I am a writer and consultant project manager specialising in business ethics. I also offer project management services across public, health and commercial market sectors. I specialise in organisational change and software implementations. With extensive project and team building experience I bring integrity and commitment to any project I undertake. Reporting to Board level I deliver against objectives, on time and on budget. I am a PMBOK and PRINCE2 practitioner with excellent communication, negotiation and administrative skills. With these skills I transform complex and challenging projects into projects which are well understood, clearly communicated and tightly controlled. I have a reputation as a fixer and I am happy to consider incomplete or failing projects. Trained in PRINCE2, PMBOK, MS Project and structured system design, I am highly proficient in all areas of project management, including the initiation and execution of projects, the production of concise and targeted documents and reports, project control and project closure. I have presentation experience at all stakeholder levels up to and including Board level. I use strong personal skills to engage with, motivate and direct project participants. I am viewed as friendly and easy-going but I also handle conflict well, seeing this as an opportunity to gain valuable insights and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. I am familiar with HR and Payroll environments, data migrations, business transformation, Pension Auto-enrolment and Payroll RTI (Real Time Information). I am proficient in Word, Excel, Visio and Powerpoint. I have in-depth knowledge of HR and Payroll systems. I have procurement training and supplier-side experience of marketing and bid management.
Freedom is an essential element of human flourishing. It is also a fundamental prerequisite for any form of moral code. If you are not free, then it is not your choice whether you are ethical or not. You have been intimidated or coerced into your actions. In so far as you have no choice, you have no responsibility. Your behaviour is restricted to doing as you are told under threat of pain, deprivation or death. You may choose to die rather than act immorally, but this is a hard decision to make. If you do not, if you live on, and if the scenario of enforcement is often repeated, then even this small degree of choice recedes: obedience becomes imprinted upon your psychology. You are truly a slave.
Resistance is harder still if those you love or who depend upon you suffer also for your acts of rebellion. Under such conditions, ethical choice is virtually eliminated. Survival and the minimisation of suffering for yourself and for those you love prevails. Moral decisions outside of these constraints become the least of your worries. It is therefore at the heart of ethics, and of anyone who lays claim to morality, that we commit to human freedom: that people are sufficiently sustained and liberated to be able to make moral choices, even to the extent that they can choose whether or not to be moral. Ethics without freedom is a hollow shell.
Yet we must ask how this reconciles with the deterministic view of human nature held by some philosophers and many scientists. What of our increasing understanding of the genetic and neurological causes of human behaviour and the ever-improving ability of sophisticated software to predict our actions and decisions?
There are two immediate answers to these questions. Firstly, a deterministic account of the universe which excludes all possibility of randomness, chance and choice is by no means set in stone. In fact, from a scientific perspective, our ability to prove determinism, to predict everything and to fully exclude all elements of randomness and spontaneity is receding rather than drawing closer. Chaos, complexity and quantum mechanics do not greatly contribute to the case for free will, but they do undermine a philosophy of brutalist determinism.
Secondly, even if human actions, in conjunction with the physical environment in which they operate, are in principle open to deterministic explanations, the scale and scope of these explanations will be so great that no human consciousness could comprehend them in their totality. We are embedded in our universe, looking at it from the inside out, and are therefore faced with a structural limitation upon how much of that external universe we can encapsulate within our minds, how much we can personally causally explain. There are limits to the data our brains and minds can process, and those limits are necessarily smaller than the totality of all there is to be known. This is true – and will always be true – even of our most powerful computers. In simple terms, the universe is bigger than our minds, and the entire picture is therefore both practically and in principle out of our reach. As a result, since we can’t know everything, our minds have no choice but to employ an assessment-and-decision-making process.
The argument becomes:
- As individuals we only have access to a finite amount of data.
- That data isn’t sufficient for us to be able to create causal explanations for all the events in our environments or to predict with any certainty the precise outcomes of our actions.
- Therefore it is a function of our minds to act as if we are free: to assess the data we are able to access, to make decisions based on the limited knowledge we have to hand, and to act accordingly.
In other words, our cognitive limitations require a decision-making mechanism whether or not the universe is causally determined. I cannot fully know the causal outcome of alternative actions, therefore I must make my best assessment and choose the action I am to take. Even in a rigidly deterministic universe our minds would be unable to operate as they do if it were not for this assessment-and-decision-making mechanism. Even if we could prove that our world is utterly deterministic and fundamentally predictable, the structure of our minds means that we have no option but to operate as if this were not so. In fact, this assess-and-decide ability is what freedom feels like. Allow us to use it and we feel free; take this power away from us and we feel enslaved.
This is also reflected in the fabric of the human world. Our societies operate on the assumption that free will exists. We are asked to make choices, or coerced by laws or punishments not to. Some behaviours are rewarded while others are discouraged, all on the basis of the choices we are presumed to have made. Most of our religions, all of our laws and all of our codes of behaviour assume we have choice. The way we live our everyday lives reflects this. Those of us who are not coerced or enslaved live as if we can make choices, as if we are free. We act and react to others as if they are free also: we judge them negatively or positively for the choices they make. Even in a fundamentally deterministic universe it is hard to see how society could operate differently – how society could function without assuming that those of us who are not coerced or enslaved are free. An assumption of free will appears to be a functional necessity of the social realm.
Evolutionarily, it can also be argued that our nervous systems and brains have evolved to provide precisely this: the ability to assess the state of the world around us, to register changes in our environment, and to permit an interrupt between immediate response and considered decision. If the world were fundamentally causal and predictable, why evolve this organ of assessment and choice? Why not stick to more autonomic and reactive lifeforms, possessed of a portfolio of built-in responses allowing for the various predictable events in a deterministic and predictable world?
This decision-making mechanism in semi- or fully sentient beings has demonstrable survival value and evolutionary worth. Why else would it be so prevalent in the more complex lifeforms on our planet?
The evolutionarily evolved interrupt between immediate response and considered decision sets us free. It privileges us with the ability to choose whether to obey our instincts or not; whether to gorge or fast; whether to strike out or to extend the hand of peace.
We are capable of choice:
Stone: Kicked by child
=> Reaction: stone skitters away along the road.
All causal. No interrupt.
