Implementation of an IT Project – A First Hand Account Essay
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With innovation of computers, the business world is changing very fast as seen during the last 3 decades. Due to the advances in IT and Communications technology, the world has become a global village. The business opportunities have multiplied due to opening up of global markets. But so have the challenges. No economy is isolated or transparent from rest of the economies. Industries are expected to offer custom designed products at most competitive rates in shortest possible time. Even the multinational organizations operating in many countries across the world have been facing these challenges.
One of the answers to these challenges they have been relying upon is to introduce Information & Communications Technology in their organizations and leverage upon them to meet these challenges. In this document, we describe a case of one company in a country. This company was a part of a US based multinational group which decided to implement Oracle e Business 11i suite at all its units worldwide so as to consolidate required information at its headquarters at US. To comply with the requirement, this unit also decided to implement Oracle e Business Suite at its plant & offices.
How this implementation was planned, what were the objectives, what measures were taken to ensure conformity with the project plan, how the changeover to new software was planned, how the business associates were affected and what steps were initiated to ensure that the envisaged benefits actually accrue, is described in this document. Also various activities right from the initiation of the project, the project organization, roles and responsibilities, communications and reporting with the principals are also described.
Implementation of an IT Project – A First Hand Account : EXCEL Auto Components Pvt Ltd EACL (a hypothetical name) is a part of a multinational EXCEL Group having its headquarters in US and group companies located all over the world. The Group is engaged in manufacture of engines, compressors, generating sets & automobile components worldwide. EACL is engaged in manufacture of Automobile and engine components. Much of the orders received by EACL being repeat orders, are based on exiting design and technology.
Besides these, there are sizable number of orders based on the same technology but involve a fresh design and prototype development, before the commercial production takes place. EACL is a subsidiary company of Excel Industries Ltd EIL which the main company of the group within the country. EIL centralizes many activities of the group and looks after these activities of the group companies in that country. Information & Communication Technology is one of such activities which EIL handles for all group companies in the country.
EIL handles IT Infrastructure management, Software Applications Management and other related activities for all group companies in the country. Recently the Corporate HQ at US has announced a decision to standardize on Business Application Software, directing all group companies worldwide to implement and switch over to Oracle 11i e Business Suite within a period of 18 months. Accordingly all companies had implemented and switched over to Oracle 11i except for EACL where the implementation had to be called of for various reasons, lack of in-house IT staff being one of them.
Later on it was taken up once again. This time EIL Looked for an IT Consultant to be placed on site with the total responsibility of implementing Oracle 11i, with the help of Functional Consultants from EIL and a cross functional team of users from EACL. A person was found suitable and was placed on site at EACL to handle complete, end to end implementation of this project. He was to report to Lie’s Program Manager and was to be assisted by a Project Team comprising of 6 Functional Consultants from EIL and 5 Key Users from EACL, drawn from relevant functional areas.
While EIL consultants had prior experience of Oracle ii1 implementation in their own company, EACL Consultants did not have any experience even of other ERP Products or any other applications. They – like most other users of EACL, had an exposure limited only to Microsoft Office Suite. However, most of them were young, fresh Mechanical Engineers & very enthusiastic about the project. Similarly for EIL also this was their maiden experience to implement Oracle 11i at a company other than their own company. So everyone was totally charged up to take up this challenge.
The assignment was clear for the Project Manager. Oracle 11i e Business Suite comprising of Financial, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management and Order Management Modules was required to be implemented within a time frame of 6 calendar months with the help of the Project Team assigned. CEO of EACL was fully backing this project and he had publicly instructed two senior most managers at the site – Plant Head and Finance Controller – to ensure full support & resource commitments to the project. The Project implementation required to covered Plant as well as a Marketing office located in two different cities.
CEO was also located in the Marketing Office. Objectives : The Objectives set out for the project included 20% reduction in investment in Inventory due to savings in inventory carrying cost and improvement in the planning process, Reduction in throughput time by 20% (increase i production & sales and improvement in sales margins), Fast Order Execution with 90% on time delivery. Another significant objective was Confirming to standardization as laid down by the corporate group so as to facilitate group consolidation of information. Besides, the changeover was required to be transparent to the outside world i.
e. the Business Associates. Investment : Since EACL was already running a home grown ERP Product, it already had in place the Client PCs, LAN, connectivity to EIL where Oracle 11i server was located. Some augmentation of resources like PCs & printers, up-gradation of the bandwidth was required. EIL had already accounted for and arranged for the Software Licenses for ERP & RDBMS Products for all group companies in the country. Fresh investment called for was related to the Fees payable to the Project Manager and the visits by the EIL functional team for implementation.
