Once you have decided that a project needs to slow down, pause, or stop, there are various activities to carry out. Some activities apply in all cases, but some only apply to the specific decision that you have made. Let’s start with those that apply to everything:

  • Decision validation. All decision makers with any responsibility for the project need to be both consulted and, ideally, in agreement with the decision. It is always worth a double-check.
  • Next step clarity. As you start to communicate to both decision makers and the wider audience there will be questions and challenges about the decision. Prepare for these as much as possible in advance. Be clear on the rationale for the decision and the specific steps that you will take to slow down, pause, or stop the project. Understand any dependencies and expect to be asked what the impact on the organisation, individuals, external businesses, or suppliers will be.
  • Communication. Every organisation is different but a logical order is normally to tell the project team and the governance committees first (Steering Committee, Programme Board, etc.), followed by any impacted staff and business areas, followed by suppliers or external businesses that are dependent upon you. Communication should be quick so that, ideally, everyone who needs to know finds out on the same day. Don’t forget to communicate the reasons for the decision and next steps, as well as the decision itself.
  • Sensitivity. Individuals may feel a sense of disappointment or loss if a project is paused or stops, whether they are staff members, contractors, or suppliers. For some, this may also be a loss of role or a loss of income. Bear this in mind when communicating the news.

Then there are the activities that are dependent on the decision that you have taken.

Slowing Down

“Slowing down” in this context is where a project has to continue but needs to accommodate a reduction in funding and/or resources. If the project needs to slow down quickly it is unlikely that it will be possible to do a detailed analysis and full re-planning. The project manager and project team need to make some quick assessments focused on resource productivity, deadline criticality, scope, and quality.

Slowing down may not mean delaying deliverables. Ask first whether it is possible to achieve the same short-medium term outputs with fewer resources, allowing the project to continue with the same scope, deadlines, and quality. If that is not possible, the 3 levers in the project management armoury are:

  1. Deadlines – extend the project to smooth the workload
  2. Scope – reduce the scope to focus resource/funding on key areas
  3. Quality – don’t “gold-plate” deliverables when minimum viable product would be sufficient

Deadline extension is often the simplest solution. If deadlines cannot be extended, then decrease the scope; if the scope cannot be decreased, then focus on minimum viable product. If discrete scope items – or even discrete workstreams – are removed this helps reduces the need for detailed re-planning. However, any changes agreed will require a revision of the project documentation on resources, timelines, and scope. This must all be done with internal and external project dependencies in mind.

Pausing or Stopping a Project

A “paused” project will restart in the short to medium term; a “stopped” project will not restart. When you pause or stop a project carry out the following steps:

  • Record the decision formally with the appropriate governance bodies
  • Pay any final invoices, cancel purchase orders, etc.
  • Bring all documentation up to date, particularly the project plan, status reports, RAID logs, RACI matrix, and contact details of project team members (including external suppliers)
  • Collate all documents – including relevant emails, which can be specific to an individual – in a single, common location that is accessible to all relevant parties and ensure that the location is widely known
  • Perform a “lessons learned” analysis, if time allows, to feed in to your project or governance framework

Some of these actions may seem irrelevant for a project that is being stopped, but it is often the case that projects resurface in a different guise and it can be useful to have historic project information available.

In addition, for a paused project:

  • Create a “start up log” that identifies the initial actions that will need to be undertaken to get the project re-started
  • Diarise a fortnightly/monthly reminder to check project status in preparation for the restart

Our next article focuses on speedy restart and we will expand further on the “start up log” and contents.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a position where, for reasons outside of our control, there are not sufficient resources or finances to support a project or projects. This can be for a variety of reasons including cost restriction, resource availability, or changes in prioritisation. In this situation, decisions have to be made about the continuing viability of the project(s) in the short, medium, and long term. The decisions should take in to account the impact on the organisation as a whole, clients, staff, and external partners.

There are normally 4 options:

  • Continue with the project at the current speed if resources and/or funding can be found
  • Slow down the project by reducing resources and/or available funding
  • Pause the project completely for an agreed period before restarting it in future
  • Stop the project completely

To make these decisions quickly we use a 2-stage approach:

  1. Assess each project against a set of simple criteria and, where there are multiple projects, use a scoring mechanism to help with prioritisation (there is a list of criteria at the bottom of this article which, while not exhaustive, should be helpful)
  2. Once projects are prioritised, assess their ongoing viability and benefits against available resources and funding

As part of this consider whether it is possible to combine projects, share resources, reduce deliverables, or extend milestones. The end product should be a list of projects that are split into those that need to continue, those that can slow down or pause, and those that can stop. There may be grey areas so 2-3 iterations through the assessment is sometimes required. And do not be afraid to stop projects completely. Sometimes projects are only viable for a certain period and a previously strong business case may not survive a long delay. Difficult though the decision might be, particularly if significant investment has already been made (the “sunk cost fallacy”), sometimes stopping a project is the most beneficial thing that an organisation can do.

Working out which category your project should be in is the first step. Our next article will cover how to slow down, pause, or stop safely – with examples.

