PMO² – applied

Challenging the incomplete market perception of PMO work, a-connect has developed the PMO framework, which aims to help our clients better understand and assess their PMO needs, define the necessary capabilities, and identify the correct number and level of resources required to successfully manage a given project – beyond just providing the right structure (click here to learn more). The following case study will give an example of how PMOsupports our clients in a complex program or project environment.

A challenging environment

Since the financial crisis, the financial services industry has gone through continual change. The challenges that the industry was, and still is, facing are enormous. Some institutions have acted quickly and realised the massive potential out there by adapting ‘Front Office Excellence’ to the fast-changing environment.

a-connect was asked by an international financial services institution to provide professional support in order to establish and drive the strategic program office for a fundamental change initiative. The overall objective was to adapt the way in which the organisation manages its clients in the new environment The program consisted of more than 15 related projects, covering all aspects of Front Office Excellence, including the target operating model, the human resource selection process, talent management, the onboarding concept, development and education, compensation, incentives, KPIs, and retention. Given the political and personal dynamics that such a change management program can potentially have, the composition and the set-up of the program office had to be considered very carefully.

Our unique approach

The client stressed the importance of having a healthy balance between understanding the insights and driving the processes so as to achieve the successful and sustainable implementation of the change initiative. In order to staff the program office appropriately, the client chose to combine an a-connect senior professional (program manager), providing deep industry and management expertise, with an a-connect junior consultant (associate), ensuring structure and analytical rigor.

The program manager was responsible for the overall program management and supported the client as a ‘Manager of Change’; he provided content and reinforced the senior management and workstream leaders in the decision-making and prioritisation process. In summary, the program manager covered the following:

  • Change management: It was imperative to focus on the critical initiatives to start with, involve key people at the right time in the process, and include the relevant employees to accelerate the change process.
  • Strategic decision support: A deep understanding of the industry allowed the program manager to act as a reliable sparring partner to senior decision makers and workstream leaders. Furthermore, strategic decision support was valuable in coordinating the prioritisation of relevant activities and understanding the associated risks.
  • Stakeholder management: The management of the stakeholders and their agendas was essential to the success of the change program. Stakeholders on all levels needed to be addressed and adequately involved.
  • Communication: To manage the complexity of the project, the program manager defined and executed a structured communication plan. Several stakeholder groups needed to be addressed at the right time and with the right content (program updates, success stories, issues, obstacles, etc.). A transparent and open line of communication ensured that there were no unnecessary rumours spread within the company.

Due to his experience, the program manager understood all aspects of the business and acted as a trustworthy and accepted partner to the participants.

The associate worked hand in hand with the program manager and was responsible for the management of the operative agenda of the program. He primarily focused on the following four areas:

  • Governance: The responsibility of coordinating detailed project planning and overseeing the progress of all the workstreams.
  • Project execution: The implementation of the change program required rigorous project planning, tight overall coordination, and the use of standardised templates and processes.
  • Performance monitoring: It was essential to permanently monitor all activities, deliverables, and milestones, as well as ensure structured reporting. This involved the effective and efficient planning and allocation of the required resources.
  • Administrative support: Finally, the project consisted of many administrative tasks, such as meeting preparation, minute writing, agenda planning, document handling, etc. The efficient handling of all these administrative tasks was important to the overall success of the project.

Boosting value for the client

A deep understanding of the financial services industry allowed the program manager to provide effective strategic decision support, trustworthy stakeholder management, and reliable communication. Understanding the business and its unwritten rules fostered trust among all the parties involved in the program.

Additionally, the combination of industry and management expertise – as well as structure and analytical rigor – ensured that the change program was implemented in an efficient and effective way. The highly coordinated split between content and process matters in the program office ensured a smooth transition in the handover of the program to internal professionals.

The organisation and staffing of such an important program should cover both roles and all eight capabilities, either with separate resources or, ideally, with someone who can switch between both roles, as required. Applying the PMO2 framework therefore helps our clients to understand what capabilities are necessary in order to ensure a successful project outcome.

From value creation to value maximization

Why can taking the road lesser travelled lead to a more financially rewarding experience?

Many companies with a protracted history of success generally follow a tried and tested recipe for future sustainability. One such example is the application of project ranking or prioritization techniques for portfolio selection under conditions of constrained budgetary and other resources. While this has doubtless led to various degrees of success, a handful of industries – most notably oil and gas, Pharma & Biotech, and insurance – that exist in environments of high risk and uncertainty, have turned to another form of portfolio selection – optimization – to extract maximum value from their constrained resources. This lesser travelled path, as demonstrated by the case study of Large Biopharma below, far more often than not, is superior to project prioritization and minimizes or eliminates portfolio value destruction.

Unlike conventional wisdom, achieving greater portfolio returns does not necessarily mean assuming more risk; rather, it points to adopting practices that demand and ensure greater portfolio efficiency.

Old habits die hard but is ‘good enough’ really good enough for your organization?

In an era of unprecedented cost cutting and truly global competition, how long can an organization fail to take control of its own destiny by not focusing on what it can control – the value of its portfolio? True enough, several decisions based on heuristic analysis done on the back of a napkin alone, have led to blockbuster success while a sophisticated, computer-aided, quantitative analysis does not guarantee success. However, what good analysis really offers is the opportunity to make transparent, defensible decisions that increase the likelihood of portfolio success, over and over again.

Dispensing with the tried and tested is seldom a comfortable or easy accomplishment until it can be shown why the road that brought us here may not be the best path to our ultimate destination. This is precisely what the case study below hopes to achieve in orienting organizations away from ‘satisfaction guaranteed’ toward ‘maximization guaranteed’.

