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The Complete NetSuite Implementation Guide

Sep 1, 2019 | Implementations, NetSuite, Operational Improvement

“Implementation audits are necessary to keep the project on track.  Audits should be conducted to compare project results, business objectives, systems objectives, and project objectives.”

Michael Pelphrey
Author of “Directing the ERP Implementation: A Best Practice Guide to Avoiding Program Failure Traps While Tuning System Performance”

Michael W. Pelphrey has over 30 years of experience with a broad and varied background in the ERP marketplace. His career has entailed being a User of ERP solutions, a Director of the technical and business consultants at a software company, an ERP Project Manager, and a Business Architect and Partner at accounting and consulting practice.

When debriefing with ERP clients implementations we usually ask “What do you wish you’d have known before you started?”. Often the answers include the following topics: 

  • What were the key things I should have considered before starting, 
  • What could I expect at a high level, activity and outcome wise during each project phase
  • What are key success tips based on Trajectory’s previous implementation experience, and
  • How could I more accurately approach project budgeting both financially and resource-wise.
  • Time to Read: 12 min
  • Who Should Read: Controller, Accounting Manager, CFO, CTO
  • Drink Pairing: Gin & Tonic, with a twist of lime 🙂
  • In case you need project advice: Leverage our 14+ years of expertise, visit the NetSuite implementation project page & get in touch.

What you’ll learn:

  • Pre-project considerations: what you need to gather before a project starts 
  • Detailed Project Phases: purpose,  activities, deliverables, tips for success 
    • Understand & Blueprint phases – planning your future state 
    • Build phase – configuring, testing & learning the system 
    • Go Live phase – migration & adoption 
    • Optimize phase – data catch up & the road ahead
    • Budgeting Guidelines – smart budgeting explained
    • Wrapping up – lessons learned & what you need to learn next

1. Pre-Project Considerations

Before embarking on a NetSuite ERP implementation, ensure you start work on the critical elements below, as they influence project success.

    • Project champion: a senior or executive-level team member (often the CFO) who owns responsibility for sponsoring the project.
    • Internal Project manager (PM): liaises with the NetSuite implementation partner project manager. Responsible for coordinating team members to complete the tasks required according to the project timelines. Often, the internal PM is the Controller or Finance Director as they are best at coordinating insights into company processes. 
    • Subject matter experts (SMEs): represent each functional area involved in the implementation. These are the internal team members who provide input on the business processes, design, configuration & testing of the ERP system. SMEs should typically represent these roles: 
      • the Controller 
      • AR team member
      • AP team member
      • Procurement team member
      • Sales team member

Pro Tip: To facilitate project synergy, you need to work with a trusted implementation partner team. They will scope, plan, run the project and configure the platform with you.

  • An effective change management plan: This will lead to smoother system adoption. Creating a communication campaign that has the following sections.
    • Explain the reason for the system implementation.
    • Specify who will be impacted and what will be expected of them.
    • How those impacted will benefit from the initiative.
    • How the team will be supported while the system is configured. 
    • What processes will be for providing input and feedback during the project.  
  • An effective project management strategy: Make sure your NetSuite implementation partner offers a strong framework for project success. It should consist of a realistic plan and an effective strategy for monitoring the progress of activities. Your partner should hold parties accountable and closely monitor the project scope, budget and timelines. 

Pro Tip: Ask to see their project template & a requirements sample. Read on as we provide a PDF download framework for typical cost, timing, budgeting and phases of an ERP project.

  • An effective training plan: Make sure that this is not an afterthought without appropriate budget allocation. If the end-users feel well trained and supported then the chance of smooth system adoption goes way up. 

Pro Tip: In our experience, skimping on training, leads to costly challenges down the road. Request that training is documented i.e. record training sessions that your team can use for new hires and as a reference. Your team is being trained anyway, so recording the session is low-cost vs. written manuals (that get outdated fast).

  • Business process mapping/redesign: To facilitate a stress-free project, map out existing company processes. Don’t be afraid to consider re-engineering them as this is the opportunity to implement best practices. 

