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ERP Cloud Programme – Performance of a Lifetime

By Sunchana Johnston 31 May 2024
ERP Cloud Programme – Performance of a Lifetime

As I stood up and presented the complex programme plan to the Glasgow crowd of seasoned ERP Managers, I felt the calming, confident vibes of the Old Town Dubrovnik theatre coming over us.   

Acting as a child performer on stage, I studied management basics from the best accidental project managers. Our project and theatre presence were a culmination of careful and detailed planning. After months of hard work and preparation, we learnt the script by heart. Our drama teacher, Mr Ivan Pintar, aka Project Manager, adopted a play from a folk fairytale. After the initial call for actors, he selected the right team. Inspired, we worked tirelessly. Vigorously, we practised facial expressions in front of a mirror. So, we would see how we looked to our clients when we performed, trying to make the story believable. He made us collaborate and support each other by elevating the experience. We learnt from our mistakes. We failed fast, many times. Dusted off and got up bigger and stronger so many times. By the end of it, we were seasoned professionals. Most of all, his tenacity gave us skills for life. We could get a buy-in from the most inhospitable spectators. 

Strangely enough, all the afterschool hours spent rehearsing with fellow students paid off. We won the 1980s Dubrovnik Young Actors competition!  

Performing in front of rowdy Croatian teenagers in a confined neo-renaissance space of theatrical magic prepared me well for all types of project stakeholders. 

Despite hurdles along the way, my confidence soared every time I had a total recall of that day. 

If I could make it there, I felt that I could make it anywhere – even in Scotland, UK. 

When I assemble an ERP project plan, I’m quietly confident as an APM Fellow and Chartered professional. 

I feel like a prospector striking gold. Excitement comes in waves; I can feel it in my bones. 

So, what is an ERP Cloud programme? 

The ERP Cloud programme is a game-changer in enterprise resource planning.

It’s like a digital Swiss Army knife for businesses, just better. Instead of a sticky-taped IT Systems patchwork, the ERP Cloud is a shiny software toy. While the current legacy systems that only Bob in Accounts knows how to operate, the ERP shines with its suite of seamless applications like a star. The problem starts when most of Bob’s colleagues have rightfully retired, and nobody is left to steer the ship. This is where the IT cloud comes in to boost productivity and gain valuable insights, transforming decision-making into a breeze.  

As with Netflix binge-watching - everyone is doing it.  

What always puzzles me is how many mega-programmes go on for years without proper programme plans. And I’m not talking about Primavera P6 fully integrated solutions—more of a back-to-basics. Professionally, I’m keen on proper outcome-based milestones that make sense. Some inter-project dependencies that deliver ‘things’ which are called payroll, procurement, and performance management.  

How do we make it deliverable? 

Plan it! It’s a simple-to-understand one-page roadmap with some add-ons. 

As a master planner with over twenty-five years of experience across various industries, I’ve created and presented some of the most complex, technically advanced plans.  

A few years back, I accepted the challenge of setting up and delivering a seamless digital programme planning function. Programmes come in all shapes and sizes, and this was a big one.  

The PMO team sent me the evidence of something that resembled programme activities they gathered just as I started work. All were keen for me to crack on with it, as the previously commissioned consultancy-based planners cost them the earth. The outcome wasn’t what they wanted, so they employed a freelancer, me. Knowing that made me feel cheap, but there were mouths to feed at home, so I cracked on with it fast and furious.  

We cannot deliver change programmes in isolation, and I devised a plan of action: 

  1. Starting with good comms - means engaging colleagues with a live presentation of solid plans with a constructive question and answers section to get them on board. 
  2. Sign off whatever comes out of the presentation with senior management on strategy and approach. 
  3. Get on with it. 

Applying the default work breakdown structures (WBS) thinking from advanced scheduling tools like Primavera P6 came to me almost by default. I knew it inside out, and it worked well for me in the past. I had to deliver within the Microsoft Suite of tools on this occasion. Naturally, I chose MS Project, PowerPoint, and Excel. I prefer MS Project for dynamic scheduling functionalities, Excel for a broad user base as everyone knows how to use it, and PowerPoint for the aesthetic looks which may appease the executives. 

