Author: Drew Davison

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Now We Can See Why a Change Management Mindset Really Matters

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic. – Peter Drucker

I expect most of us are viewing the COVID-19 second wave with some trepidation. When and how will this damn pandemic cease its ravaging ways? When will we be able to return to a somewhat normal life? What will it look like, even if it is a different new normal?

We’ve seen countries around the world try a multitude of approaches to contain the spread of the virus with varying degrees of success. Through those efforts we have acquired some vital lessons learned:

  • Wearing masks, distancing, hand washing with plain old soap and water, testing, tracing, quarantining work.
  • Lockdowns, when enforced, work in the short term.
  • Outdoor gatherings are much safer than indoor gatherings.
  • Older people are more vulnerable than the young.
  • Asymptomatic people can infect others.
  • Ongoing illness after infection, the long haulers or long COVID, may cause a multitude of symptoms affecting the respiratory system, the brain, cardiovascular system and heart, the kidneys, the gut, the liver, the skin, smell and taste.
  • Most event transmissions have taken place in indoor settings where people were confined together for a prolonged period, including nursing homes, prisons, cruise ships, food processing plants and worker housing as well as weddings, funerals, and religious and family gatherings.
  • Certain activities, like singing, shouting or heavy breathing during exercise can spread more aerosol particles and droplets leading to virus transmission.
  • The virus can be air borne, leading to increased rates of infection.
  • The coronavirus can infect animals like dogs, cats and mink and appears to be able, at least with mink, to jump to human subjects.
  • Controlling travel and sealing borders, both domestic and international, along with temperature checks, enforced quarantines and regular testing and tracing of visitors are essential steps to limit spread.
  • Finally, united political and health leadership and consistent messaging across national, provincial/state, municipal and community boundaries, with enforced consequences for violators, are the essential force multipliers.

The novel coronavirus is a massive change involving seven plus billion people and every nation on earth. It’s impacting almost every element of our twenty-first century lives. Our efforts to cope with and conquer the coronavirus will alter the shape of our societies going forward.

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There is no question that some progress is being made on the treatment front. A recent article in the New York Times reported that 1.5 percent of diagnosed cases in the US have been fatal in recent weeks, compared to 7 percent during the virus’s initial surge in the early spring. As well, also according to the New York Times, there are 52 vaccines in clinical trials in humans, including 11 in large-scale Phase 3 trials. At this point we don’t know how many will prove effective, what the level of protection will be, how long the protection will last and how many treatments will be required for immunity.

In the meantime, we continue to see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Why? People let down their guard. Period! They go back to gathering in existing indoor settings, at home, at work, at restaurants and bars, at weddings, funerals, parties and celebrations, shopping malls, at the gym, sporting events, concerts, theatres, etc. They don’t wear or stop wearing masks. The don’t maintain a safe distance. They don’t avoid indoor gatherings. They don’t wash their hands frequently. If they do test positive, they don’t abide by the quarantine regulations and they can’t remember who they have been in contact with over the last week or two to aid in tracking and tracing. And all too often, there are no enforced consequences for rule violators. Some commentators call this COVID fatigue.

Given our experience to date, the coronavirus will probably be around for quite a while in one mutated form or another. Perhaps people infected with COVID-19 will develop some immunity against reinfection for some period of time. Maybe we’ll get one or more vaccines that work against the current version of the virus, maybe they’ll be available starting in 2021 and perhaps most people will get vaccinated.

Unfortunately, those are some very big probabilities, perhapses and maybes. But what are we going to do in the meantime? Rotating lockdowns? Shoot for herd immunity? Ignore the pandemic and leave it up to individuals to act accordingly? Ask the folks in North Dakota how that’s been working out. A recent article by Rhythm Sachdeva in the Toronto Star, A tale of two COVID quarantines: My strict lockdown experience in Thailand versus a relaxed approach in Canada, effectively sums up the challenge: “For me, the contrast in my quarantine experiences is reflective of a fundamental cultural gap. In most Southeast Asian countries, governments set rules and enforce them, whether in crisis or not. In North America, you have to rely on people and yourself to educate and protect yourself. Is willpower enough to complete a quarantine? Several news stories and studies indicate not.

There’s another option: aggressively manage the changes so we can more safely coexist with the coronavirus. Yes, that involves millions of changes to address activities of daily living in millions of different settings. It’s not about whether we lockdown or not but about what changes need to take place for us to operate and live safely. To figure that out, jurisdictions need to share, the affected need to be involved, creative solutions need to be considered and the most promising funded, tried, tested and, if viable, implemented on a broader scale.

As a practitioner of organizational change management, it is clear to me that fundamental change management practices have been applied by jurisdictions that have successfully controlled the coronavirus spread.  That includes China, South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, Senegal, Iceland, Denmark, Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand.


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What are those fundamental change management practices?

  1. A committed sponsor with the organizational, logistical and political skills – these must be the international leaders, presidents, prime ministers and heads of state that need to lead the charge.
  2. A business case and rationale for change – this means articulating the cost of the status quo: lockdowns, illness, death, business failures, job losses and the huge cost of the vaccines for the world’s population.
  3. Engaged key stakeholders – this includes governors, premiers, mayors, councilors, community leaders and business leaders at all levels, educators, medical practitioners, academics and all others in a position to influence outcomes and behaviours.
  4. A change roadmap, whether Kotter, Prosci, ACMP or others to show the way.
  5. Cascading sponsorship from the top to the shop floor.
  6. Value driven decision making – that includes rapid implementation of changes to minimize the risk and maximize the positive impact.
  7. A plan to get there – that is comprehensive, communicated and supported by all segments of the community.
  8. Change targets, the people ultimately affected, fully involved and supported on the path to the planned future state – that means you and me, our family, our neighbours and our colleagues getting with and sticking with the programs.
  9. Fully skilled and staffed change teams – including people who really do understand how to manage change.
  10. A communication plan that addresses the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) question – if our leaders are asking people to change how they live in myriad ways, it is incumbent upon them to articulate the rationale for people’s efforts and sacrifices and it is incumbent upon citizens to react with their fears, issues and concerns and negotiate solutions that everyone can buy in to and bring about .

