3 Steps to Take When Your ERP Implementation Goes Wrong

Clear communication around deliverables and expectations can salvage even the most frustrating ERP implementations for distributors.

December 17, 2019

Carl Lewis

In 20 years, I have witnessed more than 1,000 ERP implementations, and historically, they have had mixed results. For the past few years, I’ve conducted formal and informal surveys of companies that have recently gone live on their new ERP systems. Implementations that were challenged typically reported that their budgets are twice what they expected, and the process took twice as long. The most concerning thing I hear is that they received only 75% of the functionality they expected.  

It’s safe to predict that following go-live of your new technology solution, you will feel you received less than expected.

For that reason, it’s reasonable that an approach should exist that seeks to answer the question, “What should be done when the project failed to deliver the success we anticipated?”

Rather than deciding you need to work around these frustrations, I encourage you to view the process of resolving them as the final stage in your ERP implementation. Ironing out flaws in the implementation is an important step. 

You may find that your distribution company comes out even stronger on the other side.

The following steps are designed to help further enhance the project deliverables.

1. Review Project Documentation
Documents produced during the sales process, such as quotations, invoices and scopes of work should be carefully evaluated for promises and expectations. Additional documents such as blueprints, special scopes of work and change orders created during the implementation should also be collected.

From these documents, assemble a simple list of expected deliverables. The internal project team should mark each line item on the list as delivered or not delivered including any pertinent notes. 

This list is important because one must be able to discuss the results with a business-like demeanour and in a factual manner, not void of emotion, but certainly with appropriate degrees of passion and commitment.

Now, do something truly difficult. Consider the possibility that what you want has flaws.

One distributor discovered that a large number of change-orders had been verbally initiated by departments, most of which were automations, macros and time-savers intended to replicate the functionality of their legacy ERP which had been customized heavily over many years. Management’s desire was to use the new system in a more out-of-the-box manner. Eliminating many of these items greatly decreased their open items list.

This bit of introspection should be thought of as a standard step in the implementation process. Working closely with an experienced consultant, who now is well aware of your business is a great benefit and will help to place focus on what’s truly important. There is no failure when you discover along the way that old processes are no longer needed. In fact, continuing the art of process review is essential in order to obtain your goals.

2. Meet with Representatives of the Implementation Consulting Team and Executive Sponsors

Once you’ve fine-tuned your open items list you will want to meet with your project partners. 

Here’s an agenda for that meeting that will help you work together productively:

  1. Gain agreement on your assessment of the deliverables.
  2. Review the status of each line item on the open items list.
  3. Negotiate! 
  4. Set a date for the next project review meeting for this committee.
  5. Recommit to your consulting agency and consultants — or not.


While I’m highly confident that the vast majority of consulting agencies and consultants would appreciate and cooperate fully with the approach above, it’s possible that the relationship is damaged to a degree beyond recovery. 

In these rarest of occasions, you will need to locate and select a new agency in order to move forward. 

Decide quickly to recommit to your current consulting agency or select another. This decision is imperative in order to continue making progress in any reasonable time-frame. It can be a difficult decision because, on the one hand, you have a significant investment of time, knowledge and money with your current consulting partner — but, you may have simply worn each other out. 

 Keep in mind, in almost every scenario it is beneficial to continue the current relationship. Bringing a new consultant or a team up to speed will require even more resources with the hope they have some sort of magic bullet.

This perspective holds true even if you have been live on your new ERP for several months. Every successful relationship whether personal or business experiences ups and downs. The best partnerships fight for success together and refuse to give up on the other side. The rise and fall together. The grass is not always greener. 

3. Communicate the New Plan
For the members of the executive leadership team, the plan this process has focused on professionalism and was conducted in an atmosphere purposefully designed to not let emotions overly impact the outcomes or the ongoing relationship with the other members of the team. Still, this is your business, your future, your livelihood and the outcomes are highly impacting on a personal as well as corporate level. Everyone deserves to know what’s going to be done to make certain a satisfactory outcome will be the result. 

In some appropriate means, be that an all-hands meeting or internal social media like Yammer, or an email from the president perhaps, bring everyone on board and recruit them into the process. The best medicine for everyone is to know that leadership has their back and in working on their behalf to fulfil the promise of technology.

Too often we fail to engage when disappointment occurs and avoid the conflict required to reverse the failure. For reasons not understood, we feel that conflict is worse than failure. It should be remembered that conflict resolution does not automatically imply a confrontational style of resolution. The style mentioned above could be described as collaborative. 

When customers and partners work together, they achieve success together and shatter the 75% ceiling.