It’s not for everyone, but having done hundreds of ERP software implementations and version upgrades for 29 years, we can say for sure that the best outcomes happen when we’ve worked with our clients in a test environment first. There are a number of good reasons for this, not the least of which is mitigation of risk, but it has become critical to work in a test environment first. There is always a rush to “go-live” and no one wants to spend one more dime than necessary on consulting or their team’s time. The month or year is coming to an end and the pressure is on to get it done. The financials have to get to someone. The payroll has to go out. All fine reasons to move forward at a quick pace, but not checking things out in a test phase first can be extremely detrimental for a number of reasons. One of our clients recently insisted on a go-live date that virtually prevented any possible testing time. We warned them – we did – but the client is our master, so there was no time to argue. Here’s what we found out:
- Fixing it later doesn’t work. If you enable yourself to check things in a test environment, you can see whether the software is performing the way you want it, that your forms, checks, and reports are displaying, printing and e-mailing correctly, and your batches are posting correctly. Telling yourself that it’s fine for now or we can fix it later just doesn’t work and causes a tremendous amount of rework and frustration.
- Doing it over is not fun. Once you’ve installed and configured the software, you are ready to start processing data. With no test environment, you are processing data in your live company. This assumes that your entries are valid, your balances reconciled when entered, that your users have been adequately trained and that the system workflows are operating properly. There’s really no turning back – if anything gets messed up or corrupted, you have to start over, and that’s going to take a ton of unplanned time.
- Show me! Without a test environment, it’s really challenging for your users to really get a handle on what their jobs will entail. And, if you go right into production, those users will have to go lightning fast with very little background and practice. This can lead to extremely low satisfaction with the software and some very frustrated users.
- Begin with the end in mind. Too often, we find clients who don’t take the time to document their existing processes let alone how they want their new software to function. This leads to extra time and additional tension during the implementation. If you can at least plan for the forms, reports, dashboards, output files, and integrations you need when you cross the finish line, at least you will have a plan in mind.
- Is that a bug or an unplanned feature? Hard to tell when you don’t have time to rectify the situation. Users will see the system at less than its optimum and they will definitely let you hear about it. If anything crashes, hangs, doesn’t look right, doesn’t print correctly, it leaves a very poor impression with your users that will take twice as long to correct as it did to get there in the first place.
- Once you’ve gone live in production too quickly, things move at light speed and it’s even too challenging to keep track of everything that’s going wrong at once. Task lists become scraps of paper with illegible notes as to what needs fixing next. Which fire needs to be put out is often the topic of the daily conversations at the water cooler or Keurig machine. Users are unhappy, management is unhappy, consultants feel badly – it’s just a lose-lose scenario and all of us want a win.
- Sometimes finishing last is best. Taking your time to test everything thoroughly whether in a new software implementation or an upgrade to a new version is the best offense to making certain you have a successful project. Does it really mean anything in the scheme of your professional life that you went live in October versus September? Really? Is anyone even going to remember which month it happened? Doubtful – but they will remember that it was a nightmare because there was no testing done before go-live.
- Making a list and checking it twice! One of the most helpful items during your upgrade or implementation is a task list of open items. Call it a checklist, status list, open items list, whatever you call it, make one and make sure every single item that remains incomplete remains on that list until signoff is possible that it works correctly. Review the list with your internal team daily before go-live to make sure everyone stays on task and stays committed to the project. Often when employees “assume” something is complete, they don’t even ask about it anymore. If items are reviewed each day or at least once a week, everyone will be focused around the goal of SUCCESS.
- You need a test plan! For each of our implementations and upgrades, we give our clients a test plan – what should they look for, what to print, what to enter, what to post, what to review, etc. – so they know what they have to do before our required acceptance testing signoff. This is absolutely critical – users know their own jobs, they don’t necessarily know how that translates to the new software or new version of the software. Work with your ERP partner or other advisor to create a test plan and perform it in a test environment, and you can be assured that the end will definitely justify the means. You will have happier users, better operational results from your system and the go-live will be a much smoother experience for everyone.
- Plan for the best, expect the worst. Absolutely not one implementation or upgrade in our history has gone without at least one problem/challenge. We expect it and it’s your ERP partner’s role to get you through that issue with the least amount of frustration and anxiety possible, but there will be problems and the more you can anticipate those issues, the sooner you will be able to avert them.
There’s no rocket science to any of these thoughts, but believe it or not, too many times we encounter companies that don’t realize these things are important to preventing a bad implementation with leftover resentment. We hope you’re one of the bright spots!
Article written by: Judith Thomas – President of The TM Group, Michigan Microsoft Dynamics Partner