Author: Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected]

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Nuts for Cheese Project

“Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and, above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams”.

– Donovan Bailey, retired Jamaican-Canadian sprinter, who once held the world record for the 100 metres.

We know that great sponsors make major change initiatives exciting and successful experiences. If we could bottle that “great sponsor” juice, what do you think we’d find in the bottle? Chances are we’d find the ingredients that are present in this month’s case, the Nuts for Cheese project.

In this post, we’ll follow the path one woman took to develop her knowledge and skills and launch and guide a company that, in just three years, is now offering its high quality products through small and large retailers across Canada.

The Situation

In her early teens, Margaret Coons’ love for animals convinced her to adopt a vegan life style. That meant eliminating everything of animal origin from her daily life, including meat, milk, eggs, wool, leather, honey, etc. To her parents’ amazement, she proceeded to learn how to prepare plant-based foods that would complement what was available and prepared in the family kitchen and replace the meat and animal products that were consumed by the other members of the family.

Margaret continued her vegan lifestyle through her secondary and post-secondary school years, graduating with a degree in English Language and Literature from Western University in London, Ontario.

After graduation, she worked as a chef in a local vegan restaurant preparing plant-based foods. In the evenings, after work, she rented the restaurant’s kitchen to experiment and learn, developing her own recipes. They would often appear on the restaurant’s menu in subsequent days, giving Margaret valuable customer feedback on her creations.

In addition to the night time experimentation, Margaret completed Rouxbe’s Plant-Based Professional Certification, appeared on London daytime television with creative vegan cooking demonstrations and offered cooking lessons and classes at local fairs. She also provided private catering and helped other culinary establishments create vegan recipes. All this while working as a chef at the vegan restaurant. But her love and her specialty was creating cashew cheeses. She started her business on a small scale, offering her products at local farmers’ markets and contributing her wares at a local vegan food bank.

In 2016, the local vegan restaurant closed its doors. Margaret had a decision to make, and she made it – to go full time and full bore with her own company, designing, making and selling cashew based cheeses. And so she launched the Nuts for Cheese project.

The Goal

Margaret’s vison for Nuts for Cheese: To be the #1 selling, high quality, great tasting vegan cheese that people love.


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The Project

Margaret’s initial challenge on hearing about the vegan restaurant’s closure was to find a new location and hire and train staff to help her get back up and running. She located and contracted for a small 1200 square foot space, hired four staff and was back producing her cashew based cheeses in short order, serving about 25 retailers and continuing to cover local farmers’ markets.

A year later the company landed Farm Boy as a client and moved to a larger production facility to serve the orders from a growing customer base. Two more moves were required in the following years as demand continued to grow. Nuts for Cheese now operates out of a newly acquired 11,000 square foot facility. The number of staff has also grown, currently standing at 23 and counting.

Margaret admits that she became an entrepreneur by accident. With little formal business training, she had to learn on the go. She has enjoyed the guidance of mentors along the way, including her current mentor who offers expertise on the grocery business, quality control and supply chain management. As the company is self-funded, she has had to master and aggressively manage cash flow, the supply chains, hiring and management of a growing workforce, putting an organization structure in place and, of course, the facilities to house her operations.

Margaret’s recipes for her cheeses are a reflection of the dedication and precision she brings to all aspects of the company’s operations. She starts with organic cashews which are soaked in filtered water for 24 hours to create the base cashew milk. The milk is then fermented for 24 to 36 hours using yeast cultures created in house. The fermented milk is then seasoned and aged to create the company’s unique offerings including Un-Brie-Lievable, Super Blue, Chipotle Chedder, Red Rind and Smokey Artichoke and Herb. The company also creates all its own seasonings using all organic sources.

Margaret’s passion for quality is reflected in her hiring practices. To date, she has interviewed every candidate and participated in every hiring decision. Her primary hiring criteria are personality match, values match, then skills. The use of only organic products and the creation and operation of rigorous quality control practices at each stage of the supply chain simply reinforces that quality ethic. The company has applied for and is currently waiting on formal organic certification for their products.

The Results

In the three years since its launch, Nuts for Cheese has tripled revenue every year. The number of staff has grown from four people to twenty-three. It has just moved into a new 11,000 square foot production facility to supply its products to retailers across Canada, including major grocery chains. And the firm was just named one of the top 14 employers in London. Not bad for an accidental entrepreneur!

