In an ideal world, one may be tempted to conclude that a software project manager’s job is somewhat redundant. After all, the project manager’s job is to tell a group of people what they are supposed to do. And then ensuring that the group does their part. Sounds pretty easy.
Indeed most of the tasks entrusted to a project manager constitute some common-sense, logical and rational steps that she or he has to ensure that a group of people follow. But at the same time, these tasks are far from easy. What makes the project manager’s role an uneasy one is the fact that common-sense is one of the most uncommon commodities available these days, lost in the labyrinth of complexities involved in software product implementation, especially when one is talking about implementing a state-of-the-art Treasury software.
When talking about Treasury software, more often than not, the implementation of projects gets delayed, go over-budget, bring-in major fatigue factor to the project team, and at the end-of-the-day leaves a sour taste in the mouth, especially in that of the project manager’s. This reality runs true across regions, products, banks or software vendors. It is kind of a global phenomenon. Many organizations have accepted this as a rule of the game, and keep enough buffers in terms of time and cost, to complete projects within their budget. Not the most efficient way to go about this, but for most Treasury projects, with the big base of capital expenditure and timeline for implementation, any buffer set in place comes up to a significant number, making it even more difficult to get a cost and benefits approval.
Then there are others who start out ambitiously and end-up spending more time wondering “what went wrong” than the time spent on the implementation itself. Very few succeed in implementing such projects on time with expected results.
What makes Treasury software implementation so challenging is that Banks have to plan it over a really long duration or end up having to face disappointment when overambitious time-lines invariably end in failures.
The usual suspects are quite a few.
Long duration projects always have the risk of scope-creep derailing the planned activities. Treasury implementations are no different when it comes to scope-creep. Vaguely defined requirements that are open to interpretation, poorly defined requirements or changing business/regulatory scenarios, often leading to changes in the scope of the project. The fact that Treasury products and related financial engineering concepts are complex, further adds to the chances of miss-outs. Major scope-creep is one of the challenges that many implementations face. Enough time for requirement gathering, detailed requirement documentation with sign-offs from all internal stakeholders, as well as a review and scope confirmation from the software partner. All these are key to reducing risk.
Lack of goal synergy between customer & software partner is another downer that can impact Treasury projects significantly. At times, the software partner may tend to promise beyond their true delivery capabilities, which leads to a cat and mouse game during the implementation of the project. When the beginning itself is clouded with doubts, one can rest assured about the fate of such projects.
During the project, too many decision-makers, or a project manager who is not adequately empowered, has a huge impact on the outcome of the project. This is equally true for both the customer as well as the Software partner. If there are more than two layers for most of the decisions that are taken during the project, you can place your bets on inevitable delays and a detour from the original project path.
Project team composition is probably the single-most critical point to the success of a project. It is not just the skills of the individuals that constitute the whole team that comes into play here. Equally important are the skills of the customer-end implementation team and the software partner implementation team. While a sufficient number of resources with the required skill set are very important, one critical aspect that is often ignored are the attitudes of the teams on both sides. Only positively motivated teams who are willing to follow a leader can make such long-running and complex projects get completed on time successfully.
Finally, at the customer end, the top management’s involvement throughout the project to give quick decisions as well as to keep the team motivated and focussed till the go-live date can be the differentiating factor between success and failure.
Often constituted towards the onset of the project, pulled out of their regular roles working in different departments, getting the right team together is a tough nut to crack. Having weak teams at either side, left with the task of finishing a project is like leaving a space shuttle in the hands of commercial airline pilots with serious sleep deprivation issues.
Now, what makes for an interesting story is that in spite of all the above aspects being taken care of, not all organizations can still successfully complete their projects in time.
Here we come back to the point that we started this discussion with – the role of the project manager. Those few organizations who succeed in implementing Treasury projects on-time and repeatedly so, do nothing extraordinary but make sure all the ordinary work is finished in tandem with the project. Here comes the pivotal role of the project manager. Like in an orchestra, the project is a team effort, and at the helm, we have the project manager as the conductor. Lifting a quote from Wikipedia, “The conductor unifies the orchestra, sets the tempo and shapes the sound of the ensemble.” In this case, so does the Project Manager.
It is true that a project manager cannot make a project successful on her/his lonesome, without having most of the factors working in a conducive manner for her/him. But without a good project manager, even with these factors aligned in their favour, the project will still be on its knees.
What are the key secret ingredients that project managers need to keep an eye on to make a Treasury implementation project successful? Well, there are a few things that the Project manager can focus on and that can influence the fate of a project the most.
First of all, relentless goal setting, planning, and execution. Re-alignment of goals wherever needed, re-planning, execution. A cycle that goes on till the project goes live. Also, as a part of this process, always keep a telescopic mindset, peering deep to see issues before they present themselves. The most successful projects are indeed the most boring ones for a lack of surprises.
The Project Manager should be able to quickly set benchmarks for the team and at the same time create a positive culture from the beginning. It applies to both Customer and the Software partner side of project managers. Project managers should be able to promote attitudes that put personal egos and personal interests below the project’s best interest and promote working styles that complete each other and not compete with each other.
Lastly, prompt and effective decision making has to be the Project manager’s forte, without which such complex implementations can’t move forward at the set pace. There is always a very limited window of opportunity within which a decision needs to be taken to keep or bring back the project on track. Highlighting the urgency of decisions to the right people, bringing relevant stakeholders together and avoiding democratic decision-making processes are some of the key roles for the project manager.
At the end of the day, the logical, quick, decisive and common-sense steps taken by the project manager define the fate of such complex projects.