If you kick out the old, what’s new and proven?

CREOPMTM is a holistic Portfolio Management framework described by Bayney & Chakravarti in ‘Enterprise Project Portfolio Management – Building Competencies For R&D And IT Investment Success’ (J. Ross; 2012) that has been successfully applied to both large and small R&D and commercial organizations across Pharma & Biotech, Medical Devices & Diagnostics, Consumer Care, and Agriculture (Fig. 1) and can be described as follows:

Figure 1 – CREOPMTM Portfolio Management framework.

Categorize – determine what project investments you’re obligated to begin or continue (non-discretionary), what you really shouldn’t be working on (discretionary), and what you’d like to work on if you had sufficient resources (discretionary). This way, your portfolio should always have what you need but may not always have what you want.

Analyze Risk – if you invest in projects that bear risk and uncertainty that can’t be mitigated, quantify both to determine the extent to which project success and commercial viability could be impacted. Remember: simply ignoring risk or uncertainty doesn’t make either disappear!

Evaluate – since not every project you work on will succeed because of technical and regulatory hurdles, conduct a defensible risk-adjusted valuation that incorporates benefit (value), risk, cost, and time. Note: ‘defensible’ means being approximately correct rather than precisely wrong.

Optimize – extract the highest value you can from your portfolio and make the tough decisions based on financial value gained or lost. Don’t obfuscate your decision-making process by needless pontification over everything you’d like to have. It’s worth remembering that the more of everything you want, the less of any one thing you’ll eventually have.

Prioritize – since everything can’t be done at the same time, use a defensible methodology to set operational priorities. But, don’t be lulled into thinking that a list of priorities determines your best portfolio; far too often, there’s greater value to be gained from projects that lie ‘below the proverbial cutoff line’. So, here’s the key – prioritize within your optimized portfolio.

Manage – after all is said and done, you need to keep a watchful eye on risks that should be managed, resources that must be accounted for, and stakeholders who can help make critical ‘Go – No Go’ decisions. Finally, never be satisfied with your Portfolio Management capability maturity level because, if you won’t reach for the heavens, what are they there for?

Case Study – Large Biopharma

Large Biopharma had a ‘problem of riches’ – because of resource limitations, it simply couldn’t afford to pursue every project in its portfolio. But, what a great problem to have! Each of the 10 projects had a need for budget and 2 critical human resources in 2016 and, if sufficient resources were available, the portfolio would be worth $6.245B on a risk-adjusted NPV (eNPV) basis (Fig. 2).

Figure 2 – The portfolio of projects at Large Biopharma.

A common practice – and, in fact, Large Biopharma’s choice to solving this problem – was to rank order projects on the basis of risk-adjusted value until one or other resource limit was met (Fig.3). This tried and tested method yielded a portfolio valued at $3.195B. A good portfolio, isn’t it?

Figure 3 – Value creation using project prioritization.

Was it the best portfolio and, if it wasn’t, how much financial value was likely to be destroyed by the prioritization solution presented in Fig. 3? To answer this question, a different approach was required – finding the best or optimal portfolio that created the highest financial value (Fig.4).

Unlike the solution presented in Fig.3 where only the top 4 projects were selected by rank ordering, the alternative solution (i.e. path lesser traveled) shown in Fig.4 de-selected 2 of the top 4 projects but yielded $3.995B in risk-adjusted financial value by pursuing a total of 7 of the 10 projects.

Figure 4 – Value maximization using portfolio optimization.

If ‘good enough’ was good enough for Large Biopharma, the company would never have known that it was destroying value to the tune of $800M while staying within its resource limitations. While there is no magic whatsoever to arriving at the second solution, the secret lies in a basic but powerful concept in Economics – the Efficient Frontier (Fig.5). For any given level of resource (e.g. budget) there is a portfolio that creates maximum value (i.e. an efficient or optimal portfolio) and lies on the Efficient Frontier. As can be deduced from Fig.5, portfolio C is better than portfolio A because it generates greater reward (value). Similarly, portfolio B is better that portfolio A because, for the same level of reward, much less resource is needed. To re-state an earlier point, a portfolio comprised of prioritized projects (often mistakenly referred to as a ‘prioritized portfolio’) seldom generates the same value as an optimal portfolio.

Figure 5 – The economic Efficient Frontier.

Key ingredients for success – Build one block at a time, and practice, practice, practice

Several distractions (e.g. re-structuring) and excuses (e.g. a focus on next year) generally get in the way of this adoption to portfolio optimization that represents the best of Portfolio Management practice but the pertinent question is ‘If you were the CEO of your company, would you tell your shareholders that your intent was to create sub-optimal portfolio value on an ongoing basis?’ If not, what would you do differently?

Like all exceptional athletes who achieve excellence in their fields, they build their skills one block at a time and practice relentlessly. This should be no different for organizations trying to attain sustained competitive success, however it may be defined. The first step is to admit that no matter how good or successful you currently are, you’d like to be better or more successful at what you do in the future. With a transparent gap analysis in place, you should then create a multi-year plan dedicated to improving your capability maturity level in value creation i.e. in the discipline of Portfolio Management. If one sit-up or one pill does not lead to perfect cardiovascular health, do not expect that one cycle of implementation will lead to portfolio value maximization. Instead, practice the discipline relentlessly because if you don’t create your own destiny, someone else surely will.


