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Hit the bullseye with your ERP implementation methodology: Q&A with Arbela’s Viktor Lesiv

By Sarah D. Morgan, Customer Success Manager, Arbela Technologies

When it comes to ERP implementation methodology a common theme is “Just pick one, you can’t go wrong as long as you follow through.” But as we all know, if you choose an implementation partner based on their glossy methodology slides during the sales cycle presentation but they don’t properly execute during delivery, you will not have a successful go-live. To explore how a methodology works, how you know it’s working, and how to pick a partner based on their track record, I sit down with Arbela’s Director of Delivery & Technology for his point of view. A point that is punctuated by his discipline to detail which permeates in his hobby as a champion archer.

Sarah: Viktor, how did you get into Dynamics?

Viktor: My experience with Dynamics AX goes back to version 2.5 where I worked extensively with Microsoft. During that time, I realized that only 20% of rich Dynamics functionality is used and implemented by the user community. At that time, I was heavily involved in managing my own practice at Celenia where I worked primarily with the largest AX partners and Global ISV customers. Because of this, I began making delivery methodology my primary focus.

Sarah: What is the definition of the “right” delivery process?

Viktor: Let’s start with, “What is a methodology?” Methodology is a combination of roles and standard operating procedures for roles. These are practically proven step by step processes for how your project structure collaborates and works with the customer. Methodology is focused on one specific goal, which is always customer success. This plus Dynamic’s expertise in people who are tasked to deliver solutions to the customer. Another important asset is the library of reusable artifacts for successful delivery and project governance.  Those are all components of implementation methodology.  

Sarah: Do you believe that one methodology is as good as another as long as it is followed?

Viktor: Most methodologies can eventually lead to go-live assuming they are followed. However, a customer will get the most value from their investment when they choose a delivery team with a proven and efficient methodology strategy. Arbela has a good niche - we have chosen to be more agile, to deliver faster with more value, and to operate as a team more efficiently.

Sarah: Isn’t it more about your business goals? How much you want to accomplish?

Viktor: Arbela provides this through digital transformation. Eventually, it’s not about implementing a system. It’s about choosing a partner who understands your business and is an expert in a specific industry who can help a customer to choose the right tools.

Sarah: Whose primary role is it on the project to manage the methodology?

Viktor: The role that enforces the methodology is the project sponsor and a person who leads internal Arbela Process and QA. I lead the implementation and QA process. I am a project sponsor. Eventually, the project manager is involved. We always allow project managers to define various expectations. Not all cases are the same, so you need to adopt. But the project manager handles that. I release and enforce how the project methodology is followed. I also ensure the project sponsor from the business side has the right direction.

Sarah: What is the relationship between the project plan and the methodology?

Viktor: A repeatable project plan is the cornerstone of the methodology. It links the implementation scope with roles and operating procedures and requires that the implementation team is thoroughly trained in executing. For instance, as a competitive archer, I shoot my bow at a competition (which is my project in this analogy). In the shooting sequence, you must do everything exactly as you have in practice. If you start thinking and start following a different sequence other than how you’ve been trained you will fail. In archery, you adjust to the wind. Where the wind blows that is a part of the process that you have been trained to follow precisely and exactly. Aiming off target is like change management in the project. You follow the same processes but when there are changes you have change management. The project plan helps you define the execution process the team follows. The more repeatable it is the more successful your people will be.  

Sarah: Customer perspective what is the first indicator that the methodology isn’t being followed properly?

Viktor: When the implementation project starts, the customer sees the Statement of Work and the deliverables indicated. The first indication is there is no project plan delivered up front and someone says we’ll create a project plan. The second red flag is when you have deliverables in the plan and the partner doesn’t send you the templates or when the deliverables are complete, they don’t match the template. This shows you that the project team, though experienced in functionality, is not following the methodology process. The red flag is there is not a central collaboration tool where both the customer and partner work on the implementation. It’s a myth to think you don’t need this or you can cut corners. Methodology is the key to success for your project. It simply must be followed in a disciplined manner.

Sarah: Tell me more about a central collaboration tool?

Viktor: At Arbela, we use VSTS Visual Studio to do detailed planning and task management on both functional and technical sides for the customer. We have a list of standard processes to make project work consistent. All decisions that we discuss with the customer are captured in a very structured repeatable library that we manage in VSTS. It is connected to the project plan and Dynamics AX and Dynamics products and helps us to utilize our time efficiently.

Sarah: You haven’t mentioned change orders. Are too many change orders ever an indicator of a project methodology problem?  

Viktor: Change orders are a part of the process. At Arbela, we are trying to be lean and we don’t want to overpromise or under promise. This is the reason we selected an agile methodology. For the customer – this implementation is typically first or maximum second in their business life. For Arbela – we’ve completed hundreds of implementations. So, our goal is to help train the customer to be ready – but we never run ahead of the customer.

What we typically see when customers begin a project is they don’t always or deeply know what they would like to achieve and so we begin by walking them through our standard process. We never push a customer until the customer lets us know they are ready. When you get a lot of change orders it means the customer is learning the system and they have started asking for more as the business confirms the need. Change order approvals are more efficient than signing a new SOW for every need.

Sarah: I see testing falling into different stages in different partner methodologies. What is your approach?

Viktor: Testing is never an afterthought, the right testing – i.e. unit testing, functional, UAT, and regression. Especially for D365 for Finance and Operations because the cost of a mistake is already big. We have a methodical approach for executing testing ensuring the solution is fully ready and reduces risks. This helps go lives happen more seamlessly. We put a huge focus on testing and we don’t want anything to happen in production that has to be addressed later. During the implementation, we don’t have access to the production system, so we must work hard coordinating to be able to promote a fix. For the business, mistakes are expensive, so we try to achieve perfection.

Sarah: What is your highest recommendation when a customer is choosing a partner based on their methodology approach?

Viktor: First, look for the right experience based on a detailed curriculum. When any partner talks to the customer, the partner needs to walk them through the path of the methodology. The prospect should remember it is the 100th time the partner has implemented this product and to expect that whatever the partner shows must be detailed, logical, and explains the sequences.

A question the prospect should ask the partner is, “How successful have you been with this methodology?” The partner should always show a successful base of collaboration with the customer which is not based on the project plan but based on evidence of successful collaboration with the customer. These should be repeatable consistent project plans that go to the test level. That leads you through the main steps for all implementations. The partner should never come with a blank list of questions in the customer’s industry. They should walk the customer through industry best practices.

Sarah: Viktor what do get more satisfaction from shooting a bullseye or a successful ERP implementation?

Viktor: A successful go live! The implementation is a team sport. Archery is an individual sport. I’m the coach that supports and trains each person on the team to hit a bullseye. So as a coach, I enjoy it much more when the team is successful. Hitting a bullseye by myself is not so important.