Friday, 26 April 2013

PROJECT MANAGEMENT - Lessons Learned from when things go right!

I spent some time recently responding to an Expression Of Interest for an IT development project recently and came to a question about similar IT projects and lessons learned from the experience. The project I had in mind was a large development project for a State Government department which had proceeded very smoothly despite the tight schedule and the project being approved to proceed 4 weeks later than estimated in our tender response. The upshot was that I found myself contemplating the pleasant prospect of what went right, not what went wrong...

Our lessons learned may be a bit different to other businesses because our contact centre services require a lot of coordinated involvement of different work teams - Sales, Client Services, Operations Support (trainers, call centre managers), IT, Management and the contact centre agents and team leaders - so the user experience is very central in our service delivery. Even so, we do a great deal of custom IT development to support complex services that integrate with our Customer Management Application. Examples include databases to collect data that can be exported to a client CRM; applications to control contextual call handling or direct messages to specific individuals or departments in a large organisation; or applications that can control escalation sequences or control bookings in limited capacity venues.

So, what we learned from what went right....

1. The Client Service Specifications were clear from the outset and did not vary during implementation.

This was very important because every time the specifications change, you have the prospect of having to back code changes to work already done, and you risk introduced errors and bugs that later need to be fixed.

2. We consulted with all the work teams and took on board their feedback before constructing the IT specifications for the IT Team from the Client brief. 

IT also reviewed existing work commitments and priorities and factored any long term hosting and support requirements for the application in our system planning at this point.

3. A Project Manager was appointed to set timelines and milestones and lead progress reviews and meet with the Client. 

The Project Manager had an operational role in the success of the project (call centre Branch Manager), which combined a clear understanding of the Client's requirements with the experience and authority to lead the team of agents (end users) handling the service. The Project Manager also had Management support to step in and assist in any area of the project delivery, including teams working outside her direct authority, to expedite any actions needed to keep scheduled progress on track.

4. With work teams working from 3 sites plus one client with various stakeholders involved, clear communication was vital to coordinated effort. 

A central email box was set up for the project for all relevant people; both client and the project team members received all information. Two documented meetings per week were scheduled throughout the project period (4 weeks) to review progress against timelines and milestones and action lists were generated (and followed up) for particular people working on the project from this.Top management were also involved in these meetings led by the Project Manager.

5. We tried to set work teams to work con-currently wherever feasible. 

For example, Client Services adapted the Client call flows to our internal norms immediately and briefed Operations and the main Branch Manager controlling the service as soon as these were received so that our Training Manager could commence developing training materials and key staff like Team Leaders could be briefed early on. While coding was undertaken, Client Services worked on other areas of the service delivery such as call recording and linkage to our Customer Management Application (our central communications platform) were set up. Our Web Designer started work on the look of the application at this point, too; specific menu changes were easy to adjust later.

6. User Testing continued throughout the project.

When the first draft of the application was available, this was immediately presented to the Client and our Trainer so our Web Developer received immediate user feedback on screen navigation and functionality before all coding was completed. Modules were also tested by users as they became available.

7. The Project Manager also met with the Client just before and again after implementation to check that everything was working as expected.

As a result of the continuous testing throughout development very few adjustments were needed at this point: success! As everything proceeded smoothly, there were no nasty cost over-runs, either.

We also found that we had more control over the project because all people involved were full time staff, and their work priorities could be reordered by Management more flexibly than might have been possible if sub-contractors had been used. This may not be the experience of associates who regularly collaborate with subcontractors on particular projects, but this project was quite different to other work that we have done, so it helped that the team worked together so well. 

A final point - let's not forget that it's all about people - congratulations go the Project Team and in particular, to our Web Developer, Cathy (pictured) for such excellent work.

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