Long before the turn of this century, forward thinking and learning organizations alike began to examine the root causes of their successes and failures, and resorted to implementing fundamental changes that have led to sustained competitive success. Those that simply moved the deck chairs on the Titanic found themselves acquired, marginalized, or belly-up. Re-invention of oneself requires an admission that more than today’s self is required for tomorrow’s success.

And so it is with Portfolio Management that organizations struggle to maximize the value of what they have in their portfolios when the pervasive Pavlovian response is to be satisfied with the concept of value creation. CREOPMTM does not require organizational re-structuring or cost cutting to be successful; rather, it requires first and foremost, the recognition that more value can be extracted from the resources available to a portfolio if a value maximization approach is pursued. Organizations that embrace this discipline will find themselves at the forefront of their industries because they will have eliminated value destruction and re-invested more into their futures. While portfolio optimization is not a journey of a thousand miles, it does begin with a single step in the direction of value maximization.

Return on Effort™

Executives deal with limited resources and overlapping timelines and are often challenged to allocate resources to different projects. Even if priorities are clear, sourcing externally has to be justified. A wrong decision can lead to missing a critical deadline or losing a window of opportunity. When making a decision on deploying resources and assessing the incremental value generated by the efforts put into the project, the “return on effort” should be critical in making the decision. Although questions around this topic are not unfamiliar, the question remains,
can one really measure such a return?

If one was able to systematically estimate the return on effort in our projects, one could add the objectivity missing in the decision making process and present clear cases for colleagues, supervisors and sourcing departments. Service providers and clients could do a better job at prioritizing and evaluating the impact of their projects. As crucial as it sounds, many parties have only just started to try to get a better grasp on this. Some research has been done in the nonprofit space, but has little application to the projects with which we, at a-connect, typically deal. Academic research papers on measuring project outcome are often very complex or too simplistic. Applied efforts in consulting are measured mostly in the IT field. Interestingly enough, trials applied to independent professionals and flexible consulting models speak about concepts such us Return on Expertise and Return on Labor. All in all, the focus is put on assessing the cost, but not the effort. Only a few qualitative indicators of the full impact are available.

Aiming to get some answers in this challenging field, a-connect has developed an indicator on the return on effort (RoE™) which could fulfill both short- and long-term value creation objectives.

Let’s explore this area together!

1. Laying the ground

a-connect has drafted a formula, which is aimed to be simple, yet includes all relevant components.

2. Estimating the Return on Effort (RoE): Incremental return and total cost

When measuring
return, the total incremental returns are to be taken into consideration. Beyond the obvious returns, this should also include e.g. positive stakeholder impact such as positive publicity due to early completion or over-achievement generated by a project.

In measuring
effort, it is important to capture the total costs associated with the project. Estimating the total cost of external and internal resources and the one off implementation costs are straightforward. It gets more difficult when measuring the opportunity costs of deploying internal resources to a specific project – or when measuring negative stakeholder impact due to e.g. project delays or lower productivity of people, due to changes in organizational structure.

3. Beyond the basics: Adjusting for risk, strategic fit and skills transfer

There are different risks in every project, so when measuring the return of a project, its risks need to be considered as well. One needs to assess the likelihood of success, but also consider if the project outcome fits with and supports the achievement of the overall company’s strategic goals. The latter is of particular importance if the project is transformational and includes a realignment of the organization to the company’s strategic goals.

Lastly, skills transfer and development multiplies the impact of any given project, if the project team benefits from the learning experience. The impact might be expanded if the acquired skills are highly relevant for future projects or daily tasks. In addition the project team members might be able to utilize acquired skills independently going forward. The composition of the project team will be the key driver for the level of skills development. Hence, a conscious decision should be made on which internal resources and which external partners to use for a project. When working with external partners, their delivery model will also impact the strength of the skills transfer multiplier. In general, the more integrated the internal and external resources work together and the more hands-on, previous experience the resources bring, the bigger the impact. For a-connect, knowledge and skill transfer have always been close to our heart, and a key element of our value proposition to clients.

4. Which inputs are needed to calculate the RoE?

a-connect recommends answering the following questions to estimate the RoE:

  • How does this project fit with your overall strategy?
  • What impact are you expecting as a direct result of the project?
  • Which resources do you need in order to complete this project?
  • What is the opportunity cost of internal resources for the project?
  • What is the inherent risk of the project and likelihood of success?
  • Can the project team benefit from skills and knowledge gained on the project?

Responding to these questions should become standard when considering kicking-off any initiative. Its application will establish a baseline and applying it systematically will result in a benchmark. Producing quantitative and objective “indicators” of the value generated by the efforts put into a project could be widely applicable within companies and different kinds of services providers.

At a-connect, we’ve been working on improving the fundamentals, as well as testing the concept with our clients. We are convinced the discussion around the elements in the RoE will help guide us and our clients to allocate different kind of resources and maximize the value of project portfolios. We expect this metric to be able to
“tell a story”.

Please let us know what you think, we are looking forward to your feedback!

How efficient project management could have streamlined the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics

Hosting one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events is no mean feat and, all in all, Rio de Janeiro did a good job of organizing the 2016 Olympic Games. It did so in the face of multiple complications, over which the event’s organizers had little control: fears about the Zika virus; the revelation of a state-funded doping program in Russia; the city’s excessive water-pollution issues; and the threat of crime and terrorism (highlighted in a statement by the Rio Organizing Committee’s CEO, Sidney Levy, as a main concern for the Games), for example. However, many issues throughout the Rio Olympics could have been avoided with effective project management, in order to streamline the lead-up to the Games.

