Don't try to boil the ocean

Don’t try to boil the ocean

“They’re trying to boil the ocean!”

Have you heard this phrase before? You might hear consultants say this when they think a client is trying to accomplish too much at once. I say it every so often when someone is trying to customize NetSuite in a way which is really more than the system can handle, or when we try to accomplish building a lot of customizations in a very short time. I get concerned for a number of reasons.

First, I’ve seen many clients get excited when they learn that NetSuite can be customized to better match their existing business processes. In some cases, we’ve seen clients then jump from “let’s change one thing about Sales Orders” (for instance), to “Let’s totally customize NetSuite to work exactly like our current ERP system”. That is never a good idea, based on past experience, but it can be difficult to convince a nervous team that adopting “the NetSuite way” makes more sense, in the long run. In quite a few of my implementation projects, clients and their teams of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) have come to the conclusion that they cannot work as NetSuite does - they must make it work as their legacy system did, down to every last detail. We then have to analyze each request to determine whether the old process makes sense in NetSuite and how difficult it would be to change how NetSuite works. A much faster (and cheaper) approach would be to start by asking each of the business’ teams to learn how NetSuite works and really try to adopt that approach. This is what we mean when we refer to the “leading practice”. We start our consulting from there and only deviate from it when the client confirms they cannot possibly follow that process.

My next concern with boil-the-ocean situation is that very large customization projects, which typically end up touching upon a wide range of business processes, are expensive and take a long time to deliver. They start out seeming like a good idea, or even necessary for the business to continue to function, but they almost always end up larger than we thought at first, sometimes with an ever-expanding list of requirements and so more & more design, development, testing, and frequently, integration work, until it seems that we might never actually finish. As professional consultants, our goal with every implementation has to be getting the client live on NetSuite as quickly as we can. It is simply not possible to both add more & more requirements to our work backlog and also go live on schedule. The better approach is to set a reasonable cut-off point and say everything which comes to light after that will be handled as a Post-Go-Live activity. We usually refer to that kind of work as “Phase 2”; first we get the company running on NetSuite and then talk about how to improve their business from there.

OK, so we know that trying to “boil the ocean” never leads to a successful implementation. How do we avoid this in our consulting work and how do we steer a concerned client away from any attempts to require too many SuiteScripts and/or SuiteFlows before they go live? Here are a few ideas.

Learn to recognize it when a client’s first few simple requests for customizations turn into something closer to boiling the ocean. This can be difficult but you can usually start by counting the requests. Depending on the size of the business, the number of processes we’re implementing in the system and so on, I get concerned when I see more than 5 requirements which come to light after the implementation starts.

At that point, I ask “Is this required before go live, or could we add this feature later?". Really drill into whatever the clients says, to make them think hard about this question. The initial reaction is almost always a very quick, “Yes, of course” but we have to push a little to find out why and keep asking that question until we’re clear on the real root issue. (If you’ve not heard of this before, you can read up on the Toyota company’s “Five Whys” to learn how to do this - it’s so important!)

We have to then suggest ways the client could use native features to accomplish the process they’re looking for. Very often, we can create a custom field or two, train users on a new manual process and so avoid creating another SuiteFlow or SuiteScript.

If you’re a NetSuite consultant, how do you handle the situation when a client’s requests get to be so numerous that alarms start going off in your head? Let me know if you have any ideas or tips to share with the NetSuite community and I’ll post them here as updates. Use the contact page to get in touch.

(Credit for the image used here goes to Thomas Morse at Unsplash. Thanks!)