Communication is a key skill for any PM (Project Manager not Prime Minister) – although these tips can apply to all types of roles.  Project communication is difficult to get right. Why? Because it needs to be coherent and understood by everyone on the project team or even wider depending on the audience.  Let’s have a look at the groups and types of stakeholder that a PM interacts with:

  • Project team – consists of a mix of experienced and less experienced team members
  • Business users – teams associated with the project but not necessarily on the team
  • Stakeholders – business area managers up to executives and board levels
  • Executive – Executives in other business areas
  • Other project teams – teams working on different projects which may be impacted
  • Technical staff – SMEs or technology teams who need to be engaged
  • Suppliers – who may be impacted by your project or be part of it
  • Customers – In some projects, the end user may be customers external to your organisation

Then factor in all the types of communication, e.g. status reports, weekly updates, meeting progress, issues, steering committees, wider updates, product launches, marketing etc..  You can see why it is an area that quickly gets out of hand resulting in communication that is not fit for purpose.

The importance of communication

Communication is so important to get right for so many reasons, e.g. project effectiveness, buy-in from your own team and others, keeping up morale, keeping executive engagement and belief in the project, informing everyone when things are progressing well and more importantly when they are not to keep confidence in the project.

People absorb information differently and their own experiences influence how a communication is interpreted by an individual.  It’s widely accepted that people must hear a message several times, in different ways before it is understood, or interpreted as it was intended.

Following the 7 C’s of communication below, which you may have seen referenced but seldom adhered to, is a start

  • Completeness – be complete in the message, not half the story
  • Conciseness – fewer words are better
  • Consideration – consider all people who the communication needs to reach
  • Correctness – be factual and have the facts correct
  • Courtesy – be polite in getting the message across
  • Clarity – to achieve clarity of understanding
  • Concreteness – ensure the logic of the message fits together

It is quite a challenge to get it right but if you review your communications in line with the above points, it will improve your chances of having all of the bases covered.

Communication tactics

Other good tactics in your armoury should be a:

Communication strategy – one that has been circulated and approved – agreeing up front how communication should work and devising strategies to getting the most out of it is a valuable exercise.

Communication sub-committee – Pick some difficult people (sorry rephrase… some people who are not afraid to challenge or make their views heard) and run any communication past them to get valuable insight to how others receive the message.  Using people from different areas or levels of seniority works to get an overall balanced view.

Channels – There are so many types of channels available to use that selecting the most appropriate can make a real difference to effectiveness of the message. Don’t always communicate everything via email! Can you use instant messaging, video conferencing, produce a short video, or use an internal social media channel? And think about the type of message you are delivering – good news, bad news, instruction, update – in the context of how you deliver it.

Feedback loop – Finally, review and amend your communication based on feedback, see it as an iterative process.  Communication should evolve over the course of a project and, even if it is not quite right to begin with, it will get there. Communication needs to be appropriate for the culture, knowing your audience takes time and it is very likely to be different from company to company.  Always be available to answer questions post any communication.

Not all items types of communication are needed or indeed required on every project.  The key is using your communication toolbox, i.e. picking the correct channel for a particular type of message or group.  The goal is to communicate in an engaging way, keeping it quick and easy for people to keep up to speed without too much burden.

During the past year we have seen a lot of development in communications – necessitated by home working and lack of face to face engagement – from day to day project comms to managing go-live implementations remotely. Please do get in touch if you want to talk about the approaches that we are using.

Did you know that the average cost of a desk in central London is more than £8,000 p/a? Whilst it is slightly less expensive in other cities around the UK, that is a large overhead for any company – particularly if the space is not being used.

Almost 75% of City firms are reviewing their office space provision, focussing on how much space they really need. This follows the significant increase in remote working and flexible working during the pandemic. This is likely to be the new normal once the world recovers from these challenging times.

But have you ever wondered what is really involved in considering an office move? There may be more thank you think. From my experience there are four main stages: Strategy, Business Case, People Impact, and Planning. Let’s have a look at each of these in a little more detail.

Strategy

It seems obvious, but the strategy must consider if reducing your footprint is better achieved by relocation or by downsizing within existing space. And if a move or downsize is not viable, then you should consider how best to optimise the use of the existing space e.g. through subcontract or introducing franchises.

Depending on your size, you may also want to consider alternative arrangements that would satisfy your need, such as a central hub with spoke sites for drop in space established on the city periphery. A lot of the larger serviced office providers have multiple locations in a city, so it is possible to supplement a core location with multiple, flexible workspaces.

To help make these decisions, your initial thinking should be about where the office needs to be. Primarily this should fit with the overall business strategy and the client proposition. If you can, consider where the majority of your staff are located and how easily they can access the location.

