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Quick Poll: Are you prepared for your year end auditors?

Posted by on November 22, 2011

It’s that time of year again. Sales is pushing to close last minute deals, production is gearing up for the holiday runs. In accounting it’s all about crossing the “t”s and dotting the “i”s. Making sure everyone follows the processes and paperwork. The question is….

Are you prepared for your year end auditors? Take our quick poll and see how you stack up.

Best Practices in ERP Project Management: The 7 Deadly Sins of Project Estimating

Posted by on October 26, 2011

Here’s an interesting article with great perspective on project estimating from the Project Management Institute, PM Network Magazine.

The world of project management doesn’t seem like it would often overlap with theology (other than the occasional realization that only divine intervention could bring in certain projects on-time and on- budget).  However, the seven deadly sins are remarkably applicable to project estimating. Take a look!

#1. Greed

This sin normally applies to material wealth, but people can also hoard information and time. Greed and fear are often related. With estimating, the questions often asked are, “Why are you asking me for my data?” “Do you know how busy I am?”  Sometimes team members do not feel they have the time to spare to share data and past experiences, and when this happens, ultimately the estimates suffer. Charitable teamwork by everyone helps us come up with numbers based on our shared experience and internal tools, rather than guesswork.

#2. Gluttony

As project managers and development estimators, we’ve often seen others add contingency costs to project estimates in lieu of doing the real work upfront to produce an accurate estimate.  The problem with this is that when this is handed up to the overall project manager, chances are another few contingency cost points will be added.  The end result is a bloated estimate.  This sin just adds good hours on top of bad hours. The message is don’t pad your estimates; do the work up front.

#3. Sloth

Rather than using good tools, methods and models backed up by historical data, correct training and documentation, lazy estimates are too often the norm. Don’t just guess.   These estimates relate to project costs as well as timelines, when we actually need things to be completed. We have all heard the lazy client say “I need it ASAP!”  or heard a project manager say “We really need to have it by November 1st. I don’t care what you have to do.” Arbitrary dates and guestimates for costs are too arbitrary, and impossible to manage to when everyone knows they are not accurate to begin with. The message is put in the time to maintain realistic dates from clients and put together realistic estimates on hours to deliver.

#4. Wrath

One of the benefits of a diligent estimating model is that it takes much of the emotional sound and fury out of conversations with clients and with management. Construction of accurate models is a journey, requiring patient, continuous improvement over time.  No one likes to call the client with budget and timeline misses, or similar calls with management, so up-front work pays dividends.

#5. Envy

If you have seen a better process someplace else, bring it up! Do not sit back and wish we did things that way. No one wants to work in a failing system if you’ve seen it work someplace else differently and with better results, then share!  We want your feedback and are open to process-improvement planning. We incorporated much of what we do from the direct experience from our team members.  Don’t envy the old ways, bring new ideas up and help us all to improve.

#6. Pride

When it becomes clear we cannot meet a goal we have committed to, sometimes we shift our commitment to a target we are able to reach. Rather than be up-front about our ineffectiveness and use our metrics as an opportunity to improve, we re-baseline to make ourselves look good. At the end of each year, we are able to say we had made 90 percent of our targets, but these are misleading measurements because we are only looking at things from our point of view and not our customers! If our estimates are off, don’t be too proud to talk with the customer  to push the timeline or re-visit the budget. Move over pride, make room for humility!

#7. Lust

You ever know a customer or project manager who wants what they want when they want it, no matter what? Inflexibility on delivery can come with its share of problems. Insisting a team meet every delivery deadline without exception and by exclusively tying success to meeting schedules  will lead to a team shipping a product on time – no matter how low its quality is.  What’s wrong with that? Industry data show that we can stamp out bugs for as little as US$60 each if caught early in the process. Once in the field, we have spent as much as US$15,000 to fix a single defect.

So gang, like most people, sometimes we are sinners. Sometimes we are saints. In both roles, we’ve learned that a good estimate leads to better success in everything we do.

