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Finance Transformation

ERP Implementation: Process Improvement & Scoping Make All the Difference

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Implementing a new ERP system is a big undertaking, requiring careful planning and preparation. As such, a key part of that planning is to closely examine your existing processes and identify opportunities for improvement before configuring the new system. You know, the ol' build a solid foundation to put your cutting-edge, gaming-changing ERP on top of kind of thing.

Granted, process improvement and scoping may sound more like watching paint dry than driving critical, instrumental transformation in your organization. But don't let that staid and stodgy facade fool you – your ability to optimize the processes around your ERP and data flows can make or break your implementation. And a whole lot more, for that matter.

Therefore, to ensure your ERP investment maximizes ROI and fulfills every goal and objective you have for it – and then some – we're looking at the essential role process improvement and scoping play, sharing insights and best practices into critical areas like:

Pretty thorough, huh? So let's dive right in.

What Is a Business Process?

Before we get into why processes are so important to implementing an enterprise resource planning platform, let's level set on exactly what constitutes a business process in the first place.

Business processes represent the end-to-end workflows that drive operations, from top-level objectives down to task execution. They have defined inputs, outputs, sequence flows, metrics, and owners, like, for example:

  • Order fulfillment
  • Financial period close
  • Payroll runs
  • Deal pursuit
  • Invoice processing
  • Return management

Basically, anything that has a specific workflow crossing teams, systems, and tools can qualify as a process.

Closely related to business processes are its first cousin, procedures. These refer to documented guidelines for performing discrete tasks like processing returns or conducting employee onboarding. They provide established sets of steps for consistent process execution.

Zooming out a bit, you optimize at the process level to transform broader operations but use enhanced procedures to incrementally improve task efficiency. This is an important distinction to keep in mind as we wade into the process optimization waters a bit deeper, focusing on processes to overhaul and not necessarily procedures to refine. However, they obviously work in conjunction with one another – two sides of the same process improvement coin.

Types of Business Processes

Putting an even finer point on our definition of business processes, while every company has unique processes, most share common categories core to running their business. Not coincidentally, these categories also happen to align exceptionally well with the different areas a cloud ERP – like NetSuite, to use a popular example – addresses with its many modules, including:

  • Finance and Accounting – Record to report, consolidated financial reporting, monthly close, expense reporting, budgeting
  • Procurement – Sourcing, vendor management, purchasing, receiving, payables
  • Order Management – Lead to cash, direct & indirect sales channels, pricing configuration, returns
  • Inventory and Fulfillment– Forecasting, logistics, warehousing, shipping, replenishment
  • Talent Management – Recruiting, onboarding, learning, compensation, retention
  • IT – Solution evaluation, asset management, change control, incident response
  • Product Development – Requirements gathering, design, build, test, release

These represent crucial areas where honed processes ultimately impact customer and financial performance. So, yes, they're a very big deal. Or at least should be.

What Are Process Improvement and Scoping?

But our focus today isn't on processes at the highest levels but, more importantly, how critical process improvement and scoping are to efficiently and effectively implementing an ERP.

Process improvement refers to the act of analyzing your current processes, identifying pain points and inefficiencies, and then redesigning those processes to be smoother, faster, and more cost-effective. This is an intentional effort to make your processes better.

Some common process improvements include:

  • Eliminating redundant steps
  • Clarifying decision rights
  • Standardizing procedures  
  • Improving hand-offs between teams
  • Increasing automation
  • Enhancing data flows
  • Streamline data migration

Meanwhile, process scoping refers to clearly defining the boundaries of a project, defining what you will and won't include in the implementation plan, the requirements, and the expected outcomes. Some key scoping activities are:

  • Documenting business requirements
  • Mapping existing workflows 
  • Identifying integration touchpoints
  • Detailing feature requirements
  • Developing test plans
  • Defining rollout strategy

Scoping helps align stakeholders on the goals and plan for the project. It also helps accurately estimate the time and resources you'll need along the way.

Why Are Process Improvement and Scoping So Important?

So, you're investing significant time, money, and resources into implementing a sophisticated ERP solution. You naturally want to maximize your return on that investment, right? Because ROI makes the corporate world go 'round.   

Therefore, it only makes sense to focus on process improvement and comprehensive scoping as early as possible. This helps ensure your ERP implementation project successfully meets your business needs and positions you for future growth.

