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ERP Implementation for Enterprises: A Comprehensive Checklist for Success

ERP Implementation for Enterprises: A Comprehensive Checklist for Success

Implementing an employee resource planning (ERP) system is a complex process. Enterprise software implementation requires significant planning and coordination because it touches so many different business functions, from finance and sales to manufacturing and human resources. For success, a well-organized checklist is key. Follow these steps to manage all the ERP implementation phases as smoothly as possible. 

Planning Phase

ERP implementation must begin with detailed planning. This phase brings together key stakeholders, evaluates existing business processes, and establishes important project parameters, like vendors and a budget. 

1. Assemble a cross-functional project team 

An ERP affects departments spanning the enterprise. So, during the planning phase, it’s important to ensure individuals from across the organization have a voice in the process. Finance leaders, for example, can’t necessarily speak to the needs or processes of the sales team, and vice versa. 

At a minimum, this cross-functional internal project team should include these key roles: 

  • Project sponsor, ideally someone in the C-suite or at the executive level to champion the project
  • Project manager, to keep the project on task, time, and budget
  • IT representation, someone with a deep knowledge of existing systems who can foresee any technical obstacles that might arise and work alongside external consultants
  • Key department stakeholders, someone from each of the relevant business functions such as finance, operations, sales, etc. to share perspectives related to those users 

Often, this team includes a product implementation consultant, too. A dedicated development team can offer valuable expertise on ERP implementation, saving the enterprise time, money, and frustration. Roles on a product team at Designli, for instance, always include a project architect upfront, as well as a dedicated product owner, designer, developer, and QA lead. Each brings a vital skill set that can make or break the ERP implementation process. 

2. Define project scope and goals

It’s hard to hit the target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. A key objective of the planning phase should be to define the specific pain points the ERP aims to solve. Department stakeholders can be a valuable asset in determining areas of weakness within the current systems. 

As part of this goal definition step, it’s important to get specific about the desired business outcomes and metrics the new ERP aims to achieve. Strive to go beyond subjective metrics, like better workflow or smoother payroll processing, and define key metrics the ERP should improve. These might include gains in efficiency and productivity or reductions in cost and inventory waste, for example. 

3. Assess current business processes

Change is difficult, no matter how nimble your organization may seem. One of the best ways to ease the transition is to develop an understanding of the status quo. During the planning phase, the team should take time to thoroughly map existing processes, workflows, and systems. There should be absolute clarity about where and how data moves across the organization. 

Once you’ve established a clear picture of where relevant processes stand today, then it’s time to identify areas for improvement. The team should consider how the new enterprise software might optimize or re-engineer existing processes for better results. 

4. Evaluate and select an ERP vendor

With the right people included in the conversation, a defined direction, and a shared understanding of opportunities for improvement, it’s time to select a vendor. In many cases, it may be best to start with an industry-specific solution. 

Some ERPs might be better suited to the specific needs of manufacturing companies, for example, while a high-tech firm might require a completely different set of features. Evaluating vendors who specialize in your field may keep you from overpaying for bells and whistles you don’t need or offer creative solutions to the exact challenges you hope to overcome. 

To that end, you’ll also want to conduct a thorough assessment of the functionality and scalability of each option. Consider: Do you need a vendor that can support a large multinational corporation or is a smaller-scale solution suitable? And, which features are essential to support the various functions represented in your organization?

Integration capabilities are also an important consideration. Be sure that any additional software you need can integrate seamlessly with your new ERP. Along the same lines, don’t forget to evaluate vendor support. You’ll want to identify a partner who will promote your success long-term. Look for a vendor with responsive support staff, regular software updates, and helpful troubleshooting resources. 

5. Develop a detailed project plan

A well-thought-out timeline is critical to implementation success. Include key milestones and dependencies so that no detail of the timeline is left to chance. Be equally thorough when it comes to resource allocation. You’ll want to specify who gets which dollars, time, and support throughout the project. Define what the internal team will own and which resources will go to the external consultants. 

