Don’t Wait Until The Consultant’s Bags Are Packed

Why do clients hire consultants for ERP projects in the first place? Simply put, consultants fill the missing gaps in technical skill or business process knowledge that are critical for a technical project to succeed. While employees come up to speed on what’s possible (i.e. what the new technology can do), consultants learn how this system needs to be designed differently from prior implementations. Each side goes through a learning process, adjusting their expectations about what’s needed to “go-live”.

The challenge is that the focus of both consultants and clients is primarily concentrated on the act of going live. In most cases, there is very little early dialogue about how the transition of ownership will happen, as both parties assume it will be addressed at some later time. Once the consultants complete their piece of the engagement (“The system is live!”), it becomes painfully clear that the employees are not prepared to take on the work alone.

Let’s be clear that this is not about a lack of commitment on the part of consultants or a failing on the client’s side. It is simply the case that in the early stages of a project, turnover is an ambiguous topic; one that the client is often unprepared to address. The perception is that there is so much work and internal learning that needs to happen before the organization can begin to address issues of turnover.

With this in mind, here are some strategies that can help both sides begin to look at this issue so that it doesn’t come crashing down at the eleventh hour.

1. Break the “I’ll do it myself” habit
In the workplace, we must recognize our unconscious habit to “just do it ourselves.” How many times have you been faced with the option of completing a task that probably could have been performed by someone else, but chose not to let him or her fumble through it? Nine times out of ten, people will just do it themselves, even if it’s in their best interest to step back and let others struggle through some learning.

Both consultants and clients need to become more conscious of this tendency so that more opportunities for learning happen while the system is in the design phase. Giving tasks away may appear to slow down a process; but in the long run, it will contribute greatly to uncovering who in the organization is capable of taking on new responsibilities after the switch gets turned on.

2. Prepare a turnover plan early in the game
When consultants operate at their best, they’re equally focused on being topical experts and helping clients develop self-sufficiency. In a large technical project, consultants must place more emphasis on the roles that an organization needs to inherit, and to do this earlier in the process. Although this effort is often met with resistance or appears to fall low on the priority list, both sides must recognize that without a clearly defined turnover plan, the internal groups will be left with an incomplete solution.

Minimally the question should be asked, “if the system were turned over today, who would do what?” If nothing else, this will begin a dialogue and negotiation about what the current assumptions are for turnover and how much work needs to happen to make this real.

3. Create a Transition Team
One way to assist Project Management in a turnover plan is to establish a separate group whose charter is to focus on how the project can successfully get through the period when the consultants roll off the project.

A Transition Team can be comprised of members of the project team, along with employees in the organization. This group can be a critical set of eyes for project management, making increasingly important recommendations around turnover tasks. They can help articulate internal training needs for employees who will inherit the system; knowledge or skills that need to be transferred from person to person, and new internal structures that need to be put in place for the organization to succeed on its own.

It’s never too early to start a dialogue about how the system will run after the formal project is complete. The alternative is often an extended project timeline and lack of ownership by the clients themselves.

Remember, technical projects require a balance between the needs of the moment with the recognition that success is measured after the consultants leave. Don’t wait until the consultant’s bags are packed to at least begin this conversation.