14.02.2009

On Resistance to Change Observed in ERP Implementation Projects

Starting an ERP implementation in your organization may very well be a venture of the highest risk level attempted in the history of your company, as ERP implementations also signify a period of change and transformation for the organization. The undertaking will affect corporate processes, established practices, and organizational structures; in short, the entire culture of the organization will somehow be touched upon. And tampering with company cultures always carry inherent risks. 

On the other hand, intense competition forces us to undergo change. In the rapidly changing world of business, change for the better and managing change are now the critical maxims to live by for achieving success, and indeed, for survival. In such a context, an ERP implementation project is really another name for change, one that should be embraced as an excellent opportunity for implementing cultural transformation and for turning your organization into an enterprise that is professionally managed. 

However, research shows resistance to change as a threat that you may experience when transforming this opportunity into success for your organization. Analyses of several failed ERP implementation projects show that, general resistance to any type of change and specific end-user resistance to the ERP implementation efforts, are some of the most significant roadblocks that are encountered in the road to success. In summary, successfully managing change and taking the measures to overcome end-user resistance, lead the list for critical success factors relating to ERP implementations projects. 

So then, what are some of the appropriate actions that we can undertake to overcome the end-user resistance that poses such a significant threat to our ERP implementation project?

  • First and foremost, if you feel that your organization does not need change, and furthermore, if you are happy with your organization's current status and are apprehensive about disrupting it, it is best that you shelve the ERP implementation for now, until you really feel the need for change.
  • Much as it would be a marketing mistake to launch a new product at a time when the consumer is not ready or exhibits no need for such a product, so would embarking on an ERP implementation project be a serious fault, especially when upper management for the organization and the core project team do not display an enthusiastic attitude towards the implementation, possibly jeopardizing project success.
  • In an ERP implementation project, you should consider the project team as the sales team, the end-user as the consumer, and the ERP implementation as the product. Once we accept this compelling analogy, we can employ marketing methods, which is an advanced discipline devised to overcome the buyer's (in this case, the end-user's) resistance. In short, for a successful ERP deployment, you need to market the implementation project in the best possible manner to its consumers, who happen to be your end-users.
  • To avoid comments of the type "This system does not meet my requirements; I would not have picked this software" half-way into the implementation, you should include your project team and end-users into the product selection process and should obtain their buy-in as well, as secure their active participation.
  • You should compose your project team of highly motivated individuals with good communication skills, who possess positive outlooks, and who are disciplined and dedicated.
  • Upper management and the project team should maintain their motivation throughout the implementation process, and even at times of crises, should set a positive example for the end-users by sustaining their motivation and their belief in the implementation. (Imagine a ferry in the mids of severe weather and the effects it will have on the passengers observing the captain and the crew running about the ship in panic!)
  • In summary, throughout your implementation project you will have a need for project champions and heroes who will be there during turbulent times, and a strong defensive team who knows what it is doing. The best possible composition for your team is an upper management and a project team, in that order, who are composed of project champions who do not easily lose their motivation in times of difficulty.
  • You should prevent, at all cost, all ill-intended criticisms, and especially sarcastic remarks, aimed at the implementation project. Most of the time, simple advice and guidance will do the job; when necessary, you should take disciplinary action. At the same time, you should keep in mind that exemplary conduct and a resolute attitude displayed by the upper management and your project team will be the most effective support you will have.
  • In ERP implementations, change may come in different flavors. Change will sometimes take place in the organization itself or in its business processes, and at other times, change may be necessary for the ERP system itself.
  • Especially during the early starting stages of your project, modifications to the ERP system and the software may need to be implemented where necessary, to overcome end-user resistance. Such adaptations and customizations, when successfully realized, will help establish end-user trust in both the project team and the software vendor. It will lessen the feelings of uneaseness and apprehension relating to change that are being experienced by the end-users, by enforcing their sense of control over the change that is being introduced.
  • On the other hand, finding a balance between making modifications to the ERP system versus altering the way your company does business, will have a significant effect on the success of your project. For such customizations stemming from user requests, carrying out sound requirements analyses as well as deciding on what is truly necessary and what is not, are responsibilities that rest with your upper management and your project team.
  • Resistance may not always explicitly manifest itself. At times, becoming aware of resistance may be difficult.
  • Sometimes a seeming display of acceptance will actually hide a passive resistance. For example, a group of your users may signal no problems with the system, while in practice they may opt to use alternative applications instead of utilizing the system itself, or generate external processes to achieve their objectives. Upper management and your project team should be as diligent on passive resistance as they are on open resistance, and should take precautions to recognize and resolve passive resistance.
  • Upper management (the sponsor for the implementation project), should tackle all individual issues of resistance that are relayed to them by the project manager, and should absolutely not postpone problem resolution, or display indifference towards issues of resistance.
  • The transition to live production use is a singularly risky and critical period with respect to the trust associated with the system and the software. Therefore, the quality of the support that is provided to the end-users, as well as responses to possible problems that may arise during this period, is of critical importance. To prevent issues of trust and resistance which may later become chronic occurrences, it is imperative that this period be managed with careful attention from you.
  • Indeed, it is not change itself that people are afraid of, but the fear that change will adversely affect them. Fundamentally, people are in favour of change that is positive. We are generally confronted with resistance in the form of a defensive reaction mechanism against the adverse aspects of change. Trust should be established by removing the negative perceptions that may be perpetuated.
  • Most of the time, the real risks are much smaller than the perceived risks. That is, it is not all that important whether change itself is positive or not. What is important is how that change is perceived by people. For example, if a user is under the impression that he or she may lose his or her job as a result of the implementation project, it will result in resistance because of the risks it harbors for that user, however positive the results of that change may actually be. As such, you will need to become aware of ill-conceived perceptions about your ERP implementation project, and take the necessary precautions to disseminate accurate information instead.
  • In direct contradiction to the above scenario, an overly trusting environment may also cause a roadblock for change. As human beings, we all have a need for security and a sense of control over our immediate environment, as well as for a feeling of certainty. When these needs are fully or exceedingly met, we can be unwelcoming towards change. Therefore, in certain situations, the final resort for "coercing" your team to accept change may really be to somewhat disrupt the atmosphere of trust and certainty, and to cause a tremor of sorts in the organization's foundation.