Process Improvement Key Benefits

The bottom line – embracing process improvement and meticulous scoping not only fine-tunes your ERP implementation but also unlocks some pretty potent strategic advantages for your organization. Let's look at just a handful of the benefits you stand to realize on the implementation front.

Ensure a Good Fit Between Your ERP Software and Business Needs

Many companies try to mold their processes to fit the software, rather than optimizing the software to support their desired processes. 

By taking the time upfront to critically evaluate your processes, you can configure your ERP instance to enable those streamlined processes instead of workflows and tasks that don't align well with your business.

Further, careful scoping prevents improperly or partially implemented features that fail to fully meet your needs. It also reduces disruptive changes mid-implementation as requirements shift or become clearer. 

Drive Adoption Through User Buy-In

A flawless implementation methodology does you exactly zero good if your employees don't actually use it. Process improvement done right actively engages key users in shaping how the system will work. This sense of ownership makes them far more likely to embrace it.

On the flip side, rolling out processes designed from the top down with little user input leads to pushback or even outright rejection of the new system. As backward as it sounds, people will stick to old spreadsheets and offline workarounds rather than adopt workflows they had no voice in designing. Truth.

Build a Solid Process Foundation for A Successful Go-Live

Even in the face of shifting business needs, your processes and requirements can still form the stable core of your ERP implementation. Thus, investing the time to get those processes right means you can modify the software as needed while retaining solid process foundations.

Without clear processes, you risk ending up with an inflexible hairball of customized software that's impossible to sustain or build upon. 

Identify Quick Wins 

An experienced implementation partner can evaluate your processes with an eye toward both quick wins and major improvement opportunities. Fixing low-hanging fruit issues can quickly establish momentum, deliver immediate value, and buy goodwill for larger changes down the road. 

Enable Scalability 

To successfully scale a system implementation, the processes it enables must scale in lock-step. Solid process improvement ensures, for example, that you can onboard new hires effectively as your company grows. It also means your processes won't break when transaction volume increases.  

This scalability prevents the need to MacGyver new solutions out of your shiny ERP system after your go-live date. Because that's never fun or productive. 

Reduce ERP Implementation Costs and Timelines 

Ironically, investing in process improvement on the front end can accelerate your implementation timeline and reduce overall costs. That's because it minimizes disruptive changes mid-stream that can delay projects and drive up consulting fees. 

On the other hand, a lack of planning upfront can cost dearly down the road. Our advice is to look beyond theoretical benefits – poor planning risks real cost overruns. In the end, an early, seamless alignment between your business and ERP will lead to a more rapid, efficient, successful implementation process. 

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How to Approach Process Improvement and Scoping 

At this point, we assume you're chugging the process improvement and scoping Koolaid, convinced of how crucial they are to maximize ROI on your ERP investment. But what's the best way to tackle these activities? Here are some proven best practices: 

  • Start with "Why?" – As you evaluate your current processes, constantly ask "why?" to uncover the root causes behind problems. Why is this process slow? Why are there errors? Why are people using workarounds? The 5 Whys technique can help get to the source of issues:
    • Identify the Problem: Start with a clear and concise statement of the problem at hand. This could be anything from a delay in a process to an error in a system.
    • Ask "Why?" the First Time: Ask why the problem occurs. This first answer will often lead to another question.
    • Repeat the Question: Continue asking "Why?" for each response you receive. The idea is to drill down layer by layer, uncovering successive levels of causes and effects.
    • Find the Root Cause: Usually, by the time you've asked "Why?" five times, you'll have reached the root cause of the problem. This is the fundamental issue that is leading to the symptomatic problems you initially identified.
    • Develop Solutions: Once you identify the root cause, you can begin developing solutions that address this core issue, which are more likely to be effective and long-lasting.
  • Take a top-down and bottom-up view – Get perspectives from both process owners and end-users. Leadership sets direction but staff know where the pain points are.  
  • Document everything – Detail all steps in each process as well as the stakeholders, hand-offs, and requirements involved. Heavy-duty documentation ensures alignment and supports training.
  • Don't optimize broken processes – No amount of automation or tweaking will fix fundamentally flawed processes. Recognize when you need more transformational redesign.
  • Focus on value, not just technology – Don't let software features distract you. Stay focused on how technology supports process and business objectives.
  • Plan for adoption – Make sure to include training, change and project management, and reinforcement mechanisms to drive process adherence. 
  • Secure executive sponsorship – Leadership must visibly own and champion process changes for them to stick long-term. Walk the talk, C-suite.
  • Involve an experienced partner – Consider partnering with an experienced specialist to boost your processes. They bring a wealth of industry knowledge, helping to speed up your evaluations with their expertise. It's about finding the right equilibrium, complementing your standard process reviews with their seasoned insights.
  • Use well-crafted templates – Focused templates can help you identify areas for improvement, especially when you customize them to fit your unique situation. Use them in conjunction with knowledgeable outside specialists to blend a streamlined system with tailored expertise, leaving you with a thorough yet personalized approach to enhancing your processes.