How a Great Leader Succeeded

Margaret’s journey with Nuts for Cheese is a wonderful success story, but it’s also a wonderful roadmap for managing any kind of change. The values and tenacity she brings to her job as CEO are the same qualities and attributes that make great sponsors, successful projects and wonderful experiences in any field. That includes:
1. Knowledge – Margaret built her vegan knowledge from her mid-teens on, studying, experimenting, sharing and soliciting feedback iteratively and incrementally. From her early ventures into a vegan diet, to the restaurant’s kitchen, to her after hours experimentation and creation, to her formal education, Margaret acquired the knowledge to succeed in her Nuts for Cheese adventure and openly shared that wisdom.
2. Commitment and passion – Take a look at Margaret’s goals for her company. #1 seller. High quality. Great tasting. People love it. Take a look at the recipe. All organic with quality control processes to ensure that’s the case. Seasonings and yeast cultures created in house. Take a look at who and how she hires. Personality, values, then skills. Involvement in every interview and hiring decision. Add Margaret’s regular 80 hour weeks to that mix and it’s evident that passion and commitment are drivers of the company’s success.
3. Collaboration – Perhaps more than anything, collaboration characterizes Margaret and her company. From her early years with her family, to the restaurant experience, to her engagement and work with mentors, to her relationship with her staff, customers and communities, collaboration has been the hallmark of her approach to life and business. That’s how the name for the company was developed – brainstorming with friends and colleagues.
4. Sharing core values – Margaret hires people who share the core values she wants for the company. That reinforces and builds a collegiality based on customers, quality and success. The company’s selection as a top place to work is evidence of the strength of that sharing.
5. Lessons learned – Without a business background, Margaret and her staff have acquired and shared the operational, supply chain, quality control, marketing, distribution and product development skills and insights needed to grow the company and provide their customers across Canada with tasty, quality products.

In his article The Speed Trap – When Taking Your Time (Really) Matters, Tom Peters states: “An organization is nothing more and nothing less than people (our folks) serving people (our customers and communities).” It is evident Margaret got that right. She “owns” her Nuts for Cheese project lock, stock and barrel. It’s also apparent that her staff shares her ownership. That’s the force multiplier. The whole is significantly greater than the sum of the parts. If you are a project or change manager, imagine what your projects would be like if your sponsors, key stakeholders and project staff exhibited the characteristics described above.

So here’s a suggestion: use these points to evaluate your sponsors, key stakeholders and project staff. If there are gaps and deficiencies, include activities in your project plans to build collective capabilities and close the gaps. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework (including key stakeholder assessments) right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation on 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, good, bad and everything in between, 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 experiences.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Run Your Project like a Start-Up

“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” – Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder

Information is power. Knowing the right stuff can provide ground breaking insights, enable breakthrough actions and lead to paradigm changing products and services. Successful start-up ventures are often founded on those three building blocks – information leading to insight leading to action. That’s why you might want to run your project like a start-up.

In this post, we’ll look at a company that delivered its first successful product using these three building blocks. Its latest product has followed that same recipe for success. We’ll also discover from that journey what worked for them to achieve a successful outcome.
Thanks to Pawel Kijko for the details on this story.

The Situation

In 2008, a young computer science student, Kamil Rudnicki, developed a program to pass the C++ class at university. A venture capital firm became interested in his project and, after some discussion, agreed to fund the development of the tool.
That initial venture evolved into the formation of a company called Time Solutions and the launch of a product called TimeCamp, a time management tool for project managers and individual team members. Today the TimeCamp team numbers some 30 staff and serves over 200,000 users around the world.
To build and extend the TimeCamp tool, the company used a variety of project management, collaboration and communication tools in addition to their own, including Slack and Trello. However, when they measured their own time utilization with TimeCamp, they found the amount of time spent on communication and project administration exceeded 51%. Only 49% of all staff time was devoted to productive work! With the Slack/Trello combination, too much time was being spent on meetings and online conversations, on features and functions that yielded little or no return. Too little time was being spent on real work! It became apparent that they needed a different solution. And so, they decided to create their own solution, an application that would allow them to maintain the usability and core functionality of Slack and Trello while keeping a focus on the company’s specific collaboration and project management needs.

The Goal

To develop a tool that would deliver efficient communication and project management functionality, combine the best features of Slack and Trello and reduce collaboration and project management effort to less than 25% of workload. The resulting gain in productivity would be used to finance the development effort with an expected payback of two to three years. The tool would be designed exclusively for internal use, focusing initially on the TimeCamp team, later on their customers and partners.

The Project

The new tool was called HeySpace. Time Solutions launched the HeySpace project in February, 2017. They put together a small, somewhat inexperienced team of three developers, a UX designer and a leader/product owner. They set June as the first release point, incorporating the Kanban Board and Chat function along with a user friendly layout.

There was a significant learning curve. New technology for the team included:

  • For the web app – ReactJS, an open-source JavaScript library which was used for building user interfaces
  • For the mobile app – React-native
  • For the desktop app – Electron, a framework for creating native applications with web technologies like JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

To plug the skill gap, they arranged for training from an experienced React developer and organized an online course with Q&A sessions. They also spent time going through online forums to address more explicit questions.