As part of your project planning process, don’t forget to include a conversation about possible pitfalls. No one likes to talk about what could go wrong, but the best projects plan for the worst. Spend some time with your team on risk assessment and mitigation strategies. When you’re proactive about risks, you can manage any hiccups with a rapid and well-coordinated response. 

6. Create a budget

Now, it’s time to assign specific dollar amounts to each part of your plan. Create a budget that reflects the full scope of your project. Among the line items in your budget, include the following: 

  • Software licensing 
  • Implementation 
  • Customization
  • Training 
  • Ongoing maintenance 

A clear and detailed budget can hasten executive approval and safeguard against future delays due to funding. 

7. Develop a change management plan

One of the most difficult aspects of enterprise software implementation is managing change. Even if you’re abandoning an old system in favor of a better, newer one, old habits die hard. Not everyone in the organization will understand the value of the improvement immediately.

That’s where a clear communication strategy comes in. Stakeholders involved in the planning phase must anticipate and represent the interests of their departments. When spearheaded by people who understand the end users, a thorough communication plan can minimize confusion. 

As part of this process, be sure to identify areas of potential resistance. What pain points might users need to overcome and why? Identifying push-back early in the process and addressing it will help shape a successful messaging strategy. 

Configuration and Development Phase

With a detailed roadmap in place, you’ll leave the planning phase and enter the configuration and development portion of the project. This intricate phase involves tedious but important steps surrounding data and functionality. 

8. Configure the ERP system

Now that you’ve selected an ERP vendor, you’ll need to set up the software to accommodate your organization's unique needs. Even the best ERP software for you will require some setup. To configure the system, evaluate the existing ERP modules and functions and align them with your processes. Connecting accounts, setting up access control, and mimicking your organizational structure within the software are all part of this process.

In some cases, your internal systems or processes might not align perfectly with the off-the-shelf ERP modules. In this case, you’ll need to determine and document any necessary customizations. Neglecting this step is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and it will cause problems later on. So, don’t skip it. 

9. Create a data migration strategy

After you’ve configured the ERP to match your organizational needs, it’s time to migrate your data over to the new system. This step can feel daunting and often requires significant time to get right. Ultimately, however, it’s worth it. A well-executed data migration strategy can be the difference for a smooth implementation. 

First, determine the data that needs to be migrated. To do this, conduct a comprehensive audit of all the data that needs to live in the new system, where it currently exists, and in what format. This might include master data from other software, transaction history, etc. Resist the urge to extract all the data from a date range in a system when only some information is necessary for the new ERP. 

In most cases, you’ll need to clean the data and format it in a way that makes sense within the new software. Check carefully to avoid duplicate or missing data in this transfer process. You also must establish validation processes to verify the accuracy and completeness of data as it’s migrated over to the new system. 

As part of the data migration process, crafting a plan for data mapping and transformation can keep important information from falling through the cracks. Clearly outline policies and protocols related to backing up and restoring lost data. 

10. Develop integration plans

More than likely, your ERP will act as a hub of information with multiple other systems feeding it or interacting seamlessly with it. Whether that includes your CRM, your supply chain system, or some other software, identify all the systems that need to “talk” to and share information with the ERP. 

Then, establish a plan for integration. The mode you choose will depend both on your ERP vendor as well as the systems you need to connect. Possible integration methods might include APIs, middleware—that is, software that connects one system to another, or some combination of the two. 

11. Assemble a rigorous testing plan

Deliberate and comprehensive testing is critical to success. Think of testing as the dress rehearsal before the big show, or go-live. Your testing plan must include unit testing for individual modules within the ERP. Go through each function within the ERP one by one and test it using your real data. 

Testing should also involve any interoperable software. Integration testing helps to ensure smooth data flow between systems. Remember, identifying any information siloes or blocks at this point will avoid expensive errors or oversights later.

Beyond the actual technical functionality of the system, don’t forget to conduct user acceptance testing (UAT), too. Invite key stakeholders to interact with the ERP so that you can identify possible areas of challenge. This process allows you to “test-drive” your new system with real users before it goes live. UAT can also inform training in the next phase of implementation. 

