When it comes to digital transformation projects, project management is an important aspect of ensuring your technology implementations are adopted with as few issues as possible.
At Impact, we’ve overseen many DX projects, and over the years have gone through a substantial transformation ourselves, so we know a thing or two about project management.
We caught up with Alex Park, Director of Impact’s Program Management Office, to discuss what project management means today and why businesses of all sizes benefit from quality PM in their implementations.
Let’s jump right in.
How important is the relationship between digital transformation initiatives and project management?
AP: Absolutely imperative. Historically, projects of all types have suffered from budget, scope, and alignment issues. As efforts coalesce around digital transformation (DX)—bringing the old together with the new—these historic risks are magnified significantly.
How does project management benefit from digital tools?
AP: In my experience, the right toolset is only as good as the underlying data that drives the execution of the work. With a proper project outline and good responsibility alignment, many traditional project management tasks can be automated, provided that all members of the project are contributing their data points to the toolset.
Workflow reminders can automate the “task check-in” and “open item assignment” update requests. When decision or approval gates are reached, automatic workflows can be pre-programmed to send and update on a determined schedule.
Underlying relevant data includes things like project budget, timeline health, resource staffing, open items, milestones, and more—all of which can be reported on.
A lot of DX projects are deemed failures by businesses when their expected results aren’t met. Where do you think companies have a tendency to go wrong in their approach when it comes to results?
AP: A lack of executive leadership, alignment, and continued buy-in are the start of issues in our experience.
Bringing all the involved parties to the table to discuss objectives, key business requirements, success metrics, and performance indicators is vital to start a DX effort, but it is even more crucial to continue to re-evaluate all of these consistently throughout the project.
The business landscape is constantly changing and requires a consistent iterative approach to stay aligned with the current goals and objectives of executive leadership and business managers—we only have to look back at the last year to see how quickly circumstances can change.
Similarly, many organizations don’t consider the resource time it will take to implement a culture change. Resource time from not only management and leadership, but from direct end-users who provide vital usability feedback.
In addition, the requisite dedicated technical and management prowess to effectively architect, coordinate, implement, iterate, and deliver solutions that respect the defined goals is frequently underestimated by businesses, which is one of the reasons people come to us in the first place.
How does effective project management help alleviate these issues about current approaches among SMBs?
AP: Project management can help mitigate some of these issues on the delivery side, if the reported metrics and requirements are up to date and in-line with the expectations of leadership and management.
If those alignment conversations never happen, or they don’t consistently and iteratively happen over the course of the company’s DX journey, then no matter how well resources are assigned or how strictly the plan adheres to a deployment timeline, the project would still be a failure.
What should businesses consider when doing project management in-house vs. hiring a third party?
AP: Like everything else, there is a talent versus knowledge cost-benefit analysis a company needs to undertake to understand what makes sense for their organization.
Some questions businesses should be asking themselves are; how much business activity surrounds project-related work? What kinds of projects are being pursued? Whether the technical talent is outsourced; and what the capabilities are of their internal management resources compared to an available third party?
Then you have further considerations about carrying out the project, like project deadlines, delivery capabilities for those deadlines, the sharing of responsibilities among stakeholders, executive sponsorship, and the measuring and reporting of outcomes.
In other words, if a business can be confident in all of the various aspects required in delivering a project, then that’s great. However, if a business feels they don’t have the capacity or capability to rollout a DX project, it could well be worth seeking outside help from a third party.
When contracting a third party for managing a DX project, what would you suggest prospects look out for in an MSP?
AP: Exposure and experience to the platforms, processes, or systems involved in a DX effort at a company.
At Impact, we use internal operations as our testing bed for all of the solutions that we build for our clients.
Aside from the proper technical experience and proper project management methodology and experience, a business should look for a partner who can understand their executive goals—or help guide them—easily construct reporting around those indicators that will inform them if those goals are on track, and who has an established and mature project delivery process that provides real-time consumable information related to risks, decisions, issues, timelines, milestones, budget, and performance of the project and portfolio as a whole.
The scope of digital transformation increases every year and initiatives are more available to businesses of all sizes today. With this in mind, how important a role will project managers have in 2021 and beyond and what does this mean for companies looking to digitize?
AP: Project managers convert business goals to phases and then break those phases down to bite-sized deliverables.
They translate the business speak to technical language that can be interpreted and executed on by other resources, build reports against the key performance metric data to visual project progress to leadership and management, and work to keep all resources on task/schedule, and communicate adjustments when and where required up and down the chain of command.
Knowing that DX normally crosses multiple customer silos, coordinating and management all of the interconnected parts is more important than ever and vital to a comprehensive and strategic DX effort.
Are there any circumstances in which you would recommend a business doesn’t get a project manager?
AP: The cost of the project management team cannot be more than the value that the team brings to the organization.
How an organization defines ‘value’ is flexible in this context.
Organizations without many defined processes or a good division of labor responsibilities might not realize the benefits of a project manager. Organizations who have no executive leadership or management alignment wouldn’t benefit fully from a project manager as the efforts that PM would be leading would be fuzzy in terms of scope, outcome target, etc.
In these cases, focus needs to be put towards executive vision and leadership, and then a PM can help steer the initiatives once there is good direction.
What are your final thoughts and recommendations for business leaders who are unsure about whether they need a dedicated project manager for their initiatives?
AP: Before contemplating if project management is holding your goals and efforts back, reality-check if you have done a good job of defining your goals “SMARTly”—Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely—what is the explicit goal you are out to achieve?
After understanding your end goal, work with your business management leaders to identify operational key requirements (OKRs) for each unit.
Once you have a good understanding and framework of these areas, you can then think about employing a project manager to help formalize those goals and OKRs into a framework delivery plan with milestones and deliverables.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) can then be gathered from management and leadership to judge success of the OKRs, and corresponding reports aggregate this data to judge a project’s status.
Long-term, project management and organization alignment is necessary to ensure that the delivery efforts on the project side consistently align with the business goals on the leadership side.
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