After the initial kick-off, the team struggled to deliver, with a lack of clarity on accountabilities, random and unstructured meetings and numerous conflicts. To remedy the situation, they decided to run the project using the Scrum methodology. One of their colleagues with extensive experience in Scrum had recommended it as a way to improve project workflow and performance. The team went for one day of Scrum training and was then charged with making it work. One of the developers assumed the role of Scrum Master and so the journey began. The product owner was responsible for establishing requirements. Prioritizing the delivery sequence was left to the development team. The team designated two stages in each sprint for testing and code review. The code review involved one developer reviewing the work of another to identify and correct problems. Testing was handed over to any available member of the TimeCamp team.


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As you know, there is a learning curve for agile adoption. The product owner created an initial product backlog and, with the development team, defined the scope for the first sprint. The development team targeted two weeks as the sprint duration. At the end of the first two week sprint, the functionality was not complete and the quality was not acceptable. So the team did a review. Their findings:

  • The daily scrum meetings were too long, not always well attended and often not productive.
  • Individuals were doing too much on their own without consulting and sharing with their colleagues. The collaboration that was essential for rapid delivery and acceptable quality wasn’t happening.
  • Their estimates for how much effort was required to deliver the sprint functionality were all over the map. As well, they had no standard estimating approach to help improve the estimates.
  • The features and priorities designated by the product manager weren’t always what their clients wanted and needed.

So the team made changes. They brought in an experienced Scrum Master. They introduced Story Points. That helped the team determine how long implementing a feature would take so their estimates would be more reliable. Of course, the learning curve on new technology had to be taken into consideration so precision took a while to achieve. Also, the product owner started to place much more focus on dialoging with their clients and understanding their needs. Over time, the team became proficient in the Scrum way of life and proceeded to deliver two week HeySpace sprints regularly and successfully for their internal teams.

In June 2018, the team decided to go external with HeySpace. They wanted to see if people outside their organization would value the product as much as the TimeCamp team did. Initially there was no charge for the app. In fact, there still is a free version of the app available. The motivation was and is to get feedback from other users to more effectively direct their efforts.

From a promotion standpoint, the team had just a few posts on the HeySpace and TimeCamp blogs. To increase awareness, in August 2018, they decided to advertise on Product Hunt. That resulted in over 1000 signups. However, they soon discovered that they may have taken that step too soon. Immediate feedback pointed out that the app lacked features the external market demanded, like mobile and desktop apps.

To address the communication gap, they started a newsletter to inform clients about progress. Greater emphasis was placed on keeping the blogs up to date with timely posts. They started to capture all feedback. While that was often a tedious job, the messages often inspired and motivated the whole team. They set up a Roadmap on the HeySpace website to show what they were currently working on and to allow existing and potential users to add suggestions of their own and vote on their future development plans.

The Product Owner made sure they replied to each and every suggestion. He also prepared a survey that was sent out to all workspace owners and tried to reach out to as many users as possible via personalized emails to cultivate understanding and rapport. Conference calls were also being done to understand users need and to improve HeySpace capabilities. And they continue to look for new ways to reach out and get feedback.

The Results

HeySpace was originally conceived as a tool to improve the performance of the TimeCamp team. It has achieved that goal. HeySpace is now the only mandatory application at Time Solutions. Staff open the app when they start work and close it when they leave for the day.

  • Everyone communicates via HeySpace and only via HeySpace,
  • Everyone registers their projects with HeySpace,
  • Each manager follows the work of the team via HeySpace,
  • Everyone plans their daily work through separate HeySpace workspaces – creating their personal space for their notes, projects, etc.

By the end of 2018, in addition to the TimeCamp team, HeySpace had over 4000 signups and the team had a much better understanding about their customers and their needs. HeySpace has also received welcome external recognition. Finances Online awarded HeySpace their Rising Star and Great User Experience awards and Product Hunt awarded it their #4 Product of the Day in August 2018.

The application now offers all the core features including the recently launched iOS mobile app and integrations with TimeCamp and Calendar. They are now focusing on other integrations and additional features driven by customer feedback.

As Pawel Kijko, the contributor of this story stated, “The best thing about HeySpace for me is it’s a way to communicate and manage your project in one place and a really user-friendly and simple interface. I cannot get lost! It’s a place where you can say Hey to your colleagues and a Space to work on your projects.” By the way, Pawel is the Chief Acquisition Officer on HeySpace and CEO at Heraldbee, a free application for advertising for small and medium-sized online shops.

