ERP Implementation: Putting Processes and People First

October, 2004

Recently, PeopleSoft arranged for me to interview Ken Meidell, CIO at Cascade Designs, an early adopter of PeopleSoft’s Enterprise One system. But, as it turns out, the interview was more interesting for me in terms of implementation lessons learned than it was in terms of learning more about PeopleSoft’s software.

Cascade Designs is a manufacturer of outdoor equipment mainly for backpacking, camping, and other outdoor activities. The company first implemented Enterprise One in 1998, when it was known as J.D. Edwards One World. Those that remember know that, to be charitable, JDE One World then was not quite ready for prime time. Nevertheless, Cascade had a well-organized effort and accomplished implementation of the full suite of functionality. They later upgraded to the XE version in 2001 and plan to move to v8.11 in 2005.

I asked Ken what improvements he saw in the business after the implementation, and he described the firm going through three stages:

  • Visibility of costs. The system gave them a much better understanding of their cost structure. This allowed management to begin making decisions based on fact, instead of gut feel. It also allowed users to move from a “data entry relationship” with the system to the role of knowledge workers. Managers began looking to the system for evidence in decision making.
  • Process simplification. Within two years of the initial implementation, the company acquired a competitor that had some expertise in lean manufacturing. Learning from the acquired company, Cascade began an effort to simplify operations on the shop floor and to institute principles of lean manufacturing. Ken feels that the new system was flexible enough to allow the transition to lean manufacturing. He also plans to use some of the new demand driven manufacturing functionality in the new release of Enterprise One to further enable lean manufacturing.
  • Automation. Now that operations have been simplified, the focus is on automation, using technologies such as bar-coding and electronic data interchange (EDI). These will provide further cost reduction and closer connection to trading partners.

Ken had a good story to tell regarding effective use of Cascade’s investment in new systems. So, as we wrapped up, I asked Ken what advice he might give to companies that were about to undertake implementation of a new system. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Be willing to change your business processes. Software often embodies better ways of doing things. “Build process improvement into your implementation plan, and don’t be afraid to change business processes,” Ken said.
  • Be willing to help people change. The new system will become, using Ken’s term, “the heart and lungs of your company,” essential to running your business. But getting there can be painful, and people resist change. For example, when implementing the new system in an overseas plant, Ken sent a team of eight super-users from the U.S. to help the new users in their adoption of the new system. “It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the software,” he said. But he knew that people would have problems at first. Building practical actions for change management into the implementation plan, such as sending power users to help users in other plants, can make a big difference.
  • Appreciate the need for a good user interface. Ken thinks that the traditional way of selecting software puts too much emphasis on features and functions and not enough on ease of use. “The most simple-minded user has used the Web to order a book from Amazon. That’s the standard for ease of use that people expect,” he said. Therefore, ensuring that the user interface is friendly is important to getting new users to adopt the system.

Although Ken’s advice was based on his experience in implementing and maintaining PeopleSoft EntepriseOne, I believe his advice is applicable no matter what system is being implemented.

October 2004