How well the project met its investment objectives and what mechanisms would you suggest to allow ongoing evaluation of benefits realization? The Project Objectives were met very well. A fresh Bill of Materials was designed for regular items to be produced. Items requiring design & development were defined separately in BOM. While this introduced some redundancy in the BOM, this resulted into reduction of many duplicated items from the BOM and thereby, from the stock. This drastically reduced the investment needed in Inventory.
Items needed for development & production were segregated such that production items do not get consumed in development & vice-versa. The production cycle was mapped to a production process that had certain in-between milestones where items were issued and quality checks were performed. This resulted in reducing the number of days for which an item was stocked and also, control further movement of the semi finished product in case of a quality problem, such that the same could be reprocessed, rechecked for quality and forwarded only if the quality problem was resolved.
Earlier the quality problem got detected only at the end of production cycle resulting in much more wastage of material, labor & overheads. Marketing & Manufacturing had more informed and accurate judgment of the cost and time estimates for a product at the time of accepting an order. Improved control over production process along with more accurate promise of delivery resulted in 90% on time deliveries. In case of a quality problem, only the immediately preceding steps needed to be repeated upsetting only that part of the process as against upsetting the entire process earlier.
This also resulted in fewer rejections or defects in the production. Linking Sales Order right from planning stage till invoice & dispatch advice virtually eliminated misplaced deliveries or wrong products being delivered. With more accurate accounting and posting of transactions, carrying out physical stock taking less frequently was also a possibility. All this was accompanied by a complete visibility over entire production process to the plant head. In this way, the project actually exceeded the anticipated benefits.
Post implementation, certain benchmarks for performance were decided and periodically the cumulative actual performance was measured based upon these benchmarks. For example, Regular and extra hours needed for given quantum of production, reduction in inventory, on time delivery %, i. E delivery performance, value added during a period. Appropriate reports were designed and made available to the Finance Controller, Plant Head and the CEO. The effectiveness of stakeholder engagement activities during the project. Employees and Heads of all Departments including the Plant Head & the Finance Controller were among the stakeholders.
However, the main stakeholder was the CEO – he had sanctioned the investment, worked out what benefits to expect & how, had a calculation of no of days within which the changeover had to be completed (termed Black Out period) and regular operations resumed on the new system. Business associates were not to be caused any disturbance due to the change over (excepting a blackout period of 5 days) and above all, a project of a given size and complexity affecting every employee in every corner of the organization had to be completed as scheduled with mathematical precision.
The main stakeholder that is the CEO took a lot of interest and a keen interest in every aspect of the project. He participated in understanding, reviewing & approving the requirements formulated, understood how the prototype presented offered to fulfill these requirements, he provided directions to the project team and other employees regards various activities related with the project, intervened whenever a help was sought in anticipation of a bottleneck or a deviation apprehended from the plan.
He always had a positive contribution to offer in terms of identifying typical scenarios that might be encountered or regards the training of the end users or in ensuring 100% and timely attendance of the members in all project events. This propagated a clear message across that the project has to be completed, on time and with contribution from everyone with no exception and zero tolerance. He always supported implementation of new ideas like maintenance of Time Sheets for the Project Team or conducting tests to assess the learning of the trainees.
He mandated the contribution to this project by an employee be counted during the periodic appraisals. In all his communications with the employees he never failed to stress the importance of the project, praising efforts of those who did well and pulling up the laggards, warning them to come up to expectations. He studied every fortnightly report with interest and took appropriate action based upon the same in time. He also attended every review presentation and tried to bring out the maximum from everyone.
He ensured that not only he himself but also the Plant Head and Finance Controller provided immediate response to Project Team Members for any help or intervention desired. The same spirit was displayed both by the Plant Head as well as by the Finance Controller. They arranged for all required resources to be made available for the team. What provision was made during the development phase to facilitate roll-out during the implementation stage, and how effective this was ? Many provisions were made during the development phase to ensure a smooth roll out during the implementation stage.
