Case Study: Project Management in EBS

'There's never enough time to do a project right first time but there's always enough time to go back and fix it!'

Does this sound familiar? Well we found this out the hard way in EBS, on numerous occasions!

  • Every project was run in a different way
  • Project success depended on the individual skill and experience of the project manager involved
  • Too many projects were running over time and over budget
  • There was a lot of uncertainty around roles and responsibilities on projects
  • Few lessons were being learnt, the same mistakes were being regularly repeated
  • There was little or no accountability on projects 

Background

In 2001, a new CEO, Ted McGovern, identified the need to implement best practice project management in EBS.

The challenge

The EBS strategy programme was made up of a large number of projects and the majority of these had IT involvement. As a result, Tom Doherty, head of IT in EBS, was tasked with developing project management capability in EBS to enable us to achieve our strategic aims.

Tom had a very clear vision of what we needed to achieve in terms of project management principles. 'We will have more predictable projects, which are well run and delivered on time, to a high quality, within budget and with agreed functionality. Over time we will learn from our experiences both good and bad to continuously improve our approach.'

Over the past three years we have fulfilled many of these principles but constantly remind ourselves that we must live them every day.

Our CEO commented in February 2005 on our remarkable journey of change over the last number of years by stating 'It's like night and day when you compare the situation today with back then'. The EBS IT department 'are putting into practice things that other people are reading about in books'.

The solution

In 2002, the IT department embarked on a three year journey to provide a world class service for our customers.

The first part of this journey involved changing the culture of IT to one that would allow our people to experience an environment which would allow them to flourish; one which they would find both enjoyable and rewarding; one which they would be proud to be part of.

This was achieved over many months by first listening to our people, agreeing on key initiatives and then delivering on them. Most initiatives centred around communication, teamwork, staff development, training and organisation structure.

Implementing the EBS project management framework

The framework is based on Prince 2 methodology and has been tailored to meet the organisational needs of EBS. It is a three stage process of scoping, planning and managing.

The framework establishes fundamental principles to achieve consistency in project management. It details a process that can be tailored to any size or type of project.

It specifies the roles and responsibilities of the key players, including approval steps, guidelines on project management best practice and document templates.

Two pilot projects were chosen to proof our new project management framework and both were delivered on time and on budget. Following the success of these projects the framework was rolled out to all business areas.

The implementation of a project management framework has, over time, engendered a culture which promotes:

  • Improved reliability of project success
  • Greater communication between project team members and project stakeholders
  • Solutions that maximise stakeholder satisfaction
  • Planning of the total project life cycle before committing resources
  • A focus on reviewing and improving the process

According to Richard Kissane - EBS savings and investments senior manager, 'Project management in EBS has been put on a professional footing. IT and the business have a common understanding and approach to running projects.'

Setting up a projects office

The projects office function was set-up to help implement the framework and to monitor projects on an ongoing basis.

It was important to create a projects office that was a good cultural fit for the organisation and therefore equal importance was given to both the audit and the support functions. Today, the projects office has evolved to include the following functions:

  • Ensure project management consistency across the organisation
  • Assist project teams in their usage of the framework
  • Facilitate project initiation workshops
  • Provide guidance, support and expertise
  • Implement standard practices
  • Monitor the progress of projects 
  • Conduct regular project healthchecks and post-implementation reviews

A project healthcheck is a review by the projects office to ensure that the project is being run in accordance with the EBS project management framework.

Some of the tools used by projects office:

1. IT request database
We created one central entry point for all projects and requests that came into IT, where previously there had been multiple request systems.

2. IT timesheets database
A time recording database was created at this point to allow IT staff to record their time under a specific set of headings. Over time and as people have become more familiar with the concept, the categorisation of time has become a lot more detailed. For the last two years monthly reports are generated on the basis of the data that is being captured.

3. Project repository database
The project repository is a Lotus Notes database. At project initiation stage, a project is provided with its own repository which:

  • Contains all necessary project management templates for any project
  • Allows for easy sharing of information
  • Allows for easy management of risks and issues
  • Assists the project manager in the control of the project.
  • Ensures consistency of project documentation

The project management training programme

In order for project management best practice to become engrained in the culture of the organisation it was essential to instigate formal project management training.

For us, this was one of the most significant steps in the whole process.

The main criteria for the course was that it must be tailored around the EBS framework, held internally with EBS participants, contain an equal mix of IT and business participants and be externally accredited by a well recognised body.

