Has your ERP implementation gone off the rails?

ERP Implementation is complex and can go wrong, but a great recovery can still be a success. Are you sponsoring an ERP implementation that has gone off the rails?  Or are you just starting to sense things are going wrong?  Don’t worry, there is still time to recover the situation and bag a successful delivery!


The key to overcoming these obstacles lies in adopting effective recovery strategies. So, jump on board and find out in this article how to successfully navigate the path to ERP system stabilisation and optimisation.


Firstly, you need to recognise that action is needed. The status could already be flashing red, and everyone could be shouting. But often it’s a bit more subtle. We call these ‘watermelon programmes’ – seemingly all green and wonderful but hiding a whole load of red once you get into them! We recently reviewed a complex SAP S/4HANA implementation at one of the UK’s leading utilities companies.  There were several causes for concern.



Stuck at the station?


“It seems like we are stuck in the design phase – when can we move on?”


The programme schedule was being constantly replanned due to the inability to meet key milestones.  This was being exacerbated by a lack of skilled resource to understand what to do with the situation. There was poor architectural oversight to govern design questions and the programme was basically stuck in design, unable to progress into a tangible build phase.


An over reliance had built up on ‘work arounds’ within the overall ERP implementation solution and tactical solutions were being developed in the business to address the delays in implementation.


This failure to demonstrate progress and manage expectations in turn resulted in disengagement with the ERP Programme across the stakeholder community. Business leads became frustrated, staff turnover increased and tactical projects took priority. We’ve all seen this situation where a programme goes out of favour and there is a general lack of faith that the programme will ever deliver.


Indecisive sponsorship, unclear accountabilities and poor risk management meant that there was a general inability to adeptly overcome these issues and things had started to dramatically go down-hill.


So great, you now recognise that things are on the slide and your implementation is in trouble.  The next step is to understand the root causes of the issues. There is no point trying to fix superficial problems without getting under the skin and fixing the real cause.



Signal failure?


“Have we lost sight of the end goal?  No one knows where we are heading…”


By their very nature, ERP implementations are complex and lengthy programmes of work. While ‘in flight’ there may be changes in the Senior Leadership Team, changes in the strategic goals of the business or unforeseen external events. This means the original objectives of an ERP implementation can become uncertain and ambiguous. The absence of a documented and updated vision can be a cause for problems. Without this stakeholders and partners may display different, and sometimes, contradictory conclusions regarding the goals and direction required.


Trusted partnerships and a one team collaborative approach are also key.  It is crucial that a cohesive and trusting relationship is maintained between the business and their chosen ERP Systems Integrator. When accountabilities are blurred or slippage in key delivery milestones occur, tensions can develop between partners and ‘finger pointing’ is the inevitable result. We worked with one of the UK’s leading defence companies to transform to SAP S/4HANA, and one of the key reasons this programme was delivered on time was the co-location of the team, and the mantra of ‘leave your badge at the door’.


Programmes of this magnitude require a strong business-led programme sponsorship and leadership governance structure. If this is under-represented, the outcome of the ERP technology implementation is unlikely to match the expectations of the business change objectives. Also, customising the ERP solution to fit existing ways of working is very tempting, however this can lead to an unexpected increase in cost and raise tensions between business and technology stakeholders. The programme should focus on exploiting the configuration functionality offered by the ERP system and keep any customisation to a minimum.


The success of an ERP implementation depends greatly on a clear and comprehensive corporate data model and a documented enterprise-wide architecture. These underpin the data migration and system integration strategy. Failure to secure these prior to embarking on ERP implementation will unnecessarily result in on-going systems integration challenges, the implementation of ‘point solutions’ with no strategic focus and extended data migration and testing activities.



Getting back on track?


Now you understand the real causes of issue, you can execute the recovery. Act decisively. A good, fast recovery can still be a success.


A well-defined recovery plan is crucial for getting an ERP system back on track. The plan should outline specific actions, timelines, and responsibilities for addressing the identified challenges. It is essential to involve key stakeholders, including the senior leadership team, project managers, end-users, and any external vendors in the development of the recovery plan to ensure buy-in and collaboration. We ran a recovery for a leading UK Retailer, who was implementing Oracle Fusion as part of an HR Transformation. Spending time on getting the recovery plan not only viable, but also accepted by all stakeholders was essential to getting the recovery off to a fast start.


To make sure this plan is complete and can be executed effectively, it is worth considering engaging external ERP consultants or specialists to provide valuable insights and expertise during the recovery process. These professionals can conduct an independent assessment of the situation, offer recommendations, and guide organisations in implementing best practices. Their experience in ERP recoveries can help accelerate the stabilisation process and mitigate risks.


One common challenge in ERP implementations is resistance to change from end-users. To address this, organisations should invest in comprehensive training programmes and change management initiatives. Training should go beyond system functionalities and focus on how the ERP system benefits individual roles and the organisation as a whole. Clear communication about the reasons for the recovery effort and the anticipated benefits will help gain user acceptance and engagement.


ERP recovery is not a one-time effort but an ongoing process. It is crucial to establish monitoring mechanisms to track system performance and user satisfaction. Regular assessments will identify areas for improvement and enable organisations to fine-tune their ERP system to meet evolving business needs. Additionally, staying up to date with ERP vendor releases and updates can provide access to new features and enhancements that can further optimise system performance. By embracing a mindset of continuous improvement, organisations can adapt to changing business requirements and maximize the value of their ERP investment.



An ERP implementation is often a critical journey for an organisation. Given their complexity, recovery is often needed to address challenges and realise the full potential. Recover well, and you will still claim success and realise the benefits that your organisation deserves!

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