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How to avoid unrealistic ERP implementation timelines: 9 tips

Determining the length of an ERP implementation can be difficult but doing so is a crucial part of planning. Learn how to avoid an unrealistic timeline.

Determining how long it will take to implement a new ERP system is not a straightforward exercise, yet doing so is a very important step in the planning phase. Project leaders must take certain steps to ensure they're moving forward with a realistic implementation timeline.

If leaders create an extended timeline, they may face difficulties securing approval for the project. Creating one that is too short, on the other hand, can lead to various potential issues -- including missing important milestones such as the go-live, requiring additional budget and lacking requirements during the implementation. Some of the steps project leaders should follow include comparing the proposed timelines to those of similar projects and pushing back on vendors' claims about implementation speed.

Project leaders should take the following steps early in the project process to avoid creating an unrealistic ERP implementation timeline.

1. Question vendor claims about implementation speed

During the ERP implementation partner selection process, the project leader should confirm the vendors aren't submitting lower implementation estimates to make the vendors' proposals more appealing.

The leader should make sure the vendors have included all requirements and confirm that the vendors' proposed timelines are achievable. The project leader should ask for a detailed breakdown of how the vendor arrived at its estimate, which will help the project team focus on areas where the estimate appears low and confirm that nothing is missing. Low estimates may indicate that the vendor missed requirements during the estimating process.

2. Create the right project governance

Before committing to an implementation schedule, the project leader should confirm that the team is following all the project charter guidelines and getting feedback from implementation team members.

The team should also follow the project governance framework, which will result in the right stakeholders approving all decisions.

3. Use a project management tool

The team should use a project management application to get an estimate of the time required to implement the ERP system. The tool will help the group estimate pending tasks, account for non-project work, set up dependencies between tasks and track the number of people assigned to the project.

Once the team has finished the estimates and ordered the tasks, it will have made a first draft of the required project timeline.

4. Create internal estimates

If the project team is working with an implementation partner, the partner may provide the bulk of the estimates that the team uses to build the timeline. However, the project leader should potentially ask company employees to do their own estimates as well, then discuss any major discrepancies with the implementation partner.

The project leader can also consider bringing in an external consultant. An external consultant can help confirm whether the implementation timeline is on target.

5. Compare the timeline to similar projects

The project leader may want to compare the proposed timeline with the timelines for applications that had a similar scope. Potential points for comparison include the organization's previous projects or projects that company employees worked on at other organizations.

While no two projects are the same, carrying out these comparisons may give the project leader a better sense of whether the team's estimate for the current project is on target.

6. Account for scheduled absences

Project leaders should make sure the timeline accounts for team member absences due to vacations, company holidays and sick days.

When possible, they should use actual data instead of averages. For example, some employees may only get two weeks of vacation, while others may get four or more. The project leader should also include the implementation partner's absences in the estimates.

7. Consider team availability

When preparing and reviewing estimates, the project leader should consider the percentage of time employees spend on the project. For example, some employees may only work on the ERP implementation for 25% of their time.

These situations can majorly affect task completions and the timeline for dependent tasks.

8. Add some buffer

Every implementation schedule should include some buffer for tasks that take longer than expected or unplanned tasks.

The implementation partner may have a buffer percentage it typically uses for an ERP implementation, or the organization may add a standard buffer. A buffer is often between 20% and 30% of the estimate.

9. Get vendor references

When the project team is getting references for an implementation partner, it should ask about the reference's ERP implementation timeline, the accuracy of the implementation partner's estimates, whether the go-live occurred on schedule and any lessons learned.

The team should keep in mind that any project delay may not have entirely been the implementation partner's fault.

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