I would add an eleventh item – Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast. In a Forbes article, Six Words To Remember in 2019: Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast, Chunka Mui, a strategy and innovation adviser argues that those six little works are the key to successful innovation. And there is no question. Humankind’s efforts to overcome today’s challenges and get to a new coronavirus normal will require successful innovation on a massive scale.

For the countries that have managed successfully to date, most of the above fundamentals are in place for the short-term challenge. For the jurisdictions that are struggling to contain the spread, the above practices and processes have been minimally leveraged or not applied at all. However, few are targeting beyond the immediate threat. That’s the real opportunity!

How Great Leaders Can Deliver

Daryl Conner, a change management leader and author of a number of books on the subject including Managing at the speed of change often stresses that those involved in and affected by a change will get on board with change management efforts when they realize that the price of the status quo is dramatically higher than the cost of the transition. So, what is the cost of the status quo?

Governments worldwide have allocated billions of dollars during the first COVID-19 wave to subsidize wages, rents and living costs and bail out businesses. But, thousands of businesses are struggling or have failed. Millions of jobs have disappeared and many may not be coming back. How much more money will governments have to spend on the vaccination programs for their citizens, to support lockdowns during the second wave? The third wave? The nth wave? How many businesses will go under? How many people will lose their jobs, their homes, their lives?

Why not redirect some of those massive funds and that expertise to make places of business and government, educational institutions, hospitals and doctors offices, long term care facilities, travel and tourism equipment and facilities, dining places and meeting places coronavirus resistant or coronavirus free. Let’s experiment with improvements in layout, physical plant, HVAC and filtration systems and the introduction of new practices and technologies to filter, wash and cleanse the air and surrounding surfaces. Let’s invest in more accessible and more comfortable personal protective equipment.

I don’t have the specific solutions, and that’s the point. The remedies need to come from the people who are intimately involved, to shape ideas into realities at the local level. Leaders need to stop talking at people and start engaging with people. This can not be a one-size-fits-all exercise. It has to be a smart, fleet, value driven, local practice, exercised on a multitude of fronts to work.

Many businesses, organizations, communities and individuals have responded to the coronavirus challenges to address their unique circumstances. More power to them. But it has often been one off solutions, in isolation. Here are a couple of examples that may offer wide ranging applicability and long term value:

  • Long term care for seniors: According to an article in the Washington Post, Nontraditional nursing homes have almost no coronavirus cases. Why aren’t they more widespread? , “At ‘Green House’ homes, the best-known nontraditional model, residents are one-fifth as likely to get the coronavirus as those who live in typical nursing homes — and one-twentieth as likely to die of the disease it causes.” Approximately 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been in long term care homes. I expect the numbers are similar in other nations. Aren’t the ‘Green House’ or similar models worth exploring?
  • Cruise ships: This Reuters article, S. CDC issues framework for resumption of cruise ship operations, summarizes the work the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has done to help the cruise industry get back on the water. Why not similar initiatives for other travel and tourism domains, hotels, auto and equipment rental agencies of all kinds?
  • Entertainment: Professional sports leagues around the world have tackled the coronavirus challenge with a variety of approaches and varying degrees of success. This article from the World Economic Forum, This is how COVID-19 is affecting the world of sports, summarizes the impacts and challenges. What were the aggregate lessons learned? Could these be applied to other forms of athletic competition to improve the experience for athletes and spectators? Can they benefit amateur and youth sports? Could the learnings be applied to other forms of entertainment?
  • Dining: This Toronto Star article, Designer domes and pandemic friendly patios: cities and restaurants get creative to extend outdoor dining through the winter, presents a number of initiatives by restauranteurs to recover some of the business lost due to lockdowns and extend and embellish the dining experience. What worked? What didn’t? How can our leaders organize to help local restaurants survive and thrive using learnings from theses innovators?
  • Indoor gatherings: A CBC article, How businesses and schools are dealing with airborne COVID-19 and preparing for a winter indoors, features a gym and a private Toronto boys school that have taken steps to improve the quality and safety of indoor air. Are these steps effective in reducing the transmission of the virus? Can the changes be applied to other indoor settings, like long term care homes, cruise ships, arenas and stadiums, theatres, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, and office buildings? Let’s find out.

So, who is going to make all this happen? To work, this needs unstinting, cascading leadership both broad and deep, and committed and supported followers across the board. It starts with our leaders. They really do need to start driving the changes to minimize the novel coronavirus’s long term impact on daily living. They need to learn from those nations that have been successful. They need to apply management of change principles and practices. They need to encourage Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast. They need to involve municipal leaders and health authorities, business owners, educators, academics, customers, neighbours, innovators, manufacturers, competitors and change managers in the process of understanding the current state, identifying and vetting future opportunities and selecting ones to implement. They need lead the charge and to help with the finances – to try the promising approaches and measure their effectiveness. For the successes, communicate and fund far and wide. Figure out how to replicate at the speed of light. Use the army, the unemployed, students, retirees, volunteers, whomever and whatever is necessary. They need to help marshal the incremental resources and talents to draw on – health, government, legal, financial, business, engineering, manufacturing, construction, education, consumer, neighbourhoods and others – to optimize and accelerate solution delivery? And they have to engage fully with their citizens. This really is an opportunity of a lifetime! 

