When the integration and implementation of an ERP software system starts going off the rails and all sides begin pointing fingers at each other, often many of the user’s fingers point at the vendor’s project manager.

In a way, this is understandable, even before the root causes behind the looming failure are known. The project manager is supposedly in charge, ensuring that all of the pieces fit together, and it is his or her job to make the system work smoothly.

Often, it turns out the project manager is at least partially responsible.

Yet, if the user’s senior executives are paying attention as the ERP project unfolds, they should be able to see issues with the project manager before there is a crisis. Almost always, clear signs emerge that enable a user to spot an underperforming project manager well in advance of massive problems that could threaten the entire integration and implementation.

For users, there are strategies for ensuring that your project manager is kept under control.

Where the Buck Stops

The key thing to remember is that, as the user, you will literally own the project and so you must also “own” the integration.

Often, in successful ERP implementations, alongside the vendor’s project manager is a company-assigned executive sponsor. Typically, this is a senior executive who has ready access to the CIO, CEO, CFO, or other top-level decision maker.

The executive sponsor should understand the business case for the ERP software system, be aware of how it should fit into the company’s operation, and know when a problem is beginning to appear. In many instances, this person works hand in glove with an outside consultant in keeping tabs on the progress. The person in this role also helps ensure that project tasks, budgets, and timelines are being met.

We have seen instances where a CIO was fired when a project went astray. Yet nobody senior to the user was heavily involved in the implementation, so the CIO became a scapegoat because the business never truly “owned” the project.

Controlling the Project Manager

One of the things often discovered in ERP contract disputes is a woeful lack of documentation. Mediocre project managers are notorious for neglecting to create and work from detailed project documentation.

While the integrator should be contractually obligated to provide much of the documentation, the project manager is responsible for ensuring that the plan is updated as it proceeds (with meaningful information upon which the customer can act), and the deliverables are being met.

Without documentation, if the vendor has to install a substitute project manager, the new person won’t be able to see the exact status of the project. Documentation enables them to be able to start working quickly.

But the larger purpose of proper documentation is that it provides everybody access to the metrics that will reveal whether the integration and implementation are meeting all of the requirements and expectations set out for the system.

Everyone in a company is busy – especially if you are still working from home during COVID-19. Requiring the project manager to provide regular updates to both the program director and CIO is an important tool in keeping direct control over the entire project.

Remember that the vendor’s project manager may have a vested interest in not reporting issues to a user. They may assume they can correct it before anybody notices, and their own job, salary, and bonus might be on the line. As author Sinclair Lewis once said, “It is hard to get a man to see a different point of view when his salary depends on him not seeing it.”

Shortstopping a Failing Project Manager

It is not uncommon for a project manager to be inadequate for the job.

When we negotiate an ERP contract for a client, we strive to include who will be assigned, their qualifications for the task, and their experience with the user’s industry.

More often, though, project managers are overwhelmed. They are tracking countless moving pieces and dealing with a range of personalities. Step in quickly, uncover the reason there is a problem, offer to provide additional internal support if that will ease the problem, and get the project manager and integration back on track.

If that still does not work, demand that the project manager be replaced.

Be sure to document the issues, the conversations, and the outcome. It will help you if the project falls apart and mediation or a trial becomes necessary.