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Delivering business solutions is more than just product play. Software is often viewed as the enabler; however, the key to success is how the solution is implemented and how the implementations are managed. With this as the background, Microsoft has developed Sure Step as the full lifecycle methodology for the Microsoft Dynamics solutions portfolio. In this article, we introduce the concept of Methodology and its importance in the selection and implementation of ERP/CRM solutions. A faulty selection process can derail any solution deployment, and it is important for the readers to understand what they can do to prevent this.
In this article by Chandru Shankar and Vincent Bellefroid, authors of Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step, we will introduce the concepts and definitions. We will also provide an overview of Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step, and the different aspects of the methodology that help both the implementer and the customer.
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The success of a business solution, and specifically an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution, isn't solely about technology. Experience tells that it is as much about the people and processes as it is about the software. Software is often viewed as the enabler, with the key to success lying in how the solution is implemented and how the implementations are managed. The transformation from the technological solution being the point of emphasis in the early days of the business software era to the solution becoming an enabler for business transformation has only been furthered by the ERP/CRM reports by independent organizations that decry deployment failures in great detail.
What stands out very clearly in these reports is the fact that ERP and CRM solution delivery is characterized by uncertainties and risks. Service providers have to balance time and budget constraints, while delivering the business value of the solution to their customers. Customer organizations need to understand that their involvement and collaboration is critical for the success of the delivery. They will need to invest time, provide relevant and accurate information, and manage the organizational changes to ensure that the solution is delivered as originally envisioned.
The need for seamless implementation and deployment of business software is even more accentuated in the current state of the economy with enterprise software sales going through a prolonged period of negative to stagnant growth over the last several quarters. Sales cycles are taking longer to execute, especially as the customers take advantage of the buyer's market and force software providers to prove their solution in the sales cycle before signing off on the purchase. In this market, a good solution delivery approach is critical. We have consistently heard words such as in-scope, within-budget, and on-time being tossed around in the industry. Service providers are still facing these demands; however, in the current context, budgets are tighter, timeframes are shorter, and the demand for a quick return on investment is becoming increasingly critical.
Microsoft has always understood that the value of the software is only as good as its implementation and adoption. Accordingly, Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step was developed as the methodology for positioning and deploying the Microsoft Dynamics ERP/CRM suite of products—AX, CRM, GP, NAV, and SL. In the vision of Sure Step, project management is not the prerogative of the project manager only. Sure Step is a partnership of consulting and customer resources, representing a very important triangulation of the collaboration between the software vendor, implementer, and customer, with the implementation methodology becoming a key element of the implemented application.
The business solutions market
The 2010 calendar year began with the global economy trying to crawl out of a recession. Still, businesses continued to invest in solutions, to leverage the power of information technology to drive down redundancy and waste in their internal processes. This was captured in a study by Gartner of the top industry CIOs, published in their annual report titled Gartner Perspective: IT Spending 2010. In spite of the recessionary pressures, organizations continued to list improving business processes, reducing costs, better use of information, and improving workforce effectiveness as their priorities for IT spending.
The Gartner study listed the following top 10 business priorities based on 2009 findings:
- Business process improvement
- Reducing enterprise costs
- Improving enterprise workforce effectiveness
- Attracting and retaining new customers
- Increasing the use of information/analytics
- Creating new products or services (innovation)
- Targeting customers and markets more effectively
- Managing change initiatives
- Expanding current customer relationships
- Expanding into new markets and geographies
The Gartner study listed the following top 10 technology priorities based on 2009 findings:
- Business intelligence
- Enterprise applications (ERP, CRM, and others)
- Servers and storage technologies (virtualization)
- Legacy application modernization
- Collaboration technologies
- Networking, voice, and data communications
- Technical infrastructure
- Security technologies
- Service-oriented applications and architecture
- Document management
The source document for the previous two lists is: Gartner Executive Programs – CIO Agenda 2010.
These are also some of the many reasons that companies, regardless of scale, implement ERP and CRM software, which again is evident from the top 10 technology priorities of the CIOs listed above. These demands, however, happen to be articulated even more strongly by small and medium businesses. For these businesses, an ERP/CRM solution can be a sizable percentage of their overall expense outlay, so they have to be especially vigilant about their spending—they just can't afford time and cost overruns as are sometimes visible in the Enterprise market. At the same time, the deployment of rich functionality software must realize a significant and clear advantage for their business. These trends are picked up and addressed by the IT vendors, who are constantly seeking and exploring new technological ingredients to address the Small-to-Medium Enterprise market demands.
