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Recently I had the privilege of managing a successful ERP implementation for a multichannel retailer. My primary objective was for my client to be 100% satisfied with the outcome, as they had placed their trust in our organisation, and in me, to deliver our integrated products and help drive the business to the next level. It’s a huge responsibility, and for that reason I put them first, for the duration of the project.
Post implementation, I decided to reflect on what I felt were the critical success factors for this project, and arguably, every successful project I’ve managed to date.
Take the time to really understand what the business is trying to achieve. Understand what their current pain points are, what is holding them back? Where are they now and what is their vision in terms of where they want to be in the next year, 3 years, 5 years?
This requires a skill that is often underestimated – listening. Listen to what is being said. Listen to the business owner, the key stakeholders. Listen to staff from across all departments, including the power users. The information you’ll gain from doing this will be invaluable, and will give you all pieces of the intricate puzzle.
Also, be proactive – I put myself in their customers’ shoes, and research as much as possible about the retail business. I read their social media, articles, news, spend time browsing products on their website, and sign up to receive customer newsletters. I also visit their retail stores and make purchases as a ‘mystery’ shopper. Wearing my ‘CRM hat’, this gives me incredible insight into the customer experience. What did I like about it? What can be improved? What did I think of the range of products and were they readily available? How do they rank in terms of offering a true omnichannel experience?
There can never be enough communication with the client. Whilst we ‘IT gurus’ have been involved in the game for a long time, it may all be quite new to our clients so it’s important to look at things from their perspective.
Keep project stakeholders updated of progress at all times – be one step ahead. Make sure they know the project status, and if there are any issues that need to be discussed. Don’t assume the client understands what’s expected of them. They need to be aware of what’s coming next to allow them to be prepared, and have the right resources lined up to complete the required tasks at their end. Be mindful that project resources are most likely trying to complete project related tasks on top of their daily business priorities.
Realistic timeframes is what it’s all about. Clients may express their desire to have each phase of the implementation done quickly, due to legitimate internal pressures, but perhaps sometimes not realising what a successful integrated retail management solution entails. It’s important to highlight to the client what the potential risks may be. Rush the job and it’s likely to have a detrimental effect – processes missed, staff not trained properly, online store not optimised, insufficient system testing.
Under the umbrella of planning comes having a comprehensive, ‘watertight’ requirements document, agreed to and signed off by the client. Significant time and effort needs to be spent conducting interviews with the right staff across all departments, documenting their wants and needs, and current and future processes. Have regular meetings with your development team to ensure they remain across all the requirements and have the opportunity to raise any concerns, or areas that require further scoping and analysis.
Once the project is underway, the requirements document becomes the go-to point for managing scope, identifying change requests, and clarifying any confusion. Invest the time upfront to reap the rewards later (in terms of delivering a solid end-to end solution).
Let’s be realistic…in a perfect world that requirements document will be watertight, but in the real world every project manager expects that issues or additional requirements will arise during the course of the project. Quite often these are ‘low priority’ items that the client agrees can be managed post go-live, but I’m specifically referring to items that are considered high priority from the clients’ perspective.
The key aspect here is how you respond to these arising requests. In my opinion, whilst an important element of project management is to adhere to the project timelines, it’s also important to show flexibility and a willingness to understand the client, and find solutions to these critical items as soon as possible.
This is also where team support comes in. I work in the same office as our development team (based locally in Melbourne, Australia), which I find to be highly beneficial. I can talk to my developers on the spot about a client request; quite often I also facilitate developer/client meetings, to collaboratively determine the best solution for a requirement, and provide a quick turnaround to the client.
Without sufficient training and buy-in from the software users, especially the power users, you may as well say ‘au-revoir’ to a successful, smooth-sailing project.
On my projects I ensure the client has exposure to and is trained on the software very early on in the implementation. I train clients on key processes over and over. And as new functionality is developed, the client is taken through the functionality to understand it, learn it, and sign off on it. I identify users that need extra support and ensure they have one on one sessions with experienced staff. Using this approach, by the time we get to UAT and the formal training sessions, users are feeling confident to use the software. Whilst there’s a budget put in place for training, I go above and beyond with training – it’s for everyone’s benefit.
On every successful project, going the ‘extra mile’ might not seem like much at the time, but can mean everything to a client. To illustrate, on a recent project, our client was overwhelmed to see my team and I in their retail stores assisting with stocktakes, to ensure the stock levels in the ERP were correct for ‘go-live’. In addition, providing on-site support on the go-live day, clearly demonstrated our commitment to their business and staff. If I was in the client’s position, I wouldn’t expect anything less, and of course we were going to be there – it was too exciting to miss. We ‘flicked the switch’ so to speak, and took the client out for a coffee and project debrief – perfect outcome!