This is the age old question that project managers and executives have struggled with for years. You don’t have to look any further than the local or national news to learn of events highlighting these struggles.
A relatively recent example centers on the system struggles that the federal and state governments faced supporting the enrollment of individuals into their health care coverages to comply with the new regulations. I’m sure you can recall the outrage and horror stories regarding problems people were running in to when trying to access the websites to enroll in the health care programs. There were long wait times for updates, error messages were popping up all over the place and in some instances you were even blocked from accessing the site. It took many more hours and significant cost overruns to ultimately solve these problems.
Were they really prepared for the rollout? Did they do enough testing? Were there political and/or financial pressures forcing the team to make decisions they may not have been ready to make?
What can we learn from this when deciding when to rollout a new system or enhancement? There are a number of things you can do that will help you make a more informed decision.
- Test, test and re-test. Don’t short change your testing cycles. Allow sufficient time to develop true business scenarios and use test environments which accurately represent your current applications. Implement test scenario tracking and defect monitoring processes. Work with the business to assess the impacts and agreed upon actions.
- Engage your stakeholders. This is not merely an IT decision. Work together with your stakeholders to develop an implementation plan that aligns with the needs of the business. Make sure your stakeholders have “skin in the game” and provide specific input about their operations. For example, highlight peak business cycles, timing with other product rollouts and/or regular system maintenance schedules.
- Over-communicate. More is better. This is not the time you want to “go dark” with your project. Provide regular status updates on the progress to plan, particularly as you get closer to the implementation date.
- Be courageous. “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” It’s very difficult to pull the plug on your implementation or to decide you’re not ready and must revise your plans. Partner with the business to establish agreed-upon criteria for success and validate your progress against these measures. Present the facts and your recommendations to your stakeholders and come to consensus on the next steps.
- Create a contingency plan. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Take time to consider all the things that could go wrong and how you could react to them. Develop a plan with your stakeholder addressing these worst case scenarios.