In this newest Avoras Blog post we want to share our latest thinking about tools used in large scale ERP*/Business Transformation Projects and how to enable effective tool selection processes. The aim of this blog is to show our experiences on which features make some tools more useful than others and which factors you should consider when selecting tools for your ERP/Business Transformation Project, especially considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the workplace.
*Enterprise Resource Planning
Tools used in ERP/Business Transformation projects
ERP/Business Transformation projects are notoriously large and usually have requirements of managing large numbers of processes and people, a lot of times from different organizations and companies. The tools used for such projects can be separated into three groups:
- Project management (i.e. Trello, Jira, Smartsheet, etc.) and Office tools (i.e. MS Office, Google Office Suite)
- Tools facilitating technical implementations (i.e. SAP Solution Manager, Jira, etc.)
- Document (lifecycle) management tools, which are especially relevant in validated environments such as the Pharma industry like DocuSign or Condor
Project Management/Office Tools
Project Management tools help teams collaborate and address typical project management topics, such as resource management, time-tracking, reporting, planning as well as documenting key success factors for projects such as Risks, Issues, Decisions and Assumptions. Such tools need to fulfill the requirement of large numbers of people accessing and editing the same set of data or the same lists (i.e. risk logs, vacation planner, etc.) simultaneously without creating conflicts. These same requirements also apply to office tools. In contrast to most of the other groups of tools we are discussing in this blog post there are two sets of office tools that have established themselves as standard on the market. The Microsoft Office tool suite meaning Excel, Word and PowerPoint and Google’s Suite containing Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets. Equally the respective documentation storage/management solutions (Microsoft’s SharePoint and Google’s Drive) have established themselves with most of our clients. Also, in the space of remote communication Google and Microsoft provide strong tools with Google Meet & Google Chat and MS Teams respectively, but here the market is much more diverse with many other solutions prevalent (i.e. Zoom Meetings, Cisco Webex).
Tools for technical implementation in ERP/Business Transformation projects
In large-scale ERP/Business Transformation projects the same topics cause and have been causing challenges for many of our clients. Managing large numbers of User Stories, IT Requirements as well as technical documents such as Functional Specifications, Configuration Guides, Design Specifications or Test cases throughout their lifecycle are enormous challenges. Firstly, because these documents usually pass through a large number of statuses and versions that trigger different actions and reviews by different groups of people. And secondly, because in order to implement any increment of a system many of these documents must be bundled correctly and made easily accessible to the right people at the right time.
An example of this are development efforts when implementing a new ERP solution. Here the development team, which sometimes has not been part of earlier project phases, needs efficient access to approved and validated Functional and Design Specification documents as well as Configuration Guides, in some cases Solution Design documents and the correct User Requirements bundled together at the right time.
In SAP Implementation projects SAP Solution Manager can be considered an industry standard for this specific purpose as it introduces the concept of “work packages” and “work items” bundling the required documentation for implementation and testing.
Additionally, there is an entire ecosystem of tools focusing on topics like data migration, data cleansing and test execution/management. They are usually highly specific to the type of implementation and are not the focus of this blog post.
Document (Lifecycle) Management tools
Dedicated document (lifecycle) management tools are not strictly necessary for all kinds of projects. The tools used for project management purposes as well as the technical implementation often times already fulfill some or even all the requirements in terms of document management. However, in highly regulated industries such as Pharma or Health Care some types of documents need to be managed very closely and traceability of any changes to the document are mandatory for validation purposes. The traceability of reviews, reviewers, approvals and approvers can be equally important for some documents to avoid for example audit findings. Because of this document management tools usually focus on managing versions of documents, highlighting for example approved versions as well as storing documents reliably and securely and track changes to the documents. Most companies that have such specific requirements with regard to validation of documents already have an established tool for this purpose.
The effect of COVID-19 and “work-from-home” policies on the choice of tools.
The advent of working from home becoming the new norm for geographically distributed large-scale projects has been accelerated by years maybe decades by the COVID-19 pandemic, even if the process was ongoing long before 2020. From a tool perspective this means two sets of features in tools have become and will continue to become key:
- User experience and intuitive usage of tools
- Collaboration features such as real-time updates and multi-user access and editing
Usability of tools
A coherent user experience and the usability of tools has always been a success factor because it addresses key challenges of large-scale projects. Especially in work-from-home-setups during the pandemic this has become even more critical. Firstly, the ability to onboard new know-how through new joiners effectively and efficiently at scale and in a timely fashion without requiring in person onboarding sessions and secondly because a tool that can be used by most people intuitively will require less support by dedicated highly skilled (thus expensive) experts.
With resources of same project team potentially working in various locations or even time-zones (i.e. from home) the collaboration aspects of tools have become increasingly critical. Long gone are the times of people creating local files, versioning them manually and distributing them via email – or so many of us like to think. Reality proves us wrong in that we see us as well as many of our clients still struggling to root out such behaviors, but it is undeniable that a shift towards cloud-based multi-user friendly, real-time updated tools is underway – and rightfully so. State of the art tools provide real-time updates of multiple users largely preventing people saving over each other’s progress and enabling manipulating the same data sets seamlessly.
Our experiences and recommendations for tools used in ERP/Business Transformation projects in 2021
Just to manage expectations right of the bat: A blog post such as this can never contain or discuss all aspects that need to be considered when selecting a set of tools for your ERP/Business Transformation project. The selection process for most of our clients takes weeks and usually requires assessments of the available tools to understand their individual starting point. However, this post can highlight some guiding principles on how to structure your decision-making process as well as a starting list of tools to be customized to your specific project requirements.
- Understand your project’s starting point and the tool ecosystem available in your company.
- Understand how you want to set up your project and how that set up may predefine or limit your options when selecting tools.
- Select a set of tools that fits together well. Gaps in covering your project’s requirement can be detrimental but selecting multiple tools for the same use case can also create challenges (both in terms of adoption by the project team as well as in licensing costs).
- Emphasize collaboration features and user experience to ensure effective and efficient adoption by the project team, even when working remotely during the pandemic.
- Understand whichever set of tools you select will impact your project severely. However, failures or successes of projects are almost never a function of that tool selection. They merely amplify good/bad project management decisions.
Having supported multiple clients in their ERP/Business Transformation throughout the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic we found two sets of tools that fit together well and we would recommend as starting points for the evaluation of tools:
Option 1: Google Centric
Option 2: Microsoft Centric
ERP/Business Transformation projects can be a daunting endeavor to kick-off and manage. They require sometimes months or years to prepare and almost always years to complete. Selecting the right tools for your organization is a small step to help make your project a success. We have the experience to help you making this decision. Get in touch!