What follows is a true story. Only names have been changed.
In early November 2017, our preferred vendor contacted me to discuss a major migration project in Mauritius where we have a development center. The client, a very important group at the local level, is extremely dissatisfied with their information system, which has been very poorly implemented by the local integrator, a large service provider on top of it a subsidiary of the client. following a review by the vendor, the client decided to migrate their ERP the latest version and to quickly start the project. I think it was a sound decision.
After a lot of going back and forth between the vendor and the local IT company, Gina the manager of the ERP department of the local IT company, contacted me directly because she wanted us to take care of the support of their local customers and to finish a project whose go-live was imminent, and for which significant residual difficulties were remaining. The client was a major local distributor of dairy products
We sent locally a consultant who explained to me that indeed there were difficulties in implementation since almost nothing had been set at the ERP level. Only the implementation of a bespoke order taking app on a tablet was nearing completion. So we finalized quickly the configuration of the ERP and the customer could go live almost normally despite the numerous bugs in the bespoke app. During a local trip to discuss how to implement a partnership between the local IT company and us to support their own customers and the migration of the group to which it belonged, I met Jean-Claude the CEO of the client company during a project committee that I had to attend in order to calm him down, which I could hardly do with the reinforcement of Shankar, our local director. Gina the manager of the local IT company could not attend being unfortunately suffering that day.
The services performed in urgency to save this badly committed project were eventually been paid by the IT services company after quite a long delay and some reminders. The support contract I wrote to supervise the support operations would never be signed despite a review of several months by the legal department of the group to which the IT services company belongs and my acceptance of all their requests.
However, we believed that we had won the trust of the IT services company that we managed to get out of a difficult situation with this client (in addition to having solved some other problems that were blocking them in other projects).
Meanwhile the organization of the important project of migration of the group was making progress despite the desire of the vendor to disengage as much as possible from this project officially for cost reasons. They kept the purely technical part of installation and technical training of the ERP and asked us to take care of everything else.
Months ran during which both the vendor and us provided many explanations about the organization to be set up by the client to make the project succeed, and the organization that we would put ourselves in place. I wrote a commercial proposal that respected strictly the scope defined by the vendor for the migration project. I trust my prospect and made sure everything was going well.
The project ended up being launched in October 2018 and I was invited to the kick-off of the digital transformation program of the client group as co-director of their ERP project (this promotion was apparently requested by Charles, the CEO of the group to which the local IT company belongs and who was the end customer of this migration, and who obviously did not trust completely the capabilities of its IT subsidiary to lead the project).
The Kick-off brought together the 90 managers of the group and focused on innovation. The group were aware of the need to transform themselves in order to survive. A seminar focused on innovation was organized on this occasion. The word “trust” was never pronounced which surprised me because how to innovate without trust in oneself or their colleagues? This seemed to me of greatest importance as the organizer gave us several examples of missed innovation opportunities by famous multinationals (like Kodak with the digital camera) precisely because of lack of trust in the guys who proposed them. I met on this occasion Vanessa, member of the group management committee who told me about the difficulties met by the middle management to innovate because of a culture and a local education causing a strong lack of self-confidence due to a focus on the need to repeat the methods learned without ever changing them. She and Charles were the only two people in the organization who seemed to be aware of this et to want to change it.
I presented the organization of the project team to the 90 attendees, insisting on the crucial phases like the general design or the acceptance and insisting on the need of a transparent relationship between the participants in the project, a necessary condition in my opinion. establishing a relationship of trust without which no project can succeed.
The project was supposed to begin with a phase of functional workshops designed to build a core model suitable to all the companies in the group, and which would guide the configuration of the ERP. Following the client request, this phase was divided into two parts: A first general part with the financial directors of the different entities of the group and another more detailed with the future key users. I sent for this purpose a very experienced ERP finance consultant who had already largely proved her knowledge on many other projects.
After a few days of preparation with the local project team led by Yashvind a young project manager freshly hired by the IT services company to lead the project, finally arrived the day of the first workshop. Two hours after the beginning I got a first call from Gina in complete panic who told me that I had to come immediately to replace the consultant because nothing was well. Astonished I explained that two hours of workshop seemed too short a time to decide what was going wrong and that it was up to all attendees to discipline themselves to listen to each other and to learn to work together. She agreed to let the workshop take place normally and 2 hours later I got another call by Shateeaum, her boss, general manager of the IT services company accompanied by Sheido, the project director on the client-side. All seemed frightened and completely panicked. I managed to reassure them and explain to them the need to continue the workshops as normally scheduled, which they ended up accepting. The workshops of this first phase of design of the core model would finally continue until the end and we would provide the client with the design report. They seemed to have understood this observation of Lao Tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step. Sheido would conclude by teaching me this African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Then I was reassured. The project was well started.
However, not being able to decide by themselves whether the report was suitable or not, they submitted it to the vendor without even notifying me and without us being able to participate in the reading meeting of this document, which was not even finished yet. The vendor who was not able to know if the document was suitable or not made some remarks regarding the form that we gladly considered. This event made me understand that the local IT company did not trust us at all, nor their own team since no one was able to assess whether it was okay or not, nor the client since no one had obviously asked them for a feedback. As transparency was of prime importance for me, I explained this both to the client and the IT services company. I already knew that the project would not to continue this way for a long time.
We carried out the detailed design phase of the finance part in a roughly normal mood and wrote the final report. Nevertheless, the climate was more and more deleterious and the contempt of the local IT company vis-à-vis our financial consultant was more and more obvious. I realized there was more than just a problem of trust. Indeed, our consultant was of a neighboring country extraction, whose nationals had for a long time provided Mauritius with a manpower very different from the population of ERP consultants. I just understood that my consultant was most likely victim of a type of contempt that I did not expect to see in this country, and who explained without excusing it in any way, the lack of trust which she had been suffering from the first glance exchanged with the local IT company project manager.
I shared what I had just understood with the local IT company boss and the project director of the client and by mutual agreement we decided to end our service.
On top of it, I could not sign the leonine subcontract they had just offered me, which I also told them.
In exchange for the payment of our first bill, whose time for payment had arrived, I handed over the final report on the finance part of the project to the local IT company, and they started to look for a new provider. I had indeed agreed not to issue the second bill thus causing a major financial loss for my company but especially a strong sense of unfairness in our project team that had invested heavily for several months to make the project succeed.
This heartbreaking but perfectly true story (only the first names have been changed) is a perfect illustration of what happens when trust is not there. First, the customer must trust themselves. Then they must trust their own project team (whether internal or external via a consulting firm or an IT services company) and must trust the provider who will implement the solution. The latter must also trust their client. Once this confidence is lost often because of difficulty to be paid on time or even to be simply paid, it is impossible to move forward. For organizations to trust each other, members of the project teams need to trust each other. For this confidence to be there, individuals must respect each other without distinction of any factor whatsoever, including gender, culture or origin. The contractual framework must also be signed before starting the project.
In ERP project management the human factor takes precedence over the technical factor. Mutual trust is the key success factor of a project. If you do not trust your counterpart in your partner’s project team to securely prepare your own parachute, then do not start the project with them.