Project management worthy of Polish Project Excellence Award. How did we win gold the second time?
It has been the second gold for e-point SA in the history of the Polish Project Excellence Award.
In 2007 we won the main prize for B2B sales platform for Amway – a system implemented in 31 countries which has remained the company’s sales pillar to this day.
In 2018, meanwhile, International Project Management Association Polska gave us the award for the B2B e-commerce platform for 18 countries which we had built together with Inter Cars.
These projects are 11 years apart. While comparing them, we can see that changes in business have been accelerating, what calls for more flexibility in responding to them. Today, if we build an application in a waterfall model, which takes over a dozen months, the app is going to be obsolete before it is launched. At the same time, platforms are getting even larger, more complex, and are integrated with a growing number of external systems.
Nowadays, just as in 2007, people are the key to a successful IT project. Even more so than the technology. Why is that? First, it takes a close-knit team to deliver complex projects. Second, IT systems are build for the people, not computers, and we always build apps with particular users in mind. The ability to understand their needs and to include this knowledge in the design process is what distinguishes first-rate products.
How do we care for people at e-point, ensuring the highest quality of our projects? Below, we outline a few good practices that the jury of this year’s Polish Project Excellence Award contest highlighted.
Specifying project goals
In each project the number of potential tasks exceeds the capability to complete them, both in terms of budget and allotted time. This is even more the case in ventures performed using agile methodology (more on the applied methodology below, in the Project implementation section). Setting a single, common, overarching aim that is clear to all participants helps to establish the right priorities. In the award-winning project we proposed a common goal of implementing the system in all 16 countries which Inter Cars operated in at the time they started to cooperate with e-point. The goal was embraced in short slogan “GO 16 LIVE”. We placed this slogan on stickers and marketing materials which we then distributed inside the project and within the customer organisation.
Apart from its explicit goals, every project has also implicit ones, like striving to make the system being built better than the previous ones used by the client. With the award-winning platform, we first discussed these implicit goals and assigned a person responsible for each of them. Awareness of their existence allowed us to see the project in a broader perspective, not merely through the lens of official requirements.
We drew up the Inter Cars project plan on a single A4 page, in a document called High Level Project Plan. It comprised several dozen entries corresponding to system areas the teams were supposed to handle in subsequent sprints. We formulated the plan in such a way that it was understandable to any person involved in the project. Everyone could refer to it and it was easy to modify whenever needed. All project participants understood where the project is now, what had been achieved to date and what is going to to happen next. The details of planning and task management were realized using user stories - elements of Scrum methodology.
Taking the project’s massive scale into account, we wanted to avoid the situation where Manager would become the bottleneck. Therefore, the management function was performed by a group of 15 people who played key roles in the project. We invited the people who, through a series of training sessions and workshops, were able to form an efficient team called the Management Team (MT). MT made decisions but it also assumed obligations: as its members declared task completion, they assumed a moral commitment to the group. Crucially, this responsibility was always actively taken by people and never imposed autocratically. Why did MT act so efficiently? 3 values were instrumental:
- trust group members had in one another,
- openness to “heated” discussions,
- mutual acceptance of constructive criticism.
A team is not just a bunch of people working in proximity at the same time, but a group focused on a common goal. The relationship between its members means that two people may together contribute more than the results of work by 3 or more people would be. To create such a team, it is necessary to ensure proper conditions and actively foster its development.
In the award-winning project we supported team building process in numerous ways. Assessors highlighted the following solutions:
- opportunity to grow personally for each team member,
- opportunity to take responsibility for particular areas of the project,
- opportunity to cooperate directly with the client,
- team integration outside of work – table football tournaments, participation in guilds (self-organizing groups of people with common interests),
- “100+ programme” – co-financing team outings,
- elements of gamification – candy bars as rewards for best-quality code,
- mutual assessment by team members – Peer2Peer Review,
- taking care of sustainable work environment and work life balance.
One of the very important components of team building was applying the company StrengthsFinder-based program to nurture talent (more on this topic in Lilianna Żuchowicz’s text Why it is worth investing in talent?).
The results we obtained in team building are best described in a phrase from the conclusion to the contest’s Final Report: “Exceptionally motivated team”. Having a team like this, e-point can rise to any challenge.
