On target: how to ensure successful project deployment

October 25, 2018 by Andrew Lomas

Creative Folks blog 5

It’s been a long journey, but your content process transformation project is almost ready for go-live. Read on to discover the seven keys to successfully deploying the new tools and processes.

Congratulations! Thanks to all of your hard work you’re knocking on deployment’s door.

But you’re not there yet. You may recall we made a big song and dance about planning in the first post in this series, and we’re going to hammer the point again: a comprehensive and transparent execution plan is essential.

So bearing that in mind, here are our seven keys to a successful deployment:

  1. Invest in quality change management.
  2. Execute structured training and reinforcement.
  3. Run a pilot no matter how confident you are.
  4. Present an honest assessment of the pilot to sponsors.
  5. Go live with a low-risk deployment group.
  6. Assess phase one, deploy to rest of the business.
  7. Don't abandon the project after it closes.

 

1. Invest in quality change management

Remember all of that consultation and momentum-building you did early on? That’s the foundation of a good change management program. But now that the project has moved into the implementation phase you should put a change manager in place to manage expectations, handle messaging and deal with feedback. In other words: the “people stuff”.

The Project Management Institute has a good primer on effective change management practices, but from our experience these are some of the dos and dont’s:

    1. Communicate a vision and a “brand” identity. Make sure the staff understand why the change is needed and link it to a clear brand identity like a project name and logo.
    2. Appoint change champions. Identify enthusiastic staff members and use them to help facilitate change. Include them in planning, testing and writing training programs.
    3. Change management must be part of project planning. Change managers understand the needs of end users so they must be in the room when planning decisions are made. 
    4. Listen to the whispers. You’ll invariably learn more about what people are really thinking about the project from the cafe next door than in formal communications. 
    5. Be wary of the bean-counters. If project sponsors start getting skittish about costs change management can suddenly become a “nice to have”. Don’t let that happen.

 

2. Execute structured training and reinforcement

The importance of an effective training program cannot be overstated. Training is the primary contact point between the project and the end users, so it’s not just about giving them the skills they need – it’s also a great opportunity to win hearts and minds.

Here are a few things to consider when planning your training program.

    1. Timing is everything. Train each deployment group as close as possible to their go-live date. The longer the time between training and roll-out the more they’ll forget.
    2. Don’t undercook it. Take the time, spend the money. Hire a professional trainer, produce comprehensive training manuals and guides and use a dedicated training space.
    3. Validate the program with your change champions. No one is better placed to understand what their teams will need.
    4. Make it realistic. Use real content in a training environment that replicates the live environment as closely as possible. And follow the intended workflow to the letter.
    5. Gather feedback. You’re bound to get a lot of informal feedback so have someone in the room ready to document this. Record the session so you can refer back to it later.
    6. Reinforce the vision. Be sure that your trainer links each phase of the program back to the project goals.
    7. Don’t overlook new staff. Have a process in place to on-board staff who arrive during or after the project.

 

3. Run a pilot no matter how confident you are

A good pilot – a small-scale deployment within a controlled environment – will help you identify issues that didn’t crop up during testing, validate the seriousness of any previously identified issues and identify any requirements that were not previously surfaced.

Here’s some advice on how to run a pilot:

    1. Agree on what success looks like. Make sure you have clear and transparent objectives and that all staff involved understand what is expected of them.
    2. Use real content in an end-to-end workflow. Run a full campaign or content cycle – don’t just cherry-pick portions of the workflow.
    3. Ensure project deployment staff are in-room at all times. An appropriate number of roll-out resources must be made available.
    4. Involve the change champions. Ensure they feel empowered to represent their team to the project and provide assistance to their colleagues.
    5. Validate with user test cases. You will have completed user acceptance testing before the pilot phase so revisit those test cases.
    6. Include performance testing. Identify potential problems with network speeds, operating systems and hardware specs.
    7. Document everything. From specific bugs to generalised feedback, track it all to ensure resolution and provide feedback to the vendor.

