About Howdens Joinery Plc.
Howdens Joinery was founded in 1995 in order to serve the needs of small builders undertaking routine joinery and kitchen installation work. Howdens’ mission is “to supply from local stock nationwide the small builder’s ever-changing routine kitchen and joinery requirements, assuring no-call-back quality and best local price.” Howdens Joinery is a British business that prides itself on a sense of local community, traditional values and long-established relationships that thrive in each of their 500+ trade depots.
Go Live with Zero Critical Incidents
In the offices of Howdens Joinery, a designated “War Room” was set up to house a support team, focused on resolving any critical incidents arising from a large-scale technical Upgrade project. Less than three days after go-live the “War Room” sat empty.
Three months on… Month Ends, Year End and City Announcements have all been completed successfully and still no critical incidents have been reported relating to the Upgrade.
When Howdens embarked on an Upgrade of their core SAP System, they knew it was not something to be undertaken lightly. The core SAP Central System has been in place for over 10 years and is the central point of their entire system landscape.
The Upgrade was from SAP 4.6 to ECC6, and would ensure Howdens are on the latest version, with the Upgrade providing a foundation for new functionality for the business and a new structure to manage the cost of maintenance.
Howdens began the journey of the Upgrade with a clear focus on quality and risk management. Historic significance, timing and quality meant this was one of the most high profile internal projects tackled, so it was imperative that this project was a success. The team consisted of: a strong internal IT team with a proven track record of delivering successful projects; SAP onsite specialist resources; SAP Safeguarding services; and testing partners, QualiTest.
“QualiTest’s service is complementary, they don’t do it to you, they work alongside”
— Dinesh Vadgama, SAP Competency Centre Manager, Howden
“QualiTest’ are known for their expertise in SAP Upgrade testing…”
— Jonathan Milner, Test Manager, Howdens
Howdens and QualiTest have maintained a relationship for over seven years, with QualiTest providing testing expertise across several previous projects. However, it was the specific experience and proven track record in SAP Upgrades that led Howdens to engage QualiTest in this project.
“QualiTest are known for their expertise in SAP Upgrade Testing… not only delivering the testing for Upgrade projects; but also, seeing Upgrade projects through from planning to BAU, successfully and with zero critical incidents,” says Jonathan Milner, Test Manager, Howdens.
As a strongly quality-focused project, and as the first Upgrade Howdens had approached, it was fundamental for QualiTest to assess the specific set of challenges an Upgrade faces. “As soon as we knew we were upgrading, we knew QualiTest were vital to helping us to succeed,” comments Jonathan.
Additionally, with the longevity of their relationship and the nature of the previous projects, QualiTest had built up a deep knowledge of the Howdens system landscape, history and business objectives, which ensured QualiTest would be up to speed quickly.
Detailed planning and pre-Upgrade checks were paramount to ensuring Howdens commenced the Upgrade well equipped. The pre-Upgrade preparation was run as an individual project, demonstrating how much investment Howdens placed in this stage of the process.
QualiTest were engaged as part of this initiative, specifically in a Quality Assurance role (QA) which, included from the planning stages, proved beneficial throughout the remainder of the project. The specifically- designed QA role reported directly to the CIO, and remained independent from the project team. The role of the QA team was to provide insight into the overall Upgrade process, challenge approaches and, where possible, align activity to SAP Best Practice.
A large amount of preparation was undertaken to ensure the system was in the best shape possible to save time and reduce the potential risk to the business. This included a clear-out of old data, the deletion of old programmes and the removal of redundant transports.
This step also included delving into Securities and Authorisations, which was identified as a particular focus for Howdens. “QualiTest helped us focus our energies in the right place…their experience of other SAP Upgrade projects means they know where to focus the effort, hence we knew where we needed to prioritise our time,” states Jonathan Milner.
Pre-Upgrade checks proved a successful foundation step for Howdens in the Upgrade project. Accurate planning ensured any potential challenges could be identified or resolved prior to commencement of the project, and contributed to the success of the project overall. “I would recommend a lot of companies that are thinking of upgrading could do something similar in preparation,” remarks Christian Maloney, Delivery Director, QualiTest. “Upgrades can cause companies to worry about the risk to the business, but careful planning and preparation can relieve some of these pressures from the start.”
Go-live with zero critical incidents
- Business back to BAU on Day One
- Ability to go forward with new technology & enhanced overall platform for the future
- Enhanced governance for reporting
- In first week only 50 calls to the help desk – around half of which were resolved with over-the-phone advice
- Knowledge transfer to internal teams
- Internal resources deployed onto next generation projects
- Readiness for Automation as and when needed as all regression tests are fully repeatable
What the project entailed:
The Howdens SAP Core Upgrade was a large-scale project. This is represented by the number of end users that were involved in the User Acceptance Testing phase – which was 91 across 8 locations. SAP Central sits at the heart of the Howdens landscape and connects several systems in the UK and France, both SAP and non-SAP across the entire business.
