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How Long Should An SAP Implementation Project Last?

Implementing SAP systems is a complex process, and the length of time an implementation project takes is a major factor in how much it costs.

Those employees of SAP customers who need to start an upgrade or an entirely new system should have a good grasp of the variables involved in calculating the duration of the project.

This is an important part of developing a business case for the project, as it will also give you an estimate of the length of time that business operations will be (at least partially) disrupted.

If you would like help sourcing experienced SAP consultants for an implementation project IgniteSAP can arrange access to our exclusive SAP talent pool.

If you are looking for a new role in SAP consulting and would like help finding the right opportunities for you then join our community at IgniteSAP.

So how do we determine the duration of an implementation project? In this article IgniteSAP takes a look at each of the variables in turn.

It is important to note that these are just general guidelines. The actual duration of an SAP implementation project will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the business. Here we provide some context to the questions involved.

Factors Influencing The Project Duration

The length of an SAP implementation project will vary depending on a number of factors, including:

The size and operational complexity of the business

The scope, particularly how many modules are being implemented

The type of implementation and method or approach used

The necessary level of customization and the number of extensions.

The availability of (human) resources

The experience of the project team and its manager

The availability and quality of data

The need for training

And the need for change management

The Size And Complexity Of The Business

The larger and more complex the business, the longer the implementation project will take.

This is because there will be more data to migrate, more processes to map, more customization required, and more users to train. The size of the project also has implications for the workload for project managers as each these tasks needs to occur according to a project timeline, sometimes in a linear fashion, sometimes in parallel if possible so no task delays the others.

This means that planning a complex implementation is substantially more time consuming than a more simple one.

Businesses with complex operations or a lot of customization requirements will need more time to implement SAP.

A small business with a few dozen employees and a simple business model may be able to implement SAP in 6-12 months. However, a large enterprise with thousands of employees and a complex business model could take 12-18 months or even longer to implement SAP.

The SAP Modules Being Implemented

The more modules that are being implemented, the longer the project will take. This is because each module has its own set of processes and data to manage.

Generally speaking, SAP Financial modules (for accounting, budgeting and reporting) typically take 6-12 months to implement.

SAP Logistics, Human Capital Management, and CRM module implementations usually take roughly 12-18 months.

SAP Supply Chain Management modules take 18-24 months on average.

Again, these estimates will vary according to the size of the business, so some small business implementations of some modules may be possible in a much shorter time.

The Type Of Implementation

Greenfield (from scratch) SAP implementation projects are typically quicker at 6-12 months compared with brownfield implementations which average 12-18 months to complete.

This is because with a greenfield approach there are no existing systems to modify and integrate with the new SAP system components, which is the case in brownfield projects.

Brownfield implementations, which are built alongside and on top of existing SAP systems, will take longer due to the need to preserve the existing system’s data, configurations, and customizations.

Greenfield and brownfield implementations can be cloud-based or on-premise.

Brownfield on-premise implementations can take the longest, because there is even more work to do to prepare the data for conversion before migration. The workload is larger because there is often a need to create custom code to keep the old system running alongside the new components.

Cloud-based projects (averaging 6-12 months) are generally quicker to implement than on-premise systems (lasting roughly 12-18 months), as there is no need to procure and install the necessary hardware and software.

Data migration in cloud-based S/4HANA projects can be streamlined using SAP S/4HANA migration cockpit and standardized migration templates.

These migration tools mean brownfield implementation of SAP S/4HANA Cloud can be shortened to several months and for some preconfigured cloud solutions this can sometimes be shortened to weeks.

Customization and Extensions

Customizations and extensions add substantially to the workload.

These bespoke components to a system often require the development of new code in consultation with the customer, which means code needs to be conceptualized, written, then tested, and debugged.

After the code itself is verified, the modified SAP system needs to be tested to ensure that it works well with the extra additions. This testing can be complex and takes time, according to the number of customizations or extensions, and end users of the system need to be trained how to use the new elements as well as the rest of the SAP system.

The Availability Of Resources

The availability of resources, such as experienced consultants and technical staff, can also affect the duration of the project. If sufficient resources are not available, the project may need to be delayed.

Enough team members with the right skills need to be allocated to the project.

Enough money needs to be allocated for the project budget to take account of the expected cost of engaging the workforce. While it may at first appear to be prudent to use the minimum number of SAP consultants, significant costs and time can be saved overall if some teams can work in parallel on a project rather than waiting for each stage of an implementation to be finished before addressing the next stage.

So for example, although a project manager may request double the perceived minimum number of consultants to work on a project, doubling the cost of employment of team members, this critical mass of experienced minds may be able to complete it in under half the time, reducing the overall cost of the implementation and reducing the disruption to the business and it’s income.

