsibility for these tasks onto the individuals who just can’t say no.  They prefer doing what they know and usually have little interest in developing new skills.  These individuals do not always communicate well.

Underlying objective: Remain in their safety zone.  These individuals are most afraid of failure and will do anything to avoid stepping outside their comfort zone.

The Rock

Positive traits:   They work hard at a steady pace and very seldom complain.  If they have too much on their plate they will tell you without guilt and usually have proof to substantiate their claim.  They are professional in their approach to their tasks and will do whatever necessary to complete them on time.   If this means putting in some late nights and a few weekends as the end of the project draws near, then so be it, but by no means are they prepared to make it a way of life.  They usually communicate well and document and share information.

Negative traits:  As they are task driven they concentrate on what is in front of them and can lose site of the big picture.

Underlying objective:  Getting their assigned tasks done to the best of their ability.

The Deceiver

Positive traits:   This individual is self confident.  They have the knowledge and skills to see the big picture.   Their verbal communication skills are excellent.

Negative traits:  They walk the walk and talk the talk but they are disorganized and unfocused often hiding behind their communication skills.  They know all the acronyms of the industry and will use these to authenticate their skills.  They communicate task statuses very poorly and as project manager you will never get a straight answer from a deceiver.   This is the person whose tasks are always nearly complete, documents are always in draft form even when due.  It allows the deceiver to get away with incomplete tasks which other team members will complete if necessary – enter the poor work horse – or the task becomes redundant.

Underlying Objective:  Live to deceive another day.

Enabling the Team

As project manager it falls upon you to bring all these different personality types together into a highly functioning team.  You may find that personality types will shift during the life of the project.  It is very easy for a rock personality type to shift into a work horse and visa versa.  A rock may even become an artful dodger if they feel unappreciated.  The dynamics of human behavior and emotions changes as the project progresses and the stress levels increase.

Each of these personality types requires a different approach to motivation.  As pointed out above each type has their individual subconscious goal.  Ensuring that this goal is met or the ability to fulfill the goal is possible will bring the best out in each of the individuals.  Additionally you want to ensure that their negative traits do not override their positive traits.

It is easy to maintain our positive traits when our work load and stress is balanced.  This gets more difficult as stress levels and work load increase and becomes unbalanced.  It is at this stage that the negative traits of the personality types can start to override the positive traits.  It is important to watch for this turning point and address the issue immediately.  The earlier you deal with the cause the better it will be for the individual, team and the project.

Motivating the Over Achiever

Arthur C. Clarke: The only way of finding the limits of the possible, is by going beyond them into the impossible.

As the over achiever’s underlying goal is glory you should ensure that credit is given where credit is due and broadcast it.  These individuals are not always the easiest to work with and you may even find that from time to time they will talk down to you.  Acknowledging their skills are of the utmost importance, and wording your criticism so that it is painless for the over achiever to accept can serve as a positive reinforcement of their effort.  This may be hard to do if you are also an over achiever.  But if you want a happy, confident, intelligent team member to continue to give their all to the project — it is important to communicate these words.  The alternative may be an arrogant un-communicative member of the team who will eventually withdraw and do their own thing without the slightest regard for the overall good of the project – “my job is done, why isn’t yours.” If you don’t acknowledge their achievements they will become despondent or find another way to impress others which may be detrimental to the project.

Motivating the Work Horse:

Vince Lombardi:  Winners never quit and quitters never win.

Special care should be given to identify the work horses in the team.  These are the individuals who will cause you to feel guilty, should you miss the signs.  Normally the work horses are easy to spot.   They are the ones that you receive e-mail from time stamped at five minutes to midnight even before the pressure is on.

You will rack your brain reviewing the schedule and task designation finding no rhyme or reason for this person to be overworked until it becomes apparent that they are a) completing other team members tasks or b) have promised the client “little extras” that they thought were very simple and have realized that they are anything but.

In order to motivate the work horse you need to open the lines of communication.  It is important for them to understand that saying no to a task is okay and that they will not be penalized in any way.  Also monitor every task they are working on and ensure that the artful dodger doesn’t get the opportunity to slide a task their way.

In this way you will be able to motivate and assist the work horse to exhibit rock tendencies and not burnout during the life of the project.

Motivating the Artful Dodger:

Brian Tracy: Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.

Speak to the artful dodger alone.  Communicate verbally.  You have already given the team their tasks, but it important to review the artful dodger’s tasks with them in private.  If you know the areas where the artful dodger may feel out of their comfort zone ask them how you can help.  If  necessary, get another resource with the  appropriate skills to assist, this will give them the opportunity to learn hands-on, which is usually ideal for these individuals.  Remember to encourage and alleviate their fear of failure by assuring them that you are there to assist but you can only help if they communicate issues.

Motivating the Rock

Vince Lombardi: The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

Hopefully you have more than one rock personality working on the project.  If so you will be in excellent shape.  The difference between the rock and the work horse is that the rock knows when to say no. These individuals need hardly any motivation.  They are self starters and usually manage their time well.  Herein lay the problem.  Because they don’t complain, show signs of overwork, need constant re-assurance or credit, they go about completing their tasks quietly. These team members often feel left out or unappreciated.  It is important to acknowledge their accomplishments and ensure that they remain an integral part of the team.  Keep a close watch on rock personalities as they could become work horses under certain circumstances.

Motivating the Deceiver

Lauryn Hill: Reality is easy.  It’s deception that’s the hard work.

The way to motivate the deceiver is to keep the channel of communication open.  Watch for uncompleted tasks or missed milestones.  It is better to speak to the deceiver in person.  Unfortunately you will need to manipulate and often shame the deceiver into completing tasks.  Pointing out how their actions are negatively reflecting on you and the project as well as themselves can have a positive effect and if they like you, you are more likely to be able to motivate them to complete tasks – so go ahead make it personal.  The best way to reduce the negative impact a deceiver can have on a project (and they almost always have a negative impact) is to limit their tasks to only those where their skill set is absolutely required and monitor every aspect of their progress.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Hanna Kounov is an ERP Implementation Project manager.  For the past twenty two years she has specialized in the implementation of SYSPRO ERP Software.  The last fourteen years Hanna has worked in Canada for Phoenix Systems, a Value Added SYSPRO partner with four branches across Canada and a branch in Portland Oregon USA.  Hanna Kounov is also a published author.