With SAP Central at the heart, Howdens’ approach is to implement and integrate the Best of Breed systems in each specific field. These systems, chosen for their excellence, support the high quality standards Howdens maintain across their business. However, this number of interfaces also posed an additional challenge for the Upgrade. It was vital to ensure each of these systems remained functioning at optimal performance levels.
The nature of Howdens’ business also dictates a number of key peak periods within the year. Peak sale months, billing months and other scheduled projects had to be avoided to ensure there was no disruption to the system. For the Upgrade, the go-live window was set for in between two of these peak periods for Howdens. “If we didn’t go live on-time, then the project would have been pushed back 3-4 months. It was vital the system was quality ready, not just for go-live but also future-proofed for 2 months down the line,” says Martin Gillon, Program Manager, Howdens.
There were four elements to QualiTest’s input on the Upgrade Project.
Quality Assurance (QA) Consultative Role
A QA role was designed to take an independent view of the project as a whole, from planning to implementation, helping to facilitate key elements of the project and mitigate risk throughout all stages.
Being asked to take on this role was a great mark of trust for QualiTest. “It was great to be involved and share ideas and approaches, not just through the delivery, but also from the planning stages,” comments Christian Maloney, Delivery Director at QualiTest.
Sharing experiences from delivering multiple Upgrade projects, the QA role was to help the team shape the project and challenge key issues. “With the experience QualiTest brought to the project, we knew there were no nasty surprises around the corner,” says Dinesh Vadgama, SAP Competency Centre Manager, Howdens.
This QA role provided Howdens with an independent viewpoint from an external advisor, standing to the side of the project delivery team and internal management and reporting directly to the CIO at the Steering Committee level.
Howdens’ Upgrade of the Core SAP System from SAP4.6 to ECC6 went live on time with zero critical incidents. David Thorne, Head of Applications, Howdens summarises: “We’ve delivered the quality we promised on the day we promised”.
The project was a huge success and the benefits to the business were highlighted by the impact on the business after go-live. “A ‘War Room’ was set up with a team of professionals ready to take all the calls from users after go-live, but by the third day after go-live everyone was able to go back to their BAU duties,” says Jonathan Milner. He adds: “A significant moment for me was on the Monday morning after go -live, I was sat within a team of financiers and they were all discussing their weekend – it was as if nothing had changed”. Still three months on, Howdens haven’t experienced any critical incidents and their internal teams have been redeployed on next generation projects.
After such a large-scale project, development and change plans continue at Howdens. The next focus in the SAP Testing Strategy is test automation and Howdens are eager to continue to develop their systems and drive change and quality. “The test scripts that we have been left with are all Automation ready which stands us in good stead for future Automation projects – it means we are one step ahead before we start,” comments Jonathan Milner. If Howdens choose to continue down the path to automation they can anticipate large efficiencies – an average QualiTest automation project can deliver up to 80% reduction in testing timelines. Future plans will aim to continue to build on the seven year relationship between Howdens and QualiTest.
SAP Upgrade Testing
As a quality-focused project the testing phases were a high priority in the Upgrade. “In any project, we often see the testing window squeezed, but Howdens understood this was where they should be focusing efforts,” says Christian Maloney.
With the majority of the Upgrade project being undertaken by Howdens’ internal test teams, QualiTest deployed a team in the testing phases to work alongside them to scope and run testing. Utilising their unique Upgrade-specific delivery methodology ensured quality at all stages of testing from scoping and execution to reporting. QualiTest’s approach to Upgrade testing focuses the effort at the high risk areas, assessing the core business processes and prioritising the testing. “Without QualiTest’s commitment and experience we would not have been able to deliver the Upgrade to the quality demanded by our business,” remarks Martin Gillon.
Involving testing early in the process also allowed QualiTest to assess what existing tests were available, identify the gaps and build on the strong foundations already in place. “Notably, with three weeks to go, we only had one defect,” commented Jonathan Milner.
User Acceptance Testing Support
The User Acceptance Testing (UAT) phase for this Upgrade was a large undertaking, not least because the Upgrade had no room for error upon go-live. As the project progressed, it became apparent that the UAT was going to be a large scale task. QualiTest were able to support this realisation and react quickly to reshape the plan to fit in with the agreed objectives. QualiTest provided a team of 4 to 5 consultants for functional testing at short notice, rapidly responding to meet the new plan and embedding into a blended team, enabling the internal test teams to apply their focus to the UAT management and delivery.
Ensuring continued performance of the system after an Upgrade is paramount to ensuring business can continue as normal. For the online transaction processing (OLTP), QualiTest scoped, executed and reported on the Performance Testing for the Upgrade, working alongside the internal teams to knowledge transfer and share expertise. Performance testing the online transactions provided the confidence that the system would continue to operate effectively under load, post go-live. For the offline, background processes, Howdens planned and executed the Batch testing internally, as part of the QualiTest-led Performance Team.