January 17, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Success Story – Retail Payment Switch upgrade 

This story from the Project Manager, Shiraan Fredericks, is about a Payment Switch upgrade at a big national retailer in South Africa. It was complicated by the fact that it needed to be PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant which means that all card data must be masked involving all the components it touches i.e. the POS ( Point of Sale), the Postilion EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) switch etc. This had to work considering huge volumes of transactions, up to 2 million per day.

Testing of all possible cards

testing all credit cardsA switch upgrade impacts all components in the chain of transactions – about 7.  The project was very deadline driven with resources who were not people oriented but rather hostile. There was also much politics to deal with on and around the project.

Another challenge was the fact that the Pinpad terminal had to be EMV (set of standards) compliant. This means that it was submitted to rigorous testing as part of the QA process.  Even the project manager was involved with doing EMV certifications. All types of cards had to be tested including AMEX, VISA and Mastercard. Also other Value Added Services (VAS) i.e. Airtime, Prepaid electricity.

Fortunately the resources understood the environment and the retailer and they had the right experience.  The Project Manager also had a good mentor.

Project Management – Industry Experience

The environment and setup was ready in terms of infrastructure, people and systems, including commercial relationships with 3rd party vendors.

The project team was very experienced even though the software was new.  The project manager could build the relationships and they understood the process to be followed.

Stakeholder engagement was good, which meant that the project was well supported including support from the management team. All the banks were on-board and attended the Steercom meetings through-out.

The PM was very hands on – he did configuration, testing, looked at transactions flows. This helped to monitor and control the progress better. The technical expertise about switching projects were picked up from past project experience. It needed to be like that because it was cut-throat, and a project that couldn’t be managed on a high level only.

The PM spent more time with project team members, to understand what they’re doing, and to assist where necessary. Issues could be identified and addressed immediately.

The customer was so satisfied with the PM’s results that he was requested back for other projects. This is the type of project requiring a PM with domain expertise. like EFT and the payment switching environment which helped to contribute to a successful outcome.

Test, test, more testing

switch upgradeThe impact on many different components added to the complexity of the project scope. Due to the amount of testing that had to be done some defects would slip through. For example while testing airtime – every 1st transaction would fail, every 2nd transaction would pass.  The test team never told the PM about it.

This was caused by the fact that the Easypay switch would cut-out connection after 90 min. This was only discovered in UAT (user acceptance testing) and a resolution had to be found quite late in the project life cycle.

Doing testing in parallel with different teams and not having all test teams on-site posed a risk.

Lessons Learned

All results from testing should be communicated to the project team and the PM.  Furthermore, it’s critical for Test and Production environments to always look the same.

A Test Plan needs to be compiled and all test teams need to work off the same plan. Be clear about all versions in all environments and how it’s configured.

Negative testing is key – the testers should try to break it. This will cater for different scenarios in production and exceptions.

Communication needs to be consistent to all stakeholders. It’s important to highlight all risks as early as you can. Be transparent about any problems so that resolutions can be found.

The post-production support is very important to ensure quality as well as system stability and customer satisfaction.

A very involved and hands-on project management style is sometimes required for very technical and complex projects.


About the Project Manager:

Shiraan Frederick had been in project management for the past 10 years. He started as a project administrator on an Asset Management project. When he relocated to Cape Town, he studied IT, MCSE, Cisco CCNA and Prince II Practitioner. This helped with his transitioning into project management. While in the switching industry he had exposure to banks and retail customers.

Shiraan may be contacted on:  shiraan79@gmail.com or  0732906789

Project Success Story: Implementing a Customer-Centric Strategic Project the Agile Way

Agile key lessonsThis story from Lance Hamel, is about a complex Customer-centric strategic project to improve customer experience in the Retail Industry that took 7 months to complete. The complexity was due to having to implement an unknown cloud-based solution using an agile approach in a traditional waterfall environment, with an unknown vendor. The systems integrator promised technical skills some of which they didn’t have, and subsequently had to be outsourced. That delay caused increased pressure towards the end of the project.

Going Agile

After less successful prior attempts, the team was mobilised quickly and was able to deliver a minimum viable product (MVP) after 6 months. This was an early win for the business and it took about one third of the time it normally takes to implement a new solution.

