Each phase of Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step methodology is equally important in an implementation project. You could argue that analysis is the most important, or that design is the most important, or that operation is less important. I’ll paraphrase Scott Adams here and ask: how one phase can be more important if each of them is completely necessary? Well, except for Diagnostic phase.
The thing is, this phase is not completely necessary; strictly speaking, it doesn’t even belong to implementation. It comes before—it is a part of project sales cycle. You do it, or you don’t do it. However, doing it can have a profound impact on the flow and outcome of an implementation project. Therefore, I dare say it’s more important than other phases, because it has a tremendous potential to tell you up front what you can expect from the implementation if you go into it.
Old Sure Step used a short pre-analysis phase, also called Diagnostic, which focused on making a high-level analysis of fits and gaps between customer’s requirements and product’s features, and on delivering an implementation proposal. The most important deliverable of this phase was the proposal, but how exactly this proposal was created, or how the figures were estimated, was more of philosophy than mathematics. Unfortunately, philosophy is bad at explaining costs, benefits and ROI; mathematics is extremely good at it. Somehow I figure the trust levels of mathematics appeal much better to CxO tastes.
In new Microsoft Dynamics Sure Step (“2.0” – it really isn’t a versioned product, and this isn’t the official designation) the Diagnostic phase makes a true step ahead of old Sure Step by taking a more exact, almost mathematical approach to project costs, benefits and risks estimations, by offering a set of tools that you can use to evaluate current customer’s situation, provide guidance about project approach, confidently analyze the major risk factors in measurable terms, provide a cost/benefit and ROI overview, or even make a proof of concept which can argue a case for a specific Microsoft Dynamics family product.
This set of tools is what distinguishes Sure Step from other methodologies, and they are called decision accelerators.
I’ve been involved with projects where sales cycle took more than a year, not counting the RFI and RFP phases. It’s not that majority projects look like this, sometimes decision is made in a snap (an equally bad situation), but sometimes the sales cycle takes an enormously long period of time to complete simply because the customer is indecisive. And when the customer is indecisive it is typically because of this: they haven’t been given a compelling reason to choose a product (or dismiss it). If diagnostic phase focused only on doing a high-level analysis of business processes and prepare a proposal, the customer didn’t have enough confirmation that the investment will be a sound one. How risky the implementation will be and what are the major risks? Is this the right product for me? Will this product really be able to cope with my requirements? How difficult, and costly, will it be to upgrade to a future version? Will my investment into this version lower or raise the costs of maintenance and upgrade? When does my investment break even, and when do I start to get return on it? These questions are crucial—if you get an unsatisfactory answer to any of these, are you willing to proceed? Yet, most of these questions largely remained unanswered. Not anymore.
The decision accelerators are provided as a set of packaged activities that can be performed in fairly short time (if you ask how short, I can’t tell you: it’s the same as asking a car salesman how much a car costs—it depends). But the decision accelerators are not there only to help the implementing partner to understand their customer’s business and prepare a proposal, but primarily so that they can show to the customer what the implementation will look like, and provide compelling argumentation for, or against the implementation itself. They can provide answers to the questions above, which previously faced a decent chance of remaining unanswered before analysis started.
The true value of these decision accelerators from implementing partner’s perspective is that they are not just a mere set of methods that explain the steps—yes, that’s inside too—but they come with tools that help calculate the necessary metrics, and make preparation, planning, execution and wrap-up activities smoother, more predictable, repeatable and efficient. This makes for an extremely swift and smooth diagnostic phase, and gives both the customer and the partner enough information to make a decision and to prepare for the upcoming project. I believe that Sure Step Diagnostic phase offerings won’t leave any customer with unanswered questions, and reluctance to either go into the project, or to dismiss it altogether, will be much less common.