By: Beth Yiznitsky, Consultant
Would you consider launching a new product or process without first conducting end-to-end technology testing? Probably not. It just makes sense to ensure the technology is fully functioning and working as expected before launching into production.
So, why wouldn’t you similarly test your people and processes before go-live? Most organizations do not consider validating their operational readiness as a critical activity before going live, particularly when the program is significant enough to warrant the extra layer of validation, such as when an organization is looking to:
• Change its operating model
• Add a new distribution channel
• Bring on a new external partner
• And many other types of change that organization’s today must undergo regularly
• …no one is monitoring that new shared email box and items are coming in but not being worked?
• …your training materials do not cover what to do in a particular situation and call center reps are unable to address customer questions?
• …end users do not have access to key system functions and are therefore unable to receive or complete their work?
When launching any program that requires significant change, conducting an Operational Simulation exercise is critical to position your people and processes for success.
What is Operational Simulation?
Operational Simulation is a best practice that goes beyond technology testing to validate that your program’s operational processes, procedures, controls, and people are prepared and positioned for success before going live with a project or program, particularly one that involves significant change. The exercise’s primary objective is to test the operational teams, both internal and external. Those are the teams that will support the business and ultimately lead to the success or failure of the program’s objectives.
The exercise is meant to mimic production, in all aspects, as closely as possible. Ideally done after end-to-end testing is complete, the exercise is a final opportunity to prepare prior to go-live. During the exercise, and while relying on their training and the reference materials available to them, the operational teams do the following as they would in production:
• Communicate and pass work within and among the teams
• Utilize new phone lines and email boxes
• Consult reference or training materials
• Troubleshoot issues or gaps
At the end of the exercise, you’ll have answered the following questions:
1. Can the operational teams and surrounding infrastructure handle “happy path” or “run of the mill” scenarios at anticipated volumes? An example of this would be issuing new business or handling post-issue transactions.
2. Can the operational teams and surrounding infrastructure handle complex or high-risk scenarios as they arise? An example of this would be handling escalations or complaints.
3. Are we able to scale our operations as volumes spike?
What is an Operational Simulation not?
For all the wonders that an Operational Simulation exercise can bring, it is not a replacement for key milestones typically seen in project execution.
• It is not a replacement for robust, end-to-end testing. While technology is a component of the exercise, the validation focused on the readiness of your program’s people and processes. An Operational Simulation is most valuable when done after the technology is in place and deemed to be ready for go-live.
• It is not a replacement for training or other onboarding activities. During the exercise, the operational teams are meant to operate as they will on day one of your future state. While the exercise may expose gaps in training or reference materials that need to be addressed, everyone should be fully equipped and trained prior to the exercise. Otherwise, how will you know your training was successful?
So, what’s the real value of an Operational Simulation exercise?
Remember the three questions that the simulation seeks to answer – about validating the organization’s ability to handle happy path scenarios, complex/high-risk scenarios, and scaled volumes?
Even if the answer to any of the above questions turns out to be “no”, your organization is better positioned than it would have been if the gaps were not raised until after go-live.
• By exposing gaps, identifying the impact, and developing a plan to address those gaps, you will instill a higher level of confidence for internal stakeholders and external partners
• By running through and validating processes and controls, you will reduce risk
• By giving employees the opportunities to flex their training and knowledge, you will improve employee experience and bolster employee’s confidence to be successful in a “new” environment
• By including end-users and soliciting feedback, you will enhance advisor and agent experience
• By doing all of the above, you will improve customer experience
Bottom line: Operational Simulation is not meant to run smoothly. Running the simulation equips your team to proactively expose and address gaps prior to launch. Every gap exposed during these activities is a gap that likely would have been found in production – and in production, the impact is always more substantial.