But it also starts with us, everyday people who have thoughts and ideas of how to make a better tomorrow, communicating and collaborating with our leaders, helping to shape the future. That’s called embracing a change management mindset. Let’s be smart and rise to this challenge. We have nothing to lose.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Value of Walking in Others’ Shoes

Sometimes I hear people saying, ‘Nothing has changed.’ Come and walk in my shoes” – John Lewis, American politician and civil-rights leader

Every individual possesses a unique frame of reference through which they view their world. That’s one of the reasons why change can be so fraught with peril. Finding ways and means to expose the unique aspects of each person’s frame of reference, share the common ground and rationalize the differences is the key to delivering change successfully.

Perhaps the simplest approach is to walk in others’ shoes. In the following case you’ll see how the change manager took that mindset and helped everyone in the organization climb their own personal hurdles to deliver a unified solution with cohesive individual and shared views of the new normal. It demonstrates the value of walking in Others’ shoes.

The Situation

This manufacturing and distribution company had big plans. With hundreds of employees spread across the country in its main office and a dozen satellite stores, it planned to expand its offerings and expand through acquisitions as well.

However, it faced a sizeable roadblock. Its existing ERP system was a decade old and out of support. Further, it didn’t offer the enterprise integration current solutions provided in terms of comprehensive customer relationship management, financial, inventory, supply chain, distribution, human resources, social media and business intelligence support.

A consultant hired by the organization to explore options recommended a state-of-the-art SaaS solution to provide them with the features and functions they needed going forward. He recommended that he stay on to manage the technology implementation and proposed that a change manager be brought on board to guide the organizational change.

The CFO, the project’s sponsor, liked the consultant and liked his recommendations. When the CFO took the proposal to the CEO and the board, they agreed with the recommendations and approved the project. And so the journey began.

The Goal

To deliver the recommended SaaS ERP solution across the organization in nine months. Interestingly, there were no financial targets beyond the estimate the consultant had placed on the effort and the quote from the service vendor. The mandate was, simply, Make It Happen!

The Project

With the project funding in place, the CFO hired Peter Koebel, the owner of Data Sciencing Consultants, to fill the change manager role. In reality, the CFO was intrigued with Peter’s data analytics background and thought his expertise in that field could help the organization maximize the wealth of data the new ERP solution would provide. Of course, while Peter was tackling that challenge, his technical expertise would enable him to support 300 plus staff across the country embrace the new technology.

When Peter arrived on the job and surveyed his new responsibilities, he found four major stumbling blocks.

  • The existing ERP application was managed by and focused primarily on the Finance organization and the financial functions.
  • The technical expertise and experience with the ERP system varied widely across the company from experienced, heavy users in head office to essentially no experience in some regional offices.
  • The new system would affect just about everyone in the organization and would introduce new interfaces, new data and new work flows across the company
  • His exposure to organizational change management practices was extremely limited.

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Peter began the assignment with a deep dive into the leading change management practitioners and formulated his approach for the assignment:

  • Listen to understand
  • Leverage sponsorship
  • Build a feedback loop to reinforce
  • Build trust
  • Be the always available confidant

Peter’s team began to assess the requirements for the various departments and the individual users starting with the standard SaaS application offerings and prioritizing the requested changes using a MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have) approach. Peter had frequent conversations, often daily, with the sponsor to keep him appraised of progress and leveraged the sponsor’s influence to resolve priority and commitment issues, especially with demands from the C-suite.

Peter recognized that training was going to be the critical success factor and placed considerable emphasis on getting the process to be a low risk, high reward exercise for everyone involved. The training plan leveraged the standard materials from the ERP vendor. Curricula were developed for each department and role and the standard content was tweaked based on discussions with the managers and staff. The online courses and classroom sessions were mandatory but staff was encouraged to revisit the online material as often as they wished. Questions from the formal and online sessions were fielded expeditiously by Peter’s team and often resulted in updates to the offered training materials.   

Peter developed a number of dashboards to communicate the progress being made and the issues encountered and resolved including adherence to project plan and business and change readiness. He also recognized that the project’s success was ultimately dependent on the effectiveness of the training and skill development across the organization and so featured training progress in his sponsor conversations and broader communications. The two charts below highlight the power of a chart to get the message across.

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Project governance was provided by the sponsor and a steering committee that included senior managers from the affected organizations plus the consultant responsible for the technology implementation. Meetings chaired by the sponsor were held weekly and evolved from free and open discussions early on to more rigorous, agenda based meetings later in the project. The early structure helped to build camaraderie and trust and yielded a highly collaborative governing team.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project was driven by the arrival of a new COO midway through the project. The new COO was not familiar with the industry or the company and had no previous involvement with the ERP solution being implemented. He was reluctant to spend the time to get up to speed on the project and made numerous demands that were at odds with plans and goals. Peter worked tirelessly to bring the COO up to speed and, with the sponsor’s help, was able to convert him to a valuable asset and a staunch and informed supporter of the change.

And the project continued towards a successful conclusion.

The Results

The project was delivered in twelve months, three months longer than initially planned. The extra time was required to bring a few organizations with previous limited exposure to the technology and ERP functionality up to speed and fully operational in the new environment. The extension was proposed to ensure a quality implementation and was endorsed by the sponsor and CEO.

The transition went relatively smoothly. Users had extensive exposure to the system functionality through the offered training and became comfortable with the new system quickly, which helped keep business flowing.

