Solution overview: hablamos tutti die gleiche language?

One of the biggest obstacles of the ERP projects is the language. Not the spoken language, such as Spanish or German, but the lingo of the business, of the branch, of the company. The consultants speak their lingo. The customer speaks theirs. Especially in the early stages, the projects can fall apart on understanding each other.

If there is one profound risk that all ERP projects share, it’s that during requirement analysis and early stages of design the consultant won’t understand the customer’s need, and that the customer won’t really understand what consultant is proposing. A bad choice, and there goes another failed project.

Luckily, there is a tool in Sure Step which is used specifically to eliminate this risk of misunderstanding: the Solution Overview.

Take a simple example. One simple word.

Account.

What is it? What does it mean to you? If you are an accountant, then it’s an account in the general ledger. If you are a salesman, it’s a customer. If you are a network administrator, it’s a user account.

It’s the same word, used in the same company to represent three different things. If a customer asks for an account management tool, you can sure-fire a reply: “yes we have it”. And fail.

On a project I was once involved with, the sales team has told the customer that “yes, we have product cost calculation in NAV”. The understanding of the sales consultant was things such as FIFO, average, item charges, bills of materials and the sort. The customer, though, had in mind a monster of a functionality used to calculate variable material and operation requirements based on an extremely complex and flexible system of input parameters and mathematical formulas.

It took about a thousand of hours of design and development to fix the sales mess. “Does NAV have calculations?” – “Yes, sure it does.”

It didn’t.

Does NAV have a sales workflow? Yes. Sorry, no.

Can NAV handle contracts? No. Excuse me, but yes it can.

It all depends on the meaning of the word. A contract, a workflow, an invoice, an item, all this can have a totally different meaning to you than it has to the guy next door. And often people will pretend they understand each other. Sales team might not want to risk not matching customer’s need, so as soon as they feel a fit, they might not want to scratch to see if below surface it’s actually a gap. An unconfident employee might not want to interrupt consultant to clarify, out of a fear of asking a stupid question.

Sure Step recognizes this dangerous risk and makes a big and important move to avoid or mitigate it right at the beginning, when it hurts the least: it proposes to conduct the Solution Overview.

Solution Overview is an activity aimed at presenting the standard application to the customer before any analysis work has even started. The consultant simply shows how the chosen Dynamics application works and explains the processes using standard product terminology. It introduces the customer to the application, enables them to participate in the analysis more productively, and aims at helping customer adopt the new application quicker.

One other important thing it achieves is that it settles the terminology and the language between the customer and the consultant. When a customer says a sales contract, the consultant may otherwise fire “a gap!”, while Solution Overview might have shown to both the consultant and the customer that it’s not, and that it’s in fact the blanket order. It’s only that NAV uses a fancy term, that the customer isn’t familiar with.

It deepens the understanding on a more profound level, as well: the process and the logic understanding of a standard Dynamics application. Without getting a feel for how NAV works, it may be very difficult to get a process-oriented customer to match a document-oriented system such as NAV. If a customer gets a chance to see the solution up-front, their key users may quickly understand how to map their current knowledge to the ways of the new application.

It also helps the consultant—if there are any significant gaps, in processes, functionality, and also terminology, this will bubble up during solution overview.

Once the solution overview is done, there is a far lesser risk that the consultant and the customer will misunderstand each other.

Let me know what you think

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