The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were one of the many events cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After the decision to postpone the games to 2021, it’s hard to believe that the much-anticipated multi-sport extravaganza is once again on our screens.
For the athletes competing, the Olympics represent the highest arena of competition. Athletes prepare for much of their life for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Similarly, companies spend significant time and resources to prepare for a go live for a business-critical software integration (“go live” referring to the period when a newly implemented system becomes available to the end users). A successful go live of a critical integration paves the way for future growth prospects, like the prestige that follows an Olympian that won gold.
While recently supporting an ERP integration between two leading modular space and portable storage companies, we found that there were many similarities between how Olympians prepare and how integration project teams prepare to “take home the gold.” We saw that finding the right coach, preparing effectively, and building mental confidence were all vital to the success of the go live. As we watch Olympians display amazing feats of athleticism to take home gold during the Tokyo Olympics, we must keep in mind how the following aspects were pivotal for that achievement.
1. Find the Right Coach
The most decorated American gymnast, Simone Biles, first attempted gymnastics at age six and began formally training with her coach Aimee Boorman at age eight. Boorman, who eventually became the USA women’s gymnastics coach for the 2016 Rio Olympics, worked with Biles until 2017. Finding and training with the right coach can make or break an Olympian’s career. The right coach brings not only experience and strategy, but also support for the Olympian through their ups and downs. Similarly, successful go lives are correlated with a highly effective project management office (PMO). An effective PMO will ensure the integration is on track and provide support so the technical team can focus on development and testing. Some characteristics of a highly effective PMO are:
- Experience: Having prior go live experience is a critical characteristic of an effective PMO; it is the difference between a reactive and proactive PMO. The latter recognizes patterns from prior go lives to mitigate risks and issues before they arise, leading to a smoother integration.
- Agility: While structure and planning is important, a highly effective PMO will embrace a blend of project management techniques. No go live is the same, and the PMO must be agile enough to adapt and maneuver to evolving circumstances; it is the “Swiss Army Knife” of an integration.
- Integrity: Even with the right experience and approach, a PMO without integrity will fail. An effective PMO serves as an unbiased party and creates transparency to develop a consistent and united approach from top to bottom. A PMO with integrity builds trust with and instills confidence in the team.
2. Train Early and Often
The most super-human aspect about Olympians is their dedication to training. In peak training phases, Michael Phelps would swim 80,000 meters a week (~50 miles). However, training without a plan or guidelines will not result in achieving one’s goals. An effective Olympic coach works closely with the athlete and develops a personalized plan for the athlete’s life, including diet and training, until competition day. Similarly, for a successful integration, an effective PMO spends significant energy in planning all aspects of a project leading up to go live date. For our integration, we identified potential risks and developed mitigation strategies, created an integration plan mapping all critical dependencies leading up to the go live, and preplanned governance structures for all phases of the integration.
Training For the Real Thing
When planning an athlete’s training schedule, Olympic coaches develop trainings simulating competition conditions. Exposing the athlete to competition conditions as much as possible develops their muscle memory and builds their confidence.
Likewise, providing as many opportunities to practice go live elements in parallel conditions greatly increases the success rate of a go live. As Wayne Tung, Partner, mentions in his blog Practice, Practice, Practice, “Practice deployments as if they were the final, real exercise.” Such opportunities build the team’s confidence and identify areas needing support and improvement.
For our integration, we worked with the client to carve out phases within the integration as practice runs. To practice, cutover process (a series of steps that must be precisely followed to deploy a project into production), data migration and ramp up cycles were treated as the final run. Defect escalation and resolution processes were practiced in every testing cycle to prepare for defect management during hypercare (the period immediately following a system go live where an elevated level of support is available to ensure the seamless adoption of a new system). These activities helped identify and address areas of improvement.
Training Your Weakness
Roger Federer’s backhand, dubbed the “Neo-backhand,” is one of the most recognizable backhand techniques in tennis. His powerful one-handed backhand is credited as having won him the 2017 Australian Open against Rafael Nadal. However, Federer’s backhand was considered his weakest shot in his game until 2016, when he hired Ivan Ljubicic as his coach. Together they trained his weakness and turned it into a very powerful ally.
As mentioned before, identifying areas of improvement can significantly improve go live success. By accurately tracking key performance indicators (KPI), the PMO can identify areas of improvement and quickly maneuver the direction of an integration. For our integration, we leveraged analytics to monitor ticket velocity, ticket themes, resource load, and other KPIs to identify bottlenecks and make decisions to alleviate constraints. Such an exercise was crucial to mitigating risks and issues before they could escalate.
3. Prepare Your Mind
Much of an Olympic athlete’s success is attributed to their raw athleticism and talent, such as Usain Bolt’s explosive stride or Michael Phelps’s wingspan. However, it would be a mistake to overlook their determination and mental aptitude. On the day of competition, being mentally in the “zone” is just as, if not more, important than physical fitness. Top Olympians utilize mental imagery training to upkeep their mental confidence and draw out the best of their abilities.
Building mental confidence is crucial to implementing a successful go live. As mentioned before, practicing go live activities prior to the go live date is important to build the confidence of the project team. It is also important to build trust with the trainers and end users as they will be the ones using the new system to perform daily responsibilities. Even with the right approach and structure, a system is unusable if the end users have no trust in the system. Maximizing the time trainers have for hands-on access to the system significantly increases the probability of a successful go live. During our integration, trainers were given access to the system during testing and we co-developed training content alongside the trainers. We also worked closely with trainers and developers to build training data that closely mapped real scenarios. This empowered the trainers to be more confident training others, greatly reducing noise during go live, allowing the development team to efficiently focus on technical issues.
Olympic athletes compete at the apex of their field, drawing on years of training and preparation. As we cheer for our favorite athletes giving everything they have to this one-shot opportunity, we can learn from them ways to push a go live from good to great. The Olympics represent an opportunity to bond with friends and family, watch your favorite sports, and display your pride and patriotism. While enjoying this world-wide spectacle, remember to be thinking about how focusing on coaching, training, and mental preparedness can benefit your next go live.