The Three Stages of a Manufacturing Implementation

In the world of business today, it is no secret that manufacturing is one of the most varied and unique industries in operation.

Because of this variation, one manufacturing company is often very different from another, even among manufacturers producing the same type of goods. One factor that often becomes a key differentiator for these companies is the manufacturing resource planning (MRP) system that they employ.

A good MRP should be able to integrate with warehouse management system (WMS) software, a barcode scanning system, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, to name just a few. Implementing these systems and tying them all together cohesively is typically a herculean task, and companies that try to do so without employing outside help (or not enough help) almost immediately find that the task is all but impossible to complete successfully.

By selecting an experienced implementation vendor, an organization is able to cut down on the number of headaches caused by the new system and take advantage of the vast wealth of knowledge from experienced consultants who have been through multiple implementations for a wide variety of businesses.

Because my experience comes from implementing the Microsoft Dynamics suite of software, this article will be written from the perspective of a Dynamics consultant, although the lessons here could easily be extrapolated and applied to any MRP implementation.

Stage 1: Planning and Preparation

There are three primary stages of the process for an MRP implementation – planning/prep, configuration/implementation, and go-live/post go-live.

First comes the planning/preparatory stage, where the consulting team and the client will hold meetings and brainstorm about the system to-be. This is where the consulting team will meet with SMEs and key stakeholders to gather information about the business and come to a deep understanding of the daily processes.

This is also the time where you, as the client, need to take a step back and evaluate your current business practices in order to determine where there are inefficiencies that could be solved either through retooling the process itself or recording it differently in the new system. A typical implementation is going to be a mixture of modifying your processes and configuring the software to fit existing practices.

This planning stage is going to be key to a successful implementation. You can have the absolute best consultants in the world, but if you do not take the time and provide the people to communicate how your business works, the system put in place to support the business is not going to reflect what you truly need.

A good consulting firm is going to have deep knowledge of implementation best practices, and will know the right questions to ask. As Microsoft Dynamics consultants, we use Microsoft’s SureStep program as a starting point, digging deep into the detail of a client’s day-to-day business in order to gain a thorough understanding of key business operations.

Communicating with the client by phone, web meeting, and email, we collaborate with the SMEs in filling out deeply-detailed FRD documents to provide as much information as possible about the current processes and requirements for the new system. It cannot be stressed enough: without first having a complete understanding of the client’s requirements, the project cannot hope to be a success.

Part of the planning and prep should also include a review of current data. Because you will be moving to a new system, this is the perfect time to scrub your current data prior to importing it, thereby eliminating duplicate records and obsolete data.

Oftentimes, this old data piles up in the database because it doesn’t have an obvious effect on day-to-day work. But this can cause needless complications during implementation if it’s simply left to be converted with the rest of the data, as it often doesn’t conform to already-established system parameters, causing confusion and delays during the mapping and import process.

In addition, if there is a considerable volume of obsolete/bad data hanging around in the system, it can eventually take a toll on system performance. As discussed, a manufacturing firm is often a very unique organization, so anything that can simplify the implementation will help you, your employees, and the consulting team you’re working with. A good consultant will be able to provide suggestions for helping you locate and delete these obsolete records prior to doing the data pulls for import into the new system.

Stage 2: Configuration/Implementation

The next step is the implementation itself, which is the configuration of the new system, data import, user acceptance testing, feedback loop, and final sign-off before choosing a go-live date. This is where the rubber truly meets the road, and every organization is unique.

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Your consulting team should be in frequent communication with you and your SMEs as the system is configured according to the information gathered in the first stage. As the implementation proceeds and abstract requirements are translated into concrete system processes, there should be a steady stream of communication to ensure that the system being implemented is fitting your needs.

There will always be some variation during this process, as new requirements or additional nuances are uncovered and modifications are requested to accommodate. During this stage, it is not uncommon to re-tool the employee processes to better fit the new system as opportunities for additional efficiency are uncovered. After all, you are buying this software to make your organization more efficient, so it only makes sense that the business processes are part of this endeavour.

Stage 3: Go-live/Post Go-live

Finally, there is the go-live/post go-live stage. This is the big moment, when all of the planning, preparing, implementing, and data cleanup that you’ve been doing finally pays off.

Typically, the consultant team will do a final import of converted data over the weekend or during scheduled downtime, and then the switch will be flipped to bring the new system online. The first few days of working with a new system can often cause some discomfort and issues with users as they get used to doing things in a new way.

For a manufacturing organization, this is particularly true, due in part to the uniqueness of operations, which can sometimes require a process change when a new system is implemented.

This is one of the primary reasons why a good Dynamics consultant will come on-site to assist with support and operations from an MRP and ERP standpoint, while also providing scheduled and ad-hoc training sessions to make sure users are familiar with all of the new functionality as well as the day-to-day processes they will do as part of their normal responsibilities.

Post go-live, a system can live or die based on the level of support. Your users will inevitably have questions after the consultants have left, and even the most carefully-configured system can experience hiccups. This is when a good technical support team will have your back. It is not uncommon for this support team to be composed of a mix of support personnel and the same Dynamics consultants who helped implement your system.

The most important piece, however, is ensuring that the support is responsive and knowledgeable. The last thing you want is for your system to go down and then for support to take four hours to respond. Normally, this is something you would ask when vetting potential partners, although many people tend to forget this crucial piece.

Your users may need follow-up training sessions to go over certain nuances of the new system, and these can usually be done remotely if desired. The important piece is that there is a support team available to you after the go-live to assist with anything that comes up, as things inevitably will.

If you are considering implementing a new ERP/MRP/WMS solution, hopefully this article sparks a few ideas or brings up valuable discussion points as you consider your next step forward. We’d love to walk with you along the way – give us a call at 301-360-0001, or send us an email at sales@ktlsolutions.com. We look forward to hearing from you!