Metaphors for Go-Live

By Bennett Donovan

It’s a natural inclination for nonprofit organizations to view their enterprise software “go-live” as equivalent to flipping on a light switch. “We’re ‘live’ now, right? The light is on.” The realities of post-launch stabilization, however, inevitably throw a wet blanket over the lightbulb. The disappointment of users who expected a smooth ride is more than just an unfortunate side effect. It poses a major challenge that undermines adoption and creates invalid perceptions of failure.

Anyone who has spent time implementing enterprise systems knows that go-live is just a phase, not an endpoint. So why does this cognitive dissonance keep occurring? Why do even on-time and on-budget implementations with relatively few bugs end up being perceived as “broken” right away? It’s about setting expectations, of course, and there’s a whole change management industry dedicated to it. But metaphors matter, too. People relate best to stories and images. A nonprofit may not spring for change management to prepare all users for what is coming. A powerful metaphor, however, can leave an impression that helps users cope with the bumps along the road. More importantly, it gives them a lens through which to see what occurs post-launch as normal instead of catastrophic.

Below are four metaphors that might help users internalize the realities of go-live ahead of time:


Go-Live is like the kickoff to a football game. You’ve scouted, created game plans, had practices, even scripted the first 15 plays. Now the game is starting, and there are going to be some fumbles, audibles, and bruises on the way to victory. You may get run over a few times, and picking yourself up off the ground and going back to the huddle requires resolve. Just remember it’s a team game and that you’re not alone.

Real Estate

Go-Live is like moving into a new custom-built home. You made a blueprint, picked out your finishes, and worked hand-in-hand with the builder the whole way. You’ve sweated the details and are excited for the big reveal. But living in it makes you rethink a few of your choices, and some of those customized appliances turn out to be a little fragile and finicky. It’s going to take some time and patience to iron out the wrinkles and turn this house into a home.


Go-Live is like embarking on an expedition. Like Lewis and Clark, you’re about to explore a new and very valuable asset. You’ve equipped your team and charted your course, but there are a lot of unknowns about the journey and few grizzly bears lurking near the trail. Hardships are inevitable. It’s not about avoiding them as much as managing them. Together with the rest of your expeditionary force, you’ll be resourceful, handle adversity, and make it to your destination.


Go-Live is like saying “I do”. You’ve made the commitment to be together. Documents have been signed. You’ve talked about your dreams of what the future can be, creating an inspiring shared vision for the coming years. But sometimes things get real fast. Daily obligations and financial imperatives are always hovering. The vision is still beautiful, maybe even attainable, but the path requires hard work, compromise, and understanding. Just remember to celebrate the successes along the way.

In summary, if the right metaphor can help even a single user cope with the challenges of moving to a new software system, if it can reduce negativity and resistance even by a small percentage, then it is a valuable tool for setting expectations about life after “go-live”.

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