Showing posts with label Project Management. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Project Management. Show all posts

Friday, July 31, 2015

Right-size Processes To Add Value

I've been in a few conversations recently about "overhead' processes, and my favorite topic - adding value.  I'm going to provide a few examples of what I consider rightsizing processes.  These processes should be implemented judiciously and appropriately to deliver the information and results needed to add value and deliver your projects on time.

Often excess processes can significantly reduce productivity, and staff become complacent and don't believe the work they are doing is important.  Keep your team energized by being a leader and establishing processes that are appropriate, effective, and add value.  Some broad examples of rightsizing are below:
  1. Project Management - I cannot stress the importance of tracking projects at an appropriate level to create a critical path for developing and managing the timeline.  My experience is that this is as much of an art as a science.  The science is in the methodology, the art is in the understanding and ability to identify dependencies and timing accurately.
  2. Time tracking - I've posted about this previously.  Track sufficient information using appropriate granularity to support your project schedules, accounting for resource time in a broad sense by service and category.  Right size this so you do not expend valuable project and service resources recording unnecessary information.  Tracking information that is not useful for improving project management, increasing support for the service, or fulfilling sponsor reporting requirements is frustrating for staff  and wastes precious resources.
  3. Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity Planning - Nobody ever expects a disaster to occur. However, they do... and it is too late when you realize that the one person with the knowledge to recover your enterprise service just took off in a plane destined for a remote village half-way around the world. 
  4. Cross Training -  Cross train your staff, and document basic operational requirements.  They may complain about the additional work.  However, when they discover that this enables them to take vacations without being tethered to a work device, they will thank you.
  5. Change Management - Do an appropriate level of planning and documentation of changes, and incorporate this into your processes to support audit requirements and aid in identification of  causal effects.  Manage change so that risk is minimized, and recovery from change can be reverted without a significant amount of effort.
  6. Incident Reports - these are extremely helpful in developing an understanding of impact, and causal effects when something significant goes awry.  Reflection and openness are necessary to change processes and mitigate future risk.  Again, do not spend five days documenting an incident that was minor - and that only merits minimal documentation of the issue, impacts, and lessons learned to help reduce future risk and improve recovery.  There are times when risks must be accepted, and that's okay as long as the risk and potential impact has been mitigated to an acceptable level.  Our greatest failures can provide the best learning opportunities.
  7. Meetings - maximize efficiency by preparing for the meeting, and having a clear agenda.  Document follow-up items, delivery dates, and ownership.  Not preparing leads to wasted time.  Having nine people wait for ten minutes for the tenth person wastes 90 minute of productivity that cannot be recovered.  Preparation should be appropriate for the topic and audience.
  8. Communications - Appropriate levels of communications are critical.  Too little communication, and your stakeholders are uninformed and can become unpleasantly surprised. Too much communication and your messages are ignored.  Work with your stakeholders and staff to establish a level of communications that is appropriate.
The most important part of this is collaborate with your team and stakeholders to define a level of process that is consistent and appropriate.  Be inclusive and transparent in the discussion, accepting and acknowledging feedback to develop processes that improve overall efficiency.  Most importantly, evolve your processes to continually become more efficient.  Perfection is often something we cannot afford in our lives.  The sooner we acknowledge this, the more efficient and effective we become.  Be a good steward of your resources, and strive for customer satisfaction and good stewardship.  If your services are not affordable, you will not be in business or servicing your customers for any length of time.

That's it for this post... until next time... lead and manage for success!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Great companies have great marketing... does your team?

Everyone wants to get ahead, correct?  What better way than to promote yourself?  That depends on your lens  or perspective.  I'm from a blue-collar family, where humility is regarded as a positive value... and well boasting... is usually reserved for fishermen and hunters.  Those that do, let their actions speak... and those that can't... well... spend more time speaking than doing.

Does it always work, probably not... there are times when we each need to stretch outside your comfort zone.   I've always envisioned the role of a good manager as one that promoted the efforts of their team, and gave recognition to where it was most earned, by those that do the work.  I'd prefer to market team successes than any individual accomplishments.  The reality is that any success of the team are a result of the efforts of the team... and any failures... well... often they are a failure of leadership.  I'll have to do a future post on what is leadership... it's not management... leadership is painting the target on the wall and getting people to follow you... management is controlling how we get to the destination..

