JEM Retail Consultants providing services in buying and merchandising, Programme Management, IT services and Logistics & Warehousing.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

First Do No Harm!

Maintaining customer service during the implementation of major change is vital to the lifeblood of your business so what steps should Project Managers take to safeguard business continuity?

Although there are many things to take into consideration when determining how to minimise risk - assessing the feasibility of parallel running for example - in my experience this usually comes down to the successful completion of 4 main activities:

The first is a comprehensive testing strategy that explains how the acceptance criteria established at the Initiation Stage will be met. Generically this is likely to break down into multiple phases, such as functional; user acceptance testing; integration and so on, with each phase breaking down into separate cycles.

There are no hard and fast rules for this, it depends on the nature of your implementation, but experience would suggest a few "Do's" and "Don'ts": Do have a formal approach to fault reporting / resolution as well as version control. Do not complete user acceptance testing using just your IT Team and / or super-users. They know how to make it work! Do complete every phase of the testing, including volume testing, irrespective of time pressure. Do not believe that it will be alright on the night. If it won't work in testing the chances of it working after go-live are remote.

Secondly there is the vital issue of end-user training. Surprisingly I have often found it difficult to gain full support for this within projects. I suspect this is partly from some degree of denial, but is mostly because getting people running the current business as usual operation released can be problematic. Failing to resource and deliver training adequately will, at best, delay benefits realisation and at worst can put the whole project delivery at risk.

The best approach to training will depend on the target audience but I've found that there is a lot to be said for "Tell me; Show me; Try me; Test me". This is on the grounds that when you tell people they will, hopefully, listen. If you show them they may understand. Let them practice and they'll remember and passing an assessment builds confidence. There is a lot to be said for repetition. I owe a lot to my friends at Training for Advancement (TFA) for helping me to develop and apply this approach in 4 separate projects to date.

Thirdly is the development of a robust cut over plan including multiple go / no-go points including detailed contingency planning. This plan may well cover a time period that starts well before the actual cut over event and needs to describe every task required to complete the cut over successfully. It defines the critical path for the implementation event and must be done comprehensively.

Lastly is the issue of support. It is almost inevitable that end users will initially lack confidence in the use of a new system and processes. At best they have been reduced to a state of conscious competence and are therefore having to think much more carefully about what they are doing and how they are doing it. Providing adequate support from the project team will establish the new operation as business as usual in the shortest possible timescale.

Some resistance to change is unavoidable and the attitude of any team towards the new ways of working will be greatly influenced by the number of problems they experience and how assured they feel in their own understanding. This can greatly affect the speed and degree with which the original project objectives are met, but at least as importantly it will determine the confidence and morale of your team.

Written by Mike Gamble: JEM Retail Consultants

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