EP SQUARE :: Project & Interim Management

Project & Interim Management

Alex van der Linden


Since August 2004

EP Square BV (Doorn)

Project manager IT New Rolling Stock for NS Dutch Railways (2017-2021)
NS acquires new train types through third party rolling stock suppliers. However, software for travel information and other traveller-facing services is developed in-house by NS itself. The reason for this is that NS aims to harmonise such services for all train types so that design and functionality of such services are uniformly presented to the traveller regardless of train type.

In 2017 NS ran a major programme aimed at the introduction of over 200 new SNG commuter trains. The associated in-house software development project for this new train type was behind schedule and suffered major quality issues. Also, the software project was isolated and not aligned with the broader SNG programme which caused planning mismatches and priority contradictions. Due to this the NS IT software development department was in danger of causing a substantial delay in the operational introduction of SNG in the Dutch rail network.

I developed a new approach and a concrete operational planning for this project by realigning the NS software project with the SNG programme and its major suppliers CAF and Nomad Digital, thus creating a common project plan, priorities and time scales. I then translated these goals to the software development project and coached the software department to work on the prioritised and concretised SNG deliverables with a much more focused approach.

Aligning the software project with the broader NS programme goals led to an integrated approach with a strong focus on the end goal: on-time delivery of working software on the trains. First successes emerged through close co-operation between the NS software development project, the SNG programme and its suppliers, enhancing mutual trust which later developed into shared governance of the IT management of new rolling stock. My approach led NS IT to be successful and took the software development project off the programme’s critical path, allowing SNG to be introduced in the Dutch rail network on schedule.

Due to my successful intervention in the SNG project NS granted me two other major IT projects, one of which was very similar and involved software development for the new intercity train type ICNG. The other project involved the development and implementation of ORBIT on various train types. ORBIT is a sophisticated warning system for train drivers aimed at reducing the occurrence of trains accidentally passing active stop signs.

Being responsible for three main projects in the train IT domain put me in a central position to develop and influence the approach and governance of such projects within NS. I have specifically contributed to the question how agile-based software development processes within NS IT can best be tuned to the rolling stock delivery programmes which are ‘waterfall’ projects by nature. My contributions in this field are now integrated in the governance methods within NS IT.

Project manager NS for Nomad Digital (2017)
Up until 2022 NS is considerably expanding its fleets and also runs various modernisation programmes for its existing fleet of around 360 intercity trains. For travel information (e.g. real-time itinerary details in coaches and passenger Wi-Fi) NS has a partnership with Nomad Digital, a niche player which offers such services to train operators worldwide.

Nomad had a contractual agreement with NS to upgrade hardware and software on the intercity fleet by 2016, allowing NS to subsequently roll out new travel information software. Due to various setbacks the Nomad project had come to a standstill by the end of 2016 without a clear plan as to how get the project back on track. This led to growing tension between Nomad and NS.

I re-activated the project in the first quarter of 2017, introduced a much more hands-on project approach and reshaped the governance and communication between Nomad and NS. I managed to complete all preparations and decision making for the project within two months after which operational implementation was ready to start as of April 2017.

Programme planner and project manager for NS SPRONG (2015-2016)
In 2014 KPN and NS Dutch Railways ran a substantial joint programme aimed at positioning KPN in the role of ICT service integrator on behalf of NS. The underlying idea is that NS wishes to focus on their own specific business challenges and formulate ICT requirements on a functional level only, leaving development, delivery and service management of these ICT services to KPN.

Using ITILv3 as a guiding principle, many operational and tactical processes were being transferred to KPN. Examples are security, hosting, technical application management and end-user workspace services, and all operational ITIL-processes such as change, incident, problem and configuration management. In order to update and improve these services, and to enable their transfer to KPN, a large number of projects had been initiated, many of them interdependent and most of them running in parallel.

The programme continuously missed important deadlines because there were problems managing these projects and issues in keeping them geared to one another. This was largely caused by the lack of an adequate project control methodology. Although there was consensus that projects needed to be consistently planned and tuned to one another, there was no adequate approach on how to actually to this.

I was recruited as programme planner in order to find a solution, and in that role I developed an approach to control the various projects on two levels. On an operational level I formed dedicated teams for every service, and in each team I introduced a PERT planning and project control methodology. These approaches to planning and control enabled the service managers and project managers to plan all related projects in a single conveniently arranged planning, allowing them to focus on interdependencies and risk management.

