Go Live: Educate, Educate and Educate, Again

When Eclipse team members arrived at Brady Corp.’s Worldwide-Varitronics plant in Brooklyn Park, Minn., for the company’s first “go-live” in October, 2000, it was almost like putting an ‘interim government’ in place.

The plant produces letter- and label-printing systems, laminating equipment and poster printers, employing about 250 workers. It closed its operations on a Friday afternoon and—with the bustle of a theater changing backdrops for a new play—was ready to open Monday with new operating systems.

“We basically took over the businesses for a week,” said John Cullen, Eclipse team leader for customer and order acquisition.

Within 10 days, each of three small business units involved—Varitronics, Brady Precision Die Cut, which makes parts to protect or enhance communications devices, and Teklynx, which builds barcode hardware—had gone through a wholesale remake of their business processes, from marketing to orders to delivery to payment.

To prepare for the launch, Eclipse team leaders had held dozens of “fit-gap” workshops to determine how to make the business units’ processes work.

At Varitronics, team members simulated actual business conditions and wrote “stories” about how processes worked. At one point, for instance, the team broke down the process of marketing poster printers to customers, writing down every step from taking an order, to turning it over to manufacturing, to monitoring completion and delivery to customers.

In one “Kitchen-Sink” scenario, Cullen said, the team tracked a string of variables on a particular order to purposely make it difficult to unravel the string of events. Cullen said “The Kitchen Sink” included a number of things, such as taking an order for a custom product from a customer who also wanted a stock quote, and a “repair” on an item; scheduling that repair, routing the returned merchandise and reshipping it—all while a credit-hold was pending on the customer.

For each of 1,400 processes they revamped, they then trained “incessantly,” Cullen said, “to try to make sure that the new processes were followed and to reduce the lag time” that invariably results from switching from legacy systems to an integrated, all digital platform.

The first “go live”—the process of actually turning on the SAP software and using the reengineered processes—”was well- rehearsed,” Cullen said. Launching with only three smaller divisions was designed to “shake out the bugs,” before more complex units were tackled.

There were a few problems, like hesitancy on the part of those taking orders and making quotes from completely new computer displays.

But giving employees a look at the ‘big picture’ also let employees contribute ideas on streamlining order entries, and help set up new criteria to monitor performance on a daily and weekly basis.

That advanced training and focused planning helped avoid some of the first-day disasters that occurred at some of the businesses they studied before launching the Eclipse project.

“We took orders and we delivered products on the first day, so in that sense it went well,” said Cullen. “That being said, we had a few problems, a dip in performance. But the performance dip told us a lot.”

Processing of orders slowed down, resulting in on-time delivery problems; call-wait times went up in customer service; callers with orders or questions who were stalled on the phone, were redirected to try the companies’ Web sites. Many did. All of it was turned into an educational experience by the Eclipse team.

After all, Brady’s business is identification systems. So it identified its own subject experts and team members with red shirts, so they could quickly be called on to resolve issues.

To keep energy up during long hours, the team also kept a steady stream of food coming in the door. “You knew it was go-live day, because you could smell the donuts and the pizza clear out in the parking lot,” said Brady CEO Katherine Hudson.

Training got lots of attention.

“But it still wasn’t enough,” said Cullen.

During the second round of the first wave of go-lives, employees asked for more training, Training had consumed 2-3 hours a day for a period of 60 days for employees who were directly affected by the new processes. Increasing that number of hours was difficult, because employees still needed to maintain their regular activities. The trick? Learning to increase training by starting earlier. This would allow for more days of training, rather than more hours in a day. As a result, training later was increased by about 50%, to 90 days, from the first “go-live” experience.

Much of the additional training was designed for customer service representatives to become familiar with brand-new screens and information boxes that had to be completed. Employees had been accustomed to a routine of questions prompted by their previous systems, and the new SAP software gave screens and information requests with new parts numbers and descriptions, for example, that required more attention. The software also prevented shortcuts, such as changing the price of an item, just to get an order out the door.

The first “go-live” should have made the second easier. But new training materials and exercises were available only 60 days before the second. And that round involved Brady’s major business units, most of them in Milwaukee, with still new problems—and new opportunities for solutions.

“Quite honestly, there were a lot of issues that we uncovered in the second go-live that we didn’t deal with in the first,” Cullen said. “In part it was volume, but also just more processes and more complex processes that were involved with those second rounds of businesses.”

The performance dips were unsettling, but not fatal. No customers were lost, Brady officials said. “This gives them more ability to either enter orders directly, check order status, or review new products,” said Cullen. “We had some of that beforehand but it has been improved significantly.”

In Europe, where the company has 13 different facilities handling different product lines, the go-lives began in May of 2001. The company—which is midway in its effort to do half of all its transactions electronically by 2003—will finish its second wave in Europe this year, and move to Asia for its third wave, then finish with facilities in Latin America.