When we started such a large-scale project, a question kept coming round: “How to eat an elephant?” The only reasonable answer seemed to be: “Piece by piece”. The most vital thing was to split the job into manageable pieces without losing sight of the big picture. To deliver on this assumption, we used DSDM methodology for the project and applied elements of Scrum method in development. Streamlined task fulfilment was also supported by additional premises:
- the whole development team was divided into smaller teams (up to 3 teams that worked in parallel during the project), each of which was responsible for comprehensive implementation of the selected system areas,
- in each sprint we delivered a working part of the system – all of its layers, ranging from the integration with external systems up to the user interface,
- if there was an element missing from a given area (e.g. integration interfaces), such work was postponed to the following sprint and in the current one we dealt with the areas which could be developed,
- we combined UX design with development process - more on this topic below.
Designing the UX was an integral part of the system building process. UX design for the whole system is usually carried out as one “block” in the project schedule. In the Inter Cars project preparing mock-ups and visualisations was part of each sprint and covered features that were delivered in that sprint. This approach had the following advantages:
- we focused on the best possible design of particular parts of the system, which let us run a deeper analysis of user needs and deliver a more detailed project,
- we kept learning – while designing every part of the system, we applied the knowledge gained during development and testing the tests of parts we had already completed,
- mock-ups made discussions easier and helped clarify the assumptions at the grooming stage; in the course of discussions they were also corrected and altered,
- mock-ups were always made “fresh” and prepared on an ongoing basis.
At e-point we always go for collecting experience, analysing findings, drawing conclusions and mastering project management skills. The applied methodology was based on sprints and compliant with the idea behind Scrum; here is how it assisted the process:
- after each sprint, we ran both internal retrospectives as well as joint retrospectives with Inter Cars,
- we adjusted the methodology to our needs, e.g. when we noticed that the Product Owner was overwhelmed with grooming meetings and the wide scope of his tasks, we appointed Grooming Leaders – several people responsible for particular system areas, which helped take some load off the Product Owner’s shoulders,
- for most of the project, 2 developer teams worked on creating the system; having built the most important system functions, we realised that the key aspect of the project success would be system performance; we created the third team, which focused only on this topic and worked in lock-step with the SAP team to achieve outstanding results in the area.
Project assessment by contest assessors
PPEA jurors assessed projects in three categories. In each, the highest possible note was 100 points.
2007 vs. 2018: winning projects compared
Since we won the contest both in 2007 and in 2018, we can try to compare how the project management standards have changed over these 11 years.
In 2005, when e-point started project implementation for Amway, the most widespread methodology was the waterfall method. Agile methodologies were a trendy fad applied in smaller projects, but few clients would have ventured to use them in big and serious undertakings. The project schedule was usually a big Gantt chart containing all tasks, interconnected and with the allocated resources, branching in a complicated network of dependencies. Every change in the established schedule required a Change Request that had to be processed. Consequently, the project plan was understood only by managers and project leaders.
Currently, most of the time we use agile methodologies which are better suited to changing business requirements and circumstances. DSDM was chosen to be the general methodology for the winning project, and development was performed using elements of Scrum methodology.
A sea change occurred in the approach to project leadership as well. Project management used to remain in sole custody of Project Director who made all decisions which were later implemented by the team. Today leadership rests with the Management Team.
It is worth noting that in both projects IPMA assessors rate the e-point team highly. This feature has not changed: we succeed in projects because we invest in people and in conscious team building.
Benefits for e-point from participation in the contest
Whether in 2007 or 2018, the PPEA contest experience was extremely valuable for us. It offers a great chance to:
- see in retrospect and analyse the project while collecting information before submitting the contest application, preparing materials for a study visit and for talks with the assessor group,
- analyse independent experts’ opinions included in the final report,
- discuss matters with people who run projects in other methodologies, environments and sectors.
Taking part in the contest confirmed that the methods and tools we applied are efficient, even as it shed light on certain areas where we can improve and grow. It also allowed us to see what our processes look like “from the outside” in the eyes of experts.
What comes next?
One of the best-known quotes from The Lord of the Rings begins with the words: “The world is changing”. Changes are taking place not only in Middle-earth but also in business and IT (here, luckily, they seem to be positive). The key to maintain efficiency in project implementation and quality product delivery is to adjust to these changes, or even better – to be ahead of them.
Describing selected elements of the methodology we use does not paint the whole picture. Successful project execution is also impacted by other actions that stem from the company culture, its guiding principles (some of unwritten), attitude to clients, to work and to co-workers.
If you’re curious to find out all our secrets of efficient project delivery, join us to cooperate as a client or as our team member.