Although there is almost unanimous consensus that mapping business processes for the to-be state is an important step in preparing for an ERP implementation, the same cannot be said for mapping the as-is state. There the opinions tend to diverge quite dramatically – almost in a binary way - into one of two camps: ‘Believers’ and ‘Non-believers’. 

Believers go all-in on business process mapping, creating extensive, detailed, as-is maps as part of their ERP preparation. Their reasoning for doing so is quite sound: if you document both the as-is state and the to-be state, then the gap between the two represents the change that must be managed for the implementation to be successful. Thus, for Believers, as-is business process mapping serves as the foundation for their ERP change management activities. Logical.

Non-believers, on the other hand, take a very different view. It’s not necessarily that they don’t see any value in as-is process mapping (though that may be true for some), but rather that they would prefer to direct their efforts elsewhere. After all, “almost everything is changing”, so why spend so much time and effort creating as-is maps? Why not redirect that organizational energy toward creating better to-be state maps, or going after another ERP hot button, such as improving master data integrity? Again, logical.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this divergence of opinion, is that it does not just stem from the naïve ponderings of inexperienced implementing organizations, who may only do one or two ERP implementations in their entire lifetime. It also comes from the so-called experts - system integrators and ERP software vendors alike - companies that do ERP implementations for a living. And the fact that the experts can’t seem to agree on what approach works best is a large part of what makes ERP preparation activities so confusing for implementing organizations.

But, in spite of what your system integrator or software provider might tell you, as-is mapping does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can derive significant value from as-is mapping without spending hundreds of manhours doing so. The key is knowing how, what, and what not, to map. 

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Here are 5 tips on how you can get the most out of your as-is business process mapping with the least amount of effort.

1.      Keep it at a high level to start 

No need to dive in too deep when you first start mapping the as-is state. Document all the main process steps first, in quick, high-level block flow-form, before taking things to a lower level. I liken this to creating an outline, or table of contents, before writing the detailed content. It is far better to have a cohesive, high-level view of the entire end-to-end process than to have a scattered low-level view of certain areas, while other areas are completely missing.

2.      Don’t worry about the transaction-level details 

In general, it really doesn’t matter what buttons you push today in your legacy system because those will all change - just like the Non-believers said they would!

3.      Only go deeper when/where it makes sense 

Doing an across-the-board deep dive on all your as-is processes is extremely labor-intensive, and often a huge waste of time. Resist the urge to go deep in any area unless and until the need arises to do so. That need typically doesn’t present itself until you are well into the to-be state mapping and trying to improve an identified weak spot which requires deeper knowledge of the as-is state. Then, and only then, you should go deep into that one particular area.

4.      Focus on the area-to-area handoffs 

In my experience, this is the single most important part of business process mapping and the one that is most often glossed over. This is where true integration happens, and where the system world meets the physical world.  To understand how important area-to-area handoffs are, let’s look at one example. Consider, the typical interaction that goes on between the Business Planning area and the Manufacturing area. The kinds of questions one should try to answer as part of that as-is mapping exercise are things such as:

Because so many of these answers can fall outside of the formal system, it is very important to document both the as-is and to-be states for ALL area-to-area handoffs and incorporate those processes into the design, build and test phases of your digital transformation.

5.      If you’ve got them, use them 

To get the most out of your as-is maps, use them early and often for things such as:

In summary, as-is business process mapping does not have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. By keeping most of the mapping at a high level, and only going deeper at area-to-area handoffs and a limited number of identified critical areas, it is possible to derive almost all the value of fully detailed as-is maps, with only a small fraction of the effort.

We’ve been on our current ERP system for several years now. Go-live was rough – VERY ROUGH – but we finally seem to have settled into a stable operating level. Stable yes, but it hardly seems like we made the giant leap forward that we all expected. In fact, it’s hard to tell if we made any kind of significant leap forward at all. It seems like we merely traded one set of problems for another, and it cost millions of dollars to do that! And, for what? Just so we could say ‘we operate in an ERP system’? Where are all those wonderful business insights we were supposed to have by now? We have all the reports that were promised, and technically, they all seem to work, but nobody believes them. We still rely on spreadsheets for most of our important decisions. I guess I just don’t understand…” 

Average Joe - CxO 

Does this story sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Thousands of companies every year spend millions of dollars chasing the ERP dream, only to come up short. They ‘survive’ go-live but end up in ‘ERP Purgatory’ – that middle-of-the-road existence somewhere between an outright failure and a glowing success. Technically, the organization might be better off than before the digital transformation, but nobody involved believes the sizable pain was worth the minor gain.  

