A large transport and infrastructure company (6,000+ employees) decided to upgrade their ERP system, covering financial and HR systems. McCloud Consulting’s founders were responsible for project delivery and successfully led the upgrade.
The project generated an unusual number of challenges for our team:
- The PeopleSoft systems had been in place with the client for many years and had been customised many times. Numerous systems had been bolted on to the same platform. There was also a PeopleSoft portal in place.
- The HRMS and Finance systems were on different versions of the PeopleSoft platform, both tools and the user interface.
- The systems were running on Oracle database version 10g which had to be upgraded to version 11g on new hardware. In fact, the entire infrastructure had to be replaced with new hardware, including the database servers, application servers, process schedulers, data storage devices, backup and disaster recovery systems.
- Apart from the fact that a number of crucial business processes depended on interfaces with the ERP system, we were required to upgrade without disrupting any of more than 50 interfaces with 35 systems external to the ERP system. That didn’t include any of the interfaces internal to the ERP systems, including those with the bolt-on systems.
- The project team was given six months to design, build, test and roll out the upgrade of all PeopleSoft systems. The cut over was to take place during a normal 2-day weekend. The only disruption to business would be an outage starting on Friday afternoon and lasting until no later than 9am on Monday.
- The client wanted to control the cost of the upgrade and introduced a strict budget. The client expected to move a large portion of project risk to its contractors, meaning that large parts of contracts were arranged at fixed costs.
- Lastly, there was a large user base Australia-wide. While there were four large offices in the larger state capitals accounting for back-office and management staff, a large part of the user base worked out of more than 100 small and mostly remote locations. A large portion of the 6,000+ staff also had self-service access via kiosks and internet at home.
So, how do you get a project of this complexity and with so much pressure for time and budget to a successful conclusion?
McCloud Consulting understands that large, complex projects like this are primarily risk management exercises, and secondly need to deliver a high level of quality of work.
Risk management and mitigation are often seen as activities distracting from the task at hand: why not work hard on the technical issues instead? Of course, both are important, but risk should never be ignored. Rather than seeing risk management as an obstruction in the way of success, at McCloud Consulting we see it as a tool to ensure we reach successful delivery at a cost understood and agreed to by all stakeholders.
Before the project took off a number of risk workshops were conducted. In these workshops, stakeholders in both the client’s organisation and in the consulting organisations go through all their concerns. Risks are assigned to project management or to organisational stakeholders to propose mitigation strategies and then monitor status.
Costs are closely related to risk and a budget should include contingencies directly related to the potential of the risk materialising and the severity of the risk.
The project was delivered in time and against budget because this exercise in costing was conducted with risk as an important determining factor.
The People Factor
People influence the success of a project. The client’s organisation, as described above, was a challenging one. Not only because of the location of the user community, but also because almost every aspect of the organisation was affected by the upgrade the project had a high level of involvement from many internal stakeholders.
In an industry where employee relations are always handled carefully and where any issues with pay potentially become high profile problems, there was a particularly high level of anxiety surrounding the rostering, time and attendance and payroll systems. These systems were also very complex due to the fact that the organisation maintained close to 60 different industrial employee bargaining agreements, and several awards.
An important part of the project therefore was managing this people- related risk. This was done through programs such as:
- An extensive and timley communication program with parts of the organisation
- An online and face -to-face training program was developed and delivered
- An open and transparent stakeholder management plan
- Early user involvement in the testing process with a later wide ranging user acceptance test involving many users
Quality Team = Quality Result
Attracting the best people in the industry is important to realising a high level of quality of work, and that means enabling people to become empowered, highly motivated and pivotal members of the project team. McCloud Consulting’s people and culture values underpin the ability to build teams of this calibre.
In addition to precise planning, risk management and building a high performance team, quality assurance was an important aspect of the work. Quality management was achieved through implementation of a number of methodologies and testing was an important activity throughout the project.
Test, Test, Test
Testing is always an important way to prove quality and discover issues that require further work, and this project was no different. All the usual testing took place during all phases of the development of the upgrade: Unit, System, Integration and User Acceptance testing.
McCloud Consulting understands testing is not only important, it is also important to manage it efficiently. A testing strategy and plan are crucial and the appropriate test management and test systems need to be selected depending on the project. Using smart testing methodologies also means that costs and pressure on the organisation can be kept under control.
For this project, we hired testing professionals to ensure we reached this level of efficiency. User acceptance testing is very important to ensure the organisation is on board and there is sufficient confidence in the upgraded systems at go-live. The project involved almost 150 testers during the last cycle of user acceptance testing. During earlier system testing, super users from the business community started the familiarisation process early.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It can all go wrong at the transition phase shortly before, during and after go-live. The project team was extremely diligent to ensure this wouldn’t happen. The method to ensure this - practice, practice, and more practice - sounds simple, but it isn’t! There were six so-called dry-runs each designed to be a step closer to replicating the actual go-live weekend.
Each practice run involved many people within the project team: the infrastructure team, who carry out data conversions, data pumping, configuring servers and other equipment, the upgrade specialists, system owners and a test team (of subject matter experts). During the final practice, or dress rehearsal, even seemingly trivial tasks such as hotel bookings, meal provision, building access, back-up locations and communications with internal and external parties, were practiced.