Recovering a portfolio of used-vehicle websites

This company, a leading provider of used-vehicle websites for motor manufacturers and dealer groups, had a large portfolio of work that they were unable to keep up with. Their development team had expanded significantly over several years and they needed help with governance and team structure to handle the work more effectively.

The Brief

When our consultants first visited this client, they had some forty people in a single, flat development team. Prior to the expansion, work had been handled by sales managers approaching project managers directly, with the project managers jointly dividing work up. However, as the team expanded, this process started to break down and, by the time we became involved, clients were complaining about late deliveries, team motivation and productivity were down and the pipeline looked unachievable.

Our challenge was to build a clear understanding of the size of the order pipeline, devise a way to deliver it and recover their client relationships.

The Process

Our first step was to bring all the project managers together to see what the pipeline looked like. However, it quickly became clear that there was no single view of it, with each project manager working on the items that had been given to them by different sales managers, and some sales managers approaching multiple project managers and even developers directly.

We tackled this challenge by working with the sales managers to review their entire order histories to identify the requested / promised delivery date and which project manager was meant to be responsible. This quickly highlighted a number of further challenges: projects that had no project manager, work where the sales manager had been forced to commit to a delivery date and cost without project manager invovlement and so on.

"We had assumed that the processes we had in place would simply scale up; by the time we realised why this would not happen, it was too late..."

In parallel, we also looked at the delivery team. The nature of the projects lent themselves very well to agile scrum delivery and it was clear the team's motivation was not going to recover without a significant change. Working with the sales managers, project managers and other members of staff, we were able to restructure the sales pipeline into four "channels", which allowed us to break the development team down into cross-functional teams of six, each with a technical lead and project manager.

We also migrated the incumbent project managers into business analyst roles as it was clear this was where their real skills lay and recruited four new delivery managers. The delivery managers initially took on the role of scrum masters to coach the teams until these positions could be picked up by more suitable team members.

The last challenge we tackled was to win back the confidence of the clients and reset expectations. We visited each of the manufacturer UK headquarters with the sales managers to identify the real priorities and make commitments we knew we could achieve - our pessimistic estimates had three advantages:

  1. they helped build team morale by showing they could deliver again
  2. they ensuring we met the first targets promised to the clients
  3. it allowed us to give the client a victory by moving a few weeks in particularly hard negotiations

The Results

We began the team re-structure conversations in the second week we were there and had four delivery channels operating with clearly defined projects by the end of the second month. It took a little longer to recruit and on-board the delivery managers but the teams had started scrum delivery and had clear scrum master candidates by the third month. We continued coaching in scrum delivery for the remainder of our time with the client and all four teams had reached a self-sustaining level of agile maturity within six months of us becoming involved.

The manufacturer negotiations were more challenging but, by taking a reasonable position, explaining how the situation had arisen and what steps we had taken to ensure it would not happen again, we were able to convince them to accept the initial dates we promised. From there, it was a case of building trust through reliable delivery and, within 12 months, most relationships were back to normal.

We continued working with this company for eighteen months in total, first helping ensure the new processes were fully embedded, then helping them build a strong relationship with a major off-shore development partner for flex-resources and finally with one consultant remaining to advise on wider PMO issues, including a lightweight kanban channel for delivering small pieces of work. We are hugely proud of the changes we helped this company introduce and benefit from in this time.

"The results have been fantastic - it has been a very challenging journey at times but The Peak Consultancy have stuck with us and, a year later, our annual revenue forecasts have increased by 90% with very small internal cost increase."

Lessons

This case study illustrates three very important lessons:

Expanding delivery teams will only work if there is corresponding governance

What works for a small business will not necessarily work in a larger organisation. This is a challenge many SMEs face as they grow or win big contracts for the first time and is much easier to manage with an experienced external business coach.

Once a culture is embedded, it is next to impossible to change it without some form of structural change

In this case, our client had generally recruited great individuals but then allowed problems to develop over a period of a year or more, resulted in poor motivation, high absence and poor performance. Coupled with the broken relationship between sales and delivery, it was not going to be possible to recover the delivery portfolio without resetting people's attitudes.

Clients will work with you if you give them a reason to believe in you

In this company's case, they had given their clients too many false promises and trust was badly eroded - we firmly believe that the approach we took of being open and honest, then winning back trust through solid performance, is the only reaslistic way to recover relationships in this sort of scenario.

If you face any of the challenges illustrated in this case study, we would love to help - please get in touch using the link below.

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