How to deploy ERP in an agile manner

For a software project to be truly agile, collaboration across all involved departments needs to be practiced at every phase, including testing and evaluation. This can be vital when it comes to ensuring constant innovation with minimal missteps. One area that can benefit from deployment in an agile manner is enterprise resource planning (ERP).

Benefits of agile for ERP

Organisations can’t afford to stay still for long in this increasingly competitive climate, and an agile approach to ERP can ensure that projects meet the long-term goals of the business.

“In the ‘connected world’, modern businesses, whether in industry, retail, healthcare and so on, will outperform their competitors when all aspects of their operation are joined up,” said Colin Crow, managing director at Sigma Dynamics. “ERP represents a significant tool to help join the dots, and so the question of how best to implement arises.

“Whether an Agile or Waterfall approach is best for your business, or even a hybrid combination of the two, should be considered along with your ERP partner.

“An Agile implementation model drives a more iterative and incremental approach to deploying ERP, allowing customer and partner teams to constantly adapt, deliver benefits in increments and demonstrate progress to the team and the business as a whole. This constant delivery of progress is infectious and motivating.”

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Crow went on to identify further benefits that Agile brings:

  • “It’s managed by a team comprising all workstream representatives from the customer and partner;
  • “There’s a clear understanding of the goal, along with built-in in steps to get to that goal;
  • “Constant adaption and learning, as well as delivery of incremental value;
  • “At the end of every iteration, the team re-evaluates and improves the approach;
  • “The habit of frequent delivery is a self fulfilling prophecy.”

A collaborative process

The collaborative nature of Agile, bringing a number of departments together to make thoroughly thought-out decisions during initiatives, can complement ERP through keeping targets clear to business and IT staff.

Charles Courquin, director at Symatrix, explained: “The modern day Cloud ERP solutions lend themselves well to an agile delivery approach through every phase of the project lifecycle; the process is well accepted in the market today and a number of ITTs have been issued in recent months asking for ‘a MVP ERP solution’. The modern day SaaS ERP solution is similar to the Model T-Ford of yesteryear; it comes in any colour as long as it’s black. The solutions, due to the fact that they have regular quarterly or 6 monthly updates, are designed to be ‘configured’ and not ‘customised’ as the original on-premise pre-cloud solutions tended to be.

“In a an Agile ERP Project, configuration workshops are run as a series of sprints with multifunctional teams with well-defined roles, outcomes and clarity of scope. The focus on these is to have a working solution at the end of the sprint cycles that can go into a series of test cycles, not a weighty detailed design document that is poured over for months by business and IT user. But this is also the challenge of the approach; the client and SI need to be aligned on the fact that this is a different approach to the delivery of ERP, it is quicker and generally more cost effective as empowered project teams can make real time decisions and project timescales are reduced. Not understanding this will cause delays, rising costs and a general breakdown between parties.

“If we consider the initial setup and configuration of an modern Cloud ERP service, a multifunctional team comprising of business users, IT and business change will work together in a series of short sprints to agree the setup and configuration of the Chart of Accounts, sub-ledgers and key process steps. These sprints use the pre-built SaaS solution seeded with dummy data and key process steps are agreed and finalised in the sprints.”

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Work with suppliers

For agile ERP in the current climate to be truly effective, companies must also ensure they are clear as to what their chosen supplier can offer, and work closely with them throughout the deployment process.

“Carefully consider your product and supplier in terms of their methodology for implementing across the organisation,” said Hugh Scantlebury, director at Aqilla. “Don’t try and do everything – it may not be realistic and you could end up paying unnecessary costs.

“Our recommendation is to focus on pursuing the 80% of your core functionality needs, where you
can knit together a range of solutions to meet these, ideally using APIs to link them together. In this way you’re far better positioned to effectively measure time and effort to deploy ERP against the business benefits.”

Amanda Grant, chief product officer at Advanced, added: “Think about your business objectives and where you are going to achieve the most value, quickly. Nothing makes a deployment go faster than some early wins, and wins mean value.

“Work in a full, and open, partnership with your provider. Keep those business objectives in sight as you prioritise and allocate resources along the way. By keeping a close eye on timelines and deliverables, you’ll be able to adapt quickly to ensure you are driving towards that value goal, and spot where blockers are forming.

“The very nature of an ERP means that internally you will have competing demands depending on the stakeholder’s department, role and seniority. Listen to and understand all of your stakeholders and take guidance from your technology partner who will have undoubtably been down this round many times before.”

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Pick your battles

Finally, department teams should establish end goals that are realistic in terms of resources and time scales at their disposal, as explained by Nick McGrane, managing director of K3 Syspro.

“The key to deploying ERP is picking your battles,” said McGrane. “It’s far too easy to aim for the moon when you’re planning a project and end up not getting off the launchpad.

“The most successful implementations are those grounded in reality. Specifically, businesses need to focus on identifying the key pain points to address first, which will then help drive change quickly while also ensuring projects build towards a long term goal.

“Taking small steps also has the added benefit that it’s easy to change direction quickly when the need arises – a requirement all too familiar for most businesses in 2020. Breaking the project down into manageable deliverables is also a key success factor.

“Being able to demonstrate progress and celebrate early successes helps maintain momentum and an appetite for the next challenge. This also enables a small or time constrained team to remain focused on delivering milestones.”

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.