Once that is clear, you should consider the alignment with Business Continuity plans, security requirements, and the levels of facility support expected (e.g. repairs, maintenance, cleaning).

officefloorplanNext, work out how you calculate the business needs and how much space is actually needed by considering desk space, offices, client meeting space, reception areas, break out areas, storage space, server rooms, and facilities (e.g. kitchen areas, locker rooms, showers, recreational space). This data may already be to hand, or you may need to start monitoring current utilisation. Fitting it all together and creating floor plans is the fun part.

Also consider your future headcount projections, taking account of peak periods. The shape and size of the teams, and how the resource or teams are split will be important. As will understanding which people need to be in the office, which teams need confidential space, which people can work remotely, and how you accommodate team working/meetings (bearing in mind being physically together can inspire innovation).

Finally, consider the terms of the existing lease and when it expires. This single factor may drive the strategy if you have a long lease that you cannot exit from early.

At this point you should understand what your options are, but not necessarily if any of these options are viable. For that you need to consider the numbers.

Business Case

I’m making a general assumption that if you are considering a property move then a budget will be able to be secured against other competing priorities.

You should already know the existing lease costs. You may also know the likely renewal costs and if these can be negotiated favourably (hopefully you are on good terms with the landlord!). For a move to new premises you should be able to obtain indictive costs for a new lease.

With regards to the move costs, you should include infrastructure costs for internal fit out/build, IT installation, new kit, the actual cost of moving, decommissioning, & lease exit costs. It will be more than you think.

Depending on whether you are relocating and where to, there may also be redundancy and recruitment costs (subject to HR policies and what is reasonable in changes to travel time).

Once all the costs have been collated, assess them against the perceived benefits derived from reduced future costs. There are likely to be different options, each with varying payback periods.

People Impact

From an individual’s perspective moving offices, or even moving space or floors within an office, can be an emotional event. Not everybody embraces change and some like things just as they are.

The staff experience is a key factor in any move:
cityscene

  • What does this mean for the staff in terms of commuting
  • Are they expected to use workspace management systems (desk sharing, flexible room booking)
  • Will there be parking facilities for bikes/cars
  • What is the surrounding area like (e.g. eateries, shopping, recreation, safety)
  • How will this impact morale. Not everybody wants to work flexibly, and some crave the social aspects of a workplace.

It’s important that you bring staff with you and keep them informed because you need them on your side and functioning positively. Finding champions within the business is always a good first step.

Planning

From a project management perspective, office moves can be a logistical challenge with multiple tasks that all need to be co-ordinated seamlessly, and quite frequently out of hours.

I won’t go into detail here, that’s for another time, but consider that you need to work with a number of suppliers and stakeholders to define the hour by hour schedule of events. And you need to anticipate problems and delays because they will happen, so build in plenty of contingency into the plan if the time allows.

At the end of the day, whatever you decide you need to make sure that every member of staff has everything they need and expect in the right place when they come in on Monday morning. Because no matter how successful everything else goes, that is what is important to them.

Given the option, who would have attempted a core banking system replacement entirely remotely? Definitely not me. I’ve always opted for everyone to be on-site in an effort to ensure issues are escalated quickly and resolved even quicker.

However, as we all know times have changed, we have been thrown into a world of remote working that looks likely to stay in one form or another for the foreseeable future. As a result, Projecting has recently had to manage a completely remote go-live implementation of a core banking system.

UAT & Dress rehearsal

During the final stages of UAT testing , the entire country went into full lockdown which was a bit of a shock.

The project team quickly moved to video conferencing sessions for daily catchups, with very few glitches. An unexpected benefit of this new world was that throughput of testing increased … was this because the project was coming close to signing off UAT and the pressure was on? Or was it fewer day to day business interruptions – phones, emails, or kitchen gossip? Although we will never know for sure it was a welcome side effect.

Once UAT was signed off, the final dress rehearsal and data migrations were all that remained, apart from the go-live process itself.

As the new banking system was hosted externally applying patches and new versions, or running data migrations, were always carried out remotely so that was less of a concern. However, under normal conditions both the system and data migration specialists would have been on-site for both the final dress rehearsal and the go-live.

Given that the implementation was going to be remote, a key part of the dress rehearsal was working out ‘plan B’ processes for absolutely everything, particularly in the event key staff had network issues or contracted Covid-19. Deputies were identified and processes documented to allow those deputies to step in. We would normally do this anyway, but we had to think about it differently this time.

