You’ve already invested your time and month into months of research, negotiating, analyzing your business and implementation. Go-live is finally in sight. Anticipation for the new system is running high. A new era where you’ll be able to manage your business more efficiently and more effectively approaches. However, a nagging voice keeps popping up in the back of your mind whispering “What if it all goes wrong?”
Those fears are not unfounded. Sometimes things do go wrong during Go-live but there are plenty of things you can do to minimize the risk of that happening. By being sure you are indeed ready to go live, choosing your timing wisely and planning the big day carefully you can minimize the impact on your employees and the day-to-day running of the business even if things do go wrong.
Be sure you are ready
It can be very tempting to want the new system up and running as soon as possible, after all, you have made a huge investment so it is natural to be anxious to see the results. But rushing into Go-live is, frankly speaking, a recipe for disaster. So how do you know for sure if you are ready to move forward with Go-live? Here are a few tests to help you gauge the situation.
The hardware is all ready to use
This might seem more than obvious but you’d be surprised how many businesses have plans to upgrade label printers, weight scales or even laptops soon after go-live. It’s better to have everything that you plan to use for the foreseeable future in place so it can be used during pre-Go-live tests.
You’ve trained your employees and they are on board
You can get and keep your employees on board by involving them in the implementation process. Keep them appraised of how the system works and what changes it will mean for their work. Listen to any feedback or concerns that they have and raise them with your ERP implementation team throughout the process. It is important that employees feel that the new system will make it easier to perform their tasks and make fewer mistakes.
Every user should have received adequate training and have had the opportunity to test the system prior to Go-live. Not only should they be able to use the system, but they should also understand it both in terms of the aspects they are personally using and also in the “bigger picture” context of how their role fits in with the proper running of the whole company. You should be aware that some employees might assert that they are comfortable with using the system but haven’t actually fully tested all the aspects of the system that they might have to use. To prevent this, set up systematic checks and allocate sufficient working hours to training and to testing the system.
Your data is ready
Preparing data for migration to the new system is time and labor-intensive. It requires careful planning and even more careful execution. A successful go-live is extremely dependent on how well your data has been prepared and in fact not spending enough time preparing data is also one of the most common go-live regrets. Make sure you assign competent, responsible individuals to this task. There is no room for carelessness here.
When the data has been prepared, it should first be sent to the test environment so that you can check that the data is complete, accurate and clean. Insignificant data issues can be amplified when moving to a new, more sophisticated system so extreme vigilance is required during testing.
Before proceeding with go-live, also make sure that all your data is backed up sufficiently. If something goes wrong, you can’t afford to lose your data too.
You’ve tested the system
It goes without saying that it would be foolish to move to a new system without checking that it works properly, but how rigorous should testing be? And how tolerant should you be of test failures?
Hardware, software, processes, workflows, procedures, system integrations, users and even the backup system and process should all undergo extremely thorough testing before the system can be signed off on for Go-live. You have to check that every feature, functionality, extension, report and dashboard is working properly and that the people who will be using it know how to. This should include running a variety of business scenarios through the system. It is also key that testing should be conducted using a variety of data sizes. It is particularly crucial that you test the extremes of the data size range that you are likely to use to check the system is robust enough to cope with anything you throw at it.
Don’t be dismayed if a large number of problems come to light during testing. In fact, test failures should be expected. Since the very purpose of testing is to find all the things that aren’t working quite right, every failure detected prior to go-live is, in fact, a success. It is important not to panic, to deal with failed tests pragmatically and focus on both causes and solutions as well as creating contingency plans, rather than the fact that an issue has been revealed.
Even successful testing is likely to require follow-up action too. During testing, it will often be necessary to adjust user permissions, expectations of how long processes take and how many resources need to be allocated where and when.
Major bugs have been fixed
If you wait until absolutely every minor bug has been resolved, you’ll never go live. All software has bugs that only rear their ugly little heads during very specific circumstances. It’s impossible to find them all. But any major bugs that have a high impact on your business should absolutely be dealt with before Go-live and there should be a contingency plan for any major bugs that might crop up close to go live as well.
