The things we know

I'm impressed by what people accomplish with tools like Excel, Macros, and some no-code automation. Recently, my DevOps team and I had the opportunity to support a project that aimed to replace such an existing, purely hand-built logistics solution with a custom-built system.

The company hired experts with lots of prior experience in such projects. Those experts made project plans, designed interfaces, created road maps. Then everyone went to work. As projects are want to do, this one blew away early estimations and went quite a bit over the time budget. Pressure mounted and corners were cut.

It was a wild ride. The team tried to roll out the new system all at once, and it was a complete and utter disaster. They attempted and failed with several roll-outs and ultimately had to roll everything back. It was a humbling experience and a valuable lesson.

When we approach the implementation of such big projects, a phased roll-out is key.

First and foremost, it's essential to start with a thorough analysis of the current system. Understand its limitations and the pain points that the users are facing. Instead the experts fell victim to the law of the instrument: they approached the project with previous solutions already in mind.

The things we know that just ain't so.

(not) Mark Twain

Involve the users and stakeholders in defining the requirements for the new system. Ask them where their biggest needs and problems lie. This way, you'll have a clear understanding of what the new system needs.

Next, instead of trying to replace everything at once, start with a small set of functionalities. Then gradually expand as you gain confidence in the new system. This minimizes the risk of failure and allows you to stay agile.

Moreover, it's crucial to have a robust testing and validation process to catch and fix issues before they surface in production. And, a proper training and communication plan should be in place. It is key to helping the end users to be prepared and using the new system efficiently.

Salvaging the situation

In the wake of the rollback, I sat down with some stakeholders to really listen to what they need. We found that one capability was completely missing from the current system: Automated handling of returns. Gaps like this are the obvious first step for a phased roll-out. As there is no component to replace, the risk is minimal and even small improvements would pay off. It is also the last step in our workflow. For the phased approach, we could back-track, working our way us until we have everything covered.

In summary, when it comes to big projects implementation, a phased roll-out approach is key. Starting with a specific functionality that addresses a specific pain point minimizes the risk of disruption to existing business operations and allows for adjustments to be made as needed. Additionally, you need a robust testing and validation process, along with proper training and communication plan, to ensure the success of the new system.