The development is all done; Systems Integration Testing (SIT) and User Acceptance Testing (UAT) have been completed successfully. Your developers can now breathe easy. You have put in a great amount of rigor to make sure all the milestones were completed successfully and with Quality. The job’s as good as done. Just the project cutover is left. That’s pretty straightforward. How bad can it be, now that everything else is completed!?
Almost every new Project Manager (and even some experienced ones) has at some point in a project thought of the above.
But, as they say, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Any Project Manager worth their salt would swear by the importance of doing a cutover smoothly without any hiccups. This would, in fact, be one of the most crucial and critical activities of the entire project lifecycle. Let’s take a look into what goes into a project cutover and what are the best practices to adopt to have a smooth cutover.
What is a Project Cutover?
Simply put, in a project lifecycle, project cutover refers to the phase when the Project goes live. Project cutover is an activity which is actually the series of tasks that are performed to deploy the components from the development/Pre-production environment to the Production environment and activate them.
Why is Project Cutover a Critical Activity?
Given the above definition, this is really a no-brainer. Even with all successes of development, SIT and UAT, if the cutover is botched, the production environment could potentially become unavailable – partially or fully. This, of course, might result in financial loss for the Client, and a bad name for you, the Project Manager and your company.
So What Should I do?
Planning for Cutover
A successful project cutover activity always begins with a well-drafted Cutover Plan. This can be as early as the Development Phase, and ideally by the start of Testing Phase, so as to make sure there is sufficient time to review the plan and incorporate all the tasks.
Components of a Cutover Plan
A typical Cutover Plan will contain a lot of detail about the activities leading up to the day of cutover, the activities to be done on the day of the cutover and then the activities to be done after the cutover is completed. The typical structure should look something like below:
Preparation Activities Leading Up to the Day of Cutover
These are the activities that would need to be done 1-2 days prior to the actual date of cutover. This would include validating the checklist of tasks that need to be done on the day of cutover among any other activities
Preliminary Activities on the Day of Cutover
Before the actual cutover activities begin, you must ensure that you have taken care of all the upstream and downstream linkages and dependencies. If there are any interfaces that feed into this system, they would probably need to be stopped. Same with the outgoing interfaces as well. This is to protect the overall integrity of the data from getting corrupted.
You might also need to keep your end users out of the system during the time of the cutover. This would prevent them from accidentally executing any transactions and messing the data in the system. This would also prevent them from experiencing inconsistent behavior at the time the cutover activities are going on.
Activities on the Day of the Cutover
These are the sets of tasks that your team will actually be doing to deploy the components to the Production Environment and activate them. There might be many components, and hence it becomes imperative to list them all in this section of the cutover plan, in the sequence that they would be deployed. Along with the components, the owner of the task and the time required for the task provides complete information of that particular task. It is important to account for various breaks during the day (lunch breaks, bio breaks etc.) so as to keep the timelines practical and reasonable.
Activities Immediately after Cutover
All activities scheduled for cutover are completed, including the post deployment testing. This now also confirms that the deployment has been successful. It’s now time to let the end-users back into the system. Next come the interfaces. These can be turned on to make sure there’s no adverse impact on the upstream and downstream systems.
Activities Following the Cutover Day
Ideally, for a few days post-cutover, the system should be monitored for any unusual, inconsistent behavior and addressed, as much as possible proactively. This would give a good impression of you as a Project Manager for the Client.
Periodic Checkpoint Meetings
Keep internal meetings at periodic intervals to check the progress. This would be a very quick status update meeting. This would also prove as a medium to bring forth any issues encountered that would need escalation.
A typical cutover plan would look something like the below.
In addition to all of the above, a very essential and mandatory part of the Cutover Plan document is the Communications Plan. This would capture all the stakeholders involved in the cutover activity. It is always better to have a distinct distribution list for internal communication and client/management communication. Identify who all need to receive the communication on the client/management side and their contact numbers if required in case of an emergency.
Similarly, list the contact details of the team that will be doing the cutover.
Lastly, list the different communications that would need to happen during the day at what times, and who would be responsible for those.
Below is a sample communication plan that captures the details in a succinct manner.
The benefit of having a Communications Plan as part of the Cutover Plan document, is that it gives easy visibility on who the stakeholders are, at what point in time should they be expecting a communication and whom to contact in case any information / escalation is needed.
It is always better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. Effective Information dissemination will help avoid uncertainty, and hence stress and panic, for the clients and management. This is precisely the intent of having a robust Cutover and Communications Plan so that there is good visibility on the activities to all the stakeholders and everybody participates positively, thereby leading to a successful cutover.
Having a well-drafted cutover plan ahead of the actual cutover helps give visibility on all the activities and tasks that need to be executed at cutover. It also helps put a structure to the overall activity by assigning owners and a timeline to each task. Coupled with a strong communications plan, this becomes a very important tool at the hands of the Project Manager to streamline the cutover activity and make it a success.