Implementing D365 for F&O? – Get the Right SMEs Involved (Video)


Katalin: Hello everyone and welcome to the webinar about “How To Get the Right Subject Matter Experts On Board If You’re Implementing D365 for Finance and Operations.” This is going to be a shorter webinar than the ones that you have seen from Encore before. We are probably going to take up about 25 to 30 minutes of your time today. My name is Kat Kegel and I am a Senior Business Solution Analyst and Project Lead here at Encore. I have been implementing Axapta, Dynamics AX, and now D365 F&O, for about 12 years now. And the major areas that I work with are trade and logistics and a little bit of manufacturing.

So, today we are going to be talking about how to get the right subject matter experts on board from your organization if you’re implementing the system. However, before we start to discuss the actual subject, I need to mention one thing. Other webinars that you might have participated in usually discussed functionalities, code, et cetera, things that are very objective. They are black and white and there isn’t very much room for interpretation. However, I do need to raise your attention to the subjective nature of the topic that we are going to be talking about today.

Today’s webinar is built completely on my experience. It reflects my professional and, to a certain extent, my personal opinion. I will do my best to support any assertations that I make with reasons and examples and I will do my absolute best to lead you to the same conclusion with reason. However, do please remember that this is a subject that other individuals in this business might see differently. So, all I can ask for is please listen to what I have to say, evaluate my reasoning and then take away what you might. Okay? And let’s just jump into the subject right away.

One of the first things that clients have to do before an implementation project even takes off the ground is to select the core people involved. In the Dynamics implementation world, we often refer to these users as key users, SMEs or SMEs, Subject Matter Experts. They will be the leaders of the implementation in their respective business areas and the success of an implementation will very very largely depend on them. They are the ones that will ensure that the implementation consultants understand your business and your business requirements. They will make sure that all and every business scenario are covered in the solution. They will train the end users. And last but not least, once the implementation phase is over, they will fulfill the role of first responder within your organization.

It is therefore essential that the right people are brought on board. I had worked on a couple of projects over my career where, unfortunately, one or more of the SMEs did not quite fit the profile. In some cases, it resulted in project delivery becoming a little longer, more cumbersome, but even potentially a little less successful. In other situations, unfortunately, the individual eventually left the company because the role caused them so much stress and anxiety. The organization lost a great employee who was really good at the original role but was just simply not suited for the one on the project. This is why it’s incredibly important that we discuss this subject.

So, without further ado, the question obviously is, who are the right people to be SMEs? Because the spectrum of tasks that these individuals would have to cover through the lifetime of an implementation and beyond is incredibly broad. We really need to make sure that we look at all aspects before choosing them. And the major aspects that we are going to be evaluating today are the following. I’m sorry, I am a slide behind. We will discuss the personality traits and the skills that are required to be a successful SME. We will talk about the different roles in the organization that, historically speaking, some of the most successful SMEs have come from. We will analyze the time commitment that it takes and what impact would it have on their day to day jobs. We will also talk about the decision making authority that they need to be granted in this new role. And, finally, we will examine what is the optimal number of SMEs on an implementation.

But before we jump into all of that, the first criteria would obviously be willingness and interest to enroll on a project as a SME. It might sound obvious but I did work on several projects were the SMEs brought on board had either no interest or even clearly expressed not wanting to be enrolled. However, management decided that their skillset was the best and went ahead with appointing them anyway. A disinterested subject matter expert will never be a successful subject matter expert. So, please keep in mind that their interest in participating in the implementation is indeed crucial.

So, let’s talk about the first major area which is the personality trait and skills required. One of the first things to note is that being a subject matter expert on an ERP implementation requires a completely different mindset and set of skills, the most day to day jobs that your employees perform. Just because somebody has a vast amount of experience and is incredibly good at what they do on the floor, in the office, et cetera, does not necessarily mean that they would do good in this particular role. The most important thing to mention is that anyone who participates in the project as a SME needs to have the ability to work in the future.

And what that means is simple. Their role is going to be to be able to learn a system and to help figure out how this system could be utilized best for their company in their business areas. Therefore, they need to have the visionary way of thinking and to be able to let go of the current state of their business to a certain extent. These individuals need to have an open mind and to very clearly understand the benefits of what they are participating in, and not just for themselves but the whole of the organization. They need to have the ability to look at their new system as a new system, independent and not an extension of the old. This requires being able to create a mental separation between what they do today on the floor and what the optimal process would be in the future.

I would like to give you two examples from my past. On one of the projects I’m familiar with but did not actually work on, a very long time employee was appointed to be subject matter expert in one crucial business area. She had over three decades of experience in her role and she was very successful at it. Management believed that she had the most amount of knowledge and that appointing her would bring that knowledge to the team, right? However, the problem was that she did not have the ability to vision a future state and she was not necessarily able to think in an analytical manner, two of the most crucial requirements in this role.

As a result of that, during the discovery phase, it was very difficult for the implementation team to learn and understand the business. And then later on, it would become also very difficult to make decisions that were believed to be improvements as she was not able to assess their impact on the business. She knew current procedure very well but didn’t necessarily understand the reasons behind these current procedures. And as a direct result of that, was not able to help design a future state.

And the second example was another project that I was very briefly called into where we had a gentleman who at that point had been managing his area of the business for several decades. But the problem was that he was incredibly old school and he was very set in the old ways to do business. He completely failed to see the benefits and the promise of technology, and while he managed to explain the business to the implementation team incredibly well, there was really hard resistance from him to change. And it went to the point that he was actually trying to recreate exit forms field by field from their Legacy system into D365 for Finance and Operations without evaluating whether it was necessary, whether it was the best option to do.

