Bigger Boat was able to help us assess what our needs were and get us on a path to success. We had a very short timetable for moving data from Raiser’s Edge to Salesforce. With Bigger Boat’s strong team, excellent project management, and agility we were able to get our minimal viable product (MVP) completed before the due date.
– Anne Salter, Database Manager, Northwest Harvest
Migration projects from legacy systems have lots of potential challenges, even the well-run projects! Client-side project team members typically are overloaded by doing their “normal” work in addition. Legacy data can be a challenge (poorly and/or inconsistently maintained). Legacy systems can have hard deadlines when they must be shut off, so timelines can be tight.
We recently wrapped up a project with Northwest Harvest, a Washington-statewide hunger relief agency. The first phase of this project involved moving Northwest Harvest from Raiser’s Edge to Salesforce. This project had great user adoption, end-user satisfaction, executive buy-in, and administrator ownership, even though it fit into every one of the challenges above!
So how did this project succeed, despite the odds stacked against it?
We established a lean MVP
In this context, an “MVP” is a Minimum Viable Product. For this project, we clearly defined an MVP for the first release. We said, “By May 1st, we will be 100% off of Raiser’s Edge.” Then we ranked every user story by asking, “Is this critical for our first release? If that legacy system were cut off today, could we get away without this feature?”
We recommend focusing on the core first and letting users actually use the tool/app/system for a while before adding enhancements. From there you’ll be able to solicit their feedback on the enhancements that would really make their lives better and be the best investments of time, effort, and money. The project team should also not be afraid to say no to some additions: it’s the best tactic you have to keep your project on the low end of an estimate.
For example, we collectively said “no” to an acknowledgment letters feature. Northwest Harvest sends multiple acknowledgment letters. Their vision was to automate acknowledgment letter generation, including more email acknowledgments. Our MVP included a requirement that the donors were thanked in a timely manner. While we knew that more automation around acknowledgments was a “nice to have,” it wasn’t necessary for the MVP. Learn more about MVPs and how they’re like cupcakes in this great post.
The project team made timely decisions
With any migration, there are many decisions to be made about the data and the system. What data do we bring over? How much? How do we translate the data? Which processes need to be similar? Which can be reimagined?
The Northwest Harvest project team was able to make these decisions in a timely manner so we didn’t get slowed down in waiting for answers and could keep moving forward. Northwest Harvest knew their data well and their processes. They knew what worked well for them but also what was cumbersome and challenging. Finally, they were interested in new, more efficient processes, but also recognized the value in keeping with standard functionality wherever possible.
The client team was thorough and timely in completing data validation
Migration of data needs careful and timely validation. Validations that stall will cause delays in the migration timeline. If a validation isn’t thorough, data inaccuracies may not be found until production launch. Data inaccuracies can cause staff to not adopt the system and cost additional time and effort in correcting the data in production.
The Northwest Harvest administrator understood the stakes and was on top of the validation. She assigned validation tasks to her team members that knew the data and could quickly identify issues. Together the team validated the data in a short window of time. If they found something that didn’t look right in the data, they were clear on what they found and what the data was supposed to be. And the administrator made quick and solid decisions (see above) on what we needed to do with the discrepancies.
Team members had real-time access to the project team
Every morning we had two stand-up calls. In these stand-up calls, we would provide an update on any outstanding issues, discuss what we were accomplishing in the next 24 hours, and identify what we needed from other members of the team.
One call was between our two consultants working on the technical migration. We would go over outstanding issues we had, new questions that arose, and tasks we would accomplish that day. (We also had a Slack channel for quick questions.)
This was immediately followed by a call between the lead consultant and the project lead at Northwest Harvest.
With the core team in three different locations, the daily access through stand-ups and the Slack channel ensured that we addressed issues as they came up, quickly involved the right people in the conversations and kept the project moving forward.
The client team took ownership of their system
Northwest Harvest team members rolled up their sleeves throughout the project, taking on tasks and configuring right alongside us. This ensured that the Northwest Harvest team would know their system and helped with the adoption of the system.
Northwest Harvest had to move to a new payment processor as part of the implementation project. Because the Northwest Harvest administrator was engaged in the project and understood that they were the owners of the system, the administrator took on the full implementation of the new payment processor. This allowed the Bigger Boat team to stay focused on the rest of the project implementation.
We built a strong, fun working relationship
Never underestimate the power of rapport! We often took a few minutes informally at the beginning of a meeting to share something from our weekend or something exciting going on in the office. We saw pictures of one team member’s daughter’s prom dress.
Sometimes in the heat of a fast-paced project, it can be easy to get lost in the work and forget that you’re collaborating with other human beings. Building social capital goes a long way toward working through the tougher parts of a project with relative ease and good humor.