Best Practices in ERP Project Management: Effective Communication

Posted by on September 28, 2011

In working with teammates and customers, our ability to communicate effectively is not only key; it is what our customers and team members expect from us. Here are a few things to keep in mind that can help increase your odds for effective, clear communication:

  • Outline the issue or opportunity to be addressed
  • Agree on a shared reality. Both parties must agree on the current reality as it relates to the given issue or opportunity
  • Outline a realistic timeline
  • Relay information about the environment in which the team will be working (if relevant)
  • Identify what to expect from unfolding events (i.e. risk awareness)
  • Create contingency plans (i.e. what to do should something go wrong)
  • Agree on preferred communication paths
  • If applicable, agree on and execute a relevant feedback loop to ensure the given issue or opportunity is properly addressed

By outlining this information, we enable teammates and customers to be more engaged. We also put them in a better position to react to changing circumstances and unexpected events. This structure also reduces the chances for error and allows subsequent communication to be concise and exception-based. Most importantly, if we follow the above ground rules for communication, we will create an engaged, connected and alert team that can share information in meaningful ways. We’ll also benefit from a team with members who can suggest improvements to each other because everyone is informed.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

—George Bernard Shaw


Quick Poll: The Price War Trap

Posted by on September 12, 2011

Norm Brodsky at discussed the price-war trap in a recent article. We’re wondering how your company is responding in this quick poll

Quick Poll: What is your biggest concern as we head into the 2nd half of 2011?

Posted by on August 8, 2011

Participate in the survey: What is your biggest concern as we head into the 2nd half of 2011?.

Best Practices in ERP Project Management: Decisions are Progress

Posted by on August 3, 2011

I enjoyed reading about how quick decisions can impact culture in Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier. Here are some highlights and thoughts:

When you put off decisions, they pile up. Piles end up ignored, dealt with in haste, or thrown out. As a result, the individual problems stay unresolved. Whenever you can, swap ”Let’s think about it” for “Lets decide”. Commit to making decisions. Don’t wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward.

When you get in a flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale. Decisions are progress. Each one you make is a brick in your foundation. You can’t build on ”Lets decide later”, but you can build on ”Done”.

Don’t postpone decisions in the hope the perfect answer will come to you later. It won’t. You are as likely to make a great call today as you are tomorrow. It doesn’t matter how much you plan, you will still get some stuff wrong. Don’t make things worse by over-analyzing and delaying. Long projects zap morale. The longer it takes to develop, the less likely it is to launch. You don’t have to live with a decision forever. If you make a mistake, you can always correct it later.

Make the call, make progress—get something out now, while you’ve got the motivation. When we model a culture of quick decision-making we’ll also build a motivated, optimistic environment, and amazing momentum.

Is Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Computing Solution for ERP the Death Knell of SPLA Hosting Providers?

Posted by on July 6, 2011

The Microsoft Azure platform is here and the roll out of Cloud Computing for Microsoft Dynamics ERP is on the horizon. It seems logical when Dynamics ERP is available through Azure that our practice will no longer be reliant on a third party hosting solution for our clients who want their ERP solution from the cloud. I can’t help but feel that, in the long-term, we’re likely to see a serious change in the way Azure cloud services impacts relationships between resellers and SPLA partners. It’s obvious that Microsoft’s end goal is to help everyone better serve our customers. I doubt it will be the death knell of service provider partnerships. However, it does raise a few questions. We’ll be watching for answers to these questions and more from the market and from Microsoft:

  • How will the role of the SPLA partners transform once Microsoft Dynamics ERP is available through Azure?
  • What will the cost savings be for the customers?
  • What changes will we see in the integration process for rolling out Microsoft Dynamics ERP in the cloud with Azure?

The launch of Dynamics ERP through Azure is slated to bring simple, flexible hosting solutions to the mainstream reseller. It’s touted that the flexibility and functionality of Azure, will enable us to add more horsepower with just a couple of clicks. We’ll also be able to manage the rest of our cloud computing service quickly and easily using the Azure control console.

