Thursday, 17 September 2015

Managing the cutover process for projects

Business applications and IT projects go through the life cycle of Requirements, Analysis, Development, Testing, UATs and the much awaited 'Cutover'. The countdown has begun. The team is on pins and needles. Management are equally anxious that things will go smoothly and there will be no adverse impact to the business due to snafus. It is the realization that this is the 'real deal'. Have all the "i's" been dotted and the "t's" been crossed? Will everything work fine? Is there a backup plan, in case things go wrong?

This process can be made a lot smoother with a proper, structured approach, visibility of communication amongst all the team members and management and some automation.

Importance to the Business

Most of the time, the cutover process is mission critical to the business. A botched roll out can adversely affect the business. There have been many instances where a rollout of a new application directly impacted the ability of a company to book orders, or the crash of infrastructure to handle the web traffic to coincide with the launch of a new product. Imagine if the go-live has to be rescheduled! More money has to be spent on resources, missing the opportunity of time to market and a hit to team morale.

What are the Challenges?

It is worthwhile to consider the example of Air Traffic Control (ATC). The ATC is in constant communication with the aircraft that are landing or taking off. Updated information about the location, speed and altitude are in real-time, which are displayed prominently. At any given moment, the radar screen provides a visual image of the actual situation and the ATC can take proactive decisions in requesting aircraft to change altitude, speed etc. to prevent a disaster. It is an interesting thought exercise to imagine what if the ATC were to collate information based on second-hand input in a manual mode or in spreadsheets?


Why then are many projects allowed to have second hand inputs on the status that get collated in spreadsheets, email chains, endless conference calls and meetings? More often than not, the responses are reactive to surprises that get uncovered. Communication and getting everyone on the same page is equally challenging.

How to go about the process?

Broadly, the cutover process can be divided into three phases:

  1. Pre-Migration
  2. Migration/ Cut over/ Go-Live
  3. Post-Migration/ Hyper Care

Pre-Migration:

During this phase, it is important for the team and project managers to get a handle on Risks, Actions, Issues and Dependencies - RAID. Often companies refer to this list as the RAID Log and monitor updates to each line item.


A countdown plan is a dry run and helps in organizing the sequence of tasks that will be needed to be performed during the actual go-live. The communication plan should also be given thought.

Migration:

A Run-book with all the workflows and tasks to be performed acts like a checklist. When these tasks are performed, the status gets updated and communicated. It is also helpful when the person waiting to perform the subsequent task is aware of the completion of the prior task(s).


Post-Migration:

This phase involves planning on how to deal with the problems that have arisen from the migration. There is need to track the issues with their priority and resolve them in a timely fashion, till the application reaches a steady, stable state.


Using Colabus for Managing Cutover

Colabus helps teams to be efficient and effective through automation, task and workflow management, collaboration and communication for the cutover process. Concepts of the agile methodology can be extended for use in the cutover process with remarkable outcomes. With an easy to use visual method and the ability to collect metadata around project artifacts, Colabus facilitates everyone on the project team to be on the same page, even if they are geographically dispersed. It is easier for the project manager or executives to take proactive decisions and ensure the go-live is on target.


Colabus is like the ATC for managing the cutover process. The mix of people involved in this process, from consultants, IT, business users, project managers and upper management need an easy to use, reliable, real time collaboration system. Efficient collaboration can be the difference for a smooth and successful project delivery, making a real impact to the business.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Bringing Agility to Unstructured and Semi-Structured Processes

In any business environment there are processes that follow a set pattern or flow. These are structured processes that are done repeatedly and are more transactional in nature. Most companies use ERPs or other packaged software to handle these. However, there are nearly an equal number of processes that are loosely structured and are more ad-hoc in nature. These are the semi-structured and unstructured processes. Wonder what they may be? How many times have things been emailed back and forth with attachments of Excel, Word, PowerPoint, PDF documents etc.?


There doesn't seem to be a way to 'structure' these unstructured and semi-structured processes. The information is scattered around in various silos, repositories and emails and necessitates a search for constructing the whole picture. As companies are grappling with their digital transformation strategy, it is becoming necessary to include customers and vendors as part of their business processes to better react to market needs.

Let's look at some of the challenges in dealing with these semi-structured and unstructured processes. For the products and services of today, there is increasing complexity and increased channels that transcend departmental/ business unit/ company boundaries. Most of the solutions adopted are sub-optimal and lack agility. There is poor insight into the work process and non-integrated sources of information. This leads to bottlenecks and information blackouts. The volume and velocity of information is growing and is causing information overload. Another key, yet often overlooked aspect is the shrinking of critical expertise and knowledge atrophy with the turnover in personnel. How can the company retain the institutional knowledge of these processes?

In order to deliver a better customer experience, react quickly to crises and business opportunities, new regulations and audit requirements; business needs the ability to handle people driven process in an agile manner. It typically takes 1 - 2 months for an overworked IT department to come up with solutions to modify existing business processes. How can one integrate multi-channel communication for information governance and un-integrated tasks? Can there be solutions that can be rapidly deployed, with low overhead of maintenance and less reliance on IT? With millennial generation entering the workforce, work styles have evolved to be more reliant on social collaboration networks and mobility.

Creating dynamic workflows, integrated multi-channel communication and messaging, centralized content access and the capability to use Lean, Six-Sigma, Kanban and Agile type project management methods, coupled with social collaboration, mobile capability, ease of use and the ability for business to make changes without reliance on IT will enable companies to bring agility to their unstructured and semi-structured processes.