But it’s not too late to turn things around. That promised land still lies ahead, and the waters you must navigate to get there may not be as murky as you think. Unlike the original ERP implementation project, where all the puzzle pieces had to come together all at once, ERP improvements can generally be implemented in bite-size chunks, which are more easily managed. But it doesn’t just happen. It takes a plan, and it takes a team. Here are 10 tips on how to put yourself back on the path to success with your current ERP system. 

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1.      Appoint a leader 

Like any major initiative – and fixing an underperforming ERP system certainly qualifies as a major initiative – there needs to be a leader appointed. Someone well respected in the organization, with a track record for getting things done, without leaving a path of destruction in his or her wake. Someone accountable to upper management, but also with an ear for what’s happening on the shop floor. In large organizations, this would ideally be a full-time position (even if it is temporary), with global responsibility.  

2.      Separate ERP improvement work from break-fix work 

Although there may be a lot of overlap in the knowledge and skills required to do ERP improvement work and ERP break-fix work, those two types of activities need to be managed separately. Otherwise, the urgent break-fix work will always seem to take priority over the important, but longer-term, improvement work. If that happens, little if any meaningful progress will be made on improving the overall operations. 

3.      Organize by multi-functional teams 

Just as ERP systems operate in a highly integrated fashion, so too must your ERP improvement team – both in identifying and resolving problems. This will ensure that the perspective of each impacted function will be adequately considered and vetted before any improvement solution is implemented. 

4.      Formally define problems and measures for success 

If you come from a culture of Lean or Six Sigma, you already understand how important problem definition is to problem resolution. After all, a well-defined problem is well on its way to being resolved. But even if formal problem definition is not a natural part of your organization’s DNA, you should still adopt this key foundational element for ERP improvement work, to help facilitate and encourage broad communication and engagement. Be open to the possibility of having to develop new measurement approaches for some of your problems. 

5.      The biggest problem is not always the best place to start 

Although the natural tendency is to work on your biggest problem first, this is not necessarily the best strategy for success. The reason why is that your biggest problem is often your most difficult problem and your newly formed team may not be up to the challenge right out of the gate. This can lead to team frustration and demoralization of the entire organization if months pass without any noticeable progress being made. Instead, consider going after the low-hanging fruit first. Pick small, relatively straightforward problems whose resolution would be felt immediately and appreciably by the organization. Achieving a few quick wins will not only build momentum, but it also helps develop and prepare the improvement team for taking on larger problems. 

6.      Consider pulling in a subject matter expert to help 

Although the problems you face might appear to you to be novel or unique, chances are that they are not, especially for a seasoned ERP expert. If you are struggling with a particularly challenging issue, and your research hasn’t revealed a robust solution, consider bringing in an outside consultant. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is all it takes to spawn new thoughts on how best to tackle a tough problem. To ensure you get a truly fresh perspective, seek an independent, third-party (i.e. someone not affiliated with the initial implementation), with a reputable track record. 

7.      Publicize team activities 

As an organization struggles through the challenges of a bumpy ERP go-live, the one thing everyone wants to know above all else is “when is it going to get better?”. That is why it is so important to share, broadly and frequently, what the improvement teams are doing, and solicit input from the organization. This can be in the form of newsletters, town hall meetings, visual management boards, suggestion boxes, or ideally, all the above. Establishing multiple open two-way communication venues creates hope for the entire organization and provides formal routes for individuals to have their voices heard. It also provides a platform for celebrating success, which you should take advantage of on a regular basis. 

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8.      Don’t just focus on errors 

Although error-laden business processes are a rich source of improvement opportunities, they are not the only source. It is important to go where the pain is, and sometimes that pain comes in the form of a particularly laborious and inefficient business process, even if it doesn’t result in many errors. Often, simple changes can greatly improve the overall process efficiency, and give the organization a much-needed boost in morale. 