Take for example, CoreMotives, a Microsoft partner offering marketing automation solutions for companies using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. As the company started to outgrow its server infrastructure, hosted by a third party, customers started experiencing processing delays. CoreMotives migrated its solution to the Azure platform to take advantage of scalable storage, processing power, and hosting by Microsoft. The company was able to increase its scalability, shortened its time-to-market, and improved the infrastructure reliability. Windows Azure serves as the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers.

I believe the Microsoft Azure platform coupled with the power of the Microsoft Dynamics ERP solutions will transform our industry and give us the tools to serve our customers better with a more flexible, scalable, and secure solution for hosting ERP in the cloud. I for one can’t wait to see the results.

Jody Leoni is President of eSoftware Professionals – the oldest Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP solution center in North America. Jody writes about best practices in inventory management, material requirements planning (MRP), top concerns facing food industry executives, as well as best practices in accounting software solutions on this blog and at ERP Software Blog.

Is it Alphabet Soup or CRM?

Posted by on October 8, 2010

CRM and xyM Business Management ToolsCRM, (Customer Relationship Management), xRM, and xyM may sound like alphabet soup to you now, however, the changes Microsoft is bringing to MS Dynamics CRM are more than just changes in letters. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is truly transforming the way we do business in extraordinary ways. As I mentioned in my previous article “CRM, xRM, MS Financing and more”, the business tool Microsoft Dynamics CRM is not restricted to just the Sales, Marketing and Customer Service departments anymore. And by the way, we are already using it for more than just customers. Microsoft Dynamics CRM has already expanded its reach to include all departments, as well as vendors, partners, suppliers, and anyone else you communicate with. This expansion replaced the C (customer) in CRM to an X (for anything) and brought us xRM, Microsoft’s new Anything Management System.

What is next for this powerful business management tool? You may have already guessed (I gave you a hint in the first paragraph). Microsoft’s seamless integration of Microsoft Dynamics CRM with the other MS Office products you already use allows us to move from mere “relationship” management, to all around “business” management. With simple one-click integration you can tie any conversation, document, spreadsheet, quote, bid, invoice, etc. to the appropriate contact/company. And since you are all connected via Outlook and CRM, it is immediately visible to the rest of your organization – if you want it to be. This allows you to track much more than just “relationship” in CRM. Now you can track any type of business process or entity. No more asking Joe to update you on how many of the vendor bids have come in for the pending contract, or asking Judy about how far along we are for the engineering change request. Now you have the business tool to get the information you need, when you need it.

From either MS Outlook, or MS Dynamics CRM, simply click the link on your supplier’s name and view all the documents, bids, quotes, invoices in one place without having to interrupt Joe to do it. Same goes for Judy – let her keep working, and in the meantime go into the system and bring up the engineering change process, and see how much of the project workflow has been completed. Going from Relationship to Business management or xRM to xyM streamlines all the information in your organization, allows visibility to information throughout the organization, and improves productivity.

If you are as intrigued as I am with the changes in just the first two letters from CRM to xyM I know you will want to find out what is in store for the “M” in CRM and xyM. You may have already guessed, it is not just for management, but what does that mean to you, your business, and your bottom line? I will be writing about the third transformation soon, I know you will not want to miss it.

Where did these lamps come from and other ERP questions

Posted by on September 30, 2010

Where did these lamps come from?It’s fun when I can find a real-life example to illustrate how important an effective enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is to a company’s bottom line. Here’s a great real-world example of a company in need of a new ERP solution.

Six months ago a colleague Tom and his wife Emily ordered three lamps from a local retailer. Because the items were out of stock the retailer placed them on back order from their drop shipper. Not willing to wait, Emily promptly canceled the order, was refunded, and bought the lamps elsewhere. Yesterday, six months later, an unmarked box arrived with three lamps. It’s the canceled order.

Here are the questions this order and shipment mix-up raised. Mind you, they are also some of the issues a good ERP system will help you solve.

