Who should lead my project?

The company I work for has been going through a new ERP implementation for the last several months.  In the past, for new ERP implementations or for upgrades of existing ERP systems, we have typically cascaded implementations at our regional facilities, beginning with the regional facility with the most demand.  By doing this, we were able to focus our resources in one area and ensure the system functioned properly, including all reports, prior to rolling it out to others.  For this implementation, we elected to go with a “Big Bang” approach, upgrading all facilities simultaneously.  We initially identified several advantages to taking this approach, many of which never came to fruition for various reasons.

Now that we are 6 months into our implementation, it is evident that the “Big Bang” approach was not the appropriate method to take.  For the first 3 months of the implementation, we had IS and IT resources travelling the world to support our various locations to ensure the systems were functioning, not necessarily functioning properly, but just getting basic transactions through. This period of travelling and troubleshooting exhausted our IS and IT resources.  Still, after 6 months, only about 95% of the transactions are flowing correctly and we seem to run into show-stoppers at least once per month.  After that initial 3 month period, when things had settled down on the transactional side, we began the arduous process of getting basic reports to function.  These include financial reporting, financial analysis, production analysis, order management, purchasing, and human resources reports.  These have seemingly been stalled since the implementation began and there is little confidence of it being completed anytime soon.

So, the question becomes: when is the right time to redefine the project manager?  It seems through each phase of the implementation, the project manager has shifted.  It has gone from CIO to Network Director to Systems Director to Applications Director.  This is not to say that each of these individuals isn’t doing everything in their power to ensure these issues get addressed, but there is no consistent list of issues or person to direct concerns to.  There is no project manager interacting with each function defining priorities.  We’re really seeking one point of contact to interact with one single point of contact within each of our functions to take control.  However, there could be political implications to even suggesting a change of project manager.  And, frankly, there may not be anybody willing to take that position as it could have implications on their career going forward.

For this particular project, we defaulted to a project manager in the IS and IT group, but perhaps, we should have considered a more skilled project manager outside of that group that could developed a more reliable risk management plan and mitigated some of those risks prior to the implementation.  The users would have likely been more satisfied with a project manager that is responsive and organized, rather than a project manager that has the technical knowledge of the implementation without the project management skillset. Can functional leaders be expected to efficiently manage projects within their organizations if they span across several functions?

13 thoughts on “Who should lead my project?

  1. I feel your pain on this type of initative, as this sounds very similar to my company.
    You ask a great question, and this that a project manager needs to be choosen before a project is started. An Implementation is often long, and actually I have not heard of any implementation that goes smoothly, but a good project manager can help to avoid some of the confision that is created during this time. Part of the job of a project manager is to be adaptable,so they would need ot change the appropach as the project continues.

  2. Brian, I also feel your pain. Our company has been thinking about upgrading our system and the topic comes up every year. Last year, they even created a team of individuals that wanted to play a role in designing the new platform with the developers. After 3 months of weekly phone calls and discussion, the developers and the project team finally had a good idea of what the people in the field wanted. Developers then sent the requirements to Oracle and received a quote back that was 350% higher than the budget our corporate had set aside. We then spent the next six months in deciding what tools or enhancements can we cut out for the time being to bring the cost lower. Even after that, our cost was twice as much as the budget we had available. Upon review the management consultants decided against the upgrade because the cost was high for a new platform that wasn’t much different than what we had now since most of the enhancements had to be sacrificed. Our company was back to square one.

    At the start of this year, Oracle notified our company that at the end of 2015, they would no longer support the version that we have available and we would need to upgrade. Now the company has hired consultants to determine the need and cost for an upgrade.

    It is very frustrating to see the decisions made by the management that end up causing more harm than good and put a larger burden on the employees.

  3. I could not agree more with Barbara’s and Asif’s points about the RIGHT project manager needing to be in place before a project is even initiated. The project manager is the point and the lead person on the project from beginning to end and even after as the key point of contact for any support or reference issues. If the right project manager is not in place no project can get completely successfully. There are certain people within an organization that have the bandwith and capabilities to lead a project while unfortunately there are others that are just not organized enough.

  4. Brian, sounds like this is a tough situation. Like Barbara and Asif mentioned it’s pretty critical to get the right person in place from the beginning of the project but it doesn’t always work out that way. I think the proper project manager doesn’t really depend on a title, or even a department, but more a personality and skill set that can effectively navigate through the project issues. We’ve had several projects that transitioned from one PM to the other and the successful transitions all had one thing in common. The previous PM stayed on the project for a while to make sure that the new PM was fully up to speed on the project plan and the history before completely handing it over. In some cases the previous PM stayed on indefinitely as a consultant or assistant. Usually after a few weeks or so the new PM doesn’t need to go backwards any longer and the transition is completed.

