How to Formulate and Execute an Effective Cutover Plan

Nov 7, 2019

The most crucial time for a software company is when a project is ready to go-live. All the development and testing processes have been completed. The QA team has considered and validated all necessary product factors and changes have been approved. Now  that you’ve completed all these milestones, the product is ready for real-life use and it’s time to transition the project to production. However, this cutover transition to production can be risky if not properly planned and executed.

Building on that, in this post, we’ll discuss the project cutover plan, starting with what it is. We’ll also discuss practices for successful cutover planning and execution.

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What Is A Project Cutover?

In simple terms, a project cutover is the part of the go-live phase when a project is deployed in production. The cutover process includes a series of steps that must be precisely orchestrated to ensure the successful deployment of project components from pre-production environments

Why Do Enterprises Need a Cutover Plan?

Even after successful development and testing, cutover is critical to the success of a software project. In large enterprises, deployment can be complicated, requiring steps to be conducted in a particular sequence to properly configure environments and applications in production.  If the cutover fails, the team’s hard work can be in vain. Not only will many costly hours of work need to be repeated and the project launch be delayed, but customers may experience service issues while the cutover is being rolled back from the production environment. 

Planning for Cutover

For a successful go-live, a well-written project cutover plan is a must. It reduces end-user downtime and streamlines the schedule of people involved. There are many dependent steps like data or code migration, creating versions in the repository, and many more. A cutover plan helps to complete all those activities. 

cutover plan

Lack of knowledge about the dependencies can risk the go-live. For example, what if an important file gets missed while migrating the code? The application may have some major functionality failure. The absence of a cutover plan results in missed steps. As a result, additional downtime can occur.

You can make a cutover plan as early as the development stage, and should be completed before testing begins. The project manager or release manager should begin creating a detailed project plan that captures the many cutover build steps and dependencies on other applications and technical resources.  A robust cutover strategy comprises the activities detailed below. It also covers events before and after the cutover is complete. Now, let’s take a look at the components of a cutover plan step by step.

1. Preparation Activities

Preparation activities are the tasks that lead up to the cutover day. The project team needs to take them up one to two days before the cutover day. This involves validating a task checklist and communication plan for the main day. These cutover processes need to be rehearsed beforehand to ensure that the plan has captured all dependencies and that team members understand their responsibilities. 

2. Preliminary Activities for the Cutover Day

Take care of all the downstream and upstream linkages. This comes under preliminary activities for the cutover date. The team should address the dependencies as well, understand all cutover requirements and the final cutover schedule.

3. Activities on the Cutover Day

In this phase, the team deploys components into the production environment, which end-users should be kept out of for the duration of the cutover process. The project manager or release manager that owns the cutover process keeps track of timelines for all activities and their sequence. This way, the release manager can manage the communication and orchestration of activities and maintain timelines that are reasonable and practical and no team member faces a last-minute workload. Activities begin with the initiating phase of the cutover through the final cutover to go-live. 

4. Activities After Cutover Day

Your team must complete all the scheduled cutover activities. This also includes post-deployment testing. The process confirms the success of the deployment. It's also important to have the back out plan documented and tested just in case. After testing, end users can enter the production environment again. A few days after the cutover, the company should assess the system for inconsistencies.

A communication plan goes hand in hand with a cutover plan. It involves communication between the clients and the management team. An exchange and listing of contact details of the team and stakeholders is a part of this phase.

Best Practices for a Successful Cutover Plan

Now, we have a foolproof cutover plan. After rigorous planning and detailing, it’s important to follow step-by-step execution. To achieve positive outcomes, a firm needs to follow the best practices. On that note, here are the best practices for a successful cutover plan.

1. Be Prepared for Surprises

The biggest advantage of making a plan is having the knowledge of what will happen next. But what if everything doesn’t go according to plan? Should you just lose hope? Of course not! It’s understandable that the goal is to execute preplanned steps. But there is a reason we call a surprise a surprise. It’s unexpected, and we can’t anticipate it. Here are some questions you should have the answer to beforehand. How will the team handle unanticipated events? If the situation arises to abort the cutover, who will pull the plug? How will you resolve it?

2. Communicate Well and Triple-Check

Smooth communication between project members is a must for a successful cutover. All members should know their roles. Effective communication helps confirm whether things are on track. It also helps to keep things according to the predetermined schedule. When you have made sure the communication is smooth, have dry runs. This will keep the process according to a routine. Forget double-checking. Triple-check to ensure high accuracy of the project cutover. Also, have a fallback or backup plan in case something goes wrong during the deployment phase.

3. Plan Early Implementation

A project cutover requires more effort than we sometimes estimate that it will in the beginning. There are so many issues to resolve in a short period. The early implementation helps reduce the number of matters to sort on the day a project goes live. Every company comprises different teams for implementing strategies. In fact, it’s important to hold exploratory meetings and discuss the strategies with these teams. Questions arise when you analyze the workflows of teams involved in the cutover. Consider the business cycle and technical updates in advance.

4. Testing of the Deployment Plan

The project development team needs to rehearse every step of the cutover plan in a test environment to ensure that the cutover strategy and communication plan result in a properly configured deployment.

This way, you won’t overlook any step during the final execution. Also, the predictability of outcomes increases. Sometimes, the project can have interdependencies. But they often tend to get ignored. For instance, what if during deployment, installation of a built-in update fails. As a result, the team will fail to deliver their promised tasks, resulting in a penalty for the company.  These kinds of scenarios that lead to unexpected expenditure or budget loss are cost overruns. However, with simulation exercises, your team can simulate a deployment scenario. There, they can check for mishaps that can lead to cost overruns. Once the team gets an idea about probable mishaps, they can create a backup plan, thereby avoiding cost overruns. This also saves time.

5. Being Alert and Ready on the Cutover Day

This is the most important day for both the team as well as the stakeholder. The entire team needs to be prepared for application deployment. Not only that, the team should be ready for configuring databases, servers, and other infrastructure as well as creating backups in case deployment fails. The head of the operations team usually gives a green light. The decision-makers have to be fully alert. The release of a new system takes place. But after some hours, the decision-makers have the right to instruct the team according to the situation. They can signal the team to continue with the implementation.

It’s better to have a flexible checklist for the cutover day. The checklist should ideally contain things to check after certain intervals. For instance, this can include whether deployment is going on as planned or if a mandatory step has been completed. It’s crucial to check at intervals because there are some processes like installing dependencies that may consume quite a few hours. If some issue occurs during such an event, the entire deployment procedure may be jeopardized. 

Your team must also check for any issues. If you find some issues that may hamper a smooth deployment, get them resolved as soon as possible.

Alternatively, the decision-makers can also tell the team to fall back. This means they can stop the implementation if things don’t go according to the plan. However, this is only possible when the implementation hasn’t reached the point of no return. Just like all other phases, the team should rehearse the fallback option too. After that, post-implementation support comes into the picture. It is the absolute final stage. In this, the project concludes and ensures success.

Summing It Up

A project cutover, even though it’s the last phase, is an important one. Unless it’s over without any roadblocks, you can’t relax. It’s the most crucial activity of the project life cycle. Project managers usually wind down after the design, build, and testing phases are over. Well, the major portion of the work has passed. But the work isn’t completely over until and unless deployment has been successfully completed. Thus, it’s important to make a foolproof cutover plan. After that, follow the best practices for the execution of a project cutover plan.

If you want to know more about automated deployment planning and managing your project’s cutover, take a look at the Plutora deployment planning and orchestration solution.

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