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Leading complex projects - What does it take?

Uppdaterat: 7 mars 2022

There are many kinds of projects with high complexity and one of them are for sure ERP implementations. What ERP implementation stands for, in most cases is: replacement of the current ERP software (or many of them, in large organisations) with a single capable and modern ERP system that will support companies to manage and grow their businesses.

New ERP software system will most probably be integrated with other important software solutions for planning, purchasing inventory, marketing, human resources, business intelligence and more.

So, if I would try to find a metaphor that would clearly show the importance of a vital and capable ERP solution, I would try with the human body. There are so many fantastic organs and functions in the human body and everything is so seamlessly interconnected. Some of the organs can fail and even shut off, but the body will continue functioning. Still, one organ cannot ever fail, and we know that is - heart!

ERP solutions can be observed as a heart, integration connections as bloodstream and other connected software solutions (HR, CRM, BI) as other organs.

I guess this metaphor can remind us that replacing the old and implementing a new ERP system, as with a heart, is an extremely complex job, requires extensive experience and knowledge, takes time and resources and brings many unexpected challenges.

Let’s try to tackle a few of those challenges through the experience we have collected in ERP & Friends during ERP implementations that we have successfully conducted working together with our customers.

5 biggest challenges in Complex Projects

1. Management is more important than leadership.

We suggest finding true leaders for the project as they:

  • Create the conditions for stronger outcomes to emerge by developing a clear purpose for the work and activating the intrinsic motivation of individuals. Intrinsic motivation is important for task persistence, for seeing a project through, and for ensuring exploration of solutions. Intrinsic motivation is also accompanied by positive affect. The love of the task is an important component of creative work.

  • Understand that they need to create a safe working culture where mistakes are welcome. Those who work a lot contribute the most, but they also make mistakes, learn from them, and become wiser and more experienced. This allows people to dare to be creative, try new approaches and find great ways forward.

  • Care for each individual in the team being sincerely interested in what works for them well and what would be even better if certain things change? Be accepting, be interested, be a good listener, keep people informed, express concern, show your appreciation (and do that often!), provide opportunities and more than anything – exhibit trust!

2. “Left hand doesn’t know what the right-hand does!” Plan together wisely and holistically and communicate properly and often to the team and


  • Create integrated planning with a detailed list of all needed activities with a mandatory estimation of hours needed to accomplish the task and assigned personnel. Be sure that you do not overbook any single individual to leave time for mistakes, creativity and new solutions!

  • Revisit planning and be agile with making timely changes – together with the project team. Ask for inputs, ideas, concerns. Take them into consideration seriously. Understand that unexpected problems will occur and reserve some slack space for such situations.

  • Communicate clearly and very often to the project team and to stakeholders. Ask the team and stakeholders what kind of communication they like and what they would want to hear. Find out how to avoid “working in silos” and apply that. Exercise transparency and clarity and always have an attitude that you can improve it for the current group you work with.

3. Overlooked change management It is crucial to stir emotions enough to overcome the natural tendency to slide back into the comfort zone of old habits and resisting to change

  • Address the human element of the change as change impacts people in many ways: changes in the responsibilities, new teams, job changes, promotions, demotions, training, new skill development and many more. Don’t forget that no matter how powerful the rational argument is, change in a person’s behavior will happen only when their hearts get touched and an emotional connection is created!

The change will impact everyone, from leadership, over middle management to the front-line team members.

  • Involve all levels of the organization by identifying leaders and change advocates throughout the company to assist with transition and implementation. Train these organizational leaders on all parts of the change management plan - the vision, change process, roles and most importantly, give them tools to hold others accountable. Managers need to involve themselves and support the change!

Organizational culture has a power on the change

  • Assessing the cultural landscape by continuously using feedback mechanisms such as open forums, feedback management platforms, training sessions and other techniques to capture hot change is impacting culture.

4. Project not anchored well enough within the organisation To be able to successfully work on a project and achieve the goal it is crucial to have a balanced vision between scope, budget and time – the famous project management triangle, with quality being heavily affected by any of those constraints being changed. Therefore, it is very important that the project is anchored with the top management and then downwards in the way that it is super clear and transparent to everyone that:

  • People that should work on the project do not just get an additional task of working on the project if they are already 100% busy with their daily work! People need to have time to complete their daily activities and additional time for the new tasks assigned from the project. If that is not the case, hire additional resources that would take over daily work or either support the project tasks. There is no magic wand to solve 150% load of work – the only thing that works is an additional pair of hands!

  • Scope of work and responsibilities should be clearly defined, communicated and accepted by the persons assigned to.

5. Not prepared for unexpected things

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted as saying “change is the only constant in life”. Project leaders should take this seriously and work as agile as possible to try to be as prepared for all unexpected things that will come along during the course of the project

  • Build contingency into the schedule by adding enough slack in the schedule for them when they occur. Add a buffer time at the end of the schedule or during each major phase, or just overestimate task durations. This would help everyone deal with unexpected problems.

  • When contingency is built into the plan, the next thing that needs to be in place are people that will be available in case of unexpected issues. These people would not sit and wait for something to happen but would have a clear priority list where to put their focus in case they are invited to help. Identifying these people and how they can be utilized in the project will help the project lead in dealing with problems down the road.

  • Lessons learned from the past can surely help the project lead to be ready for unexpected problems that can occur on the present project. Understanding what worked and what did not on the other projects will help make the case for the scheduled contingency and will help the project lead handle the unexpected.

Making sure that these common challenges are addressed will help any leader to navigate through the sea of the complexity of projects facing different issues in landscapes where only constant is – constant change!

If you are looking for experienced project managers, please visit our website and contact us so we can help you through your complex projects. You can also contact ERP & Friends directly here

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