Assessment Criteria

  1. Is there a regulatory deadline or requirement that must be met?
  2. Is this project required to keep the business operating (e.g. replacement of a failing system, operational restructure)?
  3. Does this project provide any competitive advantage in the short, medium or long term?
  4. Does the project impact clients?
  5. Does the project impact staff or external partners?
  6. Is this project still viable if there is a delay or pause?
  7. Will the project cost be significantly increased if there is a delay or pause?
  8. Can there be a reduction or change in the scope of the project?
  9. Is there a risk of financial loss to the organisation?
  10. Is there the potential for reputational impact?

Qualifications can be a gateway into a successful career in Project Management. But what is relative the value of these qualifications once you start gaining that all-important experience in a PM role? Projecting’s Jane Ryan shares her own experiences…

A year ago we published an article introducing DELTA AI, Projecting’s sister company focused on AI. Since then, the DELTA team have been busy talking to potential clients about AI. In Projecting Group we like to use initial client meetings to understand their needs (as we discussed in a recent DELTA AI article). However, clients often want us to lead with relevant use cases, as a good way to spark the conversation. There are many interesting use cases in the market, but most consultancies don’t go beyond the well-known offerings of the big well-funded players. One of DELTA AI’s strengths is that we have taken the time to investigate and understand the offerings of lesser known / earlier stage companies. This is where much of the innovation is taking place, as 89% of the AI ecosystem in the U.K. consists of startups with 50 or fewer employees (according to this Forbes article).

We see 3 main ways AI can help companies:

What is AI?

(See also this video from an event earlier in the year. It is in Spanish, but if you turn on the automatic English subtitles you will see a good example of the power of AI).

Over the last year, we’ve met many Projecting current or potential clients keen to talk about AI. This is already resulting in projects with an AI component.

A good example of this is the work we are doing with a company in the Wealth industry. The client asked Projecting to help them transform their Operating Model. In the first phase, working with a DELTA AI expert, we identified 3 main ways to apply AI to obtain quick wins. For the first opportunity, we are currently reviewing off-the-shelf tools. For the other two opportunities, we are developing business cases for building customised bots.

The DELTA AI team continue to focus on expanding knowledge and expertise in AI. We hold regular sessions across the teams to ensure the Projecting team are aware of the latest use cases identified. So, if you are interested in AI, feel free to contact anyone in the DELTA AI or Projecting teams. We’re always happy to have a chat.

“Juggling is sometimes called the art of controlling patterns, controlling patterns in time and space.” – American mathematician Ronald Graham

Part of the fun of project management is trying to juggle a myriad of tasks and priorities that regularly change and sometimes conflict. Some people think of this as “spinning plates” but we think it is more like “juggling chainsaws”.

If you watch someone spinning plates, a popular pastime on 1980s Sunday night TV, you’ll notice several things. The “spinner” doesn’t increase the number of plates until the plates already spinning are under control, once all of the plates are spinning it is relatively easy to keep them turning, and the plates are independent so if one falls it doesn’t affect the others,.

We find that juggling chainsaws is a better analogy for project management. Everything is interdependent, there is no respite, and dropping a single chainsaw can cause irreparable damage. You can even give your chainsaws names – like “budget” and “deliverables” and “resources”. If you drop anyone of them then you could be in trouble.

Project management is also like juggling because you wouldn’t normally start off with the biggest, most complex thing you can find. It’s important to understand the principles, build your experience, and stretch yourself. It is also important to work out what types of project suit you and your personality. Not everyone wants to run global, 20-workstream, 500-person projects. Some project managers want to be in roles where they can get their hands-dirty with doing rather than managing. That is okay.

Dealing with “drops”

Assuming that you have mastered the art, at whatever level you decide, then the most important thing is what to do when you drop something. And you will drop things. The normal reaction is to pick them straight back up but is that the right thing to do? If you don’t know why you dropped it, the likelihood is that you will drop it again if you pick it back up. Work out why you dropped it.

Once you’ve worked out why you dropped it then you can decide whether to pick it back up again. If you were just trying to manage too many things maybe it is time to rethink your project structure. If it was a lack of skills or experience, maybe your project team needs to change. There can be lots of reasons why things drop but don’t just assume you need to pick them back up again without thinking it through. Also, if they do need picked back up, don’t assume that it needs to be you who does it.

You should also learn to predict when something is about to drop. Those signs can come from project governance – e.g. actions incomplete, lots of amber and red milestones – or from your emotional intelligence – feeling out of control, under pressure, loss of confidence. It differs from person to person but learn to recognise the signs. Don’t be afraid to escalate, don’t be afraid to take corrective action, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Project management really can be like juggling chainsaws; it’s great to be in the audience but it is the juggler that really feels the pressure.

At Projecting, across our combined team we have been juggling chainsaws for centuries and we have a scratch or two to show for it.

Clientcentric is an approach to doing business that focuses on creating a positive experience for the client. Clientcentric businesses ensure that the client is at the centre of a business’s philosophy, operations or ideas 

We were prompted to write this article as a result of two examples we heard about recently in financial services firms. 

In the first, firm had developed a new service to meet the needs of its clientsYet, it had not actually asked those clients what they neededThe firm had assumed that, since some of their competitors had this service, there must be a demand. Initial uptake of the new service suggested, at best, a very limited demand. 

