Regardless of your role within a company, you’ll have to deal with software updates and changeovers as your organization continues to keep up with the latest technology. Sometimes it seems like software and interfaces change every few months — and as soon as you get used to the most recent version, there’s something new to learn. Not everyone will embrace the changes, either. Some will hesitate to transition and want to stick to legacy versions rather than learn the ins and outs of the new design. Others will worry that the new platform will not support day-to-day operations as intended or make work even harder to do — and that’s a valid concern.
Is there a chance that your company could implement a new piece of software and it just won’t work? It’s definitely less likely if you do your homework first.
As a business analyst, I’ve helped clients around the globe prepare for and execute go-live initiatives for enterprise resources planning, advanced planning and scheduling, and warehouse management systems (WMSs). Throughout the course of many projects, I’ve learned that a successful go-live — the day the organization flips on the switch — requires months or even years of preparation.
Plan and pilot
No matter how much we try to simulate real-world scenarios in testing, the limited testing data and scenarios will deviate from real situations, at least to some extent. This means there’s still a risk of go-live day being challenging, to say the least. Users will undoubtedly encounter some issues that were not previously uncovered. If they are large enough, they could slow down or stop business — an interruption most companies can’t afford.
The best course of action is to do a pilot test before going live. Similar to beta testing, pilot testing essentially rolls out the new tool for certain users or business units to see how the new system affects day-to-day operations. Alternatively, if a company is launching a new supplier relationship portal, the solution could first be introduced to a few trusted suppliers or even a few internal suppliers who can help ensure that all parts of the application are working well. This way, if there are challenges, any interruptions will be limited in scope.
Pilot tests are a simple, effective and proven solution for mitigating go-live risks, and their relevance only increases as the uncertainty and complexity presented by the adoption of new technology also goes up. The goal is to uncover process gaps, system issues and other user challenges, and then address them before the solution is launched for all users. This is especially critical for high-impact technology solutions that influence the majority of an organization or are intended to deliver a key competitive advantage.
For example, one of my clients, a leading manufacturer and distributor of construction-related products, was looking to transition from its paper-based warehouse operations to a radio frequency identification-enabled WMS at one of its plants So, we chose to conduct a pilot test for this drastic shift in operations. We recruited an internal customer and a trusted supplier for the pilot test and funneled all of their orders through the new WMS to ensure that the system was properly configured to handle business needs and to teach some of the internal stakeholders how to conduct their operations using the new technology.
The exercise proved to be very useful for the organization and the project team. It provided warehouse users end-to-end exposure to all the processes. More importantly, the testers uncovered some technical issues. Because only a couple of small business areas were affected by the test, we were able to take our time and fix the issues properly. After a three-week pilot test, my client was able to smoothly expand the new system to cover all of its customers and suppliers.
Technology changes are not always easy, but they certainly become easier when you plan for them and test out the new solution before completely making the switch. And once you have an effective go-live strategy, you’ll be better prepared to handle the steady stream of technology updates that undoubtedly lie ahead.