Over the past 11 years I have, as a consultant and project manager, implemented and managed many IAM solutions. These projects have varied from very small to enterprise-level solutions. This experience has given me quite an insight into how businesses operate, how to gauge customer expectations, and even how to anticipate some requirements before they are provided.
One important thing I’ve picked up along the way, however, is the ability to recognize the need for phases within implementation projects.
Phasing is not necessary for every project, of course, and teaching our consultants how to determine when phases are required is one of the keys to successful implementations. With the ever-changing technologies used in organizations, the need for a phased approach is on the rise. These technologies themselves often dictate the need for project phases and how many.
A phased approach has many advantages, one being the project timeline. While an “all-at-once” effort may require a shorter timeline in theory, it commonly leads to issues that are realized only too late. Often a project is rushed due to timeline constraints and the players involved simply charge forward to reach completion. This will result in missing requirements as well as a lack of proper testing and tweaking—which results in a lackluster outcome.
Using phases can help avoid this wasted effort. If time is spent qualifying requirements up-front, everyone involved will be able to plan and schedule the project efficiently. Both the vendor and the client’s personnel can be scheduled and deployed as needed, depending on the project phase requirements. In-between phases, project managers retain far more flexibility to make any adjustments from the initial rollout plan.
The ‘sink or swim’ approach can be quite overwhelming on all parties involved and leaves them with little time to adjust to change. Incremental change in phases mitigates these teething problems.
An example of a successful phased implementation can be seen in the DeKalb County School Disctrict Case Study.
Additionally, this method promotes quality work due to the nature of phasing itself, which breaks the project into smaller components to be produced and reviewed. On the vendor’s side, project managers have more quality control oversight to ensure their personnel is meeting the expectations for each phase. The vendor’s project manager can review the completed phase with the client to ensure reality matches expectations.
Over time, this phase review process contributes toward a sort of “living” scope of work under continual verification. The client’s needs or expectations may undergo some change and each new phase can adapt to stay aligned. With “big bang” approaches, any small deviation between expectations and results will likely be amplified over a project’s timeline.
Working with the customer through phases instills confidence in the project, the personnel assigned to it, and the company providing the solution. As the project proceeds through phases and their associated deliverables, the customer is provided transparency they are not otherwise afforded. Adaptation to real-world process issues or new, sudden requirements is much easier.
Even if a phase needs reworking or minor adjustments, it’s the difference in scaling back from 70% to 65% instead of 90% to 30%. This improves the ease of implementation and creates strong relationships between the solution provider and customer.
Phased Implementations: Customer Benefits
Phased implementations aren’t just for vendors’ benefit, however. A client will favor this approach for many reasons, such as minimizing operational shutdown, easier training and user adoption, and their own project or financial planning.
An “all-at-once” implementation not only may lead to undiscovered issues or misalignment between expectation and deliverables but may require temporarily shutting down operations. If the solution covers a significant portion of the client’s IT infrastructure, they may have to pause activity until systems, applications, and other resources can resume. If a client doesn’t want or can’t afford this temporary shutdown, phased implementations minimize the impact ongoing operations face.
When a major implementation occurs that affects the entire user base, everyone needs new training. With phased implementations, this training can be managed in smaller groups and over each phase, so that users have more time to learn and adjust. Further, user feedback can help optimize each successive round of training and new groups have peers who can assist them in their early adoption stages.
If everyone must “go live” at the same time, training may be rushed and confusion may arise from all users attempting to adapt at the same time. Implementations aren’t solely dependent on a functioning solution. User adoption and buy-in are just as critical. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and incomplete adoption may threaten an implementation’s success even if the solution functions exactly as intended.
While not necessary for all software implementations, phased approaches benefit the quality of the vendor’s work as well as the customer’s success with the project and its adoption.