Working on large, complex IT programmes is a great way to get an understanding of how an organisation operates. It can also highlight some of the patterns that lead to inefficiencies in the way IT projects are run. This can be seen in the way in which three entirely separate programmes in the banking, payments and pharmaceutical sectors behave. Despite being very different industries, it is remarkable that all three programmes had a number of distinct features in common.

All three programmes shared deficiencies in requirements specification, design, programme management and testing strategy, but the one missing consideration was the lack of event management planning. The term ‘event management’ is often one that is misunderstood. Not many understand that it refers to the combined processes and procedures for planning, organising and managing the schedule of events that has to occur for a successful implementation.

Together with the timely and accurate reporting on progress and incidents, the event management process allows those in control to make informed decisions regarding the risks associated with proceeding with the implementation. This makes it a critical component of the entire process.

Surprisingly, all three organisations clearly felt that these functions fell under the remit of release management or the service transition plan. For all three, the ‘release management’ or ‘service transition’ functions had processes and procedures (albeit in many cases these are not comprehensive) for managing the transition from design to live. However, the actual detailed planning and organisation for the implementation event itself (i.e. the event management processes and procedures) was invariably incomplete or missing.

Sadly, the majority of organisations seem to consider that designing, building and testing a release is the hard part of their jobs. Once these activities are complete, they seem to feel that it is a straightforward technical task to implement a release into the live production environment. However, in the case of large complex releases where there are a large number of participating business functions, the size and complexity of the schedule of events is usually in excess of what is handled during business as usual operations. Understandably, the normal operating procedures are therefore found to be inadequate as a result.

In this context, it is important for organisations to understand that implementing releases pose considerable risks to the business. The larger and more complex the release (e.g. integrations, separations, data migrations, critical new applications, etc.) the greater the number and severity of the risks posed.

These risks include, but are not limited to requiring:

  • A clear overall picture of the forthcoming implementation
  • A clear and co-ordinated view of many individual plans (e.g. from infrastructure, networks, incident management, business divisions, release management, operational reconciliation, application development, data migration, etc.)
  • Ensuring all parties are in agreement regarding tasks, roles and responsibilities for delivery
  • Close control of the schedule of events and understanding of activity status
  • Timely, accurate and clear reporting for executives
  • An audit trail to satisfy internal and external audit and regulatory requirements.

Implementation events usually occur over weekends, and hence resources are required for short, but intensive periods of work. In addition, because events have to complete within the allocated time window during the weekend, 24-hour shift working is often required. This involves unsocial hours, which many permanent staff are not readily available for.

As a consequence, additional costs are incurred to persuade permanent staff to work weekend shifts or to hire short-term staff to fill any gaps. Given the lack of expertise and experience of the temporary staff, the result is an over-reliance on a limited number of permanent staff, who usually have to work very long hours under stressful conditions.

In these circumstances, and due to the labour intensive effort required, the derivation of a clear pictorial summary of the critical path activities from the numerous workstream plans is frequently omitted. This means that the progress reporting becomes unwieldy and complex and detailed plans makes it increasingly difficult to tell the ‘wood from the trees’!

This lack of clarity in progress reporting also results in delays and confusion when attempting to provide a clear summary to executives, or in understanding and addressing issues. It also means that the labour intensive processes and procedures used in the management of progress and incident reporting across a large number of participating organisational areas, becomes inefficient. Coupled with the use of inexperienced temporary staff, this usually results in increasing complexity, significantly higher costs and the risk of errors in tracking and recording progress on activities.

An example of this can be seen in a detailed event management planning for a significant release during a major banking sector integration programme. In this case, several hundred people are used to co-ordinate and manage the updates and reporting of the event’s weekend activities to the central event management team. These resources are, in addition to the workstream personnel, actually undertaking the activities, and hence, a significant cost to the organisation.

What these examples show is that many organisations incur noticeable inefficiencies, increased risks and significant costs when supplementing business-as-usual implementation processes. This is particularly true with labour intensive processes for large and complex releases.

In summary, what is required to cost-effectively implement large and complex releases are people with the expertise and experience in planning, organising and managing large and complex IT implementations. If such resources are supported by an automated toolset for collating, summarising and reporting on the workstream plans – and can present this information in an easily understandable ‘plan on a page’ format – they can facilitate executive decision making.

This leads to significantly reduced costs and risks. There’s no doubt that running large and complex IT projects can be a difficult process. However, what few seem to appreciate is that by using event management, it’s an experience that can be made far more efficient, and much more simple.