4. Present an honest assessment of the pilot to sponsors

This marks a crucial point in the life of your content process transformation project. Based on what you found during the pilot phase, the business will likely make a go/no-go decision.

First, consolidate the results from the pilot and have an honest review. Did you fail any test cases? Did you meet your objectives? What’s the general feedback? Identify what modifications are required, how long they will take and whether that has an impact on timelines.

Once the project team has come to a determination – good news or bad – you should present it to the sponsors and communicate the outcome and next steps to the wider business. In the event of a no-go decision, be prepared to do another iteration of the pilot and review phase and reschedule the deployment phases accordingly.

 

5. Go live with a low-risk deployment group

For the first go-live group we recommend choosing a small, self-contained and enthusiastic team – preferably one containing an excellent change champion and staff with a high skill level. Here are some more go-live pointers:

  1. Scheduling is crucial. Balancing competing interests while ensuring the project remains on track is one of the hardest parts of any project.
  2. Communicate. No one should have any excuse for not knowing when their team is scheduled to go live. Emails, company intranet, posters, meetings, flyers – go hard or don’t go at all.
  3. Build in some fat. Something you can rely on with projects: things always take longer than you’d like.
  4. Be available at all times. Ensure there are sufficient in-room resources and commit to a clear support agreement that includes after-hours assistance.
  5. Stagger the deployment. Phase the deployment within each team. For example, migrate content creators in week one, designers in week two and digital editors in week three.
  6. Gather feedback and log bugs. Capture and log centrally.

 

6. Assess phase one, deploy to rest of the business

You should have built in a little fat at the end of the first deployment tranche to give the project team time to assess success. Here are some of the questions you should be asking:

    1. Are any of the newly discovered bugs potential blockers? If so, how quickly can they be fixed?
    2. What took longer or less time than you expected? If these differences are material consider the impact on the schedule.
    3. Were any training weaknesses revealed? If so, feed that back to the trainer accordingly.
    4. What was the user response? Do they see how the new systems and processes will help? If not, does that suggest a weakness within the change management program?
    5. Did the pilot deliver on the expected outcomes? Did it save time, reduce costs, remove steps or expand the capability and capacity of the team?
    6. What can be done to improve uptake more quickly? Did any strategies emerge that will make the remainder of the deployment phase more effective?

 

7. Don't abandon the project after it closes

By the end of a project many businesses are relieved that it’s over and grateful that they don’t have to spend any more money. Unfortunately this means they sometimes skip essential post-implementation actions.

For one thing, you should undertake a post-implementation review. A PIR, which often takes the form of a survey, provides an assessment to the business of the overall success of the project and identifies areas that may require further attention going forward. Communicate back to staff the results of the review being specific about how the change is – hopefully – already bearing fruit and what work remains.

The PIR feeds into the continuous improvement program, which ensures the tools and processes are being correctly utilised and keeps the vision alive. This includes ensuring that all new staff are trained as part of onboarding, preventing the transmission of bad habits.

Change can be hard to bed in, so reinforcement is paramount. If you abandon the project once the final deployment phase is complete, you risk undoing everything.

 

Conclusion

Projects live and die on the consistency of their vision. That’s why it’s crucial to keep everyone’s eye on the prize.

That starts with comprehensive change management and training programs to ensure users know what’s expected of them and have the necessary skills. Then, run a pilot phase, followed by a critical and honest assessment of its success which you should present to the project sponsor.

If you get the green light, begin a phased deployment to a small group, and slowly build up to larger teams as the bugs and kinks are ironed out. And when the final deployment phase is complete, move straight into your post-implementation actions to bed in the new systems and processes and ensure ongoing enforcement and improvement.

Not all businesses get change right, and there will be times, even when you’re happy with the outcome, when you’ll wonder whether it was worth the effort. But with a clear vision, a comprehensive plan, and a transparent and inclusive execution, you’ll have given the project every chance to succeed.

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Filed Under: : change management, content process transformation, project deployment

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