Pro Tip: Review our blog Maximizing the Value of NetSuite Implementation to learn more about how to run a successful implementation.

2. NetSuite ERP Implementation Project Phases 

Over our 14  years in business, Trajectory has honed an efficient cloud ERP implementation process, consisting of six project phases. We implement the NetSuite solution by module and task delivery categories, using an agile approach. At times, various modules are configured concurrently depending on task dependencies. 

Pro Tip: We have built an awesome PDF to show you visually the project phases, budget and SME chart. But the best part is the checklist that we’ve included for you to use as a guide all along your project to ensure a successful NetSuite implementation. 

2.1 Parallel Project Work Streams 

Two workstreams that occur during the entire implementation project are project control and data migration.

Project Control 

  • Key Activities
    • Project management oversight: monitoring project budget, timelines and task progress, identifying and mitigating risks.
    • Weekly project status meetings between implementation partner and client PMs.
    • Monthly project status meetings with implementation partner and client PMs and project champion as required. 
  • Main Deliverables
    • Project Plan & Reforecasting
    • Project Task/Issue/Decision Log
    • Budget & Scope Review
    • Status Meeting Notes

Data Migration

Data migration should always be top of mind throughout the project. How well this process is managed can make or break an ERP implementation. 

  • Key Activities (ETL)
    • Identify the data to be migrated (only plan to migrate what you need).
    • Extract sample data sets, clean up the data, populate the NetSuite import file templates, and test the uploads. Your NetSuite partner must give you the correct CSV templates so that you provide the data in the correct format. 
    • Expect two or more iterations of the above steps prior to the final data load, to ensure accurate data input. 
  • Main Deliverables
    • NetSuite CSV import templates
    • Detailed project plan tasks that help track migration deliverables  

2.2 Understand & Blueprint

This is where you + the implementation partner will determine high-level business needs and timelines. You’ll then enter into an agreement to work together. Proceeding to collecting and documenting the detailed business requirements and solutions to satisfy the requirements.

Key Activities:

  • Initial scoping & workshops: usually done on-site, we do not recommend doing this remotely.
  • Data migration: understanding existing data, the state it is in, determining what fields should be migrated and why. 
  • Questionnaires: great consultants will always take the time to understand your business needs vs forcing you into a cookie-cutter solution. 
  • Gather & document requirements: written requirements & clear business process diagrams.

Main Deliverables: 

  • Statement of work for engagement
  • Questionnaires filled out
  • Business requirements documentation
  • Functional solution documentation 

Tips for Success: 

  • Build the requirements based on future state business processes: This is your chance to implement best practices and re-engineer processes. It may require more work, but in the long run, it will pay off. Stay close to standard functionality when you can, the system has been built based on the best practices of thousands of users. Limited customizations will be cheaper to maintain in the long run.
  • Work with a trusted ERP platform partner: Finding a qualified partner to assist with the system implementation is critical. Go beyond validating certifications, ask for references & interview the PM. Be wary of vendors who can’t provide detailed answers on how they are going to execute your project. Ensure they have a strong methodology that correlates to implementation success.
  • Involve all functional subject matter experts (SMEs) from the start: Doing so ensures you get valuable insights while blueprinting a solution. This also provides the opportunity to turn team members into system evangelists, they’ll help pave the way for smoother system adoption.
  • Have a detailed responsibility matrix, before the project starts: Get a clear picture of who owns what activities from the start. Set realistic expectations for all project participants of what’s expected of them and what supports will be in place. This will help relieve anxiety about the anticipated workload and reassure the team that management has the details covered.

2.3 Build

“The proposed process designs should always be designed within the logic of the ERP systems.”

Arthur J. Worster
Thomas R. Weirich
Frank J.C. Andera

From the book “Maximizing Return on Investment Using ERP Applications”.

Configure the NetSuite solution by module and complete unit testing of each module. 

The biggest mistake we see in ERP project plans is generic SDLC (software development life cycle) phase use or focus on detailed features without purpose. Both of these approaches lead to vague planning and unclear business benefit mapping. To run a successful project you need to focus on business processes that correspond to core modules of the ERP system.