A number of possible courses and course providers were looked at but the one that we felt was the most suitable was the BCS 'Certificate in IS Project Management' accredited by the Information Systems Examinations Board (ISEB).

Finding the right course leader was essential and in a company called Version1 we found exactly what we were looking for. The course leader had a wealth of knowledge and experience in the project management area.

The course leader worked with EBS to develop a project management course which was aimed at people in project management roles. Currently 41 people have successfully completed this course.

There were a number of choices associated with how this course was to be run, which we found to have a major bearing on its success. Two of these choices being:

1. The course attendees.

Even though the chosen BCS course is directed at IS project managers, basic project management principles are the same for all projects, regardless of whether it is an IT project or not. EBS chose to have an equal mix of IT and business project managers in attendance on this course.

This had a number of benefits:

  • Sharing the learning experience with the business enabled strong relationships to be built which have benefited us now and will in the future. 
  • The majority of projects in EBS have some IT involvement and as a result of attending this course, the business representatives gained an insight into the IT side of a project, an insight which ordinarily they would not have been exposed to.

2. The format of the course (When would the classes would be held - An intensive short course or one held over a longer period of time?)

One of the most remarkable aspects of having both IT and the business in attendance on the course was the mindset change that occurred over this period. The fact that this course was held over a 13 week period enabled this to occur.

This mind set change meant that people were no longer thinking with their 'IT hats' on or 'business hats' on, instead the main driving force behind everyone's thinking was always 'what is best for the organisation?'. And this is the optimum situation to be in when making decisions on projects.

Following the success of this course, we identified a further training need to develop a two-day 'Introduction to Project Management' course which would be aimed at introducing project team participants to the framework and its principles. To date, over 100 staff members have attended.

The next progression in terms of training was a sponsor briefing. Again, this was something that was new to the organisation.

We felt this was imperative to the success of the initiative. Obviously, sponsors are the project owners and they play a vital role in every project. But very often sponsors have no formal training on what is expected of them or what they should expect form other key project members.

This course was aimed at familiarising the EBS senior management group with the project management framework. In particular it focused on the role and responsibilities of the sponsor, as they were typically assigned to this role.

3. Launch of a project management framework participant's guide

A reference guide on the EBS project management framework was formally launched by the CEO Ted McGovern on the 15 March 2005 and was made available to the whole organisation through our intranet. This fully supports the framework and provides a definitive reference on how to manage all projects in EBS.

4. Organisation-wide distribution of a project management flyer

This took the form of a condensed high-level two page overview of the framework which illustrated in diagrammatic format the overall project management framework and also stated important information relating to the framework. This was circulated to all 440 staff in EBS head office.

Our experience

Over the past four years EBS has been through an extensive journey of change in the whole area of project management.

We have learned a tremendous amount and we are still learning. We have faced many challenges and oppositions but despite this we have experienced many successes.

In order to allow other people to learn from our experiences we have summarised some of the main points of the journey below:

Successes

  • A consistent approach to project management for all projects. 
  • Greater certainty around roles and responsibilities on projects
  • Lessons learnt on projects are carried into new projects. 
  • The importance and value of the relationships that developed between the business and IT through running the training programme
  • CEO support was invaluable
  • Senior management participation in the sponsorship training
  • Greater clarity, visibility, consistency and accountability for all projects 
  • In our annual staff survey over the last number of years the IT department have achieved a 56.25 per cent reduction in the number of people, among user departments, that are dissatisfied with IT.

What others can learn from our experience:

  • Agree on the project management framework in advance and tailor any training around this. The framework will evolve as people gain experience and will become a best fit for the organisation
  • A structured, reference guide is a must
  • Have a projects office in place to support, facilitate and carry out healthchcecks
  • Identify champions who will be ambassadors for the framework.  
  • Having even the most experienced project managers on the course, demonstrated that no one was above learning and familiarising themselves with the framework.
  • Having an equal mix of people from IT and the business on the course was important
  • It's not going to be easy, it will require time, strength and the stamina to implement it.
  • Always continue to strive for improvement
  • Its never too late to start

Anything we would do differently:

  • Plan our project management roadmap in advance
  • Be braver - Start initiatives sooner.

Having achieved what we have, where do we go from here? Our goal is to continuously improve every aspect of project management in EBS.

We are constantly looking for new or improved ways of doing things and hopefully this desire for improvement will lead us to even greater things.

Angela Moran, Projects Office, EBS Building Society

March 2006