Delivering and Managing EPM Projects – Which is the best approach?
22 May 2012
When it comes to delivering EPM projects, there is a lot of debate about the best way to approach and manage the project, iterative, collaborative, agile, etc… but it seems there is no right or wrong way to go about it, so we have the on-going debate of which way is best?
In the first instance, we come back to the age-old problem that the client rarely knows exactly what he wants in the beginning, mostly because he doesn't have the in-depth product knowledge to know what is available, or indeed what is achievable, but also because the business doesn’t take enough time to decide what they need - in which case they will embark on a project to deliver what they think they need - so how does one go about defining the solution and managing the delivery.
Looking at the above example, if the client doesn't know what is available or doesn’t entirely know what they need, then a waterfall approach will be the least viable option, as the likely result is a client telling you that what you have delivered doesn't work, or (as I'm sure everyone has heard before) "I know this is what I asked for, but..." This equates to an awful lot of wasted time and money on all sides, which is not a desirable outcome for anyone and effectively leads to two frustrated parties.
So how do you decide between the remaining options, and how do you help the client to gain a clearer vision of what the end product will look like.
David Watson, Commercial Director at UKOUG Hyperion Partner of the Year, Concentric Solutions, agrees that “There is a lack of governance and structure in the way EPM Projects are delivered and, as a business which is focussed on EPM, we felt there was a need to look at a way of formulating a standard, or best practice way to specify and deliver these types of projects.
“By drawing on a variety of existing approaches, including Oracle Unified Method, Prince 2, iterative prototyping and our tried and tested experience, we developed our own ‘accelerated method’ framework for the preparation and delivery of EPM Projects. We have formalised this in a dedicated package that our Project Managers use to ensure that customer projects are run with the highest levels of relevant process control, risk mitigation and cost-effectiveness. Without appropriate investment in a governance layer, the complexity of modern EPM projects causes important workstreams to be marginalised, often resulting in a failure to deliver against the original business case.”
Could this approach effectively become a ‘one size fits all’ solution, or will there still be exceptions to the rule, and is any one approach any better than the other or does it depend on the size and complexity of the project versus the knowledge and experience of the consultant(s) delivering the project. And what of the clients which feel that the best approach is to engage a consultancy to scope and specify the project, then deliver it using their own personnel coupled with some supplementary contract resources.
Noel Gorvett, Managing Director at Amosca, another multi-UKOUG Hyperion Partner winner, comments that EPM projects need a few elements in place to be successful. “We encourage clients to ensure they have a clear plan and engage a trusted sponsor. The business must also be prepared to take tough decisions” – which means being clear about what, in reality, is actually necessary to the business.
“We also suggest they don't boil the ocean, but instead create a series of deliverables that will enable them to monitor progress whilst allowing them to take stock and review how the solution fits with the business objectives. And stay agile.”
This last point is possibly most important, and almost always difficult to achieve as the client will often wish to stick with previous decisions made earlier in the process, and it takes a skilled consultant to get the understanding and buy-in required to get to the required level of flexibility.
Another area that is a difficult ‘sell’ to the client is to invest internal time. Often businesses are reluctant to, or don’t fully see the value of, involving key stakeholders at multiple stages of the project. A great example, and one that Noel is a proponent of, is to train key people before the project is fully underway. These are the people who will ultimately be expecting the system to perform for them on a day to day basis and in delivering training at the outset, they will become familiar with the terminology, will gain a more in-depth understanding the concepts involved, and will become the people that can give the most positive and valuable input into the overall solution.
The next challenges come during the above stages, when it can be easy to get wrapped up in the minutiae of the bits and pieces of the project that need changing or tweaking, or to get side-tracked a wealth of exciting features that you weren’t aware of at the outset of the project. It is so important for the business not to lose sight of the end goal, always keep in mind what you were headed for, and what issues you needed to solve by considering an EPM solution in the first place, don’t be tempted to bolt something completely new onto the solution unless there is a need for it, and always remain realistic about you will actually use rather than dreaming about extras that would be nice to have. If you see something and you decide you do want to add it on, have an open discussion with your consultant about whether this can be done at a later date just as easily as now.
Noel offers that clear communication and transparency are key, adding “We always ensure that these factors are highlighted, and, with constant knowledge transfer, ensure that the client and users are engaged in the decision making, the project, and ultimately are self sufficient as soon as possible.
“I would also suggest that clients should never be afraid to question the vendor, consultancy or themselves. The UK market is very skilled, and a more open approach to capabilities would see more successful projects, and this includes a greater return on the investment, as the solution will be more future proof, and adaptable to the constant changing needs of an organisation.”
So, in conclusion, there is (and I suspect, always will be) different perspectives and, whilst everyone has their own strategy and method, there is some major commonalities amongst those who are highly experienced in the EPM sphere. Firstly that you need to have a clear structure and objectives to your projects, and secondly you will need to use a mixture of prototyping, iterative and agile approaches to achieve the results you set out to deliver, and lastly you need to keep sight of the destination all the way along the journey. Of course, there is always room for suggestion and improvement and it seems that some of the thought leaders in EPM consultancy are looking at ways of keeping the industry in a constant state of evolution, and improving standards and best practice. But at the end of the day, the projects can vary so much in scale and complexity, I’m not sure that one all-encompassing methodology will ever emerge – but one thing everyone agrees on is that the aim should always be to deliver the absolute best solution in the most timely and cost effective manner. And if using your specific strategy helps you to do this better than anyone else, then it this has to be the best way for you to differentiate yourself from the competition.
"Alison Mulligan is the BI & Hyperion Lead at Maximus, the ERP Resourcing Partner of choice for many of ERP's leading companies and technical professionals across the world. Founded in 2002, Maximus is an Oracle Gold Partner which handles a complete range of Oracle, SAP and BI positions, both in the UK and around the globe in such key markets as the Middle East and continental Europe."