  • Where did these lamps come from?
  • Why didn’t the retailer know the drop shipper was out of stock when they placed the order?
  • Did the drop shipper get notified when the order was canceled?
  • Does the retailer know the drop shipper fulfilled a canceled order?
  • Will the retailer ever learn what happened to these lamps, or has this order disappeared into a black hole?
  • Who will bear the costs created by this error, the retailer or the drop shipper?
  • How much profit and inventory is lost to mistakes like this each month and year?
  • How much money is wasted on unnecessary shipping and handling costs each month and year?
  • Why wasn’t the retailer identified somewhere on the package or packing slip instead of only the name and address of the drop shipper?
  • Why is there no contact information for the drop shipper or retailer on either the package or packing slip?
  • How and to whom does my friend return the lamps?

This example illustrates the issues caused when the systems we order and fulfill from are not connected. Sometimes we call this ‘silos of information’, other times we just call it frustrating and costly.

Here are a few questions to help you determine if you need a new ERP system.

  • Do your sales and customer service teams struggle to find up-to-date information on which products you have in stock?
  • Do your sales and customer service teams lack visibility to the back order and fulfillment systems?
  • How many times does an order (or canceled order) need to be entered for the order to be fulfilled?
    Hint: if the answer is more than one, you may need a new ERP system.
  • Your business is growing and your system can’t keep up
  • A lot of time is wasted hunting for information
  • You’re losing clients and losing money

If you answered yes to the questions above it may be time to find a qualified ERP Consultant to help. Find out more about what to expect during an ERP Implementation.

An effective ERP Systems can help improve your bottom line by

  • Eliminating the need for duplicate entries into multiple systems
  • Reducing the opportunity for operator error
  • Providing instant access to orders and inventory
  • Improving supply chain management
  • Improving efficiency
  • Improving inventory management

Do you have a story to share? We’d love to hear your company or personal experience illustrating the ramifications of inadequate supply chain management or enterprise resource planning systems either from the customer or company perspective.

Quality Control it is All or Nothing

Posted by on September 24, 2010

100 percent quality bullseyeI recently read an article by H. Mackay titled Quality Is Not a Thing, It’s a Way where he illustrated the importance of quality and quality control (QC) systems. Mackay reminds us that the only goal worth attaining in your quality control system is 100%. The following research from Insight Syncrude Canada Ltd. shows us why trying to achieve 99.9% quality can mean failure. At 99.9% quality these things could happen:

  • Two flights per day at O’Hare would be unsafe
  • 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day
  • 107 incorrect medical procedures would be performed each day
  • 18,322 pieces of mail would be mishandled in the next hour
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions would be written in the next year
  • 880,000 credit cards in circulation would have incorrect cardholder information in their magnetic strips

In the food & beverage industry quality is not only one of the important factor to success, I’d say it is the most important factor. In the age of increasing food recall incidents, growing government regulation, and difficult economic times it is critical to have the right quality system in place. Food Processors need to ensure they can effectively track each ingredient from the moment it enters the facility, at each processing step, during storage and transportation, all the way through to the final product sale and delivery. The quality management and regulatory compliance program needs to enable companies in the food industry to perform a mock recall within four hours. It’s not to say we won’t have food recalls. As a food industry executive reminded me,

“when you run food, you’ll have recalls, it’s just a fact of the business.”

The important focus here is that we aim for 100% quality and we install the systems we need to quickly and effectively respond n the event it happens. The companies who are nimble enough to survive food recalls, economic downturns, and other business challenges will be those with fail-safe quality systems and comprehensive enterprise resource planning solutions in place. These systems shorten the time between problem identification and solution. Effective QC Systems and ERP Solutions enable companies to track product, make critical decisions, and implement solutions all in minutes – not days.

I’ll leave you with one final quote from H. Mackay, Mackay’s Moral on quality:

The difference between failure and success is the difference between doing a thing nearly right and doing it exactly right.

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