How Great Leaders Delivered

Peter discovered the value of walking in others’ shoes and practiced that mantra throughout the project to outstanding results. The following factors helped make it happen:

  • Enlightened sponsorship – The CFO owned the change from the beginning to the end. Peter leveraged that fact to resolve issues, overcome resistance and reinforce the positives for everyone throughout the project.
  • Change manager role – Peter’s approach to guiding the project helped build awareness of the need for change across the organization. His personal approach encouraged the affected managers and staff to support the change, to build their knowledge and skills and sustain that commitment to make the change successful for everyone. His continuous focus on WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) made sure that everyone affected could answer that question with a smile.
  • Communication strategy – Peter’s emphasis on understanding each person’s perspective, helping each individual answer the WIIFM question, providing sound arguments articulated by an informed, engaged and respected sponsor, delivering reports and presentations that elicited insight and understanding and leveraging champions and creditable colleagues proved a force multiplier.
  • Push and pull training – The project used a combination of carrot and stick incentives to get all staff, including some reluctant managers, to go through the training regimen and revisit the materials on their own, as often as they needed, to feel comfortable and confident going forward.
  • Progress dashboards – With the ERP change affecting every corner of the organization and the vast majority of staff, the use of charts and graphs was a significant catalyst for broad understanding and enduring commitment.
  • Practice evolution – There was a commitment to take advantage of existing best practices throughout the project but to adapt them as appropriate to the need. The steering committee evolution is a perfect example – collaborative when it needed to be, strict and rigorous when required.
  • A single, seamless implementation – I’m a believer in phased and staged implementations. Peter and his team did consider those options because of the disparate communities involved. However, they decided that the extra effort to manage a phased functional delivery and geographically staged implementation would increase the scope and timeframe significantly. Consequently they put additional effort into training and testing for a single implementation. It paid off.

So, if you’re involved in a sizeable organizational and operational change, consider what Peter and his team did to achieve a successful outcome. It worked for them. It can work for you and your team as well. And remember the value of walking in others’ shoes. Also, make sure you use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors. 

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Beware the Tip of the Iceberg Syndrome

“Knowledge is the tip of the iceberg whereas wisdom is the entire iceberg.” ― Steven Magee, engineer and author

Have you ever taken on a job, at work or at home, that looked like a quick fix only to find yourself deep in the mire hours, days, weeks, even months later? I call that the Tip of the Iceberg Syndrome. It’s manifested by decisions based only on what can be seen, when we are blind to what lies below the surface. As a result, we have a limited understanding of who and what else may be affected and we have minimal awareness of what skills, capabilities, practices and technologies may be needed to remedy the situation.

The iceberg metaphor is appropriate. Up to 90% of an iceberg is below the surface. As the tragic example of the Titanic revealed, it’s the size of the whole that matters most. That was the challenge with the following project. It looked, on the surface, like a simple, easy, short term undertaking. Fortunately the assigned leader didn’t fall for the trap.  

The Situation

Ahmad Darman was a Scrum Master at a large multi-national financial services firm. He had handled his share of large, complex projects over the years. So when Ahmad’s boss approached him and asked him to take on a small project that was being proposed by the Operations manager, he said sure. He thought he could wrap it up in a couple of months and get on to something more challenging.

Ahmad’s new project was to automate a manual procedure rotated among three staff that was completed daily in the early morning hours. The existing process shipped stock trades made by his company’s clients to the involved fund companies through a clearing house. Sounds like a walk in the park? What Ahmad didn’t realize at the start: beware the tip of the iceberg syndrome.

The Goal

Automate the transfer of stock trades recorded in the company’s administrative systems to the involved fund companies through a third party clearing house. The change would eliminate the early morning work and the costs and risks of the current manual procedures.

The Project

As Ahmad began to make plans and put his team together, his first stop was a chat with the project’s sponsor, the manager of Operations. That discussion revealed a larger, more complex project then Ahmad had originally suspected:

  • That little manual procedure done by one person over three to four hours in the wee hours of the morning actually transferred hundreds of millions of dollars of trading information. Daily! It was a critical cog in the company’s operations.
  • The clearing house handled trillions of dollars of securities on a daily basis. They would demand rigor throughout the project.
  • The procedure involved confirmation checks between the company and the clearing house and between the clearing house and the fund companies.
  • Any automated process would have to encompass the actual preparation and transfer of the data from the feeding administrative systems, confirmation that the transfers were successful at all points and the mechanisms around security, continuity, backup and recovery.

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That small, simple project now necessitated the participation of seven organizations/entities: Operations staff, systems development staff who supported the company’s administrative systems, the clearing house, the fund companies, an offshore testing organization that handled all the testing for the administrative systems and the company’s IT Operations and Security organizations.

Ahmad proceeded to contact the key stakeholders and secure their input, support and commitment. The Operations manager assigned three staff to the project, one as the primary participant and two as backup. Fortunately the three were the ones responsible for the current manual procedure and so were intimately familiar with the details. Ahmad’s team quickly grew to seven full time resources plus the assigned clearing house, fund company contacts and QA organization contacts and part time IT operations and security staff.

The team used a hybrid agile approach, applying user stories to elicit the requirements and leveraging Rally from CA Technologies to manage content and progress. 15 minute daily stand-up meetings were the primary team communication vehicle. Ahmad held regular weekly meetings with the project sponsor and clearing house contacts and on demand discussions with other key stakeholders as needed. There was no steering committee. Because of the nature of the infrastructure, only one release was planned over four months including concurrent build activity between Ahmad’s team and the clearing house.

One of the key deliverables early on was robust documentation of the new operating processes and procedures including what ifs, contact information (emails, phone #s, etc.) and information on escalation levels. The work was guided by a Business Analyst on Ahmad’s team and was reviewed and tested by all the players plus call center representatives.

