August 9, 2019
One Size Does Not Fit All
In the context of corporate Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software systems, “one size fits all” means that a company with a need for a business software solution will go out and spend millions and millions of dollars on a huge, all-encompassing solution to meet their needs (picture them reaching out to a big multi-national software company that touts an ERP system that can do everything, that sort of vendor). The big “do it all” company sells this panacea with lines like, “It's going to work for everybody in the company,” “It will meet everyone’s needs and requirements,” and “You don't ever need to buy and integrate other systems.” And the end result? Almost always
: for a particular group in the organization, it just doesn't work very well
. Cue the sad music.
I've had enough experience with this type of software system in my time working here (and at my previous jobs) to know that one system doesn't get everybody what they need—but somebody at the top level decided, "Hey, that's all we need. We don't need another system. This will do it for us, and it will be better for us."
One size fits all
It Just Isn’t So
When you try to use a big ERP system to do what quality improvement software—InfinityQS software—does, you’re in for a big disappointment. To give you an idea of what is missing when you rely on a big ERP system to cover your quality needs, here are a few items the big panacea does NOT
- A friendly, intuitive interface for the production floor personnel – let’s face it, for a large do-it-all system, anything “quality” related is just an add-on
- Inspection points (keeping track of inspections)
- Control charts (!) and analysis tools (InfinityQS’ specialty—right in our wheel-house)
- Reports – difficulties with pulling data and converting data (if you can even find the data in the big all-in-one systems--and many times it requires help from the IT team), as compared to easy-to-generate reports (InfinityQS)
- IT support – the “big answer/one size fits all” options need quite a bit of IT support; InfinityQS quality systems do not
We’ve worked with dozens of companies that use these huge ERP systems, yet still need and use our quality improvement solution (along with their “one size fits all” ERP) to get their work done the way they want it to be done; the way they need
it to be done. These companies are serious about quality
(as they should, and need to be!).
And all these companies started with the same premise: let’s use one system to do it all. However, the business users (such as their QA departments) proved to each and every one of their management teams that the “one size fits all” option is NOT the way to go. It does NOT meet their needs and requirements. They built their business case, and justified the ”best of breed” option, with InfinityQS as their quality improvement platform—the solution they need to ensure their products meet the highest quality standards (while also reducing costs!).
In the end, when all was said and done, the big one-size-fits-all system doesn't really do it for most companies, so they're stuck using poor tools for what they need, or (and this is where it gets really expensive) it never even gets delivered to them.
I worked with one quality professional (he was the EVP of Quality, NA) who said he's been waiting for 10 years for the one-size-fits-all quality module to get delivered to him in a usable format for his QA team…and it still hasn't happened. He says, "My quality team is stuck doing all sorts of screwy things because they (senior leadership) think this big do-it-all system is going to work for everyone in the company. It hasn't yet, and I'm still waiting."
He went on, explaining how this dilemma continues, and I could hear the total frustration in his voice; “The consultants they send don’t understand what we do, what we need, and simply waste a lot of time trying to figure it out (guessing?), and then they come back and show us what they designed—but it doesn’t work, and the cycle goes on, and on, and on. And I’m still waiting!”
What I’ve learned is these big vendors really don’t implement the systems correctly. They have this huge partner network and service providers that do the implementations. Those folks have a different agenda; to them it’s like, “Let’s see how long we can camp out here.” Five years, ten years, fifteen years, they'll never be done! All they're doing is billing hourly, so they just kind of drag it on forever. And who pays for it? Why you do! And then your budget is completely shot! (how will you explain that?)
“You would have to rip out the guts”
One of my favorite examples of “one size does NOT
fit all” came while I was working at my last company. I was speaking with the CFO of a multi-billion $ company, which had a $1B business segment handling only government contracts, no commercial business. The company was in the process of implementing the “one size fits all” ERP solution, which, of course, the government business segment was going to use as well—you know, because Sr. Leadership said it will work. Except, there was one major problem—it didn’t work for their government contract business.
Doing business with the US Government requires some really unique accounting procedures, including the use of “cost pools,” and in many cases, “cascading cost pools.” If you don’t accurately collect and report on your costs for completing the contract, then when you send the invoice to Uncle Sam, it will be rejected—and you don’t get reimbursed—you are out—potentially out of big dollars. Explain that to the CEO! I knew they were working on the “one size fits all” implementation, and I asked the CFO where it stood. I was expecting a “not so well” answer, but I wasn’t expecting what he said:
“You would have to rip out the @#$%#$% guts of [insert major ERP company name] to make
it do what your solutions do right out of the box!”
I was speechless for a moment; not sure how to respond. He was obviously furious, enough to drop the f-bomb, and he was a CFO. It was the
last thing I expected to hear him say. So, I gathered up some courage and asked him, "What's next?" He replied:
“We’ve already tried twice, and it has been a major failure BOTH times!”
Again, I was surprised by his response—they actually tried not once, but twice? Now I felt more confident in where this was heading, so I asked the next question, “Can you tell me how much these failed attempts have cost?” He didn’t hesitate to respond:
“$5 Million! EACH TIME!!”
Another pause—I needed to confirm I heard what he said correctly. “A total of $10 Million Dollars?” I asked. “YES,” he almost screamed.
An Answer to His Prayers
At this point, I could hear his labored breathing and decided I needed to help him calm down, to give him some hope, to present him with a better option, something he could consider presenting to the CEO—and, most importantly, be able to justify. The solution I was presenting directly referenced the “right out of the box” functionality he had mentioned.