The Business had an active and involved project sponsor who was also the product owner.  Through-out the life-cycle of project, following an Agile approach, the project team was aligned on a daily basis. The Sponsor had a briefing 2-3 times a week, when she did regular prioritisation with her team; therefore there was a close alignment between business and the project team.

The vendor was leading the agile process.  They had a very transparent way of working between IT and Business,. The right stakeholders were involved with sprint planning, backlog grooming, reviews and briefings. They also attended sprint reviews/retrospectives in a continuous improvement process.

New way to manage projects

There was a complete shift in the way they managed the project. Instead of …..

Read more ….. for many lessons learned and key take-aways for future projects.

Project Success Story – Tension between Business and IT

Project Success StoryThis is the story about a project manager, Gren Gale, who was working for a large insurance company in the UK who wanted to update their CRM system to provide a much smoother experience for call centre operators and allow better integration of customer information between call centre and back office.


While the business area was very anxious to get on with the change, there was friction between business change and IT over the choice of system and the degree of involvement of IT in the implementation.  This particular area of business change had suffered from previous poor experience with the IT department and wanted to bypass them.  With IT having strict rules for the compliance of any new system to its technology standards, there were political issues to handle as well as a complex implementation to manage.


Tension between IT and BusinessA tender was issued by IT to six vendors, using requirements put together by business change.  As seemed almost inevitable in the situation, business change preferred the system that was the least compliant with IT standards, while IT preferred another system.

Negotiations between the IT project manager and IT’s preferred vendor resulted in a big reduction in up-front costs by the vendor who were keen to get a foothold in the Insurance sector.  Despite luke-warm support from business change, the recommendation to go with this vendor was presented to the director of the business area and approved.

This left IT satisfied, but business change feeling not entirely happy about the choice.

Analysis and Design

Meetings were arranged to agree a final design between the business area and the vendor.

These went well, but hit a couple of issues:

Project Story: Sensitivity around change

By Linky van der Merwe

Medical Aid Migration ProjectThis story is about a Medical Scheme Migration Project with the goal of having to migrate company staff from one medical scheme to another within six months. The project manager, Cathy Rodrigues, was working with a 3rd party admin organization in the medical industry dealing with medical schemes. They were experienced external consultants who helped to make a strong, dynamic project team to enable a smooth migration.

It was mandatory for the affected staff to migrate onto the new scheme. The fact that there was a cost difference between the two medical schemes and that the scheme they migrated onto was more expensive, complicated the migration especially due to the staff resisting the migration. The project also involved a large stakeholder audience of 1472 people.


The project required a huge change management intervention, yet there was no change manager assigned and it became the responsibility of the project manager to facilitate the change.

Due to the sensitive nature of the project, people having to leave a medical scheme that they’ve been on for years, to go to a different and more expensive one, and medical aid being a very personal matter, a petition was started against the migration. It was mitigated by giving staff a month’s grace. During the month’s grace Exco gave staff an ultimatum: they could get quotes from other schemes, and if it was cheaper they didn’t have to migrate to the new scheme, if it was more or the equal to, it was company policy to follow through with the original plan to migrate.  A month had to be added to the project timeline to allow for this grace period.

Extensive information sharing

Much information had to be shared about the new medical scheme and group awareness sessions were arranged for this purpose. However, attendance of group awareness sessions was poor. In addition, provision was made for staff to have individual sessions with a consultant, but many were not attending the one on one sessions.  Some of the managers would not allow all call centre agents to attend one on one sessions. Or people would leave it to the last minute.

Later the project team discovered that staff actually experienced IT difficulties in booking seats for the sessions through a booking system that was setup which caused some of the appointments to be double booked.

When disgruntled staff members complained to their direct managers, they would contact the project team, which again flooded their mailboxes.  in some cases, line managers also weren’t aware of the awareness sessions and kept staff members from attending.

Migration successful

Despite all the resistance and initial setbacks caused by technology and the logistics of having to assist a large number of people personally with migrating to a new medical scheme, the project was delivered successfully. Only one month’s delay was experienced, with no scope creep because all staff members were migrated onto the new scheme.

The project team was a very diplomatic “no nonsense” team who worked well together.

Lessons Learnt

It is recommended to adopt a top down approach – engage with HR, Exco and line management before engaging with staff. Projects like this have to be handled with extreme sensitivity, people could be getting a worse deal than they had before. The petition that caught the project team by total surprise is an indication that it wasn’t addressed and handled correctly.

