Engaging the services of an independent consultant is often the best approach to making your ERP project succeed. In those cases, it’s a beautiful thing. But sometimes, independent consultants come with baggage that reveals a more beastly side, dooming your project to abject – and costly – failure.

Independent ERP consultants are in business to help companies make the most of their ERP implementations. Like any vendor or business partner, the value delivered may not always be the value you expected. That’s why it’s important for you to own your project, evaluate promises and manage communications and expectations with both internal and external teams. It is also critical to understand the dynamics that can arise between different players, and plan to manage them effectively.

So how do you know when a decision to hire an independent ERP consultant is a going to lead to a happy ending – and when it’s a deadly project risk? Let’s examine a few common situations that can conceal deadly pitfalls:

Driving better outcomes by managing your autonomy: Remember, you are in charge of the overall project. Don’t let an ERP project sideline your team and take focus time and resources away from your core business. Set expectations with all parties from the beginning and check in often to keep everyone on the same page. Lay out terms and conditions when contracts are signed, and establish agreements on all sides for roles and responsibilities.

Assessing consultant-OEM partnerships: When selecting and implementing ERP software, working with a firm that has solid partnerships with their OEMs can be a good thing. But too close of an association with an ERP vendor package can be a sign of trouble.

Educating senior management: Relying solely on an ERP software vendor or independent consulting firm to educate your management is not as convenient as it may look. In fact, ERP education should have little to do with software, and nothing to do with a particular package. The problem is, a sales pitch disguised as education may leave senior management believing the package the vendor is pushing is the “ideal” ERP example.

Scoping service needs accurately: Beware of add-on services. Independents can provide sound advice within predefined project roles – problems arise when your consulting partner starts talking you into paying for additional services your project team could handle, or that you just don’t need.

Managing communications and collaboration: Evaluate potential consulting partners for their ability to provide truly independent views throughout the project lifecycle. Evaluating multiple, independent perspectives throughout the process — from vendor selection to implementation to optimization — helps you truly validate progress and flag concerns before they become crises. Know when to leverage your consulting partner’s non-affiliated voice to point out when and where you need to step up, to review the project plan and analyze results. Unfortunately, there are times when an independent firm working on a client’s behalf with the primary provider encounters politics or other conflicts. If the client management and project teams begin to take sides, this can become especially very disruptive to a successful ERP project. Allow for independent views and provide political empowerment.

Ideally, your ERP consulting partner is smart enough to know what they know, and what they don’t know. This means understanding what your business really needs — not just what they think they can sell you. It means taking that understanding and realistically evaluating how their firm’s talent and vendor partnerships can best be combined to help you run your business better today and leverage ERP for a beautiful future.

An effective ERP implementation is a critical success factor for the typical manufacturing organization. Using an independent firm should add value to your ERP project. But failing to understand and manage the potential pitfalls can do serious damage to any project and leave you managing a beast. Teaming with the right independent ERP consultants can help you work smarter and produce beautiful results.