Our quality improvement software solutions could provide exactly what they needed for their government contracting business—right out of the box: the ability to manage job costing, cost pools, incurred costs, DCAA audits, and much more. He knew what our company provided, and I could tell he was furious that he was forced to “live with” the “one size fits all” option, so I asked him if he wanted to spend a few minutes coming up with some numbers he could present to his CEO.
I barely finished my sentence before I heard his “YES” response. The next day he called me back and asked how quickly we could come over and do a presentation to their CEO. It took another two months to complete the process, mostly because they wanted to allow each department an opportunity to come to their own conclusions (a little psychology goes a long way to success). So, who said “one size fits all” will work?
I’m sure you are familiar with the phrase, ”the tail is wagging the dog.” In the end, if your IT department is deciding what system (tools) a business group like the QA team needs to do their jobs, it is essentially that: the tail wagging the dog. They (IT) have a totally different set of criteria they tend to look at when evaluating a software product than those who specialize in manufacturing quality, and they don’t understand how the shop floor personnel need to interact with the system. Needless to say, the vast majority of the time it’s not going to work.
I've worked with a host of different clients and companies with different circumstances who all say, “It just doesn't work for us.” You end up getting business users who tell you, "It doesn't really meet my requirements. It doesn't meet my needs." If you’re a senior executive, that’s not what you want to hear.
Keep It Simple
Imagine an operator who is primarily responsible for running the process (machines), but also has to enter information (data) into a software system on a regular basis. Now imagine them trying to enter that information in tiny little fields, fields designed primarily for the “back office” users, those who sit in offices (cubes), in comfortable environments, where they are not worried about managing a fast-paced production process, a machine going AWOL and demanding immediate attention.. It’s just NOT the same. It needs to be as EASY as possible for the operators to interface with the software system. Plain and simple.
At one of our user conferences years ago, a Sr. VP Quality from one of our clients delivered a presentation about how they used our technology. He told a long story about how their company used a big ERP product, as well as the InfinityQS quality improvement improvement solution for his QA team. Someone asked, "Why do you need both? You have the ERP. Why don't you use the quality module in the ERP?" He said, "Great question, and we asked ourselves the same thing. We found that the ERP’s quality module does not really work very well on the floor for our operators—and the InfinityQS quality solution is extremely friendly to the operators. It makes it really easy for them to do what they need to do and move on—but that was not
the case for the quality module of our expensive ERP. We decided to abandon the ERP Quality Module in our QA department and just interface the two.” Problem solved.
So, in my estimation, that’s a classic case of what works best is a “best of breed” solution, NOT the "one size fits all" option.
As I mentioned above, some customers are “still waiting” for the ERP deployment to be “completed” and provide everything they need…including a quality module. That’s not right. Why should you have to wait? You may be out of business by the time the quality piece is ready for action. Poor quality can literally crush a company’s business, and in many cases, it has
put them out of business.
That client I mentioned above said he has now been waiting years
. Years. Think about that. And they still don’t have what they needed
—past tense—when the implementation began.
The Executive Director of Quality for another company’s North American division once told me, “I’m still waiting on the ERP. And I don’t have it and now they’re trying some other system
that’s going to be the same idea. And I’m guessing it will be years before I get what I need.” Again, years. Really?
Where’s the Disconnect?
In my twenty-something years of being in the business of selling software and helping people, I've noticed that when you have a senior leadership group that decides what's best for everybody—versus letting the business groups go through and evaluate and tell you, "This is the tool that would work best for us," you don't end up with the right solution—because the one size does not fit everybody.
And then your people get frustrated when it doesn't work…and then you can't implement…and so on and so forth.
But when you let the business user do the research and select the right tool, and build the appropriate business case (justification), things go much more smoothly, and problems get solved. And don’t underestimate the role psychology plays in creating the success (think ROI) of the additional "bolt-on" system—what team wouldn’t be more engaged in making sure the tools they spent time selecting, and justifying, would pay off handsomely—in comparison to implementing a tool which they knew was not going to work well from the beginning, but were told that is what they will use, just deal with it? [See one of my previous blogs, The 2 Phases of Implementing SPC in Manufacturing
for more about getting buy-in]
Best of Breed to the Rescue
So, the answer, to hammer it home one more time, is obviously best of breed solutions
. I understand that, on the surface, it seems like a logical choice to choose one product to “do it all.” It sounds good. It would be so nice. But a one-size-fits-all system typically doesn’t work well for the overall good of the business.
My favorite thing is when I meet an IT Director in a company that says something like, “I'm relying on the business users tell me what they need, what works best for them. That's what I'm going with. What works best for them—I'll make it work.”
This makes so much more sense! IT’s job is to figure out how to make it fit into their puzzle and how to keep the pieces fitting together. Not to pick which is the best option. If more companies did this, they’d spend a whole lot less money in the end. Because, let’s face it, if your implementation is taking years, and you’re paying for it, that final bill—when you tally it all up—is going to be astronomical.
True story: I was meeting with one of my clients when they told us their “one size fits all” ERP system was initially budgeted at $35M for the full implementation. This didn’t surprise me—I know they are not inexpensive projects. He continued explaining—the project was already over $100M; it was not even close to completion; and the QA team was very
thankful they were able to keep InfinityQS in place, even though their Sr. Leadership tried to take it away. I have to wonder if anyone lost their job(s) because of how over-budget the project was.
When people get what they need, when they get the best option—whether it’s a system designed for quality, inventory, logistics, HR, payroll, or whatever it is—if the business users get the system that they feel is best suited to meet their needs, you end up with…wait for it…a much better return on your investment. Cue the applause.