Saucy ERP? No thank you!


Would you like chocolate sauce with your vanilla ERP, sir?

Apologies in advance but this article is going to cause a little heartburn for some.

The question is: Can Lean survive in an ERP world?

I have witnessed the inexorable destruction in value as ERP is introduced watching simple, elegant footprints for WIP control abandoned as the plants work to launch dates and forecasts, the introduction of system driven KPIs that satiate the ERP beast but do nothing to satisfy the customer, the demand on supervisor time turning them from shop-floor leaders into glorified administrators.  This is seriously worrying. The system led behaviours driven by ERP forces leaders to water down their Lean thinking if only to survive in this different ERP world. The consequences?

  • Less cash
  • More WIP
  • Busy people and not so busy material
  • Plans and forecasts with the customer a distant memory
  • And finally, a slow erosion of our ability to innovate

It’s not just manufacturing. Service sectors adopting ERP systems beware. Despite your legacy systems at least customer advisors could get things done for the customer. I saw at first hand how information no longer became accessible with the introduction of the new ERP system. ‘Computer says no’. I get that now, whereas before it was ‘Hang on a minute, I just need to access another system, bear with me.’

A common lament we hear is ‘We bought the vanilla licence so we don’t have that functionality. Can’t afford that upgrade for 18 months.’  Companies go out of business in that timeframe! It’s like an injection of cholesterol straight to the aorta. I’m in danger of mixing my metaphors here so I’ll return to the vanilla ice cream.  If you are going to spend millions on an enterprise system then spend an extra million or two making sure the thing gives the frontline what it needs.  Sprinkle some chocolate sauce on the thing rather than sticking to vanilla and finding it doesn’t taste so great six months down the line.

The accounts may be able to justify some form of financial win through the vanilla choice. Some form of transnational standardisation and transparency, but for operations it comes with plenty of worries and constraints. With ERP come a set of behaviours that are counter to Lean and as a manager, even a senior manager, it takes tremendous courage to challenge a system that has come with an enormous capital spend.

In reality ERP systems surgically remove initiative from the people that add value, condemned to never use the words ‘agile’, ‘nimble’ or ‘flexible’ again. We can strike them from the lexicon of the business for good.

I cannot tell you how much it grated when working with a client we had to amend our CI Strips to add a notification box to the top right corner in order for it to be tracked in the ERP system.  Another form had to be filled in, two further layers of the organisation had to approve the notification before it could be actioned and: Voila! Our continuous improvement system is now defunct. A sluggish, mutated yet compliant relic of what it set out to be.

Show me a pull system truly working in an ERP system and I’ll take you on a tour of the UK and show you companies dead or no longer thriving because of the insidious behaviours ERP brings.

My call to arms goes to all the senior managers as you are at fault. You cannot blame the finance bodies for this alone. You certainly can’t blame operators, supervisors or superintendents. They are the ones living with the daily pain, complying to plans that make no potential difference to the customer.

It is up to you to change from vanilla to strawberry, add the chocolate sauce or abandon ice-cream all together. Someone has to, why not you?

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