Author: Paul Oppong

Paul Oppong is a management, strategy, and business transformation consultant, specializing in digital transformation and program management. He helps clients navigate the ever-changing landscape of business Technology, using his expertise to deliver evidence-based solutions that exceed their performance expectations. Paul Oppong has a global outlook and has assisted organizations in both the public and private sectors, including some of Africa’s largest financial institutions and Australian government agencies, in realizing the benefits of their transformational investments through project and portfolio management. For more information visit www.pauloppong.com

Why Every Project Needs A Formula One Style Pit Stop

As a bit of a motor head, I was excited to watch the inaugural Formula One sprint race format at the British Grand Prix recently. I was pondering Formula One and how efficiently the teams work to make sure that everything comes together so that teams can perform at their peak and achieve success in the ultimate test of speed. Thinking on it further, it occurred to me that there are lessons to be learned from Formula One pit stops that can be applied to project management, and specifically to project health checks. Here is why every project needs a Formula One style pit stop.

 How Pit Stops are Like Project Health Checks

A Formula One pit stop occurs when the driver of the racing car pulls into “the pits”. The common activities that occur during a pit stop include replacing the tyres, repairs, and mechanical adjustments to the car to ensure that the vehicle is optimally placed to perform in the manner required of it. The driver’s helmet even gets cleaned to ensure the best vision for the rest of the race.

Projects, just like Formula One racing cars, need pit stops every so often to make sure the project is on track. A project health check can be likened very much to a Formula One pit stop. Both seek to ensure that success can be achieved through taking a brief interlude in the activities underway to check some of the key issues that might commonly arise. While a pit stop check changes the racing car tyres, a project health check examines the project indicators to make sure that nothing is going to let the team down.

Both activities can be undertaken efficiently to help steer the team towards success. There is no need to waste time with your pit stop (health check). The best teamwork ensures that the check is completed rapidly but efficiently, with everyone playing their part. The Red Bull team showed this with absolute perfection during the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo Brazil when they beat the world record for pit stop speed in just 1.82 seconds! Now I am not suggesting your project health check is completed in 1.82 seconds… if you did that, you would risk negligence. But with sharp focus and everyone pulling their weight, the time spent on the health check can be optimized.

Let us think for a minute about what would happen if there was no pit stop. The car might very well continue to complete the race. But there would be every chance that the tyres would not be in great condition and would not be well placed to perform at the high standard expected of them, because of extreme wear. As with the Grand Prix, stopping to undertake a health check on your project can help ensure that it too has the best chance of performing at the highest possible level to achieve the goals required of it. That is why every project needs pit stops to ensure everything is on course for the win.

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What to Look for in a Project Health Check

With a project health check, you need to look out for signs that the team might not be performing optimally. There are several symptoms to consider. One of the key areas to consider is what the people are doing and how they are behaving. Research shows that people factors are a key factor in project failure (in a third of cases). Look at what the team is doing. Are they focused or distracted? Are they committed to the project vision, or are they seeking to advance their own agendas? This is important to address, otherwise, it may affect the likelihood of delivering the project on time and to budget or meeting the requirements of it.

Consider how people are communicating with one another, and how motivated they seem towards delivering the project. If they seem stressed, the health check is a suitable moment to ask yourself (and them!) why that is. Has the project scope crept? Are there sufficient resources assigned to different aspects of the project to enable people to meet the timelines required of them? Are processes working how they should, to drive project success? By taking a brief interlude to examine these areas, you can identify issues and get the project back on track, to avoid failure.

Steps to Take at a Project Health Check

One key step to take during a project health check is to reiterate the vision to ensure everyone clearly understands it and believes in it. Ask people questions to find out where they are at, not just with the activities they are carrying out, but how they feel about achieving the deadlines. You will also want to avoid further scope creep if that has occurred. Make sure the processes are in place and sufficiently robust to ensure that if movement to the scope is required, that the required resources are also put in place to help the team achieve the new tasks in the specified time frame. Do look at how people are communicating with one another and clear up any potential sources of confusion or distraction to make sure that people are completely focused on the tasks at hand.

Summary

Every team can benefit from a brief pit stop to make sure that it is working optimally to perform to the highest possible standard. A project health check can help you address people (and other) issues that might otherwise lead to project failure, fine-tuning the team to help it deliver the success that it is primed for. A health check is not a waste of time, rather, it is an essential activity to drive project success, to help ensure on-budget and on-time delivery.