At the programme level, I created an overview planning which showed the actual state of affairs as it was built on the operational team project plans. However, it also reflected the contractual agreements between NS and KPN. Therefore, this programme schedule showed the actual status in light of what was agreed between the parties, and it became an important document for KPN and NS steering committees which used it to manage overall programme progress.

After the successful introduction of this planning and control method, I was appointed project manager for Service Management Tooling. This concerned a cluster of projects mainly involving the introduction of ServiceNow, KPN’s service management tool, which was being implemented in NS. The most noticeable project was the migration of data and NS users from HP Service Manager to ServiceNow. I developed the approach and implementation planning for this migration project, laying the basis for a successful subsequent implementation by one of KPN’s own project managers.

Mobile network for energy network operators Alliander and Stedin (2013-2015)
Alliander and Stedin have chosen to deploy their own mobile telecoms network to facilitate readouts of smart meters and other smart devices in their energy networks. KPN was contracted to manage the tender for this network and to lead network design, build, deployment and support.

The tendering process resulted in the selection of suppliers IBM and ZTE. KPN was in fact the third main supplier, delivering connectivity, data centre services and the support organisation. Equally important, KPN fulfilled the role of main contractor for delivering the network to the energy companies. Working for KPN and being project lead, I was responsible for structuring this project together with IBM and ZTE, and to develop an approach for delivery.

In order to delineate the teams three sub-projects were formed. One of these I managed myself, the other two I kept co-ordinated via the overall planning for which I remained responsible.

A project delivering a complete mobile operator from scratch is comprehensive and complex in its own right. However, with respect to content this project was well controllable as sufficient and competent resources were available.
I created a decision making process for architectural choices involving all parties (including the customer), thus creating maximum buy-in for design decisions. All parties being large players, each with their own goals, cultures and decision making peculiarities, it was still difficult to keep everyone aligned and committed to common results and planning. A big challenge was that halfway through the project, the customer decided to test smart meters on the (unfinished) network, but wouldn’t allow this to impact the delivery end dates. This led to serious conflicts of interest, and carried the risk that some parties would not reach their goals.

To manage this, I created a governance and planning approach based on the interdependencies between all parties both from the supplier side (KPN with ZTE and IBM) and the customer side (KPN with Alliander and Stedin, and their smart meter projects). This clarified the relationship between the project and its context on a planning level rather than only on a business level.

This planning was transparent and all parties committed to it, and it enabled them to understand the effects that business plans or decisions would have on project delivery time lines. This allowed for adequate and co-ordinated measures to mitigate impacts. Not only did this approach vastly improve the effectiveness of governance and control, but it also led to closer cooperation because it advanced mutual understanding and commitment for each other’s goals.

The project successfully delivered the network for production after a mere 16 months, allowing the customer to launch their smart meter roll-out according to plan in May 2015.

Replacement of RTI systems for KPN Mobile (2012-2013)
Due to EU regulations, mobile operators are required to send Roaming Tariff Information (RTI) messages – the text messages that customers receive when crossing international borders. Replacement of KPN’s RTI systems was a complex project, not in the least because KPN chose to replace the RTI systems of both its KPN and Telfort networks by a single new solution interfacing to both networks. This considerably increased technical complexity. Also, regulation requirements changed during the course of the project. Finally, two major programmes within KPN were dependent on the RTI replacement project, which caused serious time pressure.

When I took over the project, there was no clear approach or planning, and the project was with its back against the wall due to external pressure from regulation and the two programmes. Also, and partly due to this situation, the relationship with the supplier was in very bad shape. Despite the time pressure, I reserved time during the build-up phase to formulate requirements, and I invested strongly in team relationships within KPN and with the supplier. This approach paved the way to find solutions for the dependencies between the project and the two programmes, and allowed the project to still deliver in time and within budget.

GSM Mobile Security (2011-2012)
In December 2010 a German hacker demonstrated that GSM networks can be quite easily compromised if mobile operators fail to implement specific security measures. He also published a ranking which showed KPN performing poorly vis-à-vis its competitors, which was wholly inconsistent with KPN’s commercial claim to have the best network in the Netherlands. To counter this, KPN wanted to quickly and discreetly implement a number of security measures.
I have set up and successfully implemented this delicate project in just a few months. The primary risk was that improved security measures might negatively impact other key performance indicators, such as call setup time. To control this, I set up an extensive pilot and test programme to check the effects of each security measure prior to release in the live network.