Adult human: Kicked by child
=> Interrupt of cognition
=> Assessment (it’s only a child)
Speak gently to child about inadvisability of kicking strangers
Shout at child and reduce poor mite to tears.
The more we know about the adult, the child and the environment which they inhabit, the more we will be able to predict how the adult will behave. However, it is impossible that we will reach the position of always knowing enough to invariably predict all human actions or reactions – and the more complex the interaction between individuals and their environment the less reliable will be our predictions. Our minds are not built to hold in immediate awareness all the data we would need in order to predict everything. Our brains therefore must assess on the basis of limited information, and must make choices based on that assessment.
The nature of our minds and the limitations of our knowledge mean we must act as if we are free. This adoption of freedom – an ability to assess data and make decisions – is unavoidable, whether or not there are deeper, causal explanations for our behaviour which might in principle be found.
Our human interactions, our moral codes and our societies have evolved on this basis – upon the assumption of free will – and they, too, could not function without it.
Intelligent Ethics takes human freedom as both existential and axiomatic. Intelligent Ethics asserts our right to exercise this freedom, deriving our entitlement to freedom from our inherent equality as sentient beings.
Intelligent Ethics affirms our right to be free.
Please also see:
“Intelligent Ethics” (recommended by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams): www.amazon.co.uk/Intelligent-Ethics-Luke-Andreski/dp/1794618732
“Ethical Intelligence”: www.amazon.co.uk/Ethical-Intelligence-Luke-Andreski/dp/179580579X.
I am exploring the topic of what makes an excellent project manager, potentially for an article on this blog.
Is it knowledge? Character? Experience?
Thoughts and suggestions at any level of detail and however factual or intuitive are welcome!
To participate in this discussion please join me on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/lukeandreski), email me (la[at]andreskisolutions[dot]com) or add your comments below.
The replacement of HR and Payroll systems or services is often commenced without a clear understanding of the resourcing required to ensure a successful project. Organisations undertaking such transitions focus primarily, at least at first, on the procurement aspects of the project. Where implementation resources are considered in detail, these usually comprise the resources to be provided by the supplier rather than those that will need to come from the purchasing organisation. The organisation may well ask the supplier, on the basis of their experience of these types of transition, to estimate the level of customer-side resource needed. However, it is likely that during the sales process the supplier will play down this requirement. It can be discouraging for buyers of systems or services to discover that not only must they finance a wide range of supplier consultancy activities but that significant internal resource costs will also be incurred.
In this article I discuss the customer-side resourcing needed in HR and Payroll system and service transitions. I also briefly touch on the types of resourcing which organisations should purchase from their supplier in terms of application consultancy, training, business intelligence consultancy, data migration consultancy and project management.
People And Skills
Implementations of systems and services inevitably require detailed decision-making, intensive configuration and close supervision of the supplier/client relationship. Even when organisations are outsourcing their HR or Payroll business processes, or transitioning between outsourced arrangements, customer-side involvement cannot and should not be avoided. Whatever the nature of the transition, a range of business-specific requirements will need to be met… and your supplier should not be the final arbiter as to whether or not this has been accurately and comprehensively achieved.
So, for HR and Payroll system or service transitions, what types of people and skills will an organisation need?
Whilst this is clearly subject to organisational size, business complexity and the degree of outsourcing involved, I attempt to broadly answer this question as follows.
Area Experts And Decision Makers
All system and service transitions will require the involvement of individuals who understand the business processes and system needs of the areas affected by the transition. For a transition to be successful it is crucial that these individuals have the seniority to make final decisions on system use or service provision without recourse to committee. It is also crucial that their allocation to the project is clearly defined and not simply slotted around a ‘day job’.
Examples of the type of experts needed by the project might be the payroll manager, an HR manager, the team leader of the Recruitment team, a Training manager and so on. I will touch on what this means in terms of FTE (full time equivalents) for each type of implementation later in this article.
Transitions for in-house system use will require individuals with a working knowledge of the business processes in their area and with the skills to assimilate and apply any changes needed. They must have the aptitude to learn how to operate the new system and to share this knowledge with other users when required. HR and Payroll officers and Recruitment and Training administrators may be suitable for these roles.
It is also worth placing in these roles individuals who are positioned to continue working with the system or service after the transition has been completed, thus ensuring that the organisation benefits in the long term from the knowledge and experience gained during the transition.
Business Intelligence Experts
Business Intelligence is a crucial requirement from any HR and Payroll system or service, and transitions between systems or services must be managed closely to meet this need. Even within a fully outsourced arrangement the purchasing organisation may need to assign to the project staff who understand the organisation’s BI requirements:
– to ensure continuity of reporting;
– to liaise with the service provider;
– to confirm access to reporting; and
– to participate in report validation prior to go-live.
For in-house arrangements organisations will require staff who can administer the new reporting tool and write reports. Relying on the supplier for this can be inefficient and expensive. In smaller in-house scenarios the area expert may pick up these BI responsibilities, though this can significantly impact on implementation timescales.
Subject to the nature of the transition, future users of the system or service may need to be involved in the quality control and testing aspects of the project; and they will certainly need to be inducted into any changed business processes or system use. This requirement should be considered when preparing the business case for the transition and analysed closely during project initiation, in order to determine the likely impact on users and the amount of time they will need to set aside.
Technical Support / IT
The involvement of the organisation’s IT team will be required in any system and service transition, even if it is only to ensure access to an externally hosted database for data interrogation processes. In fully in-house arrangements, significant IT support will be needed during key stages of the transition to administer the set up and configuration of relevant servers (or to liaise with the supplier if these are hosted externally); to set up or liaise on comms; to provide desk top support to the project team; to liaise on installing the software and on subsequent software upgrades etc. Organisation size has a close correlation to the technical FTE required.
With the obvious disclaimer on vested interests, I strongly recommend employing a customer-side project manager when transitioning between HR and Payroll systems or services. At one end of the spectrum this role might involve little more than managing and monitoring the service provider (a responsibility that can perhaps be assumed by one of the area experts); at the other extreme, for larger and more complex projects, it will necessitate a full time Project Managemer with Project Office back up, covering stakeholder management, project control and governance, project team management, supplier management and project communications. In the latter case it is not advisable to use supplier-provided project management since this creates a clear conflict of interest between project manager and project, i.e. the project objective of maximising quality and reducing costs vs. the supplier’s interest in maximising profit whilst minimising their costs (inclusive of project management time).
