The Longest Pole in the Tent
There’s a phrase you’ll hear in IT project management (and I heard it so many times from a particular client it was comical) called the “long pole” or “longest pole in the tent”. The metaphor refers to the fact that when you’re putting up a tent, you need to start with the longest pole. If you start with the shortest pole, it could easily tip over when you go to put the longest pole in place.
In an ERP or CRM implementation, there are certainly components of a project that take longer than others. Sometimes it’s data migration, sometimes it’s building an integration, sometimes it’s a really important customization, but there’s always something that’s going to take a long time. If that component is critical to go-live, you have to think ahead and start on it early. One of the easiest ways to get yourself in a position where you have to push back the go-live is to start on a big component too late.
How do you avoid the “long pole in the tent” problem – it comes down to two things – first, you have to break down the project into components early in the project. That’s why we do our Enterprise Process Reviews – the goal is to poke at every major chunk of the project so we can figure out which components will be the most complex so we can build a schedule that allows us to tackle that first. The second key to avoiding the long pole problem is to have a project manager who understands this and builds the project schedule with these long poles in mind. It’s one thing to know about a problem; it’s another to come up with solutions for the problems.
Let’s Talk About Common “Long Poles”
1. Data migration – if you spent the time to clean your data before the project started and you have a good idea where your data is and how to get it out, chances are data migration will not be a long pole. Most companies are not like that – they don’t really think about data migration until the project starts and their data is generally a mess (meaning a lack of master data control, duplicates, or worse, of data records, etc).
2. Integration – it always takes longer than expected to get an integration started and moving if you need active participation from the integrating party. You need to reach out to that party and get their agreement to be involved so you can move forward. You also typically need several environments to support the development and test of the integration so you can isolate specific issues there. So even if it’s an 80-hour development project, it can easily qualify as a long pole in the tent with all the other tentacles it spawns.
3. Customization – it’s hard to know right away what the most challenging customizations will be, so you want to spend time early in the project on those hot spots. The sooner you can identify these potential problem areas, the sooner you can dig in to get proper estimates, so you can move forward. The key here is to investigate the complex customizations right away and schedule your Joint Process Design sessions in those areas so you can get an approved design done as quickly as possible.
Seek out potential long poles early in your project so you can keep the project on track. I hope you can keep this in mind so you can be successful on your next project.