The provisions were related with the systems as well as with the operations. Systems : A training to the EACL Consultants was provided on the product right at the beginning of the project. Thereafter they were closely associated with the corresponding members of the CIL Team in related functions to learn from them. They were asked to take up the initiative to develop the Operational Manual for their functional area which was reviewed and finalized in consultation with EIL Consultants.
They were made responsible for testing the prototype against the requirements by way of test data, preparing test data visualizing typical exceptional “scenarios” that might be encountered, carrying out an integrated testing covering certain transactions encompassing all functional areas and finally, the load testing to assess the capability of the infrastructure to sustain the number of concurrent users envisaged. They also imparted training to the end users so that they are better prepared themselves and develop a sound knowledge.
They also assessed the performance of the end users by setting up question papers for these trainees. Hardware and Software requirements considering the eventual number of users was reviewed and necessary enhancements were carried out to make the infrastructure adequate for live run. Document forms and preprinted stationery in line with the standardization requirements were designed and procured in time before the switchover. Menu Access Permissions and Transaction Authorization Set Up was designed and set up in the software.
Operations : There was a blackout period required to complete the processing in the old system, transfer the balances & masters to the new system and resume operations in the new system. The CEO insisted that this must not exceed 5 days failing which the business may be adversely affected. As regards the provisions made in operations, certain actions were planned to be taken and completed before the commencement of the blackout period e. g. clearing deliveries against all sales orders.
Certain actions were suspended for the duration of the blackout period i. e. placing fresh purchase orders or accepting deliveries. All Business Associates were informed about the changeover and the black out period preceding it to enable them to plan their activities accordingly. A detailed meeting was conducted between the Project Team, Finance Controller and the Plant Head along with all Departmental Heads and an elaborate plan of action naming the concerned responsible person was chalked out well before the beginning of the black out period.
This eventually resulted into a smooth changeover with no adverse impact on the Business associates – all within a black out period of 3 days against the 5 days planned. How effective were the governance and reporting arrangements, particularly in assuring delivery to time, budget and quality, and how were key stakeholders involved – both formally and informally – in these arrangement ? There was plenty of information maintenance and reporting but the tempo set by the project never made it look like a burden. Plenty of reporting was carried out to different groups in different ways.
Firstly the Project Team was made to sit close to each other to facilitate communication between them. There used to be a meeting among the team members everyday where required information on current status against the plan was exchanged. In addition, the Team Members submitted a Time Sheet giving hour wise break up of total activities planned for the day and actually carried out This constituted a critical input regards the progress of work and helped in promptly identifying potential bottlenecks and deviations for initiating suitable action.
In addition, there was a meeting every day between the Project Teams of EACL & CIL even if they were not at the same location. The Project Manager had a daily round of appraising the Program manager about the status of activities. In addition, Project Manager maintained a day wise information on different event / developments in the project and periodically shared the same in confidence with the Program Manager by way of an informal reporting. A weekly progress report was submitted by the Project Manager to the CEO, Plant Head, Finance Controller, Program Manager, Infrastructure Manager.
Both the progress along with the anticipated bottlenecks along with remedial action planned were reflected in the report. Periodic Presentations were delivered to CEO in presence of all Departmental Heads including the Plant Head & Finance Controller wherein the progress, forthcoming activities and anticipated problems and their solutions were discussed. A Centralized Project Database was maintained by IT Group at US for all IT Projects initiated worldwide.
Periodically at the end of every milestone all relevant documents as prescribed in the Project Methodology were submitted to this database. This was followed by a presentation made to the Steering Committee Members comprising of senior personnel from EACL, CIL & US HQ. Only upon receiving approval for a phase, the next phase was entered into. Daily interactions with Project Team with the help of Time Sheets led to assessment of the progress. Interactions between two Project Teams brought out further tasks to be initiated and provided an idea about the time estimates and criticality.
