Strategy, Legal & Operations

ERP implementation plan: 6 key phases for success

ERP implementation is a challenging and complex process. Best bet? Adopt the six-phase approach for success. Here's how.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools are set for a market surge, according to data from Acumen Research and Consulting.

Increased accessibility underpins this uptake.

As customizable, cloud-based solutions become common, businesses of all sizes can benefit from the implementation of ERP.

The challenge?

It’s one thing to implement new planning tools. It’s another to ensure they’re effectively integrated and adopted.

In this article, we’ll break down the basics of implementation and explore six key phases to help deliver both short and long-term success.

ERP implementation: The basics

Implementation is the process of turning ideas into action.

While strategy and brainstorming sessions can help pinpoint potential planning partners, and C-suite discussions determine the most cost-effective way to proceed, implementation makes the move from theory into practice.

But implementations don’t always go as planned.

As noted by Deloitte, 25% of enterprise resource planning implementations are considered failures, and more than 50% don’t deliver on user expectations.

While most deployments don’t result as failures, even smaller issues can lead to bigger problems over time, in turn reducing the return on investment (ROI) of ERP investments.

Best bet?

To see success, try the six-phase approach, which we cover below.

Common challenges in ERP implementation

Planning systems should make life easier for C-suite executives, IT professionals, and front-line staff.

As noted above, however, this isn’t always the case.

While the specifics of deployment may differ, three implementation challenges are common:

  • Integration
  • Adoption
  • Migration.


Current systems and new ERP deployments don’t always get along.

For example, cloud-based tools may not work with legacy applications that were never designed to work outside of local server stacks.

Companies may also struggle to effectively connect multiple applications and services to new ERP deployments without losing visibility into key processes.


Even the best ERP systems won’t deliver value if staff refuse to use them. In most cases, adoption issues stem from familiarity.

Staff are comfortable with existing tools and would rather use these tools than learn to use new systems, even if new systems offer significant benefits.


Data migration is another common challenge.

Before new systems are deployed, organizations need to decide which data to migrate, which data to keep, and which data should be replicated in multiple locations.

6 phases for success

Challenges with integration, adoption, and migration add up to the biggest issue with implementation: complexity.

Leveraging the six-phase approach can help simplify the process. Here’s how.

1. Discover

The first phase is discovery, and it starts with discovering where ERP systems can benefit operations.

For this phase to be effective, companies need to ask questions about current processes and pain points.

By bringing in stakeholders from across the organization—including front-line staff who regularly interact with planning tools, IT teams who manage the solutions, and executives responsible for strategy development—businesses can get a sense of where current processes are working and where new tools can help.

Pro tip: Ensure the project has a dedicated C-suite sponsor who is tasked with pushing the project forward.

2. Design

Design is next. This means digging into the details to pinpoint specific operations that could benefit from ERP.

During this phase, companies often assess multiple solutions to determine which one best meets their needs.

Workflows are the focus of this phase:

  • Where do gaps exist?
  • What impact do they have on operations?
  • How can they be closed?

Once companies identify where processes are working and where they can be improved, they can design a roadmap for ERP implementation.

Pro tip: Bring in users to test out new systems to get honest feedback and familiarize staff with new tools.

3. Develop

The development phase is all about configuration and customization.

With a solid design plan in place, companies can prepare current environments for ERP deployments, and develop training materials to help staff make best use of new systems.

This phase also identifies processes and applications that won’t—or can’t—be integrated with new tools.

Pro tip: For companies deploying cloud-based solutions, consider where critical data will be stored: on-premises, off-site, or in the cloud.

4) Detect

Detection is all about testing, testing, and more testing to identify possible problems.

By running small-scale tests of tools before company-wide deployment, organizations can pinpoint friction points and make adjustments as necessary.

Put simply, no ERP implementation is perfect.

Testing early and testing often helps reduce problems down the line. Testing can also uncover unexpected issues with compatibility or usability.

By identifying these issues as soon as possible, businesses can minimize their downstream impact.

Pro tip: Small-scale testing saves time and money since fixes can be made without taking ERP systems offline for the entire organization.

5. Deploy

With discovery, design, development, and detection squared away, businesses are prepared for deployment.

Here, two approaches are common:

  • Concurrent deployments
  • Component-based deployments.

Concurrent deployments see systems rolled out all at once across the entire organization, while component-based deployments focus on high-priority processes.

Both have benefits and drawbacks.

Concurrent deployments let companies see exactly how ERP systems will behave at scale but could lead to system-wide failures if deployment doesn’t go to plan.

As a result, some companies choose to keep legacy ERP tools up and running as a temporary backup.

Component-based deployments, meanwhile, allow teams to focus on optimizing specific planning tools without risk to the environment at large.

The trade-off?

Company-wide deployment may take longer and be more expensive.

Pro tip: To streamline this process, find an ERP partner that offers day one support for any issues that arise.

6. Deliver

Support delivery is the final phase.

For best results, companies can take a multipronged approach to support that includes self-service knowledge bases for small issues, in-house support for operational problems, and outsourced assistance for mission-critical challenges.

The more support companies can offer users, the better, since this can help streamline the adoption process.

Pro tip: Create a schedule to regularly review ERP processes, install necessary upgrades, and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Bonus point: It’s also worth noting that these phases form a cyclical process. Support delivery doesn’t mark the end of implementation—instead, it sets the stage for companies to schedule another discovery session to explore the impact of current systems and where improvements could be made.

Selecting an ERP provider

Not all enterprise planning tools are created equal.

While some excel at empowering specific business functions, others are designed for more general applications. Some ‘free’ tools end up costing more than companies expect, and some paid-for solutions aren’t worth the money.

When it comes to selecting a provider, look for one that offers these four benefits.

1. Streamlined processes

This should go without saying, but if ERP systems don’t make operations easier, they’re not worth the investment.

As a result, companies should look for providers that make it possible to consolidate daily operations, customize processes to meet specific needs, and create new opportunities for application integration.

2. Reduced costs

Costs also play a critical role in ERP implementation.

While planning systems themselves come with purchase and support costs, they should also make it possible to identify operations or processes that aren’t delivering ROI.

Equipped with this information, executives can make data-driven decisions about budgets, spending, and investments.

3. Simple scalability

Planning needs aren’t static. As a result, businesses should look for ERP tools that can scale on-demand to meet growing requirements.

In most cases, this means the adoption of cloud-based tools that aren’t tied to local resources.

Simple scalability benefits both budgets and users.

From a budget perspective, paying only for resources used helps cut down on total costs. For users, scalability means they never have to worry about systems failing to perform.

4. Expert advice

Ongoing support and expert advice also play a role in effective ERP provision.

When companies have questions, it’s worth having access to experts who know the answers—or can help track them down.

For example, Sage leverages an extensive network of 40,000 accountants and 26,000 business partners to provide both industry expertise and on-site support.

Final thoughts on ERP implementation

Every enterprise resource planning deployment is different, with ideal frameworks dependent on organizational strategies, goals, and metrics.

When it comes to implementation, however, businesses benefit from standardization.

By following the six-phase model, companies can reduce complexity, improve performance, and enhance the impact of ERP tools.

By regularly returning to the discovery phase of this approach, enterprises can continually enhance planning processes and identify new opportunities for success.