The importance of a methodology
Having a predictable and reliable methodology is important for both the service provider (the implementer) and the users of the solution (the customer). This is especially true for ERP/CRM solution deployment, which can happen at intervals of anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, and the implementation team often comprises multiple individuals from the service provider and the customer. Therefore, it is very important that all the individuals are working off the same sheet of music, so to speak.
Methodology can be defined as:
The methods, rules, and hypothesis employed by, and the theory behind a given discipline
The systematic study of the methods and processes applied within the discipline over time
Methodology can also be described as a collection of theories, concepts, and processes pertaining to a specific discipline or field. Rather than just a compilation of methods, methodology refers to the scientific method and the rationale behind it, as well as the assumptions underlying the definitions and components of the method.
The definitions we just saw are particularly relevant to the design/architecture of a methodology for ERP/CRM and business solutions. For these solutions, the methodology should not just provide the processes, but it should also provide a connection to the various disciplines and roles that are involved in the execution of the methodology. It should provide detailed guidance and assumptions for each of the components, so that the consumers of the methodology can discern to what extent they will need to employ all or certain aspects of it on a given engagement.
As such, a solid approach provides more than just a set of processes for solution deployment. For the service provider, a viable methodology can provide:
- End-to-end process flows for solution development and deployment, creating a repeatable process leading to excellence in execution
- Ability to link shell and sample templates, reference architecture, and other similar documentation to key activities
- A structure for creating an effective Knowledge Management (KM) system, facilitating easier harvesting, storing, retrieval, and reuse of content created by the field on customer engagements
- Ability to develop a rational structure for training of the consulting team members, including ramp-up of new employees
- Ability to align the quality assurance approach to the deployment process— important in organizations that use an independent QA process as oversight for consulting efforts
- Ability to develop a structured estimation process for solution development and deployment
- Creation of a structure for project scope control and management, and a process for early risk identification and mediation
For the customer, a viable methodology can provide:
- Clear end-to-end process flows for solution development that can be followed by the customer's key users and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) assigned to the project
- Consistent terminology and taxonomy, especially where the SMEs may not have had prior experience with implementing systems of such magnitude, thus making it easier for everybody to be on the same page
- Ability to develop a good Knowledge Management system to capture lessons learned for future projects/upgrades
- Ability to develop a rational structure and documentation for end-user training and new employee ramp-up
- Creation of a structure for ensuring that the project stays within scope, including a process for early risk identification and mediation
In addition to the points listed here, having a "full lifecycle methodology" provides additional benefits in the sales-to-implementation continuum.
The benefits for the service providers include:
- Better alignment of the consulting teams with the sales teams
- A more scientific deal management and approval process that takes into account the potential risks
- Better processes to facilitate the transfer of customer knowledge, ascertained during the sales cycle, to the solution delivery team
- Ability to show the customer how the service provider has "done it before" and effectively establish trust that they can deliver the envisioned solution
- Clearly illustrating the business value of the solution to the customer
- Ability to integrate multiple software packages into an overall solution for the customer
- Ability to deliver the solution as originally envisioned within scope, on time, and within established budget
The benefits for the customers include:
- Ability to understand and articulate the business value of the solution to all stakeholders in the organization
- Ensuring that there is a clear solution blueprint established
- Ensuring that the solution is delivered as originally envisioned within scope, on time, and within established budget
- Ensuring an overall solution that can integrate multiple software packages
In summary, a good methodology creates a better overall ecosystem for the organizations. The points noted in the earlier lists are an indication of some of the ways that the benefits are manifested; as you leverage methodologies in your own organization, you may realize other benefits as well.
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Why it is critical to have a solid approach for selecting and deploying ERP/CRM solutions
Business solutions delivery in general, and ERP/CRM consulting specifically, is very different from deploying other solutions such as an e-mail system. It goes without saying that e-mail communications are extremely important for companies in today's environment. Yet, a company could function for a foreseeable period without e-mail —people may actually have to resort to what now seems to be an archaic form of communication and pick up a phone to talk to other parties. As humorous as it may seem, it wouldn't be far from reality, and some employees would argue that their efficiencies may actually increase during that e-mail downtime as they are actually able to focus on their core job requirements.
