John Gorbach is a Senior Manager at Direct Energy who over the years has developed a track record for business growth, leadership and the ability to drive productivity and success through teamwork. He has been an integral part of Direct Energy’s Microsoft Dynamics AX Project Unify implementation. His official title for the project is “Functional Lead / Manager of Functional Design” – which translates to, being the conduit between the business stakeholders, the project team, and the solution developers. John’s responsibilities are to make sure that the solution works for the end users, but at the same time balances out configuration vs. customization. He has been in this role for just over four years and to quote him “it’s an awesome role, I’m NEVER bored, and have had the opportunity to work with a ton of people (all over the world) over the life of the project.”
What aspects of an ERP implementation do you find most fascinating or would consider your specialty?
If you asked me 4 years ago if I would be into software, “No” would have been my answer. However, this project has really opened my eyes to how important the marriage is between software and business processes. ERP Transformation projects like I’m on are truly 80% people and 20% product. I think one of my strong suits is being able to quickly establish trust (which is paramount) with stakeholders, understand how & why their business works, and then constructively challenge them on processes that have been accepted as core overtime – but really exist due to legacy system limitations. Being able to bridge the gap between how the ERP application was designed to be able to be configured to be flexible to various business/industries and leading without authority to help the business evolve/adapt is fundamental.
Were you working in another role before you joined the Unify Project and do you see a connection between your past and current roles?
Yes, I’ve been with Direct Energy / Centrica for almost 15 years. Over that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work in various parts of the organization. These experiences and relationships have allowed me to be successful and help push through some of the more difficult situations that all large projects face.
What would you say are the main values you bring or hope to bring to your approach?
Care. Available. Transparent. I think these values sum up what I bring to the table.
I truly do care for the business and more importantly our front-line employees and customers who ultimately put in all the hard work that allows for someone like me to have an awesome job.
I make myself available (sometimes too much) – however in todays world, and especially this project – using all 24 hours of a day and leveraging talent around the world is what allows success to happen. Its critical that I’m available to help explain a business process to a developer, and vice-versa, explain a system process to a business user.
Transparency has been important with this project. Our organization has gone through a lot of change while our project has been in place such as new senior leaders, acquired/divested some businesses etc. so being transparent with the good/bad/uncomfortable has allowed our project to prevail where most would have been suspended or canceled.
Is there anything that surprised you about what it’s like to be on an ERP Project?
This project has had its fair share of “you have to be kidding me” risk/issues/setbacks that no one (I mean no one) could have dreamt up. To me the biggest surprise (a positive one) has been the ‘unified’ persistence of the collective team to continue to ‘figure it out’ together and push forward. Its fitting that our project name is Unify for that and many other reasons. Having a very clear definition of what success is makes this achievable.
What is your favourite part about working on a Technology / ERP implementation project? What do you find most fulfilling?
As an employee and business lead – I’d have to say two things:
People. I’m a people person. Even though we all can drive each other nuts, it’s the people who make or break things at the end of the day. Engaging with new and old friends and colleague has been great on this project.
Learning something new. This was a pretty big departure from my prior roles and has opened new doors for new opportunities for me in the future. Seeing in real-time how technology allows our employees and customers to more efficiently transact and communicate with each other is very meaningful.
The relationship with Harbinger:
Gaining an appreciation for what “Change Management” is – and how effective it can be. In my past, OCM was never really part of any project or change I’ve experienced – we had more of a ‘here’s the new game plan – figure out how to execute it’ mentality. Having a thoughtful process to help identify impacts and then in a meaningful/collective way resolve them, allows for what could be a stress-heavy training/go-live period instead be an engagement opportunity where the user community has a voice in both identifying and solving problems.
Do you have a story about a very rewarding experience or situation that you dealt with in this role?
I could write a book! For me the most meaningful experience was going to India to work with the development team (5x in a year and a half). Having the opportunity to get completely immersed in my colleague’s culture really has helped me form stronger relationships with them… (the 10 Costco boxes of Hersey bars I smuggled into the office helped too!)
What is your perspective on the role that Change Management and Training has on the success of an ERP implementation?
Typically, I use the ‘three-legged stool’ metaphor – so with that in your head – to me, Change Management and Training represent the “Glue” holding the legs to the stool. Sure – you can just cram the legs in and 80% of the time, they hold – might be a little wobbly, but the stool doesn’t fall over. However, if you put glue in the joint, you’ve got a tight bond that is unlikely to break. Harbinger, as our OCM team, acted as that ‘glue’ – even when the carpenters (leadership) felt the glue wasn’t needed – they were there for the project team, the business team, and various other teams that were part of the project. They helped ensure the handoffs (the ‘joints’) were tight, and more importantly, identified where they were weak, and helped come up with solutions to support so that the stool never fell over.
Knowing what you know now, do you have any advice for others who are joining an ERP implementation?
Plan, Budget, then add 100%. Be transparent with your people. Things will get worse before they get better. Build teams, with backups – project fatigue/burnout is a real thing and putting too much on any one person can and will likely come back to haunt you. Get buy-in/sign off from stakeholders and engage them frequently. Send “thank you” cards to team members spouses. Recognize the wins and own the responsibility with the setbacks. Effective, Genuine Teams MUST fail and succeed together.
Shifting focus a little let talk about ERP and Microsoft Dynamics. What do you feel is the value or benefits of using Microsoft Dynamics?
The main benefits are that Dynamics is very configurable, intuitive, and user adoption is much greater than SAP/Oracle products (if you know MS Office – you can learn Dynamics).
What is the biggest challenge for end-users/stakeholders when there is a change such as the implementation of an ERP like Dynamics AX?
I believe the biggest challenge for any ERP Transformation is when your people are coming from home-grown customized software, and the goal is to change that custom fit mentality to a “85% out of the box” mentality. It’s paramount that your people UNDERSTAND that the new solution may not be perfect, but it will allow the business to harness and leverage data in a much more powerful way than what any custom application ever could.
What factors do you have to consider during a Microsoft Dynamics implementation? How do you accommodate these factors when designing a good learning program?
Dynamics is built on a core set of modules. Having a solid presales functional design outlining what elements are configured vs. customized to fit the requirements of the business is key. To do this, you need crystal clear requirements that are a blend of strategy and in the weeds, so that your design allows for future growth.
What are the benefits of using a structured, professional learning program for an ERP project?
The benefits are two-fold.
First, it allows for a professional presentation to the user community in a way that is best digested by role (hard and soft copy, web-based training, comprehensive testing, etc.).
Second, turn over happens. Having objective training materials allows the business community, production support, and others to have a reference to assist as new people come into the business.