Expecting the unexpected during ERP implementations: a complexity view

G.L.S.G. Janssens*, R.J. Kusters, H.H. Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Web of Science)


Implementing an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system is a complex, risky, time-consuming, and very expensive affair. Unfortunately, ERP implementations are often still over budget and time, and below expectations. Ticking off critical success factors (CSFs) and risks is supposed to take care of all intricacies during an implementation. However, complexity theory suggests no perfect foresighted knowledge can exist and one should always be prepared for new and unexpected events happening (“unknown unknowns”). Currently, ERP research does not explicitly address this unexpected behavioral aspect of complexity. Therefore, it seems relevant to explore whether this unexpected complexity aspect of ERP implementations can be observed in actual ERP implementations. We demonstrate through an in-depth and structured case analysis that a normal, well-planned, and managed ERP project shows indeed unexpected behavior. That is to say, totally unforeseen major problems appear. From our observations, it is evident that ERP implementations can show significant unexpected behavior despite the best of knowledge, proper preparation, and project management practice. It seems relevant to perform more researchinto the relevance of appropriate control mechanisms based on acceptance of the inherent complex, i.e. unpredictable nature of ERP implementations. This awareness should complement existing mechanisms as CSFs and risks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)68-82
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Information Systems and Project Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • ERP
  • ERP case research
  • ERP implementation
  • ERP implementation complexity
  • complexity.


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