A new framework for digital projects

We introduced a new project management framework and governance function a year ago. It’s transformed our ability to respond effectively and flexibly to priority business needs. In the first of two posts, deputy head of digital comms Alex Pardoe explains how. 

Where we were 

When I started in this role in early in 2017the team was really struggling to cope with the competing demands from across the University. These sort of things: 

  • Work requests could arrive from anywhere: email, phone calls, Yammer comments, meeting minutes, post-it notes on desks, chats in kitchen area, chats in the pub etc. 
  • Objectives undefined/entirely absent – why are we going to do this work? 
  • Scope of work undefined – what are we going to do, when do we know we’ve done it… and do they agree?   
  • No one talked about cost. 
  • And many, many more… 

Taking back control  

We needed a framework which would allow us to articulate what we meant by ‘project’ and then to provide a routine, systematic assessment, approval and monitoring process for all project work.  

The boss (Jeremy) was great in hammering home the message that he only wanted us working on projects that would deliver tangible benefits: genuine value to business. No more vanity projects.  

 I grabbed a couple of colleagues and bounced ideas around.It became apparent very quickly that the result of our labour might be a tortuous, bureaucratic Frankenstein’s monster of a thing… so I focused in on some guiding principles: 

  • Simple is best   
  • Make it useful  
  • Manage by stages  
  • Focus on people and communication 
  • Focus on business objectives  
  • Focus on benefit realisation  

Our project process mapped out on Trello

This being the real world with its many competing requests, it was no overnight piece of work. Eventually, however, I got it all out of my head and into Trello. 

Below is a  high-level introduction to the project process. 

A diagram of the project process

It’s  composed of four key elements:  

1. Project stages  

These stages provide a structured progression for all project work from enquiry through to benefits realisation: 

  • Project definition (identification) – is it a project? 
  • Project brief (assessment) – top-level info captured via a simple form 
  • Project proposal (discovery) – a thorough exploration of why, what, when, where and how 
  • Project approval (contract) – we are good to go, and everyone involved agrees 
  • Project delivery (alpha, beta, go-live) – getting it done(the output) 
  • Project closure (acceptance into service) – ‘definition of done’ met and everything signed off 
  • Project benefit review (completion) – did we make a difference?(The outcome) 

 2. Client meetings  

If we focus on people and communication rather than paperwork, the mandate to speak to people is valuable as it promotes: 

  • Proactive communication 
  • Shared decision-making 
  • Timely decision-making 
  • Transparency 
  • Effective change management 
  • Effective delegation 

 3. Decision points  

Each stage has a decision point. This is the moment when either the project team or the governance team needs to look at the evidence in front of them and agree that the project can move forward to the next stage. They need to exist to ensure the objective is still valid and will be achieved through further commitment of time and effort.  

4. Forms  

From first contact through to benefit review, forms are essential as they capture the data needed to support effective decision-making. Using Office 365 we create compact, legible forms which only ask only for the must-have information. 

The form data is then managed in Office 365 via exports to spreadsheets and then we track the projects using cards on Trello. 

The results? So far so good. A standard approach and language means the whole team have found the new project process a transformative step forward.  

In my next post I’ll explain how we put the process into action using a governance function called DPAB. 

 Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more about any of this. 

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