In the second, firm started new project that was going to be fully “client-centric”The project is well underway and, as far as we are told, no one has defined what client-centric means or spoken to any of their clients 

Neither of these situations is uncommon and being client-centric means different things to different people on different projectsThe two examples above are, of course, considering the needs of their clients. Often those needs are considered in the very early stages of project definition, when seeking approval for a business case for example. Maintaining the focus on client benefits can be very difficult when in the depths of project delivery.

Achieving client-centricity 

We believe that if you want to have that client-centricity, you must focus on the client from the beginning to the end, as opposed to during or after deliveryWe believe that this is possible by following these 6 steps in your analysis phase and building your project around the findings:  

  1. Agree what clientcentricity means for youDoes it mean breadth of services, is it tailored to specific client segments, is it sector-leading or fast-following, etc.  
  2. Identify your client interactions. Give these processes the focus and time to ensure they are slick and re-engineered if required, these should be your number one priority. 
  3. Ask your clients for feedback. This could be on services, processes, communication, or whatever is relevant to the project you are undertaking. You can prioritise the feedback received to ensure you are focusing on the right areas.  
  4. Act on your clients feedback. Incorporate it into your project where that is the right thing to do. Then track that it is delivered. If you are not acting on it, tell the clients why. 
  5. Think about the future. As well as acting on what your clients currently want, think about new developments in your sector, market trends, etc, to shape your future proposition.  
  6. Use the project to build the relationship. In recent years, projects have often been perceived as imposition on clients, e.g. GDPR, rather a benefit to them. Where a project is providing benefits, there is an opportunity to send a positive message not only to clients directly but to all client-facing team members.  

If client-centricity is a goal then it is a longterm goal, it is a cultural shift for the organisation, it requires everything to be seen through the lens of the clientand it takes time. 

However, with running a project there is an opportunity as change is imminent, therefore thinking of the client from the start of the process assists with the shift to client-centricity.   

As always, we are happy to chat about this so please feel free to get in touch 

[:en]data/ˈdeɪtə/ [noun]

  1. Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis;
  2. The quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed by a computer, which may be stored and transmitted in the form of electrical signals and recorded on magnetic, optical, or mechanical recording media.

How important is your data? Is it important enough to have a data manager? What about a Chief Data Officer? Do you have a data governance policy? Do you outsource all or some of your data governance? Who supplies your data? Who migrates your data? Who inputs your data? Who checks your data? Who reads your data? Who uses your data?

Do you ask these questions often? If you don’t, somebody somewhere should be and also, more importantly, someone should know the answers. It should also be inherent in your training schedules now.

This year no one escaped the intrusion of the GDPR. I say intrusion, as there was a surge in emails that gave everyone an opportunity to cleanse their inboxes of the databases that you didn’t want to be on any more but couldn’t be bothered to unsubscribe from. It was literally an act of purification, or was it? Has it worked? The act was not intended to stop commerce, yet it may have had exactly that effect in the short term. Many shops and advertisers rely heavily on the through traffic or click bait. Medium term, as an unintended consequence the spam and junk emails returned to similar levels quickly proving that data is alive and well as a commodity.

No doubt Cyber Monday made sure we got the latest on-line bargains, but your inbox will bear the consequences unless you opted out of mailing lists – but was that at the forefront of your mind when looking at 50% off?

In financial services, however, there has been an unprecedented focus on the security and governance of data and not just personal data. Many companies are now planning or implementing governance structures which previously were the domain of investment, operations, compliance and finance departments. So, do you know the answer to the questions at the top of the article? Are you doing anything about it if you don’t? Will auditors focus on this in the next year, if they haven’t already? Given the levels of risk and fines, it seems likely and you need to know where your company stands in relation to the data regulations.

Projecting have expertise in data and we know the answers to the questions through our experience and track-record of delivery on regulatory projects.[:es]data/ˈdeɪtə/ [noun]

  1. Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis;
  2. The quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed by a computer, which may be stored and transmitted in the form of electrical signals and recorded on magnetic, optical, or mechanical recording media.

How important is your data? Is it important enough to have a data manager? What about a Chief Data Officer? Do you have a data governance policy? Do you outsource all or some of your data governance? Who supplies your data? Who migrates your data? Who inputs your data? Who checks your data? Who reads your data? Who uses your data?

Do you ask these questions often? If you don’t, somebody somewhere should be and also, more importantly, someone should know the answers. It should also be inherent in your training schedules now.

This year no one escaped the intrusion of the GDPR. I say intrusion, as there was a surge in emails that gave everyone an opportunity to cleanse their inboxes of the databases that you didn’t want to be on any more but couldn’t be bothered to unsubscribe from. It was literally an act of purification, or was it? Has it worked? The act was not intended to stop commerce, yet it may have had exactly that effect in the short term. Many shops and advertisers rely heavily on the through traffic or click bait. Medium term, as an unintended consequence the spam and junk emails returned to similar levels quickly proving that data is alive and well as a commodity.

No doubt Cyber Monday made sure we got the latest on-line bargains, but your inbox will bear the consequences unless you opted out of mailing lists – but was that at the forefront of your mind when looking at 50% off?

