Implementing PPM Tools in the NHS

Blog David Walton 21-04-2022

We were delighted when our Director, David Walton was asked to take part in the NHS Project Futures Festival 2022.

PM3 is one the #1 PPM Solution in the NHS, so you can trust David has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to project management in the NHS today.

Listen here to David’s 20-minute segment with host Stephanie Smith where he discusses implementing PPM tools in the NHS and the commoditisation of project management.


Interview Transcript

Stephanie: Hello and good morning I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s NHS project futures insight session, I’m Stephanie Smith of Health Education England and I’d like to thank you all for joining taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us. I’ll be talking with David Walton, founder and managing director of Bestoutcome, the organization responsible for implementing the leading project, portfolio management tool known as PM3 in over 50 organizations in the NHS. Good morning, David, and welcome.

David: Good morning thanks for inviting me on.

Stephanie: Great we’re really pleased you’re here and that you’re able to join us and share the benefit of your expertise with everybody.

So, let’s get started. Can you describe some of the challenges facing the NHS today and how you can help?

David: Yes, I think in the NHS, we all know ,there’s enormous amount of change happening. So, whether it’s Covid or whether it’s digital transformation, or whether it’s migration to new structures, there’s enormous amount of change and all those change projects and programs from small scale to large scale transformation or maybe even CIP programs, they all have to be managed and controlled.

That change needs to be delivered successfully so how we help is we produce and we develop an NHS PPM tool, PM3, which is a project portfolio management tool.

It manages projects programs and portfolios and covers a full gamut of projects, from small projects planning requirements and benefits all those aspects of a project management term that you need to run and deliver change successfully. How we help the NHS is we market our tool to outside the NHS, but the NHS is our biggest client and they help us with the direction of the product and they also help implement and direct us really in terms of what their requirements are going forward.

So, for example, we have an impact assessment in the tool, whether it’s equality impact assessment or data protection impact assessment,we have a lot of work around benefits realization and lots of those functional areas of PM3 come directly from the NHS and our other clients who feed into us what the requirements are they need to deliver change successfully.

So, we’re all about delivering change and what we’re providing is not just a tool but a solution. So PM3 is a PPM solution not just a tool that’s been designed by practitioners for practitioners. It’s not a set of widgets that all that look really nice,  it’s about real functionality that delivers real benefit to how you manage projects and programs successfully

Our consultants and our designers are all ex-project program managers who have spent their time delivering programs and projects successfully in lots of different organizations and that knowledge, that intelligence, has been fed into the product.

And so, with PM3 we’re not asking the project manager to do anything over and above what they should be doing to manage your project successfully and there’s no bureaucracy. Data goes in once only and reporting is automated as well, so what we’re trying to do with PM3 is to take away some of the manual effort of the project management team and allow them to focus on delivering the outcomes of their programs and projects rather than worrying about writing highlight reports – that’s all automated in PM3 – so they can concentrate on delivering their outcomes of their projects and programs successfully. That’s really what PM3 is all about.

Stephanie: That’s really interesting thank you Can you elaborate a bit on why you would call this a solution and not a tool please?

David: Yes, so if it’s a solution on its own it is no good, if our mission is to deliver and help our clients deliver programs and projects successfully.

The tool is just one part of the of a jigsaw really. You need processes, you need trained people, you need mentoring, guidance, and a whole wrapper around the product that you need to deliver programs and projects successfully.

We’re also seeing in the NHS and also elsewhere the rise of the accidental project manager and it’s really the commoditization of project management – something which I have a bit of a problem with really.

It is almost as if anybody can be a project manager if they have the skills they have the aptitude and they can run a project – but I’m not sure this is actually correct

What we will try and do with PM3 is help the accidental project managers because this isn’t going away.

The accidental project manager I think is here to stay, and what we’re trying to do is not just give them a tool but also give them guidance on how to use the product successfully, and also how to start, run and close down projects.

So, as part of PM3 we have a learning management system which helps people use the tool better but also understand the concepts of good project management.

And that project management training experience is really what we’re trying to do with PM3.

We also have something called the PM3 genie. The PM3 genie is there to guide you around the product, it’s also there to give you guidance and advice on how to develop good project plans.