While some 11,000 athletes from 206 national Olympic committees (NOCs) were rounding off their training programmes and preparing to compete, the Rio organizers were facing immense pressure to get the venue up to standard for the Games. The news was littered with details of organizational setbacks that raised concerns about the quality of the project – the collapse of a sailing ramp at the Marina da Gloria, for example. Sure enough, the problems did not cease with the arrival of the athletes in the Olympic village. A number of the rooms were incomplete, with plumbing and electrical problems rife. British diving champion Tom Daley even said that the bathroom sink fell off the wall while he was brushing his teeth! The Director of the Olympic Village, Mario Cilenti, was reportedly fired.

How on-demand talent could have helped the Rio organizers

Organizing a large-scale event like the Olympic Games is about more than just overseeing the construction of affordable, safe and purpose-built stadiums: it’s about marketing, infrastructure, ticket sales, security, coordinating volunteers and ensuring the overall smooth-running of the event’s entire duration. For events like these, where multiple projects are being conducted at once, a strategic approach to project management is vital, with the best skills being injected at exactly the right time. With so many intricate details to get right, it’s essential that project managers and teams are highly experienced in the areas they’re assigned to, and that they have industry-specific knowledge to keep the project running smoothly and ensure consistently high levels of quality throughout.

An example of where industry-specific knowledge was lacking at the Olympics is when the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre diving pool turned green. The Director of Venue Management, Gustavo Nascimento, admitted that 80 litres of hydrogen peroxide had been put into the water on the day of the opening ceremony, causing it to react with the chlorine and prevent the chemical from killing the organic matter in the water. Organizers hadn’t considered the effect that a large number of athletes using the pool in quick succession would have on the chemicals. Had professionals with specific knowledge in this area of the project been employed, this slip-up would likely not have occurred.

Even with huge resources like the Rio Organizing Committee, tapping into the right skills at the right time can be a challenge. You may not have all the skills you need in-house, and hiring full-time workers is expensive and time-consuming. Also, the skills you need now may be different to the skills you need in the future. This is where on-demand talent can help, enabling you to access independent professionals on a flexible basis. As well as ensuring the work is managed to budget, deadline and standard, independent professionals bring a wealth of industry experience and foresight to the projects they work on – making sure potential problems are ironed out before they emerge, and that the entire team can respond quickly, efficiently and discreetly if issues do occur.

Holistic project management to help maximize on-demand talent

As highlighted by the Rio swimming pool mishap, large-scale sporting events like the Olympics cannot be managed to their full potential if the project structure is industry-agnostic. This is why it’s important that project structuring, which is usually the administrative part of project management, incorporates a degree of strategy, so that the exact number and nature of resources can be implemented for the particular project at hand. Solutions such as PMO2, which approaches project management with a combination of structure and analytical rigor, and industry and management expertise, are ideal, as administrative support, performance monitoring, project execution, strategic decision support, stakeholder management, governance, change management and communication are all dealt with through a single channel.

Bringing the right combination of skills together is one critical part of successful project management, but you also need to manage and integrate that talent properly for the project to go smoothly. You need to define a clear purpose for why you’re hiring, and the exact skills you need, as well as communicating with Independent Professionals clearly in terms of project expectations, and investing in your relationship with them. Put simply: to maximise your return on your on-demand workforce, treat them as you would a regular, full-time team of staff.

For the organizers of the Rio Games, unresolved problems with logistics, security, costs, communication and workers meant that the majority of 2016’s Olympians competed in front of scores of empty seats. Had a streamlined project management approach been taken, in which Independent Professionals were hired on demand for their industry-specific knowledge and skills, and coordinated within a framework that was relevant to the Games, the lead-up to the event may well have run more smoothly.

Just like the Olympics, complex business projects also require an expert, efficient and streamlined approach to project management, which taps into the exact skills you need, exactly when you need them. Here at a-connect, our pool of senior talent is made up of Independent Professionals across a wide range of industries, disciplines and global locations, so that we can curate the ideal team to meet the demands of your project.

Contact us at a-connect today to find out how we could help your company with expert project management.

The power of blended teams

In the fast-paced and constantly evolving world of business, having a workforce that is flexible, adaptable and can access the right skills on demand is worth its weight in gold. The open talent economy has become an invaluable resource for helping companies achieve this – enabling them to tap into a global network of professionals, fill skills gaps and streamline project management. What many organizations misjudge, however, is that on-demand talent is there to enhance your existing workforce through skill uplift, not replace it. The most fruitful and cost-effective way to use the open talent economy is to fully integrate independent professionals into your existing workforce, creating a powerful blended team made up of the best skills.

Identifying and filling skills gaps for optimum efficiency

When you have a big project management task on the horizon, for which your internal team does not have the full capacity or capabilities, it can be tempting to hire an entire consulting team to fully outsource the problem and present you with a final solution. This is the approach that many traditional consulting firms take: shipping in a full team of consultants and duplicating many of the existing skills that the workforce already possesses. This is not only inefficient, it’s inflexible – costing unnecessary amounts and removing the core people who best understand the company.

By taking a flexible approach and blending your teams, you can save your company time, money and stress. There is not always the need to hire an entire team, when you can bring in the exact project-specific skills that are needed to strengthen your current workforce. This approach recognizes that your needs will probably be different for each project, and enables you to instantly tap into a pool of on-demand professionals to access the exact skills you’re currently short of.