Change Manager is essential

On projects with a large stakeholder audience and of a sensitive nature, having a change manager onboard from the beginning, is essential. A project manager needs to focus on execution of the plan, achieving deliverables and reaching milestones. Most project managers are not equipped with the required change management skills and experience to compile a separate change intervention that could address stakeholder’s fears and concerns using words that would speak to their hearts.  A change manager would be able to focus on the human side and take care of multiple communication strategies required for awareness, information, training and acceptance.

If no budget provision was made for a change manager, the project manager should motivate and even insist on bringing a change manager on-board to ensure a smoother transition and to take care of the human factor of change on this scale. For a professional project manager it would be the right thing to do to negotiate funding with the sponsor, because your reputation is also at stake.

Stakeholder engagement

It’s very important to have project kick-off sessions with the line- and top managers of the company explaining the project scope, timeline and change plan due to the sensitive nature of the change. They could then be empowered to assist as change agents to the staff members who approached them with their objections and complaints.

The communications need to be positioned well, not as was the case of the team who flooded inboxes with impersonalised messages promoting the medical scheme which probably from the start didn’t position the scheme very well. They also didn’t have any banners or visual posters to promote the scheme.


Although technology is there to help us on projects, it can cause havoc, like the double-bookings that were experienced. Always have backup plans in place and if the worst happens, then put workarounds in place to limit the impact of the issues.

Without sufficient and formal change interventions taking care of all the communication requirements with a large audience, using email makes it very difficult to track and measure effectiveness of dealing with people’s experience of the change.


Cathy Rodrigues started out as a Project Administrator. Then she moved to a leading international bank and transitioned into a Junior Project Manager and eventually became a Senior Professional Project Manager. Her passion for being a PM remains unchanged, with her overall objective to manage tangible, soul satisfying projects that result in a positive outcome for all end users and stakeholders.

Cathy may be contacted on Cathmvdk@gmail.com or 083-6298389

Project Lessons Learned, but knowledge lost

By Linky van der Merwe

Lessons LearnedRecently I gave a talk at the PMO Forum (Western Cape, South Africa) making a case for Lessons Learned, the challenge we still have around retaining the knowledge and experience, how the PMO can promote learning and act as a knowledge broker, as well as examples of a story-based approach to lessons learned.

The purpose of this article to share plenty of insights based on some interesting discussions.

Knowledge Management

Often people, especially project managers, don’t want to learn from other people, they prefer to learn from their own hard-earned experience.

Some project managers don’t like to share things, it may show if they have messed up; this is true if they are achievement focussed. However, in a culture that supports people being open and honest, it creates the environment for a culture of learning.  Organisations need to create an environment that is safe to share.

In many cases, there is too much emphasis on systems and codifying the knowledge. PMOs are well positioned to act as Knowledge Brokers within their organisations. PMO’s should play a bigger role to put a focus on processes and organisational learning.

When we talk about tacit knowledge, it’s more about the transfer of knowledge from project manager to project manager, with the PMO being the facilitator to allow sharing naturally.

For organisational learning to take place, health checks are good mechanisms to use the learning from various projects across different sponsors. Sponsors need to ask the hard question: “What does organisations do about learning from key projects?”

Another good idea for sharing lessons learned, came from the ‘pmoflashmob.org’ website.  It is called the “Call 3” pack. Before you can get a new project approved, you must have a 30-minute phone call or meeting with each of three people identified by the PMO for having done similar projects in the past. They may not be project managers, but they will have war stories to share.

In case the project managers are not available a year or two after projects have been completed, you can also request PM’s to create a “call 3 pack” at the end of a project. They need to think about and imagine it is a year down the line and they are sharing with a new PM starting a similar project. What would they say? What advice would they impart? This is perhaps a better approach to keep the emotion and passion intact, rather than documenting it all in a sanitised or filtered report.

Audience feedback

Based on feedback from the PMO representatives in the audience, it was evident that less than 25% of organisations have a formal process in place for transferring project management knowledge from one part of the organisation to the next. Interestingly enough, more than 50% of attendees indicated that their organisations use lessons learnt from past projects during the induction of new project managers or get them to look at lessons from similar projects in the past.

