Confession of a Program Manager (Part III) –First Install and Testing Phase

From the last blog if you remember the project phases, we had seen a sequence of

Inception -> Elaboration -> Install & Testing ->Dress Rehearsal & Go-Live ->BAU Stabilization

In this blog we will be talking about the First Install and Testing
As it is famously said that well begun is half done, but the real fight still awaits to make it a total success. In the previous two phases most of the action is happening either remotely or with select business, IT, Operations, vendor teams. But when it comes to first install and testing, it’s time for majority of the teams to get involved and get the ball rolling.
As a program manager some of the things that needs attention and monitoring are listed below:
1) First Install of the product: Once the product vendor is ready with their pieces of enhancements and customizations it’s time to install the SW and make it up and running for shakedown. Depending on the strategy approaches might differ for installation. Everything gets installed in one go or a phase wise / drop wise approach is taken. Infrastructure team and bank internal IT team gets in to action to check all connections, integrations, handshakes, setting up test and prod segments. Getting necessary approvals from Change Management Committee and in some cases handling unplanned challenges.
 2) Department Involvement: after the first install and systems are shaken down for confirming the basic connectivity and handshakes, it is good to be handed over for next steps. Typically it involves Training and system integration testing before the functional UAT starts.
It’s essential to get the order of activity sequence right. An experience project manager needs to ensure all the dependencies are well understood and factored in while coming up with sequence of activities. Although the challenges are always new and specific to that installation.
Some quick tips for aligning important activities
• Get departments aligned – for the set of activities they need to perform, get their commitments and structure in place. It’s a good practice to involve them in the working committee meetings and track progress
• No surprises – Sometimes we have observed in the past that due to various reason like change in department head or late realization some tasks gets added to the list and becomes mandatory for obtaining sign-off. Example late request of getting vulnerability testing done or adding another round of operations users testing on top of already planned activities. As a project manager it has to be wisely understood and quick decisions taken to make necessary amendments.
• Walkthrough sessions – Over the years as a project manager I have experienced that walkthrough session are far more effective than the number of emails sent to people. It’s time saving and you get instant buy-in and common understanding across teams during such sessions.
• Teams under one roof- getting dedicated team and co-location is equally important for faster interactions and quick progress. However the reality is most of the times, the teams are neither located at the same place nor same country / time zone, effective co-ordination and management becomes key.
3) Trainings: As the saying goes ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn’. One of the important activities for business, technology and operations team during this time is to undergo hands-on system training, self-learning and increasing their expertise and knowledge on the new system being implemented.
From past experience couple of tips for project managers. Arrange the training only after the first SW install that is specific to bank requirements rather than any vanilla version of install.In order to save time is try and get the training for operations and technology, business done in parallel if possible as the content topics differ.

 4)Testing: This is one of the most crucial phase of the project. Testing must complete on time and successfully. The outcome drives the go-live and overall success or failure of the project. Depending on project size and complexities various types of testing are required like SIT, UAT, OAT, Interface, Regression, Performance, Security, Vulnerability and the list continues. The earlier defects are detected in the testing cycle, better it is.

As an industry best practice, it is advisable to carry out multiple rounds of testing specifically the UAT rounds. Typically 2-3 rounds of UAT based on the complexity and volume of the changes that are being introduced. This should be followed by at least 1 clean pass run of regression testing ensuring the last lot of changes that went in to the system are not impacting the previously working functionalities.

The number of UAT rounds is also dependent on the number of code drops to the environment and making a prudent decision specific to project instance will benefit most. Example – at an installation client had taken an approach of monthly code drops 4 in total, so UAT rounds needed to be extended to match with code drops and increased to 6 rounds in total.
An experienced project manager will definitely be able to sail through these decisions quickly and confidently.

Another important thing is the decision on how many open incidents should be acceptable before exiting the testing phase. In an ideal world this count should be Zero but it seldom happens. This decision is tricky but ensuring that no critical or high priority incidents are open is essential. There could be some medium or low priority incidents hanging around but then having a mitigation plan and knowing how to tackle it in production is important.
It’s all about finding the optimal release point rather than fixing all miniscule defects and loosing precious time resulting in further delays and overall costs to the project.

5) Payment Scheme certification: No matter how fast your testing team progresses and completes the testing the Payment schemes must certify in order to go-live. There are different elements of certification testing, Issuer Host certification, CPV, Acquirer certification. Every scheme has its own procedure of allocating their resources and opening up the project with banks. Experienced project manager helps greatly reducing the time wasted during initial information exchanges with schemes, with prior knowledge of what is expected. It is essential to factor in this critical timeline for overall completion.
After all these hurdles get near to completion, program manager must take fairly access the situation whether all the exit criteria are correctly met or not. Are there any exceptions? If so, why and with a plan to tackle them individually. Risk assessment for the open incidents what are acceptable levels and what is not etc. It takes lot of effort and energy to get all these things sorted and in order.
Things may not be perfect, never will be perfect. For me, what is essential at this point of time is having the pragmatic approach. Crux is to know the ground reality, what is possible in given time, what best can be done in order to close open points and proceed to the next stages.
As someone has said ‘Progress is more important than the perfection’ the decisions need to be taken at appropriate time and keep moving in right direction to achieve project goals.

Prasanna Chitale

Prasanna is Head of Innovation at Verinite and member of Leadership Team. He has worked across various locations including Europe, Middle east and India on projects providing services in retail and corporate banking domain. Outside his work, he is a photographer, a traveler, and a mathematics enthusiast.