Integrating on-demand and internal teams to keep both parties happy

We all know that employees are the glue that holds our company together, and that an unhappy workforce is an unproductive one. If your internal team is going to work seamlessly (and happily) with on-demand professionals, then they need to be involved and valued. It’s no good hiring an external team to take ownership of a project and then force a solution onto your employees: this is going to make them feel out of the loop, undervalued and resentful of the on-demand team. It will likely create friction in your company and affect the success of the project, as staff may get defensive and be unfairly sceptical of the proposed solution – reacting negatively to it or even reverting to a different solution at a later date.

If you integrate on-demand professionals into your internal team, then the project is more likely to run smoothly. You’ll get more out of both parties – the on-demand professionals will feel part of the team, and your employees will feel valued for their skills and contributions, and therefore less resistant to change. The ownership of the project ultimately remains with your organization, and on-demand consultants are there to support, enhance and inform your team with the latest industry knowledge, skills and experience. Not only will this benefit your team for the project at hand, it also supports the internal knowledge and capability building ensuring that your team can sustain and further develop the solution even when the consultants are long gone.

a-connect’s approach to blended teams

Creating perfectly blended teams is all about determining the exact skills that a company needs at a particular time, and being flexible as these requirements change. Here at a-connect, we start every project by asking the decision-maker about the current set-up and capabilities of their internal team, and determining what specific skills are needed for project success. We then choose the best fit of independent professionals from our network to fill those skills gaps and complete the existing team, without overloading the company and stifling the internal team. (Find our more on how to successfully integrate Independent Professionals into your project team here). This flexible and cost-effective blended-teams approach has worked exceptionally well for multiple a-connect clients in a number of different industries.

A case in point

As an example of how blended teams work in reality, we need look no further than the agribusiness industry. When a top-five agribusiness company needed support in rolling out and implementing its new global pricing processes and toolkit in 15 markets worldwide, a-connect provided project managers to work as co-leads with the client’s existing global project managers, with the help of associates from both parties. This blended approach meant that the international project was seamlessly coordinated by internal and external project managers and pricing experts, and the client was able to retain ultimate control of the work and build upon the company’s own internal capabilities and skills.

Here at a-connect, we believe that our flexible blended-teams model makes us stand out from traditional consulting firms. To find out how we can help your company, contact us today.

From PowerPoint to bottom line

Actions speak louder than words, but words tend to dominate strategy implementation

Picture this: after months of hard work, the strategy project team has just delivered its final presentation to the management team, receiving praise, acceptance and a commitment to move forward on the recommended path. Thorough analysis has been conducted, great solutions have been developed, recommendations have been carefully crafted, and the team members breathe a sigh of relief and victory as they leave the room, perhaps celebrating this achievement later that evening. By the time the strategy is communicated, that same team has already disbanded into its respective, disjointed day-to-day jobs. Fast-forward a couple of months – two team members bump into each other in the hallway, and ask each other how the new strategy is working out. As far as they can tell, not much has happened; they both lament the slow speed of change and assure each other that something needs to be done urgently, before shuffling on to the business at hand.

If this sounds familiar to you, it is because the majority of large-scale project recommendations and changes are not implemented or not adequately implemented. The significant efforts that go into strategy design and producing hundreds of PowerPoint slides are, in most cases, insufficiently translated into an equally high-profile, high-urgency, and highly resourced implementation. As a result, many implementation efforts generate only lackluster outcomes, and the underlying strategic initiatives, along with the leadership who initiated and communicated them, lose credibility, and the extended team that was involved gets demoralized.

The struggle to get from PowerPoint to bottom line

The reasons why organizations typically struggle to implement initiatives are few and preventable, yet typically hard to address in practice. First, there is the challenge of the strategy itself, which may not have sufficient buy-in from the organization – in particular from middle management – and may be conceptual, high level, and unsuited to the realities of the company. All of these factors mean that it would not lend itself well to bottom-up implementation. Secondly, the right team is often not set up to run the implementation, which is equally as important as the strategy development phase and should get the same exposure to and involvement from senior management. Finally, many implementation plans tend to roll out sequentially rather than in parallel, making one change after another – the time required for this approach means that the plan risks being derailed by competing objectives, or loses momentum in the absence of continuous, noticeable progress.

Key factors for successful implementation

  • Develop an implementation plan
    The most obvious point is frequently also the least resourced and emphasized. High-level strategy goals need to be broken down into constituent milestones and work packages need to be designed, resourced and allocated. Planning needs to be given adequate time so that realistic and credible roadmaps are developed – otherwise implementation is not set up to succeed.
  • Create combined teams
    Implementation is often either the responsibility of line managers or special project managers. In reality, the best teams are a mix of both, allowing for the adequate balance between momentum and pragmatism, and the balance between strategy and business realities.
  • Establish a governance system
    Develop a governance system that audits the project, creates and measures KPIs, and is able to course-correct and escalate if results or progress are not materializing as expected. Those who are part of the governance team should have this reflected in their personal goal-setting to ensure that enough time and priority is allocated to implementation.
  • Manage stakeholders
    The management of stakeholders and their agendas is essential to the success of an implementation program. Stakeholders on all levels need to be addressed and adequately involved.
  • Ensure active senior management involvement
    Active senior management involvement and follow up is crucial to the implementation success. This means not just reviewing the reported ‘traffic lights’, but helping to remove obstacles and getting engaged in the problem solving.
  • Drive change management
    Larger initiatives require changes in organization and behavior. For this to be effective, project and line managers need to act as role models and ambassadors, not only for the strategy but for the associated behavioral changes. Through strong change management you enable organizational learning and knowledge transfer that will make the change stick and prevent the organization from falling back into the old way of working.
  • Complete a communication plan
    An extensive, long-term communication plan needs to be put into place to continuously reinforce objectives and keep the organization feeling like it is moving together in the same direction.