Identified challenges for go-live

The final dress rehearsal (carried out remotely) was successful, but it did highlight several remote working challenges that we had to address prior to the go-live weekend:

Communication – which had mainly taken place over email and/or Instant messenger was not relevant for every situation, so we assessed the types of communication and identified the best medium for each type:

  • Quick updates to the team that required no response worked well over instant messenger
  • Progress updates were provided in a central area on Teams that everyone could see
  • The Issues Log was available on Teams
  • A video conference open session used to facilitate working groups to discuss issues etc.
  • Email was used for final formal signoff

Issue Raising – we had a problem with issues not being raised to the correct team members, which impacted prioritisation and resolution. We added an additional step to route all issues through the head of the relevant business area and they prioritised which issues needed resolved and which could wait. Although this weakness may have been highlighted in an on-site dress rehearsal, it may not have resulted in a change to the process as teams would have been sitting together and discussing the issues. Being remote, it is really important that the process is solid and stands up on its own. Any change to process between dress rehearsal and go-live had to be communicated effectively and the relevant team members trained.

Collaboration – central sharing of Information as opposed to emailing it. For the dress rehearsal, approvals took place over email and there was a lot of email traffic which was difficult to keep track of. For go-live, we moved to a model where all approval forms were stored on a Teams site, updated centrally, and visible to other areas so that everyone was kept informed without the additional email traffic. Only final signoff was done via email.

Data Changes – to capture any late changes to core data which might impact go-live, which we deemed a higher risk than normal with everyone working remotely, we carried out a final, technical data migration very close to the go-live to resolve any issues.

Once the go-live took place it was a long day but hugely successful with clear communication and effective, slick processes that utilised time and resource wisely.

Our top tips…

…for a successful remote implementation are:

  • A solid finish to UAT testing
  • A final dress rehearsal that mirrors a remote go-live
  • Amend processes for go-live after the dress rehearsal based on findings
  • Have deputies/plan Bs
  • Train the team on the go-live processes to ensure they follow them
  • A final technical data migration to highlight data issues
  • Select the right communication channels

If you have any questions on remote implementations or would like to chat through your project options, please do get in touch.

David Hamilton recently had two instalments of a blog on the use of RAG status in projects published by the Association for Project Management. We’d be grateful for your comments over at the APM site.

https://www.apm.org.uk/blog/rag-status-a-tool-not-a-weapon/

https://www.apm.org.uk/blog/rag-status-using-the-tool-the-best-way/

Una vez se ha tomado la decisión de que un proyecto debe ralentizarse, pausarse o detenerse, hay varias actividades a llevar a cabo. Algunas actividades aplican en todos los casos, pero otras solo aplican en función de la decisión específica que se haya tomado. Comencemos con las que aplican a todo:

  • Validación de decisiones. Todos los responsables de la toma de decisiones del proyecto deben ser consultados e, idealmente, estar de acuerdo con la decisión. Siempre vale la pena verificarlo dos veces.
  • Claridad en próximos pasos. A medida que comience a comunicarse tanto con los que han tomado las decisiones como con el público en general, habrá preguntas y desafíos sobre la decisión. Hay que prepararse, de antemano, tanto como sea posible. Hay que ser claro sobre la justificación de la decisión y los pasos específicos que se tomarán para desacelerar, pausar o detener el proyecto. Es clave comprender las dependencias y anticipar preguntas sobre el impacto en la organización, las personas, las empresas externas o los proveedores.
  • Comunicación. Cada organización es diferente, pero un orden lógico es comunicárselo primero al equipo del proyecto y a los comités ejecutivos (Comité Directivo, Junta de Programa, etc.), seguido por el personal afectado y las áreas comerciales, seguidos por proveedores o empresas externas que tengan alguna dependencia del proyecto. La comunicación debe ser rápida para que, idealmente, todos los que necesitan saberlo se enteren el mismo día. Es importante comunicar también los motivos de la decisión y los próximos pasos, no solo la decisión en sí.
  • Sensibilidad. Las personas pueden sentir una sensación de decepción o pérdida si un proyecto se interrumpe o se detiene, ya sean miembros del personal, contratistas o proveedores. Para algunos, esto también puede ser una pérdida de función o una pérdida de ingresos. Hay que tener esto en cuenta al comunicar las noticias.

 

Luego están las actividades que dependen de la decisión que haya tomado.

