February 25, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Success Story – National Point of Sales System Upgrade

By Linky van der Merwe

Success story - POS upgradeThis project story from project manager, Anwar Rawoot, is about the migration from a legacy Point of Sales (POS) system to a new POS system at 265 retail stores nationally that took three years to complete.

The complexity was in the fact that the project team only had a 12-hour window from the time a store closed until the next morning it opened to do the replacement, which included network infrastructure, shop fitting, POS and testing. A shop’s data would be migrated overnight and once the new system is in, it was migrated back to the new system.

Challenges

The project’s biggest constraints were that when server problems were experienced, it would take 8 hours to rebuild and in the case of till problems, it would take 3 hours to rebuild.

The way it was executed, was to do one store each night. All work had to be done after hours and there was only one team per region to do the work. They had to sleep during the day and work at night which had a family impact.

Working after hours

The challenge was how to work a 5-day week back-to-back and then an additional 24 hours shift. People became overworked, and the quality of work dropped. Some people even became ill over time. It also took three months to train people to the right level of expertise.

Eventually the plans were changed in order for stores from different regions to be done in the same week. This way regional teams could alternate with rest periods in between. At the same time the arrangements increased the logistics for the project manager as delivery times remained critical.

Logistics and Team Management

More competent and experienced staff had to be flown from the cities to smaller regions to assist. This increased the logistics for the Project Manager. The main success criteria was for a store to be trading the next day and to be fully functional.

For the physical implementation of tills and servers, the software would be installed at the staging sites in 2 regions. The window for staging of equipment was less than a week; else the server software would be outdated.

Due to the difference in store sizes, small stores have on average 6-10 tills and bigger stores have between 25-40 tills. Therefore from a shop-fitting perspective, every store was different. Bigger stores required bigger teams for the installation and quality assurance portion that included testing and ensuring that all devices were operational for next day trading.

What worked well

The project manager had dedicated teams working on the project, who could resolve all issues. There was no time for any failures. The project manager was onsite for three months which gave him sufficient experience in the process to be able to mitigate risks in other regions as well. He also positioned the team to respond to risks before they became issues and he continuously shared lessons learned at initial stores.

Once example of how they improved over time, is that team members would visit stores beforehand for shop-fitting preparations. By doing this they became more pro-active.

The teams were very committed despite the working hours. The work criteria were agreed beforehand and the requirement for longer hours to be worked daily.

What didn’t work well

The project was a huge undertaking, expected to be done in a fixed amount of time. The real complexity only became clear to the maintenance company over time; while still having to adhere to the agreed timeline.

The constraint of having only one skilled team per region caused much stress and for teams to become overworked.

The roll-out plan was initially too aggressive, until it was changed to different stores in different regions during the same week.

Lessons Learnt

With size-able upgrades or replacements like this project, it’s important not to over-commit. Ensure that the risks are well understood upfront. Also mitigate the known risks well in advance.

The work requirements need to be clearly defined in order to be realistic with planned project timelines. For multi-year projects, time and schedule management become critical and enough slack time should be allowed to allow for problems, if costs are not a factor. Also make provision for much re-planning on projects of this size, complexity and duration.

When working with multiple teams in different locations, the project manager’s resource management skills are key and the PM must be cognisant of people’s personal lives and the impact of after-hours work on a project over prolonged periods. It’s critical to have well organised teams like performing the preparation work during the day, and installations and testing overnight.

Adequate Proof of Concept (POC) is mandatory, especially for testing the process for different store sizes. Rather take longer to perform the POC and take risk management and quality assurance very seriously. The project manager had to understand scope, quality and risk in detail to ensure that requirements would be met. A technical background and experience would help for effective risk mitigation and quality assurance.

When much after hour work is required, the overtime burden becomes too much in terms of resources and costs. Planned execution improved over time with work being done in phases – infrastructure and cable were installed beforehand, as well as shop visits for preparations.

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Anwar Rawoot started with CEB maintenance working in the Retail industry as a Field Technician, then an Installation Supervisor. He started doing project coordination and then became interested in Project management, which lead to studies and qualifications in Project Management. To this day he enjoys the experience and thrill that goes with opening of new stores as he can appreciate the preparation work that went into that so well.

Anwar may be contacted on: anwarrawoot2@gmail.com
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