Reporting to Program Manager, CEO & Steering Committee resulted in receiving guidance regards the project and eliminating the bottlenecks and problems. Presentations with CEO ensured cooperation from all Departments. Thus every formal or informal communication or reporting had served its intended purpose. Besides this, there always was a freedom to make a need based call to anyone with appropriate response and action sure to come by. While the project involved a lot of work, called for detailed planning and close monitoring and had many complexities, it was also not without the lighter moments.
Following every milestone, there was required to be a get together of the Project Teams and he Departmental Heads where a lot of formal and informal interaction used to take place making its own contribution to the success of the project. Scheduling such a get together following each milestone was also a part of the project plan and a subject of Project Review ! The project management methodology used and its contribution to the success (or otherwise) of the project. The Project Management Methodology followed was one that was developed by the IT Department of the Corporate IT Group itself and broadly, it was a prototype oriented methodology.
It was a tried and tested methodology already put into practice at the group companies within the country. Among the very first activities in the project was to depute the Project Manager for undergoing a training on this methodology and specifically, the documentation which was standardized across all companies in the world within the group. This methodology made everything so simple to understand and help ensuring that once we start religiously practicing the methodology, we did not miss out on anything in the course of the project.
Particularly noteworthy in the methodology was a process of IT Requests Management. It handled the entire process from initiating an it request to providing all required details about it to seeking and enabling required authorizations, assigning the work till completion, testing & certification of the results, configuration management and finally, approving the satisfactory completion of the IT Request by the request initiator. Entire process was handled by a software, which facilitated electronic approvals to the requests.
This process accepted only those IT Requests which were backed by relevant details, having appropriate authorization from the concerned departmental heads, feasibility assessment by the Functional & Technical Consultants, approval by the IT Program Manager & assignment of the same to functional / technical consultant for compliance. Once completed, the relevant software was tested on a separate system, approved by the IT Program Manager and only thereafter the software was allowed to be transferred to the production server.
Finally the initiator of the request was required to confirm that the request has been complied with to his satisfaction – a precondition for treating it to be completed. Thus Change Management was appropriately controlled in the project. The Documents to be maintained for the project related with the quality aspects, risk assessment and mitigation, investments, benefits anticipated, project plan, impact on IT Infrastructure currently in use, manpower currently deployed & so on – in short, touching all aspects that are concerning the project.
The Group IT Dept at US had a Project Document Repository where the documents were required to be posted before each Steering Committee Meeting. This enforced appropriate handling of quality, risk, time, investment, benefits & other aspects to be clearly defined beforehand and their achievement during the course of the project. The Project phases also included a Post Production Review phase where the post implementation benefits were compared with the anticipated benefits. As regards this project, requirements were collected and a prototype developed so as to fulfill the requirements.
The prototype was demonstrated and further tuned based upon the feedback of the end users. Next, the prototype was given to the end users for testing – testing with test data, testing with specific “scenarios” prepared to test typical conditions or situations anticipated. This was followed by an integration testing i. e. testing encompassing multiple functions to test the integration and finally, the load testing to measure the adequacy of the infrastructure to support the given number of users as envisaged. After such exhaustive testing and based upon the feedback received, the prototype was fine tuned and the software set up for production.
Conclusion : The Oracle 11i e Business implementation was already planned as to what needs to be implemented, how and within what time ! It touched almost all employees in all functions at all offices of the organization. The time allowed for changeover was limited to 5 days. The in-house Key Users were with no major exposure to IT and especially, ERP. Every milestone was required to be reviewed and approved by the IT Team at US & the Steering Committee. All this called for a very detailed planning and an extremely time bound execution with hardly any scope for deviation.
The eventual consolidation with Group Headquarters and visibility over complete data by them made it totally transparent to them, also making quality assurance a pre-requisite. Obviously with most of the major investment having already been made, the project was required to be completed within the budget. To ensure a smooth implementation, major thrust came from the CEO and continued throughout the implementation. The determining factor that led to the success of the project was the high motivational level of the project team which could be raised and sustained throughout the project.
Once this was achieved, execution of every project activity became a simple affair. Another major factor was the anticipation of bottlenecks and problems raised by the Project Manager & initiation of actions to control the same. Emphasis on preparation and testing of scenarios eliminated chances of facing any surprises after the implementation. Detailed planning carried out for the black out period was a significant step in ensuring a quick and smooth changeover. Thus the Project was a grand success story !