November 20, 2017

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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 Story: Retail Project for Clearance Sales

Retail project for clearance salesThe story is about a project in the Retail Sector with the objective of enabling the ability to do clearance sales and promotions in more than one price zone at different times. The Retailer had expanded its operations into multiple countries and, as a result, needed to track clearance sales in each of the countries at different times to the clearance sale in the original country.

To achieve this, the Retail Management System needed to cater for multiple price zones (one zone per country). The complexity of the project was that multiple systems would be affected, requiring a huge testing effort across many functional teams and systems. In addition to that, there were only two periods within the trading calendar that allowed the implementation of such an intrusive project in either June or September.

Although the project was originally planned to take 6 months and it took 9 months, it was considered a success due to the fact that the re-negotiated time and budget was achieved and the business benefit could be immediately realised. The business was able to run clearance sales in more than one zone at different times and they could copy the original clearance to another zone.

Project Structure and Frequent Communications

The project manager, Jeremy Powdrell, ensured that the project structure was setup properly with all key stakeholders identified upfront. Due to the sheer number of stakeholders and to ensure clear project communications that would align all involved, a monthly meeting was arranged in the company’s 200 seat auditorium. At the monthly meetings various sponsors and other key stakeholders presented aspects of the project, this assisted in alignment and raised the profile of the project.

During the Test Phase, the project manager scheduled daily meetings, especially during the final weeks of testing in order to deal with defects and issues quickly.

Performance feedback was intentional by engaging with both the project resources and their managers to discuss performance. This helped to ensure that Managers could properly recognise and reward the team members through the normal channels.

The Business analysis was also done very well. Training was prepared in advance and the training contributed to the fact that people were better prepared for the change.

Scope Changes and Planning Constraints

As a result of changes in senior management, the project sponsor had changed. The new sponsor then introduced scope changes to the existing project. The subsequent change control meant that the time required to implement the solution had to be extended.

The release of the new solution had to be carefully planned. Continue reading…

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