THE CLIENT: Arnold Clark is one of Scotland’s best known companies. It is Europe’s biggest private car and van retailer, and has a number of associated and ancillary businesses. With more than 200 dealerships, 12,400 staff and a turnover of £3.93bn, Arnold Clark is continually seeking competitive advantage in the face of relentless external competition.
THE CHALLENGE FOR THE CLIENT: Working with CompanyNet, I was asked to help deliver a way of creating competitive advantage for this family-owned retailer. On the rental and leasing side, Arnold Clark has a number of divisions which need to co-operate at the same time as competing with each other in certain circumstances. It’s looking to build on its family-based culture while at the same time create a One Business ethos. At present, the IT infrastructure only permits the creation of a limited view of the customer while Arnold Clark is facing growing external competition. In addition, the client has previously sought a high level of control over its assets – meaning it has preferred to develop its own systems rather than taking advantage of cloud-hosted systems such as CRM systems.
The Challenge for Me
This project was complex from a human, business and technical perspective but was unusual compared to other projects in that my role was as advisor rather than being fully responsible for implementing the new CRM system. In providing project assurance, my role was to worry on behalf of the client, Arnold Clark, to ensure that its requirements were being met by their implementation provider. The role of project assurance is also known as being “a critical friend” – supporting everyone on the project team by asking the more difficult questions with one eye continually on the risks of things going wrong. This role involved some diplomatic and technical challenges.
WHAT DID I DO?: I set up project assurance and governance mechanisms.
I co-ordinated Arnold Clark business and technical resource in order to ensure the inputs required by the CRM implementation partner were supplied on time.
I helped form an effective multi-partner project, ensuring all parties were clear on their responsibilities and the overall high level project plan.
I also protected my own company’s interest by managing the commercial aspects of our contract with Arnold Clark, including its extension and an expansion in scope. I helped deliver an agile project, getting end user involvement early, working through iterations and managing the risk of a transition to a new way of working successfully.
I managed risk – including identifying Covid 19 in February as a serious risk to both the project and Arnold Clark in general. I ran the project to a successful implementation for one unit and a managed pause to respond to the Covid 19 shutdown.
THE COSTS: This five month project was in the sub-£500,000 category, with the number of staff involved waxing from two, working on-site with Arnold Clark staff for one day a week, to 9 during a particularly intense phase of design work around web integrations between the CRM system and a number of legacy IT systems already operated by the client.
THE OUTCOMES: We are now in a well-managed interim phase, with the system in place for one business unit and are well-placed to resume the rollout to the remaining three business units.
What were the lessons learned?
1>Multi-partner projects are complicated, and you all need to be clear on your responsibilities. A linear responsibility chart or RACI chart is a must in complex projects. (RACI stands for Responsibile, Accountable, Consulted or Informed). Ensure every line in the project plan is clear as to who’s going it (responsible), who checks it’s been done (Accountable), it’s been done using the proper method (Consulted) and everyone on the project knows what it means, and when it will be completed. (Informed).
2>Culture change is difficult. For people used to waterfall deliveries, it is profoundly uncomfortable to be told that you’re proceeding with known issues, which you’ll fix at a later date, or ignore. You might think the prize of getting something into production – and delivering business value straight away – is attractive. But that presupposes two things – they know waterfall takes longer, and they care that it takes longer because they’re paying for that certainty. If they’re not paying, because IT is, or another business unit is, then there’s nothing in it for them and they will continue to voice concern about an agile methodology.
3>Don’t assume any knowledge on the part of your client and budget for repeated conversations and briefings to help them get up to speed, and for you to manage their expectations. Digital stuff looks relatively easy, and sometimes people on your project teams will have no knowledge of the commercial side, nor of the agreed scope. Publicise the client’s requirements internally, and ensure what people know what’s in scope for when.
4> Project assurance is different from project delivery. Avoid doing a third party’s job for them – because project assurance tends to involve a time-based delivery of service. That means you don’t have time to do the project for someone else – you have to stick to asking questions, checking requirement delivery, because you won’t be paid for fixing the problems you uncover or highlight.