What Should Inform the Digital Transformation Strategy

Digital transformation is high on the agenda of many organisations, but unfortunately, a very high number of these transformations are believed to fail.

The figure commonly cited is 70%. Part of the reason for these failures is the fact that organisations start to transform digitally without proper consideration to what they are doing and why. This can lead to inappropriate spend and uncoordinated efforts in achieving digitisation. Here I will consider why a digital transformation strategy is needed, the elements that need to be considered in informing it, and what should be included in the strategy.

The Need for a Digital Transformation Strategy

Businesses worldwide are transforming to the new digital reality. Those that adopt digital transformation strategies are able to access new business models and capabilities that enable them to gain competitive advantage. A digital transformation strategy will help the organisation to capture and make better use of the data available to it. This can inform both faster and better decision making, to take advantage of market opportunities or increase efficiency. Having a digital transformation strategy is also likely to be beneficial for the employer brand. People like working for organisations that are innovative and leading the way. Having a digital transformation strategy demonstrates that an organisation is forward-thinking.

These issues aside, it is difficult to achieve digital maturity without a digital transformation strategy. Failing to develop a proper strategy could result in digitisation happening anyway in a piecemeal and uncoordinated fashion that is not best placed to meet the broader needs of the business going forward. It is much better to coordinate this across the entire organisation so that the move is undertaken efficiently with regard to both time and money.


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What Should Inform the Digital Transformation Strategy

Critically, business objectives should inform the transformation strategy. The goal of the strategy should be to develop it such that it will help move the business forward. Clear business objectives driving the strategy will ensure that it best meets the needs of the business in the short, medium and longer term. Additionally, it is no good the IT department deciding on the digital transformation strategy without consulting the many varied functions throughout the organisation. Their input is needed too, so that their requirements are understood, and so that every component of the business can be aligned within the strategic approach taken. Failing to engage departments will make the digital transformation strategy more likely to fail, since people may be likely to resist change if they are not included at the outset.

Data should to a large degree inform the digital transformation strategy since a key factor in effective digitisation is being aware and able to make informed decisions. There needs to be consideration to the data that will help drive awareness in the organisation, how this can be analysed and presented to help with informed decision making, and how this can all be achieved quickly. However, contrary to popular belief, while technology should be a part of the digital transformation strategy, the technology itself should not necessarily be a driver of it. What is meant by this, is that attention needs to be paid to the technology that will enable the digitisation of the business, and what is required, rather than getting excited about new technologies that could be used without analysing need. It is all too easy to get bowled over with amazing sounding new technologies but fit for purpose is a key consideration here. Clearly technology has a role to play in the strategy, but it is not the key element.

What Should be Included in the Digital Transformation Strategy

The digital transformation strategy should take into account factors such as who, how, what, when and where. Who is a particularly pertinent factor, and consideration for all functions across the organisation needs to be included in the digital transformation strategy.

There is a distinct human resources component to developing a digital transformation strategy. For example, the strategy should include analysis of the types of skillsets needed within the organisation to deliver it, and how these will be obtained, if not already within the organisation. In some cases, these skills could be developed from within, but in others they may need to be hired. The human resources element of the strategy must be factored in, so that capability and budget can be understood and planned for effectively. In addition, given that moving towards digital transformation will almost certainly require new ways of working for people up and down the organisation, thought should be given to the cultural change needed to drive the strategy forward. Defining the culture that will help the organisation to succeed in its digital transformation strategy is one element of this, and the other is developing a plan to roll out the change effectively.

Being aware of the risks that are faced in implementing a digital transformation strategy is also something to include within the development of the strategy. Understanding issues that could arise and mitigating against them will give the strategic imperative the highest possible chance of success. At the same time, monitoring activities needs to be part of the roll out of the digital transformation strategy. The roll out can begin with pilot tests, adapting the technology based on feedback received. Beyond this, new development and enhanced solutions can be rolled out.

Summary

It is clear that having a digital transformation strategy in place is important to achieving digital maturity, competing and being efficient. A digital transformation should not be led by the technology alone – rather it needs to take into account the needs of different functions within the organisation, the business goals, and the data that will be needed to drive the organisation forward. Effective digital transformation strategies consider people issues such as skills and capabilities needed and the culture that will be required for the organisation’s digital transformation strategy to succeed.

