S/4HANA migration crowd wisdom

Understanding the SAP Implementation Methodology

Any SAP implementation can be an intimidating process. On the one hand, you want the complex transition to be as thorough as possible. On the other, you want to minimize disruptions to your business with a streamlined, clear-cut journey.

Fortunately, you can have both – thanks to a time-tested, effective SAP implementation methodology. From the preparatory stage through go-live, the clearly defined process can help you optimize the time, cost, and quality of your SAP implementation.

The methodology divides implementation into five phases, which are common to all SAP implementations.

Phase 1: Project Preparation

First and foremost, you must identify the objectives of your SAP implementation project. What benefit do you expect from your organization?

Be sure to gather and share a thorough understanding of the business processes currently in production, such as financial reporting, for a better understanding and analysis of systems. Inherent to this stage is making a solid business case and value mapping, which are essential to ensuring everyone understands the desired outcome and its impact on different departments. When people see how they stand to benefit from the innovation, they are motivated to prepare, minimize disruption and keep to timelines.

One key decision that must be made is regarding the best strategy for SAP implementation. Organizations need to choose whether to pursue a “greenfield” or a “brownfield” approach, evaluating the pros and cons of each option in light of their processes, requirements, business needs, budget, and timelines.

Let’s briefly dive into the differences between the two options.

Greenfield vs brownfield

A greenfield approach to SAP implementation is to start from scratch, with a clean slate. It does not carry over needless customizations and technical debt, creating a solid foundation for business process re-engineering. Companies then add their specific configurations and customizations to the “vanilla” implementation.

A Greenfield implementation project is more transformative than the brownfield approach and can be more disruptive to business processes. It is a significant undertaking from a change management perspective, introducing more initial changes to business users. Stakeholder validation, in the form of user acceptance testing, is therefore an especially critical stage before deployment into production.

green field and brown field guide



A new implementation of SAP S/4HANA, also known as a ‘Greenfield’ migration, enables complete re-engineering and process simplification.

The Greenfield approach lets organizations predefine migration objects and best practices. It lowers Time-to-Value and TCO and facilitates faster adoption of innovation.



System conversion, also known as the ‘Brownfield’ approach, enables migration to SAP S/4HANA without re-implementation and without disruption to existing business processes.

At the same time, it enables reevaluation of customization and existing process flows.


What are the advantages of a greenfield implementation?

You won’t necessarily be limited by the constraints imposed by your existing system, as you design the SAP implementation afresh to best serve your needs. This offers a compelling ROI in several ways:

  • Operational efficiencies gained by re-engineered processes.
  • Adoption of standard, best practices wherever feasible.
  • Rapid introduction of innovations.
  • Technical debt is eliminated.

The greenfield implementation methodology is the preferred approach for landscape consolidations and rationalizations of legacy systems into SAP S/4HANA.

Brownfield vs greenfield

The brownfield approach is upgrading an existing SAP ECC landscape to S/4HANA while carrying over as many customizations as possible from the source system and minimizing initial reengineering efforts. A brownfield migration to SAP S/4HANA does not require re-implementation or disruption to existing business processes. At the same time, it enables reevaluation of customization and process flows.

A brownfield implementation, as opposed to the greenfield option, provides IT professionals and users a more gradual SAP journey. It leverages existing elements of their SAP environment, as well as current interfaces with their supplier and partner systems. The migration process is generally more automated than in the case of a greenfield implementation. Process transformation and the introduction of innovations, if any, occur as separate, methodical initiatives after go-live.

What are the advantages of a brownfield implementation?

A brownfield system conversion can be broken into several distinct phases, some offering quantifiable ROI. This phased approach enables companies to keep a clear view of the project scope and continuously optimize their project management.

During the SAP implementation, a brownfield approach minimizes delays and disruption caused by the testing of changed mission-critical applications. The initial user acceptance testing load on business stakeholders is similarly minimized.

Change managers can adjust the process re-engineering pace based on available post-conversion budget and market conditions (e.g., development freeze during busy season). Additionally, a step-by-step initiative allows for more practical leverage of business user resources to help design and validate transformational changes.

Overall, the brownfield approach is usually faster and has a lower initial cost than a greenfield implementation. It makes practical sense especially for companies seeking to preserve their existing business processes as much as possible.