It was found that the top 3 contributors to their organisation’s success/failure to effective knowledge transfer were:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. The right level of story-telling
  3. A blaming corporate culture

Key insights

Feedback from the audience indicated that some of the key insights from attendees included:

  • Sharing is essential
  • The importance of knowledge sharing
  • PM’s not willing to share and learn
  • Peer Reviews
  • At start of a project confirming my own “feeling” about lessons learnt
  • How to change is dependent on organisation & people within.
  • The essence of project to organisation learning
  • Interview/story telling approach to lessons learnt
  • Learning for the PM, the PMO and the organisation
  • How to share lessons learnt
  • Story based lessons

To access the full presentation, click on Success Stories Shared, share experiences and promote learning.

Project Story: Retail Staff Scheduling System

By Linky van der Merwe

retail-staff-scheduling-systemThis project story is about the turn-around of a complex project which was over budget and not delivering on the expected business benefits. It was for a Staff Scheduling system in the Retail Sector with the objectives of effectively scheduling staff shifts, manage staff leave cycles and ultimately deduce staff costs for over 30 000 store staff. The brief to the project manager, Jurie van Heerden, was to finish outstanding Phase 1 work and to complete Phase 2.

Defects, Enhancements and management reporting

At the end of Phase 1 when the system was deployed in production, key management reports which were part of the scope, were not development and implemented. The management reports were key to measuring the system’s effectiveness and staff behaviour.

A list of critical defects and enhancements identified post deployment, also had to be addressed. Upon completion of the Management reports, a national training programme to train and embed the management reports within the store structure, had to be completed.


The Phase 2 of the project was to implement a Proof of Concept for Schedule-to-Clock functionality which would prevent staff from working if they do not have a scheduled shift for that day.

Kick Starting the project

Initially a new communications plan and project structure had to be put in place ….  Read more

Project Success Story: National Point of Sales System Upgrade

By Linky van der Merwe

Success Story SharedThis project story from project manager, Anwar Rawoot, is about the migration from a legacy Point of Sales (POS) system to a new POS system at 265 retail stores nationally that took three years to complete.

The complexity was in the fact that the project team only had a 12-hour window from the time a store closed until the next morning it opened to do the replacement, which included network infrastructure, shop fitting, POS and testing. A shop’s data would be migrated overnight and once the new system is in, it was migrated back to the new system.


The project’s biggest constraints were that when server problems were experienced, it would take 8 hours to rebuild and in the case of till problems, it would take 3 hours to rebuild.

The way it was executed, was to do one store each night. All work had to be done after hours and there was only one team per region to do the work. They had to sleep during the day and work at night which had a family impact.

Working after hours

The challenge was how to work a 5-day week back-to-back and then an additional 24 hours shift. People became overworked, and the quality of work dropped. Some people even became ill over time. It also took three months to train people to the right level of expertise.

Eventually the plans were changed….. Read on


Part of the Success Stories Shared initiative to collect Success Stories from experienced project/programme managers in order to share experiences and to promote learning across the project and programme management community. If you would like to share your project story and make a contribution to the bigger project management profession, contact me on linky@virtualprojectconsulting.com

Success Stories Shared

Success Stories Shared

Project Success Story – Call Centre Efficiency

By Linky van der Merwe

Call centre efficiencyThis story from a project manager, Sakhile Malinga, is about a national roll-out of a support contract for contact centre technology in a massive tele-communications company. The objective was to build the support function for all the Call Centres. An outcome was the creation of a National Operational Centre (NOC).

The complexity lay in the fact that it was aligned with software renewals. It had to be completed in a limited time-frame with fixed dates, when support had to be taken over by a new company. The project team consisted of a large sub-contractor component who were responsible to provide resources in the Regional centres that were taken over. It was difficult to manage various stakeholders, different entities and people with different agendas.

Scaling Up

The company that had to take over the support contract, was a fairly small enterprise, therefore the project was quite transformational for them. At the same time they were trying to achieve operational efficiency for the customer.

Existing technical resources that were assigned to the project, needed to skill up. In addition more skilled resources, responsible for technical infrastructure, had to come on board and all had to work together as one team.

Good Management of Resources, Stakeholders and Time

Project resourcing worked out well, despite the difficulty to secure the right people. The stakeholder management was done professionally, especially with C-level stakeholders.

Although the timeline was fixed and deadlines were tight, the project launched on time. The budget that was quoted in the local currency, had to be fixed to compensate for possible loss due to fluctuations in the exchange rate.

The project also created opportunities for staff to grow. Read more ….

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