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Case Study: Virtual Project Management

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June 01, 2001
Project Management
Mark Haley - MHaley@HiTouchT.com

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: one project; three countries; five companies; 14 time zones.
Software development, business process analysis, systems analysis, implementation, systems administration, database administration, quality assurance, training and documentation and more… Complete in 10 weeks or less.

Mission impossible? It sure sounded like it at first glance. But any challenge can be overcome by the right people working together, doing the right things for all the right reasons. Project management is an art unto itself. This case study offers an outstanding example of this art form in action. Let’s take a look at the project itself:

The Client: Hotel Net Business (HNB: www.hotelnetbusiness.com) is a French start-up company, the dream of two Paris-based entrepreneurs, Paul Bernie and Bernard Levy-Provencal. The firm’s mission: to provide a multiple-service portal to the European hospitality industry, focused on the needs of the independent hotelier. Services include news, commentary, employment resources, reservations and e-procurement. Backed by Fontainebleu Ventures, the young firm has a staff of 14 hospitality professionals dedicated to servicing their customers.

The Project: Modify the U.S.-based e-procurement software HNB licensed from VproLogic (VPL: www.vprologic.net) of Atlanta, Ga. The system needed to support the HNB business model in a pan-European environment with full multi-lingual and multi-currency functionality, as opposed to driving a different model in English and U.S. dollars, oversee the hosting of the modified code in a highly secure co-location facility, and assist HNB in establishing their internal processes for acquiring and servicing clients, acquiring suppliers and managing a rapidly expanding library of products and prices.

Needless to say, all of this needed to be done on time and on budget.

The Team: Start with HNB’s team of hospitality professionals drawn from a polyglot cast of global talent. HNB’s staff comes from France, the United Kingdom, Morocco, Canada, Sri Lanka and the former Yugoslavia. Throw in an American project manager from High Touch Technologies, Inc. (HTT) and a team of system administrators from iSpeed Solutions (Atlanta, Ga.). Deliver a powerful offshore software development engine in the form of Magnaquest International’s (Phoenix, Ariz.) Indian software architects and programmers. Code warriors, to be sure, these 85 software professionals delivered expertise in the complete scope of Web ware, including active server pages, Java, COM, multiple databases and more.

The Catch: VproLogic was an even more infant company than HNB. At the beginning of the effort, VPL had software licenses and source code, but no employees. The effort was led by R.C. Patel, an entrepreneur with several other businesses to operate in addition to providing VPL’s vision. R.C. assembled the team of consultants and subject matter experts to drive the project ahead while the infant firm took shape. During the course of the project, VPL hired its first employee, Satyan Melwani, and VPL is now en route to its adolescence as a software development company.

Now, let’s tell the truth. Nobody started this effort really knowing that it would demand this degree of complexity and this breadth of resources. But as the project evolved and the client’s needs became defined, the entire team remained fully committed to success and flexible enough to achieve it.

What were the strategies, tools and business conditions that enabled this accomplishment? 96,000 air miles and 38 nights in hotels later, we can define the required ingredients for clear success:

  • Focus
  • Aligned business interests
  • Clear high-level objectives
  • A strong project plan
  • - break big tasks into smaller ones
    - define milestones at every major point
    - require weekly deliverables
  • Communication
  • Most importantly: The right people with the right skill sets
Now, let’s evaluate each of these key components in detail.

Focus – In project management focus usually means the ability to say “no,” or “non,” as the situation may require. By maintaining our focus on delivering multi-lingual, multi-currency functionality, we were able, individually and collectively, to say “no” to anything that could obstruct achieving our goal. Stated simply, our common goal was a SMART one: Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. A SMART goal allows the project team to stay focused.

Aligned Business Interests – Even though the various players in the project came from different companies and different perspectives, the terms and conditions under which everyone worked ensured that success would be rewarded. Merely punching in would not. While defining the high-level objectives (below), Bernard Levy-Provencal of HNB asserted, “The principle of success must remain paramount.” Financial incentives were only part of the mix. If we delivered on our high-level objectives, HNB, VPL and the consultants would all win and set the stage for future wins in a brutal marketplace.

Clear High-Level Objectives – The component outcomes of the project were defined in a high-level document that all parties agreed to. The magic here was to make the high-level objectives detailed enough to be meaningful, yet loose enough to adapt to the needs of the project and the client as the effort evolved.
A Strong Project Plan – This document grew out of the high-level objectives. The hallmarks of a good project plan include:

  • Break big, complicated tasks into smaller, simpler ones.
    A good example here was the decision to develop a French-only version of the product, supporting francs and euros, while work progressed on the fully blown multi-lingual, multi-currency product. This tactic accelerated HNB’s time-to-market by two months vs. starting from English and going straight to “n” number of languages and “m” number of currencies.
  • Define milestones at every major point.
    This critical aspect of project management is exemplified by real-world measures that mean something. In this case the ability to place an order on the site was one milestone. Milestones are important in project management for several reasons. The first and most obvious one is to measure progress. A second, often ignored function of the milestone is to celebrate the many small successes that add up to large ones. Achieving a project milestone is an event worthy of recognition by the team, even if it is a simple thank you or “attaboy!” during a conference call.
  • Require weekly deliverables.
    Every member of the project team had something to deliver to the project every week. These deliverables were developed, agreed upon and managed by the next management technique.
Communication - Conference calls with the entire team represented allowed continuous evaluation of our progress, adjustments to our plan as required and assurance that we were moving toward our common goal. If for some reason we cancelled a conference call, team productivity the following week suffered. We quickly learned to always have the calls, even if it meant juggling other schedules.
The formal conference calls were augmented by daily e-mails and frequent use of the MSN Messenger instant messaging service, reducing the frequency and duration of costly intercontinental telephone calls for quick questions.
The Right People - Can one ever say enough about how crucial having the right people on your team is? The entire team, including the carefully selected resources from HTT, Magnaquest and iSpeed were all fully committed to the project’s and HNB’s success.

So, what happened?

  • We delivered the French-only version on March 12. This allowed HNB and the clients to use the site to prove the concept and demonstrate their ability to execute. It also provided a demonstration platform to support further sales efforts.
  • We delivered the multi-lingual, multi-currency version (Release 3.0) in May. This allowed HNB to firmly establish themselves as the only pan-European operator with the tools to support euros and local currencies according to the needs and preferences of the buyers and sellers.
  • Release 3.0 was integrated into the HNB portal, passing the buyer’s choice of language and utilizing SSL (secure socket layer) certification.
  • HNB’s staff was fully trained on administering the VproLogic application prior to Release 3.0, including the devilishly tricky areas of content management and customer acquisition.
  • And, of course, all of this was done on time and on budget, by the right people working together for the right reasons.

Mark Haley is president of High Touch Technologies, Inc., a consulting practice serving the hospitality technology industry, (978) 521-3600 or e-mail, MHaley@HiTouchT.com. High Touch Technologies specializes in helping hotel industry clients move their business processes to the Web.

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