My previous blog was about the importance of leadership and executive buy-in during Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations. Without top-down leadership, no one else in the organisation will buy-in either, and the company will not get much value from the software.
Now, think about extending the same buy-in to others in the organization. You, the executive, are the General leading the charge. But you cannot execute the vision and strategy to your entire organization all by yourself. A General needs lieutenants to assist. I like to refer to these lieutenants as “champions,” or “Seekers of Value.”
What defines an ERP champion? Essentially it is a person who “gets it,” the type of person who is not satisfied with the status quo, who is naturally driven to improve things and, importantly, who sees the vision of using the ERP system as a tool for improvement. The champion might be a manager but it is definitely not limited to managers. Look around your company - you probably already know who your champions are.
It is critically important to support your champions, because their inspiration is contagious. When they achieve successes using the ERP system (even small successes) other people start to buy in and they too become “infected.” I have seen real life examples of this, both as an ERP user, and as an implementer/trainer.
When I was a user at a manufacturing company, most of us in Operations (myself included) were ERP novices, so we struggled to use the system effectively, and we didn’t trust the system’s data. But some of us felt there must be a way to get more benefit from the system. As production planner I managed to get some ERP training and was trying my best to clean up data, for example, by inputting proper sales forecasts.
One day a buyer asked me why the system was telling him to buy an unusually large quantity of a raw material. He didn’t trust the mysterious number and preferred to order the ‘average’ quantity that he usually ordered. So we used a feature I discovered during training to trace back to the source of the demand. Lo and behold, I had entered a large forecast for an upcoming promotion on the finished goods, which caused a spike in the demand of the raw material. The system was right! Realization dawned on the buyer that we really could use the system to our benefit. The buyer had ‘caught’ the ERP bug. He even subsequently started cleaning up his own data in the system by, for example, entering accurate purchased lead times, knowing that he (and the company) could reap the benefits.
I’ve seen the same thing as a trainer at SYSPRO Canada. One of our customers had been struggling to fit the software to their production process, so I worked with one of their employees, who was quite junior and fairly new – definitely not a manager or a person in authority. During the training his enthusiasm and desire to learn how the system could deliver benefits was infectious and other people started to see that if he could do it, then they could too.
You might think that gaining benefits from an ERP system is a measured, step-by-step process of incremental gains. Sometimes this is true, but often the gains also come in waves, driven by champions who have seen the vision and sweep others along with them. As senior management, ensure that you support your champions, and you will get far more value from your system.