Monday, April 16, 2012

Installation Planning - Part 1

During the course of any project there will be a time when the system actually gets installed. This is a step in the overall roll out of a solution that generally lasts from a few days to a few months depending on the type of a system and number of locations being installed. By this time all requirements gathering, planning, system designs have been completed, socialized and approved. To be more specific, an engineering team is scheduled to go onsite to actually install and configure the software. 

A common mistake I see is the lack of documentation for this phase; usually it is a line item on a project plan with some high level milestones under it. From a project management perspective, that is all that is required to maintain visibility, however this lack of documentation can significantly hinder the project depending on the circumstances.

The solution is an installation planning document. I usually build these documents in excel and they have at least 6 columns. Task ID, Task Name, Task Notes, Assignee, Status and Time Spent. This turns into a list of steps that the system installer will need to perform to get the system installed. It needs to be as granular as you feel is necessary, I prefer to document each configuration file change, installation locations, ports, host names and paths for temp directories. I also like to add snippets of configuration files in the Task Notes column. Generating this document can be time consuming; however the content is re-usable and provides a great data set for estimating the schedule for future installations. 

Spending time generating these installation checklists are well worth the effort. There are some very practical engineering benefits. For example, in complex systems by generating the configuration files ahead of time, you may be able to spot certain issues with the configuration. These issues are much easier addressed if they are spotted prior to system installation.  

If you have multiple engineers installing the system, the checklist is a coordination lifesaver. Each engineer will know what they will need to do and having configuration files ahead of time ensures that all settings will match up and the system will operate when you turn it on.

There are advantages from the management standpoint as well. A key one is a peer review process, the installation checklist can be disseminated for review to senior engineers, architects and the system manufacturer. They may be able to spot issues with the configuration ahead of time or offer some improvement suggestions. This truly takes advantage of corporate reach back that so many large vendors claim they have.

Furthermore, this can actually decrease costs of implementation since the configurations can be developed off site by architects and senior engineers and the onsite installation can be performed by lower level systems engineers. Since all hard design work was completed ahead of time, the lower level systems engineers will not need to be as experienced. In this scenario the onsite installer can still call and reach a higher level engineer if trouble arises, but this frees up your architects and other corporate talent to work on more projects.

If the system is being deployed in multiple locations the installation checklist will ensure that the system installation methodology and configuration is the same. This will assist greatly if the maintenance of the system has to be transitioned to a different support group within an organization. Operations and Maintenance (O&M) will be a nightmare if each system is configured differently and planning upgrades will not be easy.

These are just some of the benefits of spending additional time planning the installation. In the next post I’ll share some techniques and tips on creating an effective system installation checklist.