Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Jun 13 2011   8:02AM GMT

Selecting the right ERP project manager

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

Continuing our discussions on ERP, the group of CIOs, who meet regularly to discuss issues of common interest, went on to debate the question: Who should ideally be the project manager (PM) for an ERP implementation? As is usual, different views were expressed; but surely, it was a refreshing debate. We got to know the views of others, and at the same time, we had an opportunity to examine the best available options.

I initiated the discussion citing a few issues that we had faced as CIOs in some of the implementations. People from the CIO assembly agreed that ERP implementation should not be termed an IT project but should have adequate business representation.

Amongst other requisites, the role of the project manager (PM) is one which is critical for a successful run of the project. In most cases, it is the CIO who is one of the main initiators of the move towards ERP, and once approved, he is automatically assumed to be the one to take on the responsibility. The question posed therefore was whether this is the right move for organizations to make when starting an ERP project? Deliberations touched upon various points:

  • Should the PM be from one of the business functions, say from finance, sales, operations, etc?

Though the general opinion favored such a move, there were apprehensions expressed about their inadequate exposure to IT and whether they would be able to understand, work out, or guide the team on aspects such as parameter configuration. There were no clear answers. The consensus, however, emerged on the point that selection of a project manager is a challenge since ERP covers more than one function.

  • Is a manager from any specific function more suitable for this role than others?

Each of the functions was examined but the larger view veered towards the ‘finance’ function. Participants felt that since the finance plays a controlling role, is in charge of compliance, reports to the Board on results, and since the organization’s performance finally boils down to financial figures, there could be nothing better than a finance manager being on board as the ‘project lead’.

Surprisingly, people did not talk of the organization strategies, the goals of business, the need for transformation and business process improvement, which point towards a business-view of project and the need to go beyond the limited worldview of the finance function. I think we have to grow up to view issues form the management angle.

  • Is CIO the best bet?

Well, you bet, the CIOs think so! They say the CIO is the only executive in the company who has an overview of the business processes across the organization since he is involved in automating them. They further say that a CIO is neutral and not function-specific in his approach, and therefore, has an edge over any other functionary. He also has an in-depth knowledge of hardware requirements, software functioning, and networks and therefore can manage the entire project better than any other functional manager. They feel that an IT head with a business understanding is an ideal choice for the Project Manager. A few questions however remain unanswered.

Need for a balance

But is the knowledge of business processes adequate to bring about fundamental changes to those processes and is it equivalent to understanding business? While we may say that the CIO is neutral, his technical orientation could lend a bias which may not be desirable. Knowing IT may not be a qualification essential to be a project manager, as the PM has the overall responsibility of ensuring success of the project.

Again here was a situation where CIOs were keen on holding on to their turf and not willing to let others play this role.

In my opinion, CIOs have to take a broader view and consider the matter from the organization’s perspective. The purpose of the ERP project should be to serve business, and therefore, the project should be led by a person who is most suited to bring about the desired transformation to business using ERP. The community, therefore, would have to move a little higher in terms of thinking and lay focus on business benefits that he can bring about.

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