The Project Manager’s Battle for ERP Control

One of the most dysfunctional and draining combinations an ERP implementation team can endure is when a strong, experienced, and controlling implementation consultant project manager is paired with a strong, inexperienced, and controlling business project manager. With enough time, and the experience of multiple ERP implementations, these two ERP project managers might learn to work together and complement each other’s work, but the first implementation will resemble nothing more than the forced pairing of an ocelot and a bull mastiff.

Unfortunately, both managers’ success paradigms work in complete opposition to what is needed for adequate ERP control and a smooth implementation.

Two Sides to Every Story

On the business side, the nature of an ERP implementation is so far out of the realm of experience that it is impossible to understand how it is done, without actually doing it. Yet, it is exactly this comprehension that the business project manager demands. Every new experience or deviation from expectation becomes a cause for distrust, suspicion, and lack of confidence, and feeds a belief that information is being intentionally withheld. Two months into the ERP project, the business manager feels like he is losing ERP control - he reviews the two thousand line project plan, and totally freaks out about having twenty four tasks behind target completion (at the same time, the implementation consultant is ecstatic about having only two dozen late items after two months). The business PM likes to talk about budget, and worries about how much the consulting team is spending on travel and expense.

On the other side, the consultant ERP project manager has the unrealistic expectation that since he or she has all of the experience, and all of the knowledge, the client team ought to trust him or her to do the job they’ve paid for, concede ERP control and quit second guessing everything. The client wants everything to be explained in black and white, while the consultant PM knows that everything in ERP is a variation in a shade of gray. The client PM is actually a bit of a jerk, expressing zero appreciation that the consulting team is living out of a hotel four nights a week and eating fast food every meal. In particularly heated discussions, the client PM is even so rude as to remind the implementation PM that he or she is being paid four times more than internal resources are being paid. In general, the client project manager is boorish, slow to learn, and the ERP project would be much better off with only one ERP project manager calling the shots.

These two people don’t understand each other, and won’t, until ERP go-live. Until the business PM understands the total process, and understands that he or she was demanding answers to questions that had no rational answer, he or she will be frustrated. Until the consulting project manager really understands the corporate culture, and what is expected of his or her business counterpart, and why the business PM seems obsessive about unimportant details, efforts will be largely misaligned.

The missing ingredient is trust, and unfortunately, trust can only be achieved with ERP implementation success.

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Richard Barker

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Richard Barker

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