Dynamics Matters Podcast Ep 86: How to deliver successful IT projects

With special guest Phil Lewis, Project Services Director, HSO

✔ How to start your Microsoft project

✔ What's the difference between a good and bad project?

✔ Why projects should never finish

Transcript

Introduction
Welcome to episode 86 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

And I’m your host, Michael Lonnon.

Now, there’s no such thing as a perfect project. And any technology company that tells you different is talking tosh. But there are different ways to approach each one that ensures challenges are don’t have such a big impact and can be more easily resolved.

I know this because I sat down for a chat with HSO Project Services Director Phil Lewis who told me like it is.

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon
You've had a recent role change. Tell us a little bit about what it is that you're now doing?

Phil Lewis
My title now is project services director. I'm responsible for the delivery of each project that we run. I have a team of project directors, a team of project managers, a PMO team who look after governance side of things, and then also responsible for all the internal projects, again, making sure they're run with governance and at the same time setting what the governance processes are for the delivery teams across the board. So, ensuring we have good standards and processes in place so we can deliver projects in the right way.

Michael Lonnon
You must then know what a successful project looks like. In theory. So, let's test it. What does a good project look like in your eyes?

Phil Lewis
A project that's controlled, that's the first thing. It has to have control. Each project we work very closely with the client so we understand what's required. We set up what we're delivering, how are we going to deliver that, how we are going to break down that delivery, and making sure we work between us, so we understand what HSO’s responsibilities are to deliver, but also what the client responsibilities are to deliver so that we're working hand in glove all the way through. I think success is we get to the end of the project, and we are still one team, you know, we still all on the same page and thinking and it's really important, we have this vision of one team and one of the things we do at the very beginning of a project is have what we call the foundation phase. Sometimes that's a little bit overlooked in terms of what do we really mean by foundation phase, but it's getting the team together from both sides. It's making this one team, it's understanding what all our roles are, what the processes are that we're going to go through how we're going to approach each of those processes. So, there's no surprises as we then go through the project and everybody's bought in and I think if we can keep that one team spirit that's what HSO is really good at.

Michael Lonnon
Doing these podcasts before people have mentioned to me this idea that the project once began, or the best projects never really end. Although you’re aiming for something, you should be thinking that this thing keeps on going. It evolves as people’s needs change and evolve themselves. So how do you know when a project has been a success? What metrics might you look at to say, yeah, this was this is right up there.

Phil Lewis
What we'll always do is, we'll always look at the project and try and break it down into the phases or business releases, as we tend to call them to ensure we're delivering the right capabilities at the right time. We look at the beginning and say, what are we trying to achieve by this project? Are there any quick wins, are there some stages or some early parts of the project we can deliver first, so our initial business release. So, we measure that we always have a set of deliverables out of the projects, we produce a standard pack that says this is what we are going to deliver. We develop that as we go through as well so we're not just working haphazardly we have a very clear view of what we want to do. What we also try and do is not overcook the first delivery. So sometimes what we get into we start off and then everybody joins in and says we really need all of these deliverables and everything suddenly becomes, we've got to have it on day one, instead of sitting back a little and saying, what can we do as the first delivery we want to prove HSO’s capability and we want to give the client the confidence that things can be delivered, they can pick it up and run with it and quite often it's changes to their own business processes. So, it's understanding that those business processes can be put in place, and that we can work through those. So what we'll try and do is if we come up with lots and lots of changes, let's park some of those. We could develop and we could start with a six-month project that ends up being two years, and at the end of the two years, we're trying to put two years’ worth of changes in at once and everybody struggles. So, let's break it down into pieces that are more sensible. If we say six months, let's put something in, let's deliver, let's get some business benefits for the clients out of that delivery and then things we're now doing, and you're looking at the most important things for the next phase and the next phase. So, we keep that rolling.

Michael Lonnon
Is it right and is it regular, that things change when you come in? So for example, a customer has a particular requirement, they've come to someone like HSO and I've got this requirement, I need to do this, this needs to happen but they've got a mindset that's just built around this, is it often the case that we come in and say, look, okay, you're looking at this, but you need to be thinking about this as it's bigger than that. There's more to it than that and we need to evolve what you're actually looking for out of this, does it ever change?

Phil Lewis
Absolutely, and even in smaller ways. So, we're looking at a project, we're looking at how well Dynamics 365, for instance, is one of the products fits, we'll say that's a great fit. But what it does mean is that if you want to put it in, in what we call vanilla point, or we don't want to change reconfigure a lot of the product, then we would take some of the business processes have to change. Now, at the beginning of the project, that seems to be a sensible remit to go along. Once we get into the detail, sometimes there's lots of discussions in the workshops, particularly where we say, well, we want the business process to remain as this way and if we want the business process to remain, then suddenly the work that has to be done on the project grows. So, then it's very much a trade-off of do we change the business process, or do we change the system, obviously, the more we change Dynamics 365, every time we upgrade, etc, we've done standard level developments, they have to be reapplied, whereas if we can keep to standard, and Dynamics 365 is very configurable now. So, you know, there's, there's lots we can do with it. So, I think a lot of the conversations early on are really understanding what the processes are, and really trying to suggest, and bear in mind that as HSO, because we've seen a lot of companies now, we do understand good process around the areas. So that's not the say we teach the client, what the processes should be, but we can make suggestions where we design companies, what are really good processes, and try and show how those can be utilised.