Testing of the end-to-end solution was a challenge. Ahmad’s team used a production box with dry runs for modified data sets. The business was given control to nullify the results once the runs were completed. Security also had to work some magic to arrange suitable testing user ID’s and passwords for the duration. And so the project continued.

The Results

The project was delivered successfully on schedule in line with the four month plan. The implementation included a two week parallel operation of the old manual process with daily confirmation checks. All the key stakeholders were thrilled with the project and the results, including the three business staff who no longer had to be in the office in the wee hours of the morning. And the sponsor paid for the celebration lunch!

How a Great Leader Delivered

Change is difficult. The more organizations and people involved, the more complex things can become. Fortunately, Ahmad didn’t get sucked in by the tip of the iceberg syndrome. He did his due diligence and recognized the breadth of the challenge early on by following the following practices.

  • Understand the sponsor’s needs – The initial meeting with the sponsor set the proper scope for the project and provided Ahmad with the frame of reference he needed to get the project off to a great start and deliver successfully. The regular weekly meetings helped provide the continuous course confirmation and occasional correction to keep the project progressing on the right path.
  • Engage with the key stakeholders – The project’s success was a testament to Ahmad’s stakeholder collaboration. He brought each of the involved individuals and entities to the table at the project’s inception and continued that active engagement throughout, expertly dealing with disparate needs and remote players according to their requirements.
  • Use tools and techniques that have delivered results – Ahmad and his team adapted the practices and tools used within the organization to the unique needs of his project. There was only one release because of the vagaries of the infrastructure involved but a multitude of sprints yielded the functionality and capability required.
  • Foster the dialogue – There was a very diverse group of stakeholders to deal with, including the offshore QA group, the clearing house, the fund companies and the internal organizations and staff. Ahmad worked tirelessly to ensure each group’s needs were understood and well articulated and that all understood the collective needs and shared the common goals. He used face-to-face, phone, email, video, reports, simulations, ad hoc gatherings, whatever was required to move the group forward together.
  • Celebrate success – Every time a sprint finished there was a celebration to mark its completion. The sponsor was always among those acknowledging the success and all parties were involved. It helped all participants share in the feelings of accomplishment and take pride in the progress being made.

So, if you’re involved in a project that looks like a piece of cake, consider the approach Ahmad and his team took to avoid the tip of the iceberg syndrome. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors. 

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Power of Perseverance

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”– Albert Einstein

Most of us live busy lives, even during this nasty pandemic. Coping with the demands of the job, family and friends and keeping up with the latest dictates of our governments and public health officials can be exhausting. That can make it difficult to keep one’s focus on priorities, on what matters most.

Yet, that’s exactly what’s needed, especially in these trying times. Sustained focus allows us to move forward, to make progress on the things that matter most, to achieve our personal and professional goals. That theme is the basis for the following story, demonstrating the power of perseverance.

The Situation

Jason Harder started his career as a Registered Respiratory Therapist. Today he is the Chief Executive Officer of PFM Scheduling Services, an already profitable recent start-up. That journey demonstrates the enormous power of perseverance.

Jason prospered in the health care setting, taking on ever more senior positions and expanding his knowledge and skills along the way, including Certified Professional in Health Care Quality and Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist. When he was asked to participate in a project, he sought to improve his project management knowledge and earned his PMP designation in the process. When he became involved in a corporate reorganization, he researched the applicable practices and earned his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Change Management certification along the way.

In 2008, Jason joined the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning (AICML) as a project manager with a focus on the health care sector. AICML was a research lab in the Computer Science Department at the University of Alberta and is now known as the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). In 2009, the AICML shifted its focus to perform world class research and also to transition its inventions to deliver commercial outcomes.

During one of his engagements, the COO of the Alberta Health Services (AHS) expressed the need for an automated solution to schedule its many staff and facilities in accordance with labour contract provisions, corporate policies and budgets and government regulations. When the COO asked Jason if there was anything on the market to solve his problem, Jason replied no. When the COO asked Jason if he could build a solution, an opportunity was born.

The Goal

To develop a powerful, easy to learn and use automated scheduling solution that could support hundreds of rules from employment contracts, organizational requirements and government regulations and provide compliance analysis and metrics for the client. The solution was to be delivered in stages and to be completed in two years.

The Project

The Scheduling project started out in January 2014 as an AICML initiative with funding provided by Alberta Innovation Technology Futures (AITF). The initial team included two principal investigators, (Computer Science professors from the University of Alberta), five PhD Students with Jason as Project Lead as well as founder, inventor, designer and QA. In addition, he created the technical specifications for each module right from the start. AHS was also actively involved from the beginning. The team’s mandate: to conceptualize and experiment to see if a solution was possible.

After six months of work, the team concluded that a viable solution was achievable and the team composition changed to one principal investigator, two PhD students, two commercial programmers with Jason still as Project Lead and jack-of-all-trades.  The design developed during this initial stage included four dimensions: number of Positions, Position shift assignments, FTE assignments for each position and staffing levels per shift per day. Within this construct, algorithms and algorithmic matrices were designed to contend with rule, budget, and best practice data stream sets. Four product suite modules were envisioned: solver, checker (compliance), optimizer, and analytics including a customizable array of metrics for the clients.

From that effort, work proceeded on developing the graphical user interface (GUI), a key success factor for the project. An external contractor with extensive experience in GUI development was hired and provided with specific requirements for the user interface. Unfortunately, the worked lagged. The contractor was not meeting targets and when it did produce deliverables, they did not meet the specifications. After six months the contract was terminated.

