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.

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.

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.