Doug Norton_150

COMMENTARY

5 keys to successful projects

Winning enterprise-wide government contracts is no easy feat, but when you do win it is critical to capture lessons learned. In many cases organizations are part of a larger team that typically includes a mix of products and services that must be delivered in an integrated manner. When managing an enterprise-wide government program there are many things that can be done to ensure success. Here are five lessons learned from my experience:

Keep your eyes and ears open
Typically there are all kinds of different personalities and geographical and structural logistics involved. To maximize value for the customer, you should continually conduct assessments of future users to get a strong read on expectations. Establishing a total awareness of how the solution will look and feel with respect to the user experience is critical. The more they know about what they’re going to get before they get it, the better they will adjust once it’s there.

You should also be cognizant of bottlenecks users have run into in the past, and try to make sure those are not repeated. You discover what pain points exist – and really understand those intricacies – before moving forward.

One of the larger challenges we faced in a recent enterprise deployment is that each site location was used to conducting their own business, setting their own standards and meeting site-specific requirements. Part of deploying the solution for this customer is to bring cohesion and unity for users and administrators across the enterprise.

Keep your vendors involved as well. Read their white papers and product reports. Allow them to visit on site while the work is getting done to gain their input. The only way they can help you (and the customer) is for them to have a hands-on understanding of the whole solution.

Steady as you go
For a complex undertaking like this, you don’t want pedal to the floor activity periods and then others that are fairly quiet. That’s when you end up needing 30 hands on deck one week and then just three the next. It simply isn’t a good work model for large enterprise and international deployments. So it is critical to pace enterprise deployments with very even-keeled, consistent workloads, to make the best use of everyone’s time, resources and investment.

Another important task is requirements gathering from the customer and understanding those requirements. The customer provides their requirements; we, in turn, provide them with a design that meets those requirements. This precipitates changes within the deployment plan as well as on-site to account for all design requirements.

Both of these tasks take a fair share of pre-project planning, but it’s worth it. Otherwise, you’re spending an enormous amount of time coordinating on the fly. That could make for a negative customer impression, and impact the certification and accreditation process. This process is something you should think about every step of the way. Because if you stumble, the entire effort is tossed for a loop – possibly indefinitely.

With training, timing is everything
The training experience means so much with respect to success. So be careful about when you schedule this. You can’t host training sessions at the last minute, because the sense of immediacy may lead to a bit of user panic. You want to give users a chance to familiarize themselves with the new equipment and system before it is thrust upon them. On the other hand, if training is conducted six months in advance, they will likely forget everything they learned by the time they have to make the transition.

To users this is a simple solution that they truly enjoy using. To administrators it brings together several already complex components into a single environment. In order for the enterprise to embrace and support the new technology, the administrators require vendor-level advanced training and hands-on experience after training.

That said, we have learned that retention is enhanced if participants are allowed to determine the training method. So offer up a number of options – in person, online, PowerPoint, simulations, etc. – and you’ll get better results/retention.

There is a period of time that the technology needs to transition from us to them. That period of time should be determined by both the customer and the solution designer, and is based on the experience of the on-site administrators. It is critical that the customer understands the importance of allocating the proper time and resources to achieve a smooth transition. There is no cookie cutter approach when handing the keys over to the customer, but rather open and honest dialogue always makes for a successful transition.

Stay flexible
Even with a game plan in hand, keep in mind that circumstances will change. Requirements will shift. Schedules will get revised. There is always someone in the room that says, “We can’t change that, it is not part of the design”, or “the documentation says this.” Yes, there are cases in which you have to redo major designs. To stay on top of these shifts, maintain an active, open dialogue with the customer to understand the true requirements that your team must address. Remember that as requirements evolve or are discovered it is our job to help the customer understand changes are necessary and expected. The original design can be amended and documentation can be updated – ultimately resulting in a better overall solution.

Document your experiences
I have learned that being involved with large-scale enterprise deployments isn’t just a job. It’s an opportunity to learn how to effectively support a large customer. So it is important to capture your experiences in working documents that summarize, “lessons learned” so it can be passed on to the next location.

About the Author

Douglas Norton is a senior manager for professional services at Raytheon Trusted Computer Solutions.

Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 Mariano Tellarini www.masthink.com

Thanks for a very clearly put and factual Article, Douglas. From my side, I could add. Labor Distribution: Trust your Team. This might be an oldie but still so very often seen in small businesses. Empower your PM so he/she can empower your deployment team. Remember that there is no real accountability without real authority. Financial Implications: Product and services (labor) have totally different financial needs and requirements. If your project also includes the acquisition of hardware and software, plan your credit/finance strategy with the same devotion you plan your deployment plan. I’ve seen countless, solid and healthy deployment plans get in choppy waters because of their horrible financial planning. Work with ALL of your stakeholders (vendors, finance partners, end users and your deployment team) and make sure that the cash-flows implications of the project are completely understood. Cash flow viability of a project is as important (if not more) as its technical viability. Have a strong Bench (internal or outsourced) Better face it and plan for it: Your Company may lose know-how during the implementation. This problem could be even more acute if your deployment is ahead of the game and there is a perception that your team is not reaping the profits of being "better than plan". Have a plan B ready to replace your Project’s most critical Human Assets in the event they decide to hit the road. Differentiate your business by measuring it all: Build performance metric reports that include everything and anything that can be measured. In my experience winning a contract is not so much about showing (and convincing) others what can you do in the event you win (just a looking forward statement) but what were you able to produce and get done in the past (a testament of success). In my view, Past Performance reporting is one of the most powerful business differentiators a company could ever have. Be a cost Savings Champion: Don’t stop looking for cost savings only because you won the contract. During the deployment phase continue to clearly articulate a plan to drive cost savings. (I.e. Look for duplicate efforts in Order Fulfillment and, if possible, share those savings to the customer.

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