Sailing the Gulf Stream

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By Kristi Feinzig, Senior Consultant

I have been sailing most of my life, and I religiously follow the blogs for several races throughout the year.The Newport Bermuda race, held bi-annually since 1936, is a one of my favorites.It is a grueling 635 nautical mile course that tests every aspect of a captain and crew--their planning, skills, discipline, and ability to handle unexpected challenges as a cohesive team.The race can take as little as the 39 hour record or as long as 5 days, as was the case for the majority of the boats this year.

Planning & Weather

As I read an article on strategizing for the Bermuda Race, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between an off-shore race and an OMS system implementation or conversion.In the article, Robbie Doyle (the founder of Doyle Sailmakers) talks about preparing months in advance.Doyle says,

“Begin to get a feel for what to expect in terms of weather and determine how the Gulf Stream is setting up and moving. Don’t wait until two days before the race to do this.”

While it may seem obvious, this is great advice if your firm is planning an implementation or conversion that will have a big impact on its operation.It is worth asking yourself and your team: What do we expect in terms of “weather?”Are the seas relatively calm at the firm, or is it in a period of turmoil, with other major changes taking place simultaneously?Re-organizations, staff turnover, and tight budgets can create rough seas that will challenge the project team and reveal weaknesses in planning or staffing.If you can time the project to take advantage of calmer waters, you may be able to improve your likelihood of success.If your objectives are urgent, however, you will need to manage through it by understanding the potential impact on your project and plan accordingly.Taking shortcuts in the planning process can leave important questions unanswered, and may blow the project off course.

Envisioning your destination

By scoping the project and setting a clear vision of the destination, team members and project sponsors are able to have a common goal with everyone on board, solving problems, brainstorming, and meeting interim objectives.

Of course, you need to know where you are going and what your destination looks like.What are your expectations of the final state?It’s easy to rely on GPS alone to get you to the finish, but it also helps to do a reality check.Did you end up at the island with pink sand beaches and hotels on the shore, or are you pulling up to a deserted island with no other boats in site?

It also helps to know which approach you are going to take when you arrive.The coral reefs in Bermuda extend up to 10 miles from the north of the island.While every team will have carefully studied the charts and reviewed the paths taken in previous years, additional planning for the current race helps.You may have every intention of coming in using the charts and sight; however, you may finish the race at 2 a.m. in the pitch dark. The same holds true for a system implementation.You may be on schedule, just to find out that accounting needs to lock-down the books the same week you were supposed to go-live.

Sustained commitment

Mission-critical projects can take months to complete, and require a sustained commitment from the team.In an effort to maintain a level of intensity, there may be a temptation to set unrealistically short deadlines for major milestones that push the team into “reactive” mode.Doyle’s advice suggests a better approach:

You want to make sure you establish your [watch] system immediately and stick to it from the start. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get into a rhythm and stay rested.“

Setting short, realistic milestones will help the team maintain a productive pace; achieving small successes can keep up the energy on the way to achieving the larger goals. When the pace is ambitious but measured, you can minimize the prospect of burning out your resources before they reach the critical end phases, when they’ll need to be at their sharpest.

Implementations and conversions will present challenges in the form of unexpected gaps, regulatory or business changes that must be accommodated, and complex problems that can tax the skills of your team.Often, when the toughest challenges appear to be in your wake, the focus of the project team can start to wane.Doyle warns:

Another pitfall is that you don’t rest on your laurels after you pass through the Gulf Stream. As a rule the sea state is calmer but people are tired and it is very easy to stop thinking strategically.There remain a lot of tricky currents and decisions made in the final 200 miles of the race where it can be won or lost.

In other words, it is critical that the team maintains their discipline through the last 25% of the project, and stay focused on the key goals.When the destination is in sight, and you have reached the end of your use cases or parallel testing, a common mistake is not taking the time to do the tasks that may seem tedious.These may include maintenance tasks such as documentation and creation of standards or evaluation of the new business process flows.

Experience

One of the boats in this year’s race, Wandrian, sustained a 6 inch hole in the hull while 300 miles from Bermuda.Quick thinking by the crew allowed them to patch the hole with a bucket and they were escorted to safety.The yacht which escorted them happened to be a 76 year old Yawl and the vision of this ocean veteran helping them along the way provides many other parallels in an OMS project.A process that has been used and tested on several other projects and clients can make the waters smoother and allow for better outcomes.

I have often pondered what conditions I will face when I make my first race to Bermuda.In some years, important parts were breaking on boats and anyone on the bow of the boat hoped their harness was clipped on really well as the waves crashed over their heads and they timed their breath so they wouldn’t inhale the salt water.

So when I scope a large project, I find myself timing my breath!

Enjoy the rest of your summer.Fair winds and following seas.

This article was authored by Kristi Feinzig, Senior Consultant.  For more information, please contact info@impconsults.com