Today we’ll briefly consider a question we get asked all the time: How long should our ERP project take? Our comments are a mix of our own experience and input with those of other consulting, research and implementation firms (like one of our favorites, Panorama Consulting).
According to annual Panorama surveys, the “typical” (if there is such a thing) implementation for a software initiative is about 21 months, a pretty good average over the past several years – though they do see it trending up. In our own experience 18 months to 24 months is a fair median. Hopefully, those numbers help in terms of a starting benchmark when comparing to other organizations.
Of course, many software vendors will tell you that they can have you “up and running in a few months.” Be wary. We have found their assumptions to be unrealistic, as their “perfect world implementation scenario” may not apply to your company, and it’s highly likely they will make a lot of overly standardized setup assumptions that may not be appropriate for your company. And if you’re in a complex environment, like say manufacturing or distribution… be even more wary.
As Panorama says: “Don’t believe the hype.” Sales hype can easily lead to happy ears and unrealistic expectations. It happens all the time. Promises of rapid implementations due to trendy clichés like utilizing the cloud, or pre-configured best practices, sound enticing. Just remember to take these for what they are: sales messages. That’s not inherently bad, but we’ve found such statements are usually the very definition of ‘your mileage may vary.’ And it usually does.
Remember as well, your project team needs to invest time in changing processes for the better… in educating and training staff (not just in software, but in better practices)… and in addressing the change management complexities of figuring out who will do what, and how, in your new scenario. These elements typically take the most time of all – and they simply cannot be rushed.
Adopting the right project management controls is a challenge that needs to be addressed clearly. Implementations take longer than expected because controls aren’t in place, or aren’t being managed or followed. Make sure you have a clearly defined set of project tasks and agreed upon solutions to workflow issues, roundly communicated to all. Appoint a project administrator who acts as the control point for all major project decisions – especially those that could cause a change in scope, like customizations, process changes or project extensions that creep in and which, while perfectly valid, still need to be quoted and managed appropriately.
Finally, make sure that your project plan is complete and comprehensive. That’s more or less implied by everything stated above, but not to be overlooked. If you are missing key activities, or hope that skipping some elements will reduce the project timeline or cost, you’re setting yourself up with unrealistic expectations and a larger project than you expected – but should have known better. There are few shortcuts in ERP, but countless stories of implementation time and cost overruns, too often caused by an unrealistic project plan in the first place. If you only want to do it once, work closely with a trusted adviser to ensure that you are doing it right. It all starts with a realistic, comprehensive, mutually agreeable and well-structured project plan with appropriate timelines, benchmarks and personnel assignments.