Developing an effective timeline for ERP implementation

April 4, 2017
April 4, 2017 TM Group

Developing an effective timeline for ERP implementation

Timelines are critical for successful ERP implementation.

An ERP implementation is a major change for businesses, whether they’re selecting a new business platform like Microsoft Dynamics GP or Dynamics NAV over upgrading their legacy system or implementing their first ERP solution. The decision to move to a more capable, complete and robust ERP solution starts with a long, important evaluation process that requires a good deal of attention and adaptability on the part of both leaders and staff.

Developing an effective implementation timeline as early as possible and understanding its potential impacts will help smooth the process. The timeline should include the time needed to make vendor selection, installation, training and other related considerations. 

Crafting a realistic, efficient and useful implementation timeline
While the central concern of ERP implementations is getting the selected solution installed and operational, there are many other factors to consider. Significant amounts of time are often spent on research, demonstrations and many other activities involving the potential selection of platforms and partners before a final decision is made. With the tasks required to handle before a new ERP solution is even installed and the many more required during that process and afterward, an effective timeline is crucial.

One major consideration to make in crafting a useful timeline is an element of flexibility. This approach can mean segmenting the larger timeline that flows from the selection of the in-house implementation team and executive sponsors to the first use of the fully implemented solution.

In practical terms, businesses can block out variable amounts of time for large and small components of the process – 6 to 12 weeks for the ERP partner to physically implement the software, for example, or 3 to 6 weeks for initial employee engagement and training efforts.

Then, they can set a more definitive number once particulars are determined and it’s possible to do so effectively.

Make the timeline a living document
Another major aspect to consider early on in the planning stages is the sheer number of potential components a timeline will have. Forgetting to account for certain components of the process, like converting data for use in a new ERP solution or sessions with the implementation team after potential partners are selected but before a final decision is made, makes the timeline less useful.

The timeline isn’t a strictly linear accounting of the events that will happen during the implementation, as many parts of the process will overlap. By blocking out all elements involved in the process, it’s easier for staff to keep track of progress on a more effective level and pay attention to small but important considerations that may otherwise slip through the cracks.

In the book “Control Your ERP Destiny: Reduce Project Costs, Mitigate Risks, and Design Better Business Solutions,” author Steven Scott Philips offers a useful piece of advice in this respect to make timelines both flexible and continually effective: Implement major reassessment points throughout the process.

Phillips suggested establishing and revamping estimates at various steps in the implementation process: After initial planning and before deciding to evaluate one or many ERP solutions, when organizing funding, after selecting a partner, and once it comes time to actually implement the software. Using this strategy enhances the project’s organization and gives everyone involved in the process the chance to ask questions, bring new information to light and assess the feasibility of existing time estimates.

Find examples of similar companies and similar circumstances
Panorama Consulting said it’s important for businesses to
find real-world of examples of project length where the software being installed and other considerations are similar to their own. However, keep in mind no two organizations are exactly alike and thus no two projects will be exactly alike. Good partners who have strong track records for successful implementations can often share this information with their clients, but it’s important businesses also do some of this research on their own.

An independent perspective will aid in developing an effective and realistic timeline, ensuring that expectations aren’t too far off base. This process also provides a reminder to those inside an organization angling for the quickest implementation possible that successful, high-quality ERP implementation efforts simply take time to complete. Staff worried about decision-makers pushing for too-short timelines can even go a step further and find examples of companies that were too aggressive in their scheduling and suffered for it.

Crafting an effective ERP implementation timeline is a long and ongoing practice, much like the implementation itself. With the right strategy in place and a strong understanding of the nature of such projects, however, businesses can use this planning process to their advantage.

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