Why ERP Implementations Fail: Teamwork Problems

One unusual aspect of western industrial culture is the inflated belief individuals maintain about the criticality of their own personal contribution to the organization’s overall success. This can be understood in the oft-repeated statistic that 90% of all employees believe they belong in the company’s top 10% of performers. This occurs for several different reasons: managers don’t define what constitutes “good performance”; most people take offense at being characterized as “average”, so managers inflate appraisals to avoid conflict; and even when a manager is candid and objective, an employee dismisses a less-than-superlative appraisal with the rationale that he or she is misunderstood and the appraisal was incorrect.

How does that relate to ERP and ERP failures? One of the biggest ERP tasks to manage is assembling the right talent for an ERP implementation team, and coaching them into becoming a high performance team. But know in advance – as stated above – whether your team performs well or not, their self-perception will be that they are performing admirably, and poor teamwork can derail an ERP implementation.

Identifying Dysfunctional Teams

The biggest potential problems are functional owners or teams who are certain that they should be first among equals. They reject solutions that require sacrifice or additional work from their functional area within the ERP implementation. They insist on revisiting decisions that have already been made. They will take group discussions totally off topic to explore personal agendas. The true danger is that they engage in all of this dysfunctional behavior with the sincere and absolute conviction it is the right thing to do for the organization. That is to say, they believe that if supply chain excels (substitute purchasing, finance, manufacturing, etc.), then by logical extension, the company will succeed. The ERP project manager has to pull this team or this owner aside, and give candid feedback about their effect on the rest of the team. If that does not yield results then replacement is in order. If replacement is not a possibility, then make the team subordinate to someone who gets the big picture.

Also, guard against hall whisperers. These are team members who congregate in the hallways with like-minded people and spin conjecture about partially overheard conversations until it becomes a rumor. Rumors have a way of keeping everyone unsure of the truth, and they distract from quality work. The simplest way to eradicate this risk is to over communicate. Hold weekly team meetings and tell everyone what’s going on. Ask what the rumors are and make fun of them. Give a prize for the best rumor. Eventually people will get the message to stop paying attention to hall whisperers.

Remember that your ERP implementation goes as fast as your slowest functional area. If an area is struggling, shift resources; it does no good for one area to be ahead of another. And stress – in every email, in every update, in every morale speech – that the quality of the implementation will be exactly as high as the level of teamwork achieved.

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Tom Stephenson

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Tom Stephenson