Michael Lonnon
Got to be flexible. Now this is a not contentious question, but how do you know when it is going wrong? How do you know when you start a particular path and it's not quite going the way you want it to go. What are the warning signs?

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Phil Lewis
Well, I think we've got regular catch up all the way through. So, as I say, we have a series of phases. So, we have a methodology called Accelerate. So that is a series of phases will always take a check at the end of every phase. But during all of those phases, I mean, we're meeting on an ongoing basis, you know, project manager will meet with the client project manager on a weekly basis minimum, they're usually talking to them daily, we've got a clear plan of what we're going to try and achieve and the tasks we're going to try and achieve. So therefore, if those start to move out, or if we're spending more time on the task, we'll look to see why those tasks are happening. We have things called design authorities that happened inside so we manage the design and if there's any large changes to it, we actually call them out at the time that’s happening, our Solution Architect will be fully involved in that alongside any Solution Architects from the client side. So, we’re always reviewing what's going on. A plan is the days, you know, it's a plan at that particular day, it will always change but I think it's the control of that change that's the most important thing and as you say, it can if you're not careful, run away with you. So we're always on top of that.

Michael Lonnon
What are the ingredients of a good project and what makes up is the right mix of people processes and technology?

Phil Lewis
The whole thing for me is about working together as a team, you know, a partnership. HSO partner clients and I think if we don't have that partnership, that's where things fall down. It's really important that we build that from the start and we understand each other we know the reasons for this, and we can have open and honest conversations when things aren't going wrong. Does everybody on the project always gel? No, do we have some clash of personalities at times? Absolutely. But the important thing is we're able to address those and talk through them at the time, and not just sweep them under the carpet, it's, you know, we keep on top of things, we really are monitoring all the time.

Michael Lonnon
Oh, if only all projects went well, and everybody got on lovely. It's bit like a Christmas breakfast when you're all your family come around.

Phil Lewis
Absolutely, I think the other thing is, you know, it's always understanding, I'm delivering on behalf of HSO, I still have governance policies that I have to deliver from my HSO view, as well as to the client. The same from the client, they are delivering to their management board to their exec board, we have regular steering, every month, we have to give you updates there and how we support each other.

Michael Lonnon
Despite those cadences of meeting and reviewing things as they go along to make sure that things remain on track, I guess the most important part of any project, you tell me if I'm wrong, is the beginning, is setting your stall out for how things are going to go.

Phil Lewis
That's really what I was talking about early when I was talking about this foundation phase. So that's really our, let's get all the right people together, let's ensure that we built a team that's going to take this through, and also talk to the client at the same time to ensure that they built that team and they understand, you know, quite often it's very difficult for the client based team, because what will have happened is there'll be SMEs in their area, which means they've still got a day job to do on top of the project and it's just understanding how much time and at what phases, those people are going to have to give the time and usually the best way of doing that is to give us the key SMEs. But at the same time, they need to be back filled within the team. So, the cost on the project isn't always just what you pay in HSO. It's the input you've got to give as a company, ensuring that you backfill at the rights phases, and the extra people that you're going to need to allow this project to be delivered properly.

Michael Lonnon
I love the foundational part of it. What does your favourite project look like?

Phil Lewis
I don't think I've got favourite project. Favourite project is one where everybody's working together, everybody's making decisions and it's about how you deal with the issues, not the decisions. It's all about, do people start to get defensive or do we look at the issue of decide what's the what's, the priority of that how the outcome is going to be, and then we work to achieve that outcome. So, to meet, it's managing the issues, not managing the project, the project should manage itself it’s the exception managing that's the important thing.

Michael Lonnon
Is a lot of your role about not firefighting, but making sure that it's harmonious sounds a bit too glib. But another way that everyone's kind of glued to their what's working well together and so coming together and people are gelling, is it about people management as much as anything?

Phil Lewis
That's very much how I think, you know, particularly with sort of project directors, project managers there always caught in the middle, they're always representing HSO. They're supporting the client, they're understanding the issues from both sides and trying to sort that out and while the team are on site as well, that if you'd like the project manager becomes the team leader for that project as well. So, they're managing day to day issues that the team have, whether they be integral to personal issues or whether they be project-based issues. So that project manager project director role is really integral to everything happening and that's exactly what it is at the end of the day.

Summary

No project is the same. And the bumps in the road you’re likely to come across are going to be different each time.

But there are things you can do to reduce problems. And those things are built around simple best practices.

Phil advises things such as matching the right people and personalities to those of the customer project team. Meeting cadences to ensure regular connection with the team.

The best, and most successful, projects, according to Phil, are those where everyone involved is pulling in the same direction. And having the right personality driving the team will see you arrive at the end with the outcomes you seek.

And on that note, thanks for listening, until next time, take care of yourselves.

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