By the end of week three, I had a set of detailed one-pagers that I wanted to play back to the teams. 

I focused on the Finance and Human Resources (HR) components within my presented plans. At this point, a year and a half into it, senior managers hadn’t recruited a Solution Architect yet, so I had to rely on my judgment and previous planning experience in ERP Programmes.   

This is where the early years stage training comes in handy.  

We should remember that good fortune favours the best prepared, such as the power of talking with people directly and honestly to make fast decisions that help us seize the day. 

The PMO colleagues helpfully set the stage for us, booked the boardroom for the occasion, and sent all invites for the interactive workshops with the timed agenda to people’s calendars. 

So, here I am – Croatian-born construction-trained female standing in front of all-alabaster skin tone testosterone-driven audiences.  

Well, they must be positively desperate for progress! 

And they were – for good measure, this ERP Cloud programme was climbing way over the semi-approved 30 million USD with the original project timeline stretching like Orbit chewing gum. Acceleration was on the cards. 

I start with a bold claim that challenges assumptions by saying: 

“Hello and Welcome! 

I’m here to tell you that we will create the most robust hybrid project plans with agility. Let’s work together within the framework I present to you today. In my 25 years of experience, I have found that this is the best way to deliver complex ERP Cloud Programmes.”

When you are different by birth, it’s best to use this to your advantage. 

The project plans I presented were not perfect for complete sets of deliverables, but these plans were perfect to present at these early stages. To me, they resembled Swiss cheese. To others, these were the best plans they’d ever seen. It is strange how people interpret things. 

Overcommunication has one clear advantage: no one likes surprises. 

The outcome was a solid first pass at gelling together a patchwork of functions. I included the following components: 

  • Set-up and Piloting 
  • Implementation and Integration 
  • Cutover Activities 
  • GO-LIVE Phases 
  • Business Improvements 

From a quality point of view, I reward the audience by presenting a consistent timeline of critical activities spanning the above phases from start to finish. All the details I received from the hard-working data cleansing teams, business change, software, hardware procurement specialist and UAT testing underpin the solid couple of pages. A plan on a page (POAP) is a simplified helicopter view of the most complex and technically demanding ERP Clouds. These multiple pages or technical POAPs keep us correct, which is crucial to getting approval from senior managers for further funding. Some of us like to plan for a living, while others thrive on delivering end-user training.  

The key is to embrace diversity in thinking. 

There is a quote from Peter Drucker “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” that fits this complex digital programme well. Agile working was adopted widely using JIRA and VBA-powered Excel software tools. The strategic direction was oversimplified, so the senior managers relied heavily on the main IT contractor to deliver the solutions.  

Soon, I realised that a long-winded, detailed waterfall plan isn’t cut it. Because it will be out of date a few minutes after the weekly status updates. Agile leaders and teams need to plan their sprints and releases properly. Hybrid planning with a clear POAP view means we shall ask for partial baselining for one part of the programme. Slimline versions of project plans are best served hot of the press. While some theorise, I’ve learnt over the years that everything changes once we face the complexities of business-as-usual teams. The permanent staff often feel overwhelmed with the project-related demands, which makes it impossible to achieve within set timelines. 

Hybrid and blended project management combine different aspects of a traditional waterfall and more dynamic agile methodologies to craft programme plans that genuinely fit multicultural teams and projects. This hybrid approach is popular among those who feel limited by a single methodology within the command-and-control PMO.  

After over twenty-five years in mega project delivery, I am fully behind this sentiment. 

The Marin Drzic Theatre project in Dubrovnik, where I performed as a child, has acquired famous fans such as Beyonce, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Gere, and the Game of Thrones producers. At the end of my performance of a lifetime for the ERP Cloud Programmes, I got a round of applause, which was the best professional recognition of all time!