In financial services, however, there has been an unprecedented focus on the security and governance of data and not just personal data. Many companies are now planning or implementing governance structures which previously were the domain of investment, operations, compliance and finance departments. So, do you know the answer to the questions at the top of the article? Are you doing anything about it if you don’t? Will auditors focus on this in the next year, if they haven’t already? Given the levels of risk and fines, it seems likely and you need to know where your company stands in relation to the data regulations.

Projecting have expertise in data and we know the answers to the questions through our experience and track-record of delivery on regulatory projects.[:]

We recently posted a link to a news article about the rate of IT project failures. There have been some very high profile, and some less high profile, IT project failures and outages in the past couple of years.

IT projects and programmes, large and small, are often both complex and complicated. Particularly when they involve the migration of data from existing systems to new systems. If you have worked on this type of project, then we aren’t telling you anything new.

We thought it might be useful to talk about why these projects can be difficult and how you might increase the likelihood of success.

The Challenges

The level of difficulty in these projects is driven by the:

  • Number of existing systems, the connectivity between systems, and external interfaces;
  • Functionality of the new system(s), any customisation, and the regulatory requirements;
  • Amount of data to be migrated, the structure of the data (clients, accounts, funds, stocks, etc.), and the data quality;
  • Number of system users, internal subject matter expertise, and internal project experience.

And that is only part of the delivery challenge. There will usually be an overlay of cost constraints, time constraints, and, sometimes, political constraints. It may be a multi-national project, it may span different divisions or businesses, and it can be across time zones. All of which increase the time, cost, and complexity.

Changes to any one of the things in the list above can, and will, affect everything else.

So, what can you do about it?

The core aspects of project management – governance, plans, risk logs, dependency tracking, etc. – are all important for a successful project but we would like to be more specific than that. These are our top tips based on experience:

  • Look before you leap. Everyone wants to get in to the action, but you must not skip detailed planning. We know it is laborious, uses lots of resources, and it can feel as if you are getting nowhere, but if you look at every component in detail you are much less likely to come a cropper later.
  • Mobilise properly. If you start the project with the wrong mix of skills and experience, it is difficult to recover, and you will lose both time and momentum. In your planning, make sure you understand who you need and when.
  • Map it out. Whether it is the system components, interfaces, or data migration, map it out. The more you understand about how everything is connected, the easier it will be to manage the project, keep it joined up, and assess the impact of any changes.
  • Never stop testing. It can be the easiest corner to cut, often backed by the implicit assumptions that “everything will be fine” or “we can fix it afterwards”. As recent press coverage shows, these assumptions are not necessarily correct. Test the functionality, interfaces, migrated data, systems access, volume, overnight processes, and everything else. You need to be confident.
  • Reconcile everything. It is one of the hardest things to do but it is critical. Reconcile your existing systems before your start, reconcile at every stage of the project, reconcile when you are testing migration, reconcile when you go live, reconcile across new systems and interfaces. Reconcile clients and accounts, reconcile financial amounts, reconcile static data. You need to know that everything is right.
  • Make good decisions. At each stage of the project making good decisions is key. Everyone will have worked hard to determine scope, timescales, and budgets. There may be good reason to change something but don’t do it without considering the evidence and expertise available to you. Quick decisions, sometimes forced by political pressure, almost always cause future problems.

This is a wide-ranging and multi-faceted subject to cover in a very short article. Every one of these projects have complexities and nuances that you could never conceive of at the outset but will be expected to manage when they arise, against a backdrop of time, cost and political pressure.

There is no magic solution but if you focus on detailing and mapping everything up front, making sure you test and reconcile everything as thoroughly as you can, and making open and honest decisions as you go through, you will increase your chances of success.

You can probably tell that we enjoy this stuff. If we can help, or you just want to pick our brains, feel free to get in touch.

The 2018 FCA Platform Review interim report highlighted that the challenges of the costs and charges reporting requirement due in January 2019.

Zombie – /ˈzɒmbi/ (noun):- (in popular fiction): a person or reanimated corpse that has been turned into a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought, which feeds on human flesh.

It’s not only people who can become zombies; it’s projects too. Have you ever encountered a project – or proposed project – that refuses to die? You’ve chopped off its limbs and buried it, but it still manages to resurrect itself. Even when you think it’s gone, it pops up at your next project board, maybe in a slightly different guise, taking up time and distracting from more important activities.

Maybe it is a project that has been around for years, feeding on money and resources, but never delivering anything. Or it might be a project idea that has struggled to get support but gets continually re-presented. We shall refer to these as “zombies”. It might be worth thinking about one of your own “zombies” as you read this.

It is very tempting to take a zombie on head-on, as you probably feel that you have logic and right on your side, but we respectfully suggest a more measured approach. Our starting point is that direct attempts to kill the zombie thus far, whether by you or others, have been unsuccessful (otherwise it wouldn’t still be around).

The first things to consider are:

  • Why does it exist? At one point, it may have been a great idea. Maybe it had benefits for a particular department, or it made sense when the business had a different structure or products. Perhaps it had a particularly vocal senior supporter.
  • Why won’t it die? It still has enough supporters – either because they believe in it or because they have already invested so much time and energy. Or it might actually just be a good project.

