Your Manufacturing ERP Investment: Part III

Plot Your Course

While maps and charts for ancient seafarers were rudimentary lacking the fine detail we have today, the captain of a vessel knew the importance of charting the course to avoid known obstacles and arrive as quickly as possible. Coordinates were plotted based on their current home port, charts consulted for known hazards and established passages were leveraged to minimize travel time and make certain that the ship would arrive to the destination given the rations and provisions onboard. Not unlike the careful preparation necessary for an ocean crossing, adequate planning for an ERP implementation is an essential step to ensure the project’s success. Once the current state processes are understood and the crew has been assembled, you are ready to embark on the next stage and begin to plot your course. Careful planning involves a delicate balance between the amount of time invested in preparing the project plan and the amount of time necessary to maintain and update it. I’ve seen many managers, including myself, get bogged down while trying to perfect the plan and model every task no matter how trivial.

Establish Reasonable Estimates

A good project plan requires reasonable estimates of the effort for:

  • the tasks to be planned
  • leveraging the resources assigned to task
  • realistic planned availability of those resources

This ultimately yields enough information to monitor progress and keeps the focus on the critical activities so that the project moves forward on what is commonly known as the critical path.

Engage in Critical Path Management

Critical path management can be boiled down simply to managing those activities where the delay of a task, or series of subtasks, will impact the ability to reach port in the time allotted. In order to identify tasks which are on the critical path you need to:

  • build task precedence relationships into the project plan
  • report progress against the tasks on regular basis
  • and plan for the unexpected, by adding “slack” between tasks

From years of experience within manufacturing, I know things can and will go astray. During the voyage a storm will most certainly brew up. Planning tasks to start when the predecessor task is finished for all of the tasks in a project is too rigid and unrealistic. I’ve learned through the “school of hard knocks” that a critical path is not static; it shifts with the timeline and the reported progress (or lack of it) to planned task completions.

Consider Adding Dollars to Timelines

In some of the projects I’ve been involved with, the desire to develop a more detailed budget along with a timeline is an objective of the project planning phase also. As had been mentioned previously in Part II, it is important to identify the team resources and associated costs of those resources and allocate them to the task in order to develop a realistic budget and timeline. Just as the captain of a ship steers clear of known obstacles to ensure safe passage, avoid a common pitfall of attempting to capture every minute detail in the plan. The complexity that results will also increase the amount of time necessary to routinely update task progress. Focus on planning for the tasks that have cost and timeline impact.

Tools to Help Stay the Course

A blend of tool choices is a sound practice I’ve come to use in order to minimize substantial amounts of time updating the progress towards the plan. While Microsoft Project is a preferred tool for developing the plan among many project managers with its integrated resource calendars and task planning capabilities, using Excel and in some instances Microsoft Word can help convey upcoming tasks deadlines by resource or team with little effort required. Also keep in mind that not all of the team members may have licenses for MS Project but this can be mitigated by converting sorted and filtered project views into a PDF format for distribution to everyone. Additionally, exporting task lists from Project to Excel is simple and fast with cut and paste functionality to convey the tasks and due dates sorted to meet your needs and ready for quick distribution through email. Regardless of the tool selected, creating the project plan to focus on the important tasks with a realistic estimations, properly assigned resources given their availability and appropriate task predecessor and successor relationships will ensure smooth sailing ahead.

(An overview of the complete series is available here.) 

– Software Delivered as Promised. No Surprises.

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