How a Great Team Delivered

Here was a small team that had to cope with three significant concurrent changes: to build the new HeySpace product, to learn and apply new technologies, and to learn and leverage a new methodology and team dynamic. Yet, in two short years they have successfully delivered a robust HeySpace product to improve the performance of the TimeCamp team and acquired a loyal and growing number of external users. How did they do it? I think there were six key elements that enabled their success:

  1. Measure – If Time Solutions staff had not measured their time spent, they would not have realized the amount of non-productive time being incurred. That realization led to the launch of the HeySpace project, the development and release of the HeySpace product, the resulting improvement in the TimeCamp team’s performance and the revenue potential from external clients.
  2. Set goals – One key was to set goals and stick with them. They established milestones for HeySpace development. They settled on two week sprints. They set goals for number of clients. They didn’t always meet their targets but when they missed, they would review the results, revise their approach and strive to improve.
  3. Build individual skills and organizational capability – The team had significant challenges to build their skills and capabilities on the new technology, the new methodology and the new HeySpace product. They obviously rose to the challenge, leveraging in house expertise on the technology front and testing efforts, external talent in the Scrum Master and an individual passion for learning. See another post on this key success factor – It’s the Mastery that Counts
  4. Build individual skills and organizational capability – The team had significant challenges to build their skills and capabilities on the new technology, the new methodology and the new HeySpace product. They obviously rose to the challenge, leveraging in house expertise on the technology front and testing efforts, external talent in the Scrum Master and an individual passion for learning. See another post on this key success factor – It’s the Mastery that Counts
  5. Leverage agile strengths – The team took the Scrum fundamentals to heart. They adopted a simple project organization and a small team model. They operated with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. They produced small time-boxed deliverables. And they used practices that were based on transparency, inspection and adaptation.
  6. Engage your clients – In both stages of HeySpace development, the team focused on their clients. In the first stage, they zeroed in on the TimeCamp team needs. In the second stage, they engaged with external users and prospects. The result: a better product and more satisfied clients.
  7. Executive sponsorship – The HeySpace team had access to and input from the TimeCamp team and managers and the Time Solutions executive. That accelerated decision-making and ensured adequate staffing and funding for the team’s plans. The final decision maker on the project? Kamil Rudnicki, the Time Solutions CEO.

It’s always a pleasure for me to learn and write about a successful project like this. It emerged from a small, inexperienced team that transformed into a still small but now highly talented, high performance group. So, if you’d like to grow your team building capabilities and your team’s performance, put these points on your checklist of things to consider. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework (including resource management and process best practices) right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation on 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, good, bad and everything in between, 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 experiences.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Infallible Project Manager

“An infallible method of conciliating a tiger is to allow oneself to be devoured.”- Konrad Adenauer

I recently called a friend and colleague, and a terrific project manager, to talk about a project she was running. I was hoping that I could cover her experiences in this blog. But, she threw me a curve ball by announcing that she was retiring in a couple of months. So, I thought why not examine her legacy by asking her current and past colleagues to describe her strengths, weaknesses and capabilities as a project manager over the years. She said OK. The result is this post, The Infallible Project Manager.

Below you will find the insights and comments from her colleagues. They included business and technology executives, client executives, project managers, software developers, technology infrastructure staff and business and application subject matter experts. And me. She ran a couple of projects for me, one a successful rescue. The results were astoundingly uniform in their emphasis, and praise. That’s why I’m calling this post The Infallible Project Manager. Fortunately, unlike Konrad Adenauer’s quote above, my friend never allowed herself to be devoured by a tiger, or a sponsor, or a project team, or a client. And she was still deemed infallible by her colleagues!

Some background. My friend, I’ll call her Begum, her middle name, spent many years as a project manager, working at large organizations, largely in the technology arena and in financial services. She also spent a number of years working for small consulting firms and as an independent contractor.

Over that time she managed perhaps 50 to 60 sizeable projects, up to $130 million in size, with anywhere from 50 to 250 staff. Many were also geographically disbursed. When I asked her how many of the projects were successful, she replied “All of them”. As she explained, “The stakeholders were always happy, the costs and time were well managed to business needs and quality was always to plan or better.” To reinforce that fact, according to her bosses, she was always the first one requested by clients.

So, how did Begum achieve such an amazing record of success? According to the feedback from her colleagues, there were eight traits that she demonstrated consistently over the course of her career.

  1. Rapport – Begum took an interest in everyone she worked with, not in a nosy way, just empathetically. She was interested in their families, their roles and activities at work and outside, their strengths, likes, dislikes, skills, aspirations and passions. She believed it helped her build more engaged and productive teams and more satisfied colleagues. And besides, that’s just who she was.

One project she managed was very dependent on a talented technology architect. He was skilled at the conceptual, building diagrams and models to pave the way. Unfortunately, he hated documentation. So Begum paired the architect with a business analyst who was great at probing and questioning and loved presenting findings in words and pictures. The two, working together, were an amazing success.

