Two weeks ago, after much effort we finally completed our 9.2 implementation successfully. So, from someone who has upgraded to 9.2, here are some notes from the field.
Our implementation story really began in January 2017, when our 9.2 upgrade process began with a fit/gap session lead by functional leads in each of our student system modules. In preparation for that fit/gap session, each functional lead spent time researching new functionality in 9.2, what was on the roadmap for 9.2 and what functionality was available in 9.0 that we hadn’t yet implemented, but could fold into our upgrade.
We knew that our individual wish lists were unlikely to be fully realized, but hoped that we would each get a big win or two out of the process. Through that fit/gap process we soon realized that our wish lists had more in common than we originally thought. One thing was at the top of our individual wish lists…fluid self-service. We also wanted to use Elastic Search, Evaluation Management, Activity Guides, Notification Framework, Rules Engine, Forms Builder and the Approval framework. But would we have time to do all of this and our day jobs too?
As with every institution there are things that come up which shift, change or delay the best laid plans. We began our implementation in earnest sometime in February/March of 2018, nearly a year after our fit/gap session. This was in large part due to those “things” or competing priorities which delayed our anticipated implementation project start and ultimate project go-live. Once we were able to clear those other priorities we could make the implementation the first priority and gain buy-in and resource allocations from all of the areas involved, we were finally able to put pen to paper and schedule our upgrade. Our initial go live was planned for August 2018.
While time consuming, overall our implementation went very smoothly. What consumed most of my time in the admissions space (outside of the usual several passes of testing), was researching, understanding and setting up the new fluid self-service functionality. While ultimately not difficult, it was a departure from classic self-service (thankfully!). Once we understood the functionality now available to us, we had to set about the task of fully building out fluid self-service and making decisions about what would be displayed to students. There were now considerations to ponder like which decisions would we display, what messages would be displayed them with each decision, when decisions would be available and to whom. At our institution we use program action and program action reason combinations heavily to indicate where an application is in our process and why a particular decision was made. So once we determined what to display, etc. we needed to craft the messages that would accompany each of these combinations. We also found that we could now insert HTML so for the first time hyperlinks and e-mail links were possible.
There were also members of our implementation team working furiously to explore new functionality like elastic search with fluid enrollment. Across each PeopleSoft module, our team worked tirelessly to make sure the implementation went off without a hitch. Like any project or implementation there are bound to be issues of all kinds big, small, simple and complex. Ours was no different. So instead of going live in August 2018, we went live the first weekend of October 2018, just a month after our anticipated go-live date.
In the few weeks since our go-live, there have been a few very minor issues, but nothing that we haven’t been able to easily address or overcome. My greatest point of pride is that I haven’t gotten a single call regarding the upgrade. Our students are using it, our applicants are finding it easier to navigate and more modern in its appearance and usability.
While we are very happy that the upgrade is complete and was an overall success, hindsight is always 20/20. There are a few items that we might do differently and many we would do exactly the same. In any case, I like to provide a short list of things that we either found invaluable or that we may have done more effectively. Maybe in providing this list your implementation project can be even more successful than ours!
- Test, test, test- I think we did this very well, but in some ways there can never be enough testing. We tested our upgrade in 4 passes and in each pass something new was discovered, learned or addressed. You can never go wrong by testing just one more thing.
- Explore your options and new functionality- Know what is available to you, how it addresses your business needs and whether it is feasible to build into your implementation project plan.
- Communicate with your campus community- Communication of any change can be difficult. While I think we did a good job of this, communication is a key to a smooth transition. Much like testing, you can never go wrong by communicating about change and what it will add to the services you provide to your campus.
- Be careful of project creep- We all want to provide the best service to our end users, but trying to do too much and/or with too few resources can stall a project or worse. To avoid project creep, make sure there is a clear project plan, the tasks on that plan are clearly defined and there is strong project management. Verify everyone is on the same page about the resources available, both functional and technical and that everyone is realistic about how many resources they can actually commit (don’t forget many project resources also have a day job too). Additionally, vet new additions to the project plan, reviewing them to make sure they meet the overall goals of the project and institution. But in the end, stick to the plan and hold units accountable for supplying the resources they committed.
- Relax and learn something new- While implementations can be stressful, remember that this is an opportunity for you to deliver new functionality to your campus and can also be exciting. It is also an opportunity for you to build skills, learn something new and be involved in something of critical importance to your campus community. So relax, have fun with it and be proud of the work you are doing. Soon you will be on the other end of the project and find yourself amazed with what you have accomplished.