Walk Backward To Sprint Forward: Reverse Engineer Your Project

//Walk Backward To Sprint Forward: Reverse Engineer Your Project

Walk Backward To Sprint Forward: Reverse Engineer Your Project

2019-02-05T08:42:19+00:00February 5th, 2019|Document Management|

Most of the time, the way we (humans) plan out an event is from the present moment going forward. We’re in the present, so why not start there? Or even more realistically, we don’t really plan at all and just assume that everything is going to happen as it should, without hiccups, and whatever we’re going to do will occur on time, on budget, and on the mark.

Too bad that’s not usually the case!

Why not try a different way? How about imagining the end, the successful end to your project, and then work backward from a specific Execution Date. Doing this creates clarity, understanding, and even urgency. Starting from a date in the future and filling in the gaps until the present day will show you holes in your plan, areas where you need to really focus, and the key people you need to involve early on to avoid stallouts and project bungling.

Let’s walk through a reverse-engineered digital conversion project, shall we?

The Execution Date (“E-Day”) is the date that drives your whole project. Knowing this puts the fire in your belly and makes you sweat (in a good “anxious that we won’t be ready and complete the project on time, but now I’m not procrastinating and know we need to shift into high gear!” kind of way).

  • E-Day can be one of many things that drive a project forward. Here are a few examples:
    • The date your project needs to start. Maybe your department is working with other parts of your organization and need your hard copy files in digital format to provide critical data to the rest of the team. You need to start by the end of next month or else you’ll fall behind. You’ve got an E-Day!
    • The date the project needs to be completed. Moving offices? Yup, you can’t wait until the last minutes in this case! Or suppose your state passes a new regulation requiring you to have a certain type of record backed up in digital format by the end of the year. Yes again: you have a solid E-Day!
    • Any other time-sensitive event that influences your project. It could be that your boss said “I want these 300 boxes of files scanned, indexed, and ready to use in three months!” There’s your E-Day.
  • Start here! Now that you know what constitutes and E-Day, it makes sense to start here and work the timeline of the project around this critical date.  
  • And what if you don’t have an E-Day? Well, then you’re probably just in an investigation mode and doing some research to see if a digital conversion project makes sense for you. But if you don’t have an E-Day, will you really put the effort into making the project happen?
  • One last note about an E-Day: it doesn’t have to be right around the corner. Just because your fiscal year started two weeks ago, and you won’t be able to ask for funding until about a year from now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have an E-Day. Even a project with a known E-Day two years from now is important because planning the path to get there is critical to your project’s success.

Now that you have an E-Day and can start your planning in reverse, the next time-oriented step to consider is how long the project will take to complete once it’s churning along.

  • “Full speed ahead? Please explain.” Well I’m glad you asked! Most projects don’t just go from your records showing up at our doorstep to 100% production velocity overnight. They require material review, project process flow set up, testing, and approval, and then it can go full speed ahead.
  • Most of the information that will determine “full speed ahead” will be gathered and evaluated during the Milestone 1 Proof of Concept (“M1”) phase. However, that detailed info won’t be available until that phase is completed, so you and your scanning partner’s Account Executive will be making educated estimates about the pace of the project.
  • Some of the items related to project cadence are the rate of scanning your material, the post-processing requirements (OCR text search processing, image framing, indexing/organization of the records, custom code, etc.), the amount of material available for scanning at one time, and so forth. As much information as you can provide during planning, the better, as each little part of the project has an impact on completion.
  • If it’s possible, add a buffer for unforeseen issues that pop up. For instance, if you and your Account Exec. determine that the project should take about 8-10 weeks to complete, but your E-Day allows you 14 weeks to finish, it would be wise to put a little wiggle room in there and say the project should be done in 10-12 weeks. Could you be aggressive and say “I don’t care if we have 14 weeks, I want it done in 8!”? Of course you can, but from our experience, there is almost always something that pops up that slows down a project. So save yourself a heart murmur and throw in some extra time if you’re able.

Our Milestone 1 Proof of Concept (M1) methodology is the first step in your project once we receive the material. We create your custom project process flow, test the process flow using a small batch of material, and then review the output with you and ask for your approval and your recommendations to improve the project.  

  • The meat of your project is executed once your M1 has been completed, reviewed, and approved.
  • The amount of time to go from M1 completion to full production mode can vary tremendously based on numerous circumstances including:
    • Complexity of project scope. If your project is simple, the M1 will likely be completed more quickly. If it’s complex, it could take a bit longer to get everything set up and tested.
    • M1 Approval. Although it sounds odd, we occasionally encounter customers who are not exactly the most efficient when it comes to approving their own projects. Sure, there may be other priorities at their organization, but waiting weeks or months to approve your own project (or even look at it!) doesn’t do anyone good and just slows down the project. Also,  the longer the wait is between testing and approval, the more information gets forgotten. Better to keep momentum on a project so that everyone involved is sharp and aware of the nuances.
  • Changes to scope. Even though the Scope of Work may already have been agreed to, the M1 process oftentimes illuminates areas of a project that our customers hadn’t thought of before, or they see what they wanted but now change their minds on how the material should be handled. This isn’t a showstopper, but it may require redoing or tweaking the M1 based on new requirements and specifications.

