Go-live cutover activities are the most important part of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation, right? Cutover is the final push of critical data into production, can we conclude that it must matter the most? That was the opinion I held early in my career and, as a result, I felt that go-live week deserved more of my attention than any other week of the year. Today, however, I emphasize the final test cycle—the dress rehearsal for go-live.

The final test cycle before cutover deserves as much or even more attention than cutover itself.  Years of successful data migration projects and countless test cycles have influenced my opinion today.  As you continue your own implementation, I hope that you and your team elevate the importance of the final test cycle.  I invite you to reflect on my insights below as you lead your project team to the final phases of implementation.

Why do we treat it like a dress rehearsal?

Every successful implementation project has a schedule with numerous test cycles for configuration, data migration, validation, loading and system & integration testing. The last test cycle—the one before the final flurry of go-live activities—is the dress rehearsal. Every action that needs to take place during go-live is replicated during the dress rehearsal. Timing and sequencing are key.  Aligning resources and understanding expectations are critical to designing a go-live schedule that minimizes business disruption and maximizes the likelihood of smooth operations post-cutover. If a go-live cutover task is expected to happen at 3 AM on a Saturday, that same activity needs to have resources at-the-ready to execute the plan at 3 AM on dress rehearsal Saturday.

Most project teams put a lot of focus on the final push for go-live (and rightfully so!). From a project management and data migration perspective, I put just as much—if not more—emphasis on the dress rehearsal. As dress rehearsal approaches, the “big picture” finally starts to settle in. After months of test cycles and “more leeway” with timing (think of activities planned over 4 weeks instead of 2 weeks), all our work is locked into a very specific, high-visibility timeline. Dress rehearsal is when we finally learn if our setups, runtime documentation, data dependencies and workflows are truly synchronized.

What does this mean for Project Managers?

As a project manager, dress rehearsal is when my team truly understands the sense of urgency and pinpoint accuracy needed for go-live. The last test cycle is when teammates learn how to “flip a switch” and approach their tasks with focus and intentionality. As we prepare for specific data migration activities, timing is everything. We go over our checklists:  are configurations set up; have we received the necessary supplemental files; can we run ETL processes (and support pre-load validations in parallel!) in the allotted time?

My biggest worry is, “What did we collectively miss?” Dress rehearsal is the last time to correct the complex web of activities; my mindset during go-live cutover is that something unexpected will happen. A smooth and successful final test cycle builds confidence in the entire implementation process. When we iron out the wrinkles during dress rehearsal, we prepare ourselves for the inevitable curveball during go-live. Instead of fretting about the schedule and cutover plan, the team already knows that we have excelled under the exact same expectations; it allows us to focus on solutions instead of timelines.

How does this help us approach cutover with confidence?

Once a dress rehearsal is executed successfully, my mind is much more at ease entering go-live cutover. We are one united team, everyone with a clear understanding of expectations. We have the confidence knowing that if (when?) something unexpected happens during go-live, we will rise to the occasion and find solutions. A successful dress rehearsal is an excellent indication that the entire project team can deliver a successful go-live cutover when it matters most.