Let’s be entirely honest, you need to have certain masochistic tendencies to like writing memos. But it comes with the job. Period. In Austria, there a saying, “Wer schreibt, der bleibt”, which translates as “He who writes, remains”. That’s also how it is in real life. And if you don’t want to do it yourself, find someone who can and will do it for you. Whenever you are implementing a new system, make sure that you are the one who is responsible for project management and the documentation, not the provider. This doesn’t mean that you don’t trust the provider. Look at it like the separation between front and back office in treasury. The provider trades, you document and monitor.
Unless you have experience with project management tools, hands off! Simple memos and spreadsheets are all you need. Likewise, unless you are familiar with platforms such as SharePoint etc., avoid these like the plague because everyone can put in their tuppence worth and you may receive an automated email every time someone corrects a typo. I guarantee that you will soon ignore all of these mails, even the important ones. Stay in the driver’s seat. Document what needs to be documented and do this for the others too.
The most important thing however is that you really understand the tasks of project management and don’t just deal with them “in passing”. And lastly, don’t for a moment think that this is something which can be delegated to an intern.
Based on practical experience and even if the idea is very tempting, don’t be fooled into thinking that Skype meetings or the like can replace face-to-face meetings in this context. Make the time and plan a budget for these meetings. They are well worth the investment.
Perhaps the most important factor, however, is strict discipline. It’s like going on a diet. The first few days are easy, but a week in and you start to feel the first withdrawal symptoms, and you still have four weeks to go before you reach your target. If you don’t keep it up, you can write off the whole project and the pain of the first week will have been for nothing. It’s the same with project management, and I know what I am talking about. At the beginning, everyone is full of enthusiasm and has the goal in sight. Over time, other tasks crop up with a higher priority and you slacken the reins. And, before you know it, it’s all over. It’s like allowing yourself just one chocolate from a box of 20. Eating just one is going to torpedo all your plans.
As the project manager, you need to keep the team on a tight rein to make sure that it doesn’t lose momentum. But there is of course yet another problem: The availability of personnel on the provider’s side. Although the provider has assigned their best people to the project, word unfortunately gets around as to who these best people are. For you, this means nothing more or less than that you will need to ensure you have the full attention and efforts of these committed resources from the outset until the project is completed. Otherwise, the risk exists that your team on the provider’s side will be successively depleted as they are assigned to new customers and you get assigned new people who need time to get up to speed with your project. That is another reason why face-to-face meetings are important. They give you more of a chance of recognizing the signs of this happening than if you just skype.
Fight for resources
Speaking of resources: The above also applies to your own. Very many of the projects that I have seen over the years ended up with the intern, who was initially supposed to be in a support role (a good idea), ultimately overseeing the project alone (a very bad idea). That isn’t going to work. There’s an old rule of thumb which has often proved its worth in practice: If the provider allocates 80 days on their part for the implementation, you should plan on allocating at least as many resources on your side, and I mean the right resources. You will probably have to fight tooth and claw to defend these resources since they are going to frequently be sought after by other project managers. But it’s worth the fight. It goes without saying that you will also have to take aspects such as vacations, dissertations, budgeting phases, etc. into account. The following fundamental rule applies: Don’t demand anything from your provider that you can’t do yourself.
One last tip regarding communication within the project team: Impose an email ban as soon as you have agreed on which communication channels and platforms are going to be used. Alternatively, define clear rules on how email communication should be handled, although in practice this won’t work. If you don’t, you’ll soon be facing the classic problem: Emails with distribution lists which already include half the company and no one knowing any more who needs to do what by when, and, even worse, mails with subject lines which are no longer in any way connected to the contents because someone kicked off a new issue without bothering to define a new and appropriate subject line. Or emails where the subject line fills 20 centimeters of screen space with Re:Re:Re:Fwd:Re:Re:Re, etc. before you finally discover what the mail is actually about. And make sure that you define guidelines for naming documents. If you don’t, you be ready for a straight jacket by the time you receive the 20th email named “minutes.docx”.
Conclusion: And if it isn’t already clear: Project management and documentation are not tasks for someone who has time, but for someone who is best suited to performing these tasks. This individual needs to be at the same level as all the project team members and specialist departments in terms of contents, and particularly needs to be able to identify problems at an early stage, which will impact on other project steps.
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