Integration of M2M platform in KPN Mobile Network (2008-2011)
The market for machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions is growing rapidly and is considered to be one of the few current growth markets in mobile communications. M2M concerns communications between peripheral devices and a back-end system, without human intervention. Examples are soft drink vending machines automatically communicating with a planning system when they need to be re-stocked, smart energy meters calling a central database to pass on their meter readings, and navigation devices that check for on-line traffic information whilst calculating an itinerary. Although new technologies are foreseen in the near future, currently most M2M solutions make use of mobile telecommunications networks.
M2M solutions tend to concern very large numbers of devices each communicating relatively small amounts of data. In M2M solutions, such devices are typically centrally managed, for example by the network management department of a utility company that deploys smart meters.
The M2M requirements for installation, deployment, management and service tend to differ from those in the mainstream mobile environment. In order to develop and deliver high-end competitive service propositions in this new business area, KPN has joined forces with Jasper Wireless, the U.S. market leader and supplier of a state-of-the-art M2M platform. KPN’s ambition to play a major role in the emerging European M2M market has generated a series of projects, in each of which I have played a leading role.

The first and most complex project concerned the integration of the Jasper Wireless M2M platform in the KPN mobile network, and the simultaneous deployment of these services for ‘launching customer’ Garmin, who had agreed to roll out their navigation services throughout Europe and Australia using KPN’s M2M solution. I had two roles in this project. As KPN’s customer project manager, I was the operational interface to Garmin, responsible for timely delivery of the agreed services according to contract. In addition, I was responsible for the overall planning, and for process development within the total project, managing the development and implementation of billing, service management, incident management, accreditation, provisioning, reporting, production and logistics.

The project was very successful, and managed to deliver early despite very challenging time lines. An important success factor was that I have avoided imposing ‘top-down’ project planning deadlines, but worked ‘bottom-up’ instead, tapping into the creativity of our project staff to find ways to improve total project duration. Equally important, I have managed the project plans of Garmin, Jasper Wireless and KPN using a single integrated planning, allowing each company to take the important deadlines and dependencies of the other parties into consideration.
After completion of this initial project, which delivered basic M2M service capability, a number of successive projects were set up to further develop services and features, and to deploy the M2M service internationally with KPN’s subsidiaries E-Plus (Germany) and BASE (Belgium). In addition, KPN set up a dedicated business unit to start building up market share in this fast-growing market. I have been closely involved in setting up this business unit, and in the first 18 months, I was Management Team member and Manager Operations. In this position, I managed the various national and international M2M projects, and I was responsible for the implementation of all new customers.

Implementation of a new data network for KLM Schiphol (2005-2008)
Early 2004 KLM kicked off a project to replace its existing data network with a new IP network, and to outsource its network management processes to the network provider.
The responsibility for this major programme, which was named LCA, was taken over by KPN in 2005. I joined the LCA programme in September 2005, first as a project manager, and in May 2006 I was assigned overall programme manager for KPN.
In essence, LCA is a new data network consisting of a high bandwidth backbone to which all 65 KLM buildings at Schiphol Airport and in Amstelveen are connected. The LCA programme encompassed the development and roll-out of the physical network (consisting of about 18,000 ports), the development and implementation of the ITIL network management processes at KPN, the migration of all KLM devices from the old network to the new network and, finally, the hand-over of network management process responsibilities from KLM to KPN.
The migration from the old network to the new Cisco environment was particularly complex because KLM network devices were often non-standard (i.e. ticket label printers, robots, specialised servers), and it was a requirement to reduce the risk of network outage to almost zero because of its direct impact on KLM’s flight operations.
The key to success was the development of specific migration strategies for each group of similar network ports. Therefore, sometimes a migration would encompass a full building if it contained mostly standard office workstations, but at other times a specific migration plan would be developed for no more than a handful of ports. This would occur in case the devices attached to the ports required specific attention, for instance because they were technically complex or particularly business critical. The KLM business units using the devices in their daily operations were closely involved in both the approach and the planning of migrations relevant for them. This allowed them to influence the project so that it fit their business needs, and to take measures in order to manage potential impact. This approach has been highly successful. The complex programme became more transparent for all parties involved due to the structuring of the migrations. Because of the thorough migration preparations and the involvement of the business, there was hardly any impact on KLM’s daily operations.