So, back to the question at hand... what is marketing... and why is it important in technology for companies that do internal  IT?  It's a question that most people ask themselves.  For that answer, let's discuss what marketing is not...
  1. It's not overstating what you've done, what you can do, or what you're capable of doing.
  2. It's not committing to something you can't deliver, are incapable of delivering, and have no plans to deliver.
  3. It's not lying, stretching, or stating things that cannot be achieved, or trying to get a foot in the door when you hope that like a tick, you can't be pulled once you're hooked in and get some blood.

What is marketing?  It's a necessary skill that you need to learn in order to survive.  Just because you're an internal resource doesn't mean that you should not be prepared to compete with other teams or external organizations for projects.  It's important to be prepared to provide a plan to get and service a new customer, or to maintain an old customer.  There's this small thing that's been happening in IT... it's called outsourcing.  There's always someone smarter that can do things better... if it's not you... it will be someone else.

Case and point... see the cartoon below... it was developed using tools from, and was delivered as an icebreaker at a recent meeting.  It was an overwhelming success... it helped demonstrate that we had some basic sense of what their challenges, goals and objectives were for a project in a context that was understandable... and important to our customers.

Connecting with your customer!
We've made significant efforts moving from older technology to a new ASP.NET stack adopting object oriented technology, implementing user controls that could inherit properties from their parents when dragged onto a form... and that handled their own methods to update the associated data.  My team had also abstracted the database into business objects as well.  This new effort included a dynamic workflow engine that included versioning to support future workflow changes that may need to be introduced... and was designed to be able to match workflows at different hierarchical levels of granularity.  We also heavily adopted templates, environment variables, and other "soft" ways to update the application without changing code.

Our partners are going through some major changes, and want to evaluate other solutions... partially because one of our highly adopted systems was written almost ten years ago... and doesn't have the flexibility of the new architecture.  If we want to be at the table and in the discussion, we need to ensure that our customer is judging us on our current projects, not one that is a legacy project.

Through demonstrations, and connecting with them on a business level, we've allowed our new solution to continue forward in the evaluation process.  Will it be chosen?  I don't know... that will really be a business decision.  However, it should be a decision based on an equal footing... not one that is from lopsided from a lack of marketing on our side.  Making this assumption, in my opinion... would be nothing more than a significant miscalculation.

The moral of the story... don't become a dinosaur, learn, innovate, and continue to compete.  Don't become stagnant in your technology, or complacent... and for the sake of your projects.. sometimes all you need to do is guide.. and then get out of the way!  If you focus on recruiting great people, develop them, and make sure they are recognized... they will want to succeed... have ownership... and a sense of pride.  The will develop great products... sometimes it's your role to ensure they have the knowledge, skills, and tools they need... remove any obstacles, and let them succeed!  Guide the project... there's nothing that kills a project quicker than scope creep...   

Don't let the below be said of you... for everything you add to a project, look for something of equal weight to remove, or extend the timeline immediately... you should NEVER hear....WHAAAATTTTT?!?! YOU'RE GOING TO BE A YEAR LATE?!?!? AND YOU BLAME IT ON ME CHANGING SCOPE!?!? YOU ARE INCOMPETENT... YOU DIDN'T CAPTURE THE CORE REQUIREMENTS IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Analyzing Project Performance with CA Clarity

Today's post... and we all know it's been a "long time" since I've posted... is on analyzing your results in CA Clarity project management.  Part of this is a description of how to download data, and the rest... time permitting... will be a link to a lesson on another of my blogs with steps necessary to create a high level overview using pivot tables and pivot charts... oooo... scary, I know... and sOOOOO close to Halloween!

Ok - let's get moving on this...I am using CA Clarity™ PPM version 13... and like any good software... you can definitely track a lot of information.  We try and do this pretty high level for my team... after all... tracking project time should NEVER take a majority of your project time.  Think about a squirrel packing up acorns for winter... does he keep constantly counting each individual nut?  No, I think he's probably got a link in the tree - when the acorns reach the line - he knows he's done... he's not link 4,324 - five more to go... or was it four... hold on, I need to pull out the acorns and recount... that would be absolutely NUTZ!!!!  Project Management is like that too... track with enough granularity that you have a good idea of status... but not so close that you delay your project by microscopically tracking the status.