  1. Inclusive leadership – Begum was an inclusive leader. She believed the whole had to be greater than the sum of the parts. She was always searching for the matches and combinations that would multiply performance. She made sure to recognize and celebrate individual and team successes. She applied situational leadership, respecting individual skills and capabilities and providing support based on need. She managed with cultural sensitivity.
  1. Practice the science of project management, leverage the art – Begum applied project management fundamentals as a matter of course. Estimating, scheduling, tracking, reporting, issue, change and risk management were ever present core practices. However, she recognized they were necessary but not sufficient for overall success.

She also focused on the art of project management. She made sure that her projects were a source of individual and collective enjoyment and growth. She encouraged everyone to have fun, in team forums and one on one. She’d often say “Congratulations! That is worth 3 tangerines” and hand out the tasty fruit for individual or collective achievements. Most often she’d hand out healthy tokens but occasionally she’d use jelly beans. Interestingly, her teams would adopt the practice, with her and with each other.


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  1. Stakeholder relationships – Begum worked with the key project decision makers based on a shared commitment to the goal and a shared understanding of how that would be achieved. The big picture was always front and center.

On one occasion, a young whippersnapper was brought in, replacing a seasoned executive with whom she had a great relationship, to “shake things up” from a business standpoint. Initially, the new executive wouldn’t give Begum the time of day. Fortunately, she found some common ground at a corporate event shortly after his arrival. Apparently, his niece was an opera singer. She knew opera. He loved sports. She knew about his favorite sport. “Go through my admin” became “Here’s my cell number. Call me directly whenever you need to chat”. That relationship proved to be especially productive.

  1. A role model – Begum’s mantra was “together we succeed”. She was always focused on walking the talk. If she asked people to go above and beyond, she tried to be there with them, if not in body, at least in spirit. If she asked people to work evenings or weekends or holidays, she tried to be there as well, at least for a portion. She always followed up on progress and results with a phone call, email or text. And she always offered thanks for their help and sacrifice.
  1. Emotionally intelligent – The feedback from Begum’s colleagues universally praised attributes that could be described as emotional intelligence. She was always self-aware. She was highly motivated and goal oriented. She fostered healthy relationships. She was empathetic. She was adaptable. She was open to suggestions, praise and criticism. She was knowledgeable on a wide range of topics and a passionate learner. She worked with trust and integrity. She was always positive. When a problem or challenge arose, instead of placing blame, she would find a solution and help everyone learn from the experience.
  1. Intelligent communication – Begum recognized that effective communication was the foundation for a successful project. She made sure her messages were precisely targeted and timely, at the level required. She communicated verbally, in writing, through social media and on technical platforms, as the needs dictated. She made sure her body language reinforced her message. She always tried to be inspiring, to be open, honest and transparent, and with humour when appropriate, often self-deprecating.
  1. Discipline – Finally, Begum’s colleagues noted how tenacious and disciplined she was in her personal and leadership lives. She was relentless in her pursuit of lean, mean project performance. Her attitude was always how can we do this better, faster, cheaper, with less risk, with greater return. However, far from being a burden, her teams rose to the occasion. They thrived. They loved the challenge, the pursuit of better ways.

She ran tight meetings, with meeting goals, a focused agenda and tight schedule. If she thought she could get the job done in fifteen minutes, that’s what she booked and that’s invariably what it took. Latecomers had to “bring the donuts” to the next meeting or “donate a quarter to the kitty”.

She had a questioning mindset. She encouraged her staff and colleagues to explore best practices, to try them out if they looked promising, to adapt them if needed and incorporate them if appropriate. She was always using the Five Why’s, a Six Sigma tool, to gain collective insight.

No doubt you’ve noticed how easy things look when they’re done by an expert. Tennis looks so simple when you’re watching Roger Federer. Golf looks like a lovely walk in the park when you’re following the leaders. Project management is similar. A great PM makes things look so intuitive, so easy. That’s the legacy left by Begum – a smiling, quietly engaging, supremely confident and talented professional who is leaving a broad swath of success in her wake. The net result was the emergence and evolution of a project culture that emulated and embraced Begum’s style and delivered excellence. What a wonderful legacy for the infallible project manager!

So, as you proceed through your career journey, consider these points as you build your project and change management capability. I hope you too can be an infallible project manager. 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.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Managing a Project’s Conversations

“It seemed rather incongruous that in a society of supersophisticated communication, we often suffer from a shortage of listeners.”
– Erma Bombeck

Most projects start off as an amorphous blob. It’s the dialogue among stakeholders that gives a change the definition it needs to deliver value. That’s why managing a project’s conversations is a key success factor.

In this post, we’ll see how a project manager recognized the critical nature of the communication challenges on his new project and how he responded creatively to deliver successfully.

Thanks to P.C. for the details on this case.

The Situation

Amir was given a promotion to Senior Project Manager. And then his company, a midsized, diverse manufacturing organization, gave him a big new project to go along with his elevated status. The company had been struggling with its order management, invoicing and fulfillment processes for a number of years.

