This summer at Procurant we are kicking off a number of system integration projects with our produce and floral supplier customers. When I say “integration project” I mean setting up a connection from the customer’s ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software to the Procurant One platform, which then routes information to buyers using Procurant for order management.
Integration is an optional configuration for our customers, and it is usually a good option for suppliers with a high volume of business flowing through the network because it streamlines and automates many of the processes around receiving and shipping orders.
Setting up these integrations in our current business environment — when many people are still working remotely or under varying levels of safety protocols — got us thinking about best practices and how to efficiently manage projects when everyone is still dealing with uncertainty and change with respect to ever-changing COVID restrictions.
Here are our rules of thumb for project management in challenging times that you might also find useful.
The first step to any successful project is understanding what the flow of activity looks like. Each project is different of course but you can generally count on the same basic setup for integrations.
Each phase has different steps and moves at a different pace, but getting a sense of what to expect can make meetings more efficient while keeping everyone closely engaged with the project.
As the project kicks off, it is important for everyone to understand and agree on the expectation for the outcome of the integration and project. During this phase you first meet the teams that will be directly involved with the project, so it makes sense to set expectations as soon as possible to avoid unintentional scope creep and miscommunications.
Discovery is also a time when you can get used to whatever remote-work protocols you need to comply with. Are some team members in lockdown? Are others juggling kids and family schedules? These situations all have an indirect influence on the project, and should be considered during the discovery process.
This phase is really getting into the nuts and bolts of things. For integration-specific projects this would be making sure all teams understand the specs required to complete the integration as well as the technologies used to make the connections. The goal is to make sure we have everything needed to continue to the next phase.
For integration projects, one example would be the customer’s preferred integration method. Several options are available. Most go with EDI or an API connections, but other configurations can be used as well. It is also important for the integration to know which EDI version is used and the communication method needed so that the setup can accommodate those requirements.
A test system is an essential part of any technology project. Because today’s cloud systems are complex and always running, a test system is the only way to make sure the integration is working as expected. This testing phase typically happens over an extended period to identify and correct any issues found.
This is the final phase of the project and move the integration to the production environment. Connections are tested and the project signed off.
Moving too soon into the final phase without due diligence or rushing the project can lead to bigger headaches down the road. Potentially having incorrect orders or missing orders entirely in the system can happen if something was missed. It is important to maintain good communication throughout or it can be far too easy to let something fall between the cracks. This final phase into production is not the time to be finding issues, and effective project management throughout the project can help prevent nasty suprises at the end.
Communication is key to any endeavor so setting up a regularly-scheduled meeting can be very helpful to get the latest status on the project. This is also a great time to bring up any questions or concerns to the team. Communication outside of meetings is also good, but weekly meetings give everyone a chance to have a set time to focus completely on the tasks at hand. Everyone should feel like the next steps are clearly defined and who is responsible for those steps.
It does not matter how much you plan; things are going to come up in any project. As much as everyone wants the dates set at the beginning of the project to be the final dates everything is completed, it simply is not realistic and can be frustrating when timelines get pushed. Planning for some flexibility in the dates and deadlines can alleviate a lot of frustration as the project moves forward. Communication is critical in this stage. If issues or obstacles come up, communicating those quickly can make those date changes far less painful and facilitate a smoother flow overall.
There have been projects that I have been a part of that started out just fine, but due to unexpected weather a main facility was shut down for two weeks. This threw off the project from the original timeline by months. It was a good reminder that anything can happen even with the best project planning, even tornadoes!
Approaching a project with the right mindset and expectations can make all the difference in how smoothly it goes. Preparation and communication are key, and a bit of flexibility along the way helps as well. Keep that in mind, and hopefully these rules of thumb that I’ve outlined can provide a good general framework for an integration project in these interesting times.
Procurant is transforming the global food supply chain with technology to reduce waste, increase visibility, improve food safety and digitize business from production to consumption. The company was founded by industry veterans with decades of experience delivering solutions to growers, shippers, distributors, retailers and foodservice operators.