In contrast to infrastructure solutions, ERP systems specifically, and CRM systems to an extent, form the backbone of the company. These systems support core functions such as quote-to-order entry, order fulfillment, receipts and payments, HR and payroll, inventory management, distribution/production planning, demand forecasting, and sales pipeline management, among other things. A company would be crippled if these systems were down for a long period of time. This is why, depending on the usage scenario, ERP/CRM systems are typically perceived as mission-critical systems, while infrastructure systems are most often seen as business-critical systems.
This is also the reason that customers take a long time to do the necessary due diligence before selecting the right solution to meet their needs. Given this criticality, it is easy to see how having a methodology that goes beyond solution delivery to help customers with their selection process can be perceived as beneficial by the customer. It is also why customers should go through the due diligence in selecting their solution provider or implementer as they do on the business application itself. It is critical that the solution provider follows a robust process as evidenced by the methodology that they employ, both in helping the customer select the right solution to meet their needs and in delivering the envisioned solution.
During the customer's selection/due diligence process, it is important that they are guided through their requirements gathering process, including understanding their current ("as-is") and future ("to-be") processes. Then the customer should be able to ascertain how each of the requirements fits within the proposed solution. Additionally, the customer should be able to determine all infrastructure components (hardware and any third-party software), as well as the release schedule (overall plan with resource needs from both the consulting and customer organization). The key output of the due diligence phase should be a solution blueprint that articulates the proposed solution for the customer, as well as a statement of work that explains how the solution blueprint will be executed.
From a solution delivery perspective, ERP/CRM engagements are also considerably different compared to an infrastructure project. The following illustration depicts some of the products in the Microsoft portfolio. As you go from left to right in this spectrum, the projected solution delivery effort as well as complexity increases exponentially.
The key point in this graphical representation is that ERP/CRM solutions, on an average, require a level of customization that is far more than the typical infrastructure solutions. This is expected as these solutions are applied to multiple workflows within organizations in many different industries and verticals. As the customization need increases, so does the effort and complexity. This is not to say that all infrastructure projects will be straight off-the-shelf solutions, or that all ERP/CRM projects will be highly customized solutions. Any solution will have a range of complexity, from a quick, rapid deployment, to a longer, complex solution development and deployment. The point of emphasis is that this greater complexity implies a greater need for having an implementation methodology that ensures appropriate project and quality management during the solution delivery process. This is also what Sure Step delivers, which we will introduce in the next section.
What is Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step?
In the previous section, we discussed the criticality of having a solid approach for selecting and deploying ERP/CRM solutions. This is exactly where Sure Step fits in—as a method and process for customers and service providers alike.
Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step is a full customer lifecycle methodology for all Microsoft Dynamics® solutions. It provides service providers with comprehensive sales through delivery guidance, project management discipline alignment, and field-driven best practices, while facilitating the due diligence process and a high-quality solution delivery for the customer.
(Move the mouse over the image to enlarge.)
The first release of Sure Step was launched in 2007, and since then Sure Step has evolved to meet the demands of the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem. Existing workflows have been modified and streamlined and new ones introduced. The methodology has also been expanded into a full lifecycle methodology that includes the customer's due diligence lifecycle as a precursor to the solution delivery process. Also, more content is being made available to the users, with the current release providing over a thousand content pieces, from guidance pages to templates to general project management libraries. The following are key characteristics of Sure Step, including some of the highlights of the Sure Step 2010 release.
- Using six phases, Sure Step covers not only delivery, but also solution positioning and selling. The first phase, Diagnostic, provides guidance and content for service providers to help customers with their due diligence process in selecting the right solution to meet their needs. The remaining phases, Analysis, Design, Development, Deployment, and Operation, provide workflows and content for solution delivery.
- Sure Step provides coverage for the entire Microsoft Dynamics solutions suite—Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Microsoft Dynamics SL. With the latest release, Sure Step also extends the general coverage of this content into specific industry and cross-industry areas.
