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.

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.

How the on-demand workforce can help companies succeed in a post-Brexit landscape

The UK’s vote to leave the EU on 23 June 2016 cast widespread uncertainty across the country (and, indeed, across the world) about the future of business in Britain. The initial economic impact of Brexit saw the pound drop to its lowest level since 1985 in the days following the Leave vote and, though the market has since levelled out, the pound remains weak. The British Chambers of Commerce does say that Britain will likely avoid a recession, but it has downgraded its forecast of GDP growth over the next three years. The state of the economy, however, is not the only factor causing concern amongst CEOs.

With political negotiations about the exact nature of Brexit still ongoing, businesses cannot be certain what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like – especially with regards to the transference of talent and the physical movement of workforces. Businesses need to be prepared for all potential outcomes, and investing in virtual talent is a fail-safe way to do this. CEOs should think about which skills they might need in the future, and assess any risks that might affect the eligibility of the workforce to remain in the UK.

How Brexit is affecting the UK’s workforces 

According to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, which asked 2,102 UK employers about their hiring plans for the last three months of 2016, employers have become significantly more cautious about hiring staff following the Brexit vote – especially those within the financial services and construction industries, and the public sector. The agency’s UK managing director, Mark Cahill, says that freedom of movement is of particular concern to employers, due to the UK’s reliance on European talent to fill the skills gaps. Foreign workers do not just fill low-paid, unskilled positions in the UK – they are an integral part of many highly skilled professions. Businesses need to be able to access this global talent.

If workers cannot cross borders, then businesses will

It is not yet clear what the status of the UK’s 2.1 million EU migrant workers will be once the UK triggers Article 50. According to, it is plausible that businesses will see an increase in the competition for skilled British workers, and subsequently need to increase wages and salaries in order to secure and retain the best staff. Economists have predicted that, along with a mass exodus of EU workers and the loss of the single market, certain industries may decide to move out of the UK, and take talent pools with them. It is thought that Germany is an attractive hub for financial services jobs and tech talent, for example.

Tapping into a ‘borderless’ pool of global talent

Despite all these concerns and uncertainties, Brexit doesn’t have to impact CEOs’ abilities to access the best global talent. If restrictions on the free movement of workers come into force, and certain industries move talent pools out of the UK, the virtues of the open talent economy will become increasingly evident. By tapping into a curated pool of Independent Professionals from around the world, companies are able to virtually transcend borders and access the exact skills they need on demand. The capabilities of technology have meant that workers are now able to operate completely remotely, which means that companies where feasible can save time, money and resources and, ultimately, overcome the legal boundaries associated with the physical movement of workers.

Embracing the global open talent economy is a truly ‘borderless’ way of working, and allows companies to adapt to the constant shifts in the market. It does, however, require an open-minded culture, and for companies to take a flexible approach to the workplace. As long as your company is open to this new way of working, the open talent economy will enable you to thrive in the challenging and changing environment of post-Brexit Britain.

Of course, for some companies, investing in a remote, virtual workforce simply isn’t feasible. They want to be able to meet Independent Professionals in person, and have them working onsite. In cases such as these, Brexit may seem to present more of a problem. EU workers may need to obtain permits to work in the UK and be subject to restrictions. a-connect has 14 years’ experience in navigating the open talent economy, so you can rest assured that we will continue to provide you with the best talent.

Invest in a future that is more certain

The open talent economy is an ideal option for businesses who need to continue to access global skills and expertise, and a-connect can expertly curate your talent pool so that – whatever the ramifications of Brexit – you can work with global Independent Professionals on demand. To find out how our global pool of experienced professionals can help your company thrive in the post-Brexit landscape, contact us today.

Navigating the ‘border’ challenges of the global on-demand talent economy

Modern businesses are made up of rich, dynamic and diverse workforces that include workers from multiple countries around the world. European companies, in particular, have benefited from the ‘free movement of workers’ within Europe, which has enabled them to access different countries’ skills, resources and talent since the 1950s. It is also not unusual to see professionals from Canada, Australia, America, Africa or Asia within workforces. This diversity has helped businesses to flourish, and to keep up with changing skills and needs.

The on-demand workforce has further opened up the global pool of talent, enabling CEOs and decision-makers to tap into the exact skills they need at specific points in their projects. Advances in technology, connectivity and mobility – for example the rise in cloud-based computing – have meant that companies can manage and collaborate seamlessly with Independent Professionals who are based in other countries. These advances have also enabled changes in the way employers work with their fixed, onsite teams.

This is hugely beneficial to CEOs and decision-makers, as the expertise you need might not necessarily be available in-house. You might require specialist knowledge of the local markets that you are looking to expand into, for example, or best practices from other industries. The on-demand talent economy is a truly ‘borderless’ and collaborative network of senior professionals, that can provide you with the exact skills you need.

Having workers operating remotely is not always feasible, practical or preferable for some companies, though. While the vast majority of tasks can be carried out offsite, and you can rest assured that the work will be completed to the same high standard as if it were done onsite, some companies still prefer ‘physical’ over ‘virtual’ talent.

There are times when it is necessary to speak with a professional in person, especially when it comes to project and change management. You might find that having the professional onsite creates a greater impact. This is where the ‘border’ challenges of the on-demand talent economy become apparent, and where you need professional advice to help you navigate them.

The physical movement of global workforces across borders

There are many boundaries to the physical open talent economy that companies need to be aware of, and that need to be managed professionally. It is arguable that, because of these challenges, virtual work is always going to be the more popular option for professionals and organisations. Saying that, companies that take a truly flexible approach to the way they work are in the best position to yield the extensive benefits of the global on-demand workforce.

One of the biggest challenges of the global open talent economy is being able to navigate the immigration restrictions that apply when physically moving workers across national borders. Different countries have different policies when it comes to letting in workers, and it’s important that these are taken into account when curating your company’s talent pool. If you don’t know the ins and outs of a country’s legal boundaries and immigration system, then you might end up in difficulty, or find that the process takes longer than necessary.

Companies in Australia, for example, face incredibly tight restrictions on incoming workforces – such as having to gain working visas – in line with their strict immigration rules. Work permits are also required for professionals travelling to America, and are granted after an individual submits an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In Canada, workers may need to obtain a Temporary Resident Visa in order to enter the country, depending on the worker’s nationality. Though non-EU workers hoping to work in Europe can travel freely within the continent for up to six months, they are also required to obtain a work permit if they intend to find a job within an EU country. The application processes can be lengthy, but they can be easily managed by professional talent curators with specialist expertise.

Keeping up with changes in immigration policies

Britain’s decision to leave the EU on 23 June has somewhat complicated the notion of free movement of workers for European businesses. As the Leave campaign was focused on controlling and reducing immigration, it is fair to assume that the free movement of workers will also have limitations imposed upon it. Economists are already predicting that many of London’s financial services jobs and tech talent will flow to Frankfurt and Berlin respectively, both of which have vibrant business scenes. As the UK will likely lose its access to the single market, better-connected countries like Germany will probably become attractive.

It’s not yet certain how this will affect the on-demand talent economy, but experts like a-connect are experienced in adapting to changes in governmental and legal policies, so your company will always have access to the best global talent, whether physically or virtually. We have 14 years’ experience in helping companies access the right person, in the right location, at the right time. Contact us today to find out how we could curate your on-demand talent pool.

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.