Case Studies

What Were They Buying?

Power of Strong Project Managers

Todd Herman

In the context of system implementations, the "Project Manager" role oftentimes feels like the "red-headed stepchild." After all, project management seems so easy — all you have to do is start with the task list supplied by the vendor, turn it into a project plan, chair weekly status meetings, and ensure people complete their tasks. Easy, right?

Wrong.

What a Project Manager Does

For a system implementations of even moderate size or complexity, strong project management makes the difference between successful and mediocre — or even disastrous — results. What does a good project manager really do?

  • Begin with the vendor's task list — and then review it for troublesome areas, such as time allowed for designing and testing interfaces with other systems, and post-implementation shakedown and issue resolution.

  • Scrutinize the vendor's budget — especially when presented in the form of a range between "best case" and "likely case" — and ensure all assumptions are flushed out and documented, and then tell the vendor what number you expect them to hit.

  • Convert the task list into a project plan, and use this tool to incorporate other events planned over the system implementation period — and inform client and vendor staff under what circumstances vacations and holidays cannot be taken.

  • Chair weekly status meetings — and make them effective by updating the project plan prior to the meeting, keeping persons focused on a tightly structured agenda, summarizing completed and upcoming tasks, holding all team members accountable for results, surfacing areas of concern, and leading effective resolution of issues, including identifying and leading breakout teams to deal with the issue.

  • Perform key user and system testing, especially when client or vendor personnel are overloaded or away (for example, when they are sick or are dealing with an emergency).

  • Resolve process issues quickly, and explain why it is typically better for the client to change its processes than for the vendor to modify — and possibly work against — the system's underlying assumptions.

  • Assess whether issues were truly unavoidable and thus should result in a change order from the vendor, or whether the situation had been properly disclosed to the vendor and thus should have been covered in the initial budget.

  • Review vendor bills with the same scrutiny as their budget, and challenge items which might not be properly billed to the client.

  • Address slippage of tasks, time, or budget quickly, and give concise options to the client, including the tradeoffs required to meet the original budget — such as client staff working overtime or taking over some tasks originally assigned to the vendor.

Strong Project Management

Image of idea, plan, implement, success

Within the past six months, I've spoken with three local and highly reputable business system VARs (Value-Added Resellers) who agreed — strong project management makes all the difference for both them and their clients. Strong project management:

  • Keeps both the VAR and the client focused on their tasks.

  • Helps ensure timeline and budget issues are surfaced early and discussed often.

  • Identifies overloaded team members — whether from the VAR or the client — and explores options to relieve some workload.

  • Makes the client happier because deadlines are more consistently met, actual expenditures are more in line with budgeted amounts, and effective issue identification and resolution yields a highly functional system — as opposed to a system hobbled by many ad hoc compromises.

  • Yields better profits for the VAR, because time is not written off due to lost focus caused by repeated "stops and starts."

And here's what else they shared with me — their firms do not have project managers. Why is that? These firms do not perform enough system implementations to keep a true project manager interested and engaged. All three also assured me they have no problem working with a strong project manager who will hold them accountable for results — as long as the project manager holds the client equally accountable for meeting their deadlines and deliverables.

Clients Hire for Peace of Mind

When a client retains a firm like ours for project management on a system implementation project, what are they buying? The client is buying peace of mind, coming from results such as:

  • Getting things done right.

  • Avoiding burnout of their staff.

  • Sticking to budget.

  • Meeting timelines.

In other words, the client is buying results for their project — Quality (Better), Cost (Cheaper), and Cycle Time (Faster). And in the world of business systems, the cost of mediocre — or even aborted — implementations far exceed the cost of effective project management.

This month's case study showcases how project management — done well — adds value to the overall system implementation project.

Sincerely yours,

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman


Case Study: Managing a Complex System Implementation Project

Situation...

This company needed to replace their aging and unsupported business system with a modern mid-level Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to better support their light manufacturing operations at one location, and their contract distribution operations at a second location. Furthermore, this implementation had to be completed within nine months to meet the Board of Directors' expectations.

Problem...

Our leanly staffed client faced a very complex implementation project for several reasons:

  • The initial implementation had to support an electronic data exchange technique called Military Standard Requisitioning and Issue Procedures (MILSTRIP) — unique to military contracts — for 40 different transaction types.
  • The eventual implementation had to support sending and receiving Electronic Document Interchange (EDI) documents for military contracts.
  • The MILSTRIP and EDI specifications were very exacting, and implementation had to be precisely timed, to not interrupt contract processing.
  • Several software packages extending the ERP system to workers with disabilities had to be purchased and integrated, and some packages required upgrading or purchasing specialized user-assistance devices.

All in all, this was a complex implementation, integration, and customization project well beyond the skills of our client and their implementation vendor.

Solution...

We provided the project management skills and experience for this project, taking the lead in:

  • Dealing with the main implementation vendor, and the four supporting vendors.
  • Tracking progress against the schedule required by a major customer.
  • Assigning tasks to balance workload and skill sets.
  • Chairing weekly project status meetings, and holding all team members accountable for results.
  • Scrutinizing invoices and correspondence from vendors, and ensuring commitments were honored and change orders were documented.

Managing issues by assessing impacts on timeline, client personnel, and budget.

Sample status update with tasks to complete sorted by due date

The weekly status report concisely:

  • Communicates percentage completion of tasks versus those in the Statement of Work (SOW).
  • Indicates, from the green progress "thermometer," the project is on-time and on-budget.
  • Summarizes last week's accomplishments.
  • Sets out short-term critical-path tasks.
  • Highlights potential issues.

High-level sales order and shipping process diagram

This high-level process diagram was one of many created for the project to concisely communicate the parties, systems, and transactions needed to successfully carry out particular processes. The number of colors and symbols depicts the project's complexity.

High-level future system diagram

The high-level future system diagram not only showed the project team how the individual software and hardware components needed to come together — it also illustrates the many integrations and customizations for the project.

Results & Benefits...

The implementation for the manufacturing operations was on-time and on-budget. For the distribution location, implementation was on-budget, but delayed by one month because of unavoidable vendor delays in tailoring the ERP system to an outdated shipper rate search program.

Overall, the implementation went very smoothly, despite many issues. As issues came up, we quickly proposed process changes and improvements matching the assumptions underlying the technology, ensuring customizations were minimal and were coded only when absolutely necessary.

Furthermore, client staff were able to handle both their day-to-day and specific project tasks without being overwhelmed learning skills and techniques unique to large-scale software projects.

Conclusion...

Our client not only achieved the various benefits anticipated with the new system — enhanced tracking in manufacturing, better reporting, and improved controls — but did so while meeting a tight budget specified by the Board, rigid time frames imposed by the client or its customers, and stretch goals for process improvements and "best practices."

For More Information...

To discuss how technology usage and business process improvements could be applied to the issues facing your business, call us at 336.297.4200 to schedule a no-obligation consultation, or click here to contact us online.

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Todd Herman Associates

336.297.4200

620 Green Valley Road
Suite 104
Greensboro, NC 27408
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About Todd Herman Associates

Todd Herman Associates is a business technology consulting firm focused on non-routine technology issues such as replacing QuickBooks, getting two systems to "talk" to each other, shrinking process cycle time, and taming large volumes of data.