An Eye for Detail Keeps Surprises at Bay
IBM India manages scope creep in large IT projects with innovative project management approaches
BY PANCHALEE THAKUR
An IBM project team meeting in their Bangalore office to discuss the progress of a project in Europe
New technologies and platforms, and the move towards consolidation and integration of business processes and assets have made IT projects extremely complex. A successful IT project is one that not only fulfils an organization's immediate requirements but also helps it reach its long-term business and technology goals.
With rising complexities, the risks are higher and so is the failure rate. The PMI's Pulse of the Profession Survey reveals that in 2011 over one-third of projects did not meet their original business goal and intent. It finds that organizations risk, on an average, US$ 135 million for every billion dollars spent. Low-performing organizations, however, risk 14 times more money than
their high-performing counterparts. That competitive disadvantage shows how project performance dictates whether an organization thrives or fails.
Software Upgrade and Applications Migration Project
A large automotive company in the US engaged IBM India to upgrade all its 253 IT applications to one version older than the latest. The exercise was to be completed within a fixed time and cost. By the end of the upgrades, the applications must maintain their functionalities, and offer similar or better performance, resiliency, sustainability, and security.
A major technical challenge arose due to the non-compatibility of operating systems (OS) of some of the applications. Some of the Solaris applications that were architected by the company's IT team and were tightly coupled with the OS had to be migrated to Linux. Additionally, some of the latest versions of the software could not run on the old hardware; hardware renewal added to the complexity.
The project scope included plan and define, architecture solution (design), code development, test, and deploy the applications. Most of the applications went through each of these phases within defined timelines. Each application was treated as a project within a larger program of end-to-end upgrade.
The team came up with a master plan for all the applications with the goal that there would be no disruption of business, or change in functionality, or deterioration in performance. IBM re-architected the application platform by taking the customer's IT roadmap as a project guideline.
The goal of developing was to test the application in the new architecture and newer software versions ensuring that functionality, performance, availability, and sustainability remain at optimal levels. The strategy for testing was to perform system integration testing, performance testing, and user acceptance testing to rate its functioning and performing. Additionally, there were disaster recovery drills and security scans like web scans and technical security standards scan to be performed at the OS.
- Grouping 253 applications on diverse platforms, technologies, and softwares
- Conflict with business initiatives, server hosting team's priorities, and different contract priorities and scope among vendors
- Compatibility between various infrastructure, applications, third party products, and operating components, especially with the newer software version without re-writing the application
- Unknown behavior of the application for new software
- Delays from other vendors
- Unknown pieces of modules that existed but were never discovered thus far
- Conflict of timing with month end processes, business freeze, regulatory compliance
- Gaps in responsibilities among vendors
Scope Creep and its Management
The "factory model" that helped the team plan and execute the project efficiently
The upgrade threw open many unknown situations, and therefore presented with scope creep scenarios. Each application was likely to present different challenges because they were on diverse platforms and technologies, did not follow any determined architecture standards, and were out-of-date in terms of language, design, software, and architecture. It was extremely difficult to estimate the schedule, scope of software development work, and identify all the risks.
IBM analysed the possibilities of scope creep at various stages and made the company aware of it. The two parties came to an agreement to review the baseline plan and re-baseline it periodically based on data. Any source code changes beyond the task of keeping the application behave as-is was to be treated as additional work. IBM was exempt from penalties for any delays caused by other vendors. Prior agreements, defined processes, and disciplined tracking helped diffuse any crisis due to scope creep during project execution.
Innovative Project Management Approach
This was the first time that the IBM India team was offering a service of this nature at such a large scale. To bring predictability to the schedule, budget, and risk management, the team came up with a "factory model" for planning and monitoring the program and each application as a single project. The "factory model" provided predictability, repeatability, consistency in monitoring and reporting, enabled managing risks and issues, and yet provided a broader view of the project. The following were the key features of the model:
1. The "factory model" defined 14 standard operations (milestones) that would be applicable for the migration/adaptation project.
