Using an External ERP Project Manager

If a company engages outside ERP consultants to assist the implementation effort, it is common for one consultant to act in the role of project manager, as a partner to an internal ERP project manager. The union of an external ERP project manager with an organization and its ERP implementation team is one of the most unpredictable marriages in the business world. Like real life marriages, these partnerships are sometimes entered into with the wrong priorities. If you are attracted to a project manager because you perceive he or she has incredible technical expertise – the dominant source of anxiety of every beginning ERP implementation team – but later discover a relative absence of interpersonal skills, or business judgment, the technical competence becomes a moot point.

A joint project management team has to dovetail in a way that is comfortable for both, and strengthens both. If an authoritative external ERP consultant is attached to an organization with a culture of challenging authority, there will be trouble. If a collaborative external consultant is matched with a company which is most comfortable receiving and obeying orders, it probably will not work. This complementary matchup must occur even though there is a certain amount of randomness about the pool of ERP project managers available for assignment at any point in time. Completing the Gordian knot is the fact that the external project manager should – in the early weeks of the ERP project, at least, when he or she is the only one who understands the process - possess all of the natural authority, but is simultaneously a paid consultant who can be terminated at any time.

Hiring

So how do you make sure you hire a good external ERP project manager? Pretty much the same way you hire any consultant, but with a little more effort. Reference calls of prior projects are essential (try not to be the company for which a consultant is acting in the role of PM for the first time), but as stated earlier, company cultures differ, and a superlative reference is not a guarantee. Personal interviews are a must, with as many team members as practical. During the interview, try hard to ask questions that uncover the individual’s performance expectations, how he or she reacts to pressure and confrontation, and get an accurate gauge on management style. Look for attributes that you genuinely admire; these are the complementary points that will create synergy.

Despite all due diligence, it is still possible to make a mistake on an external ERP project manager. If that happens, do not procrastinate – correct it immediately. You can carry a weak functional ERP consultant if you choose, but a weak or disruptive ERP project manager will sink the project. On the positive side, a strong project manager, who understands you and your culture, in whom you have confidence, who can say the right thing to cheer you up when you are angry or frustrated, is worth his or her weight in gold, and will make the difference between an adequate implementation and a great implementation.

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Richard Barker

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Richard Barker