The deployment plan, release, or implementation (cutover plan) is an essential part of project management. Implementation is the culmination of an information technology project. How to ensure a positive outcome? With strategic, rigorous and detailed planning. Here are the five key milestones.
1 – Strategic planning deployment as early as possible
The stake of the commissioning is rather important. Project implementation planning should begin as early as mid-point in the project. Strategic planning must be done with the project teams (business, technical, functional and implementation) to consider all possible strategies. Studying each team’s workflows will result in many questions being raised. The most important considerations are the company’s business reality.
Consider billing. When, in the month, should the billing cycle end? How should invoices be sent out (mail, email)? Strategic planning of a cutover plan is also anticipating and answering all questions that could hinder deployment.
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?
2 – 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. It is something we need to consider when planning an implementation.
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? 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.
3 – Draft a comprehensive cutover plan
It is essential that approaching the critical cutover date, all tasks be broken down per team, per date, per hour, possibly even per minute. How? By using a specialized application like MS Project or a spreadsheet like Excel. It’s even more important as you get closer to the fateful date, the deployment date.
All information must be kept on an implementation dashboard, a true flight tool, that will also help during information sessions. We suggest to schedule regularly and quick 15-minute stand-up meetings. Allow in the project’s proponents. These meetings will help you illustrate the detailed plan, the strategic planning for the next steps.
The last two weeks of work on a project are the last few miles to complete, as a countdown. It is therefore very relevant to send daily updates to all stakeholders. This will keep them aware of that day’s activities. These updates should fit on one page and be easy to read. We aim for a quick understanding of the content.
4 – 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 deployment.
5 – Strategic Planning: 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 3 am, following several war room-type ‘crisis huddles’.
Finally, several hours after the 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.