Crawl, Walk, Run Your Way to a Successful ERP Implementation

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Babies can’t run.

It doesn’t matter how much natural talent they have or how much fancy baby-sized running gear you buy. They simply can’t run.

In fact, they spend a pretty long time crawling before they can even learn to walk.

Likewise, when you implement a new ERP system you can’t jump straight to the world class, fully automated, heavily integrated solution that you read about in all of these blog posts. Just like my noisy, demanding, milk recycling examples you need to crawl, then walk, and then you can run.

I didn’t make this up, and certainly don’t want to try and take credit for it. “Crawl, walk, run” is a concept that was widely popular a long time ago when I got into consulting and I still use it with all of my customers today. But I think it is easy to forget, especially when Microsoft shows those amazing demos of their entire suite of products all working together in perfect harmony with seemingly no effort to implement. Customers see this and think that they will be able to achieve that inspirational video level of awesomeness on “day 1”.


The Reality of The Race

Most companies decide to implement new accounting software because they feel that they’ve outgrown their old one. And they’re generally correct. In fact, the truth is that they likely outgrew their existing software quite some time ago and have been working around it ever since.

But you need to remember that in IT terms, a “system” is the combination of people, process, and software – not the software alone. If we were talking about running, the software would be like the shoes: a tool that helps make running smoother or more comfortable, but doesn’t actually do the running. (I just moved my analogy forward several years. Bare with me.)

The actual act of running – the body movements, breathing, and rhythm – would be the process. Whether it is for testing purposes (training) or for production (the race), there are certain steps you need to complete in order to be successful. In your existing system, you’ve designed processes around the tools at your disposal. Those processes can be both limited and enhanced by those tools. Let’s be honest – your running style would be vastly different in a pair of Converse All-Stars than it would in a pair of New Balance 990V4’s.

Which brings us to the people. Based on your shoes, and subsequent running style, your business has been running a certain way for a while now. In this example, I am going to use the people as analogous to your muscles. You’ve been using your tools, which have driven particular processes to achieve prescribed results. When you do that long enough, you get muscle memory, where your muscles just do what they’ve always done in a particular situation and expect the outcome to be the same. Similarly, your users still want to work the same way they always have to achieve the same results they always have – despite the introduction of a vastly better new tool that provides crazy potential for way more efficient processes. In fact, many users believe that the old way is the only way your business can run! So we need to trick them.

You will have the most success if you first set up the new system so that it gives them similar results to their old system while incorporating some new controls and introducing a few improvements on their existing process. Then add a little bit more over time and kind of encourage them along the way.

For example, when you implement a new inventory management system. You don't necessarily need to go straight to barcodes, handheld scanners, and daily cycle counts based on ABC analysis. Especially if you are coming from an old “green screen system” …it is too much too fast!

First you crawl. This could mean keeping cycle counts on the same schedule you have always had. Keep using the paper printouts for your picking and packing process. You don’t have enough data yet for a proper ABC analysis anyway, and retraining the warehouse staff should wait until your processes are vetted against the new software.

Then you walk. At this point you might have the system generate what you should count and use the system to record the physical count. Assuming that your processes are fairly firmly baked, you could also introduce barcodes for shipping and receiving at this time.

Then you can run and have that full automation that everybody envisions, building improvements into your processes and striving for maximum efficiency. When you hit “marathon” level, maybe you introduce RFID!

The Microsoft Dynamics 365 Dream

The Microsoft Dynamics 365 dream is that we “break down the silos”, running one system that does absolutely everything. Disparate groups of people run overlapping processes on software that is built on a single, cloud based platform - and Nirvana is achieved.

It’s a great dream and, when done right, a fully integrated corporate wide system is a real game changer for a business. But the reality is that even the Dynamics 365 demo’s I’ve been shown aren’t showing a true “turn it on and use it” solution. The Dynamics 365 platform is being built on solid products with some amazing features. But they all require thoughtful implementation in an environment with well-defined process requirements to get it right – especially when implemented together.

It is going to be a while before Dynamics 365 can “do everything out of the box”.  And even then I question whether there is truly a one size fits all model. There's a reason why there are so many add-ons for business solutions today. Every industry – and potentially every business within an industry – is at least a little bit unique.

I don't think there's ever going to be a way to achieve the Quickbooks model where basically we just turn it on and all of a sudden we are doing cycle counts, our sales pipeline is full and managed, all of our marketing is fully automated, our social is being tracked, and we are taking over the world. The reason that this works for Quickbooks (less the world domination of course) is that they make you work the way they designed the software to work. In other words, the software is the system because there is only 1 possible process. The Dynamics Suite of products has always been about combining the software with your process and people for the best possible fit.

But that means you need to at least have a process in mind.

I think it's important to point this out to my customers. For example, a new customer of mine is implementing the Microsoft Dynamics 365 financials and sales modules. While discussing the project, the customer wanted to talk about marketing automation as part of phase 1. But they have no idea what it is they are looking to automate. They were just thinking the tool would do that part for them.

Continuous Improvement

Once your baby has learned to run, they don’t generally sit down saying “I’ve done it, my work here is complete”. Hopefully over the years they’ll improve. Various games and sports will help their running get better and better. Later in life, they might even start training to run competitively. And I have never met an athlete that doesn’t train most days, knowing there is no such thing as perfect.

In the same way, it is extremely important to always focus on continuous improvement for your system. You should not just do the initial install then stop and let everything stagnate.

While you are implementing a new system, design it with your marathon in mind. Envision everything that you think you need to achieve. Then lay out the general road map, prioritizing different elements of the final design and identifying the crawl, walk, and run phases required to get to each. Be willing to adjust that road map as you go because new technology is being released all the time. And it may be that your end vision will change slightly over time.

My advice is to build a plan, stick to it within reason, and work towards your goal. And know that that may be a multi-year plan.

Microsoft’s vision is awesome. But it’s important for us to look at Microsoft's marketing and realize that what they are showing us should be an end vision and not a starting point. It should be something you strive towards, but you shouldn't think you're going to be there on day one.

Working with the right ERP partner, like Briware Solutions, who is focused on your long term success and not just the initial purchase and install will ensure that you continue to improve and don’t get stuck at a crawl.

Then you will be able to run.

And nobody will be able to stop you.

Contact us at 844-BRIWARE or

By Briware Solutions,

Follow me on Twitter: @Briware_Rod

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