All programs and projects require the right skills, roles and functions to create high-performing teams capable of delivering the strategic vision, business outcomes and project objectives (time, cost, scope and stakeholder expectations). Many projects choose to overlook some roles and place more emphasis on others. This results in one of the most common problems facing Higher Education Institutions and more broadly global IT change programmes and that is…. underestimation.
Underestimation comes in many forms but most commonly falls in the following areas:
- Underestimation of the change impact, even when the project intent is to replace existing systems and not transform the way the business operates
- Underestimation of the analysis that will be required to define, agree and baseline the requirements to be delivered
- Underestimation of the level of knowledge and expertise required to fully integrate and architect a holistic solution
How does this impact the project team?
Many projects omit roles within the project delivery team structure – in some instances due to budgetary constraints, in others as a result of underestimation of the activities, knowledge and expertise that is required. Therefore, it is important to remember roles are not people. If roles are omitted, you need to ensure the activities that would have been undertaken under that title are covered elsewhere within the roles and responsibilities of your project delivery team. Below we explore what we believe to be the critical project and programme roles when constructing successful project teams.
Project or Program Manager
The concept of a ‘triple threat professional’ is emerging in today’s project leaders – because someone with an understanding of business analysis, project management and change management is better equipped to deliver business outcomes. With the complexity of large-scale IT change programmes, it is essential that project management professionals have an appreciation of each of these functions and the ability to integrate them successfully into the project.
Also, good project management professionals know how to effectively leverage vendor relationships to create successful partnerships and projects. Research shows that leveraging your software provider as a trusted advisor and gaining access to their prior expertise is a critical success factor. Effective leaders will work with software partners to ensure the project benefits from the hindsight of their experiences. Remember, they will always know the solution better than you and can always provide examples of other organisations undergoing similar issues or with similar business processes.
A fully resourced change and training team will grow over the life of the project in line with key deliverables. However, getting the Change Manager onboard from the outset and working closely with the Project Manager gives an important message that the project, and the institution, understand the value of organisational change management in delivering successful programmes. Change should not be an afterthought and needs to have a visible profile right from the start and have a place in key governance groups.
As explored in the blog Finding the right person to lead the change, in an ideal world you’ll find someone from within your institution who understands the people and politics, and who, with training and support from a Tribal Change Lead, can grow into this role.
An effective Implementation Lead will be able to manage resources and the day to day delivery of the project from the vendor side, and have a good generalist knowledge of the software and be able to field questions on key design decisions to Project Sponsors and Steering Committee members. Based on their experience, Implementation Leads are a vital resource in helping define what an achievable scope for the project will be based on the project team size, structure and timeframes.
Business Solution Architect
A critical role in any project or program is the overall business solution architect. In an environment where the delivery of an eco-system solution is now the norm – that is to say, a business solution that is comprised of multiple systems, such as an SMS, CRM or Finance solution. An eco-system delivery comprises of far greater risk to an organisation as a result of the increased complexity of ensuring that multiple systems and solutions work together holistically and seamlessly.
The role of the Business Solutions Architect is to ensure all elements of the solution are delivered and integrated correctly. Critical design decisions must be made regarding the optimum repository for critical elements of data, key decisions must be made to ensure that the operations of differing business units are efficient and are not adversely affected by a multiple eco-system solution.
Build and Configuration Manager
The logical choice for Product Owner will be the person for ongoing systems management and responsibility for the solution. However, it is important that the vendor plays a strong role in transferring best practice technical knowledge in how to configure the software across to the project. They will ensure that design principles are enforced, coding standards exist, configuration that will not be supported and may impact on future release management is challenged, and options and recommendations to key design decisions are offered along the way. This is what an effective Build and Configuration Manager should bring to the team.
The list can go on… and on!
There are several other key roles that make up a highly functioning project team – including Testing Managers, Training Managers, Communications Lead, Data Migration Lead, and Integration specialists – all of which are equally as important and will also have their challenges and considerations, but that’s the subject of another blog.
Despite detailed planning – it’s unusual for new projects to get it right the first time, and it is inevitable that some elements of the project team structure may need to change – whether that be to align more closely to Agile roles, or to work to the strengths or weaknesses of project team members. Gaining an early understanding of the most critical roles and what they bring to the project will ensure the right people are found at the start of the project. If key roles are not filled, there can be a significant impact on project planning activities which can ultimately flow through to impacting delivery timeframes.
If you’d like support in creating a project team or you’re in need of skilled project resource – get in touch with the team to discuss how we can help. You can read our previous blog in this series 'Beyond software: bringing more to our customer implementations here.
 Bob McGannon: Becoming a Triple-Threat Project Manager (LinkedIn Learning)