Costly and cumbersome manual procedures, old and in some case unsupported technology, lost and misplaced orders, slow and sometimes unpredictable delivery often strained relationships with its customers and resulted in inter-departmental accusations and finger pointing. The company’s rapid growth and the pressures from increasing competition made a remedy mandatory.

The sponsor, the VP of Operations, viewed the initiative as the number one corporate priority. He had the support of the CEO and senior management. All he needed was a capable leader to get the job done. And so he picked Amir. He had worked with Amir on a number of projects and was impressed with his ability to deliver quality solutions to plan. He was knowledgeable, unflappable, up-to-date technically and professionally and a proven leader, respected by management and staff alike.

The Goal

To implement a high performance order management through fulfillment process using lean techniques and appropriate technologies to improve customer service and reduce costs by $1.8 million annually on full implementation. Staff made redundant by the new processes would be redeployed within the organization. The company allocated $5.4 million to the endeavour over eighteen months, targeting a three year payback.

The Project

Amir was excited about his new project, the largest he had undertaken. His past projects had been under $1.5 million and a year or less in duration. Perhaps more importantly, they had involved far fewer key stakeholders than this new endeavour. He realized that managing the relationships with this diverse group would involve some significant changes in his traditional approach.

As Amir started to formulate his plans, he pursued what he thought were the nine most important factors:


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  1. davison 01112019aBuilding and sustaining key stakeholder relationships – Amir developed a communication matrix that identified the key stakeholders, their role and accountabilities (RACI), the subject matter they were interested in receiving and the frequency of contact. He was hoping that the matrix would provide the collaborative “glue” to get the project up and running quickly and keep it on track.
    He then proceeded to meet with each stakeholder to introduce himself, establish an initial relationship and fill out the matrix. When he met with the VP of Sales, he expressed his concerns about managing the communication with their over 1200 customers. He wondered aloud if there was an opportunity to use the sales staff to make the contacts and manage the conversations as the project progressed. After some hemming and hawing, the VP of Sales started to realize the opportunity. By the end of the meeting, he was on board. When Amir met with his sponsor, the VP of Operations, he asked if he could use the expertise of existing Operations staff to help out with the project and support the sales staff and customer transition. The VP was on side.
    Developing the Conversation plan gave Amir tremendous insight into the diversity of the stakeholders’ expectations. It also exposed the challenges of keeping them all engaged and contributing over the eighteen month project. Because of that insight, Amir committed to spending as much as 50% of his time on the conversation challenge.
    Finally, he wanted to track stakeholder satisfaction on a milestone by milestone basis to help identify and resolve any issues. He found a scorecard online that did the trick. Here’s an example that we covered in the Measuring Key Stakeholder Satisfaction post.
  2. Acquiring the right skills and capabilities – Amir’s past successes were always about assembling the “A” team, talented people with the right skills, attitudes and capabilities. On this project he knew there were four key roles that he needed to fill up front: an architect to lead the technology review and selection; a Lean consultant to direct the process review and design around the new technology; a change manager to ensure all affected staff had the skills, capabilities and support to function effectively in the new environment; and the development lead, someone who could take charge of implementing the new technology solution in concert with the redesigned processes.
    He acquired the company’s senior technology architect and got him started immediately on the technology selection.
    Concurrently, Amir began the search for a suitable Lean consultant. The VP of Operations had previous experience with a lean project and was convinced the practice would make a significant contribution to streamlined business operations. He passed Amir his contacts. Amir did his own search and selected three more candidates for an interview. He formed an interview panel, had all five candidates assessed, collectively reviewed the results and agreed on their consultant of choice. The VP of Operations approved the recommendation quickly (she was one of his two suggestions) and the consultant was brought on board to begin the process review and redesign.
    Amir was able to secure the services of the firm’s senior change management expert to fill the change manager role. And finally, he contracted with the SaaS provider to supply a senior development lead for the project. His core team was in place.
    Here’s another Project Times article on building the “A” team – It’s the Mastery that Counts.
  3. Selecting application and technology platforms – The options considered were build (either internally or co-developed), a purchased package (run internally or on an external cloud service), and a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. The architect developed an extensive assessment checklist and, with the involvement of senior staff from the business and IT, ran the three generic options against it. The SaaS option easily won out and was endorsed by the key stakeholders. That led to the development of a short list of suitable SaaS vendors and the issuance of an RFQ. After vetting the submissions widely, a vendor was selected, approved and the contracts were signed.
    Here’s a Project Times post on a similar topic, infrastructure transformation.
  4. Phasing delivery and staging rollout – Amir knew that he needed to find a way to break down the development, implementation and rollout of the solution to reduce risk, gain experience incrementally and accelerate value delivery. Doing a one time, big bang implementation was a lose-lose proposition. He worked with his team to identify the phasing and staging strategies and plans and reviewed the approach with his stakeholders. After extensive discussion and some give and take, the strategies and plans were approved, including five development phases and staged rollout by region and district. 
    Here’s another take on the benefits of phasing and staging
  5. Applying change management practices – This change would impact the work lives of the majority of head office staff, with new business processes and technology or new job assignments. Effective management of that impact, one person at a time, from the board room to the warehouse floor was paramount. Amir was a proponent of John Kotter’s 8 Step change model and so he used the model in the development of the release plans and to shape the additional staffing decisions going forward.
    This Project Times post covers the effective use of the Kotter change model.
  6. Managing risk – In his initial meeting with the stakeholders to fill out the Conversation plan, Amir asked each person what they saw as the project’s risks and potential pitfalls. Based on that input, he developed a risk plan that identified the perceived risks, the probability and potential impacts along with the mitigation plans. The top three risks: project cost and size, customer impact and technology choice. You’ll notice that the factors covered above provide extensive mitigation coverage for each.
    Here’s another Project Times article addressing project risk management.
  7. Building a high performance team – It is absolutely necessary to have top talent. It is also absolutely essential that that top talent form into a high performance team as quickly as possible. In selecting his four team leaders, Amir focused not only on their technical and professional competence, he also looked for leadership skills and communication, coaching and team building capabilities. In addition, he acquired a tool to assess formally each team’s views of their performance to be administered at the end of each milestone.
    This Project Times article covers more on high performance teams.
  8. Managing scope – On the question of project scope, Amir was a pragmatist. He realized all scope discussions boiled down to the basic tradeoffs between time, cost and value. The final arbiters were the key stakeholders, with the sponsor holding the deciding vote. He urged his team leaders to find solutions within their allocated funds but always keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities to add value. Given the selection of a SaaS solution, he also encouraged his leaders to look for ways to eliminate complexity and leverage the capabilities available.
    Finally, Amir asked his leaders to ensure the stakeholders were challenged on their expectations around non-functional requirements – factors like performance, ease of use, service levels, security, flexibility and compliance with internal and external dictates. In Amir’s experience, ignorance and confusion around non-functional requirements was often the fatal flaw in failed projects.
    Here’s more on delivering value.
  9. Controlling progress – Amir’s project control mantra was “To be informed at a glance”. Amir held project “blitzes” every morning for 15 minutes. They were collaborative, supportive and celebratory in nature. The blitzes were mandatory for leaders and optional for everyone else. Coffee and muffins were provided. 
    Amir acquired a project assistant to dialogue with the teams to produce a weekly graphical scorecard and help out with other control and project administration duties. The scorecard highlighted earned value, earned schedule and earned benefits, quality, issues, change requests, risks and satisfaction measures. The scorecard also included a milestone Gantt overview. A succinct, high level project update was produced personally by Amir every two weeks featuring achievements, misses and remedies, if necessary. All projects artifacts were stored on the project’s SharePoint repository. All other control and communication activity was carried out according to the Conversation plan including monthly one-on-one meetings with the stakeholders.

