Reaching the “go live” stage of a large scale implementation in any field of endeavor represents the culmination of efforts spanning multiple people, departments and systems as well as a substantial expenditure of time and money.
In large system implementation projects much upfront attention is paid to details such as suitability of the software to match the organisation’s business need(s) and to composition of the project team that will be responsible for both initial delivery and subsequent support. Frequently, however, considerations concerning change management, knowledge transfer, and steps required for transition to production are delayed until implementation is already in progress. This delay can result in overlooking critical steps and increasing project risk. Using a simple catchphrase, “Ready…Set...GO!!”, we can avoid or mitigate some of the risks that might threaten the success of the project.
Is the organisation, in its entirety, really ready to commit to the success of the project? Readiness means eliminating potential blocking issues such as competing projects and lack of comprehensive operational knowledge. It means providing sufficient budget in time, dollars, and human resources. Potential regulatory changes that may affect the project should be anticipated and accounted for. Personnel problems should be openly discussed and resolved during the early planning stages of the implementation. Questions such as the following should be asked and answered:
Are we placing our best intellectual property resources on the project without sacrificing day to day production quality? The short-term stress of lending senior personnel to the project team often overlooks the fact that those resources are still available to help when needed and that those same individuals will need to be the leaders when the future state arrives.
Have we independently validated all of the factors used to derive budgeting and resource estimates? Budget checkpoints and decomposing a large project into manageable phases are tools that create reasonable expectations and enhance the ability to accurately fund and track the project during its lifecycle.
Do we understand enough about our actual workflow processes? Lack of operational workflow and procedural knowledge will increase the risk that the production platform will not meet expectations. Confirm that information from key business users is emphasised as criteria for project success. A bi-directional flow of ideas and information between the Business Users and the IT team helps keep all parties in sync and vested in project success.
Do we have the proper project oversight at the right levels? The long-term objective of completing a software implementation project is not simply about installing the software. Software, in and of itself, generally will not solve a problem if the organisation does not embrace the change. That change begins with all levels of management actively participating in the project and creating consistent, transparent touch points between the organisation and project.
After core project deliverables have been completed, training sessions have been held, operational procedures have been written and the project team is confident about production deployment, there remains a critical period of transition. Although numerous users may have “tested” the system and pilot projects may have been held over the life of the project, only the act of running the future state process in parallel with the current state provides a true validation of production readiness. Preparing for this stage requires a separate planning effort that is more detailed than the planning that is prepared at the beginning of the project. It is only through active engagement with the organisation’s systems, users and culture that an appreciation can be gained for what it will take to make the final push.
Scope and objectives. What are the areas of the business that you need to feel most confident about as the production day nears? Large scale implementations often warrant subsequent phases to achieve complete delivery. Knowing as much means targeting and creating advocates that can be used to placate areas of the organisation that will feel as if they’ve had to sacrifice for the greater good.
Resource planning. Depending on the length of the parallel operations period, which may be as short as a few days to as long as several months, a well-designed resource plan can mitigate resource burnout and help to focus the right individuals on the right tasks. In a large scale accounting system implementation back office operational teams may bear the burden of double-work. It is important to determine how this challenge can be managed and ensure that critical personnel know the extra effort is transient and vital to the organisation.
Setting the cultural stage. Large projects may span months or years. During that time the entire organisation has known about the project and perhaps received high level management updates but the reality of the impending change has remained distant. As the “go live” date becomes imminent, clear, consistent communication about the necessary deployment activities, their timing, expected results and problem escalation/resolution processes will be needed to help all parties settle into the new reality.
Before committing to the “go live” event with all its attendant technical and business activities, two major checkpoints should be addressed:
Business readiness. The business has been told what to do and how to do it. But CAN they do it? While successful parallel processing will provide a high confidence level of system readiness, parallel processing is only a partial facsimile of real production and certain system or business functions may not have been truly tested due to unavoidable limitations in parallel. It is critical to determine if any items not explicitly tested can really be supported on Day 1 of production. Such items may have been addressed outside of parallel processing but this must be verified.
Production Risk. Inevitably some planned deliverables will be pushed into a “phase two” or “post-production” category. This may occur because those items are of lower priority or are not deemed particularly risky but may also occur due to political pressure, budget or resource constraints mandating a push to production by a hard date to signify project success. The project must have appropriate work-arounds and risk mitigation steps to manage post-production issues that may arise because of these deferred items.
By nature, radical change always introduces a level of risk. The ability to mitigate that risk upfront with organisational comprehension, controls and communication will differentiate between simply calling a project a success, and putting the organisation in a position for positive future growth, realising the full potential that the project was meant to deliver from the onset.
By Kevin Coffin, Managing Director, InvestTech Systems Consulting.