10 most important soft skills for ERP professionals

Today’s Enterprise Resource Planning software professional needs not only technical expertise, but requires “soft skills” as well.  Included here are some of the most important of these.

What are soft skills?  According to Wikipedia, “soft skills is a sociological term relating to a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.[1] Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.”

So, what distinguishes the run-of-the-mill project manager from a great one?  What are the most important traits of a successful ERP Project Manager?  Here are the top ten in my opinion:

1) Intuition

While there are project management programs that teach people methodology, there is no substitute for possessing intuition about projects.  It takes a lot of experience in project management to develop an instinct for how a project is really going.  Natural project managers have this intuition.  Most people never will.  It is a skill that can’t be taught.  A natural project manager, who has the ability to sense where the project really is at, is one of the most valuable assets an ERP project can have.

2) Communication

The abilities to read, write, and speak clearly and effectively are especially important when implementing any complicated IT project.  Even a good plan can fail if it was poorly communicated.  Being a communicator means recognizing that it’s a two-way street.  Information comes into the project and information goes out of the project.  All communications on the project need to be clear and complete.  The ability to moderate an effective project status meeting is also of utmost importance.

3) Ability to resolve “gray” issues

Many of the people issues that trouble ERP projects have no black-and-white answer.  Project managers need to find a solution that everyone is comfortable with.  Those who can identify and articulate the problem, expose it to the light, and find a satisfactory solution are the ones who bring project in on-time and on-budget.

4) Conflict Resolution

During ERP projects, there are sure to be disagreements, and a need to arrive at consensus.  Project managers who can work with people, and find a common ground are in high demand.

Either as a third party or being the one involved in the conflict, project managers must always act in a reasonable and calm manner. Such conduct adds to the already established reputation and good credibility to the employees.  It is also important to instill in the team the value of respect in a conflict by regulating who speaks first and whose turn goes next, by stopping any expression of animosity and undermining toward the other, and encouraging them to collaborate or compromise rather than avoid and compete.

5) Organization

There are many aspects of the project that need to be organized or filed including all documentation, contracts, e-mails, memo’s, reviews, meetings, specialist documents, requirements and specifications, reports, changes, issues, risks, etc.  Also, it’s almost impossible to stay organized without having Time Management Skills.

6) Team building

It’s easy for IT professionals and user staff to remain secluded in their comfort zones.  Project managers who can help the team transcend these zones and work for the good of the project are prized for their ability to see the big picture.  A successful team leader must provide five things to the team.  I call this the FORGE process.

Feedback –The team must be apprised of how they are doing

Opportunity – They must be given the opportunity to perform

Reward – They should be rewarded according to contribution

Guidance –The team should be guided when and where needed

Expectation – They should always be aware of what is expected

There are typically four distinct phases of team development.  These phases are, “forming, storming, norming and performing”.

In the first phase, members of the team are typically quiet, polite, and guarded, but business-like.

In the second phase, there tends to be conflict over control.  Individuals often confront one another and, as a result, either become entrenched or opt out.

In the third phase, an appearance of organization emerges as the procedures are accepted.  The focus then turns to issues.

In the fourth phase, the team settles down to open and productive effort with trust, flexibility, and a mature closeness which enables self-direction.  However, this only takes place if the leader modifies his or her level of directive versus supportive behavior in response to this progressive evolution of team members.

7) Vendor management

Vendor management is not a skill which is typically taught.  IT people tend to avoid this part of the process.  But with outsourcing and vendor management on the rise, project management professionals with the skills to work with vendors and ensure that SLAs (service level agreements) and KPIs (key performance indicators) are being met, bring great value to the table.

8) Teaching, mentoring, and knowledge sharing

Project management professionals able to teach new applications to users are invaluable in project rollouts.  If they can work side by side with others and provide mentoring and support, they become even more valuable.   It is typical that the “real” learning occurs while processing live data in the trenches, rather than in training classes.  It’s vital that the project manager has the willingness to share, the ability to listen, and the patience to work with others as they learn.

9) Political smarts

IT personnel, in general, are not famous for being politically astute.  Project managers who can forge strong relationships with different constituencies throughout the company are vital to the implementation project. This relationship building fosters project cooperation and success.

10) Negotiation

In business, you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you can negotiate.  The ability to negotiate contracts, influence which vendor personnel are assigned, and dictate their priorities, is vital for an on-time, on-budget project.

Visit Enterprise Resource Consulting at http://www.EnterpriseResourceConsulting.com

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