What to expect with a Waterfall ERP project

Today we are going to describe what is involved in a Waterfall ERP project.

This article forms part of my series on ERP implementation. If you haven’t read it already you should check the overview of ERP Implementations here.

What is a “Waterfall” project?

It’s a traditional project management approach that is used in software projects. It is called “Waterfall” because each phase (which we will detail below) occurs one after the other like water flowing down a waterfall.

The pros and cons of a Waterfall ERP project


  • Customer involvement required only at key stages of project and therefore requires less time commitment if your are extremely time-poor.
  • Timelines and effort are easier to estimate compared with an Agile project
  • Works well when requirements are well understood and not likely to change
  • Project team can be scaled up and down as they are required throughout the different stages of the project


  • Due to the fact that each stage occurs in a sequence it becomes costly to make changes the further down the project you go
  • Requires strict scope management throughout the life of the project making changes in the scope more expensive
  • It is often a challenge to fully document the requirements of the system which means there is risk that the final delivered product doesn’t actually meet the real business needs.

The Scoping Phase

The initial phase of our waterfall project starts with some meetings. The outcome of these meetings is to determine what you need and don’t need in your ERP system, also known as our Scope.

Firstly we learn as much about your business processes as we can. An ERP solution should be a reflection of your processes and therefore we need to know how you currently operate.

With these processes identified we work together to decide which of these processes we will implement (in scope) and those that we won’t (out of scope).

Next we look at the standard ERP functionality and decide which parts you want and those that you don’t. A few examples of the areas to consider in an ERP system implementation are:

  • Financial Tracking
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Stock Control (raw materials or ingredients as well as products you sell)
  • Human Resources (tracking staff employment, leave, time sheets)
  • Project Management
  • and so on…

Scope Stage Deliverables

The outcome of this will be a formal scope agreement which will be signed by both parties (you and us).

After the scope is determined we can provide you with the cost estimate for the whole project. It is possible that the scope needs to be adjusted to meet the budget before agreement can be made.

Keep in mind: Once the scope document is signed any changes to the scope of the project will need to be agreed in writing by both parties with any financial implications clearly stated.

Requirements Phase

With scope agreed we can work out the details of exactly how you need the system to work.

This requires us to extract them from your brain.

Unfortunately there is no requirements extractor machine built (yet) so we have to do this by talking and writing.

The key thing to remember about requirements is that we focus on what you need from a business perspective and not on how the system will work. It’s sometimes hard to keep the 2 separate but if you start talking about buttons and screen layouts then you aren’t capturing business requirements!

Requirements stage deliverables

At the end of this stage we will present you with a formal document that contains all of your business requirements.

The requirements document will need to be signed by both parties and will form the agreement for the design phase.

Design Phase

This is where we go away and design the system based on your business requirements. As long as the requirements are clear there should be minimal involvement from you at this stage.

We usually know which ERP platform we are going to use to implement your solution after the scope phase but this is the phase where confirm that decision.

After many years working with large businesses we have a good understanding of the best practices involved in many businesses. It is possible that while we design the solution we may recommend changes to your business processes to better match best practice.

Design stage deliverables

Another stage and yet another formal document for you to sign.

This one will clearly define your ERP solution and describe how it will meet each of your requirements.

Implementation Phase

Yay we finally get to build you something! And all that is left is for us to build what we said we would in all of the documents you’ve signed.

Of course in the real world nothing is never that straight forward. As we configure and customise the selected ERP platform for you it is likely that we will run into issues. Mismatches between requirements and design and the actual implementation are an unfortunate reality of software development. We will need to clarify with you exactly how you need it to work during this stage.

Implementation stage deliverables

This is the most important delivery – the system itself – all configured and built as you have specified.

Typically we also include a system demonstration with a walk-through of your key business processes.

Oh and more good news – we finally have a phase where you don’t need to sign anything!

Verification Phase

The preparation of this phase actually starts while we are busy building your system where you put together a plan of what business processes you will test. We will guide you in the best way to write this plan. Ideally you will have tests to cover all of your business processes and all areas of the system.

During the execution of this phase you will get your first taste test of the system we delivered. You need to follow your testing plan to ensure you cover everything you need the system to do. If anything doesn’t work or it doesn’t meet the original business requirements then you let us know. We use a system called a bug tracker to track these issues.

If we agree that it a problem then we fix it and let you know how. You have another opportunity to test the system again.

Let’s get real here for a second. What we have just described is one of the biggest issues with waterfall ERP projects. We have gone and build everything before you even get a chance to see the system. There is a huge risk that what you get isn’t what you expect. While we try to minimise this risk by setting your expectations with clear communication throughout the whole project it is an unfortunate reality.

Please understand that not all issues are equal. There is a possibility that you will end this phase with known problems in the system. We may have provided workarounds to the problem or it’s possible the issue is not critical to your business immediately. We may ask for you to agree that you will start using the system (go live) as long as we have a plan in place to fix anything that is outstanding.

Verification deliverables

Again with the signatures! Do you get the feeling that a Waterfall ERP project approach it for lovers of documentation?

We need you to sign the testing verification document. This document includes a summary of the testing that was undertaken and any outstanding issues to be fixed and by when they will be fixed.

Training Phase

There’s usually two approaches to training:

  1. We train all of your staff
  2. We train some of your staff and they train the rest

It is worth noting that anyone that is involved in the testing phase needs to know how the system works. Typically we will train them on an early version of the training material.

This is because the final version of the training material will not be completed until the testing phase is completed. Why? Well any issues that require system changes could impact the training material, of course.

Training Phase Deliverables

We will prepare training documentation and deliver it to the required staff.

Change Management

We aren’t going to cover Change Management here as the work involved is mostly the same no matter which project delivery approach you are using.

Check out the overview of change management in our initial article in this series.

Your time involvement in a Waterfall ERP Project

As you can see from the above outline that a waterfall project has key stages that you, as the client, will need to be involved in.

Here’s a quick outline:

  • Scope
    • You will be heavily involved but this phase shouldn’t take too long
    • Review and sign off documentation
  • Requirements
    • This phase needs the most time from you and it can take a while to complete depending on the size of the scope
    • Review and sign off documentation
  • Design
    • You will need to be available to clarify any questions
    • Review and sign off documentation
  • Implementation
    • You will need to be available to clarify any questions
  • Verification
    • A good plan of what you will test needs to be written by you.
    • You will then test the system and verify that is meets your needs.
    • Review and sign off documentation
  • Change Management
    • For this to be effective it needs to be executed by you. We can help you plan and guide you through the process.
    • The effort involved will depend on the number of staff you have and how willing they are to accept the new system.

Our recommendation on who should consider a Waterfall ERP approach

If you answer yes to two or more of these then you may want to consider waterfall:

  • Are you time poor? Do you want the approach that requires the least time commitment from you or your staff?
  • Do you already have a clear understanding of the scope of your implementation?
  • Can you clearly explain the business requirements for the entire scope?
  • Are your business processes clearly defined and documented?
  • You want documentation clearly stating what is going to be delivered

Do you need more information about what a Waterfall ERP project for your business would look like? Use the form below to get in touch with us and we will be more than happy to talk.

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