Project Management

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Planning is the key to success. Failure to plan is planning for failure !

Success or Failure

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System Selection and Implementation

We at ISC can help your business in the many facets of System/Supplier selection, through Implementation and System Roll Out on to Monitoring and Improvement.

As you can imagine every project is different in application, size, complexity and cost. Below we have outlined the various stages a project would normally go through. Click on any of the links to open a window giving a real life explanation of each process.


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Identify The Need

Audit Current Systems

    Bullet Conduct an audit of your current systems and think about your future requirements. However, in many cases you will be upgrading existing systems rather than investing in completely new ones.

    Bullet It is important for you to understand your current systems, their limitations and exactly what they give your business.

    Bullet It is vital to understand the key processes which need to be either improved or put in place to give you improved improved efficiency, accuracy & customer satisfaction.

Identify and Understand Your Future Needs and Requirements

All too often companies invest in IT for the 'wow' factor and may not look at all of the alternatives available. Problems can often be solved by modifying business procedures. For instance, telematics equipment can help to improve the way you communicate with drivers, but could improved briefing and debriefing procedures do the same thing?



System Selection

Choosing a system and supplier

Choosing a system and supplier is the first practical step you will probably take in any IT project. Although selecting a product and supplier may be a straightforward decision for a small system and company, it is always useful to shop around so ensure that you thoroughly research the market at the start. For a larger scale project you may need to spend several months deciding on a supplier and product because it will have a substantial impact on your organisation for many years to come.

Obviously, the price and system features will play a major part in any investment decision, and in many cases supplier and product selection will take place hand-in-hand with evaluation of costs and benefits. For simplicity, the process of selecting a product can be broken down into three key steps:

    Bullet Initial evaluation
    this can be done through independent desk-based research before you even speak to any companies. Many IT suppliers have very good websites and doing some initial research will help you to feel more confident when you approach sales people.

    Bullet Short-listing
    decide on a handful of companies that you wish to contact and get more details from - the higher the potential outlay, the greater the benefits of shopping around and getting more information and quotes.

Interviewing / Product demonstration

Once you have decided on a short list of suppliers, speak to them directly and organise to a demonstration of the system and gain a better understanding of the costs and benefits. It is best to have all of the short listed suppliers demonstrate their products in a short timeframe this allows you to compare products before you forget.

In almost all cases, price and basic features are the most important factors that will help you choose a system. However, there are many other issues you can also consider, particularly for more comprehensive types of system. In particular, it is important to ask about the potential to customise the system to better meet the needs of your business. Look into whether there are any maintenance charges or other on-going costs not included in the initial purchase price. Many companies now use IT systems on a leasing or SaaS (Software as a Service) arrangement. This can avoid the need for large initial outlays and ensures that software is updated regularly, but it might cost more over the life of the product. Look at and compare all available options and costs before making a decision.

Know What You Want and What You Need

For smaller types of system, evaluation can be straightforward and involve a simple comparison of price and features. For larger systems,however, it is important to keep your requirements at the forefront of your mind - you may be tempted to spend extra money on additional features that you may or may not need. You might find that although you were originally interested in a mobile POD, you suddenly end up with a comprehensive vehicle tracking system without realising it. This may be the right decision, but make sure that you are in possession of all the facts before you make any decision.

Support, Training and Adaptability Are Crucial

The importance of support, training and adaptability issues will be determined by the size of the system you are investing in. A basic satellite navigation system will probably be very easy to introduce into your operation. However, bear in mind that for larger systems such as ERP or WMS support, training and the potential to modify and configure the system in the future can be easily overlooked when you are eager to get it up and running. There is a series of questions you can ask suppliers to gain a better understanding of usability and adaptability, for example:

    Bullet How long does training take, how much is included in the initial cost and what are the charges for additional training?

    Bullet What level of computing knowledge is required of staff that will use the system ?

    Bullet What arrangements exist for annual maintenance and what are the costs ? (Many systems have no charges in the first year so make sure that you understand the costs).

    Bullet Can the system adapt and keep pace with the operational developments within the organisation?

    Bullet Is the system capable of readily interfacing with other IT systems in use within the business and in use with customers and suppliers?

    Bullet Is the IT system being continually developed and enhanced?

    Bullet How frequently are updates issued and how are they distributed?

    Bullet Is support from the IT system provider available 24 hours a day? This may not be important if your operation is 9:00-17:00 and the supplier is based in the same timezone.

    Bullet Is support available online?

    Bullet Does the supplier provide a manual ? Increasingly manuals and documentation are available electronically however much documentation is just in the form of help pages which don’t give an overview of how the systems can be used.

    Bullet How comprehensive are the ‘help’ screens?

    Bullet What proportion of the supplier's client base is using extensively customised systems?



Cost Estimation and Benefit Identification

Cost Estimation and Benefit Identification

In general, costs are easier to measure than benefits. IT suppliers will provide you with these, however, it is important to understand the costs beyond the initial purchase – i.e. installing, running and upgrading the system in the future. Most suppliers should be able to give you an estimate of these other costs, but do not rely on them to tell you without being asked! For the purpose of projecting costs and benefits for major systems, allocate costs into two groups – set-up costs (or project costs) and annual costs. Set-up costs can include developing interfaces with existing company systems, gathering data, training staff and other administrative costs. Purchase costs can also be included as a set-up cost, but for large-scale investments you may want the initial system value to be depreciated over several years.