If you have come to that conclusion that the zombie must die, then there should be sensible reasons for that – it is not aligned to current strategy, it has been superseded by other projects or events, or it will never deliver enough benefit to be prioritised. Sometimes, there are just so many things happening that you need to clear away any distractions so you can see the wood for the trees.

Then comes the difficult bit; actually killing it once and for all. Have we ever managed to kill a zombie project? Yes, using both analysis and sensitivity. If you are telling someone, or a group, that their project will never be delivered, won’t generate the benefits they had hoped for, or is no longer relevant in the company/environment, then you are more likely to get their support if you can offer them an alternative, such as:

  • Including part of their requirements in a different project
  • Asking them to support other projects beneficial for their department or area of interest
  • Involving their team in other, relevant projects

While you are delivering an unwanted message to one person, it is often the case that they are representing a team, department or business area for which the project is a high priority (even if it is a low priority in the big scheme of things) and that is the message that they have to deliver. We believe that you can never lose sight of that impact.

Linked to this is timing. The opportunities for killing off zombie projects, or at least doing a critical review, are often after an agreed threshold has been reached, e.g. a project has been on the list for 2 years but never started; when you take on a new project, programme or department and have the opportunity to do a full review of everything, or; a large, company-wide project is about to take place, e.g. core system replacement, so all resources should be focused on that.

Last, but not least, what prevents resurrection? If it is an active project, it should be formally closed down; if it is a project proposal, it should be formally rejected by the appropriate committee. Keeping a log of closed/rejected projects with a detailed explanation of the rationale makes it easier to identify it if it resurfaces, particularly for a new project manager who might not know the history.

Killing a zombie is not easy so, if you can, stop them being created in the first place.

delta-ai.com

We attend a number of conferences and events and meet a lot of Fintech startups, working at the forefront of Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and other technologies. This is fun and fulfilling at a personal development level but also helps us be able to think outside the box in our daily conversations with our clients. Often their challenges or objectives can be addressed relatively quickly and inexpensively using Artificial Intelligence solutions, such as Robotic Process Automation, predictive modelling based on Machine Learning or something as simple as a chatbot. This usually comes as a surprise to them as their experience of AI is as a hyperbole-filled topic oversold and under-delivered in the market to date. Most of our clients haven’t got the time to separate fact from fiction so we do a lot of educating in simple language about AI and what is and what isn’t achievable.

We are at an exceptional point in the market when it comes to the possibilities of AI. Most organisations haven’t even begun to scratch the surface and there are plenty of low-hanging fruits that can be quickly and easily captured. To illustrate this, here are a few very simple yet powerful use cases that we have discussed in recent months with clients:

  • Churn predictor: using Machine Learning over existing internal data to predict which customers are most likely to leave and focus your retention efforts more accurately. If you can reduce your churn levels and maintain your underlying customer acquisition, your growth automatically increases! This doesn’t need setting up a data lake or buying social media feeds, you can generally get good results with internal data
  • Onboarding process automation: using a Robotic Process Automation tool, you can (very quickly) automate the (usually very manual) process of running any customer checks, setting up details on different systems etc. Over time you can apply Machine Learning to this so that any exceptions are learnt from and your manual involvement keeps going down
  • Sales team augmentation: there are multiple tools already in the market that can be implemented to augment your sales team’s capabilities. From virtual PAs that allow your team to hand off scheduling and meeting booking to a machine, to intelligent insight preparation based on your internal CRM and external news feeds that can warn your sales team when they should be contacting a customer or what products they are likely to be interested in
  • Agent Help desk: if you rely on an external network of agents to bring you business and be the face of your brand, you need to make sure they understand your products, tools and processes. Often queries are very simple and easy to deal with but require a human to interact with the agent, introducing delay and increasing the likelihood of confusion. A simple chatbot interface can help address the majority of queries quickly and inexpensively allowing the human team to focus on the more complex questions

To address these types of challenges better, we have set up DELTA AI as part of the Projecting Group. At DELTA AI we are already working with various clients on implementing AI solutions. DELTA AI doesn’t build software but bridges the knowledge, cultural and language gaps between our clients and startups to deliver practical solutions, simply and inexpensively. In the coming months we will be posting a series of articles detailing what types of solutions are feasible in each part of the financial services sector. In the meantime, for more information please visit the DELTA AI website (delta-ai.com) or speak to any of the Projecting team.

navigation – navɪˈɡeɪʃ(ə)n/  (noun) – the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.

One of the hardest parts – perhaps the hardest part – of project management is navigation. Continuous navigation. The project manager is constantly assessing the position and navigating the project through an ever-changing landscape of priorities, deliverables, corporate restructures, stakeholder divergence, and morale black-spots. Any respite is short-lived and quickly forgotten when the next storm hits. The route changes regularly as the landscape changes and, often, the planning process is only able to go a few steps ahead with any kind of accuracy.

The challenge for the project manager is to understand and track all of these moving parts, continually modify the route, keep stakeholders up to date, take everyone with them on the journey, and to do it both calmly and with pace. If you thought that the project manager simply writes a plan at the beginning and then tracks it, you would be wrong. If you recognise that project managers are constantly bombarded with new information and have to immediately assess and assimilate, you would be right. It should come as no surprise when, in a project with hundreds or thousands of moving parts, the project manager cannot immediately articulate every impact of the information they only found out 3 minutes ago.

