These are words that have stuck with me throughout my career. The phrase itself, I now learn, is attributed to Benjamin Franklin
(1706-1790), as saying: “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail”. And I understand that Winston Churchill (1874-1965) also said:
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail”.
Planning for a change of business systems in an enterprise construction company
In the construction industry, plans come in all shapes and sizes. From long-term strategic plans and 5-Year Business Plans; via annual budgets, targets, and projections; to individual project plans, drawings, resource plans, RAMS and CVR forecasts. Virtually everything is measured, assessed, recorded, and monitored to help ensure safe operational site delivery as well as financial and commercial objectives.
So, if you are embarking on a major change to the core systems that lie at the very heart of your construction organisation, consider the citation of the two renowned leaders above, and develop a detailed, tactical plan which will help steer this business-critical project to success, on-time, and on-budget.
“Big Bang” or phased approach
Trying to change everything at once to a new, utopian world might be highly desirable, but can be a high-risk strategy for any organisation. Jumping in at the deep end with a so-called “Big Bang” approach to a major ERP systems change could result in a painful “belly-flop” rather than a serene, splash-free entrance. Carefully balance up the needs of the business with the risk of “biting off more than you can chew”.
Implementing in phases, whilst potentially taking longer, could be much less stressful and present fewer challenges along the way. Think about what is best suited to your business. For example, if you operate as a group of distinct legal entities, you could implement the new systems one company at a time; but if you have just one company with multiple divisions, implementing shared services (accounts, payroll, centralised buying, etc.) first and then moving over the commercial divisions one at a time could be the optimum approach.
When it comes to changing construction ERP systems, you’ll need to dedicate sufficient suitably skilled resource within your organisation to keep the project on track. And what about their day jobs: do you need to resource-up and find / train people who will take on these responsibilities whilst the existing employees work on the project? Or do you bring in “fresh-blood”, either on a contract or permanent basis, with relevant skills and experience, to focus solely on the systems change?
Bear in mind, too, that an ERP change isn’t just a finance project: it affects the whole business, so be ready to find people not only from within the Accounts Department, but also from the IT, Commercial, Payroll and HR teams. Those involved in marketing and communications, data analysis and reporting, business processes and corporate governance are also likely to be involved.
Put in place a Project Team of core people who are accountable for the successful delivery of the project. This is usually headed by a Project Sponsor from the Board and an internal Project Lead, together with leads from each business area. The software provider usually also recommends they have some seats round the Project Team table for their own Professional Services Manager, Lead Consultant and Board Member (for escalation).
Set honest timeframes
Given the available resources, what is a reasonable timeframe for delivery of the systems change? When is the best time to start? What is a realistic “go-live” date for the new systems? Do these timeframes correlate with the business’s needs?
One way of determining the project timeframes might be to identify when you want to “go-live”, work backwards from that, and then assess whether that’s achievable. Considerations here might include the criticality of the change (e.g. current systems are failing, impending legislative changes) and how much historical data you want to migrate over from your old systems. “Going-live” at a financial year-end might not seem like the best idea at first, but it will eliminate the need to reanalyse and migrate a year-to-date profit and loss account. Plus, new-year transactions can be processed in the new systems, whilst the previous year-end could be finalised in the old systems, which is one less stress for management accountants and auditors.
Finally, if you’re introducing new payroll systems into your construction business, consider whether you could “go-live” with that module at the start of the next tax year, even if that’s different to the switchover date for the rest of the systems. Doing so could reduce the extent of required payroll parallel-running and eliminate the need for potentially complex in-year migration of cumulative taxable pay and NIC data.
Hearts and minds communications
Clear, open, and regular communication is crucial in any organisation. Informing the wider business about the plans for, and progress of, your systems change project will help people understand what’s involved, why things need to change, and what it means for them. For example, a new layout to, or method of receiving / accessing payslips might not seem like the highest priority to the Project Team at the outset, but is one thing which every employee will be interested in.
Consistent, communication of core messages from the central Project Team helps ensure that only facts are heard (and not “trickled-down” opinions or even false rumours). Good comms help to allay the concerns of colleagues who have used existing systems for many years and helps build employee engagement.
Work alongside your marketing / communications team to develop an internal communication strategy focused on the hearts and minds of everyone affected by the systems change. You may find it helpful to create a positive, instantly recognisable brand or buzzword for the systems change project that can be used in all comms, and even on things like coasters and mouse mats! Consider regular project updates in monthly all-staff CEO e-mails, in the organisation’s employee newsletters, on the company’s intranet portal, and on office / site / welfare cabin notice boards. Determine the mechanism for receiving feedback so everyone’s voice is seen to be heard.
By Steven King, Head of Change Management at Eque2
This is the third of a series of blogs about the systems change journey by Steven King, Eque2’s Head of Change Management. Steven is a Big Four-qualified Chartered Accountant with over 20 years’ experience in senior finance roles in construction businesses and groups. He has led major business systems projects within the industry several times, including at 4 of Eque2’s existing customers. Steven has the benefit of real-world implementation experience, super-user hands-on systems knowledge, and a record of success in delivering big change projects involving our solutions on-time and on-budget.
Next time: Monitoring the journey
Eque2 provides modern solutions allowing all types and sizes of construction, contracting, housebuilding and maintenance businesses to manage the full lifecycle of a project from anywhere, on any device. For more information, visit www.eque2.co.uk or call us on 01628 702 702.