Six lessons from a lightning ERP rollout

From zero to SAP with time to spare: How Daiwa House completed its ERP implementation early -- despite downtime from the Tohuku earthquake

Here's something you don't hear everyday: "Our SAP implementation finished ahead of schedule."

Sorry, let me rephrase that. Hearing about an SAP implementation that finished ahead of schedule is like hearing that someone captured the Loch Ness Monster and turned it into a kiddie ride. It's as likely as Bigfoot singing "La Traviata" at Lincoln Center. It's as if you called a software company's tech support line and the voice on the other end didn't insist you reboot your PC.

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SAP implementations don't finish ahead of schedule. Failed to finish is much more likely.

The company that made the pronouncement? Daiwa House Industry. Not only did Daiwa House complete its SAP implementation ahead of schedule, it did so despite being interrupted by the Tohuku earthquake -- the one that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and took several nuclear power plants offline.

Intrigued, I set up a meeting with Daiwa House's SAP implementation team at the Realization Project Flow conference, and through two excellent interpreters, spoke with Kyoji Kato, executive officer and general manager of Daiwa House's information systems division, Project Leader Ryuzo Matsuyama, and Isao Nakae, SAP solution division director at Fujitsu Kansai Systems, Daiwa House's implementation partner on the project.

What follows are six valuable lessons they learned transforming a seriously challenged effort into a roaring success. Consider this a practical supplement to my recent "13 tips for turbocharging projects" post.

Lesson No. 1: Having staff wait for work is better than having work wait for staff

All three interviewees were emphatic that moving from traditional project management techniques to critical-chain project management had a huge impact, resulting in 25 percent cycle time reductions for every phase of the effort.

This isn't the place for a tutorial on the subject (among other reasons, I'm not qualified to provide it), but one of critical chain's most important principles is that projects should never be delayed because staff are not available to work on the next task. Why? Because one such delay sets off a -- no pun intended -- chain reaction of late task starts.

In other words, chaos ensues, and each late start makes the expected time lines in every dependent chain of tasks increasingly unpredictable.

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