(Optional) Business Analysts
The suppliers of HR or Payroll systems and services are unlikely to emphasise the amount of business change implicit in the implementation of their product since this may deter potential customers. However, the business change implications for the organisation should be closely analysed, preferably in advance of the procurement, and the resultant workload assessed. In large scale projects the business analysts involved in this may also be deployed later on to facilitate the business change during the transition and to generate procedural documentation and guidelines on system use. In smaller projects the area experts or assistants may inherit this responsibility.
(Optional) Data Migration Specialists
Payroll and HR system and service transitions invariably require the migration of data from the old system to the new. For larger and more complex transitions, where data is sourced from multiple locations and significant mapping is required, it may be useful to deploy in-house data migration expertise if available.
In smaller, in-house projects the Area Experts and Area Operators will undertake most of the testing activities, with participation where appropriate (e.g. during parallel running) from future system users. In larger projects, one or two individuals or even a team may be brought in to work specifically on testing and quality control.
Subject to the size, nature and complexity of the transition, trainers may need to be deployed to train system users.
Ad hoc involvement may be required from Audit, Finance, Communications, Employee Representation, Infrastructure, Property Services and so on. This will be determined by the nature and size of the organisation involved and should be identified during the initiation or planning stages of the project.
Resource Numbers (FTE)
So what are the resourcing levels that organisations will need during system or service transitions?
Clearly this must be definitively established through detailed analysis of the proposed changes and the business environment in which they are taking place. Nevertheless, to offer some initial guidelines, I hazard approximate “full time equivalents” below based on my experiences of these types of project and that of colleagues with whom I have worked closely.
In-House System Transitions For Large Or Complex Organisations (2,000 to 10,000 Employees)
|Area Experts And Decision Makers||1 per area||If the organisation is undertaking an in-house Payroll and core HR implementation, with Recruitment, Training and Self Service to follow, then this would entail an initial ‘Area Expert’ FTE of 2 (these being HR and Payroll representatives at a management level). If Recruitment and Training are to be deployed in parallel, the FTE would rise to 3 or 4, subject to the scope of the later implementations.|
|Area Operators/Assistants||1 – 2 per area||1 FTE per area may be sufficient here, but this may need to be increased for larger and more complex transitions.|
|Business Intelligence Experts||1 – 2||If the organisation has a very large business intelligence requirement then up to two FTE may be required during the transition, to analyse the requirement, develop specific reports and configure report access and delivery. In moderately sized organisations 1 dedicated BI role is normally sufficient.An alternative approach is to train area experts or operators in the use of the Business Intelligence tool. This approach, in my view, is preferable, but it will add significantly to the FTE indicated in the boxes above, particularly in light of the training required.|
|System Users||Analysis required||System users may need to participate in:
– testing at different stages of the transition;
– in discussions on current vs future system use;
– in decision making; and
– in parallel running and in attending training.
The FTE utilised here is closely dependent on the approach taken to the project.
|Technical Support / IT||0.5 – 2||Ad hoc IT support will be needed at various stages in the system transition: to administer the set up and configuration of relevant servers (or to liaise with the supplier if these are hosted externally); to set up or liaise on comms; to provide desk top support to the project team; to liaise on implementing the software or software upgrades; to maintain users and so on. Organisation size has a strong bearing on the technical FTE required.|
|Project Management||1||A dedicated project manager reporting directly to the organisation significantly improves the likelihood of a successful transition. Conversely, asking managers with other, primary responsibilities to assimilate this role inevitably compromises the management of the project.As noted above, it is also inadvisable to rely on supplier project managers as this introduces a clear conflict of interest: the supplier’s interest in maximising profit and minimising costs vs. the organisation’s interest in a successful project on time and in budget.|
|(Optional) Business Analysts||1 – 2||Business process re-engineering, if included in the transition, may well necessitate the involvement of business analysts. Business change can also negatively impact on the post-transition productivity of staff using the new system.|
|(Optional) Data Migration Specialists||1 (occasional)||At specific points in the project life cycle 1 or more data migration experts may be needed to collect, collate, map, upload and test migrated data. This is normally supplemented by supplier consultancy.|
|(Optional) Testers||1+||Subject to the project life cycle and the size of the organisation 1 or more testers may be required for testing and quality control activities. This FTE will not be continuously required.|
|(Optional) Trainers||1+||Subject to the project life cycle and the size of the organisation 1 or more trainers may be required to train users in changed business processes and the use of the new system. This FTE will not be continuously required.|
|Miscellaneous||0.5||Involvement may be required from related teams, e.g. Finance, Audit, Properties and Communications.|
Note: Very large or complex organisations with tens of thousands of employees on very disparate payrolls will need to scale up the above estimates. Senior administrators or managers with experience of each type of payroll may need to join the project team. It is also the case that these types of transition respond well to increased resourcing – showing clear improvements in the quality of the implementation when good project staffing is provided. An example might be providing dedicated resource for project and system documentation, resulting in high quality procedural documentation being made available for current and future users of the system.
