Business top tips: How to avoid the 'bloat trap'

We recently had the chance to speak to Owen Lydon of Eircom, an Ireland-based telecommunications company. Here's what he had to say:

As Ireland’s largest telecoms provider you must run into a lot of the problems that large businesses have; issues with communication, ineffective use of man hours, and the general bloat of big business. How can businesses avoid the general “bloat” trap?

Yes, eircom is the largest provider of fixed-line and mobile telecommunications services in Ireland. The company has approximately 2 million customers and the most extensive telecommunications network in Ireland.

Its mobile division operates under the Meteor and eMobile brands. In addition, eircom Wholesale is the largest wholesale operator in Ireland, providing products and services to more than 28 wholesale customers, across a range of regulated and unregulated markets.

I head up a Team within the Group Technology division within eircom, which facilitates product and service development for the core internal and external eircom markets: eircom Business Solutions (serving large corporate and small business markets), Consumer (Meteor and eMobile) and wholesale markets. Group Technology manages product roadmaps and development for all of the business’ IT and software as well being responsible for eircom’s network development.

On average, we manage between three and four major product development deliveries across OSS/BSS and per year, comprising on average of 30 to 40 product deliveries per quarter which deliver hundreds and millions of euros in revenue. These projects need to be managed from ideation and concept to commercial design, right through to delivery and warranty. Our ultimate challenge was to manage these in a mature, efficient, and effective way.

My overarching piece of advice to businesses of any size is not to become complacent. Despite our size, we continually review our business practices and strive to be as efficient and agile as possible. It is how we stay innovative and competitive. We are always looking for processes and products that will help us to make product lifecycle more effective and efficient.

Thankfully eircom recently implement an ERP solution and you guys saw admin hours reduced by close to a third. In terms of business philosophy what has the ERP software taught you about running a streamlined business?

Yes, we recently implemented Planview Enterprise 11.1 and moved to real-time project and resource management.

We had found that the processes we used to assess the demand for products, prioritise portfolios, optimise capacity, resource plan and, of course, link plans to execution within budget, were just not as efficient as they needed to be.

With more than one hundred members of the team including solution architects, business analysts, and telecom partners, a lack of real-time visibility of the status of projects at any given point was impacting on decision making within the organisation.

We realised that we needed to evaluate our processes to make the business more effective. My team was spending between 30 and 40 percent of their time doing admin, using cumbersome spreadsheets, and updating manual reports and replying to needless emails. It became clear that this was an area that we needed to address to mature and provide the service needed by the business. We had too much information and people didn’t know where to look for anything meaningful.

In terms of business philosophy, something I’ve come to realise over the past year is that I can’t understand how we operated without real-time time recording, reporting and data analysis for so long. Having the ability to optimise our financial and personnel resources, manage the financials, and clearly link our plans to execution and delivery of result has transformed the way we work. I now have clear visibility of the use of resource vs demands.”

Medium to small businesses would obviously love to have some of the benefits you mentioned (40 per cent reduction in project status emails, more time for productive tasks, the elimination of manual processes) what are three ways that they can streamline without investing a large amount in new technologies or solutions?

Firstly, evaluate the business and its processes. Look for ways to make process more effective.

My team was spending between 30 and 40 per cent of their time doing admin, using cumbersome spreadsheets, and updating manual reports. It became clear that this was an area that we needed to address.

Often you don’t need to make a huge new technology purchase, but you need to look at the technology you’re using, whether it is the latest version and if it can be used or configured better to support the business. For instance, we were already using an earlier version of Planview in the business, but not to its full potential.

Once we knew we wanted to address resource management we met with members of the Planview team and held workshops to identify the needs of the business. As well as identifying a need to update our technology, we also discovered that there was functionality that we were not using which would have really made our lives easier. For instance, customised email notifications.

The best place to start once you know what the pain points are is by analysing the technology you have and if you are using it to its full capacity? That way you can really identify whether you need to invest and, if so, where.

Lastly, what questions should businesses, of any size, ask themselves to identify the main areas of business bloat?

There are three main questions I’d suggest asking:

  • Are you and those you engage with, able to get the real time status of a project, (including financials, milestones and RAG status) quickly? If not, you are starting to bloat. Too many versions of facts, inaccuracies will creep in / off line spreadsheets will kill you.
  • Do you have to customise your reporting as information moves up the corporate food chain? Instill the discipline that one set of reports is to be used for all levels of the organisation. One central version of the truth is your goal. This will reduce overheads and needless escalations or emails asking for updates and also serve to ensure accuracy of the reporting. When a project manager realises the CTO is reading the report it forces greater accountability.
  • Have I aligned my project/product roadmap with my capacity and is it accurate?You have finite resources and time is precious so you need to guard them and ensure they are being used wisely on key products that the business is 100% behind. Your capacity needs to have the flexibility to ramp up and down as required. If you can’t see what is coming up four to six months ahead you are in trouble.