You’ve done a dry run
When you think that everything is in place, it is time to run system-wide testing. Think of it as a dress rehearsal. All processes should be fully tested in the sequence that they would happen during the course of running your business. You should also practice data migration to make sure that you aren’t going to migrate corrupt or duplicate data to your new environment. If everything goes reasonably smoothly, with only some small fixes needed then you are ready. If you meet some major challenges, it is worth addressing the issues and then running another dress rehearsal scenario.
Get the timing right
The right time of year
Unfortunately, there very rarely is a perfect time for any working business to go live. Even in the best scenario a lot of time and resources will be spent on preparing for go-live and you have to be prepared that there will be some degree of disruption on the day. That being said, some times are definitely better than others.
It is advisable to choose a quieter period in the year. This is primarily to accommodate your staff who will need to fit in training on the new system alongside their regular tasks before go-live and then get used to using the new system afterwards. By reducing pressure on your employees, you’ll improve user acceptance and reduce the risk of user errors.
You should choose a time when as many key people as possible are available. It would be unwise to go live at a time when many people are on leave e.g. during school holidays when many people take time off to cover child care.
The right day
Choosing the beginning of a new financial year might sound like a good idea. That way you’ll have all the transactions and reports for the year on the same system. However, in most businesses, this is also a time when employees experience additional workloads meaning they will have less time to adjust to the new system. They are more likely to experience higher stress levels and make mistakes.
The traditional route advocated by many ERP consultants is to go live at the beginning of a calendar month. The reasoning behind this is that it gives you a clean cut-off for financials, payroll, reporting, etc. This is sound logic but there are also those who champion mid-month go-lives. They argue that this allows the accounting department more time to close the previous month fully and adjust to the new system before dealing with the current month-end.
This should all be discussed with your implementation partner who will give you the benefit of their experience and look at how your business works, what times are busy and for whom and they will be able to guide you towards the right moment for go-live.
No matter what time you choose in the end, the key thing is to keep your old system as up-to-date as possible. Don’t be tempted to let things slide with the intention of adding them to the new system later. Having up-to-date data in the old system is always a key factor in a successful go-live.
The final thing to remember is that if you need to postpone the go-live date, this is also not a sign of failure. Unexpected challenges arise during nearly every implementation and postponing go-live is not at all uncommon. Keeping the business running and not impeding employees in their work should be seen as the priority during go-live and not the date. If you need more time to ensure a smooth transition, it invariably pays off. The costs associated with extending will usually be minimal in comparison with the potential costs of disruptions to your business caused by unresolved issues that can arise from a premature go-live.
What to do on the big day
Now that you have established you are ready, have decided on a definite day and time for go-live, your work is not over. It is very important to create an environment in the business that will help you catch any issues during go-live quickly, and also give you the resources to resolve those issues quickly.
Have training and reference materials at the ready
Your employees should have been given plenty of training before go-live but they will always forget certain things, meet unforeseen situations, or merely want to double-check what they remember from training. You should make sure your employees have easy access to training materials particularly during the first few days after go-live. Although it can be helpful to have a human instructor on hand, most of the time your employees will be able to resolve any doubts independently if the relevant information is to hand in the form of documents or videos. This will free up consultants and other key staff to focus on any other more complex issues that may arise.
Make sure help is at hand
For the first few days, make sure you have additional help from your internal IT team and your implementation partner on standby. Even during the best prepared-for go-lives, sometimes certain things just go awry but if you are ready for that, and have the right people ready to step in, you’ll stop it from feeling like a complete disaster. The experts can get to work on ironing out problems immediately as they occur and they’ll help you maintain a calm, controlled working atmosphere.
Keep a close eye on your new normal
Assign people to just keep tabs on things during the first day or so. They should walk around, talk to employees, make sure everything is running smoothly, take notes about any room for improvement or any difficulties staff are having and also direct your employees towards any support they require. Not only will this give you useful information, but will provide your team with reassurance and confidence in their new way of working.
After the intense period leading up to go-live, it is fair to say that everyone involved will be deserving of a good old pat on the back. If everything is up and running, even if there are a few hiccups, this is definitely cause for some celebration.