Suzanne, on establishing the Programme and Project Management Centre at Experian
Suzanne, Business Performance Director, shares her experience of building a best-in-class project management function.
What was your path to Experian?
I joined Experian as Head of Operations for Credit Services in September 2015 from ARUP, which was a firm of architects and engineers, where I was Global Head of IT projects.
I joined what was CSDD to establish a Project Management Office (PMO), and a centralised team of project managers with consistent standards, methods, capabilities, etc. That was extended to be a UK&I wide remit when we formed the Programme and Project Management Centre (PPMC) in July 2016. Since creating the PPMC, I’ve now had the opportunity of moving into a new role to lead transformational programmes across UK&I and EMEA.
What is Programme and Project Management Centre (PPMC)?
So, we’ve now got a centralised project and programme management function, which homes the vast majority of all UK project managers. It’s about building a professional capability, promoting project management as a professional discipline and ensuring we are delivering a great service to both internal projects, and those for our clients.
We are a Corporate Partner of the Chartered Association of Project Management (APM). We work with their competency model, and their tiered model for career development for Project professionals. By doing this, we can follow their training model and know we’re building the right skills to allow PPMC staff to take on more complex work. Added to this, we’re running an apprenticeship for about 35 project management apprentices. It’s a level-four apprenticeship, so that’s foundation degree level. This apprenticeship is also completely grounded in best practice principles and the professional standards that come from the APM, so we’re growing our own talent in the right way from day one of their careers.
So, through that corporate partnership, all our PPMC staff have got access to all the APM body of knowledge, all the webinars that they do, discounts for events and seminars, special interest groups and discussion forums, and clear guidance on how to build their skillset. All our PPMC staff are professionally qualified and we keep their qualifications in Prince 2 and in APM up to date (amongst other specialist courses). As well as being an excellent way to develop and motivate the team, this is also a great selling point with clients.
In summary, we’ve built a big professional community with lots of learning and peer support and opportunities to move and do different types of projects.
What sort of projects do people work on?
Some people are on projects and programmes that are multi-million, multi-year initiatives. Other people will do several smaller projects concurrently. It all depends on where they are in their career, what their skill set is, what development they need. There are technology projects, there are business change projects, client facing, infrastructure - there’s a lot of variety. Clearly, we wouldn’t put a Business Change PM on a highly technical project for their first technical project, but we do encourage shadowing and mentoring to help people multi-skill.
Also, through the apprentice scheme, we’re introducing Project Support Officers. These are people who will do a lot of the administration of the projects, so maintaining the plan, maintaining the risks etc. It leaves the PM free to do the more heavyweight work around stakeholder management, proactive risk mitigation, and really focusing on the value add for the customer – whether internal or external. So, we’re raising the value of what the PM does, and taking away a lot of the day-to-day project administration from them. That’s a really important selling point in a competitive recruitment market because PMs value this level of support and I don’t know many companies that provide it.
Why would you recommend working at Experian?
In the PPMC, it’s the commitment to professional standards and professional training, disciplines. It’s backed up with all the support you get from something like APM membership, through the PMO and the fact that they’re in a big peer community.
Because project teams are transitory teams, you don’t get always time to form many close relationships, so PMs can sometimes feel a little homeless. The fact that we’ve got big communities across most of our locations enables great peer support, good networks and provides flexibility for people.
Before you joined Experian, what were your reservations?
Speaking honestly, I knew quite a few people who were here when Experian outsourced in 2008. They had some things to say that weren’t great about how Experian treats its people. So, whilst appreciating the context in which those things were said, I had a few reservations about joining here when I was initially approached by the recruitment agency. That perception was very quickly debunked. I’m glad I came and found out for myself.
And what was your view on how Experian treat their staff now that you’ve been in the company?
Experian is very committed to a culture of engagement and empowerment. I think the working hours are incredibly flexible and supportive, and the teams work hard to make the environment a fun and engaging place to be. And with the scale of what we do, and the ambition to do so much more, there are always plenty of challenges. You have the ability to grow your career, and you’ll be supported to do so if you’re prepared to put the work in.
What attracted you to Experian?
Firstly it’s a big company, I’ve only worked for either FTSE 250 or blue-chip companies. it was the opportunity to work for a major global company, on my doorstep, building a new capability up, which is what I love doing.
What does the career progression look like within the PPMC function?
You can start off supporting the project manager, and then going on to running small projects, then gradually work on more complex projects into programmes up to programme director, where you’re running multi-million, multi-year, multi-region programmes. The APM competency framework makes every role clear in terms of what you need to be able to demonstrate in order to take the next step.
You’re also perfectly placed to get exposure to all different parts of the business and different ways of working. Quite a few PPMC team members have gone on to great roles in other parts of Experian as a result of the knowledge and relationships they’ve built up whilst working on projects in that area.
What would you say are the key traits to being successful in Experian?
I think you’ve got to enjoy a challenge, so you need to be resilient. I think you’d have to be somebody who is passionate about the journey to improvement rather than somebody who is content with the status quo. you’ve got to enjoy pace, you’ve got to enjoy change. But I think if you do, you’ll find it’s a really friendly environment, it’s very collaborative, it’s very supportive. Be open to learning new skills, throw yourself into new ways of working, and always strive to grow.
Why would you tell someone to work at Experian?
The scale of what we do means the opportunities for career progression and career broadening are huge. whether it’s client projects, business change projects, or going up into massive programmes, either client facing or internally, you’ll always have the opportunity to learn something new. But I think that the one thing that I get from everybody is that the people here are just so supportive and helpful, which ultimately is what brings us into work every day with a smile, despite how challenging the work can be sometimes.
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