While it is important to recognise the nature of the environments we operate in, it is more important to develop ways of operating successfully within them. A good project manager can navigate successfully given sufficient time to do it, but the luxury of time is rarely afforded. Navigating within the time available, and with the responsiveness expected, is what matters.

Intellectual flexibility is important – you need to juggle a lot of things in your head and be comfortable with constant change – but the ability, and bravery, to take intellectual shortcuts is more important. To stop you running aground use these 6 tips to steer towards calmer seas:

  1. Looking ahead. Work out how far ahead you can see. Sometimes you can see to the end of the project, sometimes only a few weeks or months ahead. Knowing how far you can see determines how you approach planning, team management, governance, and everything else.
  2. Recognising pitfalls. You cannot critically assess everything in the landscape so you need to prioritise. You are unlikely to trip over a blade of grass but a large boulder may fall on you. Work out what to spend your time on.
  3. Knowing your toolkit. Every project manager should have a toolkit of methodologies, processes, templates, techniques, etc. The more tools you have, the quicker you can select the right one, and the better you are at using them, the faster you can operate. Even the simplest job, like finding the right template, can waste an hour if you don’t have it to hand.
  4. Delegating. If you take everything on yourself then you will quickly be bogged down. Being an effective delegator can save you hours every week.
  5. Using experience. If you have done something before, or someone you trust has, use that knowledge. That can be anything from “here is a plan I prepared earlier” to “the last 3 times I have run identical projects, this activity has taken 40-45 days”. Don’t go back to first principles when you already have a reasonable estimate.
  6. Communicating. Navigating depends on information. The project manager must be constantly gathering and sharing information. And everyone on the project should be keeping the project manager up to date.

There is no silver bullet for successful project navigation. Sometimes you receive emails faster than you can read them, your phone doesn’t stop ringing, you spend 8 hours a day in meetings, and there is a seemingly endless merry-go-around of status reports. This is when navigation – and everything that it takes to do it well – is most important.

Those of you trawling through Waterstones best sellers and bargain books (other book shops are available) may not have stumbled on the FCA Business Plan 2018-19.

You may be under the impression that after the excitement of MiFID II and GDPR, there is a lull. Indeed, there appears to be a period of grace but this, unfortunately, is a false dawn. The business plan outlines some 12 reviews, 8 publications and numerous other activities across all financial services.

Some of the “highlights” include the proposed Suitability Review 2019. A follow-up version of the highly successful 2017 review.  (Is it me or do we seem to be following the same naming convention as the FIFA video game?)

The thematic priorities, which will have diverse methods of addressing and review, are:

  • Culture and governance
  • Financial crime and AML
  • Data security, resilience and outsourcing
  • Big data and fintech
  • Treatment of existing customers
  • Pensions
  • High cost credit

Key priorities within these themes are finalising the rules of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime and monitoring the roll out of technology and resilience as part of the Open Banking and the second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) (with the ability for third party providers to access a client’s data and make payments, this will be an important test of the security of this directive).

Introspectively, the FCA are also testing and applying RegTech and advanced analytics to the approach to regulation which may open the door for firms to move to similar schemes. Also, the FCA will be creating a Memorandum of Understanding with the Information Commissioner’s Office. This may lead to a focus in certain reviews and questionnaires on data security.

We have not heard the last of MiFID II either and, although to date, a collaborative approach has been taken, we may see considerable more depth to the monitoring, particularly transaction reporting and the inconsistent approach to research costs.

So, enjoy the summer’s fine weather, holidays and sport and look forward to the next year or two’s regulation with a spring in your step and a passport in your hand (Brexit allowing of course).

As more details become available on each of the areas, we will publish a short pragmatic guide on what they mean and what you will actually need to do.

With a couple of months to go until GDPR becomes law, how far up (or down) the Information Commissioners 12 steps are you from compliance?

We would like to give some practical guidance and advice, as well as share our experience to date. Projecting aren’t compliance experts (and don’t pretend to be) but our experience recently has demonstrated that, as with most other compliance projects, the practical application of the regulations requires an operational brain with a compliance awareness and that’s where our clients have been utilising Projecting.

So, here are our top tips:

  • Having a clear Data Policy that covers clients, employees, and vendors
  • Communicate clearly with all of these groups on their rights and data retention procedures
  • Take the opportunity to assess and clean up personal data repositories and anywhere else you keep personal data internally
  • Use this as a marketing opportunity to affirm data security with your clients
  • Document your impact assessment fully, i.e. in and out of scope regulations
  • Be clear about being a data controller, data processor or both
  • You may never get an exhaustive list of the business areas that are impacted, and which functions, but keep communicating and importantly, training, and you will reduce the risk of gaps · Utilise the Information Commissioners website (ICO)
  • Don’t be distracted by some of the esoteric impacts suggested, e.g. business cards – stay principle focused

So, we haven’t provided all the answers, and would never hope to, but rather than be as prescriptive as a management consultant, we want to share the pragmatic and not the enigmatic. As with all regulatory projects, we hope that this will assist in putting context and focus on the GDPR project you are undertaking.

And it won’t surprise you to know that we are covering all of the above in our own, internal, Projecting GDPR project!