So, to summarize, the most important thing is to remember that while certain individuals have the knowledge they could bring to the table, the ability to transfer that knowledge and to have the willingness and the ability to work towards a future state are incredibly crucial when you’re selecting your subject matter expert.

So, after the personality traits and skills, let’s just take a look at the roles in the organization where successful subject matter experts would historically come from. Of course, most would automatically say that the best subject matter experts will be managers, right? And this would be a very natural conclusion to come to at first glance but let’s just dig into this a little deeper. Most often, companies would like their managers to be the SMEs for the main and very obvious reason. That these are the people who have the authority to make the decisions. And that is indeed a very important point because your subject matter experts will need to have that authority.

But what if instead of saying SMEs must be managers because they can make decisions, we flip this sentence upside down? The absolute focus of the statement is that whoever the SME is has to be given authority to make implementation-related decisions. So, these would be decisions about configurations or even new processes in the system, but they could easily be business decisions to accommodate the new software that would optimize your process flow, right?

So, do SMEs have to come from a position where they make these decisions on a daily basis? In my opinion, the answer to that would be no. However, do they have to be given the authority to do so in their new role? That is a much more important question and the answer to that question is absolutely yes.

I have two major points to bring up in favor of the future SMEs not coming from a managerial role in your organization. One of them, and the first one, would be time. SMEs in most implementations scenarios will have to dedicate a considerable amount of their time to the project for the lifetime of the implementation and also long after the bigger switch is flipped and the company goes live on D365 F&O. Depending on the size of the project, the scope, the timeline, and a lot of other factors, that commitment can range anywhere between 20%, 25% to 100% of their time.

A manager is often not a good choice because they simply are not able to dedicate this kind of time. They will be regularly pulled off the project to deal with business, to deal with their teams, et cetera. So, substituting a manager for most companies in their day to day business is way more difficult than substituting either a supervisor, a senior clerk or even just a very experienced operator, right? So, because it’s incredibly difficult, if you pull the manager into the implementation as the SME, the manager has to keep up his full-time day job while dedicating an additional percentage of his or her time to the project. Neither potentially gets his or her full attention while the individual ends up working extensive hours to fulfill both roles.

You might hear my neighbor’s dogs howling in the background. I very much apologize about that, I have no control over… I hope it’s not very disturbing.

So, my other point is knowledge. And I can hear you say, “But a manager surely will have the most amount of knowledge. How can this be a con [SP]?” And I would agree with you that managers do have the most high-level knowledge of everything that their teams do. However, the fact of the matter is that they don’t perform these tasks on a daily basis. I have had numerous occasions during implementations where the manager, as the SME, has forgotten several scenarios, or even made misguided decisions or configurations or process which we would only discover later when we started to involve the end users. They would ask about these situations or scenarios and it turns out that the manager either forgot about them or was not even aware of them in the first place, right?

So, based on my experience and also in my humble opinion, the best is to ask the managers to appoint someone from their team who has the experience and also whom the manager trust with day to day decision making on the project. It does not mean that these SMEs would not consult the managers before some of the bigger decisions. But they would be the one spending the time to understand the system, to understand the options, asking the questions, learning the pros and the cons. And then they can decrease the time that the manager has to be involved to a minimum. They also know exactly how others in their team would react to certain things, what can and cannot work in a realistic scenario, and they are hands-on so they will not forget the one-off scenarios.

The next thing that we need to discuss is the ideal number of subject matter experts to be involved in an implementation. I have seen too few and I have seen way too many. I usually do recommend that one person is assigned for each business area as a SME. And the question here is, what is a business area? And that largely will depend on how your organization operates. I have had the clients where purchasing and warehousing was considered the same team so they have provided one person to cover this area. I also had other clients, bigger organizations, they had to delegate three different people. One strictly for purchasing, one for inventory control and then another one for warehousing processes.

If there is an area uncovered, that obviously can very easily halt the project. However, having way too many cooks in the kitchen also could lead to a lot of difficulties. It is way more efficient to have one person to learn the system, understand the questions and then go back to the organization and coordinate the effort involved if others from their teams need to be participating in the decision making, then to try and schedule and conduct meetings with all of these people and the implementation partner in the room. I hope this makes sense. So, in a nutshell, consider the decision making, the availability and whether all functional areas are covered when you’re appointing your SMEs and your core team.

This is all I have had for you for today and I would like to open this up for questions if anybody has any. Feel free to raise your hand and then we will unmute you and you can ask your question or feel free to enter your question in the question panel.

Melissa: Thanks, Katalin. I’ll just keep an eye on the question panel and let’s see if anyone’s raising their hands. But I don’t see any questions as of yet.

Katalin: We’re gonna give it a couple of minutes and if we don’t have any further questions, then… While we’re waiting, I’m just going to put my contact detail up on the screen. So, if you cannot think of a question at the moment but you think of one later on, then please feel free to contact us and we would be very happy to answer your questions.

Melissa: That sounds great. And I’ll be sending the recording out to everyone. So, if anyone has questions after the fact, they can get back to us. Okay, [inaudible 00:19:41] coming in so I think we can finish. Thanks very much, Katalin.

Katalin: Thank you very much. Have a good day everyone. Bye.


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