Current vs. Future State Process Mapping  

Moving right along, one of the most essential areas of your approach involves an in-depth understanding of where you are and where you want to be at different points down the road. Therefore, make the end-to-end documentation of current state processes a centerpiece of the evaluation phase, using flow diagrams to reflect all key steps, stakeholders, systems, decision gates, and execution mechanics.

This method uncovers any disconnects between documented procedures and actual practices, not to mention bottlenecks for fact-based analysis.

Once you've fully visualized current states, shift to envisioning future state processes that address constraints and pain points you've identified in your current state. From there, you want to map potential workflows that reflect ideal sequences and responsibilities – don't just optimize broken as-is states. This future state design becomes the blueprint for your system configurations and rollout.

Critical Processes to Review Before an ERP Implementation

While your process improvement review should cover all major workflows, certain foundational business processes are essential for your ERP implementation:

Order-to-Cash

The Order-to-cash (O2C) process is a crucial business workflow, spanning from the initiation of a sales order to the final collection of payment and cutting across sales, billing, fulfillment, and accounting along the way.

Typical challenges include:

  • Manual order entry causing delays
  • Inaccurate revenue recognition
  • Invoice errors leading to disputes/collections issues
  • Poorly structured pricing and discounting

Order-to-cash runs hand-in-hand with the customer experience. You'll want to ensure your sales and finance configurations support the delivery of an excellent customer journey.

Procure-to-Pay  

The procure-to-pay cycle starts with purchasing goods or services and ends with vendor payment. It involves procurement, receiving, accounts payable, and supplier management. 

Common procure-to-pay problem areas include:

  • Maverick spending outside approved processes
  • Duplicate vendor records
  • Missing receipt records
  • Invoice fraud or errors
  • Slow approval workflows

Lock down this foundational process in the ERP with proper controls, visibility, and automation.

Record-to-Report

Record-to-report bridges transactions and analytics, turning raw data into financial and operational reporting. It covers everything from chart of accounts structure to reporting dashboards

Record-to-report challenges often include: 

  • Disjointed general ledger structure
  • Multiple versions of the truth
  • Reporting limitations
  • Lack of drill-down detail 
  • Difficulty tying back to transactions 

In a comprehensive ERP like NetSuite, for instance, advanced reporting can transform old reporting pain points into insights – with the right foundational setup, of course. 

While your business may have other important processes, these core areas are a must to evaluate and optimize pre-implementation.

What Makes Process Improvement Difficult?

So, if process improvement delivers such tremendous value, why do so many companies still struggle with it so much? What holds organizations back? Well, as you might've guessed, there isn't a single common challenge but many.

  • Lack of objectivity – It's hard to critically evaluate your own processes. Internal teams often suffer from confirmation bias and groupthink.  
  • Siloed perspectives – When each team only sees their piece of a process, it's hard to optimize end-to-end workflows.
  • Limited visibility – Leaders may have outdated or incomplete views of current processes within business units.
  • Policy/reality disconnect – Stated processes may be inconsistent with actual practices but people don't want to admit it.
  • Lack of documentation – Few companies have thorough process documentation, making it tough to formulate improvements.
  • Cultural obstacles – Change-resistant cultures view process evaluation as questioning the status quo rather than improving it.
  • Insufficient expertise – Most implementation teams lack experience in mapping and reengineering processes. Relevant skills take time to develop.
  • Slow, meandering change – Incremental process tweaks may gradually drift without transformative thinking.
  • Lack of ownership – With unclear process owners, problems persist and improvement efforts stall.
  • Discontinuous Engagement – Stall points can quickly arise, even post-assessment, where pressures pull resources to other urgent needs. Success requires consciously maintaining stakeholder engagement across process changes and assigning ownership to drive lasting participation.
  • Stealth Saboteurs – Last but certainly not least, properly scoped and configured systems can still suffer when deployed if adoption disciplines fade. Staff retreating to old, inefficient practices or executives pushing pet workflows can counteract the work you put in upfront.