Training and Rollout Phase

With all the planning and configuration behind you, it’s finally time to get the ERP out into the “real world.” Good training enables users to get up and running quickly, reducing errors and speeding up the transition. Still, with excellent UX, training should be minimal. Ideally, the new system is so intuitive that users don’t need a lot of help understanding it. 

12. Develop a comprehensive training plan

Remember that not every user needs to understand every function in the enterprise software. Create a high-level training plan that designates which roles need to learn which modules of the ERP.

There are several formats to choose from when it comes to training. Some organizations opt for live classroom training while others choose online lessons or written manuals. Identify which route or combination of methods makes sense for your users and organizational structure. Cost, accessibility, and timeline may impact your choice. 

Within departments, consider a train-the-trainer approach. This term refers to the method wherein leaders within key functions receive one-on-one training and coach their teams. It’s an effective way to distribute information quickly while empowering leaders to become experts on the new system. 

13. Conduct a phased rollout or pilot implementation

Often, a gradual approach is the best way to roll out your new enterprise software. Instead of implementing the ERP company-wide all at once, try starting with a single site or department. Alternatively, pilot the new system first with a small set of beta users before a full launch. This approach allows you to learn from challenges and introduce change slowly. 

You can also prevent chaos and ease the transition by running new software in parallel with legacy systems, if applicable. Not only will this approach serve as a backup for any issues with the new system but it will also allow for comparison. By running both systems simultaneously, you can gather some early data about your new ERP’s performance. 

14. Prepare for go-live

Eventually, the time will come to fully transition to your new system. To minimize downtime, be sure to develop a clear cutover plan. Carefully schedule each activity in such a way that you don’t significantly disrupt company operations. 

During this transition period, it’s imperative to have access to anyone who can address unforeseen issues. Plan for a “hypercare” support team during and immediately after the launch period. In this way, you’ll have coverage and peace of mind that the right people will be ready to step in should anything go awry. 

Post-Implementation Phase

After the ERP rollout, most of the hard work is already behind you. For best results, however, the work isn’t over just yet. During the post-implementation phase, you’ll begin to assess performance data and feedback. Then, you can make adjustments as needed. The refinement and maintenance process never really ends. But, with a plan in place, it shouldn’t be a heavy lift. 

15. Monitor key metrics

Refer back to the targets you set during the planning phase. Consider: How is your ERP performing against the key performance indicators (KPIs) you established? Of course, it may take some time before you reach your goals, but ideally, you should see signs of progress in the right direction.

To determine how the new system compares to the previous setup, compare your KPIs to your pre-ERP baselines. Take note of the differences and flag any areas of lag or concern.

16. Gather user feedback

Beyond performance data, you should also consider feedback from users. To gather input, conduct surveys or focus groups. Either approach can help you identify pain points or areas of improvement. Perhaps, you haven’t quite addressed challenges that arose in your UAT or new issues have surfaced post-implementation. User feedback will clue you into these issues before they affect performance too much. 

17. Optimize and refine

Of course, gathering feedback is only one part of the process. You should continuously adjust your ERP configuration and processes based on the feedback you receive. As needed, augment your ERP with additional features or customizations. Don’t be afraid to tweak and test to land on an even better outcome.

18. Plan for maintenance and updates

Because an ERP involves so many different data sources and users, it’s not something to set and forget. Establish an internal or external support team for ongoing maintenance. Also, establish a regular schedule for software patches and version upgrades. A clear plan for updates and support will help prevent bugs or other issues that could affect vital business operations.

Concluding Thoughts on ERP Implementation for Enterprises

Implementing an ERP is an ongoing journey, not a one-time event. Success requires continuous evaluation and optimization. To ensure your ERP performs at the highest level and serves the goals of your organization, a constant feedback and improvement cycle is essential. Ultimately, all the hard work will be worth it. A well-implemented ERP can transform enterprise operations, resulting in meaningful gains in productivity, profitability, and even employee satisfaction. 

Looking for a team to help you implement an ERP in your enterprise? We can help. Schedule a consultation to connect with our expert team.

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