The disruption of business operations (reducing the business’s access to revenue) is also one of the costly aspects of the implementation and should be reduced as much as possible.

Project Team Experience

The experience of the project team can also have significant impact on the duration of the project.

A team with experience in SAP implementations, working with an experienced project manager, will be able to complete the project more quickly and more efficiently than a team lacking in experience of the same type of project.

They will be better able to plan the project effectively and execute the plan on time and within budget. Experienced project planners will also be more likely to identify and mitigate risks early on, which can help to shorten the overall project timeline.

Errors can cause delays and additional costs. With experience an SAP implementation team is less likely to make errors during the process because they will be familiar with the type of system and SAP’s best practices, as well as any available tools for facilitating the process.

Communication about the project between departments and team members will be more effective and transparent. This is important for ensuring that the project follows the planned schedule and that everyone is on the same page.

In the event of any need to modify the original project plan, the team will be more flexible and adaptable. Things don’t always go according to plan in an SAP implementation project because in the process of implementation the system is subject to detailed analysis which can reveal other work that must be carried out to provide for the customer’s requirements.

A team should be able to adjust their schedule and expand the number of consultants if necessary to compensate for the extra work.

As a general rule greater experience in the SAP implementation team translates to a shorter timeline to the Go-Live stage and added value for customers.

The Availability And Quality Of Data

If the business does not have all of the required data in a clean and consistent format, this can add to the time it takes to implement SAP.

The process of cleaning, preparing, and migrating data for the implementation can be time-consuming and expensive. If the data is not available or is not consistently organized it can take longer to cleanse, prepare and migrate: leading to delays in the project and additional costs.

It can also delay the testing process because the testers need to be able to test the system with real data in order to ensure that it is working properly.

The Need For Training

The business users will need to be trained on how to use SAP. This can take time, especially if there are a lot of users in a variety of locations and departments.

It takes time for end users to learn how to use a new system. If they are not properly trained, it can take them longer to get up to speed, leading to unnecessary costs, and they are more likely to make errors when using the system.

Basic SAP training should be carried out from the beginning, or even before commencement of the project with more detailed, contextualized training using the new SAP system at a later stage as the project progresses, rather than waiting until the project implementation is complete.

The Need For Change Management

The implementation of SAP will require changes to the way the business operates. This can be a challenge for users of the system, and it is important to manage the change. If change management is not done effectively, it can lead to delays in the project because the business users may not be ready to adopt the new system or they may not be using it efficiently.

Activities for change management, like as training, communication, and support, can add time to the project and should be carried out in parallel with the implementation.

Change management should be included in the budget as part of the project plan, as they require additional resources, such as trainers, communicators, and support staff. Without these extra team members it can substantially delay completion.

If managed effectively, change management can minimize resistance to change by helping users understand the need for change and by providing them with the support they need to adopt the new system, improve communication between the project team and the users, and ensure a smooth transition to the new system.

Careful change management is a crucial aspect of reducing the overall duration of an SAP implementation.

Plan, Monitor, Adapt

Regardless of how long you expect an SAP implementation project to take, you can reduce the length of time to the Go-Live stage by following these basic tips:

Start planning early. The earlier you start planning, the more time you will have to identify and address potential problems. Start training the business users as early as possible as well.

It is important to get all stakeholders on board with the project, including the business users, IT staff, and management. This will help to ensure that the project is successful and reduce unnecessary delays.

Use a proven methodology. There are a number of effective methodologies that can be used to implement SAP, like their own SAP Activate methodology. Using a proven methodology can help to ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget.

In the planning stage, make sure as many aspects of the workload can be carried out following parallel timelines with carefully integrated schedules so one task does not delay the start of other necessary work.

Monitor progress and keep all departments and stakeholders in the loop regarding that timeline.

Work with experienced consultants. Experienced consultants can help to shorten the duration of the project by providing guidance and expertise.

All SAP implementations will be different, and their duration can range from just a few months for the simplest projects, to years for a global enterprise with many pre-existing elements to integrate.

It is important to set realistic expectations for the duration of the project and give an idea about how this prediction may need adjusting as the project progresses . This will help to avoid disappointment and frustration in the project workforce and the customer.

The most important thing to remember is that the project duration will affect the cost to the business. If project timelines are extended, it will cost more to pay the consulting team for longer. Also, it will disrupt the business operations of the customer, leading to a temporary drop in revenue.

These time-related costs must be factored in to the business case for the project, which should be able to demonstrate a clear return on investment, at least within a year of the project’s completion.

If you would like help sourcing experienced SAP consultants for an implementation project IgniteSAP can arrange access to our exclusive SAP talent pool.

If you are looking for a new role in SAP consulting and would like help finding the right opportunities for you then join our community at IgniteSAP.