Operational Readiness in Project Management

Necessary activities for ensuring the smooth rollout, operation, and maintenance of solutions produced by projects on day one can be overlooked in some organizations. The objectives of these activities constitute operational readiness (OR)—an integral support tool between the project management environment and the business environment.

A good description of operational readiness is “the process of preparing an asset under construction and the supporting organization so that at the point of delivery and handover, the asset organization is fully prepared to assume ownership of the asset, accepts responsibility for and is capable of performing the safe and efficient operation of that asset in a sustainable manner.”

The main purpose of OR is to reduce operational risks and the loss resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes, people, and systems or from external events.

Operational readiness is often neglected because OR activities are usually not part of the project life cycle. This can weigh down overall project success. The job of the project manager and the project team is complete when the solution is ready for deployment. At this point, another group such as solution delivery or release management takes over.

In most organizations, the transition from project work to operations is not streamlined. This is often reserved for complex projects that affect large customer subscriber bases once changes or updates are included in the implementation.

However, an operational readiness assessment ensures the operating environment is prepared to effectively support and accept the changes resulting from the project. If operational readiness was officially part of the project life cycle, it would enforce real value delivery, improve solution continuity, reduce operational risks, and provide an overall accurate picture of project costs, schedule, and scope.

Role of the Project Management in Operational Readiness

When it is time for a project to roll out or go live, there are many steps to take to ensure the process is smooth, error-free, and executed in a timely manner. A project manager can help this along when this important formal process is included as part of the overall project plan as an operational readiness process, including solution scope, rollout, schedule, and cost.

A project manager can help most by working with the larger OR team in commissioning to identify all systems, assets, and processes needed for the solution to operate successfully and by managing the following critical key steps as part of the operational readiness assessment.

Training

In this phase, the creation and distribution of training materials documenting the support and operations procedures for operational readiness are scheduled and finalized. Users and user support teams are also trained properly and have access to training documentation going forward, and they understand who to go to for even more support.

This may also include training documentation for end users such as customers. For this, operational readiness activities criteria should be tested as early as possible in phases or for intermediate deliverables.

Maintenance

A separate staff from the project team should be made available and adequately trained to operate and maintain all associated processes and systems for operational readiness. Moreover, a well-documented maintenance policy and procedures should be available to all who monitor and control system performance and behavior with minimal effort.

At the Ready

An initial operational readiness strategy or risk management plan is needed, so the designated team is ready to go at the first sign of risk materializing. An example of this could include a system crash or a security breach. This front-line defense of the operation should be prepared to execute at code red and confidently know what to do and in what order.

Cost Coverage

A plan to handle future costs in covering unexpected risk should be analyzed and estimated well in advance to avoid any big surprises. The operational readiness plan is sometimes left out of the budget even though it can amount to a significant part of the budget. The reason sometimes being because it might influence project selection, prioritization, and overall resource allocation in the organization.

Quality

Operational readiness activities and logistics must be a part of the quality management plan, for quality assurance (QA), and for quality control.

Project Governance Exceptions

Sometimes it is not unusual that operational readiness risks force a decision by leadership that OR criteria may not be satisfied, for example as a trade-off between time-to-market and quality. Trade-off decision-making tends to put pressure on quality and OR because they are perceived as less tangible than cost, schedule, and scope.

In this event, it is the project manager’s responsibility to partner with leadership and enable project governance by presenting the possible consequences of not satisfying some OR criteria, in terms of risks and consequences if risks materialize, and recommend scenarios where risk exposure remains acceptable and with a minimal negative impact on customer experience. The cost of an OR risk materializing is estimated by multiplying its probability of occurrence by its cost impact.

Early Warning Signs

Even though it may seem like everything is running fine and on schedule, there could be some underlying signs that a project or team is not in a state of operational readiness. Project managers should be on the lookout and prepared to handle these situations:

  • The development or agile team is delaying or pushing out critical items or being vague in their completion, including QA and testing, instead of checking them off the list as planned.
  • An individual on the team has a history of incident or not playing well with project management.
  • The project governance team is not in agreement on final details and are having frequent one-off meetings to battle it out among key stakeholders.
  • The window of time between when the launch or release is scheduled to occur, and the set release schedule calendar availability is running out or not in sync.
  • There is hesitancy or lack of response or commitment from individuals assigned to the operational readiness plan resulting in lack of activity to get it finalized.
  • Resources are thin, and there is a suspected roadblock in hiring, onboarding, and commissioning individuals to be part of an operations team responsible for key roles in OR and beyond.
  • A seemingly structured approach has obvious holes or gray areas that need further investigation to ensure a safe operational environment.

Associated Costs of OR

A solid operations readiness plan, when estimated correctly in advance and approved by project governance, can carry significant cost. The purpose is to avoid other unnecessary exponential costs if not prepared when trying to deploy a damage control process later.

Commissioning a team to take over and maintain operational health with the goal of operational excellence starting day one and beyond should take into account the following in this example of what is needed for a hypothetical subscriber website service for digital content customers:

  • Website operating personnel
  • Website support (call center, chat, email)
  • IT operational support
  • Training materials for support and customers
  • Data systems analysis
  • Equipment or materials
  • Equipment asset management

Operational efficiency can make or break a company’s bottom line. It is no surprise that organizations strive to hire project managers who lead projects end-to-end with a good rate of success.

They understand how difficult it is to transition from deliverables to a solution that is effective in operation. This crucial transition should be transparent and support a smooth hand-off for business continuity. An operational readiness plan that has gone through a proper operational readiness review is your best shot at a successful post-project effort.

 

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Anne Meick

Anne Meick is an author, copywriter, and digital project management consultant, leading digital teams and projects in highly regulated industries. She is the founder of Writers' Connection and blogs on writing, editing, and book publishing.