Estimating benefits tends to involve some guesswork because you will not be able to truly measure benefits until you have installed the system! However, you should:

    Bullet Make an initial estimate of how much a system might save you, even if you have to make a number of assumptions.

    Bullet Have a system in place to allow you to quantify the benefits after you have made a decision to go ahead, so you can evaluate an investment in the longer term.

Suppliers can give you a broad idea of how much you could expect to save from the system. For major systems such as CVRS and telematics,suppliers will often quote a percentage reduction in operating costs. The benefits of IT systems can be oversold, creating what can be called an ‘expectation gap’. It is advisable to use a conservative figure in your calculations. For example, some suppliers of telematics systems suggest savings of 10% can be achieved, however, it is probably wiser to base your estimates on 5% initially. The table below shows an example of an estimate of likely costs and savings for a CVRS system.

Organisation details

Cost

Current annual transport spend £1,500,000
Fleet Size 25 Vehicles
Depreciation period for CVRS project 3 years

Project Costs

Set-up

Hardware (PCs, printers, interface) £3,000
Software £30,000

Implementation

Training £2,000
Data verification and cleansing (3 man weeks @ £1,500) £4,500
Project management (10 days @ £500) £5,000

Total project costs

£44,500 (A)

Annual costs

Depreciation (1st, 2nd and 3rd years) £11,000 (B)
System updates and maintenance (2nd and 3rd years) £3,000 (C)
Retraining (2nd and 3rd years) £2,000 (D)

Total year 1 costs (implementation plus depreciation)

£55,500 (A+B)=G

Total year 2 and 3 costs (recurring costs only)

£16,000 (B+C+D) = H

Cost saving year 1 (8% of transport spend, equivalent to two vehicles) @ 50% (assuming six months to implement project, followed by six months in operation) £60,000 (E)
Annual cost savings year 2 onwards (8% of transport spend, equivalent to two vehicles) £120,000 (F)
Net financial benefit in year 1 £4,500 (E–G)
Net financial benefit in year 2 £104,000 (F–H)
Net financial benefit in year 3 £104,000 (F–H)


System Implementation

Setting objectives

Failure to set clear objectives can cost you time and money. Defining objectives is important when setting up a new system, especially when this involves a team of people. If everyone can clearly see what is to be accomplished, your IT project is much more likely to succeed. For instance, if investing in a mobile POD system, your administration staff and drivers should understand that the purpose of the system is to reduce paperwork and improve customer service, not just that you are ‘investing in a new POD system’.

Make your objectives specific and measurable but, more importantly, realistic. For major systems, think initially about:

    Bullet The overall timescale you will need to make changes

    Bullet How much you are willing to spend to achieve your objectives

    Bullet How you will measure the outcomes of the project

Even if they seem obvious to you, it is worthwhile to document the objectives of your project before you do anything else. IT projects can be lengthy and complicated and it is often easy to lose sight of the broader objectives of what you are doing.

Develop a project plan

Every hour spent planning can save you time and money during implementation. The old saying “Failure to plan is planning to fail” is true when is comes to IT projects.

Planning can often feel like a waste of time, particularly when you are fairly sure about what you want to do. Detailed planning will not always be necessary for smaller systems, but experience over many years has shown that large IT projects can go over-time, over-budget and often fail to deliver promised benefits. Developing an implementation plan is critical. It is estimated that as much as 80% of project problems can be solved at this stage – good planning will ultimately save time and money.

    Bullet Large Jobs Are Easier when Broken Down into Smaller Tasks
    In its simplest terms, an IT project plan for the introduction of a major system can be thought of as a ‘to do’ list. The task of evaluating and implementing a system can seem daunting, but it is much easier when broken down into smaller and more manageable pieces. Special project management computer programs exist to help you to do this. However, paper or simple spreadsheet-based project plans can easily be developed.

    Bullet Producing a Programme Plan
    A Gantt chart is simply a ‘graphical task list’ or a way of showing a sequence of activities and their relationships to other tasks. Gantt charts are useful because they allow you to see how your project is progressing. Project changes and their impact on the overall deadline are much easier to see when illustrated graphically.

    Bullet Set a Clear Timeframe and Help the Project Stay under Control
    Estimating time is an important part of this planning process. It may be difficult to estimate the exact amount of time you will need to spend implementing a system until you have consulted with suppliers and learnt more about the system you will invest in. However, it is useful to establish an overall timeframe for your actions, particularly if it is a large project. This can always be adjusted as you move forward and learn more about the system. Seasonality can be an issue for many freight operators, so it is important to identify any periods where installation of a new system could cause disruptions. Inaccurate time estimates can have a significant impact on installation and training costs.