- Sure Step provides a very flexible approach for delivering the solution, with both waterfall and iterative approaches. The Standard, Rapid, and Enterprise project types scale up or down to match the customer engagement, and the Upgrade project type caters specifically to upgrading an existing solution. Also provided is the Agile project type for those engagements that lend themselves to an iterative solution delivery approach.
- The project types in Sure Step feature a structure that breaks down each engagement into cross phases or swim lanes. The Sure Step cross phases are Program Management, Training, Business Process Analysis, Requirements and Configuration, Custom Coding, Quality and Testing, Infrastructure, Integration and Interfaces, and Data Migration. These cross phases provide users with a very functional pivot to portray the activities or steps for delivering the solution.
- Sure Step includes additional guidance on optimizing an engagement with directed offerings, both during the implementation and post-go-live.
- Key process guidance, including project management and organizational change management disciplines, are provided in Sure Step.
- Sure Step covers the typical roles involved in an engagement, both from the consulting and the customer organizations.
- The Sure Step application also gives teams the ability to create projects with the starting templates in appropriate folders, either on their local machine or on a SharePoint server for bigger collaboration efforts.
Microsoft Dynamics overview
As discussed in the previous section, Sure Step covers the entire Microsoft Dynamics portfolio of solutions. In this section, we will provide an overview of those solutions, which is mainly intended to be a quick reference, or as a starting point for those readers who may not be familiar with all the solutions in the portfolio.
Microsoft Dynamics is Microsoft's line of business management solutions that provide Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management capabilities. The portfolio includes four ERP solutions, which were brought about by acquisition, and one CRM solution, the development of which was initiated in Microsoft.
Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly known as Great Plains), and Microsoft Dynamics SL (formerly known as Solomon), were both acquired in 2001 from Great Plains Software, based in Fargo, North Dakota, USA. Great Plains was a mid-market business accounting software package popular in North America, while Solomon provided an ERP system with project management and project accounting functionality. Microsoft Dynamics AX (formerly known as Axapta), and Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly known as Navision), were both acquired in 2002 from Navision A/S, a company based in Denmark. Axapta and Navision were popular ERP solutions, especially for manufacturing and distribution midmarket companies in Europe. The ERP systems became the starting point for a new division in Microsoft called Microsoft Business Solutions, which also included Microsoft CRM. Microsoft CRM was primarily homegrown as noted earlier, and had its first launch (version 1.0) in 2003.
In 2005, Microsoft rebranded the products and created a suite of business solutions called Microsoft Dynamics. It includes the four ERP solutions—Microsoft Dynamics AX, Microsoft Dynamics GP, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Microsoft Dynamics SL—and one CRM solution—Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Microsoft SQL Server is the database technology used for the entire suite. The following diagram depicts the timeline:
The Microsoft Dynamics solutions have been designed to be familiar to users, work easily with the existing systems that customers have already deployed, empower people and teams to be productive, and help organizations drive business success. The ERP suite provides functionality to help business in the areas of financial planning and accounting, supply chain, project accounting, field service, and human resources processes. On the other hand, the CRM solution allows companies to streamline the way their employees communicate and collaborate with their customers with features such as customer relationship, sales force automation, service management, marketing capabilities, and workflow automation and analytics.
In addition to the comprehensive financial and process management tools at the core of the Microsoft Dynamics solutions, Independent Software Vendor (ISV) partners offer a number of integrated, specialized solutions that provide versatile business software that address specialized industry needs.
The Microsoft Dynamics solution features (as of this writing) are as follows:
- Microsoft Dynamics AX is designed to help organizations operate across locations and countries by standardizing processes, providing visibility across the business, and helping to simplify compliance. It supports the needs of global organizations, featuring multi-language and localized functionality by country/region. Microsoft Dynamics AX supports the primary and secondary processes of organizations in multiple industries, including manufacturing, distribution, retail, and services.
- Microsoft Dynamics GP is a richly featured financial accounting and business management solution that provides organizations with fast and relevant access to information using familiar Microsoft tools. It features rapid, flexible deployment options, and a familiar user experience designed to maximize personal productivity.
- Microsoft Dynamics NAV is a solution for mid-sized organizations that is fast to implement, easy to configure, and simple to use. It features an innovative client that provides a user experience tailored to specific roles in the organization.
- Microsoft Dynamics SL is designed for project-driven organizations by connecting project management and accounting functions across company divisions and locations. It supports specialized customer, accounting, and regulatory requirements for professional services, government contractors, distribution, and construction management.
