Expert Q&A: Keys to Better Tech Project Management

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Expert Q&A: Keys to Better Tech Project Management

By Julie Ritzer Ross, Contributing Editor - 05/13/2016
Deploying technology to manage technology projects can sometimes feel like the chicken or egg quagmire. Just as the proverbial riddle asks, “what came first,” IT executives must address that question prior to projects by creating a roadmap with defined starting points and objectives. According to HT’s Lodging Technology Study, 54% of hotels plan to spend more on IT in 2016, and the Restaurant Technology Study reports that 44% of restaurants anticipate tech budgets to increase by 1% to 5% over last year. Operators are clearly ready to make investments, but in order to achieve ROI, proper planning is vital. In this roundtable Q&A, HT queries IT executives and consultants for insights into how to overcome and avoid project management pitfalls.

PANEL:
Mike Blake, CEO, Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG; www.htng.org)
Jarrett Meiers, Founder, Blueprint Essential (www.blueprintessential.com)
Walid Salem, Vice President of IT, SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts (www.silverbirchhotels.com)
David Starmer, Vice President of IT store systems, Dunkin Brands (www.dunkinbrands.com)


HT: From your perspective, where does the greatest potential lie for technology deployed for project management?
BLAKE: Whether you are building a hotel or trying to build a system, there are many moving parts. Technology keeps you organized and enables you to track many of these moving parts and pieces. Without systems and project management software, it would be very difficult to attempt to accomplish a project on time, on scope, and within budget.

ibjMeijer0516.jpgMEIERS: Organization and communication. Project management software can mitigate the risks by defining and organizing the aspects and responsibilities of the project in a way that keeps all interests aligned. The best project management software provides collaboration tools that streamline the entire communications process, keeping management, stakeholders, and vendors up-to-date on important details, changes, and budgets.

ibStarmer0516.jpgSTARMER: We’re all used to using technology to manage discrete tasks within projects. Where technology is sometimes underestimated, though, is supporting change management and communications for tech implementations. In addition to all the well-known tools to manage process, there are now tools available—mobile apps, in fact—that open channels of communication between technologists and end-users. It’s an opportunity for technology leaders to engage their organizations, franchisees, and store teams more directly so that everyone is aligned in all the important places, not just the “what,” but the “how” and “why.”  

HT: What do you see as the key role of technology project management tools and solutions?
ibBlack0516.jpgBLAKE: Surprises are never good. One of the easiest ways to keep everything in line is to give everyone visibility to the project. So often, the project manager is the only one who has the overview, but everyone should really be able to see what is upcoming and the overall status.  

MEIERS: Technology is great for automating mundane tasks, like budgeting and tracking. Utilize software designed for automated monitoring of projects and tracking of actual costs to budget, because it allows issues to be spotted quickly. Actions can then be taken to remedy problems before they get out of hand. A proactive project manager armed with the best technology tools stands the best chance of bringing about the successful deployment hospitality operators want.

ibWalden0516.jpgSALEM: We use a combination of Office 365, SharePoint, Skype For Business, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and Prophix to help our staff collaborate on projects. Project metrics at all milestones are kept in Microsoft Project and SharePoint and shared across the project teams and subject matter experts. Getting to the point where staff naturally utilizes these technologies required a change management program. It’s important for any employee nowadays to self-educate in new tools beyond what the organization offers in terms of training programs and documentation. If data is captured and transparent, and people learn and make time to analyze it, technology in the form of data analysis dashboards can help to mitigate risk before issues become headaches. This can be both manual and automated. Automated decisioning software is time-intensive to use, but it can be worthwhile depending on the size of the project.

STARMER: Thoughtful and frequent measurement through technology and advancing the capability maturity of your project government process reveals potential issues before they become actual issues, providing an opportunity for leaders that have input and teams to course-correct. Retail is detail. Being in the details where necessary and expecting your team’s subject matter experts to do the same matters.

HT: What role should technology vendors play in implementation projects?
BLAKE:
For people who are experiencing a technology implementation project or trying to solve a problem for the first time, tech vendors bring a wealth of experience from other clients that can easily be leveraged. They also have the ability to scale up resources when necessary, at a much faster pace than the hotel team can.

MEIERS: Vendors should not be leading a technology project as they tend to miss the big picture. Once their portion is complete, there is often still a lot to be done. A better approach: Have someone who is directly involved operationally with the restaurant or hotel work with an independent party to lead the project and manage vendors, so that the entirety of the project is overseen by someone who sees the complete picture.

SALEM: It all starts with a concise and mutually clear understanding of the Statement of Work. There is great responsibility for clients to ensure that they stay within scope, but have also budgeted the project to allow for scope additions where the ROI makes sense. Vendors should also present updates to the project governance committee to ensure clarity on risks and enhance the relationship. Relationships, project clarity, and passionate execution will ensure successful project outcomes.

STARMER: Tech suppliers have to be fully engaged partners, not just vendors. They’re clearly critical to project success. In addition to being crystal-clear on the hard deliverables, I expect successful partners to have a feel for the culture of their clients and a full view of how their tactics impact a broader project. It’s incumbent on leaders to provide that view.

HT: What best practices or lessons learned would you offer to foster solid project management?  
MEIERS:
Bell-and-whistle add-ons rarely produce anything of value and almost always mean missed deadlines and increased costs. Take advantage of project management technology to avoid deviating from the plan and experiencing “scope creep.”

SALEM: People and process come first. Communication, collaboration, and a synchronized approach to project delivery can be addressed using technology. With that said, you can have all the technology and the tools, but if the people and project governance are not discussed, programmed, and clarified at the outset, the technology will go unused and create silos of data and documents on the project. Using integrated project delivery (IPD) is a powerful way of taking projects through their lifecycles, but there are many project models organizations can use, depending on size. It is best to select the right tech project management tools before starting projects.

STARMER: Right-sizing the project management approach to the team and project is key. Just because you can produce and manage myriad project artifacts and render a schedule in many formats using technology doesn’t mean it’s adding value. You’ll find 80% of the value in 20% of the project management toolset. The other important item has to do with automation of data flow for large projects. Moving away from vendor-partner portals and e-mailed updates and towards integrated systems or data feeds allows teams and leaders to manage by exception and put focus where it’s needed—removing roadblocks in the process.