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Remote ERP implementation: 10 project management essentials

Implementing ERP remotely can be challenging because for many IT teams it's new territory. Here are ways to make it easier.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many IT leaders have moved to a remote ERP implementation model. And that's new territory.

While allowing employees to work remotely part of the time isn't new, having the majority or all project team members working from home on a full-time basis can pose some challenges. As an IT leader, you may want to make some changes to your standard implementation procedures to account for this new reality. Here are some essentials you'll need to make a remote ERP implementation a success.

1.      Solid planning

Planning has always been important for a successful ERP implementation, but it's even more important when the daily interactions of team members are reduced because staff or consultants are working remotely. You will want to ensure that everyone is clear on their objectives to avoid duplicating effort and to make sure that dependencies are well documented and implemented in the correct order.

Ask all employees to work certain core hours every day so that everyone will be available when needed.

2.      Common core work hours

With employees now taking care of children and perhaps elderly relatives, not everyone is able to work a standard workday. To overcome this issue, ask all employees to work certain core hours every day so that everyone will be available when needed. For example, you may ask all members of the project team to be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You still expect everyone to work a full day, but there may be times during the day when employees are tending to family matters.

3.      Formal communication

You should set up formal communication channels to inform all team members of important details such as the status of the project, who's doing what and contact information. Employees may be less likely to communicate with each other than they would in an office environment, and therefore the message must be clear for everyone.

4.      Informal communication

While working remotely has a number of benefits, it has meant that project teams no longer have valuable informal discussions such as those that take place in the kitchen or when leaving a meeting room. As a project leader, you may want to make time to schedule informal discussions to substitute for those. Depending on the size of the project team, it may not be possible to speak with everyone, but keeping a pulse on how project team members feel about the status of the ERP implementation is important. You can pursue information you gather through these discussions to ensure the project leadership team has a good understanding of the challenges faced by team members.

5.      An effective project site  

While email seems like a quick and easy way to communicate information with a project team, it is likely ineffective as a project management tool because most people are already inundated with email. Tracking decisions through email can also be challenging. In many cases, you should choose to post important updates on your project site and refer people there for updates so that everything is captured for future reference. That method also ensures that those not on the email thread can read the discussion and clearly see the decisions that are made.

6.      Adapted remote training

When planning your ERP rollout, consider how you will train employees remotely. Some of your employee base may have limited computer skills and you won't be in the room to help them when they get stuck. For live online training, include breaks in the schedule just as you would with an in-person training session. Try to provide multiple time slots for the training to accommodate employees who are juggling work and family commitments. Consider documenting important procedures in a concise manner to make it simple for those using your system to work on their own.

7.      Virtual rooms

Large projects sometimes have a meeting room dedicated to the project, with timelines and status updates displayed. The advantage of a war room is that you have one central location for the project where everyone meets on a regular basis to discuss the project. With a remote team, this practice can still be very helpful; however, you will need to do it virtually. You can find an application that allows for the content to be posted online and shared with members of the project team.

8.      Acceptance testing

To ensure the ERP system meets the company's needs before go-live, you may have end-to-end tests you want to perform as part of your acceptance testing. For a traditional in-person ERP implementation, having everyone involved in acceptance testing work in the same room or location is helpful. That facilitates discussion since one person's activities may affect the next person's down the line. For example, if you were to test the process of buying supplies from a vendor, there may be five or more distinct steps performed by different employees and teams within your company. Having everyone working in the same room facilitates the exchange of information and resolves any issues quickly. For a remote ERP implementation, you can still "get everyone in the same room" -- only that room is virtual. You can require all participants to join a web-conferencing application to facilitate dialogue and screen sharing.

9.      Meeting facilitation

For larger meetings that require input from attendees, such as when gathering or validating requirements, you may want to have someone with strong facilitation skills lead the meeting. Ideally, this person will have facilitated online meetings in the past. You may also want to utilize online collaboration tools that make it easier to capture feedback from everyone, especially those on the call who might not want to speak up if there's a large group.

10.      An agile approach

Because remote project management is so new for most organizations, it's important that you take an "always learning" mindset. Check with various stakeholders to get feedback and don't be afraid to adapt if something's not working as well as it should.

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