"No one gets in trouble alone." That's one of Infor project manager Carlton Rice's rules that set the scene for good team work and helped get a major implementation at Pon CAT back on track.
Another Rice rule that's famous with the Pon team is "Nothing gets in the way."
And it doesn't. Rice makes sure of that.
Shortly after the system go-live, Pon Equipment's warehouse in Skejby, Denmark, was falling behind, but some of the employees were off for a Danish holiday. Rice jumped in and picked orders, cleaned out the return parts bins, and restocked shelves so Pon wouldn't get behind on shipments.
"I got to play warehouse guy. It was a lot of fun," Rice said. "You know the old mantra: See a need, fill a need. That's what I do. I don't care that I am the program director; I'll restock the shelves and make the coffee if that will help move the project forward."
That hands-on leadership is why Infor sent Rice in to take over management of the implementation last May, and it's why Pon asked him to stay on full time to get them live.
"Carlton has a very well-developed skill to structure problems and quickly get to the root cause of an issue," says Rens Bouman, Pon program director. "He also leads the team in a very effective way, and he is willing to roll up his sleeves and do what is needed to keep the Pon colleagues transacting in the system."
Pon is an international trading and service company based in the Netherlands. The Pon Equipment + Pon Power (Pon CAT) division is the Caterpillar dealer for the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Baltic states. Pon CAT is implementing Infor M3 for Equipment (ESM&R) in a multiphase project.
The rental phase of the project went live in the Netherlands and Norway in fall 2011. Next, the full Infor M3 solution was being developed for Pon CAT, but the implementation in Denmark, which was selected to be the first go-live of the full solution, kept running into delays and missing milestones.
"Our project was moving forward but struggling until Carlton entered the scene. He immediately dove into the deep end of the pool and instituted a get-it-done attitude. Carlton brought a sense of order and created an atmosphere of hitting milestones and achieving real progress, which was largely missing," said David O. Turner, member of the Executive Board, Pon Holdings.
That's where Infor's Strategic Engagement Team comes in.
In 2012, Infor's senior management created a "reactionary force" of "experienced, senior-level project and program managers to mitigate troubled projects and act as Infor executives' 'trusted advisors.' "
The Strategic Engagement Team (SET) provides critical support activities as required throughout a project's lifecycle. SET works collaboratively with Infor Consulting Services delivery teams to ensure the operational stability of projects, and assists them strategically to avoid downstream commercial or relationship challenges.
Carlton Rice was the first person chosen for SET. "I started work at Infor on a Monday, and on Tuesday, I was on a plane from Atlanta to Pon outside of Amsterdam. I have been basically commuting to Europe for a year," he said.
"I was brought in to get the project organized and on track, and I did just that," Rice explained. "Then Pon asked me to stay on to take them live on the first rollout to the Equipment Division in Denmark. Infor and my wife approved it, so I stayed on full time."
His role has been a cross between technical expert and best practices coach.
"I've organized groups or tasks where I see a need," Rice said. "In the past, Infor didn't do a good job of coaching Pon on having the right leaders in the right spots to accomplish their daily tasks. With Pon support, I've been pushing their VPs to make adjustments."
"Carlton's contribution was absolutely crucial," Bouman said. "He helped the team to break the 'habit' of missing milestones, and he helped us out a great deal in getting an integrated plan in place. Once the plan was on the table, he helped and coached our team leads to stick to the plan and to ask for help on time. He did all of that with a remarkable good sense of humor and positive energy.
"We have many different European nationalities all working in one location. His leadership style was received very well by the entire team," Bouman continued. "Carlton's pragmatic get-the-job-done attitude helped us to achieve our end goal, go-live on April 29."
A really successful go-live. "We came in clean. No Priority 1 defects, nothing deferred," Rice said. "I think it was the first clean milestone in the history of the project. The whole team did a great job."
Rice has stayed on as operations support for a couple of months after the go-live.
"It's been hard, I have to say," Rice explained. "I pulled an all-nighter every week for 50 weeks last year for the travel. It's been hard, but it has definitely been worth it. It's a win for both Infor and Pon."
But soon, he'll be cutting back to oversight mode and a less rigorous schedule while he engages with the rest of the Infor/Caterpillar dealers globally. The next phase of the project for Pon is Equipment rollout to the Netherlands. A third-party, PWC, will implement the rest of the go-lives for Pon, with Rice as oversight.
What's at stake
"All of Caterpillar is watching this implementation to see how it turns out. Dealers worldwide are watching," Rice said. "We are in competition with SAP and Microsoft, and we are way ahead. Pon is happy with the output, happy with the go-live, and that helps Infor reach other undecided Caterpillar dealers."
Rice will be overseeing all Caterpillar projects for Infor globally.
The quintessential PM
"I tell people I've been a project manager for 30 years, but only doing it well for 15, because the first 15 years, you're learning," Rice said.
He says the best part of his job is turning chaos into order. "I love the challenge of complex projects and getting them back on track."
His project managing began as an Army commander and operations officer. He's also done stints with Oracle and SAP. When Infor set about assembling a crack SET team, Jim Byrnes, EVP of Infor Consulting Services, called on Rice first, and he responded.
"I wanted a challenge, and I got it," Rice says. What he finds most frustrating in his work is "project managers who don't take their role seriously."
Rice's approach in working with a customer on an implementation is this:
- Complete openness and honesty.
- I tell them the good and bad news, and we deal with it.
- Reality, regardless if it is good or bad, is the easiest to work with.
"Carlton is a real team builder. His military background shows through clearly," Turner said. "Carlton's relentless work ethic and positive attitude helped bring together the Infor and Pon teams to achieve our mutual goals."
So despite jet lag and a grueling schedule-or maybe because of it-Rice says, "I am having a blast. This is exactly what I love to do."