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May 01

Travellers tool bag – What to take with you for the journey

As you venture forth on a multinational project delivery, Nic Evans looks at what  tools you need to increase the chances of success.

As soon as you start to cross borders, the geographic and cultural separation mean that the trusted techniques such as “Management by walking around” and “the team that drinks together, thinks together” no longer apply.

Project Management.

A management process is essential for the success of any project. Let’s face it: most Financial Services companies are very good at transactional execution but major projects are not their strong point. Project management is not about what you need to do on the project (see development methodology below) but how you control it:

  • Setting the scope and the business case for the project.
  • Identifying the tasks to be performed during the project, controlling the resources, managing the deliverables and quality.
  • Managing changes to the scope of the projects and risks.
  • Having gateway checkpoints and audits of the project.
  • Ensuring that the project meets the requirements, stays within budget and delivers the benefits.

Project management methods such as Prince2 and PMP are built around the core of the Executive Sponsor and the Project Manager. The Sponsor leads the project, makes the big decisions and assigns business resources the project needs. The project manager plans the project and is accountable to the business for the project delivery and achieving the benefits.

Software vendors and consultancies will, of course, offer to do the project management but Prince2 is very specific that the PM should not be from the supplier as they will ultimately be accountable to the supplier not the business, and introduce “lock in” with one supplier. Project management should anyhow start before the supplier is selected.

An international rollout may need broader programme management –providing strategic control of subsidiary projects such as the RFP process, software delivery and business change by country.

Development Processes

There are broadly two approaches to the development and implementation process:

The first, Waterfall – or “Big Design Up Front” – concentrates on gathering requirements at the start of the project, before going on to the traditionally more expensive design and programming stages.

The second, iterative or “agile” processes, are widely seen as more suitable for package implementation and where there is business change going on in parallel, with requirements evolving through the project. They use prototyping, rough cut of configurations of a package, and pilots to test assumptions and refine the requirements. Each iteration can be seen as a mini project, which has a better chance of completing successfully and with measurable benefits coming out from each cycle.

The most highly iterative methods, such as scrum and extreme programming, where users and programmers are locked together in intense brainstorming and prototyping sessions, could be seen as less suitable for international projects because of the need for the team to be co-located, defining complex requirements like lease accounting and considering the collegiate requirements of different business units.

The implementation method is distinct from the project management. Where you are working with a supplier it is often best to use their methodology will be geared towards defining the specific deliverables for their system configuration.

Business Process Management

Many large organisations, particularly with manufacturing origins, will have their own Business Process Management or Re-engineering methodology – such as Toyota and Six-Sigma at GE. These are built around scientific calculation of the value each step adds to the end product. Many of these will be difficult to apply to financial processes – let’s be mischievous and ask what value Credit add to a deal? – although Citibank in the eighties embraced the concept of “the bank as a factory”.

In practice for systems enabled business change it will be better to build process redesign around best practice workflows provided by the systems supplier.

With a multinational implementation a single “cookie cutter” standard process can be difficult to impose, because of regional requirements, the different sizes of each business, and even particular individual talent.

But what is more important than the one-off process design is to develop a culture of continuous improvement across the operation with international sharing of best practice.

Collaboration Tools

Initial face to face team meetings are essential to build up trust and understanding at the early project stages. For teams that are dispersed for their day to day work it is important to use collaboration technology to keep them together virtually.

Audio conferencing (with local dial in numbers to cut down on cost) can be enhanced by web conferencing (using tools such as Webex or GoToMeeting to view presentations, whiteboards and even application demonstrations). Videoconferencing using webcams will work with these – up to a full telepresence if project budgets are that big.

Instant messaging is not just for teenagers and helpful to ping a quick question to a distant colleague. Email, although pervasive, is not best for project communications with long and intertwined email exchanges hard to follow. A central project document storage, intranet (shared within the organisation) or extranet (giving access to suppliers as well) provides a common project “knowledge base”. Web based document storage or a Wiki (based on the technology behind Wikipedia) are now common solutions. Microsoft SharePoint 2010 adds the ability to publish and track project plans, create web based databases and even workflows from Visio diagrams.

Technology

For the global system itself what help is there from the technology? Microsoft’s dotNet and rival J2EEE application development provide support for the basic number and date formats. But architectural solutions for the all the “multi” stuff has to come from the system design.

A web based application will certainly greatly assist with the deployment of the system over long distances than an older “thick client” PC application would allow. The amount of data displayed on the screen is improved with modern design and improved features like “type-ahead” make many web applications a richer experience than PC desktop programs.

Highly modularised service oriented applications speed system configuration by having “building blocks” to quickly support particular requirements. You also use web “applets” components to tailor your own screens and dashboards.

Virtualisation frees your application from being tied to particular hardware and servers. Software as a service allows you to get software on a “pay per use” or utility model. If the software supports your needs this can be a quick way to set up and test software. On-going costs may come out higher in the long run but you are insulated from many of the hassles of in-house IT such as upgrades, and if things don’t work out you have not lost the upfront investment! The logical conclusion of this is cloud computing, highly virtualised, highly scalable, internet based software. One note of caution is hidden in the terms of service of Amazon Web Services: “We strive to keep Your Content secure, but cannot guarantee that we will be successful at doing so, given the nature of the Internet. Accordingly… you bear sole responsibility for adequate security, protection and backup of Your Content and Applications.”

Of course, while these tools can assist your international projects, in themselves they will not assure success. When combined with experienced practitioners they can leverage skills, reduce project risks and greatly increase productivity.

© Nic Evans 2010.

Nic Evans is Director of Evans Global Associates, delivering consultancy and interim management for international finance technology and business agility. If you want to discuss anything raised by these articles or broader issues he can be contacted by email nic@nicevans.eu or through LinkedIn http://uk.linkedin.com/in/nicevans

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