Pro Tips:

  • Goals by business process: The best run ERP implementations put the optimization of business processes top of mind. This allows traceability from requirements to SOW to project plans. 
  • Know the NetSuite modules you need: Build the project plan based on modules needed & map out the processes to be delivered. Keep in mind that not all features apply to every project and some have additional costs.

Key Activities: 

  • Configure modules based on the requirements.
  • Build automation(s) & integrations as required.
  • Grant appropriate system testing access to SMEs/end users (as appropriate).
  • Detailed unit testing.
  • Data migration (cleanup, migrating sample data, testing the data as part of unit testing to identify issues). 

Main Deliverables: 

    • Detailed Project Plan: at the start of the project 
    • Demonstrations: ask to see progress as the system is built out
    • System Training for SMEs: training prior to unit testing as the system is enabled
    • Unit Testing: test cases must be detailed and cover all of your business use case scenarios 
    • User Acceptance Testing

Tips for Success: 

  • Focus on data migration from the start: It’s super important to execute this piece in parallel with configuration. Ensure that you plan appropriately resource and time-wise for this. Here’s why:

“The data migration phase of a project can consume up to 30% of the total project resources.  The most common flaw in data migration planning is that too few resources are invested in it.”

Dr. Paul Dorsey
President Dulcian, Inc., and President, New York Oracle Users Group.

  • Have a detailed project plan.
  • Keep communication flowing: Weekly status meetings, monthly steering reviews.
  • Have easy traceability between documentation: You should easily be able to map requirements to implementation SOW and the project plan.
  • Always have a sandbox environment: This avoids loads of data clean-up later.
  • Avoid integrating everything in the world for phase 1: Best practice is to build the system with standard functionality first. Get used to it, then add advanced feature requirements during phase 2.
  • Avoid building custom scripts & workflows unless you really have to. The reality is that your team needs to adapt to the ERP system’s best practices designated for your industry.

2.4 Balance

Finalize data migration, complete end-user training and full system user acceptance testing. This phase is where you cut over to your shiny new system.

Key Activities: 

  • Data migration (delete test data, import complete data sets for a system go live) 
  • End-user training 
  • User acceptance testing
  • Final configuration tweaks

Main Deliverables: 

  • Training Documentation
  • Testing Issue Log
  • Go Live

Tips for Success: 

  • Ensure end-user engagement: Make sure everyone in the company knows the reasons for & go-live date of the ERP system.
  • Ensure end users are trained before they use the system: Do this during unit testing, UAT or just before going live. The adage “use it or lose it” applies here. Training immediately before system usage is most effective. 
  • Ensure you keep the full budget in mind: I’m talking about the internal vs external dollars. Internal budget “brown dollars” refer to the in-house cost of the effort. Some companies care about this others don’t, it depends on who is sponsoring the project. 

The most important cost is the external budget “green dollars”, which is what you will pay the solution implementation provider. This often includes requirements gathering, configuration, integration, migration, training & third-party tools.

  • Measure the project success via KPIs: Reduce month-end close, clear invoicing, automate approvals, reduce unhappy customers, project budget overruns, etc.

2.5 Go Live

Launch new solution to end-users, celebrate, and get ready for phase 2 or tweaks.

Key Activities: 

  • System cut-over
  • Ensure appropriate system access has been provided to all end-users
  • Complete any final catch-up data migration activities
  • Provide follow-up end-user training (as required)

Main Deliverables: 

  • System Go Live
  • Data Catch-up 

Tips for Success: 

  • Review the project plan and sign-off on the project: Make sure that all tasks in the project plan have been completed to your satisfaction. 
  • Set up an internal help desk & procedures: Ensure that users can easily contact the ERP administrator to have their questions addressed. If required, set up weekly internal question & answer workshops for the first 2 months post-go-live. The goal is for end-users to feel supported in their adoption of the new system.
  • Document end-user feedback: Be sure to log suggestions for review and improvement for future system implementation phases.