In-House System Transitions For Organisations of Moderate Size and Complexity (500 – 2,000 Employees)
|Area Experts And Decision Makers||1 for HR, 1 for Payroll, 0.5 for other areas||Even moderately sized and reasonably straightforward Payroll and HR implementations tend to need one expert decision-maker for each area.Recruitment, Training, Self Service and other modules may well require less resource, or, if these are phased in after the HR/Payroll transition, the HR expert may move on to support the implementation of the smaller modules.|
|Area Operators/Assistants||1 for HR, 1 for Payroll, 0.5 for other areas||Please see note above.|
|Business Intelligence Experts||0.5||It is difficult to predict the need for Business Intelligence skills in this scenario since this is very much subject to business need. The area experts may be able to meet this requirement but this will increase the FTE indicated above, particularly in light of the additional training entailed.|
|System Users||Analysis required||System users may need to participate in testing at different stages of the transition; in discussions on current vs future system use; in parallel running and in attending training. The FTE needed here will decrease with decreasing organisational complexity and size.|
|Technical Support / IT||0.5 – 1|
|(Optional) Business Analysts||1|
|(Optional) Data Migration Specialists||<1||At specific points in the project life cycle data migration tasks will need to be undertaken. This work may be inherited by the area experts.|
|(Optional) Testers||1 – 2||Subject to project size and complexity. It is in fact more likely that the Area Experts, Area Operators and future users will undertake this activity.|
|Miscellaneous||0.5 – 1|
In-House System Transitions For Smaller Organisations (Less Than 500 Employees)
|Area Experts And Decision Makers||1 HR, 1 Payroll||System transitions for smaller organisations can be very demanding, since in-house resource is often difficult to find and often one or two individuals combine many of the roles indicated in this table.|
|Area Operators/Assistants||0 – 1 per area||As a minimum even small organisations will benefit from 1 HR FTE and 1 Payroll FTE to see through a successful transition. In this scenario the Area Expert and the Area Operator is often the same person. A less efficient option is to have multiple part-time contributors.|
|Business Intelligence Experts||< 0.5||In-house Business Intelligence expertise is critical to a successful project – but it may be the case with small organisations that this must be provided by the HR or Payroll area expert or by the supplier.|
|System Users||Analysis required||See comments above.|
|Technical Support / IT||0.5||Technical support cannot be avoided… but the requirement will be ad hoc rather than continuous.|
|Project Management||0||For system transitions in small organisations the project management is likely to be provided by one of the area experts or by a manager on a part-time basis. In either scenario, it is advisable that the individual picking up this responsibility researches the typical life cycle of these kinds of project. (A modest starting point might be my article Getting System Implementations Right.) Ideally an experienced project manager will be brought in, possibly on a part time basis.|
|(Optional) Business Analysts||0||Undertaken by the area experts.|
|(Optional) Data Migration Specialists||0||Undertaken by the area experts.|
|(Optional) Testers||0||Undertaken by the area experts and operators.|
|(Optional) Trainers||0||Undertaken by the area experts.|
|Miscellaneous||Ad hoc||Undertaken by the area experts.|
Note: The relationship between organisation size/complexity and the resource required for system transitions is not directly proportional. A minimum amount of resource will be needed for even fairly small organisations. If insufficient resource is allocated there will be a significant risk of project failure or of overloading the individuals assigned to the project.
System Implementations With Partial Outsourcing
To determine the resources organisations will need where partial outsourcing is planned, please see the estimates in the tables above. For each area being outsourced the Area Expert FTE can be reduced by 50-75% and the Area Assistants to 0%, since much of this work will be picked up by the service provider. The Area Expert FTE cannot be reduced to 0%, however, because in-house expertise will still be required to monitor the setup, testing and outputs of the service being provided.
Transitions To or Between Fully Outsourced Services
|Area Experts And Decision Makers||0.25 – 0.5 per area||As noted above, the Area Expert FTE cannot be reduced to 0% since area expertise will be needed to make decisions on the service configuration and to monitor the performance of the supplier and the service.|
|Business Intelligence Experts||0 – 2||If the outsourced provider maintains a database which the organisation’s staff must access for their reporting and data needs, then business intelligence expertise may well be required during the transition to set up or refresh the reports to be used.|
|Technical Support / IT||0.5 – 1||Ad hoc IT support may be needed for desktop and comms if the organisation’s staff access an externally hosted database for their reporting and data needs.|
|Project Management||0.25 – 0.5||Some element of supplier and resource administration will be required even for fully outsourced transitions.|
|Miscellaneous||0 – 0.25||Contributory work may be required from teams such as Finance, Audit, Communications etc.|
The above table indicates the resourcing needed for transitions in outsourced arrangements for small to fairly large organisations. Larger national and multinational organisations with employee numbers in the tens of thousands will need to scale these up accordingly.
Implementation Services Provided By The Supplier
As part of the procurement of new HR and Payroll systems or services, organisations will need to buy help and support for their implementation or transition. For organisations taking in-house solutions, the suppliers can be expected to provide:
– Supplier-side project management, to oversee the day to day relationship with their customer and the timely delivery of the purchased products or services;
– Application consultancy, to lead the customer’s project team through the setup required to implement and use the new system;
– Business Intelligence consultancy, to advise on reporting tool configuration and potentially produce the more complex reports needed for go-live;
– Data Migration consultancy, to facilitate migration into the new system;
– Tech consultancy as determined by the proposed hardware, comms and database configuration;
– Bespoke software development; and
– Training in all areas of the new system and in the use of the reporting tool.
The numbers of days purchased for each of the above types of consultancy will be subject to analysis, negotiation and the supplier’s recommendations. However, it is important for organisations to emphasise during the procurement and within the resultant contract that these recommendations should be reasonably binding and that a stream of change controls relating to work that the supplier should have been able to foresee will be unwelcome.
Areas which are frequently underplayed in system and service transitions are the amount of training required; the amount of data migration consultancy which should be purchased; and the amount of bespoke development needed. Examples from a recent project I worked on were the omission of a Finance interface from a Payroll implementation contract, which then had to be separately purchased at considerable extra cost; and the failure to recommend data migration consultancy to cover fairly obvious data such as post and hierarchy information.
In summary, HR and Payroll system or service transitions are almost always more resource intensive than organisations expect. This is partly because organisations tend towards optimism when it comes to using existing staff, and partly because system and service providers tend to emphasise the direct rather than indirect costs arising from transitions. To avoid surprises it is therefore useful, when preparing the business case for such transitions, to include a detailed analysis of this potential area of cost. The resourcing guidelines above will, I hope, offer a useful starting position for organisations embarking upon this exercise.
Luke Andreski PMI PMP
Project Management Services
With thanks to Emily Roach of Approach BI Ltd for the addition of ‘Testing’ resource to the above discussion.
© 2013 Luke Andreski. All rights reserved.
A reputable supplier
You are transitioning between services or systems. You have a good contract. You have a strong project team. You have selected a reputable supplier. What could go wrong?
