CofEe Club 47 – Project reprioritisation
Firstly, we hope everyone is safe and well. We hope that you have adapted to the strange times we are living through and are looking after one another. CITI, as many of you know, have been hosting our Centre of Excellence clubs (CofEe) for a number of years and these are usually face to face and a full day. 2020 has been a unique year and therefore, we decided to adapt it to a virtual session for a few hours…hence CITI’s espresso CofEe Club.
It was great to share experiences and listen to participants from different industry sectors on how they adapted to working differently, the thought processes and values within their organisations changing to support people and their wellbeing as well as balancing the needs of the organisation. Reprioritising was an apt theme during a time when many organisations and leaders are looking at revised priorities for 2021 and thinking about factoring in the uncertainty as part of their strategy and investment plans as much as is possible.
The engagement and feedback have been positive and we would love to run these sessions that provoke thought, ignite curiosity and we enjoy the sharing of knowledge, experience and insight. We hope you find this update useful and can join us at future events,
Kay Sanders, CEO
TOPIC ONE – AVOIDING ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL – URGENCY VERSUS IMPORTANCE
To establish the teams’ feedback on this topic we had five questions ready and we collected personal comments for each team member. We completed three out of the five questions in the timeframe provided. The responses were recorded on PowerPoint and presented back to the group by one team member. There was a mix of different industries and sectors in the group and therefore, all the answers were varied dependent on the sector. The group sectors were banking, media, technology and retail.
Question 1. What are the most common drivers of urgency for your group’s organisations (e.g. regulatory timescales, market/competition effect, business risks such as cyber attack) and how many of these are internally controllable (e.g. product launch timescales or system upgrades)?
Response: The general consensus was that most organisations had gone into a survival mode given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included the speed at which they needed to respond urgently to ensure customers and staff health and safety. Some of these were regulatory regarding government guidelines to be able to open and continue business in a safe way. For some this also meant being able to set people up to work from home quickly and safely. From our banking perspective there was compliance regulatory elements that had immediate impact and had a non-negotiable timeline. There was also a need to respond quickly to providing digitalised products and services to employees and customers, which meant that due diligence was required to protect their organisations from cyber-attacks. In some circumstances, this also meant considering changing over technology or previously used products (at speed/with pace) for their staff or customers to be able to make things easier and to offer value.
Examples were given by this group of GDPR where the legislation meant that this had to be achieved by a set date in order to compel – this is a similar process that the banking industries follow for all their compliance and regulatory elements.
Question 2. What determines importance (e.g. monetary value, strategic value, strategy enablement, safety, environmental impacts)?
Response: The importance was driven by the immediate response. For some this meant survival of their business which had an integrity and reputational damage if this wasn’t dealt with immediately. For some it also had a wellbeing element to consider (specifically for our group members from retail – given that staff were working at the front line). They had to quickly respond to changes in their ways of working which had safety and environmental impacts for home working, places of work to ensure that government guidelines were followed – this was frustrating as it was constantly changing and still is! The wellbeing element continues as the pandemic continues, as there is a duty of care in the return to work strategy. Even with the existing pandemic and the challenge this brings, there still remains a corporate drive for sales and profits to continue regardless. From banking perspective there was still fines from the regulator, so areas were required to be investigated to reduce risk of fines.
Question 3. Is there a common view of the relative worth of these drivers and how they are measured?
Response: There are many that they were unable to measure at the moment. However, from the banking industry they were able to obtain measurement around risk versus costs. They could also look to see that their fines were comparable in the market. Some of the group had started to look at value frameworks to support their drivers. Unfortunately, we hadn’t got very far into these questions before we needed to return to the group.
2020 has been a very different year and challenges remain ongoing, but most organisations seemed to have supported staff through the different way of working and are thinking about taking some of these changes forward into 2021. There seemed a much better understanding of wellbeing and mental health for employees and more positions had been created such as digital and online support services to look after staff better.
Our group felt that this year has re-prioritised peoples understanding of importance and what is truly important to us personally and professionally. We had felt empowered to be able to make decisions much quickly than previous years to move forward at pace with changing and competing strategies. There had been huge changes in digital and technology use and this proved that most individuals could work as effectively outside of the office as inside it, as long as they can work safely.
TOPIC TWO – ALIGNING EMERGENT STRATEGY WITH CORPORATE AMBITION – MASTERS OF OUR OWN DESTINY?
Strategy is a hot topic currently and our group focussed on the intended strategy as it stood 2020 BC (Before Covid)) against the reality of events that occurred during March meaning a need to make tactical decisions – becoming the Emergent Strategy and the responses, decision making and rethinking processes that have led us to the current question of “how do we build our deliberate strategy?” to ensure our realised strategy is still pointing the organisation in the right direction and that that direction provides sufficient flexibility for organisations to flourish.
The half an hour discussion for such a complex topic area was insightful and very engaging with the following questions being addressed:
- How clear are your companies’ intended strategies in terms of the values that are held (both financial and non-financial) and their relative significance to the choices that might be made?
