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April-May-June 2002

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From the Top
        Why Management Commitment is Critical in Software Implementation
By Jim Naas

The room was a-buzz with anticipation. The project team was assembled. All the preparatory work had been completed and the project plan was in place. The project leader called the team members to take their seats and then introduced the video that the company president had prepared for this occasion.

In the video, the president gave a rousing call to arms by emphasizing the importance of the project and restating his backing and commitment. “This project will succeed; it must succeed,” he chanted. Seldom has there been a more positive, prepared or well-launched implementation project in the history of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

Surprisingly, a year later the effort had stalled. No part of the new system was installed and working, and key team members were looking for better opportunities elsewhere.

Implementation is Key
What happened? There were the usual challenges: resource contention, some unexpected technical glitches, disagreements over policy and direction. The problem was not the challenges themselves—every project faces at least some of these. The problem was that the president felt that his obligation was satisfied when he made the video. After that, he went on to other business and left the system implementation project to carry on without his involvement. Thus, when departments were struggling over what resources to divert to the project, nobody was there to push them to give the project what it needed. When the schedule started to slip, the president wasn’t there to re-emphasize its importance and get things back on track. When there were disagreements between departmental managers, the president was not there to bring them to agreement.

Senior management— the chief executive officer, chief operating officer, general manager or president—must be involved and stay involved to bring a system implementation project to successful completion. This does not mean that the senior manager will be working on the project every day, but that he or she must stay in contact with the project leader and project team to monitor progress and help keep things moving in the right direction over the life of the effort.

The senior manager provides the vision—motivating the team by relating the importance of the project to the long-term health and viability of the company—and not coincidentally the preservation of everyone’s employment prospects.

The senior manager resolves disputes that can’t be resolved by departmental managers. Some-times only someone at the top can see enough of the big picture to choose the correct path to success. Each departmental manager, rightly, tends to protect his own turf and views company needs through the lens of his own department’s view of the world.

Without a continuous, informed, fully interested and participating senior executive presence, the best planned and executed project can be tripped up at critical points and fail to deliver the returns promised and needed.

There’s an old consultants joke about a pig and a hen walking down the street one morning. They see a “help wanted” sign in the window of a breakfast restaurant that is advertising bacon and eggs as the daily special. The hen wants to apply for the job but the pig replies “For you, that’s a day’s work; for me, it’s commitment.” The implementation project needs commitment.   

Jim Naas serves as strategic product director for Friedman Corp., based in Deerfield, Ill.

Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.