August 18, 2017


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

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…

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 – 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 ….

Project Success Story – Let the Ships Sail

Success Stories Shared

Success Stories Shared

Another project success story from an experienced project manager about the development of a new Forecasting system for the international Shipping giant, Maersk.

The project goal was to provide an electronic system to forecast and plan Maersk’s shipping schedules and cargo loading. The development team needed to understand a myriad of information for the cube to be developed. This included international port laws, time-zones, currencies, and the algorithms required behind the scene to create system intelligence that would enable Logistics Managers to accurately forecast, plan and schedule.

The project achieved its objective within two years of reducing the time spent on forecasting and making it more accurate. A centralised system, called Forecast, could be accessed from different countries and ports to streamline all forecasting processes in a fairly complex world.

To read more about the project challenges the team faced, what worked well and the lessons learnt, click on Success Stories Shared.

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How to Overcome Challenges of Upgrading Legacy Systems

Success Stories SharedRecently we spoke to a project manager, Jason Ingel, who shared a story about a complex multi-year legacy application upgrade project. This is part of the Success Stories Shared initiative whereby experienced project management practitioners share project stories and lessons learnt.

A Credit Card Decision Engine Upgrade

It was a multi-year project for a Credit Card Decision Engine upgrade for a Tier 1 Financial Services company. The upgrade was for a legacy application that was never upgraded since its inception, 10 years before.

What made it complex, is the fact that much in-house customisation was done on the system, which was mostly undocumented. The technical teams had to do a deep dive analysis to decide what parts had to be upgraded and which had to be decommissioned. All new customisation had to be supportable, under warranty. It was a 2-year project that was fully outsourced with 20 off-shore team members as well as an in-house team.

Agreement and Commitment

During the Analysis and Design Phases, extensive analysis was done and the project manager (PM) ensured that the business signed off on each part of the required functionality. No development was started until sign-off was obtained. This covered the project team if the business changed their mind later on.

The project team had a strong technical lead and a 100% commitment across a very technical team, consisting of outstanding senior analysts, with great skills.  This made it much easier to manage such a big project team.

The PM also worked with a client project manager who cooperated very well and was very professional, and had a very good depth of knowledge for a Business PM.


Much over-time work was required towards the end for User Acceptance Testing (UAT) due to business users not being available when required.

About 3 months’ worth of business user testing was required. The project team had to work over week-ends to make up lost time. There was an external deadline that had to be honoured. There were also dependencies on this project from other projects.

The technical resources including off-shore based team members, needed to have face-to-face workshops with the client while doing analysis. Much preparation was required for bringing offshore resources to South Africa. They had to stay from 2 weeks to 3 months and some found it hard to adjust to local circumstances.

Read more …

How to Overcome Culture Challenges on Projects

Success Stories SharedRecently we spoke to a project manager, Richard Price, who shared one of his many success stories which focuses around some interesting challenges he experienced delivering to a complex customer. This is part of the Success Stories Shared initiative whereby experienced project management practitioners share project stories and lessons learnt.

Convergent CRM and Billing Solution Project

It was a CRM and Billing project to deliver an end to end solution that ran almost 9 months with a company called Cerillion, a convergent billing specialist company based in the United Kingdom.

What made this project complex, is the fact that a complex system had to be implemented in Africa, in a country called Mauritania, close to the Sahara desert. It posed challenges with regards to the surroundings, the work culture and the language.

Culture and Customs Mauritania Desert

Many challenges had to do with the country culture and the territory (3/4 consisting of Sahara semi-desert), hot and dry climate with frequent sandstorms and power cuts, that contributed to the project taking longer.

Mauritania consists of two main ethnical groups who are both Sunni Islam. Cultural differences could have derailed the project, but it was handled well by the team members, respect to all peoples ethnic and cultural differences was essential. As an example of the challenges the custom dictated the way women were treated; men were not allowed to shake their hands and needed to be very respectful of how to talk to them. A woman could talk to woman and a man to other men. This made project communications challenging to manage.

Read more …

A Project Turn Around – it’s all about Relationships

By Linky van der Merwe

Success Stories SharedRecently we spoke to a project manager, Simon Murison, who is a Management Consultant at IQ Business. Simon managed a 180 degree turn around on a troubled project and this is his story:

The project

It was a multi-year development project, IT focussed and in the energy management and information domain of the retail sector. The client wanted a system to help them monitor and understand their energy usage.

