MRP/ERP Education – The key to Successful Implementation

January 1, 2011

One major key to success in implementing an MRP/ERP system is education of its users early in the implementation process. Software training is not enough. All users of the system must have a good understanding of how and why the system works and be able to recognize the effect that their actions have on others using the system.

To be most effective MRP/ERP education should be, a) done early in the implementation process, b) generic, not software based, c) all inclusive, starting with top management, d) must be ongoing.

Early Education

Often, in talking with users of new MRP/ERP systems I find that they were never included in the implementation process until it came time for training. Then, they were given 1-2 hours of “hands-on” training on how to enter transactions and data, just prior to “going live”.

I am reminded of the analogy made by the late, great, Oliver Wright, in which he related implementing a major computer system to learning how to fly an airplane. He pointed out that you would never train a new pilot on how to operate the controls of an airplane without educating him/her on the principles of flying and aeronautical engineering. Any new pilot must first learn terms like lift and yaw, wind shear, etc; and must understand what makes the plane fly before ever taking off the ground.

Likewise, any potential user of an MRP/ERP system needs to know terms like netting, explosion, lead time offset, etc, and must understand the mechanics of the system. They must understand the importance of properly structured bills of material, a realistic master schedule, and data accuracy, before starting to launch orders to manufacturing and suppliers.

Generic Education

MRP/ERP Education should be generic, not software related. All users will need a basic understanding of master scheduling, demand planning, material and capacity planning, supplier scheduling etc. and operations management, before learning how to enter the related transactions.

Later, during the implementation process, this generic education will help users define how the system can be used in their particular area or function to improve processes or productivity and reduce inventory. Often, we find that because users do not have a basic understanding of how the system is supposed to work, they implement “workarounds” that mirror their old systems that didn’t work; often resulting in costly modifications to the software.

Top-down Education

The education process should be from the top down. Executive management must have an understanding of how the system works; how and why it will change the way that business is done using formal systems.

Executives must sell the benefits of the new system to functional managers so that they will be advocates of the new system and teach their people how to use it properly. Often we find that the greatest resistance to change is at the middle management level.

Frequently top management will buy off on a particular software package and then turn the implementation process over to a project team that defines the tasks and timeline for the implementation, and then begins converting data, and installing the systems and software. Later, when all of the IT work is done, they finally involve the users; often very close to the deadline for “going live”.

Years ago I was involved with an MRP implementation in which the President of the company led the charge. He not only understood the mechanics of the system but frequently demonstrated his knowledge to his managers and their people by working out problems and exercises in the classroom along with them. His employees knew that if he understood the system, they better understand it. In this company each level of management; executives, managers, and supervisors, taught classes to their own people.

Ongoing Education:

Finally education should be ongoing. Education should not end when the system is implemented. There will always be a need to educate new users. But beyond that, it is important to reinforce the key concepts and principles of MRP/ERP systems for the existing users. Educated users will always find ways to enhance the system and use it more effectively to improve productivity and processes. Without an understanding of how the system works and what it can do for them, users will spend their time on developing workarounds and the informal system will quickly take over.

In the end it is the users that make the system successful, not the hardware or software. And what better way for the users to be successful, than for them to understand why they are using the system and not just how to use it. Educated users will recognize when it is appropriate to question action messages or data errors. When they understand It the system becomes theirs; not just IT’s or Finance’s system.

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