Looking behind the scenes: how does Belnet approach projects?

The Belnet Project Management Office is responsible for the smooth running of all internal and client-related projects. Thanks to a structured and uniform way of working, you can be assured of proper monitoring of your project, transparent communication and an optimum result. Our colleague and Project Manager Elke Dierckens explains how project management works at Belnet.

We should first go back to 2014, when Belnet was very busy implementing a major project for one of its clients. That project gave our organisation a real reason to implement a project management process. “Project-based working soon paid off and Belnet then decided to set up a PMO (Project Management Office) department with a dedicated team,” explains Elke Dierckens.

PRINCE2 methodology

Over time, the PMO grew into a team of 6 colleagues, including 4 Project Managers, 1 Programme Manager and 1 Project Management Officer. Together, they form a well-oiled machine guiding numerous projects in the right direction, ranging from infrastructure projects to client-related projects.

From the start, Belnet opted for the globally recognised PRINCE2 methodology. This was scaled to the size and needs of Belnet as an organisation, as well as to the needs of our clients. The PMO team members are PRINCE2-certified and receive continuous training to broaden their knowledge.

“Belnet is a challenging organisation in a rapidly changing world. This gives you, as a Project Manager, the opportunity to work on different kinds of projects and offers you something new every day!”

“Our project methodology ensures that you can bring projects to a successful conclusion in an efficient and structured way. One of the advantages is also that large projects are divided into phases (‘stages’). This way, the work on the project remains manageable and, as a Project Manager, you can also manage large projects in a well-organised way,” says Elke Dierckens.

Starting up a project

Anyone within Belnet can put forward an idea for a project. A project proposal might come from an Account Manager, Technical Advisor or Product Manager when faced with a specific request from a client that cannot be met within the ‘normal’ processes and requires wider, coordinated collaboration between different teams.

At that point, the employee concerned will be asked to prepare a Project Brief, a short description of the project. “In my role as a Project Manager, I am always ready to coach where necessary, so that the Project Brief contains sufficient elements to be able to make an informed decision.”

As soon as the Project Brief is ready, the employee will defend his/her proposal before the Belnet Project Board. This includes both the Management Team and the Programme Manager. They will make the final decision as to whether or not to begin the project. The more complex the request, the greater the chance of switching to project mode.

“A good example of this is the project we are currently carrying out for the VUB and ULB universities in Brussels. When viewing their requirements in the round, it quickly became clear that a project-based approach was required. As a pioneer, the VUB wanted to make the leap to a 100 Gbit/s connection and the ULB in turn was asking for a stronger and more robust network.”

A series of phases

As soon as the Project Board gives the green light, one of the Belnet Project Managers gets to work and starts the initiation phase. Elke Dierckens: “I was assigned the strategic collaboration project for VUB and ULB, a real challenge that I set about with great enthusiasm. I soon reached agreement with our Account Managers and our technical experts. This gave me a good insight into the whole of the project and the various needs of the VUB and ULB.”

In order to come up with a solid project approach, collaboration is key. That is why Belnet ensures that all stakeholders, both internal and external, are involved in the project as quickly as possible. “Along with the internal team, we determined the approach for each client. Of course, we agreed this directly with the VUB and ULB. For me as a Project Manager, it's crucial to ask the right questions and to listen during those client meetings.”

The exploratory phase allows Project Managers to define the scope, budget, approach, schedule and risks of the project. These are then written up in a Project Initiation Document, which is the basis for the Project Manager to ensure proper monitoring. The final approach is always validated by the client too.

Finger on the pulse

After that, the project enters its most crucial phase: the actual roll-out. The Project Manager will meet regularly with the internal project team throughout the process to discuss progress. Thanks to the great autonomy that our Project Managers enjoy, they can shift schedules or change the approach based on feedback from the project team. For client-related projects, there will obviously be systematic feedback to the client as well, in close consultation with the Account Manager and/or technical expert.

“One of my most important tasks is to further develop the bond of trust within the project team, as well as between Belnet and the client. In fact, during the VUB-ULB project, this was a crucial element. I made sure I maintained an overview at all times and communicated with the client as much as possible. Every project has its more difficult phases or problems. At those times, you as Project Manager, along with the project team, are ready to listen to the client and make adjustments where necessary. If a client can't follow the rhythm or wants to go faster, we as a project team adapt as best we can.” The role of the Project Board is not limited to the initiation phase: each ‘stage’ within the project – linked to an approach, schedule and budget – is presented to them. Based on facts and figures, they will validate each phase before it starts.

“As a Project Manager, I always want to add value for our clients, by listening to their needs and by constructively looking for a solution to their problems.”

Success factor

And then we're done: at some point, the project will come to an end. An ideal moment for a final consultation with the client. “During this final meeting, a final validation takes place, we evaluate the project together with the client while looking to the future in the longer term from a strategic point of view. Of course, the client can also add their own agenda items.”

The project for VUB / ULB is currently in that final phase. “What I'm highly satisfied with is the team spirit, both internally at Belnet and together with the client. It was a real success factor in arriving at a good result for both clients in good time,” concludes Elke Dierckens.

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