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a customer relationship management solution with core functionality, including sales, customer service, and marketing. It provides flexible deployment options, which feature a common code base for both online and on-premise solution deployments. In addition, Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides an xRM business application framework (also referred to as Extended CRM), featuring rapid application development, a high degree of flexibility, and consolidated systems management.
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What is a project?
It looks like a simple question, but have we ever thought about what is essential to our business? Before we can start strategizing on how to manage and sell projects, we need to understand what a project is and, even more important, what it is not.
Most people respond to the question by talking about activities, planning, and meetings, due dates, documents, people, and objectives. This is how many of us think of a project, but can we call all engagements where people try to reach objectives by means of planned activities projects? Probably not. For example, in the production plants of automotive companies, people realize objectives and collaborate on planned activities, but we wouldn't classify those as projects.
Before we can speak about a project, we need to be certain about the unique and temporary character of our endeavor. Projects are temporary by definition, as they have well-defined start and end dates. Most of us are well informed about the starting date of our project; the end date can be more of a worry and is often confused with the go-live date of the brand-new software solution. Projects are also unique by nature—not only because they produce unique deliverables but also because the context for the execution is unique. Unique can mean that it has never been done before, or maybe it has been done in a very similar fashion before but never exactly in this way. Therefore, no two projects, by definition, can be the same.
In most of the definitions of a project that we can find in literature, these key elements are well absorbed.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project's objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.
By implementing Microsoft Dynamics solutions, we implement ERP or CRM software functionality, and from a product's point of view, many of these implementations are lookalikes. Then what makes these implementations unique?
Although we are implementing typical ERP or CRM functionalities, we need to implement unique business requirements for each customer. Every customer has unique demands for specific deliverables, such as internal reports and customized functionality, matching their unique organization of the business processes. But even more important to note is the fact that people make these implementations unique. Implementing the solution in a customer context is always unique because we are always working with different people. They always have a different background, knowledge level, expectations, goals, and their own unique way of working. We also work with changing consulting implementation teams, based on the availability of our consultants, resulting in a unique context. So yes, the Microsoft Dynamics implementations are projects because they are unique and they are meant to be temporary. We always need to deliver our projects in a limited timeframe and our engagements are never the same. However, this involves a lot of uncertainty and so our Microsoft Dynamics engagements are characterized by uncertainty going hand in hand with risk (in ISO 31000:2009 risk is defined as the effect of uncertainty on objectives).
Now that we have understood what a project is, we also need to understand what it is not. A project is not ongoing and repetitive; projects are not operations. Businesses driven by ongoing repetitive processes carry less risk because the context is much more controlled. In our projects, we do not have such controlled environments. We simply don't know who our key as well as end users will be and we also don't know how familiar they are with business processes and business solutions. We do not know how well they communicate and how they perform in teams. There is so much that we don't know when planning a new engagement.
What matters is to be aware of these risks and to be aware that the business we are in is completely different as compared to an operations-driven business. Only then we can really start strategizing on how to manage and sell projects. Therefore, we should review our future proposals and plans, bearing in mind that we are planning for a project, which ultimately means planning for risks. How well are these plans and strategies covering the uncertainties?
Most definitions of a project in literature include these elements of the unique and temporary character but do not outreach them. There are also few other questions that need to be answered:
Isn't it equally important to gain an understanding of the contractual and commercial matters:
- Are we delivering projects?
- How are we involved in projects?
- Do we have project responsibility?
- Do we carry the project risks and to which extent?
The answers to these questions prescribe and justify how we will sell and manage our projects. Just outsourcing resources to carry out project tasks does not call for the same management as carrying all project risks in a fixed-price project.
Implementing the solution
Ask any software vendor for their definition of a business solution and you will receive answers focusing on functionality designed to help automate business processes, empowering every aspect of the business, and ultimately accelerating an organization's success. Words such as insight, efficiency, flexibility, cost reduction, responsiveness, and many more are used to voice proven return on investment.
But what answers would you get when you pose the same questions to the customers? The first thing that you will notice is that the answers will not be so consistent. Most decision makers do have their own reasons why they want to have a software solution in their organization. What they want to achieve is related to the unique history of that company, their incomparable way of doing things, and the industry sector to which they belong. Their objectives also have a direct link with the company's business plan and strategic objectives. This means a customer's definition of a business solution is never universal but always specific.
