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Project Readiness

Complex Projects are more treacherous than you realize.  70% of them fail.

You can ensure yours will succeed. Project Readiness is a game changer.

How can Project Readiness help?

Once your software vendor arrives, you are off to the races, with tons of design questions to answer, tons of data to produce, tons of deadlines to meet.  You will have no time to do the difficult heavy lifting of research to ensure that you design the best system to meet your future needs.

Why Prepare?

  • 70% of complex projects fail, most having not done due diligence preparation
  • Your team is already overloaded with their day job, and now you’re about to give them an additional full-time job
  • You need to deep dive into your current system configuration and your business requirements, understanding why decisions were made 30 years ago at your last implementation, so that you can make better decisions with this new system
  • You need to be as ready as possible for the onslaught of vendor design questions
  • The unfortunate norm is to “Lift and Shift” – to just take your current system design and dirty data and cram it into the new shiny system.  This will not prepare you for the future!

How to know if your project is “Complex”

There is a huge difficulty gap between standard projects and projects that are defined as “complex”.  If several of the following factors are true of your project, then it is complex, and you should take extra care to prepare.

Factors that make a project Complex
  • Your organization is multi-company, and multiple of your companies are impacted by the system
  • Multiple companies involved in the work (e.g., vendor and customer, multiple vendors)
  • Multiple departments are involved in the work or will use the system
  • Your organization has high IT / QA standards
  • The project will cost $1M or more (with complexity exponentially growing with orders of magnitude)
  • Your system environment will have Dev vs. Test vs. Prod environments
  • Your project team hasn’t worked together previously
  • The project has senior leadership visibility
  • Team members are new to complex projects

7 Steps for Project Readiness

  1. Assess environment for a complex project
  2. Identify excellent, experienced project manager
  3. Gather clear and complete requirements

  1. Gather clear and complete requirements
  2. Prepare Current State documentation
  3. Dig into the most difficult processes
  4. Analyze processes

1. Assess environment for a complex project

Every company, every leader is different.  Some companies run many projects, some few.  Some companies require much project rigor, some run projects by the seat of their pants.  Some leaders want to stay informed on the details, some want no information until the deadlines are near.

Projects can succeed in most any environment, but it is important to know what your particular project is going to face.  To define your project and know what you need to do to succeed, determine these four factors:

  1. Is your project manager going to have high authority?  Or is the project manager not going to be equipped to make many decisions?
  2. Do you have few or numerous complex business requirements?
  3. Are your stakeholders unified on the project vision?  Or is there much contention about the direction the project should take?
  4. In general, will this project be large or small?

Download our Project Environmental Assessment to help know specific success steps to take, depending on the four above factors.  The download is free with your contact information.  You will receive an email with the download and be added to our customer system.  We do not sell or share customer data with third parties for any reason.

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2. Identify excellent, experienced Project Manager

Studies show that the primary reason that complex projects fail is due to an inexperienced Project Manager.  The number of balls that must be kept in the air on complex projects far exceeds the same for standard projects.  Also, the difficulty of problems that occur and the number and difficulty of communication exponentially increases for complex projects.  Only high quality, experienced Project Managers can handle the heavy lift of running these type of projects.

If your project is complex…

  • Ensure the Project Manager has had multiple successes running complex projects (not just standard projects)
  • Involve the Project Manager from project inception

3. Gather Business Requirements

Clear, detailed, and complete business requirements are difficult to gather.  Business requirements need to be:

  • Clear – remove any vagueness.  If two people reading the requirement could envision two different answers, the requirement needs to be more clear.
  • Detailed – the details of any requirement will have to be defined at some point during a project.  The more detailed you can be upfront, the more time you will save once the vendor has turned on the billing meter.
  • Complete – incomplete requirements cause significant scope change, increased cost, and rework.

The vendor assumes that you have already completed these business requirements prior to project start.  If you have not, you will be lagging behind from the start of the project.

To gather these business requirements,

  1. Interview everyone possible, including leadership
  2. Dig deeper – during interviews, look for descriptions where someone may be glossing over hidden complexities, and ask more questions
  3. Learn the gaps of your current system and build requirements around the future needs

4. Select an Ideal Core Project Team

System conversion projects create the way your company will run its business for many years to come.  Therefore, you must have your best people on projects.  They must be the people with the most knowledge of current systems, integrations, and processes.  They also must be the most energetic about change!  Complex projects are long and difficult, and it is easy to get discouraged with the workload and pace of change.  If core team members come to the project resistant to change, they will likely not survive the project.