a-connect’s unique implementation capabilities

a-connect has a long history of successfully implementing client projects in Financial Services, Life Sciences, Agribusiness, Food and Chemicals (AFC) and Private Equity. The foundation for our success is three-pronged:

  • Our consultants combine comprehensive industry and line management expertise with extensive consulting experience. This allows them to fully understand not only the necessity and objectives of the strategy, but the real-time requirements of an organization that needs to simultaneously operate and change. Additionally, consultants with line business experience understand the ‘hidden rules of the game’!
  • We offer our clients full flexibility. Not only do we encourage a blended team approach where our consultants are fully integrated with the client team, but we also recognize that, especially when it comes to implementation, a dynamic approach is necessary. Sometimes the project requires only a single external resource; other times a full team is needed to create greater momentum. Moreover, we know that these needs change over time.
  • Implementation has been part of our core offering since a-connect’s inception and we are able to draw on rich and diverse project experiences to identify what works and what doesn’t work. 

Find out more about the implementation projects we have conducted in Life Sciences, Agribusiness, Food and Chemicals and Private Equity. Or, for more information on how a-connect can help you with your implementation challenges, contact us today.

The parallel lives of our IPs #5

1. When you are not working as an IP, what do you do?

I am either buying my very pregnant wife the only food she can currently stomach, Gatorade and bagels, or telling jokes because I am a comedian. I have been fortunate enough to perform around the world, tape a couple of comedy specials, write for CBS, and perform at corporate events for Microsoft, BCG, Wells Fargo, and about a hundred others.

2. How did you personally decide to become a stand-up comedian?

After 5 years of 80-hour weeks at McKinsey, I left to join a small tech company called SPSS as their Head of Strategy, where the hours were also intense. When we sold the company to IBM, I experienced my first sweet taste of corporate hours. I would be done by 7 pm and was astonished to find that normal people do things on a Tuesday night. I decided to use my newfound freedom on comedy and fell in love. Now I float between independent projects and comedy.

3. Where do you get your material? How does working as an IP help you get material?

I tend to find humor in the way people interact with each other. Therefore, in a work setting that is often seeing the comedy in interviews, conference calls, and of course “feedback sessions”.

4. What are the secrets for telling everyday jokes in order to get the biggest laughs?

It is as simple as writing it down. Everybody has a bunch of funny thoughts and interactions every day, but they soon forget about them. If you are noting them, as “This interaction with this bank teller is a great story for the next time I am talking to someone about customer service” you have a funny story that is appropriate in the context of consulting. As far as the techniques to telling jokes well, the best advice I can give is to end on the funny party. For example, the first joke I ever told on stage was about my divorce. It was, “It’s not bad being a divorcee, but I’d rather be a widower”. The funny part is “widower” so I end there and people know to laugh there. It would not work as well if I said, “When comparing divorcees and widowers, being a widower would be better”. People would not know where to laugh and they might think you are just kind of a sociopath.

5. What advice would you give new comedians just starting out?

First piece of advice: They say you should get a laugh every 15 seconds. Second piece of advice: If you can think of doing anything else, do it, because living your life being judged by a room full of people every 15 seconds is a pretty weird way to live.

6. Where can our readers come to see you for a good laugh?

I perform all over so if they go to my website,, they can just sign up to be notified when I am in their town. Alternatively, they can bring me in to perform at their corporate, charity, college or private events.

7. What is the hardest part of being a comedian?

The travelling. I perform in 15-20 countries a year, which is fun, but not so much when your wife is pregnant and low on Gatorade and bagels.

8. What does the world of comedy need more of today?

Older voices. In comedy, most people start out young and either are one of the few to make it big or they get out. I would love to see a better path for people who are later in life to come and share their stories.

Designing an effective presentation for your next project

Consulting is as much about visual communication as it is about the core management expertise. One cannot exist without the other. There are several tools available today that help consultants in communicating their next big business strategy to their clients. However, many consultants face a variety of challenges that hinder them from creating meaningful presentations that convey their recommendations in the most effective way. Some of these challenges are listed below:

  • Lack of time
  • Not an expert of the tool used
  • Reduced utilization of core consulting skills
  • Big part of the day is spent on analyzing and developing storyline
  • Communicating to a non-technical audience

Thomas R. Hahn, a fellow a-connect IP and a long-term independent consultant has generously shared some of his wisdom to help all a-connect IPs learn (or refresh) and apply some of the best practices for slide design, and become even more effective with client presentations. Below are four key takeaways that you could immediately apply to your next project. 

1. Minto’s Pyramid Principle of Top-Down Storytelling

1. Key Message

2. Key Line: Raises logical questions (How? Why? How do you know?)

3. Key Line Answers: Address questions in the Key Line

4. Supporting Answers: Address questions raised by key line answers

The pyramid principle is a top-down approach to storytelling, primarily used in business documents and presentations. The principle is a technique for writing clear and compelling documents that produce action. Some over-arching guidelines include; state major ideas before minor supporting details, group like ideas together, and order ideas to show relationship. In the pyramid, ideas relate horizontally either by GROUPING (often inductive argument) or ARGUMENT (often deductive). Grouping is best used when you present a list of “equivalent” items, list reasons or actions, and/or when you have a receptive audience. Argument is best used to provide detailed reasoning, explain need for action, and/or when you have a resistant audience.

