Project Practitioners > Getting Real

Getting Real

By Niel Nickolaisen

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about reality. I have been thinking that, unless we face reality, we have almost no chance of achieving long-term success.

About a month ago, a friend asked me to assess the issues with her recent enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation. It is common to expect some rough weeks or months once a new ERP system goes live but my friend’s implementation has been struggling for over nine months. As I met with the various department heads, it became obvious that the biggest issue is not with how the applications were configured. Rather, this company has spent nine months struggling with post-go-live because no one was willing to face reality. During the implementation, when the team was faced with making a difficult business choice – for example, harmonizing the way two departments did their accounting – the team took the easy way out by retaining the old business rules. Once the new ERP system was live, these business rule conflicts created pain, agony, and manual work-arounds. So, nine months later, the work load remains high as do the accounting errors and rework.

As I sat through a meeting where the team discussed the various issues and potential next steps, it occurred to me that they were still avoiding reality. So, using my natural kindness and empathy, I spoke up and said, “Are you ever going to address the real issues with the implementation?” (That got their attention). I continued, “I suspect you have been having this same meeting over and over during the past nine months. The fact that, nine months later, the same issues remain indicate that you are not yet dealing with the core problems with the implementation. So, are you going to start now? How about we all agree to a ground rule that no one can blame anyone for what has happened? Instead of blame or potential blame or fear of being blamed, let’s agree that the implementation is what it is but today we talk about what really needs to change. Is that all right?”

I got enough agreement that we then started to talk about the relatively small number of changes we needed to make in order to eliminate most of the issues. We made assignments and agreed to meet again one week later. One week later, things were getting better and so we repeated the process. One week after that, we had a clear path to significant improvements. Why? Because we finally faced reality.

There is a relatively obscure, but incredibly effective book on change management titled “Changing Forever”. Early in his book, the author, Carl F. Frost, makes the case that change cannot happen unless we understand our reality. I have convinced myself that this is true. So now, when I am planning a project, selecting metrics, or working with my staff, I think about reality:

  • Are my project plans based on reality or am I planning a project that won’t really make a difference to our goals?
  • Do my metrics hide or expose our reality? If I want to use metrics to encourage better results and behavior, I should select metrics that are based on our real situation.
  • Do I have honest, meaningful conversations with my staff? Do they understand our reality? Do they know the difference between activity and accomplishment?

So, here’s to reality. It is a great partner to have around.

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