Setting Up and Running Successful Ramp-Up Command Centers

By: John Prichard

More often than not these days, a project has multiple locations that are involved in different aspects of switching from doing things the old way to the new way as part of a business transformation. You’ve got your central office and satellite offices, as well as manufacturing sites, distribution centers, call centers, and so on. All of these various “business sites” may be located around the world. When it’s time for go-live and you are launching your implementation across multiple teams, sites, and even countries, ramp-up command centers are crucial for the success of the project. But setting your command centers up for success will require some deliberation.

  1. Disperse Your Project Assets For Maximum Coverage

The way we run projects has changed over the years. While the Manhattan Project had all the subject matter experts in the same place making mad science, technology has created new possibilities for experts to collaborate globally in real-time, regardless of location.

One thing you don’t want is for the central office to hog all of the project expertise. Having four people with the same knowledge base in one place doesn’t help anybody. Instead, as part of your go-live plan, you need to spread them out across localized site command centers to share the wealth (of knowledge). 

Team members might need to travel or virtually co-locate (even in different time zones) to ensure you have sufficient coverage for any issues or needs that will inevitably arise during the final cutover. In sum, the project has to get out of the central office and into the other sites to leverage your most important resources.

  1. Be Deliberate About Staffing the Main Site

If you have a main site, make sure you choose the right people to staff it. They should have the authority to make decisions. Escalations and critical questions will make their way to your central office and you will need a mix of authority as well as expertise. Include project leads as well as senior-level technical leads and experts. Because issues that bubble up to the main site or main command center are those that could not be handled locally, at this point the clock is ticking so you need an effective and empowered team to rapidly triage and devise solutions. 

  1. Localize Control and Support

In any ramp-up, the majority of issues will be raised by end users who will need assistance with everything from basic questions of how to follow a new business process or how to use any new technology functionality, to critical production operation issues, and everything in between. It’s important that your end users can get support for business and technical issues from a “face that they know” rather than having to reach out to the central office—or even worse, a help desk that will be less in touch with what’s happening on the ground.

Low-level problems often don’t need to be escalated to the central command center, and doing so will only create drag. You might be blocked from accessing the server room; in that case, all you need is IT Manager Bob’s key card to get in. If some users simply forgot a new workflow for an exception process, having a project Power User walk over and remind them is much faster and more effective than requiring them to call a help desk. Not all problems need days-long turnaround or to end up on the executive dashboard.

  1. Get Your Expertise in the Right Place

If you need manufacturing knowledge for a project, you wouldn’t have the manufacturing expert at a location that doesn’t actually do the manufacturing…would you?

Each site has its own function and therefore has different needs. Make sure you have your most crucial resources at the most crucial places to get the job done. When planning your command center staffing, identify the most crucial process in your controlled business ramp-up plan and make sure that these processes are well-supported by expertise.

  1. Don’t Isolate Your Execs

Beware of having poor coverage of senior management at satellite offices, since often, they’re stationed at the central office. Having leaders present across the local command centers provides more cohesion and gives a face to leadership, which can, in turn, boost productivity and motivation. Conference calls aren’t enough to really provide that glue that holds the management team and the project team together.

  1. Have a Strategy for Handling Time Zone Discrepancies

While having access to talent and teams globally has its definite benefits, it’s not without its drawbacks. Do your best to schedule meetings so that everyone, regardless of time zone, is included. In projects where this is impossible, map key handoffs of information to make sure that nobody is in the dark, or is forced to wait a whole business day to address an issue.

A key part of a smooth hand-off is making sure there is a responsible party in each time zone who can handle putting out fires or wrapping up work at the end of the day. Too often, everyone rushes out of the office, oblivious to the fact that what they leave undone impacts others downstream in different time zones. As each region ends its day, make sure that those teams document open items and pass off key information to the next region. The last team to leave for the day should also take care of any administrative cleanup at day’s end, summarizing the status and setting the next day for success.

As you ramp up in a project, it’s absolutely critical to have a strategy for cohesion across command centers. It may mean shifting how you do business to accommodate team members on the other side of the planet, but having everyone included and involved is imperative.