Photo: astronaut Eugene Cernan salutes American flag on the surface of the moon, December 1972, Goddard Space Flight Center, CC license.

Our team felt pretty good one day in early March, 2012, when we went live on an SAP system — manufacturing, inventory, order processing, MRP, demand planning, purchasing, shipping and receiving, and finance – with no business disruption, in 90 business days, and 30% under budget

We arrived at this happy conclusion because of (good) decisions made early in the project — decisions about strategy, scope, preparation, technology selected, and the makeup of the team.

How do you drive success — especially if you’re not savvy to enterprise software in the first place?

  1. Can you, in a three minute speech to your CEO, sell the project: why you need $2 million and 15 people for nine months, and how your company strategy and your customers demand this kind of investment? If not, start over.
  2. Only pursue projects with an unambiguous and demonstrably positive ROI based on realistic assumptions. Leave the great ideas, dreams and wish lists behind.
  3. Leave no room for surprise costs. You’ll find them in these categories: additional user, site, or department licenses, support fees, custom programming, server, network, PC and operating system upgrades, future version upgrades, project consultants, and backup staff and travel for the team.
  4. Use only your best people for the team. Nothing is more powerful than an experienced, focused, and motivated team with a mandate from top management and a simple, clear objective. If you can’t afford to free up your best people, you can’t afford the project.
  5. Decide what is included in the project and what is not, clearly and as simply as possible. Ruthlessly prevent any changes to the scope.
  6. The software you choose: prove that it works in other enterprises, preferably companies like yours. It should be familiar to consultants or programmers you may need, now and in the future.
  7. Pick technology your company’s users can easily master. You can do lots of damage with people who don’t understand the new systems they have to use.
  8. Insist on a full under-the-hood evaluation of the fit of the system with the business. Have the software vendor prove that it meets your requirements by piloting your business scenarios in the application.
  9. Protect as much of the business as possible from the inevitable problems of a new system. Break up the “go-live” into manageable parts and have a manual backup plan to keep the business running.
  10. Remember this quote from software legend Frederick P. Brooks: “How does a software project come in six months late? One day at a time.”