Almost by definition all transitions are subject to increased risk. This may be due to lack of familiarity with the new supplier and their service or software; it may result from ambitious timescales; or it may arise from resource limitations and budget constraints. Whatever the reason, it is certainly the case that something can and probably will go wrong: with the deliverables, with the delivery, with the relationship between you and your supplier.
In Getting System Implementations Right and Prerequisites For successful HR and Payroll Implementations I discuss strategies to minimise the risks within organisations for transitions of this kind. In this article I look at ways to address the risks which arise specifically from your supplier and your relationship with them.
As a first step towards the management of your supplier it is important to identify their potential weaknesses. During the sales process you should ask your supplier to assess their own weaknesses, both past and future, and how they intend to address these in relation to any arrangement with yourselves. An independent assessment of your supplier’s weaknesses should also be undertaken through research, trawling the internet and speaking with existing customers. Weaknesses you are likely to find will include:
- Diminishing commitment once the sale is agreed and the contract signed
- Poor relationship management
- Erratic communication, both internally and with their customers
- Inadequate resourcing, in terms of availability and skills
- Failings in the product or service delivered
- Insufficient implementation support
- Tardy operational support
- An unhelpful corporate ethos
I will discuss these, and the measures you can take to reduce their likelihood and impact, below.
In seeking to manage your supplier it may not be weaknesses solely on their part which need to be identified and addressed. No organisation is perfect, and you will need to mitigate against weaknesses of your own. Examples might be:
- Insufficient resourcing of supplier management
- Unfocussed communications with your supplier
- Insufficient clarity of purpose
- Inconsistency in negotiating issue resolutions
- Lack of forcefulness
Once you have identified the potential risks inherent in your relationship with your supplier or in their delivery of product or service, you will need to put in place actions or plans to mitigate against these risks.
Supplier commitment and motivation
How can you ensure the continuing commitment of your supplier after the sale has been agreed? Once your contract with your supplier is signed, the charming and effective sales wing of your supplier’s organisation will hand you over, as a new project, to their delivery team. In many organisations what happens next will have little impact on the staff with whom you were to that point involved. The sales team will turn their attention to new prospects and new sales, and your new contacts will have a less compelling (i.e. no longer commission driven) motivation to meet your needs.
You may also discover that you are one amongst many projects which the delivery teams have in hand, and not necessarily one with the highest priority. Larger and more assertive customers will take precedence over smaller or less demanding newcomers; customers with issues will always jump the queue; and your needs as an organisation are now in the hands of people with whom you have not yet developed a working relationship.
Pre-emptive measures to ensure the commitment of your supplier after this handover takes place need to be included in your contract. Ideally, the contract should include:
- Delivery targets
- Implementation timescales
- The supplier’s detailed confirmation of the extent to which they can meet each individual requirement in a contractual requirements document or ‘statement of work’
- A supplier-incentivising payment profile
- Penalties for supplier non-performance
- Insurance against subcontractor non-performance
- Defined implementation consultancy and support
- Defined system and DBA training
- A detailed Support SLA including escalation points
- System performance guarantees
- An agreed change control procedure
- A supplier/client conflict resolution strategy
- Defined skill sets and experience levels for each of the areas in which consultancy will be provided
If any of these elements are missing, then the time to revisit them is now. It is unlikely that your supplier will agree to enhance their contract with penalties for non-performance, but they should be willing to document the levels of service to which they will commit, and the measures they will take should failings arise.
To further motivate them, ensure that senior supplier representatives attend Steering Group or Board level meetings where the progress of the service or software implementation is reviewed. No one enjoys publicly representing an organisation which is providing a poor service, and the supplier’s representative will be motivated to see that the job is done well simply through being faced with the prospect of seeing you again in three or four weeks’ time.
You should also ensure that the supplier recognises that your motives and theirs are congruent. You want their software or service to be successful, and it is useful to emphasise to the supplier your willingness, if the implementation is successful, to publicise this. If your supplier performs well you should make it clear that your organisation will be in the vanguard of singing their praises: a reference site for potential future customers and an example of the best practice use of their system or service.
For most suppliers, the bottom line is the bottom line. You need to be able to maintain financial leverage up to the last possible moment, since, once the bulk of your payment has been deposited in their bank account, your supplier’s interest in you may mysteriously diminish. This applies both to the whole implementation or any part of it. Where possible, never pay for any deliverable unless you are sure that the deliverable you are paying for is one hundred per cent complete. Again, where possible, never pay for completed deliverables if other deliverables which should have been completed from the same supplier or their subcontractors are still outstanding. In addition, you should attempt to delay payments until the end of a period of time sufficient for resolving teething problems. Ideally, the basis for these activities will be confirmed rather than restricted by your contract.
If you are lucky enough to have a contract which imposes penalty clauses for poor performance, make sure these are kept in mind and regularly reviewed.
Finally, connect and communicate with existing users of the system or service at an early stage. Their experiences and support may prove a useful asset in your management of your supplier.
If a supplier is providing you with a product or service over an extended period of time which is important to your business or project, then it is important that you maintain both a good and a firm relationship with that supplier. But a relationship cannot exist where there is no continuity of contact, therefore a degree of contact, determined by the importance attached to the supplier’s contribution to the project, is a key initial requirement to managing your supplier.
It is beneficial if the supplier’s representatives like you, but this is by no means necessary; it is far more important that they feel the need to keep you on-side through providing an excellent service.
For an important supplier this may mean a daily telephone conversation, face-to-face meetings every week or every fortnight, and a senior representative from the supplier attending service review or board meetings every three weeks or month. It is important that the meetings with the supplier be friendly, honest and problem solving, rather than blame directing, but it is also important that the supplier be kept aware that penalties – where available – will be incurred for non-performance or failings in performance. You must also make it known to your supplier that they are expected to give warning of potential failings in delivery or service well in advance, in order that mitigations can be planned and undertaken in good time.
Clear escalation paths need to be agreed for the different types of issue that might arise (e.g. commercial, contractual, service or product), but informal lines of communication should also be nurtured. This can be achieved through attendance of user groups or conferences provided by the supplier, through informal relationship building and through such things as connecting at a senior level via LinkedIn.
A conflict resolution strategy should be documented and agreed with your supplier, and this should include the involvement of managers in both organisations who are not direct participants in the relevant implementation or project, thus permitting greater objectivity when resolving issues.