Have you ever been on a project or programme where there is a change of project or programme manager part-way through?

In an ideal world you would have the same project manager from start to finish, but the reality is that this doesn’t always happen. It might be that the PM becomes disenfranchised or demotivated, the project might change direction, the skills needed through the project lifecycle might differ, or the project manager may simply be the wrong fit.

Whatever your role on a project – from business sponsor to business analyst – this is something that you will have to deal with. It can be easy to feel let down if someone leaves but the project show must go on. When it does happen, you should not be surprised but you should be prepared. That is also true if you are the project or programme manager that is moving on.

We take a 4-step approach:

  1. Anticipate it. If the project or programme is particularly long (over 18 months), complex, there is a lot of travel, hours are long, and/or the pressure is high, experience says that the likelihood of a change in personnel is higher
  2. Plan for it. At the outset think about the skills and experience needed for the duration of the project or programme. For example:
    1. Beginning: ability to take disparate views, vague objectives, unclear resource requirements, and mould them in to a functioning project
    2. Middle: build and keep momentum, maintain morale, manage issues and changes, and keep driving the project forward
    3. End: ramp up the pressure, cope with deadline changes/replanning, unstick showstoppers, and get it over the line
  3. Discuss it. If you are thinking of leaving (or thinking that someone should leave!) discuss it. The issues may not be resolvable, e.g. by a change of role, but at least you can create an exit plan that works for all parties
  4. Seize it. Every change is an opportunity. It can create the opportunity to re-evaluation an entire project and it can be the trigger for implementing beneficial changes

Also consider the psychological aspect. The “classic change curve” describes the emotions that accompany change – from excitement and expectation at the beginning, through despair when the going gets tough, to acceptance and positivity towards the end. An awareness of which stage you are at will help in anticipating issues and managing them.

Last, but not least, what about the project or programme manager who is coming in half-way through? They are often expected to understand the project, personalities, politics, culture, and history in days when it really takes weeks (usually months). Everyone wants the project manager to get up to speed quickly so they can start delivering but they must be given the opportunity to do so. That means time, access to the right people, and as much knowledge transfer as you can muster. If you are using the opportunity to, for example, change the project structure then it makes it easier if this is complete before the new person starts (unless you want them to design and implement it).

None of the above means that we should go in to every project expecting the PM (particularly if you are the PM) not to make it to the end. Everyone wants to see it through. But change does happen, and you should be prepared.

In our next article, “Project Orienteering” we’ll be discussing how to navigate your way through projects when you don’t know where you are going, how to get there, and everything keeps changing.

Hindsight

As project managers and business analysts, we have all looked back at our successes and failures and thought, why did we do that? It’s a common feature of governance to produce a formal “Lessons Learned” report for the Project Sponsor but:-

a) Does this go far enough?
b) Is it given the value it deserves?
c) Is it used by you in your project role?

These reports are only lessons if someone learns from them and should be aimed at a 360° audience; Project Sponsors, SMEs, Project Boards, PMs, BAs, Change teams. In project roles, it’s important that each assignment forms its own unique component on your CV and that this experience is carried forward to the next one. It doesn’t matter how long you have been working in projects, as Indiana Jones once said, “it’s not the age, it’s the mileage”.

How do we maximise the benefits of the lessons learned?

Personally, I have always kept a log of both specific and generic events worthy of recording. How do you know they are worthy? Bearing in mind that you will probably need to submit a report on closing a stage or project, note down as much as you can. Formal project methodology can direct you to which categories and to the format of that report but does that matter? You will (or should!) know by the time you come to produce this what is worthy or not, exactly how the sponsor wants it styled, and what can be useful in future.

What are these so-called lessons?

Lessons are experiences that we want to digest and be able to regurgitate when we need them. Not fast food that is gorged and discarded at the first opportunity. Sometimes they need to be introspective and you should not be frightened to do a critique on your own performance. It is almost impossible, if not actually impossible, to complete a project in which you were exemplary throughout; accept it and take it forward positively. Add to your knowledge portfolio.

How to use them?

So, after a few projects, you will have built up a collection of lessons that are unique to your experiences. You will be able to use them in other roles and projects. They will help you find roles as you can reference them at interviews, crucially. Employers and potential employers will hear that not only do you have a portfolio of solutions to pitfalls but that you are constantly learning and adding value. Learning your lessons may tip the balance in your favour.

Store this knowledge portfolio in a very safe place and make foresight the tastiest cut.

Here endeth the lesson on lessons.

In Article 1, we put forward our view that project management is not common sense. We also said that creating a “common sense” on projects was important for project success.

Project Management is about getting everyone on the same page and going in the same direction. Trying to maintain that through organisational restructures, team changes, time constraints, budget challenges, and changing priorities is hard for every project manager and project team.

The first person that needs to be clear on the direction and end goal is you. Then you need to create that common SENSE:

S is for Simplicity. Keep your communication simple and short. If you can summarise it in 3 bullet points it is quicker to say and easier to share.

E is for Efficiency. Everyone needs time to listen and digest. Help create time by managing workloads, e.g. don’t ask for things at the last minute or asks for a slide deck “just in case”.