For a more detailed description of what a “process flow” is, and our Milestone 1 Proof of Concept testing method, check out our other article “Creating A Conversion Process Flow … For You!

Okey dokey, Scope of Work and pricing have been worked out, negotiations have taken place, and the contract is signed and countersigned. Fantastic! Now the real work begins. As they say, “amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.” You can have great plan, a glorious company goal for digital conversion, and a solid scope of work and contract, but without the means to get the project done, you’ve got … nothing. What can you think about prior to beginning a project that will help reduce delays and confusion?

  • Is your material packed up and ready for pickup? Or is your scanning partner going to help you with that?
  • Are your files organized based on the specs laid out in the Scope of Work? If not, is there a price item to allow for your partner to spend time organizing your material once it’s at their facility? If not, that could cause a delay (scope creep) which may require negotiations on how to proceed. This could be a problem if it’s not solved quickly!
  • Will all your records for the project be picked up at one time, or will they be in batches?

Though seemingly minor, we’ve encountered numerous projects where all the planning, contracting, and negotiations finally got completed, only to hit the big pause button because proper logistical planning hadn’t taken place. Oof!

Determine how long it will take you and your scanning partner to handle all aspects of the logistical requirements, and build that in to your reverse timeline.

These days, everyone’s gotta have a contract. It seems the good ol’ days of a handshake and a nod are long gone, and the team of lawyers are always on standby to negotiate the smallest of details of a project. But that’s the way the wind blows, so there’s not much use in fighting it.

  • The first part to consider is whose contract will be used for the project. This could influence the amount of time and negotiation that takes place, and is better to understand up front than get excited about starting your project then *screeeeeeech!* Hold on! It’s contract time and no one anticipated how long this will take.
    • Whichever party’s contract is going to be used, decide early and then have the other party take a look at it even before finalizing all the project specs. By doing this some red flag contract items can be identified and discussed in tandem with project planning, instead of just one step at a time. This can speed up contract finalization when it gets to that point, because it’s already been identified and resolved.  
  • Most of the time the individual with contract signing powers isn’t on the front line coming up with the project specs or deciding how things will unfold. Sure, they’re part of the overall project execution, and may have a vested interest in it, but they’re usually not in the trenches.
    • Get them involved early! If they don’t know what’s going on until a contract with a scope of work lands on their desk for signature, it’s likely they’ll take some time to review it, get up to speed, ask you some questions for clarification, and eventually get back to you with more questions. This is a major time suck. Instead, involve them throughout the scope of work discussions and logistical set up so that they’re aware of what’s going on and won’t be blindsided when you hand them the agreement for their review and approval!
  • Legal teams and contract review staff are ubiquitous, it seems, but that doesn’t mean they should hold up progress.
    • If you’re not in the position to approve contract changes, you can still work with your scanning partner to discuss why a contract edit was made and the thinking behind it. This will allow you to calm the rage that comes from your attorney when you show them contract markups, and simply explain the reasoning. Even better, get your legal folks on the phone with your scanning partner and just discuss it that way, instead of dozens of emails and tracked changes back and forth. Email doesn’t have a good tone to it, and it doesn’t have the same friendliness and slight sense of urgency that comes from a brief phone call.
  • The contract process could take a week or a month, but understanding that it’s not usually a quick turnaround is important so you can build in some time to account for this phase of the project process.

The Scope of Work (“SOW”) is the plan for actually carrying out the digital conversion of your records. This will lay out the detailed services that will be provided by your conversion partner, the pricing, the timeline for completion, and so forth.

