SCOTT – Secure COnnected Trustable Things is a pan-European project with 57 key partners from 12 countries to provide comprehensive cost-efficient solutions of wireless, end-to-end secure, trustworthy connectivity and interoperability on Technology Readiness Level 6-7 to bridge the last mile to market implementation. The SCOTT project has successfully received funding from the European Commission in the Electronic Components and Systems Joint Undertaking (ECSEL JU) as well as from the respective national funding authorities in the countries of the project participants.
This case study is written from the viewpoint of the coordinator, Virtual Vehicle, and captures the whole proposal initiation phase, consisting of idea generation and refinement, joint development of the proposal outline (stage 1), joint development of the full proposal (stage 2), as well as joint development of the consortium agreement.
Process main stages in the project initiation phase
Step 1: Idea generation phase
A small team consisting of the coordinator and a few dedicated industry partners meet regularly to develop the basic idea of the project.
Step 2: Project outline phase (stage 1)
The proposal development team is extended to more partners particularly including strong industrial partners but also selected scientific partners to constitute the core team of the project initiation phase, developing the project outline. Already in this phase WebEx meetings and SharePoint are used as main means of communication and as a document repository.
Step 3: Project full proposal phase (stage 2)
After successful approval of the stage 1 proposal, a full proposal is developed, integrating the external reviews from the stage 1 evaluation. The core team refines the descriptions of excellence, impact, and implementation. The consortium is extended by adding additional partners. There is strict schedule for versioning and updating the full project proposal, handled by a small dedicated project management team.
Step 4: Consortium agreement phase
After successful approval of the stage 2 proposal (full project proposal), contractual agreements – mainly focusing on issues within the project partner consortium - have to be developed before the project can officially start. EU requirements and partner interests have to be considered. Well-established templates are used as an efficient starting point. Webex, phone calls and email are the main means of communication for this step.
Touch point 1:
Project initiation started by conducting a series of face to face meetings with one dedicated future project core partner. The face to face meetings facilitated an easier discussion when developing a basic project concept. Participants could more easily sketch ideas, question things, reflect on written content and received a valuable feedback.
Touch point 2:
During the project outline phase, about 10 regular online meetings (WebEx) were performed with the project core team to refine the project idea and to distribute tasks. The core team had to refine the project idea and the project goals. Individual country coordinators were defined. The project implementation structure was developed. Work packages, tasks and roles were distributed. A common PowerPoint slide deck including the basic concepts of the project were developed in the core team, which was used to attract further project partners. One face to face meeting was conducted with all partners for fine-tuning the project content.
Touch point 3:
A core team WebEx meeting was conducted every Friday morning to facilitate information sharing in the full proposal writing phase. Though the high number of project partners did now allow thorough discussion, the WebEx meeting was extremely important to inform and to share the workload. Every core team meeting had an agenda and was followed by a structured meeting protocol, defining tasks and responsibilities. WP leaders were defined to better coordinate the work package, task, and building blocks writing process. The core team members were pushing other partners to work hard on the content. Besides that, the coordinator conducted numerous telephone calls, as well as email communications to facilitate the information exchange and to assure that all project partners knew the big picture of the project well enough to contribute. A two day face to face meeting was conducted with the core team partners to align the content, elaborate on the proposal’s USP, define lighthouse use cases to better ‘sell’ the proposal as well as to advance the impact section.
Touch point 4:
During the consortium agreement phase, periodic WebEx meetings with the legal people in charge at the project partners’ sites were conducted. A template from a previous project was used as a baseline for the contracting process. To support their own legal department, the technical coordinator also engaged in this phase by conducting numerous telephone meetings with other project partners who requested major changes.
- In some partner countries it was not clear for a long time, if – besides EC funding - national funding was available.
- The topic of the project was not a mainstream one. Hence, a lot of efforts have been invested to maximize the quality of the proposal.
- Some partners left the partner consortium; therefore the coordinator had to invest a lot of resources to find others replacing them.
- There was very limited support from the top management to the coordinator.
- In a multinational project initiation phase, it is impossible to keep all partners 100% active and responsive.
Success factors in the project initiation phase
- Start the proposal development process with a low number of dedicated project partners to define the fundamental project contents and objectives.
- Start small and get bigger: Develop a dedicated project core team to mutually develop the proposal utline, consisting of members who pursue a common goal.
- Develop a winning idea and a well-formulated and understandable storyline, through dedicated partners who work out the proposal as a nucleus for the further project work.
- Nominate a coordinator who is a direct communicator, a structured and conceptual thinker, and hard in the facts.
- Nominate a coordinator who continues asking questions to sufficiently understand the technical content allowing him to assess it - and on that basis - to make informed decisions.
Barriers in the project initiation phase
- An ECSEL-specific barrier is the mixed financing between EU and national funding authorities. This can create extreme dependencies (e.g. different policies and interests between different countries) that a coordinator is not able to influence at all.
- Have a good storyline for the proposal and a well-balanced consortium. Achieving both takes time (which must be available).
- Cover not only single enterprises, but whole value chains in the project use cases.
- Include project partners who are active thinkers.
- Define strict hierarchies to support the coordinator.
- Follow the funnel principle: Start broad in the beginning and narrow down the content as well as the decision-making scope of individual partners.
- Accept being less popular in the end of the project initiation phase as a result of decisions, which the coordinator had to make.
- Find a dedicated project team in the own enterprise, which is complementary and can effectively collaborate.
- Form permanent bi-lateral communication with all project partners in such big and complex projects is not possible at all.
- Specify everything: Instead let others contribute.