It is certainly important to keep the relationship sweet; but this is trumped by the need for firmness, honesty and a positive problem-solving approach.
As a general rule it is safe to assume that your supplier, after sales, will be a poor communicator, both internally and with their customers. Sales staff are selected for their communications skills, but mid-level delivery managers are usually selected for their technical or area knowledge – and it is likely your supplier’s delivery team will be drawn from a technical background or from work areas centred on a narrow business focus.
To address this your project manager and other involved managers should be briefed to pre-emptively encourage good communication. Ensure progress reports are shared with your supplier; and request a similar level of communication in return. As noted above, ensure regular contact, by phone, skype, email and face to face. Make sure you have an ‘open door’ policy with your supplier which works in both directions; and quickly escalate your concern if areas of communication appear weak.
At the beginning of your project (ideally during contract negotiations) ask your supplier to advise what consultancy or training is likely to be required at each stage of the software or service implementation, and ask them to provisionally book experienced staff to provide these services at these times. Ask your supplier to be proactive and to pre-emptively assign resource to your implementation, especially if they reach preferred supplier status. After contract signature, follow this through for each phase of your implementation, checking your supplier’s resource allocation for all remaining phases. If this isn’t pursued vigorously you may find yourself being provided with stopgap or inexperienced staff, while the best staff are allocated to other, more demanding clients…
Request the CV or skill set of every person or role the supplier intends to deploy to meet your requirement, and ensure that your organisation is not used as a training ground for untrained staff or recent recruits.
Finally, make sure your supplier is aware of your expectations of their consultants, in terms of behaviour, dress, and time spent on site. Some suppliers may ‘try it on’ and factor the travelling time of their consultants into your working day. Ensure this is nipped in the bud early, before a pattern is established.
Failings in product or service
No matter how good your supplier is, there will always be failings to a greater or lesser degree in their delivered product or service. And no matter how well you get on with your counterparts in your supplier’s organisation, these failings should be closely monitored, documented and communicated. You should never leave your supplier in the position of being able to say, ‘Well, you never told us anything was wrong…’
To support this, you will need a clear requirements specification or ‘statement or work’, which should have been compiled prior to – and used as part of – your contract negotiations. If this is not available, then your project manager and area experts should be tasked with producing documentation along these lines, against which to measure deliverables.
A test plan should be developed for every anticipated software release, upgrade, patch or change in service. As a recipient of such changes you should always assume that your supplier has inadequately tested the change. This is a characteristic universally shared by suppliers, no matter how well established or how good their reputation.
Prior to final payment for the implementation of a product or service, check for full compliance with the original agreement or contract. The supplier will invariably treat payment as acceptance, and subsequent fixes, even if implicit in the contract, will be slow in coming or charged as out of scope.
As noted above, where possible, and if your contract permits it, retain financial leverage…
Some elements of a new software or service provided by you supplier – particularly those which involve third parties – will involve significant delivery lead times. At the beginning of your project or implementation request your supplier’s expert advice on the lead times for any key elements of your deliverable which lie on the critical path for delivery. Examples of these might be the setting up of servers or comms, or the delivery of specialist training. Sometimes it will be worthwhile asking your supplier to provisionally book or initiate these activities prior even to contract agreement, if the lead time involved might otherwise delay the start of your implementation.
It is important to assume – in order to minimise risk – that your supplier will be forgetful. On this basis your project manager or other involved managers should generate prompts and reminders to your supplier well in advance of any deliverables on the critical path, and ensure that confirmation of readiness has been received in return.
Rigorous recording of the implementation services (and all other deliverables) provided by your supplier should be maintained at all times, independently of your supplier’s own records. Your supplier, no matter how well intentioned, will certainly bill you for every demonstrable deliverable, but they cannot be relied upon to keep a scrupulous record of deliverables or services they have failed to provide.
The above considerations will also apply to the operational support provided by your supplier after your software or service has gone live. A continuing relationship should be nurtured at a senior level; clear communications and reporting should be maintained; and all failings or faults should be documented, reported on, and promptly escalated. The transition from implementation to operational support is similar to that from sales to implementation, with a similar risk of diminishing engagement by the supplier. It is important to proactively address this through your service level agreement and regular service reviews.
Ethos and attitude
Finally, in terms of supplier weaknesses, it is useful to understand, and, if necessary tackle, your supplier’s ethos and attitude. No matter what short term economic necessities are faced by your supplier, it will always be to their long term benefit to keep their customers happy and demonstrate their adherence to the principle that ‘the customer is always right’. Sometimes it is worth reminding suppliers of this fact.
You want the service you have bought… but in fact you want more than this. You want, as an organisation, to be treated well and with respect. You want to be treated as a valued customer, no matter what your financial value to your supplier or your size in relation to their other customers. And you need to make this known to your supplier from the moment you commence contract negotiations though to the end of your contract.
Resourcing the management of your supplier
All of the above activities of course require an investment of time and commitment on your part. This is true of all aspects of a project, and projects succeed or fail on the basis of the resource invested in them and the commitment made to them at a senior level. Your investment in supplier management therefore requires its own business case. If you are dealing with a small supplier whose contribution is minimal, then you may fine tune the resource you devote to managing that supplier. For very large projects, supplier administration may be farmed out to teams or departments who specialise in procurement, contract and supplier management. Alternatively, responsibility for coordinating supplier management may fall to a project manager or other senior involved managers. For smaller contracts or suppliers more junior staff may be assigned this responsibility. But at whichever level you choose to aim your supplier management, this should be a strategic decision on the part of your organisation – and the risk mitigations detailed above should all be considered, even if they are only selectively implemented on the basis of value and cost.
Communicating with your supplier
It cannot be assumed that your supplier’s contacts, once you have purchased their product or service, will demonstrate good or even adequate communication skills. As I recommend above, these skill may need to be provided proactively by your own organisation, and allowance should be made for this.