Jason then partnered with another technology provider that had a key piece of GUI that was needed and hired a senior programmer to work with the provider to develop that component. As the PhD students were moving on, two Master’s students in Computing Science and a PhD in Computing Science were added to round out the team and provide the skill sets needed to continue with development.


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Jason specified GUI requirements by first defining the product layers that were necessary (i.e. administration layer, business layer, analytics layer). He then spent hours with a group of schedule builders at AHS to understand the process flow to ensure that the approach was intuitive for the user. Once he understood the voice of the customer, he designed the GUI layout to mimic what he heard. The team also partnered with several schedule builders to confirm customer needs and ensure that the user experience was intuitive and friendly. As the GUI was developed, incremental testing and feedback was provided by key members of the scheduling builder group. After eighteen months, a GUI was in place and ready to go.

Concurrent to the GUI development, work progressed on building the core of the Software as a Service (SaaS) solution and the necessary administrative functions. The stack leveraged Angular, part of the JavaScript ecosystem, for building the applications, along with Java Script, Mongo Db, Ruby on Rails and C#. The team used Couch DB to structure the database and developed proprietary algorithms and algorithmic matrices to contend with the hundreds of rules and various best practices. The development approach was purposeful ensure a flexible architecture that could meet the unique requirements of individual clients and translate well into other industry verticals.

But it wasn’t all a bed of roses. During this period, the project lost its development partner and funding was becoming scarce. Jason went months without a paycheck. But the team continued with the work on the product roadmap. They also collaborated with various domain experts Jason had encountered on the journey including a health system in Texas. He also drew on his international experience as a workforce management consultant and leveraged those learnings to give continuous direction to the development of the product. And, during the course of this effort, Jason also earned a certification in Agile Software Development. 

Finally, with all the parts in place, the application was able to produce a schedule that met the set completion criteria, producing a critiqued plan over 24 weeks for 100 positions. That was in March, 2017. I expect you probably heard the noise from that celebration wherever you were.

The Results

PFM Scheduling Services was incorporated in 2016. The company featured the PFM Scheduler product suite and complimentary processes and services. They earned a five year contract with AHS to Schedule /Compliance check 65,000 employees. They also signed a five year contract with the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA). UNA uses PFM only to check rotations for compliance to collective agreement rules and  have checked hundreds of schedules to date. The fact that AHS and UNA use the same tool that yields a consistent interpretation of the rules helps with communication between the union and employer

On top of the tool’s success, Jason was nominated for E & Y’s Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2019. And what, you might ask, does PFM stand for? Personnel and Fiscal Management of course. What a wonderful example of the power of perseverance!

How Great Leaders Delivered

This project was a road trip to remember. Some sections were tortuous and winding, some fast downhill straights. There were any number of hidden intersections and dead end cul-de-sacs. Changes in team members and team makeup, funding challenges, the involvement of many partners, some difficult some enlightening, and the pursuit of the elusive scheduling goal were all dealt with effectively in the end. How did Jason and his team do it? Here are some of the primary contributors:

  • Share the vision – Jason started out with a vision sparked by the AHS COO’s question. As that vision evolved and expanded, it became the force multiplier that kept the team on course through highs and lows, thick and thin.
  • Build a high performance team – When I asked Jason to list the lessons learned over the course of the project, four of the eight items he provided dealt with his team: leverage top talent, celebrating as a team, giving specific credit to team members when engaging with clients and mentoring and developing the team. His approach yielded amazing results.
  • Know you clients – From his relationship with the AHS COO to the work with the hospital’s and union’s scheduling teams, Jason ensured that his clients felt they were significant and valuable members of the PFM team. The knowledge they contributed made success possible.
  • Share with your partners – Jason’s outreach to his partners, for funding, for GUI expertise, for design insight and execution, for technological support, etc. provided an expanded frame of reference and a huge return in terms of product quality and capability.
  • Prove the concept – You’ll notice that there was no rush to market as soon as the need was identified. There was a proof of concept stage followed by GUI prototyping and development concurrent with core function work. The initial release included the Solver component only. The approach was deliberate. The focus was on priority, quality and client need.
  • Be creative with funding – Finding parties to bankroll an endeavor like the PFM Scheduling Suite can be a challenge. Jason was able to leverage government, commercial and private equity investors over the course of the project to keep the ball rolling. I expect he would only recommend going without a pay cheque as an option of last resort.
  • Use technology as an enabler – One might look at the PFM Scheduling Suite of products as primarily a technology solution. And that could not be further from the truth. This project was first and foremost a business project, involving changes in business processes, functions and rules. In fact, the company, PFM Scheduling Services, offers a six step consulting service to help its clients maximize the tool’s value. The technology that was selected to develop and operate the SaaS solution was chosen because it enhanced business value.
  • See obstacles as opportunities – There were numerous bumps in the road on this project journey. Any one of them could have been reason enough for Jason to throw up his hands and concede defeat. Instead, every obstacle became an opportunity to learn more, consider other options and do things differently. To stay with it.
  • Learn – Jason’s penchant for picking up certifications along the way imbued the team with a learning mindset as well. It became a problem solving learning machine.

So, if you’re involved in a challenging project with an uncertain future, consider what Jason and his team did to achieve a successful outcome. It worked for them. It can work for you and your team as well. And remember the power of perseverance. Also, make sure you use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Innovation Road

You see things and you say, ‘Why?’. But I dream things and I say, ‘Why not?’ – George Bernard Shaw

Innovation is often risky, time consuming and frequently more expensive than existing, conventional solutions.  Many of the answers required to make effective long term decisions aren’t known. Indeed, many of the relevant questions haven’t yet been asked. However, failure to innovate, to adapt, to evolve can lead to a slow and painful end. That’s why one organization took on the challenge and followed the innovation road.

