Among the many new restrictions on our daily lives during the current pandemic crisis, the inability for many of us to return to work ‘as usual’ has been one of the most difficult to manage. Employers’ efforts to keep their workforce safe have led to an increase in employees working from home and many organizations have found that they were ill-prepared for a remote workforce. This has been particularly challenging for manufacturers for obvious reasons. Manufacturing can be a very hands-on business with employees on a line in extremely tight quarters.
My company sells ERP and other enterprise software to manufacturers and we have a whole division of people who spend the majority of their time on the road. They visit customer’s facilities implementing our solutions and training customers how to use them. During the current pandemic, however, our implementations have had to be increasingly done online. As anyone who’s taken part in an ERP implementation knows, these things can take months, if not years. Doing it without face-to-face interaction and on-site collaboration can throw a wrench in the works.
Companies like mine and the customers we serve have had to find ways to continue projects while avoiding costly delays and keeping employees safe. Luckily, the tools exist to make remote implementations a reality, even for manufacturing companies. Forward-thinking technology companies have been keeping their customers’ implementation projects (including ERP) moving using the latest tools and advanced onboarding methodologies, adapted for this change. There’s been a learning curve, but organizations are learning valuable lessons that will help them do business in the face of the next disruption that is inevitably on its way. Based on my experience, even when the COVID pandemic is over, remote working, given the continuing focus on reducing expenses, the internationally distributed and cross-functional nature of most projects and increasing concern for the impact of travel on the environment, will be employed more and more frequently.
Here are some of the tools, processes and practices that based on my experience, should be employed in support of a remote ERP implementation.
Effective Communication Efforts
First of all, communication is crucial for any implementation, but it’s even more important if the implementation is being conducted remotely. Each team member should have a suitable end-user device such as a laptop equipped with a headset and hooked up to top-flight connectivity that can support streaming video and other media communications.
Second, collaboration software should provide the team with the capability to mimic face-to-face working as much as possible. “Tiling” of video participants on screen, multiscreen sharing of documents in real-time, breakout/chat rooms, whiteboard functions and polling are all essential for smooth working. To aid participation where a laptop or desktop computer are not available (e.g., on the factory floor), mobile phones can be used to join a meeting or workshop, using the camera to show what is happening on the ground.
Given the lack of the usual in-person social interaction that takes place during a physical project, early one-on-one introductions combined with remote team building activities can set the remote project up for success. These activities can take the form of one-on-one video introductions and team challenge workshops with breakout rooms and social “coffee break” chats to help build individual and team rapport. Establishing and sharing clear and consistent information on roles, expectations and communication channels also helps service delivery consultants and customers understand how best to work together. This can build upon the social team building through workshops to agree on governance/ communication meetings, updates and channels.
Meetings and Workshops
Developing meeting and workshop agendas focused on short and effective sessions, with frequent breaks and feedback, helps participants to maintain attention and interaction. Teams need structure, strong forum leadership and facilitation to make remote project delivery successful. The provision and review of prework help with efficiency.
An additional factor helping the effectiveness of workshops and meetings is the availability of a collaborative environment where people feel free to share information. This can be supported by social breakouts using chat rooms, where participants can build personal relationships.
On international projects, it is important to remember that many people on the call will be speaking in a second or third language. So clear, slow communications are key. Process Maps and other documentation should be accessible across multiple sites, regions, languages, etc. Checking back with participants on their understanding is also important, to ensure both participation and understanding. A useful guide to understanding cultural differences in how people interact at work and socially is “The Culture Map,” by Erin Myers, which profiles different communication preferences and styles prevalent in the major countries in the world. Knowing these can help with both verbal and nonverbal cultural communication, which are incredibly crucial in remote working situations.
Finally, the success of a remote implementation should be underpinned by a project delivery methodology that is rich in re-usable templates that can be pre-read and populated offline, with the results reviewed in the joint sessions. For example, standard workshop templates, process maps, training slides and user guides all belong to this category.
Remote Implementation is Here to Stay
I have seen these tools, processes and practices help remote ERP implementation in almost every stage, from Business Process Design, through Conference Room Pilot, User Acceptance Testing and Go-Live, particularly during the pandemic crisis.
Despite all the challenges involved, I am convinced that the benefits of implementing remotely will lead companies to consider best practices going forward. These benefits include:
● A decrease in travel-related costs
● The ability to incorporate consultants or internal resources that might not have been able to travel on-site
● Some customers I have worked with have shared that the structure and communication plans outlined for a remote implementation have led to better focus on the project.
I am convinced that this paradigm shift to new ways of working will endure long after the current crisis and the winners will be the manufacturing companies and technology delivery organizations that adapt and survive.
About the Author
Robin Riordan joined QAD in 2014 as Director, Global Standards. Since 2019, he has led QAD’s Consulting and Transformation Services team, delivering rapid, agile and effective QAD solutions to its customers and is a member of its Executive Committee. He has over 35 years of experience in the fields of business change, systems integration and consulting, gained through a career spanning the Retail, Manufacturing, Automotive, Consumer Products, Travel and Transport, Pharmaceutical and Government sectors. He received a BA in Economics from the University of Manchester and an MBA from Warwick Business School.