Over many years of participating in major system or process conversions, it was always assumed that there would be one or more weekends that would require the client, vendor, and all support staff to be on-site in the central office working through the weekend. I remember the long working hours, vending machine dinners, and catching a nap at or under a desk in the office at 2:00 AM before starting the next phase.
As we went into COVID, some real questions emerged about how to deploy these large initiatives from home. Without bringing the team together physically, how do we get the job done?
Using the technology available, we have developed processes that have worked well. These are extensions of best practices used for on-site conversions but can be adapted to work effectively with everyone working from a variety of office and remote sites.
Following are some of the successful adaptations for these large deployments:
Set up a virtual working room with many breakout sessions.
Using the standard video communication tools preferred by the company, create a working room that is open and moderated throughout the day and as needed into the night providing the command central for coordination and status updates.
Configure the virtual working room with many breakout sessions that participants can join or leave at will.
Name the breakout sessions for specific tasks, workstreams, and/or teams—whatever works for the team and conversion structure.
Team members can break into smaller groups or work alone in a breakout room as needed while never being more than a couple clicks away from the rest of the team.
Although separate meetings could be held, keeping everyone engaged in breakout room sessions off the main working room allows flexibility in moving from one group to another and allows people to virtually stick their head in the room and ask a question or virtually drop by to talk—a couple important interactions that have been lost when team members are not working in the same office space. This structure provides a virtual working environment that allows the team to work closely together regardless of their location.
Maintain message board on screen in the virtual working room. Sharing key status, updates, and progress information on the screen in the main virtual working room provides an update to anyone who wants to check in and see what is happening. This dashboard can provide a variety of information specific to the program but should include the following:
High-level runbook steps and status
Next steps and target timing
Open issues and triage teams
Listing of active meetings in breakout rooms
This virtual dashboard allows key stakeholders and team members alike to stop in and see what’s happening and what to expect next.
Moderate the working room to keep the on-screen dashboard current and provide verbal response to team members as needed.
Typically, a few program management staff take turns monitoring the working room, sharing the dashboard on the screen
Dashboard and support materials are kept in central shared network location so transition from one moderator to the next can be handled smoothly
Use a global company’s reach to cover the clock. If the company has teams around the globe, use this to allow progress and coverage during long conversion weekends, assigning tasks and moderation duties to team members in their daytime hours and allowing transition to other regions as it progresses.
Other typical best practices are even more important when coordinating activities across the teams in the virtual working space:
Clear, concise runbook for all activities
Listing all expected tasks
Clear responsibility of who is needed to do or advise each task
Estimated timing and dependencies for all tasks
Regular updates and open communication. In addition to regular status meetings in the main working room and message board updates
Routine emails that go to all teams with status updates
Notice of any significant issues encountered
Updates to runbook timing and schedule
Confirm completion of key stages or overall conversion process
Contact information with on call hours and full calling tree as needed
Coverage needs to include all support teams and related areas whose expertise might be needed
Contact information is critical to allow ability to engage key SME’s or support teams quickly when incidents arise
Active issue management and communication
Clear email distribution lists for all incidents ensures key players are kept in the know
Centrally located incident/issues log on company’s tool of choice
Assigned program team that can take turns tracking the incidents, actively maintaining the log, moderating the working room, updating the messages on screen in the working room, and providing key communications out to broader teams
These methods have allowed us to manage larger deployments even with COVID restrictions with teams working from their homes. It doesn’t necessarily reduce the long weekend hours and late nights required but it does allow the teams to work from any location and avoid time and cost of travel or commuting to the central office location.
As we are surfacing from the necessary restrictions of COVID and are trying to confirm what the “new normal” is, concerns over things such as fuel cost, employee retention, travel and office costs lead towards continuing some of the processes we have utilized to enable successful conversions during COVID. These techniques also help bridge the requirements for teams that are spread globally.
There are still some business processes that will generally work better in person such as brainstorming sessions where heavy whiteboarding is used, team training, and such but with the use of the technology and tools available, coordination of major deployments is no longer one that requires the teams to live in the central office through the weekend.