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A Framework for Project Launch Decisions: To Go or Not to Go Live

Go, Wait or Stop Light

By Eileen Strider

Although everyone knows that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) system was not ready for prime time on the October 1 launch date, does anyone really know how the decision was made to go-live? Was it a conscious decision with full consideration of the readiness of the system or a de facto decision when October 1 arrived?  And closer to home, do you know how your project will decide if it’s ready to go-live when the planned go-live date arrives?

My project and IT management experience is that most people don’t believe that they could actually say “No, the system is not ready and should not go live on the scheduled date.”  Here are just a few reasons why:

–       I’ll be the only one to say no.

–       No one will listen to me anyway.

–       I’ll be blamed for the project’s failure.

–       I’ll be labeled “Not a Team Player”.

–       I don’t have the courage to say no.

Any or all of these may actually happen. If you watched the congressional hearings, you saw lots of finger-pointing and heard lots of blaming from all parties involved; none of which fixes the system problems.

You can avoid this scenario by using a straight-forward process for deciding to go live or not on the planned launch date.

Here are the steps in this process:

1. Establish Go-Live Criteria

Identify objective criteria that must be met for the project to successfully go live. Don’t say that everything must be complete; be very specific about what must absolutely be working properly at Go Live. Each project is unique, so your project’s criteria will be unique. Establish the criteria as soon as you know enough about the project to define success.  If you have a project charter, use it to identify success criteria. Add to the criteria when you know enough about what technically is needed for success. If you discover another success criteria later in the project, revise the criteria. Just don’t wait until the last minute to set the criteria.

The key to success on this step is involving the project’s business sponsor in this step.  The sponsor should approve the Go Live criteria and understand exactly how it will be used. Typically there are both functional and technical criteria identified. Depending on the nature of the project, there may also be regulatory and legal criteria.

Here are a few examples of typical go-live criteria, along with indicators for how you know that criteria have been met.

System Functionality: Critical parts of the system work as specified: Testing is the activity used to verify this criteria is met.  Specify exactly which testing must be completed such as user acceptance testing , performance tests in terms of response time, load tests, security tests, integration tests between the new system and legacy systems, data verification testing, etc.

Data Readiness: Data required to operate the system has been loaded and verified. If data conversion is involved, this has been completed and verified as accurate. Data conversion often requires a significant amount of data cleanup. If data in the new system is incomplete or inaccurate, a significant correction effort might be required after go-live. This can be extremely aggravating to users of the system. Report testing should be complete.

User Readiness: This may involve user training, new/revised business process training, user equipment, help screens, tutorials, documentation, etc.  Define exactly what must be complete, especially for critical users. By complete, I mean verifying that users have developed enough competency to use the system effectively and efficiently; not just that you’ve checked off that they attended training. If your users are the general public, be sure testing was performed by a sample of members of the public. Read more

Being Understood

by Wayne Strider

“Pay attention to what I mean, not what I say.” my father would sometimes say to me when I was a kid.  I did not know what to make of that. To me it appeared that sometimes he said what he meant, and sometimes he did not. My problem was I could not tell which was which.  On a good day I could get it right about half the time.  On a bad day I could not get it right at all.  As a youngster I was confused and frustrated by my apparent inability to understand what my father wanted.  I was equally frustrated that I could not seem to make myself understood. Though we never talked about it, my father probably did not feel understood by me. I certainly did not feel understood by him. As a result we were not very good together.  By that I mean he and I could not effectively do the work of creating the family we wanted to be, and though we enjoyed many happy moments together, we missed out on a lot of potentially satisfying experiences with one another.

What does my story have to do with project management?

The work of your project team is to create something of value together. The created value lies not just in the current product or service being built and delivered. There is also value in growing your team’s capability to effectively work together to build and deliver the next product, and the next, and so on. There are lots of aspects to “effectively work together.”  Some typical ones are roles, responsibilities, decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, clear lines of authority, assigning and tracking work, and communication.  All of these are facilitated by understanding one another.  When you and your team members feel understood by each other, the team is better able to do its work of creating such value. Read more

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