Learning from the Pain: Gathering Lessons Learned after an ERP implementation

March 7, 2017
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A client of mine went live with a new ERP system this week. Someone more clever than I once said that ERP implementations, “are the corporate equivalent of a root canal.” That feels like a good analogy to me right now. No matter how well you plan and how well you execute that plan, there is always something that causes you pain.
Even if we can’t eliminate pain from the implementations, we can reduce the pain by gathering lessons about what happened and applying them to the next implementation. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing with this client as soon as things settle down. This was just one of several sites where this client has to implement the system, and to prevent the same issues from happening next time, I will take them through a structured lessons-learned gathering process.

Lots of people talk about gathering and applying lessons learned after a big event like a system implementation but very few do it in a way that is effective. I use a 3 step process to ensure that meaningful lessons are developed and applied. The three steps are:
1. Define the major elements of the event.
2. Understand what happened and develop the lesson
3. Apply the lesson

Step 1 is to define the major elements of the event. This step is designed to segment the event into manageable pieces to which you can apply the next two steps in the process. For an ERP implementation, I like to use the same two major elements: getting the system ready for the business and, getting the business ready for the system. Getting the system ready for the business includes getting the application and infrastructure ready, and getting the data ready. Getting the business ready for the system includes getting the business processes ready, and getting the users ready.

Step 2 is to understand what happened and develop the lesson. This is done by gathering the people involved in planning and executing the implementation in a formal, facilitated discussion around four questions.
1. What was supposed to happen?
2. What really did happen?
3. Why was there a difference?
4. What can we learn / What should we do differently next time?

In the case of my ERP implementation, I will get all the key players together, ask the four questions and document their answers. Using the example of ‘getting the users ready’, I expect it to go something like this:
Question 1: What was supposed to happen to get the users ready?
Answer: The users were supposed to register for training and attend the session they registered for.
Question 2: What really happened around user readiness?
Answer: Many users did not register or attend training.
Question 3: Why did people not register or attend training?
Answer: They were too busy doing their regular job and didn’t think the training was important.
Question 4: What should we do to make sure the people at the next site attend training?
Answer: Communicate early and often about the critical nature of the training and send their managers regular and timely reports about who has registered training and who has not.
Though I really don’t know the answers they will give, I do know that we will go through the four questions for all the elements of the implementation.

Step 3 is to apply the lessons. This is where I see the process break down too often. Each lesson must be incorporated into the plan for the implementation at the next site. Based on my experience, there will be one to three lessons for each of the elements of an ERP implementation. No matter how many answers there are to the question, “What should we do differently next time?”, each one of those answers is a lesson that must become an action and each action must be assigned to a person to execute. The action is only completed when it is formally incorporated into the project plan for the next implementation.

While it may be true that no matter how well you plan an ERP implementation and how well you execute that plan, there is always something that causes you pain. That does not mean that you can’t learn from the pain by gathering lessons about what happened and applying them to the next implementation.

If you have an event like a system implementation where gathering and applying lessons learned is important to future success, I suggest you start by defining the major elements of the event, then hold a lessons development session using the four questions, then apply the lessons by incorporating them into your future plans.

If you would like help improving your system implementations, go the The ACA Group Enterprise Resource Planning page. You canĀ email the ACA Group or call us at 626-836-6261
Doug Howardell is a consultant who specializes in helping clients improve their business practices and processes. During the past twenty-five years, he has designed new processes and tools, selected and implemented new business systems, and managed business process improvement projects. Contact Doug at DH@TheACAgroup.com

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