Forcefulness, consistency and clarity of purpose
Finally, in dealing with your supplier, you need to be clear about your objectives, reasonable in your expectations, unemotional, candid, forward-looking and professional. You should allocate your relationship management to individuals who are not easily overawed by senior supplier representatives. It is important to keep the relationship sweet, but it is more important to approach your relationship with a great deal of backbone, expressing your position frankly and not allowing suppliers to provide a service or product that is anything less than excellent. Excellence is what your supplier will have promised when striving to win your custom and, through rigorous supplier management, excellence is precisely what you should compel them to deliver.
In summary, you can gain the most from your supplier if you manage them closely and strategically. To do this you need a strategy for supplier management in general, and to tailor this to each specific supplier once you have ascertained their strengths and weaknesses. Expecting a supplier to manage themselves to your advantage, particularly if they have large numbers of other customers or clients, is unrealistic. If you approach your relationship with your supplier proactively, planning for the worst but asking for the best, this will give your relationship with your supplier, and the software or service they provide, the greatest chance of success.
Luke Andreski PMI PMP
© 2013 Luke Andreski. All rights reserved.
In giving this article the title I have given it I might be accused of miss-selling… however, and quite unexpectedly, I find myself, if not exactly excited by, then at least seriously interested in, the topic of project filing.
A significant element of any project manager’s work is to collate, create, review and update documents which relate to the project or projects in hand. For this reason it is important that project documents are filed in an intuitive and sensible way, reflecting both the project management methodology being used and the life cycle to which the project adheres.
Currently I prefer to work with the Project Management Institute’s ‘Project Management Body Of Knowledge’(PMBOK) methodology, with its nine knowledge areas: Scope, Integration, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communications, Risk and Procurement. These need to interface with the typical life cycle of the projects with which I am currently involved: initiation; planning; analysis and design; system configuration; data migration; testing, documentation and the transition to operational live running. Then of course there are the pragmatic considerations of information storage and retrieval: What do you need immediate access to as soon as you open a project file? What folders will you need to access most often? Are there other areas of documentation or data which are not covered by the matrix of knowledge areas vs. life cycle? How can you ensure your file structure is intuitive and easy to adopt?
With all this in mind I have devised a project file and folder structure for use with both hardcopy and electronic filing which I have tested against the storage requirements of real project data.
This structure seems to me to work… but is it the best?
Take a look:
The Project File
Folder 1: Stakeholders and Contacts
This folder will include simple contact lists as well as stakeholder analysis and stakeholder management planning
Folder 2: Governance – Charter and Scope
This folder will include the contract, initial scoping documents or terms of reference, the project initiation document or charter, and any further detailed scoping. In other words, all the documents by which the project is initially defined
Folder 3: Project Planning
Once you have established the scope of your project – the objectives, requirements, outline timescales and budget – serious planning can commence, and this folder should contain not only the usual MSP Gantt charts but also meta-planning documents such as your plans for project management, for quality assurance, for human resource management, for communications and so on
Folder 4: Status – Activities Issues and Risks
To include status reports and updates, issue logs, risk logs and schedule variance
Folder 5: Status – Costs
This folder will include budget or project costs and utilisation reports, and earned value or other assessments of value achieved versus expected. The utilisation of third party deliverables should also be reflected here. This area is given a folder in its own right to reflect the importance of cost within most organisations
Folder 6: Change Control
To hold change requests, both pending and authorised. These, in conjunction with the data held in the Governance folder, define the project
Folder 7: Project Coordination
This folder holds the ‘project office’ type of documentation not already covered by the other folders: the agendas, papers and minutes for formal meetings(such as Board and Project Team meetings). Also documentation related to supplier management or the administration of supplier deliverables such as training and consultancy
Folder 8: Project Data
This folder holds the data associated with the life cycle of your particular type of project, e.g.
8.1 Analysis and Design
8.2 Infrastructure and system administration
8.3 System configuration and build
8.4 Data migration
8.5 Testing and quality control
8.6 Procedures, manuals and guides
Folder 9: Phase and Project Closure
To hold documentation relating to the closure of phases or the project as a whole, including the documentation of lessons to be learned
Folder 10: Miscellaneous
…because there will always be some documents which are impossible to categorise or which do not deserve a category of their own.
This is how I have begun to structure my project files. How have you structured yours?
Luke Andreski PMI PMP
I am a project manager with many years’ experience in HR and Payroll system implementations. I am in the process of completing my most recent contract for the housing and care organisation Midland Heart. After a one or two month break I will be seeking a new contract from August/September 2013 onward.
Might It Be Necessary?
There’s the project management aspect of any project… and then there’s the required output from the project…
The project manager takes care of the first; and the project team and nominated experts and assistants are responsible for the second.
But what happens when your project simply doesn’t have enough resource to support the required project output? Should a project manager roll his or her sleeves up and help? Is this a good idea? Might it be both necessary and what is expected of you? Or can it lead to disaster?
A Case In Point
On one of my recent projects, in an organisation I admired and whose staff were already working extremely hard, I made the conscious decision to roll my sleeves up. The project involved the implementation of new a Payroll and HR system and at the outset I realised that the resourcing was rather too low – but that it would be extremely difficult for my client to bring their resource to the levels I recommended.
Keen to support the organisation’s objectives, I therefore chose to provide not only project management services to my client but a wide range of other activities, including training delivery, procedural documentation, business analysis, system administration, requirements analysis, solution design and data migration support. I also undertook any other administration and support activities that needed completing to keep the project on the road.
The project took approximately six months and included the standard features of implementations of this kind: initiation, planning, bespoke design and development, system setup and configuration, data migration, User Acceptance Testing, parallel running and go-live.
Throughout the project I worked at an intense rate, averaging a 47 hour week (excluding holidays), despatching over 3,000 project-specific emails, producing over 100 formal documents and helping my client successfully achieve their desired implementation timescales. But was making such a commitment sensible?
Here is a breakdown of the work I undertook, beginning with the non-project-management-type activities.