2. Critical paths for the 14 operations were determined.
3. The standard duration for each milestone was determined based on the complexity of the application.
4. Applications were classified as high, medium, and low complexity.
5. A master schedule was created that formed the basis for the model.
Outcome and Best Practice
The project execution and the factory model could now be used as best practices for similar situations. Also what worked was the testing strategy. Testing was scheduled for a small group of testers where several applications were lined up for testing with varied technology platforms and different levels of testing.
"The application migration to newer versions of software, the latest hardware, and the latest IT architecture completed without any disruptions to business. The project won us accolades from the customer for the innovative approach and meticulous execution," said an IBM project manager.
SAP Roadmap Project for EMEA Region
A global leader in consumer products entrusted IBM India with the task of helping the company's various businesses integrate and transition into common business platforms and systems. It was a time and material contract. The engagement was a part of the company's 2013 roadmap for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and involved transitioning of its EMEA business to a European Operating Company (EOC) model, integration of a newly acquired business onto its SAP platform, and transitioning of its EMEA business from legacy ERP systems to the SAP Catalyt platform.
A number of these multi-country projects in Europe were to go live on the same day - 26 April 2013. Those projects were:
- Harmonization of the global master data for the company
- Rollout of the company's EOC model in six countries and 14 plants. These countries were Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Bulgaria
- Advance planning and optimization to enable a fully integrated supply chain planning process for all the company's businesses. The supply planning process included 41 business units in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Germany, and production planning included three manufacturing plants in the United Kingdom and Germany
- The record-to-report finance process consolidation project that included multiple smaller projects
"Organizations must adhere to a strong project management methodology. Following a detailed process ensures that a project stays on track. Regular project reviews are important and adherence to CMMi compliant processes helps. The best practices and lessons learned must be documented in knowledge management systems for further harvesting. Processes, methods, and tools can guide project managers from project inception to closure."
- Ms. Sudha Y, PMP
Project management community lead, project management center of excellence, IBM India
Project management was responsible for planning scope, cost, schedule, and communication; executing the project as per the plan and standards set; monitoring delivery reviews and quality assurance; controlling cost, quality, scope, and schedules; and project closure. The quality parameter defined was to deliver optimized code with minimal defects.
The main challenge in this project was to define the scope and prevent scope creep. Though the baseline was finalized, scope changes were a distinct possibility. The project faced the following challenges during the various stages:
Being an SAP template rollout, the main challenge during planning was to identify local legal requirements for all the countries within the project scope. It also involved significant travel for the project team members.
The baseline scope was designed as per the requirements provided, but the lack of clarity on the legal
requirements put the project in danger of scope creep.
Availability of resources was the main challenge. IBM managed it by using the core and flex concept
of the factory model.
There were many projects going live in the same development landscape. A major challenge was the sharing of development objects among other projects. This was overcome by seamless collaboration of all the projects involved in the development of the shared objects.
The project team needed to travel a lot during each cycle testing stage. Keeping a tab on the travel expenses was a challenge. Stringent tracking of the travel and other expenses was implemented.
Innovative Project Management Approach
The team realized early on the possibility of scope creep jeopardizing the project schedule. The IBM project management team raised this issue with the client and finalized the below approach to deal with the changes:
1. Implementation of strong change control process
2. Identification of required vis a vis good-to-have changes
3. Existing production issues to be routed through support change
4. Accommodate the required legal changes only
The project used the SAP Global Template Ascendant approach. It involves multiple phases of evaluation and creation of blueprint solutions, and testing and customizing before the final output.
Stakeholder management was key to the success of the project. Organizational change management was in place and helped business users adopt the new solution across countries. The team conducted workshops for users who passed on the learning to other users in the company. The handover after go-live was gradual:
project team took ownership of all the issues raised
project team provided support for low and medium defects
the company’s support team took charge with the IBM team working as shadows
"The go-live went off successfully and without any issues. The approach of gradual transition after the go-live stage where IBM continued to support the client’s IT team proved prudent. Our efforts came in for appreciation from the client," said the IBM project incharge.