Steps for Selecting an Ideal Core Project Team
  • Backfill your key people prior to project start, transferring knowledge before the project begins
    • They’re lives are about to get very hard
    • Make it as doable for them as possible
    • Even with transferred workload, they will still serve as the “answer man” on day-to-day activities, so they will essentially have 2 full-time jobs; and it’s even worse if you haven’t provided them some resource relief
  • Place a skeptic on the team
    • The skeptic looks for gaps and out of sync understanding
    • Challenging and questioning decisions makes for better decisions
  • Unify the team
    • TAC4 trains teams on and enforces our Nine Ground Rules for Cohesive Team Behavior (R) to ensure constructive conflict throughout the project
    • TAC4 facilitates the team in creating a Project Echo (our Why, core values, and guiding principles, and we use this Echo to make every project decision
  • Define project governance
    • Define how decisions will be made (e.g., who has authority to make what kinds of decisions)
    • Knowing that we will encounter thousands of disagreements on the project, determine upfront how will resolve these potential conflicts

Download our Nine Ground Rules for Cohesive Team Behavior (R) flyer to begin changing your team’s dynamics into a solutions-oriented machine.    The download is free with your contact information.  You will receive an email with the download and be added to our customer system.  We do not sell or share customer data with third parties for any reason.

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5. Prepare Current State Documentation

You can’t get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you are!

Current State documentation consists of accurate diagrams and data flows of your existing systems.  The diagrams should contain all integration points, with frequency, data types, level of detail, and direction of data flow.  The diagram should have an accompanying description of each box (system) and arrow (integration).

These diagrams are more difficult to build than expected, as the integrations are often old, and developers who wrote them may no longer be with the company.  Getting clarity and accuracy in these documents is essential, so that design decisions can be made based on facts and not speculation or faulty memory.

In order to ensure diagram accuracy, iterate until you have cross-departmental agreement.

Once completed, these Current State documents bring quick and necessary context to design discussions.

There is no time to build these documents once the vendor arrives, so this preparation is critical prior to the project.

6. Dig into the most difficult processes

For most system conversions, there are a handful of processes that are the “big rocks” – the most difficult and crucial components of the system to design.  As with most of the project readiness tips herein, there will be no time to dig deep into these difficult components once the vendor arrives.  Therefore, it is crucial to gain a solid grasp on most of the details (wherein the devil lies) prior to project start.

For example, in a general ledger system conversion, these most difficult components will likely be:

  • Restructuring the chart of accounts
  • Allocations

Vendors typically ask for your current chart of accounts to load into the new system.  Without prior preparation, you will just do a “lift and shift”, loading outdated accounts into a new shiny system.  Worse yet, your existing chart of accounts was likely built 30 years ago and does not adequately serve your future needs.  You may need new dimensions for reporting enhancements.  You want to break out accounts as detailed and as summarized as needed:

  • More detail for reporting
  • Less detail for ease of entry

It is difficult and important to find the balance and to ensure cross-company acceptance.

Allocations (especially for complicated industries such as insurance and utilities) are often extremely complex, with intricate layers, large datasets, and difficult logic.  Knowing your existing allocations is crucial, so that you understand the reasons those allocations were written (again, likely 30 years ago).  Some may no longer be needed.  Some may have significant gaps or changes based on your current/future needs.

Project readiness on these most difficult system components can easily be the lynchpin that turns the project into a success.

7. Analyze Processes

In any system, there are many business processes built into the underbelly of the system.  Additionally, over time, many manual processes typically are created around the system to fill in for gaps of functionality.

For example, some of the processes in a general ledger system are workflows, approvals (with thresholds), manual calculations (usually in spreadsheets), manual journals, notifications, expense reports, etc.

The temptation in any system conversion is to simply replicate what we are doing today in the new system.  However, new systems usually have many new features that can accommodate automation of those former manual calculations and processes.  System conversion is the perfect time to analyze existing processes for efficiency.  The first step of that analysis is to document existing processes.

For a general ledger conversion, TAC4 suggests documenting any process that touches 2 or more people or is significantly complex.  Document processes in all areas of financials, including:

  • Expense reports
  • Supplier invoices
  • Journals (especially including the work papers leading to the journal)
  • Cash settlements
  • Fixed assets
  • Integrations
  • Security
  • Budgets