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Developing an ERP project plan for end-user acceptance

The long-term success of an ERP project often hinges on how well users adapt to -- and accept -- the new system.

Most industry experts agree that successful ERP implementations require a solid plan for managing organizational change. An important part of this strategy is an executive steering team that is committed to pushing the ERP project plan forward. However, driving the change from the top down alone may not be enough; successful ERP initiatives require a bottom up approach as well.

This other major aspect of managing change focuses on gaining user support and acceptance of the new system early on, and growing it throughout the implementation cycle. At the end-user level, the rubber meets the road. Without the buy-in of key managers and employees that will use the new tools, it is unlikely the ERP project will achieve the expected benefits. In a worst-case scenario, lack of initial user acceptance of the project could cause more problems down the road.

ERP project planning about more than buying software

The goal for ERP project buy-in is to get the majority of employees pulling for the change, because they see the real potential benefits for their daily job performance. This is more than just attempting to sell users on the great features and functions of the new software.

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While software is important, most stakeholders will be reluctant to support the change until they better understand how the new system will impact their processes, responsibilities and job functions. Moreover, key employees will want a voice in determining how the software will be used.

The good news is most employees will support the business change if the overall solution is actually better than what they do today -- or at least not any worse. In other words, the new software works for them and for the company as a whole.

Creating ERP project plan buy-in

User acceptance does not simply happen by chance. It must be carefully planned and involve the right people. When done correctly, these same stakeholders will likely become advocates of the system and help spread the good news to other employees who may otherwise resist the change. The following are a few additional tips for getting users onboard with an ERP project plan.

1. Have users drive the implementation. The ERP project manager should be a high-level manager from the functional side of the business. For each software module, the team should include a team lead and functional analyst from the user side. Alternatively, if the IT department or consultants are viewed as running the project, expect some employee resistance. Finally, developing a few system power users from the functional areas to participate on an as-required basis will also help fan out the level of user involvement.

2. Have users select the ERP software. The software selection process should include not only the formal ERP project team and perhaps the help of consultants, but also other key employees on the software evaluation team. This creates more user ownership in the system decision because these employees then have a greater stake in the success of the implementation.

3. Your software consultants must also be good business analysts. Once an ERP package is selected, a good consultant should not only understand the software, but also know how to redesign and simplify business processes from a more holistic perspective. Otherwise, their primary focus could become only getting the software installed, which can potentially make the jobs of users even more difficult to perform in the future.

4. Bring in users to help define the problems and solutions. Cross-functional participation of key employees from various departments when documenting the current and new processes helps build a common understanding of the issues and opportunities to address. This gets stakeholders involved from the very beginning, as opposed to them later being told by the project team how the new system will work.

5. Establish adequate user acceptance testing. Prior to system go-live, the ERP project team should test the system and new work procedures. However, the final system test -- user acceptance testing -- is led by the power users in each area with the help of other employees. The more comfortable users feel with the system prior to go-live, the more easily it will be accepted.

6. Do not shortcut end user training. After implementation, the user community may struggle with how to use the software. If this happens and is not quickly resolved, the system may not be accepted by the users over the long-run. In this case, employees will eventually develop costly work-arounds to the system in order to perform their jobs -- negating the whole point of the ERP project.

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