How to Improve the Customer Experience through Digital Transformation

Digital transformation brings with it many possibilities, but arguably one of the most important is transforming the customer experience.

Yet digital transformation does not always deliver this. One research study demonstrated that only 19% of customers felt they had a significant improvement in their experiences with companies, following $4.7 trillion of investment in digital transformation. A large number of companies (47%) have not even begun with digital transformation. These organisations are fast getting left behind and are missing a trick, when reports show that companies that have transformed digitally are 26% more profitable than those that have not. Given that companies that have undertaken digital transformation report the process taking between two and eight years, it is time to get underway.

What Customers Want

Customers have become increasingly demanding in recent years. Digital technology has driven this change. Shopping online and via mobile has presented customers with the opportunity to get what they want, when they want it, and now they expect this. At the same time, e-commerce, personalisation and new ways of communicating with customers have led to tremendous benefits for customers. In short, customers want instantaneous interactions and experiences and to be able to communicate with the organisation in the way that they prefer. Finding ways to deliver this through digital transformation can bring great benefits.

Why Be Customer-Centric?

Many digital transformation efforts focus too heavily on the opportunities that this brings for lowering costs for the business. This is unlikely to lead to greater customer satisfaction with the company. It is better to put the customer experience central to the process of digital transformation to reap the greatest rewards.

There are many quantifiable benefits to being customer centric in order to engage customers. Customers that are very engaged have been reported to purchase 90% more frequently, and they spend almost two thirds (60%) more per purchase. This presents a massive opportunity for businesses across all industries. Happy customers are much more likely to be retained, and it costs much more to gain a new customer than retain an existing one. This means that focusing on the customer experience with digital transformation efforts makes a lot of sense.

If you aren’t yet convinced consider this statistic: Companies that earn $1 billion a year have the potential to earn an extra $700 million over a three year time frame through investing in delivering an improved customer experience.


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How to Improve the Customer Experience through Digital Transformation

There are a vast number of ways in which companies can have a great impact on the customer experience through digital transformation. One example is the use of chatbots. When implemented thoughtfully, chatbots improve the customer experience by allowing customers to communicate with the business at any hour of the day and on any day of the year and get a rapid response to their question. Studies show that 84% of customers prefer this due to the instant availability of chatbots. It is worth considering what you can do to automate customer communication for greater customer satisfaction through this approach.

Another remarkable benefit of digital transformation is the amount of data that companies can glean about their customers. Digital technology offers the opportunity to capture this data and analyse it, so organisations can learn much more about their customers than ever before. For example, it is possible to get a much better understanding of customer purchasing habits, which can drive improved marketing. This offers a great advantage, but only if it is implemented effectively (as I will explain below).

Digital technology can also be used to integrate the back end and the front end of systems, which can deliver the benefit of streamlining the customer journey. This means customers have a smoother, easier experience and are more likely to come back.

These are just a few of the countless benefits that digital transformation can bring for enhancing the customer experience.

Transforming the Customer Experience

It is important to note that when considering the use of digital transformation to improve the customer experience, the approach that should be taken must be enterprise-wide. An overarching effort like this will help to ensure that all possible customer touchpoints and interactions with the business are taken into account, so that digital transformation can genuinely deliver everything it sets out to for the customer experience. From a cultural perspective, ensuring that the organisation is genuinely customer focused is important from the outset.

On this note, a common mistake in going transforming the customer experience, was revealed in a study which showed that just 25% of respondents had set out to map the digital customer journey before trying to undertake digital transformation in this area. This is indicative of a bigger problem, which is a lack of organisational focus on customers in the first place. The problem is that some companies get tied up with focusing on a narrow approach of only using data to find ways to market to customers. This has the potential to seem robotic in nature, and it can be not particularly warm or welcoming from a customer perspective. Having some empathy with the customer and considering what customers might actually want is critical in the digital transformation process to avoid these types of problems. Taking a human-focused perspective is important, to get it right.

Summary

Digital transformation can bring about a great range of benefits if the customer is placed centrally to the effort. A focus on the customer journey can lead to increased revenues through enhancing customer loyalty and driving additional sales. Benefits of digital transformation for the customer are numerous, and include the ability to get what they want, when they want it – which customers now expect. It is important to take an enterprise-wide approach to improving the customer experience through digital transformation to avoid getting too caught up in a cold and impersonal approach that may end up alienating customers.

