What If?.

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Top of mind when ensuring your brand and business becomes Fit for the Future is efficiency. If processes feel lumpy then now is the time to look in the mirror. Even if things are running smoothly on the surface the approach still may not be optimal for the best possible results and outcomes. Here are my 5 Top Tips to becoming Future Fit by improving delivery efficiency whilst successfully maintaining a portfolio of projects. 

Our Sagittarius ‘Production Machine’ has stood the test of time. Yes, it’s continuously evolving with new technologies and processes but our framework remains consistent at its core. Crucial for us is the recognition of challenges and issues from our past experiences, learning from them and adapting to improve this next time around. With digital engineering and martech optimisation accelerating so rapidly the agility we adopt in our approach will become increasingly more important over time.

Having worked in Project Management, Programme Management and now Portfolio management there are 5 key things I believe you can do with relative ease to focus on improving the efficiency of your teams whilst working on a mixture of fixed budget projects and augmented teams with retained external members (like our Business Transformation Retainer model - BTR).  

When striking the right balance, the impact this has across Production can be considerable resulting in an increase in profitability and revenue - always a bonus! 

Production

Tip One: Utilisation  

We define utilisation in two parts - billable and non-billable utilisation. Depending on the type of organisation you are this might be better phrased as core business and supplementary or something simpler just to delineate the split between output that drives you forward fast vs standard working practices/exceptions that exist in any role. 
Both are equally important to understand team capacity. If there is a high proportion of non-billable work booked on a team, then there are generally three potential reasons – leave (sick, vacation, dependent), training or no billable work. 

Leave is necessary, training is an investment and non-billable work is manageable if you know this in advance.  

So how do we manage this? 

  • Understand your headcount target – what are they there to achieve? is your target in £ and hours or something else highly measurable?
  • Understand your available working hours per headcount – each month how many working days are available excluding public holidays and vacation. 
  • Benchmark acceptable non-billable time – review important must-have meetings against others and assess what is a realistic target to hit. Also, assess training and how this slots in within your team and project commitments. 
  • Understand what your sold or no fail commitments are each week/month and match this against availability. 

 

Tip two: Forward planning 

Like all businesses we have many projects and initiatives running across multiple teams and it’s key to assess those that are on track, require extension plus navigate new work scheduled to land. Sounds like a no-brainer but often in organisations this quite federated and not adhered to with any strictness. It's always the first thing that shows up in any time and motion study. Yes priorities change on a daily basis however we plan our baseline at the end of each month, then each week, we look at the movements or additions to this over the next 3 months onwards to ensure we have the right people, on the right projects for our clients. 


So how do we manage this?

  • Get the right tool in place. A tool that has all project plans, project scope, team skill sets, team members and real-time utilisation data all in one place.
  • Create genuine sight of the project/task pipeline and its shape well ahead of time. 
  • Focus on being proactive instead of reactive.
  • Assess anything that overruns (no matter how small) and cater for this in utilisation

Tip three: Budget management 

I’m not teaching you to suck eggs here. All good managers keep a handle on the finances but here perhaps go that extra mile and treble check if the money really does align to all the component parts of a project or campaign. This is relatively simple to do at the start and making sure this is right before the team begins is an important part of our Project Management role when handling fixed budgets. Warning - ‘creative accountancy’ maybe required. Our priority is to allow as much creativity and innovation within a set output for the greatest outcome. Generally the initial time-boxing presented to us within a project is a guide however the trick is to keep to this scope, total hours and costs in check to ensure profitability if you’re generating revenue or efficiency if you’re deeper inside a brand’s organisation. Poor planning and budget management can creep silently throughout a project and have a sometimes surprising knock-on effect on timelines, resources, and ultimately dissatisfied stakeholders - so our role is to stay on top of this. 

So how do we manage this?

  • Project plans should be done on a granular level with hours and costs attached throughout including a map of all levels of risk.
  • Actual time/production estimates are done on a granular level and monitored daily 
  • Budget management is done on a phase level and continuously cross-checked with the overall budget per skill set or department.  
  • RAG reports are submitted weekly for transparency and visibility.


Tip four: Scope and risk management 

This is an important requirement for any project we handle and tends to be ‘dialled up’ when the budget is fixed with zero contingency. This is not a factor in our agile BTR model as scope is moved to the backlog and product owners prioritise this with the team. However,  for fixed priced projects, a risk log is identified upfront and managed throughout the project’s lifecycle. The scope is fixed at the start, refined throughout and based on additional features/enhancements or by complexity.  

So how do we manage this?

  • All risks need to be identified no matter how small. Ask lots of questions and analyse; what is out of your control and which stages in a typical project may have a strong likelihood of growing (i.e., feedback stages, sign off stages and content population). This is documented via a Risk log and each risk identified has a mitigation plan attached. This is textbook stuff but so often overlooked.
  • The scope is assessed against the level of effort required and how this fits into the original deliverables, costs, hours, and the project plan given. For us we manage this via tools like Jira and Forecast. 


Tip five: Resource management 

When referring to resources, I mean exclusively people of various and specific skill sets that can be utilised to deliver a project or programme of activity. This ranges from Engineers and Creatives to CRO consultants and Scrum Masters and everything in between. Each has a level of experience and expertise and therefore depending on the project presented, we need to actively reduce lead time and ensure that the best suited talent is engaged. If this is not managed effectively then resources that are unable to achieve their outputs become a drain on efficiency.

So how do we manage this?

  • RAG reporting is done each week to Senior Management, and Leadership are kept in appraised of where we need to pivot or offer support to teams. 
  • Less experienced team members are overseen by Seniors. 
  • Training and skill set gaps are managed via training plans and PDP (personal development plans) sessions with Line Managers every 6 months. 
  • Team retrospectives are done either regularly across the delivery period. 
  • This ensures the teams are syncing, communicating challenges to each other and highlighting any support required. 

 As you can imagine there are other techniques that we employ but in summary, these are the core areas within a Delivery function to ensure  your ‘Production Machine’ is well oiled. It’s made up of many parts and when they all move together progression happens smoothly. If there is a piece missing or the fit is wrong, then inefficiency arises and can grind or impact other parts. Whatever processes you follow ensure you have the gauges or temperature checks baked in to warn you if something needs and urgent review. This has enabled us to grow and will help you do the same.


If you need support with your digital projects in any way or would like to talk more about our Business Transformation Retainers then speak to our team.

want to speak to one of our experts?

Thumbnail Ian MacArthur
Ian MacArthur
Chief Experience Officer
Ian is a highly experienced and award-winning creative strategist specialising in bringing brands closer to their audiences through digital marketing transformation and optimisation. With over 26 years’ experience and well over 10,000 projects under his belt, Ian is proud to have worked with some of the world’s most impressive brands, helping them solve business problems and approach challenges differently.

Ian heads up the experience optimisation (XO) division at Sagittarius, working with all teams and clients across the business and globe.
 
Thumbnail Ian MacArthur

Ian MacArthur

17 Feb 2021 - 10 minute read
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