When I do lots of project program reviews, one of the first things I look at is how good is the project plan. So, the genie looks at your project plan in PM3 and gives you guidance and advice on how to improve that.

What we’re trying to do with PM3 is add some intelligence, some advice, and some guidance on how to use the product successfully.

I like to use the analogy about playing golf. I’m a golfer, not a great golfer, but I play golf. It’s  quite a complicated game. Now I can get the best product set, if you like the best irons, the best drivers in the world, but if I give it to somebody who’s not actually been trained how to swing those clubs properly then chances are they’ll have a very poor round.

I can have somebody else who’s been coached and trained how to swing the club properly with maybe clubs at five or ten years old, not quite as good as the Rolls-Royce ones, and that person will have a far better round and be more successful playing golf than a person who has had no training, coaching or mentoring.

So, the accidental project manager, I think, needs some advice and guidance some help to actually swing the clubs properly to run the projects properly and that’s what we’re trying to do with PM3 – give that person a holistic solution about trying to help our clients deliver projects and programs successfully.

The tool is just one part of that jigsaw.

Stephanie: That’s great thanks David really clear. Just  because times have obviously changed recently over the last two years do you think remote working has changed the need for PPM tools?

David: I think it has. I think remote working is here to stay now. I know some people haven’t been back to the office for two or three years, other people are going back two three days a week, one day a week, there’s a whole range of hybrid working but I think hybrid working is probably here to stay.

And so if you’ve got a project team that is now geographically dispersed, they’re not in the office, they’re working from different locations, different homes and so forth, then our biggest competitor in the NHS is spreadsheets

If you’re working at home with spreadsheets running projects, and I have an issue with running projects on spreadsheets because it’s a blank sheet of paper effectively, but if you’re doing that at home and you’re emailing around spreadsheets and PowerPoint and other documentation it’s very confusing.

You lose version control and quite a few of these spreadsheets have errors and really you should be using a tool that’s been designed for the purpose of running projects and programs, which is what PM3 is all about.

I don’t think running projects on spreadsheets is a very advisable thing to do and it is exacerbated when you work from home.

So if you’re working from home and everyone’s logging onto a cloud-based system, it has version control and you know exactly what the data is. You’ve got one version a truth and that’s a really, really big benefit.

That benefit is more important if you’re working from home remotely and everyone’s working on different pcs, laptops, share drives and all that sort of stuff.

If you’re working remotely a PPM tool, like PM3, everything is in one place. Our mission is actually to try and kill some of these extraneous spreadsheet systems and have everything in one place. A one-stop shop to look at your programs and projects.

We’ve seen quite a big uptake in PM3, especially in the NHS over the last 18 months, because people realize that they need to be more efficient.

And working at home, is it more efficient? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, but if you’re working collaboratively with a team and you’ve got to keep emailing files around or having shared directories, that’s not as efficient as having everything on one central integrated cloud-based platform.

So, I do think the challenge of working from home, remote working, means you actually need to invest in tools like PM3 to help you be more innovative and more efficient and work more productively, because you’re working in a different environment than if you’re working in an office with all your other all your other team members around you.

So I think just to answer your original question, Stephanie, I do think remote working is here to stay and I think that means you need to look at the tools you need to use and a PPM tool like PM3 is really important.

The last point I’d make is when you’re emailing files around the internet then security is a big issue and especially with these uncertain geopolitical times then security is a big, big issue.

With PM3 everything is encrypted across the internet and also at rest whereas if you’re emailing around spreadsheets, you’ve got version control you’ve also got lack of security as well.

And so what you want to do is ensure your project program data is being protected and is secure. So just to finalize the point, remote working I think leads itself to more cloud-based PPM solutions I would say.

Stephanie: Thank you, and I think from my understanding of PM3 as well, this system allows you to see who’s been working recently on a particular plan or a particular program plan which is really helpful to know and if somebody else is in there you can still access the programs at the same time. So more than one person can access the plan?

David: Yes, it’s a true multi-user system and the spreadsheet really is not a multi-user system when someone opens up typically it’s locked.

