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Applying the Lessons of Landscape Gardening to ERP Planning

Applying the Lessons of Landscape Gardening to ERP Planning

A friend who’s a landscape gardener once told me the secret of planning a garden in order to make sure that it’s going to be functional as well as beautiful. He said: “Never lay your paving straight away. Put the turf down first and see where people walk. Sometimes it’s the shortest distance between two points, or even just through the sunniest spot; but that’s not always the case. You’d be surprised how often we get called back to move a path or a patio that nobody ever uses.”

Now what the heck, I’m sure you’re wondering, has that got to do with scoping out changes and optimisations to your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems?

Well, quite a lot as it happens, simply because you really have to understand how people interact with your organisational landscape before you can decide on how best to optimise it.

After all, it’s essential to recognise that technology is simply an enabler, not the whole deal. So while many solutions providers will start off by talking about what sort of servers and CPUs you’re going to need, these should actually be secondary considerations.

That’s because the technology is simply a way of getting you where you need to go: and only by understanding how people will use your ERP system can you really plan the pathways they are going to use to get there.

Otherwise, people are going to start creating their own shortcuts; and we all know what effect a lot of people cutting across the grass will have on your immaculately mown lawn.

How Do You Scope Out Your Organisational Landscape?

Effective landscape reviews start out by considering the culture, processes and nature of the people within your organisation.

So we always start by asking what it is you’re really trying to achieve. What tasks do your people need to perform most often, not to mention more effectively? What are their pain points, and what functions are causing your organisation to be less effective and efficient than it should be?

This isn’t always an easy task, as while the solidity of your IT function may be easy to assess, it all comes down to how your people use it. If they can’t – or won’t – use it the way it is intended to be used, then it’s time to try and understand your people better, as well as your processes.

Only once you have gained this understanding of the landscape – and how people interact with it – can you really say with any certainty: “Yep, that’s the place we’re all trying to get to, let’s put the path over there and the patio over yonder.”

It Isn’t Just Plants And Hedges That Need Training

It’s fair to say that in many organisations, suggesting that an expensively implemented ERP system isn’t performing is bordering on sacrilege.

Time and again, we have spoken to organisations who have enormous faith in the efficacy of their ERP, and believe that any problems are simply being caused by people failing to use it effectively: particularly where they believe that the management team is performing to a high level.

However, the fact is that you can’t rely on your technology solution alone to enable learning; you actually need to train your managers to enable learning in others. It’s also a self-evident truth that training is seen as an expensive luxury in many organisations; whereas, in reality, it’s a great enabler and an essential way to drive genuine value from your ERP.

Understanding Why Landscape Reviews Rarely Happen

We consider ourselves fairly unusual in the world of ERP consultancies, largely because we’re always happy to talk about the wider landscape rather than simply technical specifics.

Why should this be? Largely because a full landscape review is a much more complex business than a simple IT Healthcheck, as it requires high calibre consultants to engage with multiple stakeholders.

Yet, at the end of the day, it’s the only way to understand where difficulties are arising with your ERP. As the old saying goes: “What gets measured, gets done.”

To put it another way, are your KPIs or HR processes positively encouraging people to take shortcuts? Without realising it, could your wider organisation be actively undermining the effective use of your ERP?

If so, then people are trampling over your carefully laid lawns not simply because the stepping stones are in the wrong place, but because your own processes have conspired to undermined the designated pathway like an infestation of moles.

In which case, the solution really has to be a comprehensive landscape review, in order to identify and remove all of the hidden reasons why your ERP is not the thing of beauty you intended it to be.

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