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An Introduction to the Planning Phase

Last week we discussed the importance of strategic preparation for your business management system implementation.  This week we will be covering the planning phase.

It is almost impossible to over-emphasize the planning stage of your implementation.  Short-cut it and you will almost surely fail.  Of course, you must “pull the trigger” in order to succeed; but you will be on a cycle of: plan, execute, evaluate; plan, execute, evaluate; plan, execute, evaluate for the next few months as you implement your business system!  As we all know, nothing ever goes according to plan, but planning provides us with alternatives when things do change or go awry.  Your pre-sale process with your VAR should have painted a good picture of your requirements.  Now, you will build on that foundation.  You will (unless you purchased a detailed systems analysis before you purchased the software) drill down into the details of the needs, objectives and goals you stated.

For example, perhaps you said you needed a Bill of Lading (BOL) and left it at that during the pre-purchase phase.  Now you need to get the detail hammered out with questions like this: Is this a summary or detail BOL? Do I have hazardous materials that I must identify on the BOL?, and so on.  Perhaps this is the first mention of hazardous materials.  This may have a significant impact on your inventory item card and the layout of your Bill of Lading.  Additionally, you may want to have the system print your Material Safety Data Sheets to accompany the BOL.  Whoops!  Suddenly, a seemingly simple form uncovered a significant change to your requirements.  It is far better to discover this now, then when you have a truck waiting at the door for your shipment and the driver refuses to take it because the paperwork is not in order.

Planning includes the allocation and use of employees’ time; consideration of holidays, vacations, family leave, leave of absence, business conferences, military obligations, compliance deadlines – anything that will prevent your staff from participating in the implementation process.  Will you need to hire temporary workers?  Will you need to authorize overtime?  Will you need to hire to fill a new position to utilize some component of your new system?  For example, as a manufacturer, will you need to hire an experienced planner to streamline your processes while capitalizing on the benefits of your new system?  Do your banking covenants require approval of new reporting layouts?  Perhaps you are looking forward to implementing a new Human Resources system.  Do your employees have the education and experience to use the system to benefit your business without endangering your company with hiring practices that are illegal or discriminatory?

Look back at the objectives you set for the system.  Look at the issues you outlined that are preventing you from accomplishing more.  You spent the time to document them, didn’t you?  Well, now it is time to dig a little deeper and determine how to implement the new system in the best way to maximize your return and minimize your problems.

Let’s say that you are adding EDI software with an important vendor or customer.  What will you do if the linkage can’t be certified in time to go-live?  What if your vendor’s staff doesn’t respond on a timely basis?  How will you handle the work of testing?  Can you negotiate with your vendor or customer for an extension of time or better yet, a guaranteed turn around on test results?  What will you do if you get the volume of orders you were promised and the EDI interface doesn’t work?  How will you handle that?  Determining the answers to these questions will help you deal with the stress of delays and challenges that aren’t necessarily of your making.  We helped a customer deal with just this type of problem.  They purchased an EDI ISV product against our recommendation (it was “cheaper”).  We worked with the vendor for almost nine months to get the product to work.  They promised it was working when the customer bought it; however, they didn’t tell them that the interface was to a much older version of the ERP system.  Our customer slipped from a “best” performing vendor to the worst performing vendor of their customer and almost lost the business.  Fortunately, we were able to fix the EDI interface to handle the 10,000 orders per month they were receiving.

Your planning will involve the Project Manager, Consultants from your VAR, Subject Matter Experts and End-Users from your company, as appropriate.  Your VAR should have the experience to help you do this detail planning.  You may have mini-Pilot Projects to demonstrate and evaluate various methods of handling tasks.  Use these demonstrations to sharpen the plan; don’t be sidetracked with the excitement of the new software.

Stay tuned for next week’s article where we will cover more specific details regarding the planning phase.