[Editor’s note: Frank is not a composite character. He is a real person, employed at a real company. I’ve changed certain identifying particulars at his request. This interactive series, created and published with his permission, is an exercise in what-if analysis based on interviews I am currently conducting with him. You may find Frank’s use of language a little colorful. I have toned it down. It’s still colorful.]
My name is Frank.
I’m a mid-level manager for a manufacturer of scrotchets here in Greenfields, US of A.
I have four direct reports, all of whom want my boss’s job after they’ve digested and shat mine out.
Thanks to the latest round of layoffs, there are only 300 of us left at Scrotchets, Inc., so upward mobility is at a premium.
I’m a little older than I thought I’d be at this stage of my career.
My boss is an asshole. He likes to call me Frankie when I screw up.
My home life is, well, frayed is the word. Financial pressures will do that to a family.
My boss, on the other hand, comes from a family of means. His name is Theodore. He’s younger than I am, and when I drop the ball he makes sure everyone from payroll to janitorial hears about it. That might be because I don’t kiss his ass.
Theodore spends most of his time devising ways of getting me to screw up, and the rest of his time devising Plan B, which is getting me to screw up some more.
Take this morning, for instance:
He calls me into his office, then glares at me as if he’s wondering why I’m on his lawn, and what it is I’m planning on doing there.
“Ever hear of an eeyarpee?” He’s all but ordering me to admit I have the vocabulary of a four-year-old.
I play along.
“Sorry, Theodore. You got me there. That one of your new diet supplements?” Theodore’s a little on the heavy side.
Theodore grunts and takes his feet off his desk, undoing in one ungainly swoop all the effort he put into getting them up there in the first place.
It’s a little early in the day for this. He must think I’m about to screw up in some new, profound, expensive way.
“Frankie, newsflash for you, we’re taking a close look at new ways of integrating our IT systems and business processes. Top to bottom.”
When Theodore uses ten-dollar words like “integrating” and “business processes,” I know it’s because they’ve been fed to him by C-level. And when he uses words like “we” and “our,” you can smell the rank eau de recession odor of cover-my-ass all the way from the shop floor.
Theodore uses that perfume a lot. He also has a habit of avoiding eye contact. This may or may not be related.
“What that means, Frankie, simply put, is that we’re going to be implementing a new IT system called an eeyarpee. Enterprise resource planning, to you.”
“That’s nice. So where is it?”
“We need to get one. Which is where you come in, Frankie.”
“OK. When do you need it?”
“We want this done quickly. We’ve got some serious inefficiencies we need to eliminate.” He’s looking straight at me now. “Scope it out and give me an exact timeline and plan of action by Friday. If you can find an eeyarpee by then, so much the better.”
Theodore’s wearing his red Power Tie. That means it’s upper-management-meeting-Monday.
Which means I’ve got five days to do what Theodore says.
Now what do I do? Eeyarpee? Guess I’ll start with the Google.
What should Frank do after the Google? Got any advice? Recommendations? Helpful links? Suggestions? Leave your thoughts in the comment field below. Likewise, if you have any questions for Frank, let me know, and I’ll pass them along to him.
[April 16, 2010 update: find out what happens next, in Part 2!]
What should he do? Panic…
…or at least push back on Theodore to articulate “serious inefficiencies.” Ideally, Frank should get some guidance based on the strategic positioning of the executive team and/or board. Annual report statements such as: “this year we will address three key goals” can be tremendously important to either guide discussion with management or to push back on unreasonable expectations.
As for what to deliver in five days, lay out a tentative timeline — it will change — and a rough cut cost estimate to address the possibility that the project is a non-starter due to capital cost. Don’t do anything else until there’s some strategic clarification.
If you’re going down that path (looking for Eeyarpee without knowing what ERP really is and what it can do for you), you’ll probably end up buying this: http://community.kinaxis.com/community/supply_chain_entertainment/.
So my suggestion is that you, Theodore, and the other people involved in the research and selection process start by understanding what you need and why. Here’s a document that should help you with that: http://whitepapers.technologyevaluation.com/view_document/20541/erp-for-small-businesses-a-buyer-s-guide.html
Wow - Theodore is obviously clueless - We are in the process of implementing an ERP system - This is an 18 month process - We scoped for almost a year to flush out every detail and have spent the last 4 months deloying the ERP solution.
The Fast Track Implementation guide is 2 - 4 inch binders. Over 1200 pages.
To provide your boss with the proper information, I would first go with the following:
“There are many ERP systems on the market today, well over 50 good ones. Each is designed to fit different scenarios based on the needs of the company. In order to have a successful transition to a full blown ERP system will take significant analysis. I would suggest we form a committee with members from each business unit. This committee can then decide what the ERP system needs to provide. Then we can evaluate the different packages to find three that fit our basic needs. Then I suggest we have those companies demonstrate their respective products and features, as well as cost. This will allow the committee to make a well informed, cost effective choice.”
If you really want to knock Teddy’s socks off - Tell him the low-end cost of a full blown manufacturing ERP system is about $200K + implementation. The upper end can run into millions. They may want to rethink the strategy.
Just my 2 pennies worth
I agree to above statement that ERP is more of a Strategic decision than a whim or wish of a single middle manager.
The costs to run into 6 figures easilly while returns are slow to see and take a lot longer to realize.
SAP on the other hand is the leading ERP system very much suitable for any manufacturing company. There is lot more that happens before the ERP system is implemented and it always pays off if you are prepared well.
Any ERP system may go into minimum 3 phases: Phase 1: Product Selection, Phase 2: Implementer Selection and Phase 3: the immplementation itself and later the support & maintenance.
The whole 3 phases may easilly take anything from 12 months onward to complete and it is more than one man job.
So, with this info, Frank should go back to Theo and tell him to get principal approval for Time & Money from the bosses and in the meantime he can keep googling to learn abour EEaarPeee