So you can look at PM3 and see who’s updated this page recently who’s looked at this page recently so it’s very important when you are producing up-to-date information and reports to senior management, sponsors and so forth, that you’re looking at the up-to-date information.

PM3 gives you that  guidance and reporting that says these people have updated the system recently it’s up to date and that’s good information, whereas the spreadsheet you’re not really sure who’s updated it, when and also quite often only one person can update it at any one time, which is again not a very efficient way of working.

Stephanie: Okay thank you. So, what would you say are your challenges with implementing PM3 in the NHS?

David: If you look at the biggest problem about implementing any project, the biggest risk area is lack of sponsorship. That’s the biggest cause of project failure.

And, when you implement PM3, it’s a project, it’s a change project in its own right. So, we look at the campaign, the need to change, and we look at the change barriers when we implement PM3.

Sponsorship is very important. We look for change champions so if that sponsor is not there, or that sponsor is very busy – and we know everyone in the NHS is very busy –  if that sponsor is too busy to give it real sponsorship, and to walk the talk and have that characteristic of “I really want you to use PM3 because it is efficient and all data is in one place” and all those good things we talked about just recently.

But if you’ve got to re-sponsor and make sure people don’t go back to old ways of working on spreadsheets and writing progress reports using different technologies, then the sponsor needs to promote the benefits of PM3 but also, sometimes, say: “Well If it’s not in PM3 it’s not a project. I’m not even looking at it this is because it’s not important if it’s not being managed, and we’ve invested in this.”

So, one of the challenges we have in the NHS is the sponsor that is too busy and then, the other big issue we have is the fact that sometimes there’s a lot of change in the NHS sometimes and sponsors move and different teams come in and sometimes people think: “Well, let’s do something different,” and rather than build on the investments of the previous team they suddenly go back to spreadsheets or different system.

Sometimes that can be quite frustrating because – I know I would say this – PM3 is a very good system and what you really should be doing is trying to build on the previous investment that the previous sponsor and the previous team has invested in. And that change of personnel is one of the challenges we have.

Stephanie: Okay right thank you, so I’m sure some people listening to this will want to hear more or to see PM3 in action, how would they do that?

David: They can contact me. Please got to our website, look at the case studies, look at how we’ve tailored PM3 for the NHS . I’m very happy for you to talk to us so we can run a demonstration of how PM3 will manage your digital transformations, your CIPS, your impact assessments, whatever it may be.

There are lots of reviews on PM3 on the web, you can see independent individual client reviews about PM3 or on the web you can just type in PM3 review, and you’ll find those.

We’d also be very happy to introduce you to some NHS clients that are using PM3, and you can talk to them about how they’re found using PM3 by running their projects programs and portfolio.

Stephanie: So my next question would be what be your advice to our viewers on navigating what is already the crowded PPM market when they’re selecting a PPM tool for the NHS?

David: It’s a very good question. There are a lot of products out there and they’re range from the one-man band to global enterprise products, and the first thing I think you need to look at is, what do you really need from a PPM tool.

Look at your maturity and try and find a tool set that matches it. So with PM3 for example we can turn functionality off and make it simple or we can make it complex, so you can run complex programs, or you can run simple projects.

You need to have a tool that matches your maturity and sometimes we see in tenders, for example, people asking very complex functional requirement questions and that may not be the best way forward.

I think ease of use is one of the most important things you need to look at, and going back to an earlier point about security, in these uncertain times security is very important, so you need to have a software organization that has invested, like we have, in ISO 2701 security cyber essentials, encryption and all those good things because that is very important in today’s world.

Also, is the company you are looking to buy a software from financially stable. There’s lots and lots of companies out there some very small. That information is available on the web so make sure that you’ve got a company that is a reasonable size to give you support for the long term.

Also, look at who’s got experience of working in the NHS. You might be talking to a company that does enterprise, huge PPM, but there’s no experience working in the NHS and I think having experience working in the NHS is very important.

So that’s a few of them:

Stephanie: Brilliant, okay so that kind of covers the top tips for getting a PPM tool implemented successfully in the NHS. That’s great thank.

David: Thank you very much

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