Nowadays, Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are crucial tools for many businesses worldwide that help them get full control, optimize processes, drive revenues, and grow. ERP implementation projects require decent investments, take time. Such complex and costly projects require thorough planning, having answers for dozens of questions that may arise in the process.

This seems obvious, however many ERP implementation projects fail or show performance that is lower than expected, due to wrong expectations. Customers expect to get better results and much faster than it can be done. As a result: the ERP implementation project can quickly go out of control, take longer, and produce less outcome than everyone thought it would do.

So, the right approach to ERP planning and setting realistic goals is crucial for overall success. This article will talk about filling the gaps between what the customer is expecting to get from the ERP, what real outcomes will be, and how to match them.

The problem

First, it is crucial to understand the problem entirely. It can be formulated as follows: in reality, ERP systems implementation projects are far less predictable and consistent than many customers think. Many people view the software implementation project as production or home restoration, where you have the budget, resources, the timeline with specific milestones, and that's it.

However, software-related projects require much more preparation work, and setting the right expectations is one of the main elements of this work. There are many reasons why the project may take longer, a broader feature-set will not be the best option, and no specific date when you are done with it. ERP implementation and managing business processes are ongoing processes.

Once the customer understands that, the whole job becomes easier for the vendor and its partners. So, it is essential to properly work with expectations, form them, and thoroughly describe what the customer will get at every implementation project step. Here are some things to consider:

Everything starts at pre-sale

The success of an implementation project starts at a pre-sale stage. If the vendor or its partners promise too much, the risks of not meeting the expectation arise significantly.

There were studies conducted to determine the success rate of ERP implementation projects. These studies have shown that despite right after the project is finished, most customers are happy about it, a short time after that, the number of positive reviews decreases dramatically. This is because people do not get what they expected they would receive.

Again, if the bar of expectations is inappropriately high; there are no chances to meet these expectations. Happily, there are several steps you can take to avoid this problem.

1. Define your goals

Surprisingly, but quite often, companies and their management teams do not have clear expectations of what they should get. This is a hazardous situation because it provokes changes in mind during the implementation process, which usually leads to additional costs and failed deadlines.

Another problem is having one big goal, i.e., "become a more efficient business." This is too vague. The customer most likely will need help in figuring this out. Still, the vendor and its partners should help the company first set up a goal, and second, divide it into several milestones that are easier to plan, calculate, and measure. Once every smaller goal is reached, the result becomes something real. Every step made helps people involved in the project to understand what the next step will bring.

2. Lower expectations when possible

While there are ways to affect expectations by setting smart goals indirectly, you can also directly work with this aspect. A good tactic here is to intentionally lower them, describing just the core functionality of the product. This tactic is surprisingly efficient.

For example, there was a situation when the 1Ci partner in Bulgaria, DAVID Holdings Inc., was working on the ERP implementation in Bulgarian airports. The customer wanted to start using the system fast, with limited functionality and viewed it as a temporary solution with the plan to later switch to another product. That was 12 years ago, and the customer is still using 1C:ERP as it turned out that the solution has all the necessary functions, and is compliant to local legislation. So, switching to another solution would become a waste of time and resources.

3. Benchmark

There are a lot of business automation software vendors that claim their products can be implemented very fast. However, in reality, the fully-functional implementation takes months. So, if the customer has seen such overly optimistic estimates somewhere, it is an excellent idea to benchmark the speed with the functionality provided in such a short time. Once the connection between the time and the business tasks that can be solved is established, it will be easier to justify the deadlines.

4. Prepare a plan and describe deliverables

Once you've got the project goals, and the minimal viable expectations, it is the time to prepare a comprehensive plan. The main idea is that the customer should understand what will happen at every stage of the project, what job will be done, how long it will take, and how many resources will require.

These steps should be negotiated with all the stakeholders so that the plan includes all the crucial things for these people, their departments, and employees. This means the exact deliverables should be described for each step of the implementation project.

What features each of the department will get? How will the employee training look like? When will they be able to start using the software? These facts, along with some data on future scaling, will help you form correct expectations.

5. Form a dedicated team

No complex project like ERP implementation can be done if there is not a right team. You need to include the key stakeholders, people who will use the product once it is in production, representatives from the vendor side, or partners that will do the job themselves. It is crucial that the team roster is not changing in the project's course, as new people will bring new ideas that can not align with the initial vision. This will lead to wasted time and money.

The people in the team should also be responsible for the project; its implementation in different departments and business units. This is the only way to set up a path to success.

Final thoughts

Setting the right expectations can primarily affect the overall success of an ERP implementation project. The vendor team's primary goal is to form the right state of mind for the customer. Implementation of business automation software is different from building a house and involves a lot of preparation before starting.

You will need to define smart goals and map them with the customer's expectations while lowering them. The good idea here is to benchmark different products, so that it can be easily seen, that vendors that promise a lot would doubtedly deliver excellent results. Once this is done, the next steps will involve preparing a plan and describing deliverables.

Finally, the project team should be formed in the right way, and include people who bear real responsibility, use the product, and understand current business processes. Once you have such a team and set up an open environment where people can get answers to their questions, this will increase chances for overall success.