And so the project continued on to its conclusion…

The Results

The last of five releases was delivered at the fifteen month mark at a total project cost of $4.3 million, considerably less than the allocated funding. As well, an additional $550,000 in annual benefit was realized from improved productivity and attributable revenue increases. The opportunities were proposed by Amir’s teams as they were discovered (the importance of focusing on value delivery throughout the project). The sponsor and affected stakeholders approved the scope expansion and allocated the funds during the conduct of the project.
Stakeholder satisfaction surveys yielded exemplary results – on a scale of 1 to 10, 9.2 for senior management, 8.7 in aggregate for Amir’s teams, 8.9 for involved staff and 9.5 for customers. It seems the company’s customers liked being asked to participate in the process and were thrilled with the resulting offering.

As well, they voted with their wallets! And Amir, he was promoted to Project Director.

How a Great Leader Delivered

It’s noteworthy that all of the items included in Amir’s “important factors” list have been covered one way or another in this blog and in other Project Times posts. No surprise! The nine items are proven, in fact essential, best practices for successful project delivery.

It’s also noteworthy that Amir chose to spend almost half his time on conversations. Communication isn’t just about sending out periodic status reports. It’s about fostering a multi-way dialogue, ensuring all stakeholders, including the project manager and project team, get what they need, in the format and medium they need, in a suitable time frame. Amir recognized the massive communication challenge on his plate and responded accordingly. It was all about managing a project’s conversations.

In addition, his use of the sales staff, with the VP of Sales’ enthusiastic backing and promotion, with the support of the Operations staff, was a master stroke. It positioned the sales staff as valued contributors and the company as an organization that could be trusted to collaborate fully to deliver value for their clients. It also gave the Operations staff, many of whom would be reassigned on completion of the project, an opportunity to leverage their knowledge and skills, take pride in their important contributions and focus on something other than their impending job change.