    How can you go about estimating time? Think about ‘person days’ or hours required and then translate these onto the calendar. Take account of how many productive hours can be spent on the project each day, and how many days each week your staff will be available for the project. It is best not to schedule people for 100% of their time as employees will have other duties to perform. It is also very important to build training time into the schedule, as this is a vital part of any larger project.

Select a project champion and training team

Select a project champion and give them sufficient authority and responsibility.

The project champion is an important part of successfully managing the introduction of a new IT system. For smaller investments this will probably be the person that purchases the system. A more structured approach may be necessary for more complex systems. A champion must have sufficient authority and responsibility to ensure that the programme is successfully implemented.

The project champion will be required to drive the project and, among other things, will need to develop the plan, resource it and ensure it is properly implemented. Even when other business priorities divert senior management attention, the project champion should ensure that the business never loses sight of the programme’s objectives.

Depending on the size of your business and project, the project champion may be required to spend a significant amount of time on the project if it is to be successful. This can take the champion away from performing other duties, but the financial benefits which can arise from an organised and well-implemented IT project should make it a very worthwhile use of management time and energy.

Training Ensures that People can Make Systems Work

Without adequate staff training, benefits are likely to be reduced, and this is true of any system whether large or small. It is the end-users who will be working with the equipment on a day-to-day basis, so it is imperative that the users of the system are trained properly in order to gain the maximum potential from the IT system. Training should reflect the different ways in which the end-users will be using the technology, as the staff will need to know how to use the equipment in the context of their work. Training can take many forms, including a simple one-to-one, through to more detailed training offered by the system supplier or training agency. If a new system is not expected to have a significant impact on existing work processes, then a less direct approach may be appropriate, such as ‘drip-feeding’ information to employees via email, posters etc. Irrespective of what type of training you might implement, it is important that all necessary materials are developed in advance of making any changes to your business. As the IT system progresses and updates are carried out, the staff will need to be re-educated on these updates. Where necessary make training an on- going process

Pilot the system

If possible, pilot a system first on a small area of the business in order to measure success and obtain feedback from staff.

Unless a system is very small, it is almost always a good idea to defer major investment decisions until you have trialled the system. It is always worth asking suppliers if they can provide a free demonstration of hardware/software to enable you to try their product. It is important that a pilot study is led by the project champion and involves staff who are positive about the project and likely to be involved in the longer term. Start off by using a system at a ‘good’ depot. Keeping a trial small scale can make a new system more manageable, and it will be easier to measure the benefits and check whether the supplier quoted figures are attainable. Feedback from staff involved in the pilot is vital. Hold a formal debriefing for staff involved because they are the ones that will use the system and will give you practical information on how to get the best out of it.

System Roll Out

Roll-out is a major process and this is where the project plan becomes really important, especially for larger systems.

The pilot should give you a better idea of how long it will take to install the system company-wide. System-wide implementation can cause considerable disruptions to business. Set a clear and structured plan and communicate the plan throughout your organisation. After the pilot you will probably need to revise your original project plan, or even develop an entirely new plan with different timescales from your original estimate. This is to be expected and is the reason a pilot should be undertaken, as the timescale for implementation cannot be established until you have trialled the system and trained some potential users.

The way a system is rolled out will depend on the impact it will have on your business. A system that might affect how information is transferred between many different parts of your operation (e.g. supply chain system) may require installation across all sites at the same time, whereas other systems that operate independently at the depot level (e.g. telematics) could be installed on a site-by-site basis. Whichever approach you take, it is essential that staff are fully trained prior to implementation.

Rolling out a major IT system across an organisation requires communication and consultation. Keep employees in the picture and make sure they understand exactly what is expected of them, and who to contact if they experience any difficulties.



Monitoring and improvement

Monitoring and improvement

    Bullet Ensure there is a monitoring process in place after the system has been rolled out.

    Bullet Track your performance by monitoring what is happening versus what was predicted.

    Bullet Identify a specific set of key performance indicators that relate to your business objectives.

    Bullet Monitor the performance of the new system and ensure it has on-going positive impacts.

    Bullet Adjusting the system where required based upon sound KPIs.

An IT project should not end once the system has been successfully rolled out across the organisation. Like other decisions in the purchase and set-up process, the scale of evaluation will be determined by the amount you are investing. Even for smaller systems, cost monitoring programme in place can help you understand the benefits of new initiatives. Regular tracking of operating costs will help you to identify trends and understand how new systems and new operational practices affect performance.

For larger projects, it is important to have an on-going process in place to monitor the performance of a system and measure longer-term benefits. All businesses change over time and it is important that systems can be adapted as and when it is necessary.

Performance indicators can be used to measure system performance. For example CRM systems could be assessed in terms of the number of missed deliveries, while systems to save fuel can be measured in MPG. Ideally, you will have developed a reasonably good understanding of the potential benefits during the pilot phase, but it is important you have a wider system in place to collect KPIs before and after the roll-out. It might seem pointless to review performance after you have made the decision to invest and roll out a system, but it is necessary to discover whether the system is working properly and benefiting your business in the way you anticipated. If you find the benefits are not as great as expected at a particular location or part of your business, it may signal problems with implementation and training. Monitor the performance of a new system and make sure it has on-going positive impacts on your KPIs.