Confession of a Program Manager (Part II) – Elaboration Phase

From the last blog if you remember the project phases, we had seen a sequence of

Inception -> Elaboration -> Install & Testing ->Dress Rehearsal & Go-Live ->BAU Stabilization

In this blog we will be talking about the Elaboration phase

The project is classified as:

Success – when it meets objectives, within stipulated time, budget and providing necessary functionalities that are required.

Partial Success – when either of those 3 factors are compromised.

Failure – when even after altering the dimensions it does not achieve the intended goals.

Elaboration is a critical stage simply because it is as this stage many a times IT projects falter in a big way.  Either they need an additional time to complete or additional resources and budget to make it happen. At times it requires both and still does not meet business objectives!

Just to put things in to perspective: Over that last few decades of IT project statistics – Only a mere 30% or less projects fall under Success category. That means a whopping 70% of the projects fall under partial or total failure category!

As a program manager one has to think about various aspects ranging from Hardware sizing scoping requirements to providing some inputs to design teams and finding alternate solutions to the challenges. The project team must get in to some kind of a rhythm by now and must have settled the initial nerves of making it happen. From previous experiences, I would classify the activities in to 6 broad level categories and associated pitfalls:

  • Vendor status: It’s during this phase that sometimes the vendor teams tend to go underground and provide as little status as possible. Some of them feel it’s only at the end of the build, that client needs to be updated. At times they face challenges which should be transparent to the bank. Sometimes they don’t share work breakdown and just a high level progress report is shared similar to R/A/G. It’s common to get some vague answers on the date of first install and last minute requirements of having some software licenses or additional desktop or a hardware that was not factored in.Keeping the Vendor teams in Check is essential and needs a meaningful review checkpoint!
  • Infrastructure Challenges: Previously unseen challenges seem to crop up from nowhere like unable to connect to certain system resulting in delay. Missing a Virtual server machine altogether or a Hardware procured of wrong specifications etc. On one of my last assignments getting the hardware shipped from overseas meant getting it tactfully cleared from customs department was also a part!Keeping a clean and updated inventory of Hardware must be done by the program manager.
  • 3rd Parties not aligned to the planned dates: ON number of occasion it is observed that the contracted 3rd parties are still either in –
  1. Yet to be contracted mode
  2. To provide proposals
  3. Estimation mode
  4. Procurement negotiation cycles
  5. Contracted but unable to meet project timelines
  6. Ballpark and detailed estimates for costs are miles apart!
  7. Vendor does not have required resources and backfill taking time

The reasons could be endless but ultimately it puts the entire program at risk and a skillful program manager handles it swiftly.

  • Bank In-house teams: No matter how many subject matter experts you hire or contract, there ought to be a strong IT team who can get things going. Ultimately it will be accountability of the Bank person for a success or a failure and it is always in their interest to make it right the first time.
  1. Many banks have a strong IT team presence but still fail to achieve intended results, some of the common causes for this to happen are –
  2. Banks existing PROD issues taking higher priority than transformation project and hence resources getting pulled in to it.
  3. Sudden influx of bank hiring new people but obviously they will not become productive from day 1.
  4. Lack of mentoring and coaching skills with in the team for bringing team up to speed
  5. Inter department challenges – at times I tend to call them ‘Cold Wars’
  6. Multiple Resignations causing havoc on the committed project.
  7. It takes experience of a seasoned program manager to resolve some of these things and driving the teams towards achieving the go-live.
  • Conversion Work Stream Problems: Such large scale transformation projects are heavily dependent on the data being converted. Banking organization have a problem of inconsistencies in the legacy data. Sometimes it is the incorrect or insufficient mapping that becomes problematic. AT other times the data cleansing is much needed but it gets stuck in the Procedural approval red tapes or Simply pending some de-scoping decisions for not taking over some of the old archaic data.

As a program manager my usual advice to the banks is to carry over only the necessary data on to new system as this is the best time to cleanse the systems. Also taking over older entities that are either defunct or very little hope of revival will cost banks in terms of licenses. Example – on one of my previous implementation a bank wanted to migrate all its cardholder records including active, inactive, lost, stolen, charged-off and written-off status cards that ever resided in the system since the banking institution began! Imagine the wastage of license fees that would have incurred. A sane approach of classifying and identifying the card status was undertaken to decide if that records gets migrated or not. This saved a lot of effort and costs.

  • Interfaces Readiness: Another common challenge at this time is the integration of interfaces. Turn out that interfaces are not ready at all? Reasons could be due to bad version control of specifications, trial & error method of connectivity testing, missing fields necessary for working of the interface, interface being part of a parallel project will get delivered later than needed etc.

As a project manager I feel it is duty to stop back-door requirements creeping in. Proper communication and co-ordination between parallel projects can resolve this problem to a certain extent. Project manager needs to be hands on with the tasks in order to tackle it effectively.

In summary the trick in not to be overwhelmed by the volume of the activities but analyzing it diligently and coming up with a way forward. The activities must be juggled in such a way that it meets the integrated project timelines and budget. Applying relevant learning from past project will work to the best advantage. It is a skillful & heavy responsibility job. It needs experience as well as thinking on feet attitude to tackle challenges as every project is unique!

In the next series we are going to see how to cross the hurdles of First Install & Testing phases.

Prasanna Chitale

Prasanna is Head of Innovation at Verinite and member of Leadership Team. He has worked across various locations including Europe, Middle east and India on projects providing services in retail and corporate banking domain. Outside his work, he is a photographer, a traveler, and a mathematics enthusiast.