As a Project Manager, once a project is assigned to me, I usually feel that I need to catch a fast-moving train. Customers are eager to start and finish, and Salespeople are eager to hand over and sell more. It can be stressful, to say the least.

From a customer’s perspective, a couple of milestones have been achieved by this time in their transformation journey – the software is now selected, the relevant agreements have been signed, the implementation partners have been selected, and the high-level scope has been agreed. And to my surprise, it’s unusual to stop and reflect at this stage; there is a huge push to keep the “momentum” going, although the next step of this journey is different in its deliverables, content, people involved and execution. This time, in my short article, I would like to explore some best practices in planning your implementation.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. - Benjamin Franklin

Take a Breath - Leave the sales chatter behind

At Clarivos, we have taken an approach of a formal handover to delivery which includes the sales representative and the customer. It concludes with a formal agreement of the Statement of Work, which officially closes the sales cycle. I’d say this would now be the time to stop and take that very needed breath.

Communicate the news to the team and identify who will participate in the implementation; you’ll need an internal PM, subject matter experts for different processes/areas of the business; you’ll need to identify your end-users and create a plan to manage the upcoming change in the organization. You also probably had a go-live date in mind while evaluating different solutions; take stock on how much time you’ve taken to get to the stage of delivery and re-evaluate. Not considering the time required internally for the upcoming implementation and resourcing constraints are often the reason go-lives are postponed.

Take the Partner PM’s advice

Once the SOW is signed, my work officially starts, and the first step is planning. The creation of the high-level plan, which focuses on the main milestones of the implementation, helps customers understand where the time will be spent, week by week, until the end of the project. Initially, this plan is created purely based on the budget, the scope, the best practices, and the availability of consulting resources.  

When the customer reviews the initial proposed plan, the initial focus should be on the weeks/stages of the project that will require the most input from the customers' team, as this will help evaluate the time available and internal planning. Customers should always consider annual leave, bank holidays and any other important dates that could affect the availability of resources. Before agreeing to the high-level plan, it should be adjusted to consider all of the above.

Contingency

Depending on the size of the implementation, some contingency should always be built into the plan. This way, if deadlines do slip, the go-live date is safeguarded. For implementations that are up to 100 days, a minimum of 3-4 weeks of contingency should be considered. The struggle is usually felt not when additional time is visible and available but when no such time is planned. It is frustrating for the project team when timelines & budgets need to be revised simply because the initial plan did not allow any delays.

Scope/Timelines and Required Budgets Change

The nature of the work implies that a change in Scope/Timelines and Budgets might be required. Maybe additional details are revealed that were not visible during the sales cycle. Maybe additional requirements surfaced after the scope is agreed, and they are a must-have. Maybe a milestone requires an extension that cannot be compensated by taking the available contingency. There can be many reasons. Remember, budgets are targets, and change requires flexibility. When this happens, an open and honest line of communication should be available between the customer and the PM.

There is no one solution to solve all problems

The ERP market is competitive, which implies that solutions are not equal to each other, with their own strengths and weaknesses and their own target markets. Customers coming to an implementation have already evaluated several possible solutions and agreed to the one, essentially taking the risk of not selecting the right solution if the evaluation was poor, or sometimes even selecting the right solution with wrong expectations. Trust the consultants; we will work towards getting all of your requirements fit into the system, but there might be a need for an internal process to change, or something can simply not be possible. Be flexible; we all know some requirements are only nice to have, prioritize and keep the communication going.  

Responsibility & Commitment

It is very important to agree before the start of the project that the responsibility for the delivery is mutual, there is only one team, and we are all working together. Such projects are more likely to succeed, face fewer delays, and create a continuing relationship.

Our Goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success. - Pablo Picasso

The collection of these best practices is related to SAP Business ByDesign Implementations.