Large IT enabled transformation efforts frequently have hundreds and sometimes thousands of people actively engaged in delivering on a complex project plan. These programs typically require a diverse set of IT, business, and project management skills. Frequently these programs will find themselves resource constrained, and the source of the constraint might surprise you. It’s not the high priced system integration executive, or the newly minted expert in the HANA database. Nor is it the business resource so frequently talked about or the project management expert. The most frequent constraint is…wait for it…your legacy support team.
Legacy systems are the brick and mortar of your current business processes and the vessels of the data critical to executing every transaction. Built over decades, these legacy systems contain complex code sets that can be maddening. The code can look fat and atrophied in some places and might make absolutely no sense in others. The documentation, if there is any, will likely be hopelessly out of date, and prior maintenance teams might choose to program around an older legacy system rather than open it up for change. I can recall one of my previous bosses referring to the legacy systems as “our mummies.” He would say that we patch and patch and patch, but what’s inside is dead, and the rest of the system is dangerous and should be in a horror movie. Let’s face it, legacy support is not a glamor job within an organization and typically companies will want these support teams to be as lean as possible.
These legacy systems are a critical component of any IT enabled transformation effort. As a result, so will be the people that support these systems day-to-day. On the transformation program, these resources will be required to build interfaces, upgrade aging platforms to enable integration, enrich legacy data to support new business processes, extract data to load into the new systems, and develop plans to sunset or retire these old legacy war horses. Typically this work falls on the one or two people that really understand each legacy system.
With all the activity and the few resources available to deliver, transformation program execution bottlenecks develop. Once these bottlenecks form, it is nearly impossible to break them free. Program delays occur, additional resources are brought in to gaze over the shoulder at the hard working legacy programmer, and alternative solutions are proposed and developed that deviate from well thought out future state process designs. At worst, frustrations build up as 80 hour work weeks go unappreciated, finally ending with resignations of the scarcest resource who chose to take control of their own destinies vs. digging their own graves.
So what’s the answer? How do you keep these critical resources fresh and productive for your project? Here are several surefire ways:
- Acknowledge early on how important these people are and how important they will be in the future. Provide them with a plan for how each will be trained on new technologies. Consider sending a personal letter to their families at home letting them know that the company appreciates the sacrifices they will make as the inevitable long hours of a project interfere with their social agendas.
- Be real. Work with your system integrator to establish a realistic demand projection for legacy resources, and then structure a plan that considers the constraints on the legacy resources. This might include executing some activities earlier than what the system integrator would prescribe, however it is sure to save the program from unnecessary fees as they claim change orders due to the unavailability of client resources.
- Increase legacy capacity early by adding lower-cost contingent staff. Building this capacity early on will allow the resource sufficient time to become productive and cost you about half of what the system integrator might charge.
- Reduce legacy demand by limiting changes and support activities. This normally draws a protest from the business, but will soon be quelled once these business resources get pulled into the primary transformation program.
Showing your legacy resources the love might be just the right answer to secure your program’s success.
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