With their high degree of complexity and long durations, ERP implementation projects are among the most challenging initiatives some organizations will ever undertake. One common difficulty when planning and executing projects that extend over many months (and sometimes across several years) is that low-priority or minor tasks are bumped down the schedule in favor of what appear to be more pressing issues.
But though the team sees ample time ahead to deal with these less urgent matters, the result is too often a growing tide of tasks that must completed in an ever-shrinking window of time. More than once, a system implementation project—where a fixed cutover date typically requires a good portion of those delayed tasks to be done before the new platform can go live—has turned into a failure almost overnight because the project team didn’t stay on top of critical path tasks.
If you want to avoid this dangerous snowball effect, read on for key tips to keep your team on track.
Apply good task sequencing principles during the initial planning phase. If your early schedule development efforts are too vague or too ambitious, you don’t give your team the right foundation for success. The ability to almost immediately delay minor tasks means few will be compelled to adhere to the schedule later. If your monitoring and controls processes are also weak, you’re likely to experience a task tsunami near the end of the project. Because scheduling long-duration projects can be a challenge for companies accustomed to shorter efforts, support from an experienced project management consultancy can be key to launching the project with a workable and reliable schedule.
Assign every task. The volume of activities needed to move an ERP or other complex initiative to a successful completion can be staggering. But tasks that don’t have an “owner” to develop task durations or monitor their status and report on their progress are at risk of delays. By assigning all tasks—even if they’re handed off to another team member later—you help to plug the cracks that unassigned activities sometimes drop into. When every task is on the radar, you can maintain awareness of their completion status and ensure progress stays on track.
Increase your progress review cadence as the project nears the cutover date. Early in a project, it’s not uncommon for teams to hold only weekly or even monthly review meetings, with offline communications to share information in between. But as your initiative moves through its lifecycle, it’s wise to reassess how frequently the team provides updates and reviews risks. This helps keep critical path tasks top-of-mind and gives group members better visibility into issues that may be festering. Increased reviews are vital in preventing a cascade of last-minute activities from overwhelming your team.
Monitor and adjust workloads if activity levels trend toward becoming unsustainable. Project team members are often driven and high performing, but while that’s valuable in consistently delivering strong results, it sometimes pushes people to take on more than they can realistically accomplish. In a prolonged project timeline, this phenomenon is even stronger—it looks like there’s a lot of time available to get things done, and few have concerns about the schedule’s workability. But as the project moves ahead and any anticipated wiggle room evaporates, team members suddenly have far too many tasks to do and no realistic way to execute everything. To avoid a crush of tasks right before the go-live date, consider partnering with a project management consultant experienced in high-risk, high-visibility efforts. They can help assess the project plan and ensure activities are sequenced for success.