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Lessons From The Project Front Line - 4th November 2015

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This event was kindly hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers at their new Bristol offices adjacent to Temple Meads station. Our speaker for tonight was Jenny Tuohy, PWC programme and project manager, who specialises in IT projects. Jenny used several ‘war story’ case studies to graphically illustrate how the projects were successful, or not and the lessons which could be drawn from them.

War Story 1, looked at an internal PWC transformation programme to introduce a new IT system for the financial statements for audit practice. It was essential not to disrupt client business and protect PWC reputation and there was a very tight window of opportunity during the summer to introduce new IT and working practices. Time and cost were not the usual drivers.  A Prince 2 project board was used to govern the project.  The software was not sufficiently ready for the planned roll out, and so the User representative on the project board delayed the project one year to the next operational window to protect PWC’s reputation. Jenny highlighted the lessons, which included agile IT development needing a simple and homogenous user base, change is not just about IT, culture and behaviour change are more important, and the essential nature of good governance, to delay the project.  The project was very ambitious especially in terms of timescales, but the delay allowed for better planning and a better training solution to help staff adopt the required behaviour changes. The new system is now a success with 80,000 staff using it worldwide.

War Story 2, looked at an ERP implementation programme which PWC had been asked to assist. Senior staff had lost trust in the project team’s ability to deliver because of poor and inconsistent reporting. Lessons to be drawn were for consistent, quality reporting to meet the information needs of senior staff to be able to trust the project team. It is essential for the project manager to know the numbers and be consistent. Good governance requires that reporting meets stakeholder needs.

War Story 3, looked at a business acquisition that was driven by the Competition and Markets Authority to be completed in 8 weeks.  The project was to put in place end to end business processes to integrate the new business into the existing one. Lessons were the need to tailor the project management approach to meet the very tight time frame; agile, with minimum paper work. Excellent team work and communications were essential. Good governance with a fully engaged project board, which included the supplier, (the competitor which was selling the business), and a team who were all totally focused on delivery.

War Story 4, looked at internal audit project reviews for various public sector clients. The question to be answered each time was whether the project would be successful. But the real question of course is what is success?  It will usually depend upon and vary between each stakeholder. Lessons from these public sector examples included the sheer weight of paper work.  Who can possibly read all of it? Responsibility and succession is an issue with relative high turnover of senior staff with poor handovers. This presents a real difficulty with establishing effective consistent governance.

Jenny summarised the key theme from these examples as that of good governance.  Good governance is all about good people management, both upwards and downwards to the project board and project team.

The project board provides leadership. The executive, user and supplier must be empowered, with clearly defined and understood roles. There must be continuity and succession planning. The project board needs effective reporting and no surprises.  Bad news should be shared as early as possible, when effective action can still be taken. 

Project managers need to understand the project context and to flexibly tailor the PM approach accordingly. Agile ‘sprints’ can be useful to help the user understand the actual requirement.  The project manager should be involved with the user acceptance testing to fully understand the requirement and need for changes. PMs should have key project information at their finger tips. 

Project managers need to lead from the front, really know their teams strengths and weaknesses, help staff develop and act as the communications conduit with the project board and the bigger picture.

Successful projects need good leadership, strong relationships and trust.

Jenny then turned from theory to reality and how assurance can assist good governance by providing the project board with an independent view of programme and project performance. An embedded assurance approach is one where assurance activities and resources are built into project plans, and cover what will be done, when it will be done and by whom. Independent assurance provides an unbiased view to the project board, but should also be seen as a powerful tool for the project manager to highlight issues that they are not aware off, or to provide independent evidence of issues that the project manager knows should be acted upon by the project board. Independent assurance should be welcomed and not seen as a threat.

The project manager and team can also prepare for assurance by techniques such as self reflection, and also using tools such as P3M3 as a self assessment health check to prepare for a formal gateway review.

Jenny explained some of the typical assurance tools that PWC use, which are tailored to meet the specific need, and are usually risk based. These include focussed deep dives, continuous assurance as a critical friend, gate way reviews and programme assessment such as health check reviews and post project evaluations.  PWC have 12 elements of delivery excellence, covering areas such as governance and management, commercial and financial and programme delivery.

In summary, programme and project management skills are transferable, success is consistently associated with good governance, good governance is really about good people management, don’t get lost in the detail, keep in mind the required benefits, plan for assurance, see it as a useful tool.

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chairman



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