Those of us of a certain ‘maturity’ may remember how complex projects used to be run from a centralized project office in a client’s HQ or a regional hub. All communication and documentation through the project office where dozens of people supporting the project would be camped for its duration. It was often difficult to work on the project from elsewhere.
Time and technology moved on, and even in the most complex of projects much more is done with a blend of onshore and offshore resources. But the recent COVID-19 global lockdown has stress tested consultants’ ability to work alongside clients without being by their side, despite having great technologies to work with.
The reason for this is that delivering large scale change remotely is about much more than just having access to decent video conferencing. It is about having an entire transformation method of delivery and collaboration, designed from the outset with virtual working in mind, together with a collection of integrated collaborative toolsets and assets designed for use in the cloud.
From what I have seen in successful recent projects (including go-lives) during lockdown, the key to success in a virtual project is how you best use the talent available to you, how well your approach adapts to working remotely, what implementation assets you can exploit and what environment you create for these to flourish. Let us consider these.
Firstly, talent and approach. It goes without saying that for any complex change program you need to have the right skills available to you. For large projects, part of the skillset required is the ability to work in cross-functional teams with any combination of onshore, nearshore or offshore resources.
To make these skills effective in a virtual project, your senior team members need to be even clearer about roles and responsibilities. They also need to be able to continue to drive the project remotely so that the right decisions continue to be made in a timely manner and to escalate when they are not. In short, they need become experts in Virtual Program Collaboration and Governance.
Part of virtual program collaboration is knowing how to conduct virtual sessions to have the same impact and outcomes as face to face workshops. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. To assist our own consultants, KPMG has developed some guiding principles that set out a framework for success and aim to make virtual sessions more seamless. The guiding principles include things like what roles must be fulfilled during a session, what communication best practice looks like for this way of working and how to structure online workshops so that they lead to decisions, rather than discussions.
Much of this is project management good practices anyway, but even more tuned into the virtual world.
This brings me onto environment. Clearly, you need to have effective tools that everyone in the project can access and exploit for a virtual project to succeed. At KPMG, we have invested heavily in using an integrated suite of cloud-based tools to make our own network more collaborative. In a virtual project they become even more essential, particularly where people are working internationally. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are program killers, and not necessarily during an implementation phase (although that is bad enough). Much of our work now is in delivering successful transformation where a previous project has failed to. In such cases, benefits realization had often previously been hampered by an unrealistic, or poorly understood end state – often caused in large part by poor communication, expectation setting and stakeholder management.
Modern, cloud-based collaboration tools can make a significant positive contribution to a project’s success. We use them as a foundation in our solutions designed to deliver change, such as Powered Enterprise.
Lastly, it is worth touching on assets. By this I mean not third-party tools, but your own (or your consultant’s) IPR. These might include a collection of pre-defined process flows, service delivery models, people role descriptions or governance models that form potential model answers.
These have additional value in a virtual project because they are easier to share and envision remotely than starting with a blank canvas. They make the crucial validation phase more successful, which in turn should mean a more predictable outcome and return on your investment.
For some time, we had regarded the ability to deliver a transformation project remotely as somewhat of a soft benefit. Among many things, it helped overcome the continuous challenge of having the right talent in the right place at the right time. It helped to blend onshore local market expertise with offshore technical and process expertise.
The recent global crisis has caused us to re-evaluate the value these skills can contribute. It is likely that we will be needing to call upon them for some time yet.