Literal Thinking

Real stories of workplace follies

The perennial time and scope dilemma, part 2

Posted by A Friend on 24 February 2009

In a Pickle In our last post, we began presenting a case that illustrated the time and scope tension project managers often face. This tension can be especially heightened when signoff points for scope deliverables and phase completion are crammed together in one small time block, usually coinciding with the end of a particular project phase. This is the second part of the case, where we look at some of the major signoff decisions made, and the consequences of such and earlier decisions, at the latter stages of the project.

User Acceptance Testing

User acceptance testing (UAT) started with a big conundrum: who should do the testing? One train of thought was it should be the client’s key users, as they were the ones who knew the existing system and process requirements and should be doing the tests to ensure that the to-be solution met all of these requirements. Another view was it should be the vendor’s key outsourcing users, as they were going to be the ones using the system on a day to day basis, post-implementation. In the end, members of the vendor’s implementation team did the testing, the very people responsible for building the solution. It was a glorified unit test, and a farcical user acceptance test activity.

This was an unexpected requirement for the implementation team, so they were naturally not prepared and had not planned for it. UAT test scripts, which should have been completed and signed off in an earlier phase of the project were haphazardly done, often recycled from previous projects that had little relevance to the current one.

The project managers then decided that because of time and resource constraints, UAT was only going to be executed against core system functionality and maintained at a very high level; and all custom development testing was postponed to the next project phase. But even with this minimal requirement, it quickly became apparent that proper testing was going to be an arduous process, mainly because of the low quality of data loaded during integration testing and the still incomplete enterprise solution. So despite the significantly reduced scope, UAT could not be completed on time.

To ensure that the project remained on track, both client and vendor project managers decided to start parallel testing while UAT was still going on. UAT and parallel testing thus ended up running in parallel.

Parallel Testing

To make sure that the to-be solution met the client’s system and process requirements, the project simulated a parallel run over two months’ worth of transaction data. Parallel testing started at a later stage of the project, so the data migration team had more time to ensure that the quality of data loaded for parallel testing was of a much higher quality. But the good news ended there.

Virtually every process in parallel testing ended in error and data between the legacy and the new system just could not be reconciled. Various factors contributed to these errors: poor data quality coming from the source systems, incomplete configuration of the enterprise solution, and highlighted missing functionality in the to-be system.

The premature and forced deliverable signoffs done during the initial stages of the project was finally taking a heavy toll and putting tremendous pressure on the project team. Despite this, a very tight deadline for parallel testing completion was still followed, and strong arm tactics continued to be used by the project managers to ensure signoff. The parallel testing team was forced to manipulate data and introduce quick system configuration solutions just so parallel testing could be green-lighted on time.

The problems with the core solution encountered during parallel testing and the required efforts to address these also meant that signoffs of some solution components and functionality, and of various custom developments, were yet again postponed to the next phase of the project.

End to End Testing

End to end testing was identified as a key phase to be completed during project initiation to see whether the enterprise solution and the outsourcing organization could cope with the client’s end to end business process and service delivery requirements. Incredibly, some solution components, various custom developments, and UAT and parallel testing, were not yet completed before end to end testing was to start.

The end to end testing process itself was chaotic. There were yet again no test scripts written; and while the project had members who were experts in their individual work components, it had no identified business process experts. The project team did not have a clear understanding of an end to end business process to test, and no expert to look to for guidance.

Faced with time constraints and the lack of expert advise, both client and vendor project managers, not for the first time, decided to only take a helicopter view of the entire business process chain for end to end testing. And once more, even with this reduced scope, the to-be solution was found wanting.

Last-minute change requests to address process gaps were quickly approved, half-thought of solutions were developed and signed off, and an alarming level of testing variance against benchmarks was accepted and approved. All this was done for the singular purpose of meeting the project’s time requirements.

Go Live Cutover

The project reached go-live cutover without a cutover plan, with both client and vendor project managers still swamped with issues to close out: some custom developments were still not properly tested, let alone signed off; acceptance of testing variances were still being debated; and more change requests were being considered.

The big volume of issues still outstanding forced both client and vendor to bring in two additional project managers, with the sole brief of working together to take the project to go-live cutover. These two “cutover managers” had no experience in the project yet were given free reign to map out the go-live cutover plan.

A mad rush of signoffs and completions occurred in the last two weeks before going live. Changes to system configuration, with minimal testing, were introduced very late in the project because of even later solution gap identification. Critical custom developments with barely there testing were finally signed off, with some developments just getting completed during the last weekend before go live.

Data migration took two weeks to complete, with the data migration team losing count of the delta loads done. No one could swear on the integrity of data loaded into the new production system, and everyone crossed their fingers when go live cutover was signed off – on time.

– o –

We are deliberately stopping the case discussion at just before go live to let you, the reader, imagine how go live – and the immediate post go live – activities went. What is most amazing is this project was actually delivered on time and on budget; and with some creativity, it can even be reported to have been on scope.

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2 Responses to “The perennial time and scope dilemma, part 2”

  1. nana said

    Hi just checked out your blog. first of all you just proved to me why my friend prefers wordpress to blogger. I like you blog because of its simplicity – no fancy colours and all that. I found your topics also interesting, i don’t remember visiting any thing like it.

    Adding a picture to a post is really nice as it adds colour to blog. On the other hand i suggest you add a ‘read more’ button to each post to shorten it as i felt each post was very long – i just received the same advice and i think its worth doing especially after having visited a lot of blogs recently.

  2. A Friend said

    Nana –
    Thanks for paying us a visit. We prefer that our visitors are able to read entire posts rather than requiring them to click on another hyperlink, but we’ll keep your suggestion about a “read more” button in mind and might consider it as a later addition as our blog grows.

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