- Given two or three tactical options for addressing any given emerging situation, would your strategy practically assist you in selecting one approach over another?
- How would you challenge any new initiative to validate its degree of strategic contribution?
- Do risk avoidance or compliance create as attractive a business case as additional income or strategic income to your stakeholders?
- Does the nature of the balance between the two types of business case, outlined in the previous question, make a material difference to the way initiatives are scoped in your organisations?
Due to the nature of the subject, we felt our answers to these questions came together and therefore the responses are pooled together as outlined below.
Most of our group suggested that pre-pandemic, there were clear and intended organisational strategies, values and focus on where investment would be best placed that determined the choices made. We had a mix of sectors represented in the group and there was no real significant difference in thinking.
Participants collectively agreed that where their organisations previously had fixed ways of working relating to travel, engaging face to face with potential and existing clients or even how people shop or engage at funerals, things have changed in the last eight months. Most agreed that their organisation felt remote working would not be a consideration for them prior to COVID-19, that it would not even be a possibility. However, all participants agreed that enforced remote working, a ban on travel and the necessity to continue transacting and providing services to communities, meant a shift in strategy, leadership thinking and decision making which will remain the case for the future becoming the deliberate and intended strategy.
The ongoing situation for most people in our group meant that they feel their organisations are now taking a different view when thinking about 2021 and that although financial decisions remain important, there is also a human consideration whereby mental health, wellbeing, culture change and policy change to reflect these are paramount to organisational success. New roles are being created such as wellbeing managers and digital/online support services, communities are being built to ensure people are better looked after.
In conclusion, we felt organisations will incorporate more supportive intent within their Deliberate Strategy for 2021 and we will see an increased emphasis on remote, digital working alongside keeping people safe.
TOPIC THREE – RESOURCE ALLOCATION AND MATCHING – DOES PROJECT REPRIORITISATION ACTUALLY GIVE US THE BIGGEST BANG FOR OUR BUCK?
Group three had picked as their topic the subject of resource allocation to the revised portfolio and how well the resource is matched to the type of project to which they are assigned. Clearly this presumes that we have some form of ‘profiling’ or assessment of the project to determine what skill sets and experience it would be better suited to its successful delivery. Equally, it makes some presumption of assessing and ‘mapping’ project management capability in able to be able to form a match to the profile of the work.
To establish the team’s views on the topic a selection of five questions were asked and their collective responses are recorded below, both as verbatim comments and also a ‘mood of the discussion’ summary.
Question 1. How, in your organisation, is value associated to scope?
Response: These ranged across a variety of answers but the consensus seemed to be that, whilst a number of organisations take scope establishment seriously in defining the project and it’s PID, there is very little to no explicit association of the scope/outputs with the specific outcomes or benefits at a detailed level.
In particular, participants commented as follows – “There is a focus on KPIs and there are clear benefits, but the scope doesn’t associate the two”, “scope is clearly agreed at the outset which helps to avoid change requests later on” and “for mandatory projects, there is an association of scope but there may well be ‘nice to haves’ added in too”.
Question 2 How rigorous is the examination of change requests’ impact on the business case?
Response: The group summary response to this question is best stated as “not very if at all”. In particular participants commented that “the effect on the business case not really a serious consideration” and that there is “not a real attempt to assess impact on the business case at sponsor level” in most organisations.
Question 3 What is the basis for allocation of a project manager to an assignment?
Response: A range of answers seemed dependent on organisational size, for example it was observed that small organisations “act intuitively by looking at experience” which is good if all the people can reasonably know one another. In larger organisations the consensus veered towards “some formalised process to understand risk before allocation” tended to be practiced, but no specific tools or approaches were discussed. Interestingly, several participants chimed with one’s observation that they weren’t averse to “swapping of project managers, on a ‘horses-for-courses’ basis, even in mid-race”. This clearly smacks of a sensible reactive approach to addressing a problem once it has occurred, rather than trying to pre-empt it.
Question 4 Does your organisation routinely ‘profile’ the skills and competencies of their project managers?
Response: Much of the response from the group to this was ayes, through formalised HR processes, this appears good but time didn’t permit to dig deeply into how closely personnel appraisal chimes with the detail of effective project management and its experience. Equally several noted that the Achilles heel to such an approach was HR’s ability to assess the practice of the, all important, soft skills in successful project management.
Question 5 Does your organisation routinely ‘profile’ the demands that a project is likely to make on its manager?
Response: There was a common recognition amongst nearly all respondents that their organisations could certainly spot high-risk and high-profile projects to which they would respond by putting the ‘best’ resource in place. However, as at least one observed, this “may prove to be reactive”. Certainly, there was no impression of rigorous profiling of the work and its complexity to the resource and its suitability prior to engagement.
In summary, many organisations either intuitively or through a variety of disparate mechanisms do try to match resource to work but it is highly ad-hoc and informal. Of the organisations represented none had a formal mechanism to significantly reduce risk by working out the demands of a particular project and matching these to the skills of a particular resource.