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ERP Change Management: The Bottom-Up Approach

ERP Change Management: The Bottom-Up Approach

Most industry experts agree that successful ERP projects require a good plan for managing organizational change. An important part of this strategy is an executive steering team that is committed to pushing the project forward. However, ERP history has shown that driving the change from the top down alone may not be enough. Successful ERP initiatives require a bottom up approach as well.

This other major aspect of managing change focuses on gaining user support of the new system early on, and growing it throughout the implementation cycle. It is at the end-user level where the rubber meets the road. Without the buy-in of key managers and employees that will use the new tools, it is unlikely the project will achieve the expected benefits, or worse yet, cause even more problems. In the end, if the process owners will not make the new system fly, who will?

More than Selling Software as the Solution

The goal is to get the majority of employees pulling for the change because they see the real benefits when performing their daily jobs. This is more than just attempting to sell users on the features and functions of the new software. It is hard to sell a bald man a comb.

While software is important, most stakeholders will be reluctant to take a blind leap of faith, not matter how great the software sounds. It is unlikely they will support the change unless they understand how the new system will impact their current procedures, policies, responsibilities, and job functions. Moreover, employees will want a voice in determining how the software will be used.

On the other hand, if the project team more or less tries to jam the new software down the throats of middle managers and key end-users, the outcome is predictable…the users will reject it.

If that is not bad enough, the groundswell of user resistance will likely come just prior to the scheduled system go-live. At this stage, there will be little time or money left to react to last minute software changes requested by the users.

Change Management Essential: Fostering Buy-In

One important law of change management is this…most employees will support a business change if the overall solution is actually better than what they do today (or at least not any worse). The solution works from them and for the company.

However, user acceptance does not necessarily happen by chance. It must be planned and involve the right people. When done correctly, these same stakeholders will likely become advocates of the system, and help spread the word to other employees who might otherwise resist the change. Instead of its usual negativity about change, the informal “grapevine” is now filled with good news about the project!

The following are a few additional tips:

  • Users Drive the Implementation – The ERP project manager should be a high level manager from the functional side of the business. For each software module, the team should include a Team Lead and Functional Analyst also from the user side. Finally, identifying a few system “power users” to participate on an as required basis, also helps fan out the level of user involvement. Alternatively, if the IT department or consultants are viewed as running the show, expect employee resistance.
  • Users Select the ERP Software – The software selection process should include the project team, and perhaps the help of consultants. But also include other key employees on the software evaluation team not formally on the project team. This creates more user ownership in the system decision, thus they have a greater stake in the success of the implementation.
  • Software Consultants must also be good Business Analysts – Once a package is selected, a good consultant should not only understand the software, but also how to redesign and simplify business processes from a more holistic perspective. Otherwise, their primary focus could become “just get the software installed”. The fear of employees is this approach could make their jobs even more difficult to perform in the future.
  • Early-On, Define the Real Problems, and Possible Solutions – Cross-functional participation of key employees from various departments in documenting the current and new processes helps build a common understanding of the issues, opportunities, and potential solutions. This gets stakeholders involved early on and helps gain consensus on the real issues. Without this, the ERP software will be viewed by the masses as a “solution looking for a problem.”
  • User Acceptance Testing – Prior to system go-live, the project team should test the system and new work procedures. However, the final system test (user acceptance testing) is led by the power users in each area with the help of other employees. The more comfortable users feel with the system prior to go-live, the more easily it will be accepted.
  • Address the Naysayers – Even with the best ERP change management plan, every organization will have its share of middle managers or end-users who will attempt to sabotage the project (either openly or subtly). The executive steering team and project manager must deal with the perpetual naysayers, before they turn other employees into naysayers.
  • Do Not Shortcut End-User Training – Once implemented, if the user community struggles with how to use the software, the system may be tolerated, but never accepted in the long-run. In this case, employees will eventually develop costly “work-arounds” to the system in order to perform their jobs.


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[This post originally appeared on IT Toolbox and is republished with permission.]

  • Consultant

Steven Phillips

CIO & Author of the book: Control Your ERP Destiny, Street Smart ERP Publications
Steve is an ERP professional with over twenty-seven years of implementation experience both as an industry practitioner and consultant. This extensive background is coupled with functional experience in operations management, IT management, and business reengineering. ERP skills include sr. management education, ...