Thankfully, a capable partner can help you overcome these challenges with independent expertise, broad process knowledge, and change management experience. Still, it takes executive leadership's willingness to accept objective feedback and prioritize continuous improvement for an implementation to take flight. 

Who Should Be Involved in Process Improvement? 

Process improvement isn't an academic exercise as real change requires engaging the people doing the actual work. Go figure. 

But determining the right stakeholders isn't always straightforward. Therefore, we have some guiding principles on who you should involve. 

Experts on the current process – People regularly executing a workflow know what's really happening day-to-day. They have direct visibility into pain points.

  • Adjacencies – Include people who hand off work to teams upstream or downstream. This helps spot misalignments between groups.
  • Sample representation – Get input from multiple people across levels, not just managers. Every perspective is valuable.
  • Agents of change – Involve influential team members whom others consider influencers and can help drive adoption.
  • Leadership – Don't just delegate to working teams. Senior leaders must stay involved to reinforce the importance of process discipline.

Remember, you ideally want a cross-functional project team that includes all levels – senior leadership, process experts, technical leads, influential change agents, and adjacent teams. Resist the temptation to limit involvement to just process owners or decision-makers since broader inclusion will lead to better solutions with higher engagement. 

Process Improvement Techniques and Tools

Now that you have the right people at the table, what techniques and tools can you leverage to inform any process redesign you might need? We have some thoughts on this area as well. 

  • Value stream mapping – Visually map each step in a workflow end-to-end. Identify value-add vs. non-value-add activities. 
  • Root cause analysis – Once again, ask "why" at each process pain point to determine the underlying issue. This is especially useful for structural vs. one-off problems.
  • Waste walks – Literally walk the process flow to gain firsthand observational insights into pain points.
  • Time studies – Quantify how much time workers actually spend on each sub-process. 
  • Survey – Poll users on what's working, pain points, and ideas for improvement. This is great for gathering broad input.
  • Benchmarking data – Compare process performance metrics against industry standards to identify gaps.
  • Maturity assessment – Score your process against standard maturity criteria to diagnose any capabilities you can enhance.  
  • Interviews – Have in-depth, one-on-one discussions with stakeholders based on a standard script to mine for process insights.
  • Focus groups – Facilitate structured group discussions on a specific process, an especially great tool for collective problem-solving.  
  • Process simulation – Model the potential impact of process changes through simulations with purpose-built tools like UiPath.
  • Data analysis – Analyze process data like cycle times, quality metrics, and costs to identify improvement opportunities. 
  • Observation – Sit with teams during process execution to gain firsthand experience of how work gets done.

Granted, this is just a smidge of the helpful techniques you can use. In reality, there are many ways to gather insights into your current processes and envision how they could improve. Ultimately, our advice is to establish an eclectic, personalized, needs-based approach using the right tools for your process, culture, and objectives rather than sticking to just one technique.  

Overcoming Resistance to Change

Like it or not, even armed with irrefutable evidence and data-driven plans, driving process change can still be a steep hill to climb. People inherently change to the status quo, and that's just the way it is. Human nature.  

So, acknowledging that hurdle, how can you nudge people out of their comfort zones and embrace change? We're glad you asked. 

  • Involve teams early - Early involvement and input build ownership and acceptance 
  • Communicate the "Why" – Connect process changes to business objectives people already care about
  • Highlight the "WIFM"What's in it for me? Explain precisely how process changes will make each person's job easier
  • Leverage influencers – Identify informal leaders to evangelize changes within their teams
  • Celebrate wins – Recognize and reward those who are effectively adopting changes 
  • Fix frustration points – Target your initial changes at known pain points, that low-hanging fruit, once again
  • Phase rollouts – Take an iterative approach to smoothing large-scale change
  • Train thoroughly – Ensure people have the skills and knowledge to work in new ways

With these tactics, you can turn process improvement from a point of resistance into an embraced opportunity for positive impact.

Securing Buy-In for Changes 

Beyond these broad change management tactics, some of the biggest hurdles to overcoming resistance occur at the top. To that point, taking the following steps will help secure greater buy-in as processes evolve:

  • Involve department heads in final process sign-off procedures
  • Structure pilots for new workflows to demonstrate feasibility
  • Align KPIs and incentives to process adherence metrics
  • Arm supportive executives with key talking points on change rationale
  • Showcase positive early adopter examples from those already onboard
  • Illustrate direct support for individuals' day-to-day work vs. abstract strategy 

Gaining leadership alignment coupled with selective early involvement insulates against the inevitable resistance when disrupting ingrained legacy procedures. 