The literature on the topic of ERP systems is still evolving. Therefore, one cannot point out a results-oriented methodology for use in overcoming possible resistance during project implementations. However, I believe the bullet items I have compiled above, based on actual success stories we have experienced at our own customer implementation projects, as well as input from various reference materials, will hopefully be of guidance to organizations embarking on new ERP implementations. 

Ahmet Oturgan
Factory Manager, Tekom-Puk
 

References:

  • Michael Crawford, "Parties and Persuasion - Keys to Breaking User Resistance", Computerworld, 2006.
  • Glen Ford, "Change Management: Getting Your Project Past the Wall of User Resistance", TechRepublic, 2003.
  • Joseph Bradley, "Management Theory Based Critical Success Factors in Enterprise Resource Planning Systems Implementation", 2003.
  • Cagri Yucel, "Change Management in Information Technology Operations", www.tbd.org.tr, 2003.
  • Thomas Lauer and Balaji Rajagopalan, "Conceptualization of User Acceptance and Resistance in System Implementation Research: A Re-Examination of Constructs", 2003
  • John Lian, "A Study of Prerequisites for Successful ERP Implementations from the Project Management Perspective", 2001.
  • Adel M. Aladwani, "Change Management Strategies for Successful ERP Implementation", Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 7 No. 32001, 2001.
  • Dick Kuiper, "The Key to a Custom Fit", Evolving Enterprise, Vol.1 Number 1, 1998.
    http://www.changingminds.org/