Faced with this dilemma in 2014, The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), sought to launch a standalone, independent organization to spearhead research and development of leading edge low carbon smart mobility technologies focused on advanced transit, transportation, and integrated mobility applications.

The result was CUTRIC, the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium. CUTRIC is an independent, not-for-profit organization with a mission “To support research, development, demonstration and integration through industry-academic project-based collaborations that bring innovation, design, and manufacturing to Canada’s transportation supply chain.”

The Situation

CUTRIC selected Josipa Petrunic as its first President and CEO. Since joining CUTRIC in 2015, Josipa and her team have grown CUTRIC’s footprint to a 120 member organization representing transit agencies and academic institutions across Canada and including the Who’s Who of Canada’s, and many of the world’s, leading industrial organizations. The total value of approved CUTRIC funded projects exceeds $40 million to date, including twelve R&D projects, three commercialization projects and five consultation, research and other initiatives.

CUTRIC’s objective is to “Make Canada a global leader in low-carbon smart mobility innovation” by supporting “industry-academic collaborations in the development of next generation technologies for Canadian transportation systems. These advancements will help drive forward innovation in transportation across Canada, leading to job growth, economic development and significant Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reductions.” The project and development focus is on its four pillars of innovation:

  • Zero- And Low-Emissions Propulsion Technologies and Systems Integration
  • “Smart” Vehicles and “Smart” Infrastructure
  • Big Data for Mobility Analytics and Mobility as a Service Application
  • Cybersecurity in Advanced Mobility Applications

CUTRIC‘s approach to launching projects, garnering partners and securing funding has contributed considerably to its success to date. Most partners pay an annual membership fee which, together with assorted government and industry grants and loans, provides the operating capital. The project ideas come from CUTRIC, from the industry and academic partners and from government and industry groups.

CUTRIC vets the project opportunities and prepares the project charter for submission to its members. Participation is voluntary and can range from two to three industry and academic partners to over fifty participants. A CUTRIC staff member is always in the sponsor’s chair. Project participants get input to the goals and conduct of the project, contribute to its conduct and share in the resulting deliverables and any intellectual property.

It became evident early on that a one-size-fits-all approach would not attract the diverse membership necessary to achieve CUTRIC’s mission. The needs and capabilities of its current and future partners varied considerably, from large regional transit organizations to small rural operations, from a vast array of industrial partners to colleges and universities across the country and beyond.

One of the key deliverables for serving that diverse community was a modelling tool that participants could use to plan, implement, manage and migrate low-carbon technologies in a cost-effective manner, reaping the rewards and managing risks along the way. The initial first generation prototype release was a tool called TRiPSIM, which was soon replaced by a second generation tool, called RoutΣ.i™, designed from scratch based on months of inputs gleaned from transit agencies that requested more powerful modelling and simulation capabilities.

The Goal

To develop a predictive model that enabled transit agencies and other fleet owners to make informed decisions about electric vehicle deployments by predicting operational costs and benefits, total CO2e savings, and charging and hydrogen fuelling requirements using proprietary information from the equipment manufacturers.

The Project

CUTRIC staff developed a proposal for the simulation tool and distributed it to its partners. Nine industry partners and three academic institutions expressed interest and committed to its further development.

Development of the TRiPSIM™ tool started in March 2017 with the University of Victoria. The main inputs included the characteristics of the bus, route topography, ridership, powertrain efficiencies, route scheduling, and driving speeds. The model would calculate e-bus energy consumption as well as battery state-of-charge, time required to charge, and total electricity consumed.

In July 2019, a team of six researchers, mostly with doctorates and master’s degrees in technical fields around energy consumption, modelling and GIS, located in Ontario and Quebec, developed RoutΣ.i™ using the mathematical language of Python. Individual projects were launched to incorporate each transit agency’s unique characteristics to the model. The overall project was governed by a CUTRIC guided steering committee including representatives from each of the committed industry and academic partners.

The tool included manufacturer-vetted and utility-vetted predictive modelling outputs to demonstrate how various e-buses and e-chargers would operate based on variable route topologies, passenger profiles, stop-start needs, and other route requirements. The tool also had to support extensions to model hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and other evolving innovations. Plans also called for the commercialization of the TRiPSIM© app to generate new revenues for the consortium of partners.


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Subsequent releases of the TRiPSIM© tool enabled comparative analyses of varied e-bus and fuel cell ebuses and their allied charging and/or fueling systems, integrating:

  • energy consumption estimations,
  • environmental costs and benefits;
  • electricity and fuel costs and benefits and;
  • resiliency costs and benefits for public fleet systems specifically.

RoutΣ.i™ is updated on monthly basis to meet ongoing changes in the costs and capabilities of low carbon technologies.

In addition, a complimentary tool, CloudTransit™, a cloud-based software analytics tool, has been developed to collect and assess data in real-time from overhead charging systems and electric buses accommodating  emerging international standards and compatible with various OEM bus platforms. The shared platform merges real-time data from competitive OEM data loggers to perform meta-level analysis for transit agencies.

The CloudTransit™ team includes a half dozen researchers, most with advanced degrees, who overlap to some degree with the RoutΣ.i™ team.

The Results

The first outputs from the TRiPSIM© modelling tool took nine months to deliver and were released in December 2017. Subsequent releases and modelling outputs based on the new capabilities of RoutΣ.i™ have resulted in more than twenty projects being completed for transit agencies across Canada and in California to date. Each project takes about three to six months depending on the complexity of the transit agency.