That's not to say leadership buy-in is any more important than lower-level acceptance. In fact, employee-level change management can ensure you preserve adoption for the long haul. As such, keep the needs of process executors front-and-center when analyzing and changing workflows. What improves their day-to-day reality should guide your decision-making, not abstract, ivory tower ruminations. Power to the people. 

Ready to Optimize Processes for Your ERP Implementation? 

So, where do you even begin? At the high levels, of course. The idea is to establish the right mindset and perspective first, then proceed with the fun stuff – the actual implementation. 

Emphasize Continuous Improvement 

Process enhancement should be a perpetual endeavor for your organization, not a one-offer. Thus, you should build capabilities to consistently evaluate existing workflows, benchmark emerging best practices, and drive enhancements. Dedicating yourself to constantly achieving high standards means your methods and procedures will keep evolving and growing to meet your long-term goals rather than becoming outdated or rigid.  

Define Process Excellence 

Obviously, there's no shortage of ways to optimize your workflows, but some are better than others. To distinguish truly effective enhancements that drive excellent processes from the riff-raff, look for key traits like: 

  • Clearly defined process owner accountable for performance
  • Seamless connectivity between interdependent teams
  • Coded workflows maximizing system capabilities
  • Comprehensive documentation and user training content
  • KPI dashboard monitoring adherence
  • Built-in flexibility allowing controlled variation  

Evaluating your processes against these criteria gauges maturity and helps highlight areas needing refinement. 

Elaborate on Quick Wins 

The fastest way to spur action is by demonstrating tangible progress. As we've already said a few times, savvy change managers will identify a few quick, high-impact areas for rapid success with process overhaul. These bite-sized projects prove feasibility, create momentum, and deliver immediate value, setting the stage for larger optimization efforts that require a lot more runway. 

For example, transitioning a manual intake form to online submission removes a single slow task while establishing the foundation for a possible portal expansion later. Big win, minimal effort, future benefits – it's a win-win-win. 

Role Customization Risks  

Although customizing roles can help workflows run more smoothly, making too many specific changes can make it hard to update or modify things later. It's important to find a good middle ground that supports current goals without going overboard and creating very specialized solutions you can't easily change. Make sure you really understand what you need before making any specific tweaks to roles. It's ready, aim, fire, not fire, aim, ready

Data Analysis  

Rather than relying purely on tribal knowledge, inject hard data into diagnostics, shifting discussions from opinion to fact. That's the beauty of building a robust data culture, where solid data is at the heart of every decision, not traditional ways or gut instinct.  

By analyzing statistics like cycle times, quality rates, touchpoints, and before-and-after change costs, you can produce metrics proving the impact of the process changes. 

Choose the Right ERP Implementation Partner 

Based on all we've covered, it's clear process improvement and scoping require significant time and expertise. These aren't one-off projects either – you need to bake them into your culture as ongoing disciplines.

Having your own experts who know your company's processes inside out is crucial for improving how you operate, but bringing in experienced ERP implementation consultants will offer fresh viewpoints that you wouldn't get otherwise.

These skilled outsiders flourish at guiding discussions, especially useful when you're knee-deep in complex team interactions or office politics as you work on updating established routines. They can also persuade staff members who are hesitant to change by presenting convincing arguments based on solid data and proven methods.

To revisit just some of the ways the right ERP consultants can turbocharge your process improvement and, thus, your implementation:  

  • Independent assessment – Surface inconvenient but vital truths about your processes with unbiased credibility   
  • Industry knowledge – Apply insights on leading practices gathered from hundreds of implementations
  • Change management skills – Get people onboard and aligned using proven methods
  • Technical expertise – Ensure changes maximize the capabilities of your ERP platform
  • Enhanced speed – Avoid missteps and accelerate pacing using ERP experts dedicated fully to your project plan
  • Ongoing optimization – Continue to refine and enhance processes post-implementation  

Yes, these are the exact areas where Embark's implementation services thrive. Long story short – Embark's experience and expertise help ensure you get every possible ounce of ROI from your ERP investment by improving your business processes and paving the way for a seamless implementation. 

Want to see everything a comprehensive ERP solution can do for your business? Let's talk.

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