When working with a cloud-based platform like Anaplan, we are used to building models and collaborating remotely, but how easy is it to run an entire project without any real face-to-face contact? This year most employees have had little choice but to work from home. In my latest project for a large insurance company we put the idea of an ‘entirely remote’ project implementation – where everything is done remotely, including scoping and project planning – to the test.
Working from home can present several benefits and challenges to a workforce, and for everyone these can be different. In this blog I will be exploring my experiences of delivering an entire Anaplan implementation with no face-to-face meetings or opportunities to meet the rest of the project team.
The first challenge we faced was bringing the project team into action just as offices were closing and employees were being asked to work from home. Fortunately, working with Anaplan means that partners and customers can build their models, update their plans and review their reports with nothing more than a web enabled device. While employees across the country were at home waiting for their employers to dispatch corporate or specialist hardware to enable them to continue their day jobs, we were able to pick things up immediately – using personal devices that we already had at home.
Deploying The Anaplan Way implementation methodology allowed us to keep track of delivery progress within Anaplan. The Anaplan Way stipulates that there should be daily stand ups – short meetings (now via video conference) to review the previous day’s work and to outline what everyone will be working on next. Daily stand-ups became even more essential with each member of the team working at home. The morning stand-up became a daily reminder for me that we were still working as a team, and an opportunity to bring everyone together. The Anaplan Way also requires User Stories to be assigned to individual model builders so that everyone is clear who is responsible for the delivering different parts of the model. This methodology creates a very organised way of working regardless of whether people are in an office or working remotely.
Effective collaboration is paramount to any implementation, and running the entire project remotely meant we had to be smarter about how we collaborated. Video conferencing, screensharing and file sharing makes a big difference, but we also needed to be able to collaborate in Anaplan. With Anaplan’s UX you can share URLs directly to pages and selections, making it very easy to direct colleagues to a very specific part of your App. This was very helpful during User Acceptance Testing, as end-users were able to direct us straight to where they had queries. It was also easier to guide the client through the model and allow them to collaborate with their peers.
Strong leadership is important in any project – delays to a project can occur when it takes longer than expected to get information or understand business processes. When working in an office, it is easy to identify the different pieces of a financial forecast: John from HR is responsible for X, which then goes to Sarah in Finance who adds Y and presents to the CFO. When working from home it is harder to visualise this process and it makes a big difference to have a leader who can make the necessary introductions so that the model builder can grasp the finer details.
With a strong leader, the “Project Sponsor”, the challenges of not being in the same office can be overcome. In addition to the daily stand-ups I had daily calls with the Project Sponsor where we monitored progress and discussed potential bottlenecks. I was very fortunate to work with a leader who was motivated to realise the full benefits of Anaplan within the company.
But did all this work? How effectively did we deliver an entirely remove project, with no face-to-face meetings whatsoever?
To answer that, I want to first highlight the challenges we faced. When you are co-located in an office you can physically track down a decision maker or member of the project team, whereas remote working means that person could be at the other side of the country facing internet connectivity issues. Getting responses to queries and making decisions can take longer, and we found that we needed to put in place certain measures to channel these queries efficiently.
Workshops are another area which seem to work better face-to-face. As the foundation stone of a project, a scoping workshop is when some of the best ideas are shared, notes and diagrams are scribbled on whiteboards and members of the team can come together to share their vision for what an Anaplan solution would look like. We can certainly simulate these different activities through a video conference, but the vibrancy of a face-to-face workshop isn’t there, and that is something I look forward to being able to experience again in the not-so-distant future.
That said, the project was still delivered on-time with a very positive reception from the Project Sponsor. We also received feedback that there was excellent user adoption of the model, despite being unable to be physically sat with any end-users to guide them through it.
As COVID-19 continues to force many of us to work from home, delivering implementations remotely has started to feel almost normal. We are always finding new ways to better handle the challenges that working remotely presents, and for a while that might mean sharing a drink in an evening over a Teams video chat rather than the pub!