Recently a reader asked me about functional interview questions, and it started me thinking about what is the best approach to preparing for interviews. Functional and Technical interview questions are all very well, but in terms of hiring someone that fits in a project team, they won’t help with that.
It also reminded me about a recent Linkedin Post I read on interviewing. The post was written by Lou Adler, a recruiter over the last 30 years and an author, and it was read over 325,000 times.
The real detail is in the follow-up questions, and this is what you should concentrate on the interview.
What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career so far?
- Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
- Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
- What were the actual results achieved?
- When did it take place and how long did the project take.
- Why you were chosen?
- What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
- Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
- Walk me through the plan, how you managed to it, and if it was successful.
- Describe the environment and resources.
- Describe your manager’s style and whether you liked it or not.
- Describe the technical skills needed to accomplish the objective and how they were used.
- Some of the biggest mistakes you made.
- Aspects of the project you truly enjoyed.
- Aspects you didn’t especially care about and how you handled them.
- How you managed and influenced other, with lots of examples.
- How you changed and grew as a person.
- What you would do differently if you could do it again.
- What type of formal recognition did your receive?
Below are my answers to this question would be…
Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
When my client buys or sells part of it’s business the Business Transformation(BT) team implements the system changes to make that happen. My client wanted to separate a business division into a separate entity and operating unit, for all markets across my client. I managed this separation project for two countries as part of a global phased approach stretching over a calendar year.
I managed all functional tracks(O2C, P2P, R2R) for two countries from design through to post go-live phase successfully with no major issues. I also provided support to inexperienced Oracle personnel as required across the other markets going live.
Finally my other role was as BT subject matter expert for the successful divestiture of another division to a competitor. This role included the design & execution of master & transactional data transmission to the purchasing company.
Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
My client is a pharmaceutical company operating with Oracle as the system of record, but with a large number of edge systems as part of the system landscape in each market. The edge systems perform various roles including Manufacturing, Logistics Supply, Procurement, Banking and so on, and are linked to Oracle in an integrated and customized system landscape.
The role is a pure project management role, liaising between Market operations, central shared services & IT teams. Market & shared services SME’s validate the solution we provide, but this primarily a BT project.
The role involved re-discovery and confirmation of Market system landscape, communication with local & regional IT teams, along with external Logistic Supply Partners. It also requires replication of separated entity activity in the global Pfizer supply chain.
Configuration, Conversion, Testing, Technical and Project Management are all centralised teams, and I am the one responsible for working with all teams to ensure a successful go-live.
What were the actual results achieved?
Both of my countries went live with no serious issues to report. The disruption to the business was minimal; all markets shut down processing in the old operating unit late in one week, cutover over a single weekend, and started processing with the new entity on Monday morning of the next week.
The BT organization was implementing a new team structure, with central project managers, of which I was one, accessing central BT resources in configuration, testing and technical teams. I needed to manage the first go-live while all of this team interaction was being created and streamlined.
For the divisional divestiture project, all master and cutover data was transmitted on schedule and with no major issues, securing the crucial BT sign off from the purchasing company.
When did it take place and how long did the project take.
The project started in Feb 2012 and lasted a calendar year. I managed my first go-live in July, my second in September, played a critical role in cutover and Low-volume Start-up for a third in October. Finally the divisional divestiture was designed and implemented over 2 months finishing in December.
Why you were chosen?
I was chosen as I have an excellent reputation within my client, starting as a technical consultant in 2004, and having transformed my career from technical to functional team lead, and now to project manager. My familiarity with how my client operates, and expertise in integration with Oracle, enables me to manage my own markets, and play a valuable role in the project as a whole.
What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
My initial challenge was to increase my P2P & R2R knowledge to the same level as my O2C, so that I could successfully implement all tracks in my markets. I did this by studying the solution already in place, and leveraging the relationships built up with the other market BT managers, on past projects for my client. I volunteered to help with issues in other markets, so when I needed advice or assistance with my own, I wasn’t short of offers.
My second challenge was to develop good working relationships with shared services & market personnel. My client is a very busy place to work, and often key personnel work on many projects, so you have to compete for attention. One of my markets was heavily involved in another BT project, and I found myself waiting for response on a regular basis.
My third challenge was dealing with resistance. It doesn’t matter what the CEO or market division lead says, you will still encounter resistance from various people that you need to perform actions. Everyone has their own opinion on the way things should be done, and you need to take that on board while staying firm on activities you need to complete your project plan. Also the difference in approach between northern and southern European teams is considerable.
Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
I went the extra mile by helping out in areas where, strictly speaking, I didn’t have to get as involved as I did. I believe in paying it forward, and I will use my skills to help others wherever I can.
I showed initiative by going outside the normal channels to resolve issues. Using my network of people inside my client I was able to get advice on how to approach particular issues, and on how similar issues were resolved on past projects.
Walk me through the plan, how you managed to it, and if it was successful.
I started by creating a project plan, deciding what tasks were necessary and scheduling according to the go-live date for each market. The project contained design, build, testing, cut-over and post go-live phases, and I used my project plan to manage each phase.
I leveraged plans, materials and techniques used by BT in previous migrations to give me the best chance of success. There is no value in solo runs when a proven framework has already been successful.
In the design phase, I re-confirmed the system landscape in each country. Oracle was originally implemented in each of my markets 7 years previously so the documentation was sometimes incomplete, had been superseded or is even obsolete.
In the build phase I worked with technical teams to make the changes necessary to enable separation of the division.
Integration testing was used to confirm the solution in conjunction with all of the edge systems. Close co-ordination and scheduling was required with vendors of various edge systems, and the market or shared service teams signed off all of the Integration testing.
I managed the cutover Phase using a detailed project plan, designed in Microsoft Project and uploaded to Sharepoint. This allowed use of email notification and completion of tasks assigned to various project, market and shared services personnel. A transaction blackout period was negotiated with the market and shared services, so as to have minimal disruption while achieving the plan tasks. Cutover was carried out on market site; I spent a week in Zurich and Lisbon, working with the market teams during the Low-volume start-up and Full-volume start-up phases, to stabilize the solution.
I supported my markets personally for the first month including the first month-end, and then performed the handover to the Business as Usual support team.
My own project management team have weekly tracking calls using a single Red Amber Green spreadsheet. Each BT manager gets to explain what is happening in the market, and indicates the Green, Amber or Red Status on the phases; Requirements, Design, Build, Integration Test, Conversion Test, Deploy/Cutover.
Both of my countries went live with no serious issues to report. The disruption to the business was minimal; all markets shut down processing in the old operating unit late in one week, cut-over over a single weekend, and started processing with the new entity on Monday morning of the next week.
Check out my separate post : Part II of the “The Most important Interview Question of All Time” which contains the second half of the questions + my answers http://bit.ly/14MLECD
Also see Lou Adler’s approach to preparing for this question: http://linkd.in/XcFyM0