Procedural Documentation and Business Analysis
On behalf of the project:
- I produced procedural guidance for the Finance Team’s maintenance of costing data on the new system
- I analysed the Payroll/HR procedural interface and produced written guidance on activities permissible for HR during the payroll processing period (reconciling a fairly typical instinct within Payroll for exclusion vs. a robust HR need for access)
- I analysed Payroll procedures and identified efficient replacement processes on the new system
- I contributed to the analysis and documentation of an establishment control processes
- I provided advice and guidance on HR and Payroll procedures in general, with the aim of combining simplicity and cost effectiveness with best practice
On behalf of the project I:
- Delivered system data structure familiarisation sessions to the project and user teams
- Produced guidance documentation covering the new system’s data structures, hierarchy and posts
- Booked training courses, booked rooms, administered attendees, distributed manuals, organised access to laptops etc, for eleven training events
Requirements Analysis and System Design
On behalf of the project I undertook the following activities:
- Analysis of the costing outputs required from the new system for interfacing to the existing Finance system
- Production of Business Requirements and Functional Specs for a bespoke interface from the new system to the existing Finance
- Definition of the interface-relevant Business Objects reports for the Finance team
- Analysis and documentation of system user types and the menus required for HR and Payroll Operatives Supervisors
System Build and Administration
On behalf of the project I have performed the following activities:
- Menu setup on the new system
- Security setup on the new system
- Setup and administration of all users of the new system
- Audit setup
- Online payslip setup
- Supervision of comms access
- RTI data checks
- Setup of User Defined Screens
- Fault logging and escalation with the supplier
- Arranging and checking Test environment refreshes
- Arranging and checking software upgrades
- Arranging and checking delivery of bespoke software
On behalf of the project I undertook:
- Detailed functional testing of the bespoke costing interface
- Coordination of Finance Team data checking
- Testing of costing interface specific reports
- Testing of menu, security and user setup
- Provision of advice and guidance on HR and Payroll testing
- Testing of online payslips
Data Migration Support
On behalf of the project:
- I reviewed with the organisation and gained agreement on data ownership and sources for the data migration
- I administered the collection, formatting and migration onto the new system of cost codes generated by the existing Finance system
- I closely administered all data migration activities, including version control, format checking and secure transfer (overcoming certain supplier-side weaknesses in this area)
- I coordinated project team correction of the migration data where required
Project Admin and Support
On behalf of the project I undertook:
- Organisation of project room and facilities
- Meeting room booking, meeting administration, minute taking, the production of Agendas and Minutes for all meetings
On behalf of the project I undertook the following activities:
- Fact finding and contract review
- Production of the Project Terms of Reference
- Production of the Project Board Terms of Reference
- Stakeholder analysis
- Production of the Project Charter (very similar to PRINCE 2’s ‘Project Initiation Document’)
- Production of high level planning for the project
- Production and maintenance of a detailed project plan
- Production of Training and Communications Plans
- Coordination, prioritisation and facilitation of project team activities
- Production of Project Team action lists
- Monitoring project budget vs costs
- Supervision of supplier Application, Business Objects and Data Migration consultancy
- Chairing of scheduled and ad hoc project team meetings
- Monitoring progress against plan and escalating where necessary
- Coordination of bespoke development, delivery and implementation
- Preparation and presentation of Project Status reports to Board
- Micro-management of late UAT and early parallel run activities
- Preparation of Parallel Run and Go Live Sign Off documents
- Supplier administration including two formal escalations
- Administration of change control
This long list of activities of course excludes the range of minor or informal tasks, meetings, correspondences and discussions which all project managers must undertake to facilitate any project of this size reaching its desired conclusion.
Through these very diverse activities, and with the help, dedication and commitment of an excellent but small project team, I ensured an on time and under budget go-live for the project. The project was considered a success throughout the organisation. But at what cost?
Benefits and Risks
The benefits of my approach are fairly clear:
- Costs were kept low by not engaging a range of very differently skilled staff for short-term activities
- Efficiency was gained by having a small, closely knit team who knew the entire project inside out – reducing handovers, meetings and duplication of communications
- I maintained close control over the activities I detail above – through doing them myself…
- A strong sense of team endeavour and achievement was engendered within a small, tightly focussed and dedicated team
But there were very definite risks entailed in this approach:
- Willingly and voluntarily the team at times worked to the point of exhaustion to meet the project objectives, which is something that cannot be considered best practice project management. This alone introduces the risks of:
- burnout, potentially reducing the team members’ effectiveness further down the line
- focussing too narrowly on what needs to be achieved now, with the team and project manager so immersed in the output-based activities of the project that it becomes difficult to see the wood from the trees or to think strategically
- errors; tired people, or people who are juggling many activities in parallel, are more likely to make mistakes… and there was a definite danger of this in the project I describe here
- Had I, or any of the team, become unavailable at any point in the project, there was no contingency: the project would of necessity have slipped
- I became the sole source of expertise in a number of areas rather than this expertise being built up within a project team made up of permanent employees. This was effectively a postponement of cost, entailing identifying individuals to learn what I knew and to assume the responsibilities I had taken on myself
Fortunately, in the project detailed here, we managed to gain the benefits but avoid the risks highlighted above, partly through hard work, stamina and dedication, but also, decidedly, through a degree of good luck. We worked together well. We had the skills we needed. Issues arose, as with any project, but we were able to promptly resolve them. The project was brought in on time and costs were kept down. What more could my client have asked for?
Answering The Question
But this leaves my initial question unanswered. Should project managers, when it may benefit their employing organisation or the objectives of their project, roll up their sleeves and undertake urgent non-project-management tasks?
From the detail I have provided so far, and given the successful outcome of the project, you might expect that my answer would be, ‘Yes. Of course. You do what you need to do to get the job done…’
However, the conclusion I draw from my experiences is rather different from this. I suggest that best practice project management in fact entails the project manager keeping their sleeves firmly rolled down. In the project I describe my decision to become a hybrid project manager / team member / jack of all trades was fortunately successful – but it did expose the project to significant risks, risks that, as a professional project manager, I would have preferred to more decisively avoid.
Project managers should always hold something back in terms of energy and engagement, allowing for lateral thinking, forward planning, the anticipation of risk and the preparation of risk mitigations.
The project team and I did well. In fact I am incredibly proud of our achievement. But I think we could have done even better, and we could have done it with greater security of outcome, with a little more resource, a little more focus on project management in addition to project outputs, and a little more time.
Luke Andreski May 2013
Feedback on any of my posts and the issues they discuss is very welcome.
© 2013 Luke Andreski. All rights reserved.