By Leigh Watson, Executive Head: Projects at video on demand solutions provider, Discover Digital
Pulling together a multi-player project within tight timelines is challenging enough, but doing it across borders could prove truly daunting. Under these circumstances, flawless project execution depends on strong leadership and military precision in operations.
Discover Digital, now expanding its operations into pan-Africa through partnerships with regional stakeholders, is successfully installing its technology, integrating systems and preparing to launch its digital entertainment on demand (DEOD) services in a number of countries. These projects involve multiple partners in Europe, South Africa and the target country. With so many ‘moving parts’ and multi-national suppliers involved, granular project management is crucial.
Because our projects involve end-to-end solutions, no component of the overall project can be left isolated in a silo. There has to be complete transparency across all divisions, and every team must be accountable for meeting expectations.
Having successfully implemented a number of projects within tight timelines into Africa, we’ve learned several key lessons about effective project management across the continent:
Communication should not be taken for granted.
Communications technologies such as video conferencing can perform erratically, call quality can be poor, and scheduled video conferences can be delayed repeatedly before all are present and connected. This can seriously delay planning and approvals processes. In addition, many stakeholders across Africa are not first language English speakers. The language barrier can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication. It is important to follow any meetings or calls with contact reports to summarise and clarify what was discussed.
Keeping it collaborative.
When multiple moving parts are involved, there has to be a central point of management and communication. This means a strong, hands-on leader and centralised project management tools. In our case, we have found Teamwork.com productivity software to be a lifesaver. It allows all stakeholders – including clients – to log in and view progress and delays, and to communicate with each-other using instant messaging.
Using carrots and sticks.
In most projects, there are areas that depend on client action in order for the whole project to progress. Getting a client to take the necessary action within the required time frame can be challenging. We have found a ‘carrot and stick’ approach is effective: having diplomatically encouraged the client to take the required action, we then indicate the expected delays in delivery as a result of non-action. Often, clients are not aware of the overall impact of delays from their side.
Daily touchpoints are critical.
Once a week meetings are not enough. To successfully implement a complex project within a demanding timeline, meetings should be held daily, where every department is held accountable for meeting expectations. Everything should be documented down to the smallest detail, since a small delay in one area could impact the overall project.
Pan-African projects are different.
Just because you have successfully implemented similar projects in South Africa, don’t assume you can replicate and roll out in the same way across the border. Pan-Africa has unique infrastructural and business challenges, and you should expect the unexpected. Forex challenges can impact your turnaround on invoicing; border delays can seriously affect project timelines, and local legislation could affect implementations.
By managing every aspect of the project daily, building flexibility and possible delays into the project plan, and learning from each unexpected challenge, you can position yourself to reset your expectations on the fly and overcome new hurdles, and still meet client expectations on deadline.