As Pink Floyd once said: “every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.” This classic rock lyric is true for ERP implementations as well.

ERP implementation delays are one of the most common problems with digital transformations. Your software vendor or systems integrator assures you that you can do it in that amount of time – until you can’t. Once you get into the weeds and details of your project, you realize that your initial timeline and estimate was never realistic to begin with. The team realizes that change is much harder than anyone thought.

ERP implementation delays are not improving

This is why most ERP implementations take longer than expected – something we have consistently found in our research over the last 15 years, including in this year’s 2020 ERP and HCM Report. It is a common problem that, despite industry sales spin suggesting otherwise, is not being materially relieved by cloud-based ERP implementations. If anything, the relative lack of maturity of newer cloud ERP systems is extending implementation durations.

Our recent ERP predictions for 2020 outline some of these common challenges:

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But all is not lost. By understanding the points of friction that slow down a major transformation program, you can avoid many of the same pitfalls that others suffer. Here are the major causes of ERP implementation delays:

Unrealistic expectations from the start

First and foremost, most ERP implementations begin with unrealistic expectations. In some ways, projects aren’t really being delayed, because the assumed timeline was never real to begin with.

The culprit of this challenge is twofold. First, vendors and ERP systems integrators don’t help matters with overly optimistic implementation timelines and assumptions. These “perfect world” scenarios may seem reasonable in theory, until you realize that the world is not perfect. Technology can be implemented relatively easily, but transforming your business operations and your people is a messy process that takes time.

Second, organizations and their project teams too often base their implementation assumptions solely on vendor proposals and statements of work. The problem here is that vendors and systems integrators are just one component of an overall transformation. A complete project plan and timeline needs to consider the other internal and external activities that need to happen on your project.

Internal misalignment

Internal misalignment is another root cause of ERP implementation delay. When the executive team doesn’t have a clear vision for the project, the lack of clarity can cause the project to grind to a halt. It’s hard to build software and related processes when your executive team doesn’t have a plan for what they want to be when they grow up.

The same goes for the ERP implementation project team. If we don’t address executive misalignment during an ERP or HCM implementation, then their project teams won’t be aligned, either. Project teams will be shooting in the dark and guessing the needs of the organization, which leads to rework, uncertainty, resistance to change, and other factors that can cripple a transformation’s momentum.

This whiteboard video provides some guidance on how to facilitate internal alignment within your organization as part of your ERP or HCM implementation:

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Indecisive decision making

Similarly, slow decision making will slow down your project as well. For example, when it comes time to decide on a common business process across multiple business units or locations, getting alignment and decisions takes time. This slows down your project while the teams make up their minds. In the meantime, time ticks away and the meter on your expensive software consultants continues to run.

This is directly related to internal alignment as well. When executive and project teams are misaligned, decision-making is likely to be slow as well. The feed into one another to create unplanned project delays.

Misunderstanding what it takes to get the job done right

Finally, most executives and project teams don’t understand what it takes to get the job done right. Most don’t implement ERP, HCM, and digital transformations for a living, so they rely heavily on the vendors and systems integrators to advise them. But the vendors and SIs are biased to serve their own self-interests, so they rarely manage customer expectations properly.

In the absence of an objective implementation plan that is based on informed realities, any project team will take vendor and SI proposals as gospel. This is where independent and objective ERP consultants such as Third Stage consulting can help.

How to avoid ERP implementation delays

Now that we understand the causes of ERP implementation delays, what do we do? The first is to take your time to develop a realistic and objective transformation plan as part of your ERP implementation readiness. Your vendor or SI should certainly provide input, but it’s just one of many inputs into your overall plan.

The second is to ask for objective and unbiased help. Because we are unaffiliated with software vendors and SIs, we are able to advise our clients in a way that puts their own interests front and center – not the vendors’.

Please feel free to contact me to brainstorm ideas on how you to manage to a realistic implementation timeline within your organization. I am happy to be an informal sounding board as you start or continue on your digital transformation journey!

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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