Customer Stories

Aeon Timeline is Michael Hüttemann's key to effective client communication

Michael Hüttemann is the CIO of MAKE RELATIONS, a Germany-based Marketing and Consulting company specialising in CRM and Customer Communications for medium to large enterprise customers.

He discusses the importance of communication and assigning clear responsibilities when managing client projects, and how Aeon Timeline helps him present visual information in the client's own language.

Creating high level roadmaps efficiently

As a consultant, Michael is usually introduced when a project is critical for the client: they may need to control costs, reduce risk, or manage the friction caused by a transformation change within the company.

These projects usually have many stakeholders and competing voices, so Michael knows communication is key. He needs to be able to present the right amount of detail to each level of a company, while keeping clients focused.

"In the past I have worked on a project with 15 or 16 child projects, each with different project managers running around. They had screenshots or printouts from Microsoft Project, and it was very clunky. I would sit in a meeting with 14 other people, and they would note down changes, and go back to their tools to refine it. In most cases it wasn't possible to do this while they were at the table, it was just too inconvient or cumbersome.

Aeon Timeline is my secret weapon to bring us together. When I sit with a client and discuss certain aspects of the project, it is ideal — when people look at a timeline, when they see the relationship matrix, they understand inherently what it is

I group tasks to create a "management view" of the timeline, so when I have board meetings I can collapse those groups to show a high-level roadmap. I don't need to take screenshots and make it beautiful — because the interface is well designed, I can use the tool itself without scaring management out of the room."

Collaborative planning in meetings

For Michael, it is when he takes the timeline into customer meetings that Aeon Timeline really stands out as a tool that allows him to present information visually, and update it on the fly, during client discussions.

"Aeon Timeline is beautiful, because you can tailor it to a certain scenario using the customer's language, and still have all the interconnections and flexibility in there.

It helps me to be agile in those meetings and not forget things. They are often heated in some respects, so if we can change dates, structure and responsibilities immediately and show the results, it helps bring efficiency and accountability. At the end of the meeting, it is already done, and I just attach it to the meeting notes.

I can't do it with JIRA. If I fire up JIRA in a management meeting and I say "okay, let's find the task we're discussing now, because I need to change the dates", it isn't feasible.

That's what makes Aeon Timeline valuable — it is presentable while still being interactive. I can drag stuff around and edit dates, I can make changes in Relationship view. Aeon Timeline is actually the only tool I can use directly, where all the interconnections and different project aspects are integrated into one tool."

Going from a rough roadmap to the critical path

A key for Michael getting a project off the ground quickly is Aeon Timeline's flexibility to quickly assemble task lists on limited information, and only introduce or work out dates when they become relevant.

When we spoke to Michael, he was in the initial stages of a high-tech communications rollout across a company with hundreds of branches, and building expectations early in the project is crucial to gain the customer's trust.

"I start with the Spreadsheet View, because I can quickly hack in the tasks without any specifics, and then I work them out later. Depending on the project, if I have any specific due dates for particular tasks, then I put them in as well — usually, the start date is known, and sometimes the end date if the client says "we need this done by December", and so I need to see if its feasible.

For a rollout project like this, we have a preparation phase, a pilot phase, and then a go-live phase. I use these as starting points, and do a rough roadmap: "okay, we can start in 3 weeks time, we can do the preparation in 4 weeks, but there is a risk that the contract phase may require more time if the legal team is overloaded".

We have a kickoff meeting with the stakeholders and key people from each team, where we try to build an overview and see how long running the project might be. I would add dates to the top-level tasks, so we have a high-level roadmap, which still needs to be verified.

Then I bring the detail in, and sometimes I see we have overlooked something, and it will take longer. I use dependencies to mark connections between important tasks, so that I can observe those key points on the critical path to make sure there won't be a delay.

Sometimes I don't need the dates, because the uncertainty of the amount of work, and the details are too unknown, so it is just a rough sketch. We have the phases there without any dates. Then we add the child tasks into it first, to determine the actual end date."

Clear assignments and responsibilities

While it is important to build a timeline his client can trust, assigning responsibilities within the project is just as important in ensuring a successful project. Michael has customised our Project Management template so he can use Relationship View to build a RACI matrix that captures who is Responsible and Accountable, and who must be be Consulted or kept Informed.

"I don't remember the last project where I didn't do a RACI matrix.

If you just work with a timeline or gantt chart and a list of tasks, even if they are structured, people look at it and say: "this makes sense, the timeline looks realistic, and we agree to this". But then there is uncertainty on who is really doing the work. It might be obvious if it is a technical task, but if there is an administrative thing to do, there are several candidates.

In a high-level meeting, Aeon Timeline is the best tool I know to construct the matrix. Because sometimes during these meetings, things comes up where they say, "Okay, you need to talk to the legal team, but there is a different business requirements document". And we can just note it on the task and stay in focus.

Previously I would need to note it down, and then do a second session or send an update document to the team, so this is much more efficient.

The key thing for me is you can twist the project around — look at the responsibilities, look at the timeline — and you can define the properties as you need them.

For the relationship types, as an example, I changed some existing ones and added the ones that were missing. You are completely free, and you can immediately use them in this relationship view, which isn't something I have seen anywhere else. It is a unique thing for me which is immensely useful."

Interview with Michael Hüttemann

What is the biggest challenge you face in a new project?

If you go into a large project, there are almost always political situations, people arguing and making things longer or more complex than they need to be. It is very important that you always are clear about the project structure and status, that you can see the dependencies, and know if something does not go according to plan, what that means, and what the connected risks are.

Do you always take a top-down approach to planning?

Usually I start high-level, and rarely if ever do bottom-up planning from the start of a project.

But if I come into a project that is already running and going off the rails, of course there are a lot of tasks already there, usually collected in an Excel spreadsheet, or some other project solution.

I collect what's there, and try to bring structure into it that makes sense to me.

Are there other tools you use with Aeon Timeline?

I do note taking in an application called NotePlan 3, where I can take daily notes like a journal, and I can input the URL callback links to connect the notes to certain tasks in timeline. I use this to give context to the task, connecting to a folder or specific note.

And of course customers have their own systems, so if the clients are using another tool, I can link the timeline information back to that, such as a JIRA task or Confluence page.
Michael Hüttemann is the CIO of MAKE RELATIONS, a Germany-based Marketing and Consulting company specialising in CRM and Customer Communications for medium to large enterprise customers.

He is the company's expert for IT, transformation, integration and processes, with 25+ years of experience in managing projects of all sizes. He studied computer science for business and has worked in Europe, the USA, Africa and South East Asia.

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