How a project in trouble was turned into a success story

There were two main areas of difficulty that Simon confronted when he took on the project. Firstly, his company was unfamiliar with energy management and that made them very reliant on the client for guidance. Over time, the project team realised that the solution specification and development required an in-depth knowledge of the topic and that generic systems development skills simply weren’t enough.

A second complication was that interaction with the client stakeholders was difficult and often highly confrontational. Simon found that the client did not have a comprehensive picture of what they wanted and that the resultant scope definition was broad and subject to interpretation. This had resulted in a number of conflict situations and a relationship which was fundamentally lacking in trust.

Turnaround and Impact

It was, in retrospect, a bad decision to fix the price of the project. When the project ran into problems, the contract put them under pressure from a delivery and timeline perspective. The client was unwilling to renegotiate on cost so it was ultimately the quality and timing of delivery that suffered. This put even more pressure on the project team resulting in decisions to augment and rotate resources on the project.

Simon had initially been brought in to help out with the business analysis but, after the protracted difficulties in overall delivery, took over the management of the project. This had a negative impact on the project budget, but it was believed that Simon could restore credibility and trust with the client. If the project had failed it would have had a very negative impact on a number of other client projects and future work.

The project team ultimately managed to address the issues with the work that had been done to date and, as a result of the earlier decisions and improved delivery success, Simon and his senior management were able to revitalise and refresh the client relationship.

All about relationships

They communicated that the project was running at a significant loss for the service provider, and that this was unsustainable. Once that understanding was reached, the client was more open to change and they were able to renegotiate the contact terms – a Time and Materials based pricing was adopted and the project operated more profitably going forward. The effect of this was a better relationship, improved trust with the client, a more profitable project and a project team that was under considerably less pressure.

The decisions made to turn around a trouble-some project proved effective. Through an open dialogue with client representatives, they could negotiate a way forward that worked for all parties.

Lessons Learnt

The initial decision to contract on a fixed price basis was as a result of ineffective risk management prior to signing. A proper risk analysis was needed before deciding on a pricing approach and they have now put a Risk Analysis framework in place for all stages of the project lifecycle. This process is now institutionalised and, if risks are identified up-front, the team now adjusts proposals and contracts to include the time, resources and/or costs needed to address them.

Profit margins can be negotiated down with the client; but risk margin cannot. You should never reduce the risk margin unless the risks themselves are transferred, mitigated or eliminated completely.

It’s important to document the assumptions made during contracting as they are often an articulation of the risks that may end up detrimentally impacting the project. If possible, a project manager should be brought in prior or during contracting process.

As far as software development is concerned, don’t fix the price unless you know the topic. If it’s a new area for you – if none of your PM’s or BA’s have had some experience in the field – consider contracting on phase by phase basis or use an Agile approach, not SDLC with fixed price.

Lastly, client relationships can be the turn-around. Focus on improvement of dialogue. Clients need to work with you as a partner to ensure successful delivery.


Simon Murison is a Project and Programme Manager with over 14 years’ experience in the Consulting industry. He has worked extensively with clients in the Retail and Financial Services sectors.

Simon can be contacted on +27 (0)83 6299 or via e-mail at

Calling on Project Managers to Share Success Stories

Lessons Learned but Knowledge Lost!

This was the title of an editorial that was published by David Pells in PM World Today in 2011. It was about the loss of experience and knowledge that was occurring as project managers retired.  While this is particularly pertinent in South Africa where skills shortage is considered an acute concern, it is clear that this is a global phenomenon.

The reality is that in spite of all the technology that is available to us today, we have not yet found a presentation format that captures the essence of this wisdom in a way that is relevant to future usage, readily searchable and easy to store.  It needs to be shared with present and future generations in a format that’s interesting and easy to use.  This highlights the significance of project management, knowledge management and the lessons learned process.

Lessons Learned Discussion

Recently there has been a lively discussion about Project Lessons Learned on the Association of Project Management (APM) blog.  A few key take-aways are shared here in order to understand how various individuals and companies have dealt with this requirement.

  • Some organisations have a more proactive approach and would gather in PM forum meetings specifically to share lessons learned from all projects from the whole PM team. This heightens awareness of problems, lets you see where the same thing is a happening and find solutions to prevent them from happening again.  It also allows you to highlight the good things and not just focus on the problems.
  • The documenting of lessons learned on most projects is not particularly good.  In many cases it isn’t done at all.  Where it is undertaken (often only because it is mandated by corporate procedures) it is all too often seen as a tick in the box exercise.  At least it sometimes is done.  What almost never happens is a review of relevant lessons reports by new projects.
  • Some individuals create a Lessons Log during Project Start-up and record anything that could help to create a best practice for my projects.  The Lessons Log is reviewed regularly along with the RAIDs (Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies) management documents at Checkpoint Meetings and Gate Reviews.  This really makes a difference when populating the Lessons Log and makes the job of writing the lessons into the End-of-Project Report so much easier.  (Colin Hewson, APM blog)

Lessons Learned a Contributor to Success

An interesting finding was published by Cranfield University School of Management. They conducted research to find out what helps projects to succeed or contributes to failure.  They have found that the biggest differentiating factor between organisations that generally succeed with their projects and those that don’t is “the willingness to publish and distribute lessons learnt”.

