Metropolitan is a leading provider of integrated housing services, care and support and community regeneration. Managing over 38,000 affordable homes for rent and sale to those with the greatest need, along with a range of care and support services, Metropolitan have over 2,300 staff who assist 80,000 customers across London, the East of England and the East Midlands.
The organisation is currently facing a period of unprecedented change. Taken together, the Coalition Government’s programme of economic and welfare reform, the recasting of the settlement for funding and regulation of social housing, and the localism agenda represent the most significant challenge to both service providers and their customers seen in a generation.
In 2009 the Business Programme Office (BPO) was set up. The team is made up of professional project management, project support and governance staff. Metropolitan understand that the people element of any project is vital to its success.
A Change Management function was also established to develop staff engagement at all levels in project delivery. The BPO recognised the need for a robust project delivery tool to ensure projects were implemented effectively.
Working with Corporate Project Solutions’ (CPS) consultants, an initial rollout plan was created focusing on process, training, support, soft skills and the Microsoft EPM toolset implementation consisting of Microsoft Project Server, Project Professional and Project Web Access.
The objective was to implement a simple, user-friendly project management system based around Project plans to drive a consistent approach within the BPO before being rolled out to all Metropolitan staff involved in project delivery.
Alison Churton, Portfolio and Resource Manager at Metropolitan, explains:
We are in the housing and care support business, not the project management business - therefore, we are gradually doing away with elaborate project management speak and complex documentation. Our approach is based on PRINCE2, but it must be simple and plain English to ensure everyone in the organisation can use it. For us, soft skills are one of the most important elements of any project. If stakeholders are engaged with a project, it is more likely to be successful.
CPS had the experience of the tools and significant project delivery knowledge and was, therefore, able to assist the BPO in reviewing all existing processes, assisting with the creation of the project management templates, developing streamlined resource allocation and management processes.
An initial roadmap was produced to define a four-phased approach to implementing improved processes and Microsoft EPM functionality in parallel. Defining and creating progressively maturing processes and toolset use whilst broadening the user base in a planned and consistent approach.
The project lifecycle has been reworked and now defines all of the project management products that should be delivered within each lifecycle phase. Each product has had the appropriate document template or list produced within Microsoft EPM.
A suite of project management processes has been created describing how each of the products will be delivered by role. To ensure the team has everything they need a set of multi-functional templates has also been developed. The same information is available to all audiences, i.e. the project team have the same view of risks as the Executive team to ensure transparency and accountability across Metropolitan.
The Microsoft EPM system is now being used for every project, but there’s more work to do. Metropolitan have found the system easy to use and recognise it as a solution that they can grow into and configure as they continue to develop their own ‘Metropolitan’ project management approach.
Early in the installation, it was realised that a step-change system was required to roll out the tool. Along with awareness-raising sessions, to ensure user adoption, each of the processes was discussed within workshops, and simple role-based flowcharts were produced. An Internal Project Manager to drive the change through and ensure it remained focused on the end users, not just on the new technology.
We knew that a solely IT-focused approach would not work for us. We have had to engage and gain buy-in from all team members as these people would make the change. We knew that to be successful; we had to win the hearts and minds of everyone.
Training and support for all stakeholders is vital for embedding the changes to the project management system, ensuring that everyone understands the technology and how it will benefit them and their projects. Enforcement was also an ongoing priority to ensure the behavioural changes remained in place and the system continued functioning effectively.
Looking back on the initial rollout, Alison explains how it hasn’t been all smooth running:
The biggest negative of the implementation has been the time and resource commitment required to push through the changes when we were already so busy delivering projects. If we’d been able to ‘down tools’ for a month or so to get it all sorted, that would have been great - naturally, that wasn’t possible. At the end of the day, the day job of delivering projects across Metropolitan is our first priority. This change has to be done in the background, which has meant progress is often slow.
There is now increased consistency and greater data visibility across Metropolitan’s Portfolio of 40 change projects. Using the Microsoft EPM toolset as a central document storage area, the alignment of processes and increased transparency has improved the quality of project delivery by our project managers and support teams.
Improving Metropolitan’s planning capability is also in progress and will include the integration of CPS’ Project Auditor tool to help the team with health checking their project environment. The use of Microsoft EPM is also being developed to strengthen the Portfolio, Programme and Project governance, auditing and reporting needs. After successfully implementing the BPO, the Microsoft EPM system will be rolled out to everyone involved in delivering the Portfolio within Metropolitan.
A word from the team...
Training, communications and user engagement are some of the most significant issues we face when delivering projects. We were unable to really move forward and develop our new project management system until the senior managers in the team became actively engaged, often preferring old habits like using Excel spreadsheets or not taking the time to understand how to use a new template. In our experience, you must focus on stakeholder buy-in, communication, training and enforcement to ensure you realise your objectives.
Alison Churton, Portfolio and Resource Manager