Keep Your Guard Up

Want to Keep an Enterprise System Project on Track? Don't Forget to Ask the Right Questions

By Andrew Robinson, PMP


Way back in 1970, David Crosby lamented in a song of the times about how—in a moment of weakness—he almost cut his hair. I can relate. Letting down my guard as COO almost led to regret. I recently was reviewing the deployment of an important new financial reporting system and almost approved launch without first asking important questions of the project manager—questions about testing, change management, training and communications. Luckily, I caught myself and course-corrected.

As a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, I was able to realize the error of my ways. But many senior executives are out there making similar decisions without the benefit of PMI certification training. So I thought I'd offer a cheat sheet with the crucial questions to ask while reviewing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system projects—both development and deployment. They'll come in handy in an investment review board setting—and help you remain vigilant.

1. How does this project support a strategic goal?

2. Is this system supported by the senior leadership, and are they involved as stakeholders and accessible to the team?

3. Are you customizing the ERP system more than 15 percent? (Greater than 15 percent customization puts deployment at risk due to increased process complexity. Maintaining software updates can also be nightmarish.)

4. Are you able to adapt the vendor's standard process? (Mandatory legal or statutory requirements may make outsized customization inevitable and unwieldy.)

5. Did you identify and address all stakeholders and their requirements? How, who and when? Are all requirements really needed? Dive deep on this issue.

6. Do you have a plan for testing and time for this carved out in the development schedule?

If you hear negative responses to any of these questions, re-evaluate the investment and seriously consider cutting your losses early. But let's say you pass through those wickets successfully. IT is anxious for deployment. Take a breath and address the following issues:

1. Talk to me about change management. How will you achieve enterprise-wide adoption? What are you doing for training and communications? (If answers are incomplete, delay the launch!)

2. How will you know you have achieved adoption and the system is working as planned? How will performance be measured? (I want to hear about surveys and metrics.)

3. How can you make sure strategic benefits are being realized after launch?

Hopefully, answers will be satisfactory and deployment can proceed. PM

image Andrew Robinson, PMP, is CEO of Robbins Gioia in Alexandria, Virginia, USA. He has worked in management consulting for over 25 years and can be reached at [email protected].