Since joining Fresche Solutions in August, I have been focused aggressively on working with customers to develop strategies for their modernization projects. The folks here have a great process and while I thought I was pretty good at this, I have learned a lot.
It is true what they say, that as humans, we stand on the shoulders of giants.
People have asked me several questions about the new job, but the one I like to answer the most is “what have you learned?”: in a word, it’s all about the plan.
As the adage goes, “Fail to plan, plan to fail”. There are many factors that contribute to the success of a modernization project. Selection of the right software, tools, staffing, timelines, etc. But nothing is more important than building a cohesive and well thought out plan. I see many IBM i shops that grew up without proper specifications to projects. Places where something scribbled on the back of a napkin might be considered a luxury.
The interesting part is that everyone knows the planning phase of any project is important. If a plan is done well and the project is successful, however, the plan rarely gets any praise. Usually it’s the tools vendor or the staff slapping each other on the back. Rather than dancing on tables, it is more than likely the project manager is in a corner building the next plan. And, as a result of making it look so easy, the plan will start to get shelved. I hear things like “Do we really need all this detail?” or “Why is it taking so long to get started?”.
The truth is that the planning phase IS the start of the project. And the MOST essential part.
When projects fail, we hear many reasons and rationalizations. Managers will blame everything from the tool selection, to staff, to warm weather in the arctic circle. Oftentimes it comes down to planning and priorities. So, I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to plan successfully and some of the components that can help ensure project success when exploring modernization. Let’s start with the most important component and down the road, we’ll explore some more.
As Steve Martin said to John Candy in Trains, Planes and Automobiles: “If you’re going to tell a story, have a point!”. Meaning, why are you modernizing? Oh, we all know you want to modernize and goodness knows we’ve been told for 20 years to get busy doing something. But have you seriously looked at your own business needs for modernization?
Others have a need to consolidate technologies and skillsets in an effort to become smarter about staffing. Maybe the current systems have become inadequate for the business due to industry evolution or planned growth with needed scalability. This is an extremely important step in the process, so I have found it best to follow three fundamental rules.
These can be different in each shop. Some companies feel the need to enhance the UI so that they can reduce time for onboarding new people in the user areas. This is HUGE for companies with a naturally high turnover rate. Have you ever seen the register at McDonald’s? Back in the day, the cashiers used to have to know prices and calculate tax. Today, a cashier at most fast food places simply press a button that looks like what you would like to order. And these interfaces have been around for better than 30 years!
Discuss all the possibilities and their consequences. which might include moving off platform.
Interview ALL of the stakeholders. Don’t just listen to management say “We need to get rid of those darn green screens…”. Talk to the leaders in the user community. Dig down to the essential pain points and debate what is important to the business vs what might be someone vanity.
Third and most important, document your findings. You need to gather the data and then distill it to its salient points so that the management team understands and can accept it as truth.
There are many good reasons to modernize but the number one wrong reason is FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.
FUD causes people to be reactionary instead of proactive. Yes, your senses are heightened when you are backed into a corner, but so are your perceived options. Attacking a modernization for the right reason puts you on the offensive and it is a lot easier and more productive to try and score with the offense than to relay solely on defense as a strategy, to borrow a football analogy. So what if you have been backed into the proverbial corner by a manager who says “Modernize, or else…”.
Here are the first three steps to your initial plan at no extra charge: Stop, breathe, plan. Yes, immediately go on the offensive and take no prisoners. Challenge management like I am challenging you to develop those reason for modernization. Then, use those reasons to build the remainder of the plan.