Insourcing Schiphol Telematics Operations (2004-2005)
In 2004, Schiphol Telematics (ST), the telecom operator of Schiphol Airport, planned to outsource part of its operational activities. KPN was interested in insourcing these activities, as this would underpin KPN’s existing plans to improve operational efficiency and quality by combining its four existing units at Schiphol Airport into a single organisation. The addition of ST Operations would further strengthen this policy. The provisional name of the new organisation was Rayon Schiphol. From September 2004 until September 2005 I was project manager for the realisation of Rayon Schiphol. This encompassed the entire insourcing of ST Operations, including business processes, HRM, due diligence and the transfer of staff, assets and contracts. The project also encompassed the organisational design of Rayon Schiphol and the internal reorganisation (the integration of the four KPN units). In September 2005 the project was stopped because KPN and ST each reassessed their strategies.

Migration of worldwide KLM data network (2004)
In 2003 KLM outsourced its worldwide network of over 1600 data connections to KPN. As part of this change, KLM transferred all its relationships with other network service providers to KPN. Consequently KLM now only has KPN as its single supplier for all network activities. The contract was appropriately named 1NSP: One Network Service Provider.
From February until September 2004 I was project manager for the Network Rollout Project. The objective was to make an inventory of expensive KLM network connections and to propose cheaper alternatives to be supplied by one of the network providers. These were global network providers like Infonet and SITA who in the new situation were obliged to work via the new integrator KPN. After delivery and test of the new and cheaper connections, my team was responsible for the actual network migration and for the first invoice to KLM.

HRM and organisational development for insourcing KLM data network (2003-2004)
In 2003 KLM outsourced its worldwide network of over 1600 data connections to KPN. All operational processes and supplier relations concerning these connections, and all the employees whose jobs were involved, were transferred to KPN.
Because of the size of the network, KPN established a separate unit at Schiphol airport to be able to handle the ordering processes, billing and incident management. With a small team I first defined the activities of this new unit. After that, I was responsible for the organisational design and for determining the number and types of positions. Parallel to this I was project manager for the transfer of KLM employees to KPN. I co-ordinated the activities of the human resources managers and line managers of KPN and KLM, who had to reach consensus on the financial and social conditions under which the employees were to be transferred.

KPN Business Unit IP Services (2002-2003)
In 2001 KPN started developing Epacity, a nationwide network based on IP technology. In the Epacity project I was responsible for the sub project Process Development. I managed a team of 12 process designers who were responsible for development and implementation of all operational processes. Think of network provisioning, billing, incident management, network inventory management, reporting etc. Furthermore I continually played a key part in the scope definition of new releases. Being responsible for process development, an important role was to estimate the project cost and duration associated with scope choices. Apart from this, I developed a general approach to scoping and managed the scoping process to specify a balanced set of business requirements from the multitude of requests.

SNT (2001)
Consultancy and development of a business model and plan for a new call connect service with a potential turnover of €45 million. I developed (financial) scenarios and prepared the associated documentation for decision making by the Board of SNT.

KPN TeleMedia en KPN Fixed Telephony (2001)
Business modelling, commercial strategy development and financial planning for directory services (total turnover €35 million). I developed a project plan and a programme to improve the 2001 year-end financial results of these services.

Vizzavi (2000-2001)
As member of the Vizzavi management team I was responsible for developing a customer care strategy which made it possible to combine customer support for e-mail, mobile and internet services in one concept. Furthermore I was the interim manager and project manager responsible for implementing this concept and building and managing the customer care organisation. I was interim manager for Vizzavi’s own second-line call and e-mail centre (30 employees and 7 project managers). In addition, I was contract manager responsible for the relationship and the contract with Sykes, a call centre supplier commissioned to handle first-line customer support.

KPN Media Services (2000)
In 2000, KPN decided to integrate all its directory services, and in this context I managed a project involving the integration of KPN’s national and international directory enquiry activities into the portfolio of the Media Services division of KPN. The project involved both the functional and organisational development of product management, and the short and medium term commercial and financial planning for KPN’s directory enquiry services (turnover about €37 million p.a.).

KPN CallCenters (1999)
Implementation manager for reorganising over 30 call centres spread out over almost 50 locations (4500 employees in total, over 130 million calls per year) into one new subsidiary company with its own call centre labour agreement: KPN CallCenters. My initial responsibility was to conduct the preliminary feasibility study which led to the final Board decision to actually start the programme. However, my most important project was to design the implementation plan and subsequently to project manage the actual transition of the call centres from their existing environments to the newly set up company.