Building relationships and managing issues; the keys to effective stakeholder management

Stakeholders have the ability to make or break projects, if they put their minds to it.

This makes them a risk to the likelihood of the project being completed. For this reason, the stakeholders of any project should be pinpointed, understood and managed, to increase the likelihood of project success. In this article we will look at who stakeholders are, what their interests might be, understanding them and managing them effectively, to give a project the greatest chance of succeeding.

Identifying Stakeholders

Stakeholders may be understood as any person or group that has an interest (or a “stake”) in the project or programme. Within the organisation they might include the board, senior managers, different teams, internal customers and staff, among others. Externally to the organisation they could include customers, suppliers, the media, local or national government, lobby groups, the community and different agencies. One useful method to understand who the stakeholders are for any given project is to brainstorm who they might be with the team.

What are Stakeholders’ Interests?

Stakeholders may have interests in projects for a variety of different reasons, depending on who they are, and their relationship to the project. In a number of cases, interests may be financially motivated. For example, the board may have an interest in an IT automation project succeeding, because it may reduce costs for the organisation. Alternatively, a customer will have an interest in the project not overrunning on budget. Operational interests may also have a role to play, especially with regard to time. Media and community groups may be interested if a project is likely to impact on the public or local environment in some way – if for example, a new supermarket is being built, or a bypass road. Other stakeholder interests might include employees who may resist change, especially if they have not been consulted in any way. Resistance to change can be one of the most detrimental factors impacting on the likely ability for the project to succeed.


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Understanding Stakeholders to Better Manage Them

Best practice stakeholder management requires understanding the interest that stakeholders have in a project, and the power they may have. You can rank stakeholders as either having high or low interest, and high or low power. This categorisation of the different stakeholders helps guide how you should work with them to engage them effectively on the project. Some stakeholders may have a high level of interest but a low level of power, and these should be managed differently from those with high power and high interest, for example. High power and low interest groups need to have an eye kept on them, as they can significantly influence a project’s success if interest is sparked in them.

The most important stakeholders from a stakeholder management perspective are those that have high interest and high power. These groups may be considered key stakeholders, and they need to be carefully managed to drive the success of the project. They have the ability to help the project to succeed, but they can also bring it down if they are not engaged. Key stakeholders will vary depending on the type of project, but in a business, they will typically include the business owner that is eager for project success, and possibly the board too. In public projects the government or local council may very well be a key stakeholder.

While some stakeholders may have high interest and low power, and might therefore not be considered a threat, they still need to be consulted and their interests managed. This is because stakeholder groups can combine with one another to become more powerful – such as community groups working with the media, to influence government, for example.

Managing Stakeholders Effectively

Good stakeholder management is a function of leadership. Stakeholders need to understand what is going on and why, and they need to see projects moving forward with purpose and adding value. Being clear about the vision and direction helps a great deal. Ask yourself what it is that stakeholders want, to help you present messages to them that will be helpful in explaining how you are delivering that to them.

One of the main tools that a programme or project manager can use to work with stakeholders effectively is communicating well with them. This means building relationships with them and discussing their needs with them. Any communication should be two-way, e.g. not just talking, but listening too. It is only through consulting with stakeholders that it is possible to develop solutions that will be palatable to the widest number of stakeholders. Communication needs to be regular, to keep stakeholders up to date on aspects of the project that are of particular interest to them. A common stakeholder complaint is not being kept up to date, and this is easily rectified with good communication.

Another tool is other members of the project, who need to show consistency in the way that they work with stakeholders, to build trust. Employees working on the project are all key representatives of it, in the eyes of the stakeholders. The bottom line is that building and maintaining relationships is critical to effective stakeholder management. Keeping in touch with stakeholders throughout the project, monitoring their power and interest and ensuring that most are kept satisfied as far as possible will give the project the highest chances of achieving its goals and delivering value.

Summary

The reality of project management is that some stakeholders will have the capability to significantly influence whether a project can succeed or not. This means that a key component of a project or programme manager’s job is to understand stakeholder needs, and work with them effectively, building relationships and managing issues, to ensure that they stay on side. Understanding a stakeholder’s level of interest and power with regard to the project is helpful in shaping the way in which the project manager manages the situation with the stakeholder. Both communication and building trust are essential tools in effective stakeholder management.

Benefits Realisation Management? It’s easy if you do it SMART

Undertaking projects and programs needs to bring about benefits. This is to ensure that return on investment is achieved.

