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Gobeyond Partners - Putting humans at the heart of transformation

Gobeyond Partners is a company specialising in both technology, modern management and people development projects. It describes its approach as ‘HX’ – the concept of taking a ‘people first’ approach to transformation projects.

“When we are looking at designing operations or services, or even processes, what HX is all about is thinking about the human within that process,” says Simon Bartlett, partnerships director at Gobeyond Partners. “It’s making sure you're delivering services that customers want to interact with, and also building services that colleagues can engage with.”

Gobeyond uses a number of collaboration and planning tools which automate several elements of project management process, allowing them to utilise agile methodologies. Some are quite simple – Microsoft Teams enables the project management team to share a single version of the plan, make changes in real-time and use a number of automated reminders and prompts to ensure tasks are completed on time.

The use of automation has been a huge advantage for the company, particularly when running large, complex projects: “We are running a number of projects and campaigns where team members are based in different locations (and in some cases different geographies), Bartlett explains. “The project manager can use our tools to assign tasks and track progress through to completion. The video and audio-conferencing solutions, enable virtual meetings to take place, the cloud-based tools enable everyone to see the current version of the plan in real-time and from anywhere there is a WIFI signal.”

While Gobeyond is implementing machine learning and AI into their clients, they don’t use it as part of their own project approach. “I’m expecting this to be more of the norm as software vendors start to include these in their tools.”

However, he does see AI and machine learning making big inroads into the project management profession in the near future. “I don't know how close we are to this, but with things like quality assurance, and risk management and maybe even estimating and scheduling, I could see the use of machine learning algorithms that could really help to ensure that we make big improvements in those areas.”

Interest in machine learning has grown considerably among Gobeyond’s clients, Bartlett explains. Automation has been applied in many workplaces – now people are looking to enhance that with AI and machine learning tools.

“The use of data to make it better underwriting decisions or identifying fraud, or just to help decision making. It's not the future. We're seeing this here and now.”

Bartlett provides some examples of this in practice. Gobeyond worked with an insurance firm that wanted to get a better understanding of how they should use preventative measures to reduce the risk of claims down the line. The solution was a machine learning algorithm which was developed and trained to produce a list of policies that were most at risk.

Another example involved a UK bank that was looking to smooth the demand over the April ISA peak to improve the customer experience. The solution combined process and operating model changes with robotic process automation to significantly improve the capacity and accuracy of this function.

The result was a better customer experience, lower cost to serve and the bank’s colleagues able to focus on more complex work, rather than the boring and repetitive processes. But crucially, the focus was on talking to the teams, listening to their issues and concerns, and making sure that the technology offered solutions that empowered the people working with them. It’s all about removing routine work in ways that free people up to do their best work.

“Automation strips out lots of the administration and the more routine activities cause you as you'd expect,” says Bartlett. “But if we look at insurance, we're seeing organisations use that technology to support the expert underwriters. For very straightforward risks, they let the algorithm make the decision. Then the sort of the expert underwriter deals with the more complicated, added value work, the areas where it needs more professional judgment rather than a basic decision.”

Bartlett believes that project managers need to up their people skills and make sure that they put people at the heart of any transformation project they might undertake – from the senior leadership to the people on the frontlines.

“For project managers, it's going to be really important that they are reasonably tech savvy and understand these technologies and what they're capable of. But more than that, they need to be able to apply their knowledge of technology to specific projects, problems, teams and cultures. The technology is important, but the people need to come first.”

Some project methodologies are going to have to adapt to accommodate some of the new technologies that will automate or apply AI to project management processes. “As a consequence of all of this technological change on the horizon, I think project managers are going to have to get used to delivering an increased number and variety of projects because, of the sheer volume and variety that's out there thanks to all of these technologies.”

Technology challenges

Bartlett explains that companies often jump on a big, expensive technological solution to issues, rather than thinking about them holistically. “They focus on the delivery of the technology without thinking about how this will be rolled out. You need to make sure people are trained that they understand how and why they're going to be using the technology. You need to make sure that the right sort of controls are in place. We also see quite a lot of organisations looking to invest in technology, but the quality of their data and the way that they manage their data is poor.”

The biggest issue that derails transformation projects overall, however, is the people factor, Bartlett explains. “The projects that we’ve seen that have gone wrong, where we’ve been brought in to fix it, have generally gone wrong because of people issues,” he says. “Generally it's not because someone's picked the wrong technology. It's because the stakeholders weren't engaged, or the change wasn't explained to people properly. People don't understand why they need to change and how it will make a difference.”

There are many other issues, such as a lack of leadership, or non-existent risk management, but it all boils down to people. Having seen the people factor fail so often on transformation projects, Gobeyond decided to create a project method that put it at the centre of everything, so they created HX. “The people factor is absolutely fundamental to what we do. A lot of our projects will have technology elements to them, but if you can't take the people, the leadership, the business and often partners and suppliers along for the journey, then it's not likely to deliver the outcome people are hoping for.”

Brought to you by Project journal.