After making a decision to implement a new ERP system, it is easy to rush into configuration and implementation. Oftentimes, this rush of excitement results in over-looking, or not dedicating enough time to one of the most important phases of an implementation - the Discovery phase. Most implementation methodologies start with some sort of discovery phase, however, it might be called something different like ‘Planning.’ The purpose of this phase is to complete a due diligence of current processes and become knowledgeable about the overall impact the new ERP will have on the organization. Ultimately, discovery should create the roadmap to a successful go-live. Still, we tend to see organizations dedicating too little time or resources to this phase. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this phase is too important to skimp.
1. Expose ERP-Specific Business Requirements
Most organizations understand their own business requirements; they know that there are some industry-specific processes or best practices that have been honed-in over the years, that need to continue into the future state. These requirements were likely what eliminated the list of ERPs down to the specific one that is now being implemented. That is only half of the “requirements equation,” however. The other half of the equation is the ERP-specific requirements. Most ERPs offer a level of flexibility to accommodate different processes and business requirements and these ERP-specific questions should be asked during discovery. The best way to acquire this ERP knowledge is by hiring for this expertise, either as an internal hire, consultants, or even a combination of both. These experts can help to paint the full picture of requirements - the ERP-specific nuances in conjunction with the business’ own requirements - ensuring that no rocks have been left unturned.
2. Unify and Empower the Project Team
If the current state of the business is largely siloed, an inter-connected ERP is going to impact everyone in the organization in ways they are likely not aware of. Discovery should be a time where the entire project team, both internal and external parties can come together to respectfully learn from each other. With the internal team comprising experts from all functional areas of the business and the external team comprising experts in the new system.
One of the best ways for these teams to come together to express their knowledge is through a value stream mapping activity. The importance of this unification is to ensure that processes are optimally designed and that key stakeholders have the ability to influence the future state. By empowering those that do the work to influence the outcome, buy-in is increased and the likelihood of adoption is greater. Additionally, everyone gets to know one another early on and is more likely to communicate effectively throughout the remainder of the project.
3. Reduce Project-Altering Scope Changes
When a discovery process is skipped or skimped, the undiscovered elements will expose themselves later in the process causing a scope change. Typically the later in the implementation a scope change is identified, the higher the costs and the more likely a go-live is to be delayed. There’s also a loss in trust in the system and the people leading the project which can have a negative connotation on the implementation and adoption of the system later.
Another by-product of a scope change can be when there is a sense of urgency to resolve the discrepancy with the quickest possible solution rather than the best process solution. This might alleviate the time and cost factors, but further compound the trust and adoption factors. If more than one scope change occurs, the cost, time, and trust factors amplify. This is where we see ERP implementations getting bad reputations.
Since an ERP is going to impact every area of the business, it’s best to understand the level of impact as soon as possible. By documenting the business requirements in the context of the ERP with the business and ERP experts, the likelihood of a scope change is minimized and the likelihood of a successful go-live is maximized. As mentioned, a value stream mapping session can be a powerful tool in the discovery phase to align and empower people while documenting the requirements.
So how much time should be dedicated to discovery? This question largely depends on the overall scope and timeline that has been budgeted for the implementation. The discovery for a $10 Million implementation is going to be different from the discovery for a $100 Thousand implementation. Business complexity, the specific ERP, and whether development is needed can also have an impact on how much time to dedicate. Again, it’s best to take guidance from your ERP expert.