Although business solutions are designed to achieve the same results within organizations, customers usually seek for very specific solutions for resolving their unique problems and supporting the business challenges as envisioned by them. No matter how rich the functionality of the solution is, unique customer's expectations cannot just be delivered off the shelf. This gap needs to be bridged by the implementation process.
One might think that implementing business solutions in small and mid-sized companies is less complex compared to the large-scaled implementations in corporations. Be careful not to jump to conclusions here. In general, business processes are less standardized in these types of businesses. Instead, you will find a rich and interesting variety of procedures representing the unique way of doing things. This makes the need for a unique business solution even greater and demands a streamlined implementation process.
By now, you will have understood that the implementation process is a key part of the overall solution. But before you march into your customer's premises to start implementing, it could be wise to give some thought to the meaning of all this for your customer. Imagine yourself in your customer's situation and don't take things for granted. How will your implementation strategy affect this organization? Can they conceive what an implementation process is, and even more important, what added value it means for them? Are they aware of the risks, and do they know that it needs both parties to work together to implement a project successfully? Are they aware what their role would be?
Business solution implementations are rife with challenges. Even consultants, who have been delivering these solutions for a number of years, run into issues on projects that they may not have previously encountered. No matter the years of training and shadowing experienced colleagues, unique challenges are bound to come up. Having this in mind, it is not surprising that our customers sometimes cannot estimate the level of effort that they need to put into this implementation and that they are not aware of the importance of their involvement. It is then important for the consulting teams to make sure the customer understands their expectations in the overall solution delivery process.
Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) is a research organization that has several publications on ERP/CRM solutions. In their research whitepaper titled 5 Tips to Assure a Successful ERP Implementation, they bring up some key points for the customer's implementation team.
Management buy-in is also considered one of the keys to successful implementations. TEC believes that it is essential that corporate management is actively involved in the system selection decision by naming an executive sponsor who participates and provides the necessary support for the project. A senior management sponsor to champion the expected organizational change is highlighted as "a critical, must-have step" for successful implementations.
Ensuring the participation of a cross-functional team is another key to success noted by TEC. A team comprised of all functional divisions and management levels within the organization facilitates active ownership of the project by the entire user community. This also ensures that the implementation team will be able to reflect the requirements of the users, thereby maximizing the value delivered by the solution.
These are good points for the customer team to keep in mind, so that they understand their responsibilities for implementing the solution. As the next section will illustrate, teams that ignore these lessons do so at their own peril.
ERP and CRM implementations—facts and figures
Over the years, most of the reports on CRM and ERP implementations endorsed the existence of gaps between customer expectations and actual results. The studies also pointed out that time and cost performance still remain an undeniable point for improvement.
You need to be careful while interpreting these statistics. Most studies do not measure exactly the same things, they have different types of respondents, and the methodological approach may vary as well.
In the early nineties, Standish's Chaos Report shocked the industry, when it reported a 16 percent success factor on software development projects. The same report called 53 percent of the projects to be challenged on implementation, and 31 percent to have failed. Although considered to be controversial, this report managed to attract worldwide attention for solution delivery issues.
About sixteen years later, we still have Chaos Reports, now accompanied by many others. The 2009 statistics of the Chaos Report showed 32 percent success, 24 percent failure, and 44 percent projects to be challenged. Investigations of other research companies show slightly better statistics; however, they all conclude that there is still opportunity for improvement as most of our ERP and CRM projects take longer and cost more than expected.
While these facts and figures may shed a poor light, these statistics are not intended to discourage a relatively young industry sector or to put off executives from undertaking ERP and CRM projects. Instead, these should be viewed as lessons learned from failed and challenged projects, which the stakeholders involved in the solution implementations can use as input for continuous improvement efforts.
It also seems easy to transfer the responsibility for all failed implementations to the service provider. But as we have noted in the previous sections, a solution is made up of many components, including the product (software vendor), the service provider, and the user of the solution (the customer). While it might be easy to blame the implementer for all failures, it is not entirely justifiable. For instance, recent reports also offer insight into how customers impede their own projects.