2. Introducing Your Story

The pyramid can easily be transformed into linear structure which would be made of three sections: Introduction, Body of the Pyramid, and Wrap-Up. The goal is to structure your introduction to effectively captivate different audiences. Typically the introduction would include the situation, complication, and questions. However, there are other ways to structure the introduction as listed below:

  • Answer: (Solution – Situation – Complication). Provide your audience with the answer or recommendation first, followed by the situation and the problem. This approach works with audience that likes to get straight to the point.
  • Appeal:  Call your audience’s attention to values, emotions, or visions that are important to them.
  • Chronology: (Complication – Situation – Question). Start with the problem statement and situation, and end with a thought provoking question that is answered in your following slides. This approach is used to create a sense of urgency.
  • Shock Tactics: (Situation – Question – Solution). Describe situation by using shocking facts or numbers that immediately grab the attention of resistant audiences.
  • Story: Use a relevant, short, and clear storyline (personal, business, fictional, etc.) that will draw your audience into your subject. This allows to build rapport with the audience and gain their interest.

 3. Insightful Data Visualization Tools

With the enormous amount of data generated every day by businesses around the world; capturing, analyzing, structuring, and presenting this data in a meaningful way has become more important than ever before. One of the most important benefits of visualization is that it allows us visual access to huge amounts of data in easily digestible visuals. Well designed data graphics are usually the simplest and at the same time, the most powerful. Storytelling with data visualization creates an impactful response from the user with numbers to back it up. Consider the below chart types to expand your current portfolio of data visualization tools.

4. Key Components of a Well Organized Slide

Often times when consultants are designing slides for a presentation, they are very close to the data and hence fall in the trap of packing too much information on a single slide. In the process, some of the key components that make the presentation visually appealing, are overlooked. Here are some of the basic guidelines for a well-designed slide that helps make it a stand-alone document.


  • Good Composition: Use visual frameworks, view slide as an image, not only text, use appealing arrangements
  • Clear Message: One key message per slide, message aligned with slide content, have a crisp action title
  • Uniform Style: Stick to an overall style guide, similar visualizations should be formatted the same way.
  • Recognizable Authorship (BRAND): Create a unique identification/brand for yourself and your team through unique slide design elements.


Do you have everything covered?

As you begin to wrap-up and finalize your presentation which may have 10, 50, or even 100 slides, it is critical to make sure you have covered everything. To help you get to that stage of complete satisfaction with the end-product, for which you worked hard and put in several hours, here is a comprehensive checklist to ensure your slides are in the best possible shape.

Remember, a great slide is

Beautiful: well-designed, aesthetically pleasing, state-of-the-craft

Enlightening: reduces complexity, easy to understand

Truthful: best data, not misleading 

Insightful: enables audience to draw conclusions

Actionable: provides solid guidance on immediate actions and next steps


About Thomas

Thomas R. Hahn has been an IP with a-connect for the last 10 years and has completed 19 projects focused mainly on Life Sciences. An ex-McKinsey consultant, Thomas is currently an independent consultant and professor of applied physics at University of Miami. His expertise is with clients in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, healthcare providers and healthcare payers industries. He is also a trained pilot with several flying hours under his belt.

Through several years of experience as a consultant, Thomas has created best practices for preparing an effective client presentation. Here we share some of the key tips and tricks that will help you deliver your hard work in the best possible way.

AGILE – The art of adapting to change and innovation

Today’s world of work is a fast-paced race in a complex and uncertain global field. Companies around the world are facing new competitive threats, changing market dynamics, technological disruption and the ever-changing needs of empowered customers. The pressure is on for companies to adapt to change and more quickly deliver better products and services to customer. Traditional leadership thinking and practices are failing to meet today’s challenges. Leaders must more effectively engage employees, foster creativity, speed up delivery and mitigate risks to outpace the competition.

Until recently, Agile was seen as a set of management practices relevant only to software development. That’s because Agile’s initial advocates were software developers and its foundational document was the 2001 Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Agile’s emergence as a global movement extending beyond software is driven by the discovery that the only way for organizations to cope with today’s turbulent, customer-driven marketplace is to become Agile. Agile enables organizations to master continuous change. It permits firms to flourish in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Since its inception, Agile has been used across industries to develop software, hardware, networks of interacting functions, autonomous vehicles, schools, hospitals, governments and marketing, and to manage the operations of organizations and almost everything we use in our daily lives.

Today, Agile methodologies are widely used for:

  • The development of products and services
  • Strategic planning activities
  • Supply chain management and management of the parent organizations

Conditions are ripe for Agile teams in any situation where problems are complex, solutions are at first unclear, project requirements are likely to change, close collaboration with end users is feasible, and creative teams will outperform command-and-control groups.


What is Agile?

The fundamental essence of Agile processes is adaptivity

The word ‘agile’ means ‘the ability to move, think and understand very quickly’. It generally signifies a highly skilled behavior, in both life and business contexts. In fact, the term ‘agile’ has a reputation for being overused and used incorrectly not always in the way it was meant to.

Agile is a collective concept that includes different techniques that provide the ability to adapt quickly to new conditions. Agile methodology focuses on delivering the features that have the greatest business value first, and then communicating with customers in real time to enable direct feedback from them. Agile also requires strict management of the cost, time and scope of projects.

Coming back to its origins, Agile reflects the view of visionary software developers who believed that “uncovering better ways of developing software” would require a reversal of some fundamental assumptions of 20th-century management. They valued “individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation and responding to change over following a plan.”

As Agile is increasingly applied to large-scale projects, the gains that become possible at firms are dramatic, particularly the ability to deliver instant, frictionless, personalized responsiveness at scale, such as Spotify’s Discover Weekly.

