Big Bang vs. Phased Implementations

Strategy & Governance

“I want it all and I want it now!”, said almost all of us at one time or another. And hey, what’s wrong with that? Sometimes nothing at all but let’s talk about implementing HR technology. In this context what we’re really talking about is the contrasting implementation strategies of Big Bang and Phased approaches.

The Big Bang approach addresses wanting it all right now. Turn everything on all at once, one go-live date for the entire scope of the project.

There are reasons why this might make sense. Sometimes it’s driven by transactions such as divestitures and acquisitions where the entire population in scope has to be converted to new technology or added to existing systems by a certain date or risk incurring penalties. Or, our current systems may no longer be supported at some point and we are forced to move large parts or all of our landscape to new systems. And sometimes it is simply the business case that drives the justification for getting new systems. If everything isn’t transitioned all at once we can’t afford the project.

And sometimes let’s face it, we might ‘choose’ this approach based on pressure from the C-suite to go big bang because after all, it ‘shouldn’t be that hard’.

While these are all reasons to take the Big Bang approach, in our experience this is usually less desirable than taking a more measured and controlled, Phased approach. In the Phased approach analysis is done up front to determine logical bite sized chunks of the project that can be sequenced in the move from the current landscape to the new one.

The obvious advantage of staging the project in manageable chunks is the mitigation of risk. By isolating smaller scope items problems that you may encounter can be smaller, more quickly isolated with fewer variables and corrected quickly at the point of go live. Further, moving one controllable chunk of work at a time can also reduce the amount of change hitting your workforce. This is especially advantageous when payroll and benefits are involved.

The obvious drawback to Phased over Big Bang might be that a Phased approach will take longer to complete. However, that may not always be the case. When working in a Big Bang approach the coordination of testing across the project can be complicated and take longer than expected. Sometimes phasing out the work results in efficiencies and the end date isn’t all that different from the Big Bang approach.

While both approaches have their justifications and pros and cons, the Phased approach tends to have less risk. If you’re debating these approaches in your own project, let a Triad HR senior strategy consultant come in and work with you on objectively laying out the risks and timing of each approach to set your project up for success before you even start!


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