Ralentizar

En este contexto, nos referimos a donde un proyecto va a continuar, pero necesita acomodarse a una reducción de fondos y/o recursos. Si el proyecto necesita ralentizarse rápidamente, es poco probable que sea posible hacer un análisis detallado y una planificación completa. El gerente y el equipo de proyecto deben realizar algunas evaluaciones rápidas centradas en la productividad de los recursos, la importancia de los plazos, el alcance y la calidad. Disminuir la velocidad puede no significar retrasar los entregables. Si es posible lograr los mismos resultados a corto y medio plazo con menos recursos, esto permitirá que el proyecto continúe con el mismo alcance, plazos y calidad. En la mayoría de los casos, eso no es posible, por lo que las 3 palancas de gestión de proyectos son:

 

  1. Plazos: ampliar el proyecto para suavizar la carga de trabajo
  2. Alcance: reducir el alcance para centrar los recursos/ fondos en áreas clave
  3. Calidad: no entregar “entregables de oro” cuando un producto viable mínimo puede ser suficiente

 

La extensión de la fecha límite suele ser la solución más simple. Si los plazos no pueden extenderse, entonces se puede disminuir el alcance; si no se puede disminuir el alcance, se puede enfocar en un producto mínimo viable. Si se eliminan elementos de alcance especificos, o incluso flujos de trabajo discretos, esto ayudará a reducir la necesidad de una planificación detallada. Sin embargo, cualquier cambio acordado requerirá una revisión de la documentación del proyecto sobre recursos, plazos y alcance. Todo esto debe hacerse teniendo en cuenta las dependencias internas y externas del proyecto.

Interrumpir o detener un proyecto

Un proyecto «en pausa» se reiniciará en el corto a medio plazo; un proyecto «detenido» no se reiniciará. Cuando interrumpamos o detengamos un proyecto, hay que realizar los siguientes pasos:

  • Acordar la decisión formalmente con los órganos de gobierno apropiados
  • Pagar las facturas finales, cancelar las órdenes de compra, etc.
  • Actualizar toda la documentación, en particular el plan del proyecto, los informes de estado, los registros RAID, la matriz RACI y los datos de contacto de los miembros del equipo del proyecto (incluidos los proveedores externos)
  • Compartir todos los documentos, incluidos los correos electrónicos relevantes, que pueden ser específicos para un individuo, en una única ubicación común que sea accesible para todas las partes relevantes y asegurarse de que la ubicación sea conocida por todos
  • Realizar un análisis de «lecciones aprendidas», si el tiempo lo permite, para alimentar al proyecto o marco de gobierno

 

Algunas de estas acciones pueden parecer irrelevantes para un proyecto que se está deteniendo, pero a menudo sucede que los proyectos resurgen de una forma diferente y puede ser útil tener información histórica del proyecto disponible.

Además, para un proyecto en pausa es conveniente:

  • Crear un «registro de inicio» que identifique las acciones iniciales que deberán realizarse para reiniciar el proyecto.
  • Programar un recordatorio quincenal / mensual para verificar el estado del proyecto en preparación para el reinicio

Nuestro próximo artículo se centra en el reinicio rápido y ampliaremos más sobre el «registro de inicio» y los contenidos.

I am in the dawn of my career, therefore I have a couple of years of experience and a couple of qualifications under my belt. You could say I’m equally (un)qualified in both. So what have I learnt so far? Principally, no project will ever run as smoothly as your qualifications would lead you to believe.

This doesn’t weaken the value of the qualifications I’ve achieved. For me, they serve as a reminder of the solution I should be aiming for, even though running the perfect project is up there with the likelihood I’ll be struck by lightning or win the lottery. In reality, we don’t live in an ideal world and even a perfect framework cannot plan for every possibility. It would be a waste of time to try.

My experiences so far have taught me things I would never have been able to learn from a book. In my opinion, these are the most important learning events that will make me a great Project Manager. Having said this, I cannot downplay what I did learn from books. My qualifications serve as my lifebelt when drowning in work. From my studies, I remember that even in the most unique situation, there is always a method to apply to the madness. It’s my second sense of logic when my brain is in over its head.

Often the range of experience on a team is what makes it great. It brings together skills and knowledge gained in different parts of the industry. This allows projects to benefit from the shared experience of the whole team. If experience is why we succeed, qualifications are how we succeed. They are the common ground which helps a team come together. I benefit from both my qualifications and my colleagues’ experience – in all being able to speak the same language, even when it doesn’t feel like it! In Projecting, we have a vast pool of knowledge and experience that I can call on.

A good project manager is not just made from how many acronyms they can remember to apply to a project, nor only from how many times they’ve been around the block, but I have learnt that one without the other is insufficient. Qualifications give me confidence that I am moving in the right direction; experience is the comfort in knowing I can overcome whatever obstacles that direction may bring, and that sweet spot right between the two is where the magic happens!

Hace un año publicamos un artículo (en inglés) presentando a DELTA AI, la marca hermana de Projecting enfocada en la Inteligencia Artificial (IA). Desde entonces, el equipo de DELTA ha estado hablando con clientes potenciales acerca de la IA. En el Grupo Projecting nos gusta centrar las reuniones iniciales con clientes en entender su situación […]

“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.

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.