Nicholas Franck, Corporate Treasury and Banking Professional
In the golden days of Treasury, individuals seconded from larger teams would research, plan and implement complex projects. They had Ad-hoc or Toll-gate methodologies to choose from, Microsoft Project and Excel to track progress, and Steering and Advisory Committees to take higher-level decisions. The project plan would be approved, and implementation would begin.
What has happened since then? Firstly, internationalisation. Systems, processes and infrastructure are expected to handle more countries’ requirements, creating more complexity and implementation risk; Secondly, infrastructural complexity. There are now many more systems to choose from and, they are expected to integrate with other company systems; Thirdly, Treasuries have fewer people than before and, usually, less budget. The list goes on: Increased regulations to handle; new accounting requirements; higher management expectations (Treasury as a Strategic Partner,) and more. Much has changed!
What hasn’t changed, or more correctly, hasn’t changed as much? Project management. We still have the same thinking as before. New methodologies exist (Agile, Scrum and more,) but the same key – and now flawed – factor remains. All project management methodologies assume that a project must be 100% completed!
‘Start to Succeed’ turns to ‘Built to Fail’
When considering complex projects, no one knows at the beginning, how easy or demanding any particular part will be. The first steps have been researched in-depth, and their implementation is usually a success. The next steps, not so much. Implement a treasury management system to handle transaction processing. Check! Implement hedge accounting on those transactions. Not so easy. Implement SWIFT across Europe. Check! Implement it across India. Harder than expected.
These problems are not signs that a new project management methodology is needed. Management can redefine the scope of at any time. The question is: Will they do so before the project team members have wasted time trying to fit round pegs into square holes? In my experience, with current thinking, no.
Changing Priorities and Treasury as a Strategic Advisor
Treasury is supposed to become ‘a partner to the business’ and simultaneously ‘do more with less.’ Most treasurers and their teams are in favour of this. Everyone prefers to work on higher-visibility tasks and do less tedious repetitive work. The problem is that many Treasuries can’t keep up with the practical requirements of this. Business priorities change faster than associated implementations. Can treasurers keep up and grow as strategic advisors? In my experience, most often, no.
Show me the Value!
Complex, multi-year projects are often defined in timed steps. Country 1 is the first to get implemented, and the plan allows three months for implementation. Country 2 must start after that, and so on. As the months or years go by, however, situations will change in Country 1. Examples: change in company requirement; change in regulations; availability of new systems there but not elsewhere; shift in domestic payment methods. And so on. However, the project plan does not change. Worse, no-one will think of changing it. Country 1 now has the status ‘Implemented.’ It would be a failure to re-implement it.
It’s clear that, fundamentally, CFOs and Treasurers want their people to work on the most pressing, most valuable tasks, with a minimum of waste of time. How can this be achieved?
Change the Mindset. Change the Project Plan. Evolve!
First, do not change the existing project planning methodologies. Nothing needs to be taken out. Just new activities added in:
1. Not completing a project step or sub-system should not be seen as a project team failure, if approved in a timely way by the project leadership. Management and more specifically, the project sponsor, steering and advisory committees should applaud when the plan is altered to allow work on other tasks. How? By adding in a regular recurring review to the existing project management methodology.
For example, add a quarterly review to see if something else provides better value than the existing planned work. Step 1) Ask for a qualitative study, which can lead to 2) Management reallocating limited resources to do a business case, which in turn leads to Step 3) Changing or not changing the existing plan.
2. Use the same meeting to review whether the company priorities have changed, and have management communicate to the project team what is now higher-priority. Determine a transition plan to close this project and start working on the new project (or its business case,) if appropriate. Do not leave the project endlessly open!
3. Measure the effectiveness of each sub-project as it gets done, and do a regular re-assessment of this effectiveness over time. Delegate this to the end-users, if possible. It’s in these users’ interest to have the most efficient tools, systems and processes possible. If they want something changed, have an ad-hoc review meeting. Use the same steps 1, 2 and 3 as above to decide whether a re-implementation would be more valuable than following the now old project plan.
Each company must decide whether the end-users (or whoever is doing the re-measurement) should report their findings to the project manager or the steering or advisory committees. A change in a project can create a lot of new work and cancellation/postponement of old work. The project manager may not always be open to the idea. However, this does depend on his or her character.
These reviews are pre-planned and approved at the start of the project. Two-way communication occurs. Management talks to the team. The change or even closure of a step or the whole of the current project will not, therefore, be considered a failure. Management will instead see the projects team as flexible and reactive to business needs. The team members’ reputation will be enhanced, not tarnished.
To conclude: Your company probably has a favoured project management methodology, and this is fine. Nowadays, company requirements require projects to be flexible to the point, even, of being cancelled. You can achieve this flexibility through simple changes when first planning the project.
Management can only be grateful.
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