ERP Implementation Project Plan – A 7-step Guide for SMEs

Jalene Ippolito August 12, 2020

So far in your ERP journey, you’ve probably been focused on the “what” – what system you choose, what functionality you need and what ERP partner you work with. You’ve put in the time and effort to select the best ERP solution for your business, but you’re not ready to take your foot off the gas just yet. How you handle the implementation will ultimately determine how successful the project is.

We’re big believers that choosing the right ERP partner is just as important – if not more so – than choosing the right software. This will never be more apparent than it is during implementation. A partner with strong project management skills and a proven implementation approach will be the difference between a successful project and a failed project. Our biggest piece of advice is to view this project as a partnership – be clear on what your partner is responsible for and what falls to your team. And be realistic about how much time your team needs to dedicate to this process – you’d hate to come this far only to veer off course because you underestimated the implementation effort.

Related: How to Manage Change in an ERP Project

7 Step ERP Implementation Project Plan

1. Process analysis & system design

During the buying process, you identified your list of ERP requirements and likely went through a discovery session with your partner to clarify your top priority needs. That information provides the framework for the first phase of your implementation. Here, your ERP partner will work with you to do an even deeper dive on your requirements and the specifics of your processes. This is the stage where you’ll discuss changes to your existing processes based on functionality in the new system. Your partner will then create a system design that addresses your requirements and you’ll both sign-off on the project scope before moving forward.

2. Software installation & configuration

At this point, your implementation partner will handle the installation and initial setup of your system. This includes configuring the system settings, enabling the functionality you’ll be using and setting up your users. If you’ve purchased a cloud ERP solution, they’ll setup your hosted environment at this stage as well.

3. Move data into the new system

This is the stage where your team will need to be heavily involved. Working with your partner, you’ll determine what data needs to be moved into your new system. Then you’ll pull the data from your existing system (your partner can help with this if necessary). And then comes the important part – cleaning the data. You should assign functional resources from your team to review the data for accuracy and uniformity, as they know the data best. Be critical about what needs to come into your new system – if you have old, irrelevant data, remove it at this stage. There’s no sense cluttering up a new system right off the bat. Once you’re comfortable with the state of your data, your partner will import it into the ERP system, have you review and verify that it’s accurate.

4. Business process implementation

Now it’s time to configure the system to handle your business processes. This includes setting up user authorizations, configuring the processes you defined in Step 1 and testing to ensure the processes function as expected. You can also customize the user interface at this stage by re-arranging fields, hiding functionality that isn’t used, etc. – the goal is to create a clean, simple experience for your users right from day one.

5. Training & user acceptance testing

When your system is ready for testing, you’ll start with your super users (the primary system users that understand the end-to-end business processes) and other key functional users from each department. They’ll be responsible for working through your processes to ensure the system is doing what was expected. Make sure you test real-life scenarios using real transaction data to get an accurate picture of how the system will work once you’re live. If you’re coming from disparate systems, you’ll want to check that processes are flowing properly between departments, as that’s a departure from what you’re used to.

User training is a step that companies sometimes try to rush through, particularly if they’re behind schedule – they just want to be live. Resist that urge. You’ll create more pain down the road if your people aren’t properly trained. Whether you take a “train the trainer” approach, where your partner trains the super users and they train your team, or you’ve built more one-on-one training into the project plan, take your time and make sure it’s done right. Most partners will offer a variety of training options, including in-person sessions, online training courses, manuals and online help centers. Keep in mind that not everyone on your team will learn the same way, so take advantage of those options to accommodate different learning styles. Finally, make time for documenting your new processes. This will be helpful as your team gets up-to-speed on the new system and will prove valuable as you hire new staff in the future.

6. System go-live

It’s time to flip the switch on your new ERP! Almost…

First, a few tips to prepare for a successful go-live:

  • Do a pre go-live review to ensure you’ve addressed any issues that came out of testing and training.

  • Schedule your team appropriately. Let them know if they’re expected to work overtime or adjusted hours during go-live.

  • Communicate with your team, customers and suppliers to let them know you’ll have scheduled downtime while you cut over to your new system. Put a plan in place for how you’ll handle incoming requests, orders, etc. during that period.

  • Be prepared for the unexpected. Even with the best preparation, you can’t plan for everything.

Go-live is your official switch from your old system to your new ERP. Your partner should work with you to ensure your opening balances are imported correctly and help reconcile data between the two systems. Be sure to do a thorough review of your data at this point – missed errors can take time to fix down the road. You should count on having your partner on hand to help your team get used to the new environment and effectively manage the change.

7. Post-implementation support & review

In the weeks and months following your go-live, you’ll rely on your partner for support as you’re adjusting to your system. Their role is to make sure the system is functioning as expected and smooth the transition for your team. After you’ve been live with your system for a few months, your partner should do a post-implementation review with you. The goal of this session is to identify any issues that need addressing, assess how the transition has gone and evaluate your return on the system. This is where it’s helpful to have clear objectives for the ERP project to measure against.

Why effective project management is key to ERP implementation success

Even with a solid implementation plan like we’ve outlined here, don’t underestimate the impact of strong project management. It will keep your project on track by avoiding unnecessary scope changes, timeline extensions and cost overruns. To ensure a successful ERP implementation, choose a partner that has strong project management skills and assign an internal Project Manager within your team. This will likely be your ERP Project Champion, but it could be someone else depending on your team structure and resource availability. The key is to make sure the project is being well managed on both sides of the fence. A great partner can only take you so far if the project responsibilities aren’t being well managed on your end.

PDF Download: How to Manage Change in an ERP Project

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