So, when you are challenged to deliver a major change, put these points on your checklist of things to consider. Then you too can be a Great Leader. 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 on 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, good, bad and everything in between, 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 experiences. Thanks

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Transitioning to the Next Project

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” – Mark Twain

Priya Pai is a medical doctor by profession. She was born and raised in India but decided to emigrate to pursue new opportunities and a better quality of life. When I first talked to her, she had been in Canada for just four months. She wouldn’t be able to practice medicine until she was able to fulfill Canadian qualifications, a process that would take years, as the field is regulated. So, she threw herself into a multi-faceted approach to live her new life to the fullest. I found her approach to managing her new circumstances awe-inspiring. As we were chatting, it occurred to me that her experiences transitioning from her past life in India to a new life in Canada were similar to the journey all project and change managers make, in fact all project focussed professions make, when they wrap up one project and move on to the next. She was transitioning to the next project!

Here are the twenty things Priya is pursuing to help her transition, in no particular order. I think it is good advice for anyone going through a sizeable personal change.

  1. Be flexible, resilient – Entering new circumstances necessitates an openness to new or changing opportunities and an ability to bounce back when things don’t go as planned.
  2. Play it forward – When someone helps you out, return the favour and extend it to others. Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and future happiness.
  3. Share knowledge and experience – Helping others learn and grow will help you learn and grow in turn. One way Priya is supporting others is as a moderator on WhatsApp forums for new immigrants.
  4. Build your network, connect with people – Take an interest in others, in their lives, careers, interests and beliefs, in how they can help you grow and adapt and how you can help them in turn. Exchange business cards, Linkedin contacts, Facebook friends. Work to keep the relationships alive.
  5. Focus on customers – Regardless of what position you hold or what role you are playing, always keep the customer’s needs front and center.
  6. Listen actively – Really listen when others communicate – verbally, facial expressions, body language. Show concern for and attention to other people.
  7. Don’t be desperate – Show a balanced interest in opportunities and the associated issues and risks. Make your interests and aspirations clear. Don’t just accept whatever is available.
  8. Deliver your elevator pitch – Develop a concise description of you, your capabilities or your ideas that will fit in one sentence you can deliver in a 30 second elevator ride. Use it frequently. It’s a great way to get the right kind of attention.
  9. Work on soft skills – The hard skills are necessary but often not sufficient to get that ideal position or opportunity. Soft skills, like communication, leadership, self-motivation, attitude and teamwork are vital as well.
  10. Be trustworthy – Those who are honest, informed and objective are a most valued commodity.
  11. Take advantage of courses and available information – Information is power. Priya is taking courses offered by all levels of government, colleges and universities, non-profits and encouraging others to do so.
  12. Do research – Before and after arrival, in the new country or the new job, find out as much as you can about the new environment, the players, the common practices and the pitfalls.
  13. Seek out expertise – Find people who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Most people love sharing their insights with others. Just ask.
  14. Grow – Get out of your comfort zone. Recognize that new experiences will be challenging at times. Be prepared to make mistakes, acknowledge them and learn from them.
  15. Be prepared to make sacrifices – Setting your priorities and committing time, effort and energy to them is essential. Priya’s much loved grandmother passed away shortly after she left India but she wasn’t able to return for the funeral because of other commitments.
  16. Have goals – As Yogi Berra, the New York Yankee catcher once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Priya’s goals are to found a cardiac center along the lines of the Peter Munk Cardiac Center in Toronto, to launch a restaurant chain serving healthy, appetizing food and to start a gym to help people get and stay in shape. I look forward to attending the ribbon cutting ceremonies.
  17. Be patient – This is a journey, to a new place, a new job or new assignment. Recognize that it will take some time.
  18. Learn – The journey will need building and honing of skills and capabilities, insights and aptitudes. Continuously. The world never stops. Learning shouldn’t either.
  19. Work hard – Success seldom comes without intense, sustained effort. No pain, no gain.
  20. Take action – Make decisions and carry them out. Learn from your mistakes. Achieve results that will take you in the direction you want to go, towards the goals you want to achieve.

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Those are Priya’s twenty points. However, the magnitude of a project manager’s transition can vary dramatically, from moving to a new project within the same organization to changing countries, industries, organizations, stakeholders, practices and technologies. So, judge your approach accordingly. Use Priya’s points as a checklist. Consider which items are most important to your move and focus on those. Don’t hesitate to revisit the list regularly to ensure you’re covering all the bases. If you discover additional areas you need to address, add those to the list. If you want to subdivide some of the points, feel free. In Priya’s case, like many others who move to other countries looking for new opportunities and new challenges and move out of their comfort zone, I expect her transition will be time consuming and challenging. She’ll probably be adding more points as her journey progresses. We wish her well. Most importantly, Priya’s twenty points will help anyone make the transition to a new state more effectively.

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’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. Thanks