Since beginning the role of Project Manager on the Customer Relationship Management project back in late September 2015, I feel like I have come a long way (both geographically and professionally!).
During my first day of project management training I struggled to understand what project management actually is. And I had never even seen a CRM system, never mind presented the case for buying one. I did not even know at the time this was what I was being asked to do. All I had was a working knowledge of my business area and a readiness to make a positive change at St Andrews.
In those early days, as I tried to get my head around the terminology (how to write a “vision” was very tricky and understanding the difference between a “benefit” and an “advantage” mind-boggling), I began to think about what exactly the problem was that we were aiming to fix. Initially I focused on the multiplicity of IT systems in use, but there turned out to be more and more problems the more I spoke to people. On secondment from Admissions, I knew what it was like to be at the forefront of customer service. It was generally acknowledged that the University had great customer service, but how did we know that? I realized that our knowledge of our own success was in fact not knowledge at all, but anecdote. And that was one of the underlying reasons why we needed a CRM system.
There are difficult and sometimes philosophical questions involved in leading a project such as this one. For instance, how far could a simple change to process and governance succeed in effecting change, rather than an all-singing, all-dancing IT system? If we hold so much background information on applicants, how far should that be used to influence application decision-making? Some of the answers to the questions were given by others (decision-making will not be influenced by information held outside of the application). Some of the answers are still out there, somewhere.
What has been surprising and positive about working in the Senate Efficiency Review is the great support from the team. Everyone working in the SER is a pioneer of some sort, driven by the need to make a positive difference. If they were not they might have given up long ago. Effecting change is challenging. There is always resistance as well as support. Technology might be our friend one day or our enemy the next. Christmas holidays get in the way of tight deadlines (who needs two weeks off anyway?). But ultimately what makes the SER so great is the people. Despite all the challenges thrown in their way, they continue to remain positive and see that there is an end in sight.
Apart from learning what project management and CRM is all about, my greatest challenge has been working remotely. At first it was thought it couldn’t be done, but having spent a large chunk of my time in Admissions working from hotels or on trains, I knew it was possible. Taking lessons learned from previous experience, and adding additional facilitative technology (I could not have done this without Skype for Business or One Drive or Slack), it is clear to see now that it we live in a world where you can work remotely as long as you and your team are willing to be flexible.
Other things I have learned: in the past four months I have collaborated across departments rather than in just one team. Stepping outside of your usual team gives you a wider perspective on the functions and views of so many different teams, and how they all work together to make this living, breathing university community. It is a great way of establishing what you have contributed to the University. It is also very motivational. The cross-department collaborations have allowed me to work with individuals that I would not otherwise have met and I feel privileged to have done so, if a little sad to be leaving them so soon.
So as I bring this wave of the CRM project to a close, what piece of advice would I give to the intrepid person who takes over as project manager? Listen. Whether it is a training course provider, an advisor, a resistor, a friend, an ally or one of your own project team, just listen to them and they will teach you so many things. I have had invaluable training, collaborated with so many brilliant, supportive people, and learned the daily ins and outs of project management. I leave the SER a wiser person than when I started.