This has led savvy organisations to start focusing on benefits realisation. Benefits realisation management is a process that is undertaken to get ready for and manage planned benefits through change. The fundamental reason for doing this is that it is possible to maximise the benefits that are realised. Taking a more structured approach to this helps to achieve it. However, many organisations do not focus effectively on benefits realisation, if indeed they invest any energy into it at all. This is a problem given that the competitive environment for most businesses is intensifying, and that working towards achieving real benefits can ensure that the organisation is focused on the right activities. It is also relevant given that many projects fail and do not deliver the desired benefits.

What are benefits?

Before exploring benefits realisation management in further depth, it is helpful to clarify what I mean when I talk about “benefits”. Benefits should be quantifiable and possible to measure. It is useful to make the required benefits SMART to ensure this. This means making them specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time bound. Often, benefits will have either a monetary or resource value that is tangible that can be assigned to them. They should also be considered to be positive by one or more stakeholders. Benefits of undertaking projects usually fall into one of the following categories: increase revenues; lower costs; comply with a legal requirement; continue to deliver business as usual; or provide a tangible contribution to a business imperative. Benefits realisation management helps by turning business goals into measurable benefits that can actually be tracked.

Why work towards benefits realisation management?

As mentioned above, benefits realisation management is important from the perspective that it helps maximise the quantifiable benefits that can be achieved for the organisation. Failing to undertake benefits realisation management is costly and means that there is a strong chance that projects are not delivering all that they could for the organisation. Research carried out by the PMI in its Pulse of the Profession report on the Strategic Impact of Projects in 2016 showed that 83% of organisations are immature with regard to benefits realisation. The study also identified that organisations with low benefits realisation maturity waste $166 billion per $1billion. What is more, 44% of businesses did not forecast the return on investment of projects either “always” or “often”. The chances that these organisations are not maximising project benefits are very high.


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Benefits realisation management is especially useful from the perspective of being able to make a good business case for the change in the first place, and in making sound business decisions on it. It enables projects to be more closely tied to business performance, and projects are more clearly linked to organisational strategic objectives. In general, this helps to drive a culture of performance in the business. Benefits realisation management is also highly beneficial in terms of making better decisions on how to invest time, resources and money within the firm. The information on the benefits realised can be shared with employees throughout the organisation, which is good for morale.

Benefits realisation management needs to be driven from the top of the organisation. It should be integrated into the process of strategic planning, to ensure that undertaking any particular initiative will definitely bring about quantifiable benefits that are worthwhile for the business. The focus needs to shift somewhat from outputs and deliverables, more towards benefits and value. Project managers have responsibility for driving this shift, and business leaders for ensuring that the approach is integrated within the strategic goal from the very outset.

The Process of Benefits Realisation Management

Benefits realisation management is not a one-off event. It is something that is ongoing throughout the project or program management. Once benefits are identified, a plan for achieving each must be created. This includes prioritising different benefits and seeing if they are actually achievable. It considers the inputs that will be needed to achieve them in terms of time and resources, including money. For example, in some cases the cost of achieving it may simply be too great to make it worthwhile. This information needs to be fed back into the strategic decision-making process, and decisions reconsidered. The project management plan dovetails with the benefits realisation process, since all projects should guide the delivering of benefits. The benefits realisation management plan ideally will also include monitoring of progress towards benefits realisation to ensure the project or program stays on track. Some benefits may be delivered faster than others, with some realised before the entirety of the project is complete. Another step is working to ensure the benefits can be sustained in the longer term.

Some organisations appoint a benefits champion to be accountable for the process throughout the project to ensure it gets followed through. This does not need to be an additional headcount. It can be a team member within the project team. Such a person can create a register of benefits and monitor the metrics to track benefit realisation for the project or program. They can also lead on engaging stakeholders in this area, finding ways to get people engaged who need to be but perhaps aren’t. Skills for such a role include good relationship building and interpersonal capabilities as well as effective communication.

Summary

Benefits realisation management helps both the strategy and the project to start with the end in mind, through aligning benefits with strategy. Having quantifiable, SMART benefits to work towards ensures that the business can achieve the desired return on investment of the project. Failing to pay attention to benefits is likely to be costly and unproductive. A benefits champion can be helpful in keeping track of benefits, monitoring progress towards achieving them and engaging stakeholders with the project or program.