9.      Test, test, test 

As you prepare to implement changes in your current ERP system, make sure you test those changes thoroughly and completely beforehand by performing both positive and negative testing. In other words, don’t just test the specific scenarios where you are actively trying to make an improvement, but also perform regression testing on other core scenarios to ensure you don’t break anything along the way.

10.  Give Organizational Change Management the respect it deserves 

Inadequate organizational change management has consistently been one of the top causes of ERP implementation failures for as long as ERP systems have been in existence. Even though you may not consider your ERP implementation to be a true ‘failure’, if you are still struggling a year or more after go-live, chances are you experienced at least some of the effects of inadequate organizational change management. Don’t make that same mistake the second time around as you work to improve your live system. Make sure each improvement initiative includes specific actions to address organizational change management directly, and thoroughly. 

So, if your initial ERP implementation was a rough journey, find solace in the fact that: 1) you are not alone, and; 2) your journey is not yet over. There is still an opportunity to turn things around and put yourself back on the path to success with your current ERP system. If you need guidance on how to do so, I encourage you to reach out to us. We're always happy to be an informal sounding board.

One of the most important business systems that almost every company has is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. These are hugely complex software programs that handle everything from employee management to inventory and customer relations, all in real-time. In short, they’re some of the most critical components for a successful business. With that said, each ERP implementation is a large project that absorbs amble time and resources. The process always comes with pain points, some realized more heavily than others depending on the nature of your specific business.

It’s these pain points that can make or break the success of a digital transformation. As you build your digital strategy and evaluate the different ERP tools available to your organization, make sure to mitigate the risk of running into these common pitfalls.

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1. Not trusting your system-generated product costs

To be able to make quick, smart decisions about the future of your organization, you need accurate data now. Not tomorrow. The only way for this information to be readily available is if business processes are harmonized with system configuration and data structures.

2. No clear understanding about who is responsible for what data elements

ERP systems are notoriously tricky to install, which is why it's so important that you have a qualified team of experts at your side. If there isn't a clear understanding of who is responsible for what ERP data elements and how the end-to-end data processes work, much time will be wasted. Wasted time means delayed benefits realization. By clarifying your data ownership and verifying your data processes, you will minimize delays and set yourself up for more seamless data migration.

3. It takes too much effort to generate a complete list of active materials and their descriptions

What are your active materials? - This is a question you’ll want to answer accurately before you even start your digital transformation. If not, then you run the risk of bringing over obsolete material and a flawed demand planning process into an otherwise pristine system.

4. Material naming processes are inconsistent and confusing

There’s nothing that can throw off processes like improperly labeled data points. Organizations are often under the impression that their processes and procedure are efficient when in reality, it’s clouded by simple variations in how materials, products, or services are labeled within a system.

It could be one little mistake or change in material titles that causes all of your staff to stop dead in their tracks. No-one knows what just happened or what they are to do when a curveball is thrown their way, and this can often have devastating effects on a company.

If you find yourself with employees who have been trained for years on how to handle numbers and descriptions from a certain system, then you can count on mistakes being made when that system changes or processes are introduced to a bit more ambiguity. This all plays into a strong organizational change management strategy and will set you up for success through any digital transformation endeavor.

Spend the time and effort to eliminate any potential confusion through education, and build robust processes that make it easy for your organization to use the right data elements in the right way.

5. Identifying which products are the most and least profitable is a significant effort

When you want to analyze the profitability of your products, it's important to make sure that your processes and data structures are in line with physical reality. If they're not, then the analysis will be meaningless. Make sure that you create a plan for success by understanding what your intended outputs are before starting work on any other aspect of the process.

Product profitability analysis is one of the most important sources of business insights that an ERP system can provide, but it’s useless if your processes don’t reflect the tangible truth. Begin with the end in mind and create data structures and business processes that fully support desired outputs.

If you are experiencing these, or other pain points that come along with a digital transformation, our team is here to help. Feel free to reach out to me directly, I’m happy to be an informal sounding board as you work to drive a successful implementation.

Third Stage Consulting

Third Stage Consulting Group is a global thought leader in business transformation, ERP software systems, operational change management, and business advisory. Let us take your organization’s digital transformation to the Third Stage.
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