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How to project manage a Business Central implementation

Project management is leading the work of a team to achieve all project goals within the constraints, like time, budget and scope. Project manage a Business Central implementation can be complex and mistakes can be costly.


In this post, I describe how to project manage a Business Central implementation in your organization.



A brief disclaimer before we dive into the details. This is not a project management manual and some concepts in this article might not apply to other enterprise software implementation projects. For example, you might need a different approach if you are planning to develop a business application with your development team.


In this article, I focus on ERP project management, specifically for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, using the Microsoft Sure Steps method.


Overview of implementation framework for cloud-based ERP solutions

Business Central is an all-in-one business management solution that provides a complete view of a company's financials, sales, purchasing, inventory, and operations. Like other ERPs where business data is the same across all the software functionalities, you cannot implement Business Central in silos. You need a specific project management approach. I use this approach in my consulting work for new implementations and for upgrades, but also when I help companies introduce new features in Business Central; for example, when enabling the WMS module.


Business Central is easy to implement and configure, and companies can go live quickly with minimal IT support. However, that does not mean you can implement Business Central without a project management framework. The most-used framework to implement Business Central and other Dynamics applications is called Microsoft Sure steps.


Sure Steps. Microsoft delivery framework for Business Central.

Microsoft Sure Step is a project management method designed for companies implementing Microsoft Dynamics software solutions. The method is a comprehensive set of tools and processes designed to streamline the implementation process, reduce risk, and ensure that the software solution meets the business requirements.


One of the major benefits of the Microsoft Sure Step methodology is that it provides a structured approach to project management. The framework is broken down into several phases, including diagnosis, analysis, design, development, deployment, and operation. The process is iterative, so the project manager can use feedback and input from stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. This ensures that the team can deliver the software solution on time, within budget, and meet the business requirements.


Another benefit of the Microsoft Sure Step methodology is that it provides a common language and approach for all stakeholders involved in the project. This includes the project team, business users, and technical staff. By using a common methodology, everyone involved in the project is working towards the same goals, which improve communication and collaboration.


The Microsoft Sure Step methodology also provides a set of templates, tools, and best practices to support the project team throughout the project lifecycle. This includes project plans, risk assessments, change management processes, and quality assurance checklists. These tools and processes help to reduce the risk of project failure and ensure that the software solution meets the business requirements.


Microsoft Sure Step methodology is also flexible and scalable. This tool can be adapted to meet the specific needs of the business and can be used for projects of any size. This makes it an ideal approach for businesses of all sizes looking to implement Microsoft Dynamics software solutions.


Finally, the Microsoft Sure Step methodology provides a set of guidelines and best practices for post-implementation support and maintenance. This includes ongoing training for business users, technical support for the software solution, and periodic reviews to ensure that the solution continues to meet the business requirements. By providing ongoing support, the methodology helps to ensure that the software solution delivers ongoing value to the business.


Understanding the ERP implementation process

Any Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation is a complex process that requires careful planning, preparation, and execution and a Business Central implementation makes no exception. It involves the integration of various business processes and functions into a single system, with the goal of streamlining operations, increasing efficiency, and reducing costs. Understanding the implementation process and agreeing on a project timeline is crucial for businesses looking to implement Business Central successfully.


The implementation process typically involves several stages, including planning, analysis, design, development, testing, and deployment. Each stage is critical to the success of the implementation, and you must carefully manage each stage to ensure a smooth and successful implementation.


The planning stage:

The planning stage involves defining the project scope, goals, and objectives. This stage also involves identifying the key stakeholders and their roles in the project, as well as establishing a project timeline and budget. For example, who is the project sponsor and who are the subject experts who will form the project team.


The analysis stage:

The analysis stage involves gathering data and information about the business processes and functions that are part of the ERP system. This stage also involves identifying any gaps or inefficiencies in the current processes and developing a plan to address them. Typically, the analysis phase ends with a requirement matrix document or a Functional Requirement Document (FRD) that will be the baseline for the following stages.


The design stage

The design stage involves developing a detailed plan for the ERP system, including the architecture, core functionalities, and user interface. This stage also involves identifying any customization or integration requirements and developing a plan to address them. This phase is crucial, because companies risk losing their initial vision of the overall scope when working on the solution design.


During this stage new technical challenges and new business processes emerge mostly to capitalise on the opportunities offered by new functionalities. The risk is that the team might start working in isolation to address specific technical challenges. Business Central, like other ERPs, is based on the concept of shared business data and unified operations. Working in silos often results in creating more problems when trying to solve one. It is the project manager role to ensure that the team can work on the design phase without losing focus.


