Liam Barnes – Programme Manager at MERKLE | DBG

Liam Barnes has been working as a project management professional since 2008 after moving from a consultant-based role. His first unofficial project management role came when he was tasked with delivering the accountancy side of a new platform working with financial directors and staff. This responsibility allowed him to manage his own deliverables, manage stakeholders and deliver change, allowing the principles of successful project management to be sown.

Now working for Merkle l DBG, Liam is currently delivering projects in digital, CRM and marketing, which bring their own unique challenges to a project manager. Firstly there is often a great deal of unstructured resourcing and client fluidity to deal with. Secondly, priorities change, quickly to often react to market trends so principles of agile within atypical waterfall methodologies need to be accommodated. 

Given his role as programme manager at MERKLE | DBG, he tends to be allocated some of the more complex, innovative and challenging projects that arise. To find out more about Liam's role, read the Q&A section below:

How long have you been a project professional?

I have been working as a project management professional since 2008 moving from a consultant based role. Since then, there have been various industries I've covered and many projects delivered!

How did you become a project professional?

After leaving university in 2006 graduating with IT with Business Management, I worked for Reynolds and Reynolds who primarily supplied enterprise level software to large scale and franchised car dealership operations.

Having a level of financial background from my university placement, I was tasked with delivering the accountancy side of the platform, working with Financial Directors and staff to ensure operations remain unaffected, but more importantly that they adapted to the new functionality available.

This opportunity allowed me to manage my own deliverables, manage stakeholders and deliver change, and from here the principles of successful project management were sown.

After two years, I was given the responsibility of managing entire implementations, managing a team of consultants to deliver the solution and so the formal project management journey began!

What project management skills are most important to you?

As validated within the recent APM conference, you can achieve nothing without people. Whether it be the core technical delivery team, the strategist who creates the initial vision or the BAU users - quite simply people make the difference in project management.

This requires a good, strong project manager to bring a high level of communication skills on the basis of high emotional and social intelligence, which in turns yields an ability to deal with conflict and provide the right judgement at the right time.

Another key attribute for me is self-evaluation/assessment. To understand the natural peaks and troughs experienced within a large project lifecycle is key. 

This ensures that resilience, confidence and humility are of a suitable standard given the situation unfolding and provide a basis for consistent improvement in one’s performance.

How long have you worked at MERKLE | DBG?

I joined the MERKLE | DBG team in September 2013 following the decision to relocate out of Birmingham and back down to the South-West, where I grew up.  I also wanted exposure to a London base for work and MERKLE | DBG ticked both boxes.

Equally the digital, CRM and marketing industry has always appealed to me due to its focus on innovations, so this position seemed a good match.

How has MERKLE | DBG helped develop you as project professional?

Working in digital, CRM and marketing brings unique challenges to a project manager. Firstly there is often a great deal of unstructured resourcing and client fluidity to deal with. Secondly, priorities change quickly to often react to market trends so principles of agile within atypical waterfall methodologies needs to be accommodated for.

Understanding this fluidity has allowed me to develop a greater level of judgement and provide an analytical approach to ensuring that the right call is made - not only for the project, but the wider programme and client relationship.

Why does MERKLE | DBG need project management?

The project management profession was considered an administrative function upon my arrival and 3.5 years later, we are now critical to the day to day operations of MERKLE | DBG.

There is a saying whispered among even our most creative colleagues that states, ‘ If you want something done well, get a project manager on it’ and it is this culture shift that has made our own PMO evolution incredibly satisfying to see.

How have we achieved that?

There is a need to be the glue between operational aspects such as change management, stakeholder engagement, financial forecasting, resource planning and an ability to deliver on time, every time!

The PMO role, whether it be a project co-ordinator, junior project manager, senior project manager or even our projects director, is committed to these same principles and executed in a similar way.

What practices do MERKLE | DBG follow?

The PMO at MERKLE | DBG have developed our own methodology which allows the fluid nature of our industry and clients whist ensuring that the foundations of the principles tie back to the APM Body of Knowledge.

This structure (full diagram below) is based on a tried and tested stage gate methodology with its sole purpose of ensuring that both internally and externally we are in agreement so that we can move to the next logical stage of the project.

This agreement is formed out of a review of outputs (in accordance with ISO9001 development practices) expected at each gate ensuring that the quality and approach to the next phase is of the exceptional standard we mandate across our change pieces.

As with any methodology, its needs to be able to be flexible and deal with the landscape of where it is applied. The digital, CRM and marketing industries are under increasing scrutiny in light of the impending EU GDPR legislation and as such a continued review and growth of this model is undertaken every quarter.

This review cycle, as with all previous versions, it is intended to address challenges MERKLE | DBG are having in delivery especially given our exposure to leading edge technologies that are growing rapidly.

It is not just more process and more detail and relates to the basic principles of delivery which are outlined in the grid below.

What projects are you currently working on / have you worked on?

Given my role as programme manager at MERKLE | DBG, I tend to be allocated some of the more complex, innovative and challenging projects that come into our business.

These range from building ground-up solutions entitled Single Customer View’s (SCV) that bring multiple disparate data sources together to create a holistic view of a customer, their interactions and demographics all the way through to marketing cloud provisions that allow advanced automation of complex marketing campaigns that can react to real-time interactions and be completely personalised for the recipient.

We also focus heavily on the new buzzword of ‘big data’ by building data lakes that can as an example listen in real-time into social media channels or indeed scrape web behaviour from extensively tagged websites to provide a basis for significant insights into customer’s behaviours, habits and trends.

How can we use that data?

Imagine a branded website with ecommerce functionality that is dynamic and completely personalised in real-time based on the data we hold about you. A fully immersive real-time, relevant and personalised interaction to make you feel like #1.

Essentially this links into the heart of what MERKLE | DBG do. We believe data is beautiful and powerful and we provide solutions to large scale brands who can leverage this for advanced marketing and customer understanding.

We have active projects and programmes across clients such VWG, Renault, NowTV, Mitchell’s & Butlers, East Midlands Trains, TUI, Virgin, TalkTalk, Boehringer Ingleheim, Axa, Bupa, National Express, Aviva to name just a few, so they keep us on our toes!

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