January 21, 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 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 simon.murison@gmail.com

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