In these unprecedented times, many managers are faced with either running operations infrastructure programs entirely remote or considering whether to engage on such a program. Our advisory and delivery teams quickly transitioned their project work to remote setting and have learned what it takes to meet program goals with a dispersed team.
In the first part of our remote Q&A series, we asked two members of our senior consulting team to weigh in on the challenges and successes of two different asset management operations programs during the planning stage. Here is the next part in this series, covering implementation.
What were the most significant challenges experienced during the implementation?
Project A: This is a question that I’m sure has a different answer for everyone, but the greatest challenge for me during the implementation has been the lack of face-to-face interaction. I have long thought that the personal connections built at the water cooler or the coffee machine go a long way towards keeping things moving. One of my goals on a project is to always learn as much from the client as they do from me, and the ability to stroll across the aisle and pick someone’s brain is something I miss. As a consultant, it’s harder to solicit true buy-in from someone I’ve never met in person and who likely couldn’t pick me out of a lineup. Cramped meeting rooms around a white board aren’t always the most comfortable experiences, but this year has made it pretty clear to me that they help us build relationships and solution problems collaboratively.
Project B: One of the biggest challenges we faced during our implementation was kicking off the project remotely. Typically, project kickoffs are done in person, and team members from Citisoft, the client, and vendors are on the ground working together for several weeks planning and prioritizing efforts. This ‘on the ground’ approach also gives the team the ability to create continuity within the group. Another challenge we encountered was related to disruptions in technology. Due to the large number of people working from home, remote sessions occasionally did not work as designed due to application or internet outages.
How were challenges addressed or resolved or worked around?
Project A: Despite the challenges collaborating remotely, I do think every team member on our implementation has done a good job of building a cadence and making the best of the situation. A daily check-in call at 9 AM (client included) has allowed for the passing of important information and status updates from one workstream to the next, and three days a week we have a Citisoft video chat to wind down the day from 5-6 PM. While these meetings are certainly helpful to discuss upcoming work and the associated challenges, they serve an equally important role to me in the sense that it is a chance to crack a joke, elicit a smile, and remember that we are all navigating this situation together (even if it sometimes feels like we are on our own).
Project B: Normally when team members are co-located, troubleshooting and impromptu conversations have a big role in project work. These spontaneous meetings were more difficult to have remotely. To overcome this hurdle, we scheduled daily 15-minute ‘water cooler’ conversations. All meetings utilized video conferencing, and the frequency helped overcome inadvertent technology disruptions. If a member of the team had a technology issue during a scheduled meeting, they could easily pick up the conversation the following day.
Were status communications with senior management and key stakeholders difficult or compromised through virtual communication?
Project A: A multi-year program that has such a wide-ranging impact on the organization often means there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, usually each with their own competing thoughts and priorities for the best path forward. Fortunately, we work with a leadership team that has been all-in from the start. They recognize the benefits that such a transformational project will have on their business once they come out the other end, and it shows in their actions. Communication has been open, honest, and regular, even during difficult conversations, and I have been impressed with the client’s ability push forward through the many challenges that have been presented by COVID-19 this past year.
Project B: The unique working situation called for a more hands on approach with senior management and stakeholders. We held frequent video touch point meetings with all senior leaders and stakeholders in addition to written status updates. Stakeholders and senior management were aligned on all project related issues and timelines and we did not experience any disruption due to virtual communication.
How were multi-party disagreements (consultant/client/vendor) surfaced and eventually resolved?
Project A: As with any program, communication is key and the difference between communicating remotely and in-person wasn’t a big one for us. We view our role in setting the right resourcing, expectations, and timelines as a critical part of the implementation process so a lot of potential conflicts were mitigated from the outset.
While nothing overtly negative has impacted the program, we did find management of the training process to be the most complex. We usually collaborate with the client and vendor on in-person training for new technology and doing this remotely required a new approach. We found that letting the client lead the training process helped maximize engagement and understanding. Rather than dedicating time to an in-person training phase, we’re helping the client use test scenarios and test drive the technology then we come together for a focused 2-3 hour session to go over specific challenges and questions. These sessions are recorded and we’re finding this to be a very effective format for training. There’s a constant cycle of learning that is happening at a faster rate than we could have anticipated.
Project B: Citisoft has been assisting clients with implementations for over two decades. During that time, we have had an opportunity to work with most vendors in the asset management space. This experience and the relationships we have built help us work through most issues that arise during a normal or remote implementation. Communication is the most important element to ward off conflict before it begins. As many programs do, we also use red/green/orange status reports to try to get ahead of potential issues. It’s worked for us for a long time and remote implementation didn’t change that blueprint.