Planning for complex rollouts: All about nose-guessing?

Far from being reflective, most organizations operate in a surprisingly ad-hoc manner when planning the deployments of large and complex digital transformation programs.

My definition of a deployment approach is fairly simple. It is about choosing between a number of possible options where there is some level of uncertainty. A good plan directly engages with the business users and their acceptance or not of the new ways of working, processes, and systems. In short, the overall success of the program greatly depends on a well-designed rollout plan.

The issue

I observe with good interest that many organizations are generally underestimating or over-simplifying this exercise. I see in so many cases that it leads to a varying combination of a semi-formal evaluation approach and of deliberate nose-guessing. In some cases close to 80% nose-guessing. We always see the end-result, never the approach to it. Have you noticed?

In the Nordics for instance, firms usually follow a similar pattern: The first roll outs are pretty straightforward, targeting the neighboring Nordic countries. Thereafter, the following deployment activities are likely to be either the UK or the USA depending on the business strategy. Finally, organisations are moving into the nose-guessing game. The central questions become: How to sequence Spain, Italy, and France for instance? How to prioritise between Asia and Europe? In which order? Can we group them?

In some other cases, top managers directly intervene in the process. Their influence can be important, however selective. In practice, anecdotally, the whole plan may come from the mind of one person. It is then simply transmitted as a series of decisions, never challenged, and people are forced to accept it.

Most programs are not ready for an open-mind exploration of the various options. They lack a consistent approach. The definition of compelling criteria, their weighting, and the formalization of a rigorous analysis for prioritization and sequencing is non-existent or not followed.

The solution

The large and complex transformation programs I have been involved in have shown to me that designing an executable rollout plan needs to be systematically managed though a disciplined and structured approach. The key steps typically include the definition and agreement on the criteria, the associated weights, the preliminary ranking of potential scenarios, the assessment and prioritization of those scenarios, and eventually the decision process.

The first step I start with, when collaborating with my clients, is to agree on the criteria against which each option will be assessed. I usually bring to the table a pre-defined list of categories and criteria, that I have consolidated from best practices, to start the discussion. In practice, stakeholders may have different views on what the most important criteria should be. So, this all the time very good discussions. Surely.

Those criteria usually fall into 6 categories:

  1. Benefits (e.g. Time to business),
  2. flexibility (e.g. to integrate business units)
  3. Risks
  4. Speed (e.g. Before first release)
  5. Degree of change
  6. Complexity (business, people, or technical)

Once the criteria agreed and selected, one of the most energizing activities starts: The definition and evaluation of each deployment scenario against the agreed criteria. There are many options possible. Usually, we start with aligning the possible scenarios with the business strategy, and then select or reject. We continue until we have assessed all options.

I like those sessions with the stakeholders. They are very interactive.

As you see, all those elements, taken together, operationalize a complex deployment strategy. They balance the business objectives with the timeline, the risks, and other attributes. It gives everyone the confidence that we have approached it in a structured and risk-aware manner.

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As a final word, I could say that the fact of not having a structured approach does not actually jeopardies the program itself. But, rather, it may impact the time plan and the budget, eventually diminishing the business case.

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About the Author

Didier Dessens

CRM and Digital Experience Advisory

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