ERP User Adoption: A Tale of Woe

Posted by Amy Champigny on March 27, 2018

ERP User Adoption

(a.k.a How I did almost everything wrong and what I learned)

One of the scariest parts of implementing a new ERP solution is the risk that users won’t buy-in and use it! This very real problem happens in more firms than you might think. Driving user adoption in your firm can be overwhelming and exhausting. You may feel like you’re in a canoe…on a river…heading into rapids…and oops…you just lost your paddle. (I’ve done that, too and wouldn’t recommend it either). So why do so many firms enter into ERP implementations without a clear strategic plan for user adoption? We are talking about an enormous investment of time and money (and sometimes tears). Treating user adoption like an afterthought doesn’t make any sense at all. I can say that without judgement. It is my true story.

I worked in a vacuum (almost) to get the solution implemented, doing much of the work myself and taking the full weight of the project squarely on my own shoulders. At the time, I thought this was best for the organization. I could bear the weight and smooth the transition by keeping control of every facet of the ERP implementation. I know now that there was an arrogance to my thinking. How could I possibly know the best way to do everything? It may seem like common sense, but when you are the one assigned to move 20 years of financial information from a basic accounting tool to a comprehensive project focused ERP Solution – it’s hard not to want to take control. Looking back, I would do a lot of things differently, but I’m happy to share my pain if it helps others weather the transformation more gracefully than I did!

To be perfectly honest, it never occurred to me that my project teams wouldn’t see the change as a much needed step forward. Guess what? They really didn’t see it that way. From my perspective, they were closed-minded and obstinate about the transformation. At the time, I was frustrated beyond words. That’s where I failed first and foremost. It was easier to get frustrated with the users than to look in the mirror. What I neglected to realize at the time was that I had a serious marketing problem, not a problem with the people or the solution. Since that experience, I have also come to realize that there were a number of things I could have done to set us on a much easier (and faster) path toward user adoption.

User Adoption Tips and Tricks

#1 Start at the Beginning

The truth is, user adoption begins before you even start implementation. The user adoption strategy actually needs to begin the instant your firm decides it’s time to start the search for a new system. (If you haven’t read my series on ERP selection, check out Part 1 & Part 2) Most firms pull a features and functionality checklist off the internet and start their search. Those firms (myself included) missed out on a fantastic opportunity to build a bridge to the new solution with their users. This is the time to have conversations about what users think they want, but more importantly about how they work. Understanding how your users actually check tasks off their list can help lead you to the right solution and help them see that you are moving forward with their best interests at heart. If, like me, you blew right past the opportunity to build user adoption from the beginning, all is not lost.

Do this instead:

  • Wherever you are in the process, schedule interviews and observations to start the conversation. and take detailed notes (I can’t stress this enough) and later look back to find the emerging patterns shared by different users or different departments
  • Build a user adoption strategy that takes into account how your users work, how they think, and what you have observed
  • Create an internal transition team with key stakeholders that represent all types of users. They will be partially responsible for driving user adoption in their areas (Project Manager, CRM, Consultant, etc.)

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#2 You Picked the ERP Solution. Now Go Market the Hell Out Of It!!!!

First of all, slow down. It’s tempting to try to jam an implementation into the last six weeks of your fiscal year and start the New Year in your shiny new toy. Trust my experience and resist the temptation. There is a much-needed balance between implementation speed and user involvement in the process. Yes, we moved lightning fast (and I was basically wound so tight that I bit the collective heads off of anyone who walked into my office for about 6 months). The resulting problems were very real. My firm had NO IDEA what I was doing. They didn’t understand what it meant to move from QuickBooks to an ERP and they certainly didn’t understand the power and complexity of a system built for project based businesses.  Failing to convince them of the magnitude of what we were doing, was where I failed once again.

Try it this way instead:

  • If you have a marketing team in-house grab them for an hour and figure out an internal marketing plan to get the firm excited about the new system. Highlight the ways it will make their day-to-day lives better, easier, and even more fun.
  • Hold an info session (record it and offer it on demand) to show the firm why this change is past due, how it will make a huge difference, and share your digital transformation roadmap.
  • Do what the pros do and hold usability labs for key user roles. Let them play with the CRM, project management, etc. Your implementation partners can set up a sandbox with your data to do this. Calling it a usability lab makes it so much more engaging than testing. Make these fun. events with coffee, fancy donuts, whatever you need to do to get your people interested. And no, I’m not above bribing people to participate.

#3 Make the ERP Implementation Fun

ERP systems are serious solutions. They are, quite literally, the nervous system of your firm. However, if you think an ERP software implementation should be a somber business, I’m going to challenge you to throw that perception out with your old software. Yes, it has to work. You need to do bank reconciliations, and produce financial statements, bill clients, and pay vendors. That’s a given. I used to think about ERP solutions as weighty fixtures that deserved reverence. (Can you tell I spent 15 years bowing to the accounting gods?) I now realize that outside of accounting and finance, software is viewed differently. Many perceive it as a pain that requires workarounds and would prefer to use (inaccurate) Excel spreadsheets than learn a new system. That’s what you are battling against and  why it is so important to approach user adoption lightheartedly. Consultants are competitive (often type A) people who like to win, so gamify it!

  • Incentivize use of the system by awarding points for use. Get creative. You could award points for completeness of project information, billing accuracy and AR collection, and expense report completion
  • If you have a company intranet leverage it by posting User Leaderboards and add a Tech update section to advertise upgrades to the solution, upcoming rollouts, and anything else your users would care to know
  • Build a repeatable model. Remember, the initial push toward user adoption is not the end game. Your aim should be to build a culture of change so that you can continue to roll out new functionality and smoothly transition when upgrades are made by the solution provider

At the end of the day, you all have the same goal. You want your firm to operate at the highest possible level, deliver fantastic project work, and enjoy getting up every day to do it.

You may be interested in reading other blogs Amy wrote:

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