Less is more

 

Jeff Smith, Suncorp, Brisbane, Australia

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It was a big deal—the kind that can throw projects wildly off track. Suncorp, one of Australia and New Zealand's largest financial service providers, had completed an AU$7 billion merger with rival Promina Group. And Jeff Smith, tapped as the CIO and group executive, business technology, was tasked with integrating systems and providing technological solutions for three separate end-to-end businesses.

Looking to minimize the institutional drag that can push projects off schedule, he took an agile and streamlined approach to project management. Although Mr. Smith's limited governance, bare-bones teams and rapid deadlines may raise eyebrows, it's keeping his people focused on the end result.

What project-related challenges has your group faced following the merger?

As you would expect with such a large program of work, the business technology group has had to understand and adapt different project management techniques in order to meet our targets within the tight timeframes we have been working to. Our ability to do this is essential to the success of our merger and in helping our business lines maintain their performance in a time of considerable change.

What makes your project management approach different?

The agile project management approach is unique because it's focused on outcomes rather than systems and processes that can dominate more conventional project management techniques. Governance is still important, but it is structured in a way that maximizes productivity and efficiency by allowing a continuous flow of work. Agile focuses on common sense, introducing a light but sufficient, enabling governance framework rather than a heavy, ineffective control framework.

How does a “light” governance framework make your teams more productive?

The fundamentals are based on a simple, daily management system delivering quicker iterations of a solution. After each project stage, we have a review where outside governance can come into play, but we can do any course correction required throughout this period, allowing us to refine what we are going to do for the next project stage.

Because more time is invested in doing the actual work rather than managing process requirements around the project, you actually burn less money and you get more focus, clarity of thought and clarity of purpose.

One of my issues with other management models is that the governance requirements are aimed at justifying the process rather than being aligned to the end outcome.

Why do you think agile project management is a more effective model?

Agile has proven to be effective for Suncorp, particularly given the large and diverse program of work we are engaged in at the moment. This approach, and the dedication of the business-technology team, has consistently enabled us to hit our targets and deliver anticipated cost benefits to the organization. It has also provided a more productive and fulfilling environment for team members, which has allowed them to gain experience in a range of disciplines across a variety of projects.

How can other organizations streamline their project management strategies?

Focus on the destination, not the journey. Process and governance will always have a place in project management strategies, but they should be there to support successful outcomes, not be the main focus of the project. PM

SEPTEMBER 2008 PM NETWORK

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