This is the third post in The Compass Guide to a Successful Project series. Our initial post introduced Compass365 and provided an overview of our four key elements of effective project planning and covered the first element: Initiation and Assessment. The second post went into detail on Design.

The Third Key Element: Development

If you were planning a trip, the Development phase would be where you test your equipment and get everything ready for that week-long bike, hike, sail, or drive. Development is the time to think through your lists and prep the different aspects of the trip: planning the food, practicing setting up a tent, or showing your kids how to use the emergency radio. This is the dry run that gets you ready to go for the real thing.

There are 5 steps inside the development phase:

  1. Build out
  2. Playback meeting
  3. Making adjustments
  4. Testing and training
  5. Sign-off to deploy

Step 1: Build out

Depending on the project size, the development phase can take a few weeks. In this phase, we get into the meat of implementing the solution. We work on a myriad of client projects, from Intranet site builds to Business Applications, SharePoint migrations, and custom integrations. We start the development phase by getting software installed and configured, for example, building out SharePoint sites with planned configurations. The build-out is the phase where we go from ideation and blue sky thinking to the nuts and bolts of making things work.

Sometimes businesses want a new solution to work exactly the way the old tech worked, which may not be possible. We also use this development phase to not only build but to document and educate clients on how and why the new tech may be a better choice for them, offering them more freedom and better functionality in the long run.

Step 2: Playback meeting

We conduct playback meetings (design reviews) regularly throughout the project, demonstrating to our clients what we have created and validating the design. We ask follow-up questions, incorporate feedback, finalize additional design details, and stay fully connected with our clients to make sure the configuration and development going forward will deliver the results they want and expect.

Our mission here is to make sure the system we set up meets our client’s stated needs, both in the assessment phase and in a real-world application.

Step 3: Making adjustments

In this phase, we use our experience to help clients avoid some pitfalls we’ve seen in the past. When you travel to a new city, you’ll often want an experienced guide to take you around on your adventure. That’s where we come in, with our decades of experience and commitment to constantly learning from every project we work on.

Let’s use a real-world migration project where we migrated a client from SharePoint 2013 to Office 365 as an example. The client had a third-party add-on for management, which when installed, pre-configured content types, lists, and forms. We went through the assessment and design phases to analyze their current setup and how it would be transformed.

When we went to implement, we found some configurations had been added after the installation. They were not wrong but were unexpected and forced us to change gears in the development phase. This affected where we would be migrating to and included redesigning and recreating content types, lists, etc. before they could migrate. Evaluations were made, and we adjusted the schedule by one week to account for that work. This is exactly what the development phase is all about; reviewing, communicating, testing, and seeing if what we designed with our clients is what ultimately solves the business problem within the budget allotted and with end users able to learn and leverage quickly.

Step 4: Testing and training

This is the time when we go into test mode, complete bug fixes and minor design tweaks. This is also where we do the bulk of the training with a “train the trainer” modality. We train a small number of key users in the organization (formal trainers, managers, and key technical people) so they can train the actual users and be ready to go when the system goes live.

Once we have the build-out (documentation, training materials, and test scripts), we work with the same team for initial testing and integration testing. As we near the end we bring in user testing, pilot testing, or per acceptance testing, guided by our client’s vocabulary.

We don’t just create training materials and hand them over. Our training is not generic – all training is specific to the solution we configure for each individual client.

We have different training options, depending on the customer’s needs. Mainly we develop a curriculum and have people representing each role within the workflow. They fill in the forms as we coach them through administrating the workflow, supporting lists, and viewing the history and analytics. We also create videos of the training upon request to be viewed on-demand and to train new users on an ongoing basis. One of the most expensive ways to train users is in a hands-on lab style, but that is rare, and we do not usually recommend this.

These “train the trainer” sessions are more like meetings and are used to further develop the curriculum, in-person or virtually, and to present and distribute the materials. We create a training deck for all users, showing them how to use their new tools. In a SharePoint Intranet installation, the deck would include content on the search bar, news articles, training the content authors, site owner authors, adding content to pages, and editing links in global navigation.

We use the same project team that went through the design and deployment to provide very relevant training for the project. If the main owner or administrator of the solution has left the company, we then come back and train that person’s replacement.

Step 5: Sign-off to deploy

Over the years we have learned many lessons and build that knowledge into how Compass365 approaches our work in collaboration with our clients. We document these learnings and ensure everyone on our team blends this knowledge into our approach and methodology, leading to a successful sign-off of the solution into deployment.

One of benefits of working with Compass365, as opposed to a large global firm with a very rigid approach, is that we follow a proven methodology, yet are flexible in how we adapt our services to fit what’s best for our client’s way of working. Our methodology is a conversation and a collaboration. If, for instance, you are working with an organization with an offshore team, requirements are often passed to the offshore team without the benefit of additional discussion or clarification. That is not a conversation; that is a two-point transaction and often results in multiple iterations of development to get it right, costing additional time and money.

Success is achieved in increments in the development phase. The first milestone is when the system starts to take shape, gets installed, configured, and ready to be used. We then review, test, train, and sign-off to deploy leading us to our final phase – Deployment and Review.

Stay tuned for the next phase in The Compass Guide to a Successful Project: Deployment and Review.