Operational Readiness: 3 Keys to a Successful Takeoff for Any Large-Scale System

After you’ve spent months preparing for the launch of a large-scale initiative, the last thing you want to experience is a deployment debacle due to untested systems and unprepared users.

I recently attended a project management training class that referenced one of the airline industry’s worst. It’s a textbook example of what can happen at deployment with any system when certain, seemingly mundane, operational functions are dismissed during testing.

It happened on March 27, 2008, opening day for Terminal 5 at London Heathrow Airport, which today is hailed as British Airways’ most technologically advanced and lavish terminals in the world. On launch day, however, Terminal 5 suffered debilitating operational glitches like a malfunctioning car park system and its baggage software being left in test mode. These operational software glitches caused a cascade of issues, including 23,000 misplaced bags, 500 canceled flights, and a 5-day recovery from the debacle.

The pains felt by employees and travelers of Terminal 5 could have been avoided with focus on a few key areas that are often forgotten due to inexperienced project leads or lack of resources to support these operational readiness efforts.

Here are three steps to ensure a smooth takeoff for any new system:

1. Test Your Business Processes

Just as the Terminal 5 systems and staff should have completed thorough scenario training for a full passenger load, you should build time into your project schedule to conduct an end-to-end test of all your business processes on the new technology and with your full production volume of activity, if possible. If your schedule permits, plan to run testing two to three times.

In a test environment, simulate your production environment, and run your application, allowing end users to go through the lifecycle of their business processes used on the given technology. Tests of this nature help to identify additional technical issues that may have been missed in routine system or user acceptance testing and allow for defect fixes or business workarounds to be put in place before the launch. Also, end users can determine if their business processes are optimal for use with the new technology or if further tweaking of processes is needed. Finally, no classroom training ever replaces hands-on experience, so the more end users get an opportunity to conduct their operations using the new technology before going live, the more efficient and well prepared they will be to operate at rollout.

2. Set Up User Access Early

While checking in one hour before a flight is acceptable, last-minute user registration is most definitely not. Most organizations require registration of a brand new application within their asset management database and their identity access and governance tool. As part of this registration, all the user roles within the application are identified and made available for requesting access through some type of workflow request and approval process. Be sure you understand how this process works and the turnaround times required.

Plan to have users request access at least 30 days prior to the go-live date, provided that everything is in place for them to make the request and that no access will be lost due to lack of activity that far in advance of the deployment. If there is a risk of losing the access, shorten this window accordingly. Take an inventory with your stakeholders of all users that will need access to the new application or need a new type of access for an existing application. Track the provisioning of their access, ensuring everyone has confirmed that they can log into the new application and that they have the correct access before the launch date.

3. Establish Go-Live Communication Protocols

Once your system is tested and ready for takeoff, ensure that your equivalent of air traffic control is up and running with go-live communication protocols. These will facilitate communication between stakeholders at all levels. You probably spent time developing and executing your overall program communication plan as well as your communication plan for impacted employees, so don’t let communications slump at launch.

Are status reports on the actual technical deployment needed? Are business process statuses at the start of activity on the new application important? What communication channels will be used to notify users of technical issues or for users to report problems they experience? How will you communicate—and hopefully celebrate—the success of your project after launch?

Thinking through the who, what, when and how of key communications will seal the success of your newly launched initiative.

These three operational readiness steps are essential for any large-scale project. You can avoid the delays experienced by Terminal 5 and build confidence in your new system by fully testing business processes, giving users early access, and establishing critical, go-live communication protocols.