Technical Requirements and Business Objectives
The implementation phase of new software and systems tends to focus on technical issues and the need to keep any downtime during cut-over and bedding-in to an absolute minimum.
The single most important factor influencing technical success is testing. The principle is clear: organisations can never do too much testing, and testing with their own test data. In practice, demands and constraints of business as usual activity means that the amount of testing done is rarely ideal. Commercial reality often dictates that the amount of testing is sufficient rather being fully comprehensive. As a project manager I am sensitive to this and I try to achieve agreement with stakeholders about what ‘sufficient’ testing means beforehand and ensure that this is done.
Another important factor influencing implementation success is the go-live countdown planning. Drawing up an hour-by-hour schedule, with tasks defined and allocated is good practice and one I like to follow.
Ultimately overall success of the new software project can only be determined over a longer time period, when it should be clear whether the new software has helped achieve specific commercial benefit to the business. These objectives should be drawn up and agreed during the early stages of project planning. It is no longer a surprise to me that senior executives can have trouble articulating this, so I help them visualise what it is the new software achieve and how this can be mapped to business goals.
E-commerce (B2C and B2B), SME
This project required changing suppliers of both Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B) ordering portals.
For the B2C side of the business, the emphasis was definitely on securing the right technical installation and cut-over of the new ordering portal. Online consumers are now used to their ordering interface changing incrementally over time but are much less forgiving of any downtime. Downtime was kept to a minimum by liasing closely with the incumbent and new supplier, with everyone following a clear timetable of events.
The B2B side required that end users had a much more prominent part to play in system design and implementation. Any downtime was advertised well in advance so that users could place and manage orders to maintain their inventory.
A considerable amount of time was also spent working with some key end user organisations on acceptance testing, which related to both the end user experience and the procedures supporting orders and invoicing. I ran this as a separate project as part of the system change. User acceptance testing was therefore subject to pre-defined standards in terms of data quality, volume of throughput and invoice scheduling. The testing itself was also time-boxed, with an end-date for completion agreed with the customers, followed by the go-live schedule.
Large International Law Firm
The aim of this project was to upgrade the law firm’s practice management system (PMS). This was quite an undertaking, with a considerable degree of formal governance required. A joint project board was set-up, made up of senior management (director level) of the law firm and the supplier organisation. I was the project manager acting for the supplier organisation and for the purpose of this project I reported to the project board – something akin to a Prince II approach.
I supplied the project board with progress update reports (hardcopy and verbally) and worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders: law firm project managers, finance staff, IT staff and lawyers; third party technical suppliers and staff from the supplier organisation itself.
A lot of planning went into this project and I particularly enjoyed working alongside the law firm’s project management staff. We jointly devised test plans, covering all aspects of the implementation from technical infrastructure support to end-user operation. As part of the test planning we were able to pilot test the software at one of the firm’s offices, with fee earners using the time recording element of the software live for a day (with time records then being copied over to the live system after pilot testing). In the run-up to go live we devised several fall-back plans, each catering for different scenarios.
In the event none of the fall-back plans were needed as live implementation went smoothly. The commercial benefits of the new system soon became apparent to the law firm, especially regarding electronic time recording. Lawyers were recording their time more accurately and in real-time. This in turn meant that law firm billing became more accurate and more regular (with an increase of interim bills issued to clients) which greatly helped the firm’s cash flow.