Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Monday, August 25, 2014

13 Weeks to Launch

It wasn't that long ago that I could speak of my project timeline in terms of months (or even years!) but that time has come to an end. We are counting weeks -- somewhat to my team's discomfort -- and before long I might be forced to make one of those construction-paper chains I crafted as a child to tick down the days until Christmas. I can almost taste go-live. It is a wonderful taste for guys like me who have built careers around IT projects.

My fondest go-live memory was back in 2003, producing the first bills on a new student financials system (of now-defunct SIS product) at a client in the mid-west. We had tested the system backwards and forwards; we were certain that it would be a quick night. I was the project lead and my senior developer was in an office across the hall. I think we probably started the process just after business hours. It was going to be a long process (hardware wasn't so fast as it is today) and we were watching the database -- first ten bills done, up to 20, up to 100, up to 500, on and on, up and up, to somewhere around 12,000 (with a total expected number of just barely north of that), and then I watched with horror as the transaction unwound, down to 11,000 and one by one the bills were no more. Project failure loomed just ahead, a disaster in the making, the undoing of the transactions a preview of the undoing of my consulting career (to be a little melodramatic)...

We worked all night, finally discovering some stupid memory issue (and realizing we also needed to rethink wrapping the whole process in a single transaction (duh -- but that was how the product was delivered!). We drank lots of Mountain Dew. While many details of the code are gone forever, I clearly remember the loud ringing of the reception desk phone, roughly every ten minutes for 10+ rings. I kept wondering (and eventually screaming in a brief tirade at the peak of my frustration): "who the hell is calling our office at 3:15am?" I never found out, and somehow that phone survived the night (we couldn't find it!)

The next day, the client was thrilled -- all the bills were perfect and on their way to students and parents. It looked so easy and straightforward; only my colleague and I knew the real story of how close we came to the precipice. 
Of course, our go-live in 13 weeks will go off without a hitch. But I'll be sure to stock the fridge and disable any random reception-area phones -- just in case.


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