Friday, September 20, 2013

The Green Field Illusion

 While I opined elsewhere in this blog that brand new projects (aka ‘Green Field Projects’ or green-field for short), can also be viewed as transformation initiatives (after all, you are transforming from a “manual” to an automated environment), there are, in fact, specific considerations that make green-field projects somewhat different; specially as these projects relate to start-ups and new business launches.

First of all, there is the view that green-field projects are by their nature easy. After all, there is no need to cope with hideous legacies. Also, the ability to create something from scratch in our image and likeness is naturally viewed as a major plus. This view of green- field reminds me of Julie Andrews spinning and dancing around the beautiful green hills of Switzerland under the melodious background of the Sound of Music!

The truth is that, usually driven by ambitious start-up deadlines, green-field projects require the express deployment of a variety of systems with under-developed resources, and with super-aggressive timelines. Having successfully gone through just such scenario during my last professional stint, I can actually confirm that green-field projects resemble much more the green field of a football field with you quarterbacking a team starting its first down from your own five yard line and expected to score a touchdown in less than a minute through rushes, sacks and no timeouts.  Think of Elway's Drive against Cleveland to get an idea.

Start-up driven green-fields projects demand different kinds of focus and priorities from typical legacy transformation projects.

These are some of the major differences:

·         In transformation initiatives you are more likely to sacrifice schedules to meet minimum functionality requirements.  You will almost never be allowed to replace a legacy system with lesser functionality. 
·         In a green-field project you have to focus on delivering the minimum required functionality necessary to launch or bootstrap the initial systems. The success of the start-up depends on the green-field results of a mission critical basis, and there is simply no alternative to fallback to legacy.
·         Expectations for a transformation delivery are that it will be of high quality. There is little tolerance for any new systems breaking down as they replace old-tested solutions.
·         In a green-field delivery, you should assume failures are more likely to occur and, most likely, the opening of the business won’t want to wait for you to do a lot of testing. It’s reality. You should put a higher focus on remediation processes and tools when launching a green-field deliverable. Also, you will have to be a lot more agile in how you implement changes in a green-field deployments versus a more structured legacy transformation initiative.
·         Because you are expected to meet crazy deadlines and diminishing budgets in a green-field project, innovation becomes even more critical.  You’ll have to be very creative and quick on your feet in  figuring out ways to leverage preexisting solutions in the market or come up with creative ‘hacks’ to get the delivery out the door. Still, you will also be obliged to maintain a minimum of best practice standards to ensure that after launch clean-up is as painless as possible.
Having said all this, green-field projects can indeed be a lot of fun. You will be tested under fire but once completed, you will be rightfully entitled to feel a measure of pride for having created that essential first generation of systems!