Because the application was built with direct powertrain inputs from manufacturing partners, it has become a highly unique and industry-leading tool. Plans call for a significant expansion of the application to cover all transit systems across Canada in support of the Federal Government’s carbon emission reduction targets.

The major challenge on CloudTransit™ is trying to build a tool to help transit agencies understand their fleets better only to discover that, in many cases, transit agencies did not collect data in a standard way, it was often not digitized and even when it was, it was not digitized in a standard format so municipalities could share and compare. In many cases, the agencies did not have robust data sets or precise GPS tracking for every one of their vehicles, or precise topographical maps.

As these challenges are overcome, agencies will be able to see meaningful real time results such as kilowatt hours per kilometer and energy consumption per passenger. Cities get much more insight into how their assets are performing. That allows them to work with manufacturers to ensure the results are consistent with product expectations and to work to close any performance gaps.

The CloudTransit™ tool is now being implemented for three large transit organizations, one in BC, two in Ontario, with twelve more agencies expressing support for the initiative. CloudTransit™, once it’s set up as a data trust, is intended to last forever as a municipal asset to support the evolution of smart cities. Like RoutΣ.i™, plans call for CloudTransit™ to grow, with a proposed cohort of over one hundred data scientists and researchers across Canada to be added to the initiative to cover all Canadian transit agencies with electric and hydrogen electric buses.

How a Great Leader Delivered

CUTRIC has mastered mass collaboration to achieve its goals, bringing together all levels of government, transit agencies big and small and private industry in Canada and beyond. Imagine if governments and industry worldwide could learn to apply mass collaboration with the same expertise and zeal as CUTRIC. Perhaps the pursuit of worldwide challenges, like COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, could be accelerated exponentially.

CUTRIC’s intriguing operating model and style has enabled it to achieve remarkable results in the few short years of its existence. Here are some of the other factors that have contributed to that success: 

  • Leadership with vision, knowledge, passion and engagement – In my experience, organizations with informed, passionate and engaging leaders are invariably more successful. It’s clear why CUTRIC is where it is today. Josipa Petrunic, CUTRIC’s President and CEO, has lived and breathed this low carbon world for years, through her post graduate studies, her work as lead researcher in electric vehicle policy studies at McMaster University and her involvement with the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) Foundation among other pursuits.
  • Top talent ­- Josipa is supported in her goals by a highly credentialed and experienced team of senior specialists, researchers and managers who bring their expertise and insights to every CUTRIC initiated collaboration.
  • An opportunity to innovate – CUTRIC exists to foster low carbon innovation in Canada’s transportation sector. Without that presence, many of the transit, industrial and academic organizations across the country would not have the vision, financial capability or technical talent to go it alone. For those organizations, the ability to participate in and benefit from ground breaking research and innovation is made possible and practical with CUTRIC’s partnership model, sharing the benefits and the risks.
  • The ability to choose – Every transit organization, every company, every academic institution is unique. Each serves different communities, different user needs, different geographical regions, different infrastructures and different political priorities. CUTRIC’s operational model provides an appealing opportunity for its partners to be exposed to the full gamut of initiatives being considered and under development. Yet each organization also has the ability to choose which specific undertakings they wish to commit to and be actively involved in. That is a compelling argument for membership.
  • A tolerance for ambiguity – CUTRIC’s ultimate success depends on a massive cultural shift. Transit agencies across Canada need support in learning how to standardize their data, learning how to collect that data in real time, how to move it to a cloud platform, how to cyber secure it, and then learning how to share it in real time. It’s a massive cultural shift to show that data openly so other cities can learn and act on those experiences. It’s also a significant change for industry members, where product performance can be tracked in detail. CUTRIC’s staff enables that transition, one project at a time, each step of the way.
  • Robust governance – Each initiative has a steering committee made up of the partners involved. The committees are essential for dealing with the challenges of deploying technology when there are multiple competitors at the table. Each has its own charter and voting mechanisms and meets regularly, with subcommittees as needed for things like public affairs and technical matters. The steering groups have been highly effective because participation is high and dedication is high.
  • Lean and mean – CUTRIC has a small, highly knowledgeable and talented staff. It relies on its industry, government and academic partners for financial support and incremental on-the-ground expertise and talent. That gives CUTRIC the ability to move swiftly, at little cost and risk, to take advantage of new opportunities and quickly terminate initiatives that are not yielding expected returns.
  • Focus – CUTRIC’s vision is to make Canada a global leader in zero- and low-emissions transportation technologies. While it welcomes participation from all, including international industrial and academic organizations, that focus on specific markets and technologies is a force multiplier.
  • Phased development and staged delivery – You won’t see any multi-million dollar, all partner implementations in CUTRIC’s portfolio of projects. Each initiative is carefully phased to manage risks and rewards. Each rollout is staged, in trials, by partner, by platform to gain insight, to improve the product, to make the next implementation even better.
  • Amplified communications – With a wide array of possible partners on each project, the inherent risks of innovation and the geographical challenges of a country like Canada, one would expect innumerable communication challenges and the resulting project pitfalls. Apparently not so. Precisely because a potentially large number and wide variety of stakeholders can be involved on each project, communications is job one. Shared interests, knowledgeable and talented participants, highly focused scope, phasing and staging and effective governance all help to improve and amplify communication effectiveness.

An example of that heightened communication focus can be found in the planned 2nd Canadian Low-Carbon Smart Mobility Technology Conference scheduled for June 17 – 19, 2020.  Hosted by CUTRIC and originally planned as a physical, attend in person event, it’s now virtual!

So, if you’re involved in an innovation venture or a challenging change with a diverse set of participants, consider CUTRIC’s approach and the ten factors above that have helped it succeed year after year. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM or change manager’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.