Managing an ERP Project with a Remote Team
There have been many unfortunate consequences as a result of the novel Coronavirus that has consumed the world the last 6 months. My sympathies and best wishes go out to all impacted and I hope everyone stays safe and healthy as we continue to manage the outbreak as a society.
One of the indirect impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic that we face in the business world is a new view on a remote workforce. Having been in ERP consulting for almost 20 years, I am used to traveling nearly every week as working face to face in this business is viewed as the most effective way to keep to timelines and ensure accuracy. However, now things have changed, and the shift may not be temporary. Granted, I work in the Life Sciences industry, which being considered essential businesses, we do still travel to work in person periodically, but not like it was before. I have been able to make several observations on this new workplace dynamic.
First, the most noteworthy differences in the 2020 workplace:
Meetings are conducted through videos and calls to replace not only scheduled meetings, but those informal "catch-up" lunches and office chit-chat.
I am a big fan of leading design sessions and workshops through white-boarding. That dynamic is very tough to replace.
People work different hours. A workday may now be accomplished over a longer time frame with several breaks in between to tend to personal responsibilities. This has been supported by all the project environments I have been in and people are willing to meet at off hours to make up for it.
Now, some advice I offer to those working in this environment:
Set the expectations and solicit feedback. A lot of the work I do is managing vendors for our mutual client where I’m the vendor manager. Often these vendors will have competing obligations to other clients. The vendor must participate in the discussion and be accountable to their agreed availability and deadlines.
Use video rather than just voice while meeting. Not only does it keep people accountable to stay focused, but nonverbal communication is still at least somewhat possible with video.
Document sharing, and even better, interactive team sites should become the backbone of a project. Personally, I use Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, but there are many good tools out there to choose from.
Clearly documented process flows are necessary to replace the white-boarding sessions I described above. Microsoft Visio is a good tool to accomplish this or also, if you space allows, a flip chart while on video.
Communication is key. Do not make assumptions as you cannot see what people are doing and read body language like you can in person. If you have a thought, speak up.
Be conscious of e-mail. I've previously been in an environment where I receive hundreds of e-mails a day and it is impossible to digest them all. Consider your communications and make CC's and Replies to all only when necessary. Likewise, when you receive an e-mail, read it carefully as there will be no follow-up chat at a water cooler to confirm receipt.
Allow extra time in project plans for activities such as training and testing that simply cannot be as effective as they are in person.
Always distribute presentations and status reports before a review video meeting. Allowing people to go through the content before the meeting will allow people time to formulate their questions and comments so that everyone's time is used wisely during these meetings.
Facebook, Google, and others have announced recently that their employees will work from home for the rest of the year. Facebook is even offering it permanently, allowing employees to relocate anywhere. While the on-premise ERP implementation model is not completely replaceable, the new normal is evolving the way we work and I predict it will have a lasting impact far beyond COVID-19.