Greendfield vs Brownfield Approach

The migration phases towards SAP HANA

During phase 1 of the SAP implementation methodology, you also define the scope and priorities of your project. You choose the operations that are to be migrated or modernized, set a project schedule and implementation sequence (including considerations of how the timing will affect business continuity), and draft a proposed budget. This is also the stage at which you organize which personnel to involve and assign the requisite resources.

At this point, the foundations for a successful SAP implementation have been laid. You should have a clear idea of the effort, time, testing and correction activities required to complete the project.

Phase 2: Business Blueprint

Next, you create a blueprint of your business processes and organizational structure in the SAP system you are about to implement. The SAP organization itself has provided questionnaires for creating this blueprint, which also serves as preliminary documentation of the SAP implementation.

The blueprint highlights the gaps between your pre- and post-implementation business processes, indicating what needs to be customized for the SAP implementation to be successful. Just as critically, the document also indicates programs and processes that do not need to be changed even after you go live.

At this stage, you can further refine the project and its timeline based on the information revealed by the blueprint creation process.

Phase 3: Realization

With the blueprint in hand, the next step in the SAP implementation methodology is baseline configuration for the new system. This includes such things as making necessary infrastructure changes and eliminating non-productive processes. Additional configuration fine-tuning and customization is then undertaken to ensure the final SAP system implemented will meet your specific business and process requirements.

During this phase, unit and integration tests are being conducted to ensure the desired outcomes. In addition, as all these tasks are underway, documentation is being drafted for end users based on lessons learned during realization.

Phase 4: Final Preparation

Phase 4 involves all the cutover activities necessary to make SAP implementation go-live a success, especially preparing your systems and your employees.

Employees are trained to carry out their daily activities using the new SAP software, including helping them adjust where necessary to unfamiliar workflows or processes. The SAP system itself is subjected to stress testing (including peak volume, daily load, and others), as well as integration or functional tests to ensure maximum stability.

As you fine-tune final configurations and resolve all open issues in the pre-production environment, you should have already planned out your go-live strategy, including a few unpleasant what-if scenarios.

Phase 5: Go-Live and Support

Congratulations, you are now live. This means migration of all your data to the new SAP system’s production environment, monitoring system transactions, and tweaking performance when needed. Frequent maintenance checks will ensure the SAP implementation methodology was a success, everything is progressing as expected.

A production support system should be set up during this phase, with a team dedicated to troubleshooting any issues, assisting end users, and sharing documentation. This can transition into long-term ongoing support, maintenance and managing a knowledgebase for future reference.

A Few (More) General Tips

Testing, testing, testing. Every transitional stage (meaning, phase 2 and on) of the SAP implementation methodology we outlined here should include testing of the system, its components, or the changes you introduced. User acceptance testing is critical in this regard and should be introduced early, as it also gives the business users a more tangible engagement with the process.

Do things in order. Each phase is dependent on what came before and, in turn, flows into the next. But don’t rush it, as every step requires dedicated time and the correct resources.

Finally, take a holistic view of your SAP implementation. Look at the project as a whole, as that provides the necessary insight into interdependencies and ensures pre- and post-implementation synchronization. Keeping track of what actually needs to be done at every stage is only possible with a 360-degree view.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Greenfield approach?

A Greenfield approach is a brand-new, vanilla implementation of SAP S/4HANA, where companies then add their needed configurations and customizations. This approach provides a clean slate to start from, does not carry over needless customizations and technical debt, and provides a solid foundation for business process re-engineering.

What is a Brownfield approach?

A Brownfield implementation involves upgrading an existing SAP ECC landscape to S/4HANA.
This approach carries over as much custom components as possible from the source system and minimizes initial reengineering efforts.  It preserves past customization investments and mimics ECC-based processes as much as possible.

What are the advantages of an SAP Greenfield implementation?

The advantage of the greenfield implementation is that because you’re starting with a clean slate, you won’t necessarily be limited by the constraints imposed by your existing SAP system. The Greenfield strategy lets you start fresh and allows you to design the systems to best serve your needs. It is a catalyst for immediate innovation and transformation.

What are the advantages of an SAP Brownfield implementation?

The brownfield approach makes practical sense for companies looking to preserve their existing business processes, similar to how they were in ECC. The migration process is more automated than with a Greenfield implementation. This approach is usually faster and at less initial cost. Process transformation, if any, occurs within separate initiatives after go-live.

 Brownfield vs Greenfield guide

Want To Learn More About Panaya?