5 Steps to a Successful Project Cutover Plan
The deployment plan, release, or implementation (cutover plan) is an essential part of Project Management. Implementation is the culmination of an information technology project and its planning must be rigorous and detailed to ensure positive outcomes. Here are the five key milestones.
- Plan project implementation as early as possible
Its high stakes mean that project implementation should begin as early as mid-point in the project. The most important considerations are the company’s business reality and to hold exploratory meetings with all involved teams, such as business affairs, technical, functional and implementation, to consider all possible strategies. Studying each team’s workflows will result in many questions being raised. Consider billing: When, in the month, should the billing cycle end? How should invoices be sent out, by mail, by email? The earlier these issues are dealt with, the fewer puzzles to solve on D-Day. The cutover date itself is subject to debate. Even more important than technical readiness, it depends on business cycles which absolutely must be considered. Is the best time to go live at the beginning of a fiscal year or during a slow period?
- Give business units adequate time for data conversion
Converting data is often the ‘big piece’ of the cutover puzzle. Depending on the volume of data to convert and on the project, this can take anywhere from a day to more than a month. In the case of billing, a key question to ask is whether the entire billing archive is to be converted, or only a section of it? If only a section, should the legacy system be kept? If so, for how long and who will have access to it? Finally, data conversion raises a myriad of questions that require considered thought on change management and often result in user training or, at least, well-targeted communications.
- Draft a comprehensive cutover plan
Whether using specialized software such as MS Project or a simpler Excel spreadsheet, it is essential that, approaching the critical cutover date, all tasks be broken down per team, per date, per hour, possibly even per minute. All information must be kept on an implementation dashboard, a true flight tool, that will also help during information sessions. Regularly scheduled, 15-minute stand-up meetings, to which the project’s proponents are invited, allow the detailed critical path to be shared and updated, as needed. During the last two weeks, it is very useful to send out daily updates to all stakeholders keeping them aware of that day’s activities.
- Test the deployment plan
In anticipation of the deployment, it is important to perform simulation exercises. A bit like a dress rehearsal before opening night, all steps in the plan are reviewed with the involved teams during meetings and before using a test environment. This way, no step is overlooked and outcomes are known. These reviews are also a chance to reveal project interdependencies, which often result in time and cost overruns. For example, if the billing module requires the latest version of Internet Explorer, it is useful to check where the Office team is in its own deployment.
- Be ready on D-Day
The cutover day has finally arrived. This day has been carefully planned, and so have the phases preceding and following deployment. For example, day, night and weekend deployment teams have been assigned and prepared. We also speak here of ‘Go, No-Go’ directives by decision makers. A green light may be given over the phone by a CEO or CFO at 3am, following several war room-type ‘crisis huddles’. Finally, several hours after release of the new system, a decision must be made to continue with the implementation or to fallback, before reaching the point of no return. The fallback option must have been previously conceived, detailed and practiced just as all other phases were. The highest degree of precision and anticipation involved in a cutover plan are essential for an implementation to go without a hitch. Once this phase is complete the final one begins, known as post-implementation support, and when well done concludes the project and assures its complete success.