2.6 Optimize

Ad hoc issue and question resolution.

Key Activities: 

  • System troubleshooting
  • New user onboarding
  • New requirements review 

Main Deliverables: 

  • System Optimization

Tips for Success: 

  • Phase 2 Planning: Review suggestions for phase 2, what are critical improvements vs. nice to haves?
  • Identify Optimization Opportunities: Are there any remaining manual processes to optimize? 
  • Check-in with users: Be sure to check in weekly for 3 months from Go Live. This will allow for ad-hoc issues to be fixed along with optimization requirements gathering for phase 2. 
  • Communicate Successes Following System Implementation: Let the entire team know the wins experienced since system implementation. Examples of this are the reduction of manual labour, accurate reporting, fast month-end close, etc. Sharing good news helps reinforce why the system transition was important to undertake. 
  • Maintain a System Feedback Process: Ensure end-users are encouraged to provide system feedback to identify future opportunities for improvement.

3. Budgeting  

Now that you understand the different phases of an ERP implementation project, let’s focus on estimating an ERP project budget. The budget can be divided into three streams:

  • Software-related expenses i.e. NetSuite solution fees and user licenses. Our recent insights about NetSuite Cost Factors – How to Save your ERP $$$, demystifies the cost of NetSuite. Our best advice is to reach out for a quick chat to get an accurate estimate based on your needs.
  • Internal project team resource allocation (internal budget). A team consisting of project champion(s), a project manager, functional area subject matter experts and end-users. 

Know the NetSuite implementation timeline & the must-have SMEs in order to budget for cost & resourcing correctly.

  • Know the timeline
  • Assemble the right implementation team 
  • Know how to budget correctly.
  • Third-party NetSuite implementation partner (external budget)
    1. Less Risk: This approach is more time and value-efficient, and less risk-prone than internally-led implementations. A solution partner with years of experience in various industry ERP projects will lead with best practices. 
    2. Advocate for pricing: So…how much does it cost to implement NetSuite? Pricing methodologies can range from fixed bids to time and materials. An experienced implementation partner should be able to provide a high-level estimate on NetSuite licenses. Note that a detailed blueprinting effort is required before an exact estimate can be provided for the professional services component.  

Pro Tip: Look for estimates to be provided at the module & business process level. This approach will help avoid scope creep and dreaded change orders down the road.  

4. To Wrap Up

Embarking on an ERP implementation can be daunting. Being aware of best practices in terms of process, deliverables, resource allocation and budget is critical for ERP success.

  • Pre-Project Considerations: It’s important to do your homework up-front, carefully outline your high-level business requirements. This includes business process mapping, researching solutions for your requirements & resource planning. Ensure to include subject matter experts and a project manager during the selection process to accomplish the project. Be sure to have a sufficient budget for training. Develop a change management plan to communicate the objectives for system adoption to your organization.
  • Understand & Blueprint: Your team along with your partner NetSuite consultant will solidify in detail, all of your ERP requirements. From drawing out future state processes, standard & add on modules required to power your back office, no stone should be left unturned. 
  • Build: This is where your NetSuite platform gets configured to your unique company requirements. Be sure to have weekly status meetings with your internal & implementation partner teams. As the system gets built, you should be trained and the configured system features should be demonstrated to you. This way you get familiar with the system and have the opportunity for revisions prior to user acceptance testing. 
  • Balance: Go live time! Ensure data migration is part of the discussion from the start, you’ll fare better than 60% of companies. In this phase you’ll be moving master & transactional data, doing user acceptance testing and cutting over to the new environment. Any end-users who have not been trained on the system to date or need a refresher should be trained.
  • Optimize: All of your end-users should now be on the platform, providing feedback for further optimization.

Hopefully, this post has helped illuminate the major themes to allow you to start your ERP initiative with confidence. If you have questions, feel free to reach out, we’ve been running cloud-based ERP projects for over 14 years. To make your life easier, we made this guide as a PDF with more tips and advice to guarantee a clean implementation.

Setup up a quick call to see if we’re a good fit 🙂 


Trajectory Group


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