How an ERP Implementation is Like a (Delicious) Subway Sandwich

Sub SandwichAlthough I rarely reveal personal details in this blog, I’m comfortable sharing the fact that I am a big fan of Subway sandwiches. I’ll admit it: wherever in the world I may be, I always try to eat at Subway multiple times per week. Not only do I eat there whenever I can but I also never tire of frequenting the ubiquitous establishment.

This may raise several questions among readers, such as “Why are you such a creature of habit?” and “What does Subway have to do with ERP systems?” While the first question may be beyond the scope of this blog, the answer to the second question is that it has a lot to do with ERP systems. First of all, whether you love, hate or just don’t care about Subway, it’s hard to deny that the company is a machine of consistency. Other than slight regional and international variations, every Subway is very similar in their processes, from the types of breads they offer to the greetings when you walk into any of their restaurants.

Still, what does any of this have to do with ERP systems? Well, there are a number of lessons that Subway can teach us about ERP implementation challenges and best practices:

It is important to know what you want before you start your ERP implementation. Anyone who walks into a Subway without a general idea of what they want is often overwhelmed with the choices. Knowing that you want a turkey sandwich, for example, isn’t enough. You also need to know what kind of bread, cheese, veggies and sauces you want. If you aren’t ready to answer those questions, you will find yourself frustrated and delaying orders for the lines of patrons behind you. Similarly, if you don’t know exactly what you want when it comes time for your ERP implementation, you and your team are going to experience unnecessary delays. For this reason, we recommend to our clients that they define business processes first – and even conduct business process reengineering where applicable – before beginning the technical aspects of the implementation. This will ultimately make the implementation go faster and smoother than if decisions about processes and requirements are made under the gun while the meter is running on expensive technical ERP consultants.

ERP best practices are myths that depend on individual taste. Ever tried to order a Subway sandwich with “Just give me a turkey sandwich with what everyone else gets” as the only guideline for defining your order? If not, try it sometime and see the look of confusion that the sandwich artist offers in return. If you continue to prod, you may get a response like, “Well, lots of people like banana peppers and pepper jack cheese.” The only problem is that you may not like spicy food and you may be lactose intolerant, so you’ll need something more tailored to your needs. ERP software “best practices,” “out-of-the-box functionality” and “pre-configured industry solutions” provide the same incongruence when it comes to your specific and unique business requirements and operational areas of competitive advantage. For this reason, we suggest that clients not rely too much on these sorts of misnomers and instead focus on defining business processes and requirements in detail to determine how the software will be configured. Today’s enterprise software – much like a Subway sandwich – is extremely flexible and fully configurable, so it is important to plan accordingly in order to avoid “holding up the line,” so to speak.

Organizational change management and human behavior can be very difficult to manage. For those that are used to ordering meals involving little to no options (think: ordering a #3 meal at McDonald’s), ordering from Subway can be a difficult transition. If they’re not prepared for the various choices and options involved in a seemingly simple order, the “human” aspect of ordering a sandwich can be the most complex part of the transaction. Just as Subway has retrofitted its stores with clear guidance on how to place the orders and what (and when) specific decisions need to be made, good ERP consultants will help define various decisions that need to be made well in advance of the required configuration. Unfortunately, most take more of an on-demand approach to answering questions regarding configuration at the time the technical resource is ready to configure the software, rather than giving them time to understand, think and work through options that make the most sense to them. Solid business process management and organizational change management are the most effective ways to address these complex issues.

At the end of the day, ordering a sandwich shouldn’t be complicated or difficult. However, it can be for those that haven’t been to Subway at least a few times. The same can be said for ERP implementations: they don’t need to be difficult but they can be if you don’t know what to expect, if you haven’t been through the process and if you don’t have good people guiding you.

Learn more by watching our free, on-demand webinar, The Path to ERP Implementation Planning.

Written by Eric Kimberling

After 15 years of ERP consulting at large firms including PricewaterhouseCoopers and SchlumbergerSema, Eric realized the need for an independent consulting firm that really understands ERP. He began his career as an ERP organizational change management consultant and eventually broadened his background to include implementation project management and software selection. Eric’s background includes extensive ERP software selection, ERP organizational change and ERP implementation project management experience. Throughout his career, Eric has helped dozens of high-profile and global companies with their ERP selections and implementations, including Kodak, Samsonite, Coors, Duke Energy and Lucent Technologies. In addition to his extensive ERP experience, Eric has also helped clients with business process reengineering, merger and acquisition integration, strategic planning and Six Sigma initiatives. Eric holds an MBA from Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

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2 Comments

  1. Brilliant analogy Eric and oh so true!
    Not every organisation offers highly configurable products of course, and so for the highly repetitive processes we should make use of the years of process and implementation experience that have been distilled into “Best Practices.” Actually I use the term “Current Practice” as that reflects the very latest ERP functionality being utilised to deliver world class processes according to current definitions (Oliver Wight etc.).

    McDonald’s by the way is one of best world class manufacturing processes you can imagine (I did the comparison as part of my MBA dissertation) and their profits just speak for themselves!

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