The development stage

The development stage involves building the ERP system, including coding, testing, and debugging. This stage also involves integrating the ERP system with other business applications and systems. Development in Business Central is almost always a task for Microsoft partners. I rarely recommend my clients to write extensions and release code in Business Central, even if they have expert developers in their team.


The testing stage

The testing stage involves testing the ERP system to ensure that it meets the business requirements and functions correctly. This stage includes functional testing, performance testing, and user acceptance testing. You should include data governance and an end-to-end test of new business processes in this phase.


I worked with many companies who tested new functionalities in isolation and with a small set of data. The result was glitches found after go-live once the same functionality was used to process hundreds of transactions.


The deployment stage

The deployment stage involves rolling out the ERP system to the end-users and providing training and support to ensure a smooth transition to the new system. This stage also involves monitoring the system performance in a production environment to ensure that it functions correctly with the volumes of transactions processed that are difficult to replicate in the test phase.


Key stakeholders involved in Business Central implementation

In a Business Central implementation, the key stakeholders are:

  1. Project Sponsor: Business owners or members of the management team who are accountable for the implementation's business case. They ensure that the project efforts are aligned with the company's overall goals and objectives. They provide direction, support, and budget for the implementation.

  2. IT Department: The IT department oversees the implementation process, including software installation, data migration, customization, and integration with other systems. Most often, they handle data access and security.

  3. Subject Experts: Members of the management teams who can define requirements for their department. They will be members of the project team.

  4. End Users: These are the individuals who will use the system daily to perform their job functions. Their feedback and input during the implementation process are crucial to ensuring that the system is tailored to their needs. However, the project team must not lose track of the project goals, scope and overall business case in their effort to tailor the new system to end users' needs.

  5. Vendors and consultants: These individuals provide expertise and support during the implementation process. They may be responsible for software customization, data migration, or training end-users.

  6. External regulators: In some industries, external regulators may be stakeholders in the implementation process. They may require certain data and reporting requirements that need to be incorporated into the system.

  7. Customers and suppliers: The Business Central implementation may affect customers and suppliers, particularly if there are changes to the way orders are processed, invoices are generated, or payments are made. Their input and feedback may be necessary to ensure a smooth transition.

The project team must not lose track of the project goals, scope and overall business case in their effort to tailor the new system to end users' needs. Digital transformation focuses on value creation over operational efficiency.

Building a Project Management Plan for Business Central Implementation

Implementing a new business management system, such as Business Central requires careful planning and execution. A well-designed project management plan is essential to ensure that the implementation runs smoothly, on time, and within budget.


Establishing a project team and assigning roles and responsibilities

The first step in building a project management plan is to establish a project team and assign roles and responsibilities. The project team should include representatives from key areas of the business, such as IT, finance, operations, and customer service. Each team member should have a clearly defined role and responsibility in the implementation process. For example, the IT team may be responsible for software installation, while the finance team may be responsible for data migration.


Identifying project risks and developing mitigation strategies

The next step is to identify potential risks that may arise during the implementation process. This could include risks related to data migration, software compatibility, or user adoption. Once we have identified risks, the project team should develop mitigation strategies to minimize the impact of these risks. For example, if there is a risk related to user adoption, the project team may develop a training plan to ensure that end-users are comfortable using the new system.


Defining project milestones and timelines

Defining project milestones and timelines is critical to ensuring that the implementation stays on track. The project team should identify key milestones, such as software installation, data migration, and user training. Each milestone should have a clearly defined timeline and be closely monitored to ensure that it is completed on time. The project manager should also build in contingency time to account for unexpected delays or issues that may arise during the implementation process.


Creating a communication plan to ensure stakeholders are informed and engaged

Effective communication is crucial to the success of any project. The project team should develop a communication plan that outlines how stakeholders will be informed and engaged throughout the implementation process. This could include regular status updates, newsletters, and training sessions. The communication plan should also outline how stakeholders can provide feedback and raise concerns.


Determining project budget and resource allocation

Finally, the project team should determine the project budget and resource allocation. This includes identifying the resources required, such as IT staff and software licenses, and estimating the associated costs. The project team should also build in a contingency budget to account for unexpected costs that may arise during the implementation process.


Closing thoughts

If you want to implement Business Central in your organization you need a delivery framework and a project plan. The framework I recommend to most of my clients is Microsoft Sure Steps. The plan can differ from company to company but it should always include establishing a project team, identifying risks, defining milestones and timelines, creating a communication plan, and determining the project budget and resource allocation.


By following these steps, you can successful implement Business Central and realize the benefits of a modern business management system.


Regards

Alfredo Iorio

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