Planning a Rigorous Project Management Approach

Mike Maiolo, CEO, Vesta Partners
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Mike Maiolo, CEO, Vesta Partners

Mike Maiolo, CEO, Vesta Partners

As CEO of Vesta Partners, I have had the pleasure of leading an international SAP services firm that focuses on the Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) space. For the past decade, I’ve traveled throughout North America, Europe, The Middle East, Australia and Southeast Asia principally visiting senior executives from our diverse client base across the transportation, oil and gas, utilities, public sector and manufacturing verticals.  In these client meetings, CIOs have engaged on a host of subjects, but one in particular comes up with some frequency. They are quite interested on what differentiates a leading consulting services firm from the pack.  For Vesta, it’s pretty simple. Our success is all about passion, focusing on fundamentals and delivering value through innovation.

“With a complete asset data model in place our clients were able to see that significant assets were incomplete or missing key elements.”

To be successful, an organization needs to be clear about who they are trying to be and passionate about doing it with excellence. Sounds pretty easy, but if it were, every company would be great. We didn’t invent the idea of EAM consulting services, but our mission is clear and it helps drive us toward our goals. It reads:

Our mission is to deliver unequaled asset management solutions with a direct open and honest approach. We do this by drawing on our real world experience to understand our customer’s business in order to provide efficient, high-quality and proven solutions. 

This probably smacks of common sense to many of you as nearly all companies have a mission statement. At Vesta, executing against that mission statement does not take a back seat to anything. Let’s take a closer look at what this is means to a company operating across diverse industries and regions.  

We work with our clients to drive value from their operations by engaging their single most valuable asset (people) to develop and impact their single greatest change lever, (effective business process). Applying technology to run simple, lean and reliable operations is the tool we use to enable our client’s greatest asset. For Vesta, that conversation starts always with SAP as that enabling technology.  

We apply the same fundamentals to our internal operations as we do to our consulting delivery. If we didn’t do so, the obvious passion we exhibit on the client site would seem forced or manufactured. We focus on recruiting and retaining top talent by providing an ever changing bank of training initiatives to provide the necessary capabilities and then challenging them to be the best in their field. We design business processes anchored in reality and peer best practices, not theory. All our efforts are laser focused to drive value through efficiency. We use technology to help us achieve our business objectives in a simple way. To summarize the above engagement plan, it is all about people, process and technology.

Once the foundational systems and processes are addressed, we focus and collaboratively develop a strategy to get to and stay at the top of your field. For Vesta, this strategy centers on the following key approaches: 

• Solid principles of program management, regardless of the deliverable every project has to be well run

• Focus on value – develop the business case before the project starts, follow-up after the project to ensure value is being realized

• Foundational core – technologies will change but they are always built to address/support business processes, sound data and prepared people

Technology is advancing so rapidly that all firms run the risk of implementing technology for its own sake and not taking full use of its capabilities. We have to understand how our clients will want to use technology innovation to improve their business operations. We chose SAP as our partner and make it our business to know everything SAP is doing in the EAM space.  

We remain relevant and ahead of our competitors because we only care about one technology and one business area; SAP and EAM. 

One example of this focus on innovation pertains to linear asset management (LAM). SAP launched a tool set a few years ago that would allow their clients who were maintaining complex distributive networks (railroad tracks, pipelines, roads, etc.) to fully manage their asset lifecycle through installation, repair and removal much more efficiently. We’ve innovated a solution set and design that is applicable to all network managers and in doing so we have helped create demand for the software package and increased collaboration across disparate industries. In defining a global standard for linear asset management across multiple industries we have formed a logic bridge between the geospatial side of complex physical networks and the operation systems that govern the movement of product along those systems. Now our clients with linear assets have a much easier way to track and maintain those assets safely and effectively. We didn’t copy an idea that already existed, we helped innovate around a new one.

If you are not delivering value to your customers, you will not be in that business for long. In the information technology world that we live in, value generation is a must. These transformational projects where technology plays a key part simply must be based on achieving outcomes that improve operating efficiency and effectiveness. They have to focus on running simple and safely. Our passion for process improvement plays a key role here. We do not see IT projects as simply rolling out newer and cooler technology tools. If the idea is to replicate the functionality of the legacy system with a different font or screen color, don’t bother.  You need to make certain that clients understand how new technology can uncover hidden value.  

Let’s go back to the LAM example to make the point. By building out a proper linear asset structure for our clients, we identified some data challenges. With a complete asset data model in place our clients were able to see that significant assets were incomplete or missing key elements. Part of our model is an approach to build out a complete data set and a governance process to ensure that it stays complete going forward. This new service offering helps our clients save millions while improving safety and regulatory compliance. It’s all about value generation.

The last piece of the approach is about constant evolution. What works today will not necessarily work tomorrow. We learn from what we see and change our approach to get better each day and with each new project. Technology will most certainly continue to evolve and we will continue to move with those changes and find creative ways to translate new technology to new business value.  

In my travels, many CIO’s ask about whether or not there is a “secret sauce” on how run successful projects. Well, there is no “secret sauce,” but I would offer my CIO friends around the world the following suggestions:

• Get an expert advisor – when a project is large or complex an outside expert advisor can help identify risks and mitigation strategies. Make sure they have a strong project management approach

• Develop the business case early to make sure that the project stays focused on value

• The project does not end after “go-live”, to realize value from the business case, the solution adoption should be monitored and training and education adjusted

• Stay involved – the project needs an engaged internal leader committed to delivering the result

• Develop a roadmap – the roadmap will help to ensure that the project will support long and short term objectives

• Consider a site trip to a similar industry user of SAP

• Understand the support for these projects will come from your team after the project completes. Insist on a well-structured and measured path towards sustainment and knowledge transfer from the implementer and the sustainer. Choose your project team and your vendor with this in mind

• Joining a user group/community is crucial to getting your experience and your development needs/pain points elevated into a position where it may become actionable by SAP customer care/custom development teams

At Vesta, we are very passionate about focusing on fundamentals, delivering value through innovation and constantly evolving our approach to helping our clients. We believe that every project is an opportunity to demonstrate that we are the best in our field. We do not leave success to coincidence, we plan for it using a rigorous project management approach.

Finally, excellence is a great goal, but it takes a big commitment and plenty of passion to get there and stay there. The global SAP consulting services world is a competitive one. You can choose to compete by becoming big and offering scale or through a niche focus where you are positioned around delivery excellence and business knowledge. I am not so sure which approach is best for your company, but I know Vesta has enjoyed a strong ten-year run on the excellence front.  

As Vesta embarks on our second decade of consulting service, I will continue to travel the world to meet with our clients (past, present and future) to share the experiences and ideas Vesta has developed to resolve particular pain points. In doing so, I can add value, in my own way, to the longstanding relationships we maintain with our valued customers.

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