The art of implementation
Treasury management systems and project management
The success of a new treasury system stands or falls on its implementation. And the success of the implementation stands or falls on good project management.
But what exactly is good project management? And how does implementation take place generally speaking? We asked Laura Koekkoek, an experienced Zanders project manager.
When an organization opts for a new treasury management system, it is not possible simply to install it and start using it immediately. The software must be fine-tuned to the organization’s processes and existing IT landscape, the system must be tested, documentation must be produced and people must be trained.
This is the field where Zanders excels. Zanders possesses in-depth knowledge of the treasury and risk management fields.
“By splitting the project into pieces we make the project comprehensible and provide an overview.”
The firm also has a lot of specific expertise in treasury and risk management systems of companies with which Zanders cooperates closely. This combination of experience, substantive knowledge and system expertise provides a unique basis for successfully selecting and implementing treasury and risk management systems.
Laura Koekkoek has worked for more than twelve-and-a-half years for Zanders and is one of the firm’s most experienced project managers. She has been responsible for numerous small and a number of large implementations, especially of SAP Treasury. In recent years she has been closely involved in projects undertaken by Zanders at organizations like DSM, Heineken, Nuon, AkzoNobel and ING Investment Management.
An implementation always occurs according to a fixed pattern. “There are all kinds of ways to manage projects and implement software. Software supplier SAP has been using for many years its own standard method called AcceleratedSAP (ASAP), for example. Another frequently adopted approach for managing projects is PRINCE2.
“Every implementation requires extremely professional project management.”
We have developed our own method based on PRINCE2 and ASAP, complemented by a number of our own items. The result is a practical, usable and flexible approach, one where we use a lot of our treasury experience – the best practices – to speed up the process still further.”
Every project – large or small – passes through seven phases. They are project preparation, blueprint, building, acceptance test, preparations for go live, go live and aftercare.
Koekkoek: “This pattern is always our point of departure. But for smaller projects we naturally sometimes merge certain phases.” Project preparation is perhaps the most crucial phase of the entire implementation. This is the phase where the scope is defined, for example, or in other words the agreeing of clear arrangements about everything that does and does not fall within the project. “This is done on the basis of detailed talks with the customer,” says Koekkoek.
“If you make sure that the scope is clear at the start of the project, you avoid a lot of problems in the future.” In the design or blueprint phase, the consultants produce a detailed design of the new solution. This phase begins with a kick-off attended by all stakeholders.
“After that meeting everybody knows what we are going to do and what the schedule is. You also create a team feeling.” After the kick-off the team is divided into sub-teams. Each team takes stock of the processes and accurately sets down the customer’s wishes.
“As project leader I maintain an overview and act as an oracle”, says Koekkoek. Next the consultants translate their findings into blueprints, each of which defines part of the new solution.
“By splitting the project into pieces we make the project comprehensible and provide an overview of it,” says Koekkoek.
“If you were to make one large blueprint of the new system, the person who must evaluate the design won’t be able to see the wood for the trees.” Where possible Zanders looks for ways of enhancing the approach still further.
“Among other things we have developed a variant whereby we do not divide up the system into functional parts, but look specifically at the processes and make a separate blueprint for each process.” Once the customer has accepted all the blueprints, the configuration phase gets underway. In the configuration phase the software is assembled and the initial settings are made according to the original ‘drawings’.
The system is set up at a safe distance from the productive operational system, usually on a separate server. This phase closes with extensive tests.
During the tests all conceivable scenarios are run on the new system. The key users sign off the working software (the acceptance test phase). Provided that all signals show green, the new system is transferred from the test server to the productive system and everything is readied for the launch of the software (go-live preparation). In this phase people also receive training in how to use the software.
The go-live is the time when the software is actually put into service, contains real data and becomes accessible to users. In principle, the implementation has then been completed. “We stick around for another few weeks, usually including a month-end process, in order to resolve any remaining glitches and to transfer our knowledge.”
Laura Koekkoek still enjoys working on her projects. Every implementation is different. You repeatedly face new challenges. Additionally, her role in the different phases of the process is continually a different one. Each phase brings its own particular challenges. Koekkoek: “At the start of the project it is particularly important to get a very sharp picture of exactly what the customer needs and to provide the right advice for those needs. Later the emphasis shifts more towards project management.
At the end of a project the consultants also act as trainers.” What does Koekkoek consider the most important aspects of project management? “Communication and honesty,” she replies. “It’s very important for everybody to keep talking to each other, even when things are in danger of going wrong. You also have to be able to communicate bad news.
Another important point is to make sure there is a tight but realistic schedule. After all this time we have a very good idea of roughly how much time an implementation will take. That’s the advantage of working at the coalface all these years.”