N is for Neutrality. Keep your head, keep perspective, and don’t get frustrated. Everyone is starting from a different place and needs support. Keeping calm, inwardly and outwardly, sets you apart.

S is for Straight-talking. You cannot achieve consensus without open discussion. Sometimes you need to be brave, you always need to be honest, and you should never be afraid to speak up.

E is for Engagement. There will be many, and sometimes conflicting, views. Respect the opinions of others, seek to understand, and use patience and diplomacy to create consensus.

It’s not easy and you will need to do it from before the project starts until after the project ends. But we believe that if you can get everyone going in the same direction it really does increase the likelihood of success.

In our next article, “I’ve started so I’ll finish” we’ll be discussing how initiating, running, and then getting a project over the line require different skills and not everyone has all of them.

Lots of people will tell you that project management is just common sense, including project managers. You can find articles, books and methodologies devoted to the idea that it is. And at the beginning of a recent seminar 80% of our audience, mainly project professionals, agreed with that.

We are not so sure.

If we take a standard definition of common sense – “the ability to perceive, understand and judge things that are common to nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without need for debate” – then we can apply that to our own project experiences.

While much of project management theory, for good reason, is about creating a commonality (a “common sense”) across the project, the reality is that this is incredibly difficult to do in a moving corporate environment with changing scope, timelines, priorities, and personnel. That lack of commonality can apply to both what the project is trying to achieve (the objectives or deliverables) and how it is trying to achieve it (the methodology).

While there are positive trends within the research on the effectiveness on project delivery, studies in the past 12 months continue to show that less than one-third of projects deliver on time, on budget or with alignment to the organisational strategy. If everyone was truly on the same page wouldn’t we expect a much higher project success rate?

So, here is our view.

Project management is often seen as common sense because, to us project folk, it is common sense and we often frame it in that context. At the same time, the concepts of project management are very easy to grasp and can seem obvious. Perhaps, when we talk about project management being common sense, we are talking about the concepts rather than the practicalities of implementation.

When we draw that distinction between the concepts – scope, planning, dependencies, risk management – and the practicalities – managing people, corporate navigation, priority juggling, creating momentum, stakeholder coordination – then project management feels less like common sense. The skills, experience and ability to deal with these day to day challenges are, in our opinion, not common.

Why do we care?

It is, as we said above, for good reason that a lot of project management is about creating commonality. The ability to create that commonality is a key factor is making projects successful. When we talk about change management, engagement, and communications this is one of the key things that we are trying to achieve.

And it is much harder to achieve if the starting position is “this is just common sense”. That statement comes with implicit assumptions about how much people know, how much time needs to be put in to creating the commonality, and the skills and experience needed to do it. If our starting point is that we are doing something that is either not common or not common to everyone involved then, in theory, we should be giving more thought to how we make it common and increase the chances of the project being successful.

Our conclusion is that, overall, project management is not common sense and, particularly at the beginning of a project, it is highly unlikely that what needs to be done is common sense to everyone involved. By the end of the seminar 80% of the audience agreed.

In the next part, we’ll give you our top tips on how to create common sense on your project.

1. A robot has been granted citizenship by a country; somewhat unexpectedly, as the robot was female, this was Saudi Arabia (Forbes article about Sophia the robot). Click here if you want to see the conversation on-stage between two robots and one of their creators.

2. I had very articulate classmates at INSEAD (I actually already knew this 🙂 ). I agree with what Stephane Kasriel said in his talk on the future of work and how the balance will continue to shift towards more freelancing. At Projecting we work with a mix of permanent and freelance staff, and apply a lot of the same principles to the way we work, e.g. I personally do a lot of remote working, allowing me to manage my time and location around my life and not the other way around.

3. You don’t have to be a celebrity to generate 1 million fans in over 100 countries in less than 30 days. Brendan Kane explained how he did this for himself, as part of a panel, in this talk

4. Microsoft have a chief environmental strategist (Robert Bernard), and they’re looking for good ideas to invest in

5. Our bodies create 12 cancer cells every minute and whilst most of us in the audience thought we will live to a 100, our kids should be targetting 125 (video)

6. The car industry has defined and will work its way through 5 levels of self-driving cars. It’s reassuring to know that we’re not going to go from fully manual to fully automated in one step.

7. Continuing on the theme of cars, uber announced they will have flying cars in LA in 2020 (unfortunately a year late for Blade Runner fans – another fact I did not know 🙂 ).

8. A great use case for Augmented Reality (AR) is in helping you visualise furniture in your living room before you purchase anything. This will be a big hit in my household. (click here to see the video of the talk by Google’s head of AR and VR)

9. You don’t have to be the “uber of AI” or the “airbnb of Blockchain” to win the Pitch competition at Web Summit. The winning startup, lifeina, doesn’t really even need a website for anything other than marketing, as they manufacture the “world’s smallest fridge” so that your medication can go everywhere with you. Very polished pitch and sleek product design got them the award.

10. There is a pop-up conference called the “House of Beautiful Business” which gets organised every year somewhere around the world to coincide with another large conference. It took place in Lisbon at the same time as Web Summit, though unfortunately I only learnt this on my last day there, so didn’t get a chance to go. One of my INSEAD classmates did attend and it sounds like a conference worth keeping an eye out for.