Additionally, as software itself becomes a critical driver in almost all businesses, Agile is now spreading to many kinds of organizations and functions, as recognized in 2016 by Harvard Business Review in the article ‘Embracing Agile’.


How does Agile work?

Mindset & individuals over tools & processes

There are several Agile methodologies that can be used to manage a project – Scrum being the most widely used and the one that we will explain further.

Agile methodologies, particularly Scrum, are based on a set of values, principles, team roles, events (meetings) and artifacts, and the rules that bind them together. Agile methodologies are alternatives to command-and-control management styles. The essence of Scrum is a small, self-governing team (a Scrum Team) of 4–9 people, which is highly flexible, adaptive and cross-functional. Scrum uses the concept of timeboxing to define the amount of time the team should allocate for each event. The Scrum team members should have all the knowledge and skills they need to achieve the agreed goals. The teams autonomously decide the priorities and resource allocations, and are designed to stay close to the customers and adapt quickly to changing conditions.

Here are some of the main components of Agile methodology implementation:

  • A Scrum Team – with a Product Owner, Development Team and Scrum Master – is set up and empowered by leadership to take decisions
  • The Scrum Team follows three principles: 1) transparency (the work must be visible at all times); 2) inspection (the Scrum team must frequently inspect the work and progress towards the sprint goal to detect undesirable variances); and 3) adaptation (if one or more aspects deviate outside unacceptable limits, an adjustment must be done as soon as possible to minimize further deviation)
  • The team completes the following Scrum events: the Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective (all these events are timeboxed, so the team knows the maximum duration of each meeting)
  • The Scrum Team completes small intervals (Sprints) of active cooperation. These Sprints should not exceed four weeks and should have a specific goal. During these intervals, the Scrum Team should complete daily status meetings (Daily Scrums) of no more than 15 minutes
  • At the end of each Sprint, the customer receives the result (in the Sprint Review), which is already suitable to use in their business. The Scrum Team’s processes and ways of working are then analyzed for improvement (in the Sprint Retrospective)
  • The Scrum Team works closely with the customer throughout the development process and delivers all the work agreed to accomplish the Sprint goal
  • The team is always ready to review and adapt at any stage of the project, and can easily implement changes to improve the final product

Unlike classic project management methods, Scrum focuses more on personal responsibility. The individuals that are performing the tasks are the ones taking ownership and estimating the completion times.

With the right, competent approach to the implementation of the system, the development of any project – even the most complex and energy-consuming project – can turn into a well-functioning mechanism and real collaborative work.


What are the advantages of Agile?

Scrum improves how we work in several ways:

  • It produces higher product quality, due to constant testing and continuous improvement as small increments of the work are performed
  • It results in higher customer satisfaction, as a result of the constant demonstration of improvements to customers, and the fact that customers are kept engaged with the project
  • It offers increased project control – for example, with the Daily Scrum meetings
  • There are reduced risks because of the short Sprints, the brief time between feature development, and the constant adaption to the client’s/customer’s needs and preferences throughout the development process
  • It provides faster ROI because it focuses on business value, allows the client/customer to determine the priority of features, and creates a functional, ready-to-market product with just a few iterations


How can you implement Agile? And in what situations can you use Agile methodology?

Start small and let the word spread

Large companies typically launch change programs as massive efforts. However, the most successful introductions of Agile usually start small. They often begin in IT, where software developers are likely to be familiar with the principles. Agile might then spread to another function, with the original practitioners acting as coaches. Success achieved in one or more departments tends to create a group of passionate evangelists who can hardly wait to tell others in the organization how well Agile works.

Successful Agile implementation requires a mindset change, real commitment from teams and leadership, and perseverance to remove the potential bottlenecks that will occur due to the existing organizational structure, which has several layers of management and bureaucracy.

The top three factors that are most helpful in scaling Agile are: 1) internal Agile coaches; 2) executive sponsorship; and 3) training programs provided by the company.



Scrum can create a safe environment that enables teams to experiment and, most importantly, learn from their test results and continuously improve. Instead of doing an extensive phase of planning at the beginning and only testing at the end (like the waterfall approach), Scrum simply provides the space for teams to try, test and innovate faster based on repetitive cycles of input from the customer. The team plans just enough to have a reasonable hypothesis of what may work and goes with it.

We have recently gone through the Scrum Alliance certification experience, which included attending a live training session. Although many of the concepts, rules, thinking and methods we have learned can be easily understood from the Scrum Guide, we have found it valuable to simulate a Sprint. The main insights for us were:

  • It takes time for teams to internalize the concept of self-governing teams, where your title and seniority within an organization no longer matters – just the work you deliver
  • In the beginning, you get the feeling that everything is chaotic and that you are losing control, so you can imagine how this might be one of the blockers for implementation
  • Scrum is easy to understand but takes time to master, and a test-and-learn mindset is as critical as being open to failing fast and then improving
  • Constant feedback is one of the core elements of Scrum and that is why being transparent is so important
  • For Scrum to work, leadership needs to be onboard and support and understand the process during implementation. It should empower the Scrum Team and not overturn team decisions or add review layers and controls to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated. Failure should be a part of the process. With the best of intentions, such interventions erode the benefits that Agile innovation can deliver

Implementing Agile can be a step forward. It involves a lot of work, and emotions and passions run high as people and processes collide. Hiring an Agile coach may help companies maneuver these challenges but not without effort from the entire organization – from the executives and senior management to the programmers. As with any good harvest, the yield from Agile depends on the efforts that go into implementation. 

If you are interested in getting a Scrum certification, here are some suggestions (non-exhaustive list):