Implementing Enterprise Wide Data Systems

Oralce. SAP. PeopleSoft. These are the projects that try mens' souls. To track the organization more precisely, organizations decide to implement a company-wide computer system that will manage work flow and data flow. The promises of greater economy, better planning, and process improvement are too tempting, despite the horror stories that circulate in the field regularly.


Some parts of such a venture are clearly Puzzles:

  • Defining new work flows
  • Coding the software to reflect those work flows
  • Training people in how to use the new system

The representatives of the software vendor would have you believe that training on the new screens will be sufficient to get the new system up and running. And yet the cost of training routinely surpasses the original estimate by a factor of 10! So clearly there are some non-Puzzle elements.


The fragility in these projects is not at the level of the Puzzle problems.  When the "work flow" is combined with "the workers" we have a complex adaptive system.  Now the work flows are intricately interwoven with personal agendas, personalities, group dynamics, and all manner of human subtlety. Shifting the flow of work, or access to information, will shake up the relationships that are grown up around the work. Changing who controls information or resources will threaten the self-definitions people have built around their jobs.

We would expect that the system would show surprising and vigorous resistance, even to changes that have substantial positive benefits to the company. Rampant complaints about inscrutable screens, sluggish response times, and the predictable errors in initial operation may mask a deeper dissatisfaction with being personally redefined.


Consider the stakeholders in such a project: 

  • the executives who commissioned it,
  • the vendors who will deliver it,
  • the managers who have to shepherd the change,
  • the staff who will use the system,
  • the department heads who are no longer in control of their own domain.

This is the hallmark of a Dispute:  different groups with conflicting interests. But where is the forum where they can confidently voice their interests and expect a fair hearing? In most such projects, the commissioning executives are not interested in "bargaining" with the other stakeholders. The needed forum is most likely either a one-way executive edict, or a project update meeting which presumes the very outcomes over which people want to negotiate.