  5. Hello Brian,

    I think you addressed two separate issues here.

    The first problem was identified as not having project issues resolved because of poor transitions. If PM transitions are unavoidable, a project issue log is often established, prioritized and updated to bring closure to just such a problem.

    The second and significantly more serious issue is how the project was defined. It sounds like the scope, stakeholders and project champions were all very casually defined. It is easy to ask executives what they expect a projects deliverables to be, but less so when you ask them what kind of commitments they are willing to make in support of those deliverables. The drastic expansion of scope called for a detailed project plan that was clearly not in place.

  6. Thomas, has a good point when he speaks about the executives and their expectations and their commitments to the projects. Would it be more effective to use a third party company that specializes in these sort of conversions? I was working on a project with just our accounting books at my company where I had to convert all of our information to new books while deleting accounts that wouldn’t be used anymore. The whole process took me a couple weeks and digging through excel files to find errors was a pain. I’m not sure how ERP systems are, but I had to redo my work a couple times in order to get the exported transactions and entries into the new program. At one point I went home on a weekend and completely lost where I was and I had to re-do the whole process again; however, this allowed me to already know what I am doing. I found more mistakes with importing errors and worked on fixing them. My company is small so it was easy for me to do this alone, but it looks like you can get 95% of it done, maybe you just need to identify the issues with the remainder?

  7. Hi Brian,
    You have touched on a very important subject. Many corporations emphasize strongly on leadership. During the implementation of the projects many people neglect how important the role of leadership is, and how careful planning could save an organization’s resources at the end of the day. I understand that the main objective within a company is to be cost effective, but too many companies are afraid to invest more money and bring to the table knowledgeable and adequate professionals who perform well in leadership roles. Professionals who know how to sufficiently allocate the resources, and make the project a smoother and pleasant experience, and more cost effective and efficient all the while.

  8. Brian,

    A project manager should be just that- a manager of (1) single project at hand. While it is important and beneficial to wear many hats, more times than not this interferes with one’s initial task. It seems as in your case, the project manager for your job should be one that not only understands the concentration involved, but also understands the necessity to focus and complete the project before delving into other affairs. Whether this is a political hesitation or simply being unaware of the success of the project, this project manager needs to understand what is best for the organization and what is the best possible manager of this operation.

  9. Brian, that sounds like a really frustrating project to be a part of. Also, as you described it almost seems that the project manager is passing off their failure to the next highest individual (CIO to Network Director, Network Director to Systems Director, and so on) in order to save face and possibly their career.

    A previous blog post I read was discussing what makes a good leader and manager. This seems to be a great opportunity for an individual to step up to the proverbial ‘plate’ and gain some valuable project management skills. Although, as you describe, it almost appears that they are trying to find someone to pin the failed project on. This is an unfortunate scenario and does not appear to be getting better. The best solution may be to admit failure and let someone take over who can fix the problem.

    Hopefully, everything worked out for you!

  10. I think it is possible. Basically if you look at general consulting model of companies such as Deloitte or KPMG or any other consulting company you will notice that they are able to run multiple projects while smartly allocating resources among the projects’ phases. I do think though that sometimes when the project are critical it is important to hire an outside company that specializes in certain business direction.

  11. I know how it feels to be behind an idea or goal and have it not turn out the way you wanted. Ideas sound better in your head than they do in the real world; I know from experience. In a previous management crash course class, I was designated as the GM of my team. This gave me the power and ability to make the final call and do what I believed would produce the best outcome for our “prospective hotel.” My choice in direction to take our brand and how I ran my team, in my initial thought sounded productive, but turned out to be ineffective and unsuccessful in producing the level of quality and product desired.

  12. You have to respect the risk you guys took, and at least were able to stay afloat. Unfortunately though, the functional manager is not usually suited for a role like this, and understandably it would have been difficult to designate a pre-existing member the project manager for a multitude of reasons as you stated, and I agree that a project manager from outside the group would have been ideal to help objectively push you guys to 100% completion. However, I do believe this experience has provided you all with project management skills to be used going forward.

  13. This is an impactful post because it points to the fact that job descriptions are rarely well-defined. Employees with many different skill-sets that are complementary will find that switching between tasks is easy. However, it is also very easy to get comfortable in one job function. Furthermore, as the scope of a project increases the amount of different tasks grows with it. A successful project manager is always shifting his/her focus on all different aspects of their work.

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