Monthly Archives: June 2013

Cardiff University Distributed IT Staff Conference

Here at Cardiff we have some two hundred, locally-managed IT support staff distributed around the University’s 2 main campuses, 3 Colleges, 27 Schools and 15 libraries.  Whilst this is good for the customer in that they are served at the point of need, such a distributed model can bring many challenges for the staff concerned: how to maintain consistency, how to ensure a level standard of training is maintained, how to provide support in smaller areas, how to prevent the staff from feeling isolated, how to manage consequent stress levels, how to reduce duplication of effort and maximise on benefit to the University as a whole, and so on.  We have a strategy in place that aims to address each of these issues but the jewel in the crown of the strategy has to be the annual DITS conference, now in its fourth year.

When we first ran this conference in 2010, people came along more out of curiosity than anything else.  They then realised that getting together with colleagues from across the institution – many of whom they’d never even heard of let alone met – and sharing ideas, putting their heads together to solve problems, even comparing horror stories of awkward customers – yes they do exist! – was actually to their enormous benefit – as one of them said to me after the first conference, “I now get what DITS is all about”.

Since that first year, when we attracted about 70 attendees and 7 sponsors, we’ve grown in popularity to this year having over 130 people present and some 20 sponsors – with many more distributed staff sending in their heartfelt apologies that they couldn’t come but would really have loved to.

Whilst we never have a specific conference title, the broad  theme of all our conferences is collaboration and community, and it is in many ways an opportunity to celebrate the ways in which the staff have worked together successfully over the preceding year.   An example this year was of a member of the Dental School taking the lead in developing a University-wide requirement for a personalised student timetable.  Another was of a member of the School of Planning and Geography, who spoke about what was initially a development within the School of a building infrastructure management system but which they are now taking forward in collaboration with members of other Schools.  An example of a different kind of collaboration was given by a member of the DITS School Working Group, to tell us how the group had worked together over the year to produce an induction document for all new IT support staff wherever they may be located – sounds simple but when you’ve got over 27 separate IT support teams scattered around the University, it makes sense for them all to use the same document to which they’ve all been able to contribute.  We also welcomed Steve Kennett, Head of JANet Operational Services, who gave an interesting (and pleasantly light-hearted) overview of just how JANet manages to give us such a superb and reliable service (and made us realise how much we simply take for granted!).  Information Services has just been awarded an award in Customer Service Excellence, so the conference was an ideal opportunity to share our journey – the highs and the lows – with the distributed staff.   Add to that an introduction from the Director of University IT, a talk from the Chief Operating Officer on how he saw the University moving forward, a presentation on video conferencing and an update on where we are with our imminent move to Office 365, and all in all it was a very useful, educational, interesting and indeed sociable event.  Roll on next year!

Marina Whitmore (Support Services Group member)
Principal Consultant and User Enablement Manager
Information Services
Cardiff University

What are the keys to consistently successful project delivery for your institution?

The Gartner PPM and IT Governance Summit was held this week in London http://www.gartner.com/technology/summits/emea/program-management/ 

Within hours of the event starting tweets were emerging with the latest research and models for project success. For example the Gartner model for the successful Enterprise Project Management Organisation – also at http://www.flickr.com/photos/27772229@N07/8725958414/in/photostream

Gartner Enterprise Project Management Organisation

As ever Gartner provide useful and thought provoking input. But how would these ideas work in your institution?

This got me thinking about keys for project success in our business. Have they been lost behind the metaphorical sofa of academic culture or are there some common ideas we can share?

At the University of Edinburgh we’ve been running our project management organisation for more than 10 years. Over those years not everything has worked but hopefully we’ve learned from our successes (and our failures) and matured a little bit along the way. Here are some of the key things we’ve learned on the journey:

Start small you won’t be able to do crack everything at once – we started with project initiation and definition – prior to that we only really had this (and even then in a very basic way) for our larger projects

Develop a common framework for your projects and project teams – we started with a very basic projects intranet available only to IT staff – and not project stakeholders! It was a start however and allowed us to develop processes for change and issue management, risk, project reporting etc. Today we have a projects web site which is the “gold copy” for all our project information at: https://www.projects.ed.ac.uk/

Measure project costs – both estimates and actuals for all your projects – we developed a project estimation process and introduced time recording for our IT staff very early on. This was challenging culturally but its hard now to imagine delivering projects without the management capabilities and information that this provides.

Don’t neglect your partner relationships – sadly I suspect that we did this. Our initial certainty about the correctness of the approach perhaps made us forget that projects are a people business and relationships matter. Better to avoid this trap than have to recover later.

Tackle project governance – trust goes a long way toward achieving good governance so an ongoing investment in partner relationships will pay off many times over. Ensure that:

  • project sponsors understand their responsibilities and are empowered to discharge these
  • projects teams are supported to deliver – use your more experienced staff in a quality assurance role as senior suppliers
  • you have representative and empowered project boards that meet regularly for all your major projects. An effective project board is a key part of the team and should have have an “access all areas” pass to project information
  • you remember the real end users i.e. the students and staff who will use the deliverables 
  • small projects are not neglected – develop basic quality assurance processes for all projects

Be resilient, remember why we are here, stick at it and enjoy the ride – As President harry S. Truman once said “it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”

Now your secrets may well be different so if you’d like to join the conversation please come along to the Project and Change Management Group at http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/groups/pcmg.aspx

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!