Last week, in a meeting with a client, we were asked to recommend an implementation approach for an SAP conversion to HANA and give an estimation upfront of the resourcing needed. We centered the discussion by explaining the benefits of conducting a Proof of Concept to avoid choosing the wrong implementation approach. In the end we concluded with the client to jointly take a step back, do fact-finding and align the arguments for each of the potential implementation approaches. We strongly believe in a data-driven approach when advising our clients; while experience certainly plays a role, we need a solid foundation of qualified facts to evaluate each option. This way of thinking should be followed during the whole route of the change, not only at the start. What I call “the 3P method” supports this perspective.

The first P: Proof of Concept (PoC)

The terms PoC, Prototype and Pilot are frequently used interchangeably. This is unfortunate because they mean different things and serve very different purposes. A PoC is a small exercise to test a design, idea or assumption. An example of a PoC for Custom Code conversion is testing whether a clearly defined portion of custom code is working functionally the same as before with a new software release of the application installed. To have the best result, a PoC should clearly state what it is to be proven and to what degree. The results of a PoC need to be measurable so that the results can be fed into the decision making process. It is not enough to just say "We tested that and it works." You want the results to show how or how well it works.

The second P: Prototype

Now that we have more confidence that our idea fits as a solution, next step could be to create a prototype. A prototype is a more fleshed out unit that tries to simulate the full system or at least a material part of it. Prototypes are used to test the viability or usefulness of the changes intended for the target system or subsystem. The completeness of the prototype depends on what you are testing. Prototyping is usually the best way to figure out the feasibility and cost conducting a project or change. Compared to the final system a prototype is still not complete, but it shows if the important parts of the designed solution fully fit the requirements.

The third P: Pilot

The prototype convinced us our approach is suitable, we have seen it working in a controlled environment. Now we want to see it work in a real-life environment. A pilot project refers to an initial roll-out of a system into production, targeting a limited scope of the intended final solution. The pilot should be big enough to test both the implementation process as the intended business result, but small enough not to impact the overall business. The scope may be limited by the number of users who can access the system, the business processes affected, the business partners involved, or other restrictions. The purpose of a pilot project is to test in a production environment.

Executing the Actual Project

All ground work has been done and the risks are minimized by gaining as much information as possible about the implementation part ahead of us. We have to make sure we stay agile during this part of the challenge. The eight principles of DSDM Atern, an agile project management framework, direct the team in the attitude they must take and the mindset they must adopt in order to deliver consistently: focus on the business need, deliver on time, collaborate, never compromise quality, build incrementally from firm foundations, develop iteratively, communicate continuously and clearly and demonstrate control.

There is increasing pressure on organizations to deliver working solutions to business problems and opportunities in ever-shorter timescales without compromising quality. PoC, prototypes and pilots are all important tactics in implementing technology and living up to these expectations. You need to engage in these activities deliberately and methodically for them to be of any value. And you will never realize that value unless you consciously record the results and turn this data into usable, actionable information. By using the 3P method users are more likely to claim ownership of the solution, the risk of building or implementing the wrong solution is greatly reduced and the final solution is more likely to meet the users’ real business requirements. Most important benefit of this agile approach is that it avoids the rigidity of a traditional ‘big design upfront’ and gives the decision maker the flexibility to steer the solution in the right direction during all phases of the change.

“Ory is dedicated to meeting and exceeding customer needs. He works as a Client Partner for smartShift Technologies and helps organizations optimize customized systems with the company's patented automation technology.”