  • Description of Services
    • Even a straightforward and simple project should have a solid SOW. Why? Because having clear definition of what’s going to be provided during the project will alleviate uncertainty later on if an issue pops up, or a request is made that is outside of the SOW.
    • A good SOW walks you through the project in chronological order from beginning to end. Each step is described, and the details of what will be provided during the project are explained.
  • Project Pricing
    • Your SOW will also include pricing items that relate to the services being provided.
  • What are the parties’ roles and responsibilities?
    • You may have a few responsibilities during your project, and you may have a lot, but there’s always something. Even if they’re simple, like boxing up your records and sending them to your scanning partner, that’s a responsibility that will impact the project.
    • Each step of the project should clearly identify which of the organizations are in charge of that step, and define what needs to happen to be successful. If steps are laid out with clarity, your project is much more likely to be a smooth experience.
  • It’s important for you to make sure that what you’re asking for, or expecting to receive, is clearly described in the SOW and pricing. If it’s not, you may have to renegotiate later when you ask for a service you thought was included, but isn’t listed.
  • Scope creep. The dread of all companies! Scope creep is when more and more services are added to a project, and negotiations and change orders begin to be the norm rather than executing the project as originally discussed.
    • It’s not necessarily a bad thing if the scope gets change; sometimes it has to change to make the project successful! But when change after change is requested or required, the drain on all those involved can be significant.
    • How do you prevent scope creep? It may not be possible to prevent it, but to mitigate it as much as you can, understand your material, what your overall objective for the project is, and how you’re asking that objective to be met. Try not to include unnecessary requests because you read an article on a blog about the next new thing in document management. If it’s not crucial to you, it may be best to wait until a phase two to knock it out.

Putting It All Together 

Now that we’ve walked (see what we did there? “Walked,” like in our title. Clever, huh?) backward through the parts of a digital conversion project, we can put all the pieces together as a complete vision.

Let’s say it’s March 1st and your department is moving offices on December 31st, and you can’t take your records with you. Looks like you have a pretty well defined E-Day, right?! And for this scenario, we’ll assume you have 400 bankers boxes of personnel files.

Your super smart Account Executive (“AE”) sits down with you to plan out the general project timeline:

We know that the office is moving on December 31st, so we have a solid date of when the project needs to be completed, and from which we can plan in reverse. Excellent.

Based on conversations about your records, what you’re looking to accomplish, and so on, you and your AE can come up with a general estimate of how long the project should take. The AE should have knowledge of similar projects, plus input from their project execution team, that will guide this step. For 400 boxes, we’ll say that from M1 approval the project will take about 16-20 weeks at a steady pace.

Right from here you can calculate the following:

E-Day = December 31st

20 weeks (using the slower estimate) backward is August 13th.

The project has to be in execution phase (aka M1 approved!) no later than August 13th.

Depending on how many different types of records you have, and document types and the such, the M1 timeline could vary, but let’s make it simple and assume you have three document types. This would fall into a pretty standard project and we can estimate a normal M1 turnaround of 3-4 weeks.

Timeline calculation:

M1 approval no later than August 13th.

4 weeks backward is July 16th.

The M1 has to start no later than July 16th.

This means that the records to be used for the M1 need to be at the scanning facility by this date, and also that the approval needs to happen by that date. So if there is a delay in actually approving the project once the M1 is presented and approved, that could shift the project to the right.

This isn’t necessarily a time-consuming step, as long as each part of the logistics have been accounted for and planned out in the Scope of Work.

For this scenario, we’ll say that the Logistics don’t take any additional time because they’ve been lined up perfectly and your records will be where they need to be when they need to be there.  

This step is very situational and will depend on the involvement of your organization’s contract team, whose contract is being used and how long/detailed it is, and so on. For the sake of this example we’ll say that the contract review started after the Scope of Work was created, and that it’s about 4-6 weeks of back and forth reviews, edits, negotiations, questions, etc.

Timeline Calculation:

Contract must be approved and executed by July 16th to get the M1 started.

6 weeks backward is June 4th.

Contract review and negotiations must start no later than June 4th.

Depending on the size and reach of your project, the Scope of Work can be fairly simple or very complex. To build the Scope of Work, you’ll probably have multiple phone calls, plenty of emails, potentially a site visit by your Account Executive if the situation warrants it, maybe a sample conversion of some of your material, and on-going analysis of the project. Likely there will be a high-level concept followed by an initial proposal, which you’ll review and probably make some edits, and then an updated proposal that will work for the contract. All of this could be very quick, but based on our experience of conversion projects not usually being rushed, let’s use 6-8 weeks for this scenario.

Timeline Calculation:

Scope of Work must be completed and agreed to by both parties by June 4th to be able to go to contract phase.

8 weeks backward is April 9th.

Scope of Work discussions must start no later than April 9th.

April 9th!!!

This, of course, is a fictional scenario and takes into consideration timelines that are common, but not exclusive. If you need a project started or completed sooner, we can work with you on that and make stuff happen.

Further Reading 

Reverse engineering your project is a smart way to plot and scheme, but there are other cool things about digital conversion you may want to know about.

Curious what you should expect during a project? Then our “What You Should Expect During Your Digital Conversion Project” should scratch your itch!

Or read “5 Ways To Ensure A Successful Microfilm Scanning Project” for other useful tips and hints. And just because you may not have microfilm doesn’t mean there isn’t useful information. Read on!