Microsoft's own research into customer escalations of Microsoft Dynamics engagements has shown that almost half of the escalations were due to implementation issues. Further research indicated factors such as lack of formal processes within the teams, communication issues, and scope management, corroborating the need for a good methodology for solution delivery.
Many factors decide whether or not a customer perceives a project as successful. Time and cost are two of the most important criteria, but there is another parameter that is important but ignored sometimes—business value. Recent studies allege that ERP/CRM implementations under-deliver business value, and the organizational changes of the solution are reported as ineffectively managed. This again underscores the need for a good delivery process, one that begins with the organization clearly determining success factors for a project before undertaking it. For instance, Microsoft Services requires an understanding of the Conditions of Satisfaction (COS) to be noted within the Project Charter or similar project documentation, and signed off by the customer at the outset of the engagement. COS can be excellent measures of project success, but the key to measuring this is to clearly establish:
- Baseline metrics—the values that exist before the project is initiated
- Projected metrics—the goals for the engagement
When these metrics are measured after the engagement, the teams can clearly determine success or failure of the project.
Nucleus Research released a guidebook, titled Maximizing success delivering Microsoft Dynamics, in October 2009. According to the guidebook:
When deployed properly, Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM solutions can deliver significant returns to customers — however, that is often dependent on selecting a partner that can deliver the project on time and on budget with minimal changes from the initial project scope and planning.
Nucleus also noted that:
While a structured implementation methodology delivers the greatest success for Microsoft partners, partners also needed to be flexible enough to meet the specific needs of customers and to evolve over time as business dynamics changed… Structured methodologies like Sure Step can help partners balance their approach to diagnosing, implementing, and optimizing solutions for customers. The skills and guidance of implementation partners are a key factor in Microsoft Dynamics's customer success, and those that are most successful have moved beyond ad-hoc diagnostic, communication, and project management to follow a more structured implementation approach such as Sure Step. They reap the benefits through improved communication, greater customer satisfaction, and ultimately through greater profitability and growth.
This article serves as an introduction to Microsoft Sure Step. We began with a discussion of the needs and priorities of the business solutions market. We then explained how, depending on the usage scenario, ERP solutions, and to an extent CRM solutions, can be mission critical to the customer organizations. This criticality underscores the need for a dependable approach for selecting the right solution to meet the customer's needs, a method that builds on the knowledge gained in the envisioning stage to deliver a solution that meets the requirements. We also introduced Sure Step as a methodology designed to fulfill these needs.
The article also includes a brief overview of the Microsoft Dynamics solution portfolio. We also introduced the notion of a project within the business solution arena, and discussed implementing these solutions and lessons learned from past implementations.
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About the Author :
Chandru Shankar is a Microsoft Services Director, responsible for driving solutions and offerings for the Microsoft Dynamics Program Office. He is also the Architect of Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step, the implementation methodology for deploying the Microsoft family of ERP and CRM solutions, and is responsible for the functional design and content flow in the methodology.
Chandru has consulted for companies in a variety of industries, including Aerospace, Automotive, CPG/Retail, High-Tech and Manufacturing. He has undertaken multiple implementations of ERP & Supply Chain solutions, in numerous capacities including Program/Project Manager, Solutions Architect & Lead Consultant. His consulting skills are complemented by several years of Manufacturing Industry experience.
Chandru has also functioned as Adjunct Faculty for a major University, where he has covered topics including Supply Chain/e-Business Design, Strategy & Architecture for MBA students & Company Executives. He has spoken in multiple internal and external conferences over the years, as well as conducted training programs around the world.
Vincent Bellefroid is a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), founder and co-owner of Plataan. Plataan is a Gold Certified Partner of Microsoft, an independent training and consultancy bureau specialized in Microsoft Dynamics and Project Management. Vincent is an experienced implementation consultant, who has worked with a number of customer and partner organizations, including global SI's. Building upon his distinguished ERP implementation career, Vincent is now responsible for Project Management and Quality Control at Plataan.
Vincent was one of the early adopters of Sure Step in Europe and has been evangelizing the true value of Sure Step ever since. He has conducted multiple Sure Step training sessions, while helping the Microsoft Sure Step team develop the training materials and courseware. Vincent also guides Microsoft Dynamics partners through the certification and adoption process of Sure Step.