Therefore it’s not enough to close out the project and to create a Lessons Learned report – the reports have to be made available to others in a way that makes them want to read and apply. The key capability here is communication and some best practices could be:

  • organising the critical information in a way that makes it appear relevant and easy to understand,
  • making the different stakeholder groups aware that the information is available,
  • ensuring that stakeholder know where to find it,
  • arrange things so that they can quickly turn the information presented into useful actions.

Unfortunately, most lessons learned, although captured, are not being communicated out, and key learnings mostly remain with the individuals involved.  Also, for major complex projects, what you can actually capture in a report is only a small percentage.  The only way real learning gets shared is through conversation.

Certainly access to historical information in the form of validated lessons learned will be a valuable way of helping people who want to deliver successful projects. The challenge is developing a way to make the information accessible.

Case Study: London 2012 Olympics

An excellent example of capturing lessons learned, disseminating it and applying it immediately is the Learning Legacy Project of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) who was responsible for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The Learning Legacy Project was developed to share the knowledge and lessons learned from the London 2012 construction project for the benefit of industry projects and programmes in the future, for academia and the government.

Reports and related information from the Learning Legacy have been categorised into ten themes on this website. Each theme contains short reports, tools and templates, case studies and research summaries that document how this area of work was approached and the lessons that have been learned and the successes that could benefit others.

Another recommended resource would be the PM Lessons Learned blog from Stephen Duffield. He has completed his Masters in Project Management with the thesis theme: “Exploring factors that impact knowledge management dissemination of project management lessons learned”

His study focused on the significant factors that impact the dissemination of project management lessons between the project team and the organisation. The literature review focused on the areas of: knowledge; knowledge management; knowledge conversion; learning; organisational learning; lessons learned practices; and culture. His hope is to enhance the understanding of project technology, learning, process and people factors that will assist in the dissemination of the Project Management lessons learned practice being improved.

Learn Your Lessons

In conclusion, here are a few suggestions to ensure that we learn our lessons from past projects and that the knowledge is transferred across to future projects.

  • Create a plan for recording lessons learned at the end of each project life cycle phase.  This can be done in the form of formal team meetings, to simply requesting that people post to a discussion board, wiki, or some other form of media. Reference: “Learn your lessons” blog, Projects at Work by John D’Entremont.
  • If an ongoing process of capturing lessons learned cannot be followed, consider conducting a closing review once your project is complete. A post-project review can serve two important purposes.  It obviously aids in the collection of project historical data that can be shared, but it can also be a means of validating the work that your project team accomplished. The acknowledgement of work being done well provides good closure to the team members and a sense of achievement.
  • A more Agile principle is recommended by Anthony Mersino, founder of The Agile PMO, for teams to reflect at regular intervals, on how to become more effective, then to tune and adjust their behaviour accordingly.  The teams need to be communicating and collaborating on what works well, what doesn’t work so well, and then use that to make change. It is discussed, debated even, and it becomes part of the teams shared journey and collective memory.  The advantage of this approach is that you can immediately incorporate what you learned.

The PMO’s role in Lessons Learned is to make sure the teams are conducting retrospectives on a frequent and regular basis and incorporating the lessons learned into their planning.

Success Stories Shared Framework

As you can see from the Lessons Learned debate and the Learning Legacy project, this is a challenge that our current generation of project managers need to face and solve. In an attempt to capture the wisdom and transfer the knowledge to future projects, a framework is proposed.

This is 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 of South Africa and abroad.

Would you like to become involved with the Success Stories Shared initiative?

Please visit the Success Stories Shared page and send me an email should you wish to participate and to make a contribution in leaving a legacy to future projects and generations.

About the Author:

Linky van der Merwe is a Sr Project Manager at Microsoft Consulting Services. She is also the Founder of Virtual Project Consulting, a project management blog where aspiring and existing project managers find project management resources relating to training, software, products and services, as well as practical advice on project management processes, templates and tools based on best practices.

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