Exceeding expectations for successful delivery
Over the past decade, IBM has successfully transformed itself into a project based enterprise. This transformation was planned with the ultimate goal of driving more successful outcomes to client projects, internal IT programs, and internal product development projects. Beginning in 2006, IBM’s Global Business Services unit began a specific client focused initiative that grew out of this overall enterprise transformation, and concentrated on ensuring Excellence in Delivery for client based projects.
Given the vision “to ensure reliable and successful delivery is a capability that must be built into the fabric of our organization,” a small team of very experienced program managers (sometimes called “gray beards”) formed the Delivery Excellence team. The team was built with a mesh of multiple skill sets: program management, system engineering, risk management, and solution design/delivery process expertise. Although the Excellence in Delivery vision was long term, the immediate strategy focused on reducing the occurrence of troubled projects.
The September 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) focuses on the growing complexity of projects. Several articles in this HBR issue point to the growth of complex projects vs. complicated projects. Complex systems bring along an increased uncertainty in reliable execution and delivery. This trend towards complexity vs. complicated projects is easy to see with the acceptance and growth of IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiative. A global mix of both public and private sector clients are asking for larger and more complex projects to integrate multiple systems that perform more efficiently and effectively together, to either improve services (public) or drive increased financial results (private).
Building expertise in managing complex projects and programs requires a long term investment. Dynamic expansion in developing regions of the world is quickly driving up the need for this experience. Recognizing the importance of this program management competency, the Delivery Excellence team developed a multi-phase strategy to ensure the Excellence in Delivery vision could be attained.
The three-phased strategy includes:
- Short-term project intervention via “Red Teams”
- Increased use of predictive analytics to focus delivery teams on potential trouble
- Process changes to ensure both program complexity and the required complex program management skills are evaluated and properly matched.
A Red Team is formed with one or two Delivery Excellence “gray beards” and supplemented with subject matter experts able to provide in-depth analysis and assistance to project teams tasked to deliver complex solutions. Comprehensive program management and technical reviews are performed by the Red Teams on projects that are showing evidence of potential trouble. The goal of each Red Team is to intervene early enough in the project so that potential delivery risks are identified early and proper mitigation strategies and plans are put in place. In some circumstances, a Red Team member will join the project team for an extended period of time to provide on-site guidance and mentoring to less experienced project and program managers.
Red Teams have intervened successfully over the past three years on projects spanning all parts of the globe. In one instance of a telecommunications program in Europe, the Red Team was engaged after one Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project encountered delivery problems.
The Red Team performed in depth technical and system design reviews, provided a documented assessment of project health to the project manager, and recommended a series of recovery steps for the troubled program.
Since there was a relatively inexperienced project manager engaged on this particular project, the Red Team decided to assign one gray beard to stay on site with the project for six weeks to ensure recovery plans were executed. During this ongoing recovery period, IBM won the bidding for another project with this same client. The Red Team on-site support helped organize a formal “project launch” for the new program, ensuring all the right methods and processes were in place.
That new project ended up highly successful for both IBM and the client. The team attributed some of the success to the guidance given by the gray beard at the beginning of the project.
The Delivery Excellence team is also involved in developing a set of predictive analytics that are used to identify potential trouble spots on projects before the troubles affect project performance.
Using a multi-year history of project review data and root-cause analysis, the Delivery Excellence and risk management teams have worked together with IBM Research to develop algorithms that analyze current project data and trends. The algorithms issue “alerts” to the project teams when they sense a trend or data point that may be a leading indicator of trouble to come. When an alert is triggered, the Delivery Excellence team helps the project team interpret the alert and come up with a mitigation plan and strategy to avoid the trouble.
Matching the right Project Manager to the project
IBM has a large number of client projects and programs underway at any given time. It is very important to know that a project manager with the right level of skill is assigned to any given project. This is most important when assigning a program manager to our largest and most complex projects, for example, a “Smarter Planet” program. The Delivery Excellence team has developed a process that requires all projects of a certain size to have a formal assessment of the project manager’s accreditation level vs. the size and complexity of the project. Multiple tiers of accreditation are measured against specific project sizes, including the requirement to have a certified project manager on the largest and most complex projects. Ensuring the correct level of project manager gives confidence to business executives that the project will be successful.
Harvesting lessons learned
A big side benefit of the Excellence in Delivery initiatives is the compilation of significant lessons learned on projects. The Red Teams consistently document results of reviews and pass on lessons learned via IBM’s Project Management Knowledge Network and PM asset library. These assets are extremely valuable, especially in growing market areas where the assets can accelerate project management skill growth in developing markets. These lessons combined with tools such as predictive analytics and matching PM levels to projects have had a significant impact on IBM business results and delivered on the vision of increased client business value.
© 2011 International Business Machines Corporation, Armonk, New York. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of IBM Corporation.