Your ERP Manufacturing Investment: Part I

Break Out the Map

Whether you are a project manager, core team member or consultant on an ERP project, it is essential to understand the current state of a business before laying course towards its future desired state. Similar to preparing for a voyage, you need to chart the course based on where you are today.

Understanding the organizational complexities both within and between departments will allow for a more thorough understanding of how each business unit conducts itself, but more importantly, how work in each unit affects the entire operation overall.

Looking at the big picture helps underscore the key elements that need to be addressed in a new ERP implementation, and avoids the common mistake of ‘sub-optimization’. That is, what is good for one department or business unit may not necessarily be the most optimal solution for the organization as a whole.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

Over the years I have often observed eager managers who only desire to get to the ‘next level’ of business advancement, without first having an in-depth understanding of how their business is truly being conducted today. This is a common oversight that will most certainly hamper their journey and, in some cases, could even ‘sink the ship’ entirely.

There are many flowcharting tools available today with a variety of features to help accomplish the task of current-state mapping. The key to this task is that the work actually gets done. Choice of tool is really a matter of personal preference and comfort.

I have used a variety of common tools available from Microsoft Visio to Excel. The resulting maps have ranged from a single page, to linear processes, and even multi-page diagrams with embedded sub-processes that use hyperlink navigation to their respective pages. Here’s an example.

I have become partial to Microsoft Visio due to its ease-of-use, predefined flowcharting templates, and its drag-and-drop connector functionality.

Visio image

Identify Your Decision Points

As you develop your map, always keep in mind that the resulting diagrams need to convey the key processing and decision points between each department and/or business entity, including the key inputs and outputs that impact the results of the business process being modelled.

The larger the company, and more diverse its product offerings, the more difficult this task will become. This also means there’s a greater likelihood that you will be tempted to skip this step. Don’t succumb.

While this is often a difficult and time-consuming task, the benefits typically outweigh the initial investment of time and resources. These graphical representations of business processes often yield insights into the business that were not commonly shared or previously known.

In many ways it’s no different than an entrepreneur crafting a business plan, or a voyager pulling out the map and planning his journey. You should always know where you’re going.

Stay on Course

The map not only keeps you on target, but also acts as an alert for you when the potential to go off course arises. You’ll see the deviation coming, long before you would without a map to guide you. Should you choose to avoid this step (and as I’ve seen many times over the years), your company will likely need to undergo significant change management later when these ‘unknown’ processes or complexities eventually surface. In other words, your business will need to maneuver around this obstacle during deployment as a result of choosing the ‘short-sighted’ model.

Having said this, it isn’t necessary to map the business processes right at the onset of the project, but it should be done at some point.

Draw Your Map When It Most Suits Your Needs

I’ve been involved with some implementation project plans where companies successfully elect to schedule this task after the base functional model has been rolled out, with the intention to optimize all known processes.

This provides the opportunity to improve future state processes by identifying ‘pain points’, redundancies, and/or excessive wait times. Within the perspective of Kaizen (the Japanese practice of continuous improvement), this would be eliminating the ‘Muda’ or waste state.

(An overview of the complete series is available here.) Learn more about ERP implementation for manufacturing

– Software Delivered as Promised. No Surprises.

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