Who Will Project Manage Your System Implementation?

International studies show that 50% of all major system implementation projects are not completed on time and within budget. And once the projects are delivered they often don’t meet the users’ expectations, after considerable capital and time have been spent. After go live, users often spend six months or longer to absorb and understand how to do their jobs with the new system, with the result that productivity suffers.

While there are a variety of reasons for these problems, overall the single biggest contributor in our view is the lack of experienced project managers. This leads to a variety of issues; here is a partial listing:

  • Owners and managers underestimate the time required
  • Companies choose to customize and modify systems, adding cost, risk and delays in the timeline
  • Plans are not at a sufficient level of detail to manage tasks and meet completion dates
  • There is insufficient testing and go live can be marred with functions that don’t work correctly
  • The teams are under intense pressure to go live, to the point that they’re unable to give an accurate picture of remaining open items and what it takes to complete them

Successful project management aims to reduce these types of problems, open up communications with stakeholders and deliver results.

Who should be responsible for project management – your company, the vendor, your IT department? First of all, an ERP or OMS system is not IT’s responsibly from a project management perspective. Yes, it is an IT system but the project manager should have a broad understanding of your business, department functionality and senior management expectations and goals.

We do not feel the vendor is qualified to make all the decisions that the new system requires. We expect them to make recommendations like process changes, use of systems and file conversion. However, only your management can direct things like employee training, changes to accounting-based systems and customer service decisions. The vendor will have a project team and a manager but the overall responsibility is yours.

The project manager must have the respect of management and employees and be given the authority to make decisions daily and keep management up to date periodically. To save money, in small companies (up to $25 million in sales) we often see a senior manager such as a CFO or director of operations become the project manager. This is a heavy workload, taking at least 2-3 days on the average per week for 8-12 months. In the last couple months, it will be 40 hours or more per week.

For larger companies a full system implementation like a new ERP requires 18 months or longer. Often external project managers are hired because senior managers can’t spare the time needed.

To detail the key responsibilities management should expect from the project manager, we have developed the list below. Truly the project manager must delegate, foster cooperation and get the best thinking of a broad base of people within the organization to implement successfully.

20 Responsibilities of the Project Manager

  1. Plan and coordinate implementation with all stakeholders and the vendors.
  2. Update the project steering committee monthly.
  3. Recruit and assemble team from vendors and internal department personnel.
  4. Develop a complete written plan for the entire project. Define detailed project plans at the task level with estimates, dependencies and timelines.
  5. Daily follow up on tasks, touching base with team members.
  6. Gain sign-offs with project members at key milestones.
  7. Develop and review specification documents for program changes, system integration and interfaces.
  8. Preparation and readiness of plans for go live.
  9. Quality and testing plans and review of test results.
  10. Planning for files and history to be converted; review of results and data integrity.
  11. Provide weekly task completion, status and comments for stakeholders.
  12. Resource and skill requirements to complete project tasks. Examples: availability of programmers, trainers to write procedures, etc.
  13. Work with management to ensure people are available to meet implementation tasks and dates. Examples: review specifications, test programs, review converted files, train, write procedures, etc.
  14. Implement and gain usage of project scheduling and collaboration tools.
  15. Provide leadership in procurement process (e.g. server and software components, software).
  16. Project cost estimates and budgeting; review invoices for payment.
  17. Lead post implementation audit; develop task list of incomplete items and set new dates with internal staff and the vendors. Examples: programs not working correctly; further education and training needed for users; etc.
  18. Prioritization, estimation and scheduling of functions that were delayed from phase one, including items taken out to simplify implementation.
  19. Risk analysis throughout the project.
  20. Communication with all stakeholders.

These responsibilities are the same for management of any large projects, whether it’s a system implementation, building new facilities, expanding operations or making changes to major processes.

Project management as a discipline has spawned hundreds of books. The international organization for project management principles is the Project Management Institute, www.pmi.org.

One of the most valuable human resource assets you can develop in your company are certified project managers. There are many online courses available. We recommend developing some key managers that can guide your major company projects.

Brian Barry is President of F. Curtis Barry & Company

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