So... the steps.... drum roll...

Oh... and the safe harbour statement before you start... I'm an idiot, all software is different, and if you follow my notes, it could cause you to break something or lose data.  Understand anything and read it closely before you follow the notes.  I've already told you that I'm an idiot... and if you follow my instructions blindly without understanding and taking responsibility for your actions... it's your own fault... and we all know... you can't trust an idiot.  This is "buyer"... or blogger beware... there are absolutely no warranties at all (expressed or implied)... use the information below at your own risk.

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way... and you know I'm an idiot... I'll review my steps...
  1. I created a tab just for this report... and you can too!
  2. From Clarity's Home tab - select the General Tab
  3. Click the odd looking icon on the upper right - it's a +/- icon that has a folder picture under the +/-.  On hover it will pop-up "Manage My Tabs"
  4. Click New - which will bring up a new window with four tabs... Page Properties, Content, Page Filters, and Layout.
    1. Click on Page Properties, Enter a tab name, and description, then click save and continue.
    2. You now see... "There is no content to display. Click add to add content"
      1.  Click add -- 
      2. When the select content window appears, type "timesheet review" in the title, and click the filter button - this will save paging through all of the different reports that can be added.  Make a mental note to come back and check these out again later.
      3. Click the check box in front of "Timesheet Review" so it's selected.
      4. Click the "add" button.
      5. Click Return
    3. Congratulations, if all went well, you should now see under Manage Tabs - the new tab you created... if not... try again...  I did tell you I was an idiot, and not to follow my directions, right?
    4. Click Return
  5. Click on the new tab that you created... at least for our implementation and use.. there are a couple of caveats...
    1. Only time reported on ACTIVE projects is shown - so I'll do another blog post on how to efficiently change these using some of the new features of Release 13.
    2. You have to create filters for your staff, unless you want to download results for EVERYONE you can access - this is an institutional preference.
    3. Don't make the assumption, as I did... again... I'm an idiot... that the pretty excel icon, and powerpoint icons will generate a nice export of what you see.  This isn't WYSIWYG - and in my case... these buttons generate something I don't need.
  6. Filter the data you need.
    1. Ok this should be easy if you're a pro, but for a newbie... there's a little PLUS sign beside the name of the report "TimeSheet Review" in the upper left (not top... uppper).
    2. Click it to expose the "filter capability"
    3. You can either page through, and select the employees to analyze.. by 
      1. Search and filter...
        1. Clicking the binoculars to start the search process
        2. Click the check box beside each name you want to include on each page
        3. Clicking "add and select more" prior to going to the next page.
        4. Clicking "return" when you're finished.
      2. Typing and selecting each resource individually
    4. I choose to only filter for "posted" time cards -- it's your preference.  I select "posted" from Timesheet Status.
    5. For time period... in my case, because of what I assume are our institutional preferences, the binoculars limit me to timesheet periods that are currently open, so I don't use these.  I click the "X" in time period and let this blank to return all periods - the Pivot table will get rid of what I don't want... no worries.
    6. Save your filter by clicking the "save filter" button.
      1. Give it a name.
      2. If it should be the default filter view when you enter, click the little check box for the default and click save and return.
    7.  Click the filter button - it's pretty straight forward now!
  7. Congratulations - you should have a view of the filter you need!
  8. Exporting the data
    1. Ok - this can be a little confusing... on the SAME LINE as  title "timesheet review"... there is a little gear.. no, not the one with the paper behind it... the same line as the title.
    2. Click it
    3. Select Export to excel - DATA Only
    4. Open or Save it somewhere you can use the data
  9.  This will open the data in excel.
I will do another post on how to clean up the data, and do pivot tables and pivot charts to build a template to speed evaluation of the data.

That's all of the time I have for now... I'm going back to bed.

Watch for the link to the blog post on my MS Office Blog... provided I can get moving on blogging on this...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are you worth your paycheck?

I'm sure this may be considered a controversial post. First, let me explain my background. I've spent the last 6 years in higher-ed. Prior to this, I worked in private industry (primarily for mid-sized manufacturers) for 20 years.

Whether you are a project manager, developer, support staff, or production laborer, you need to ask yourself... do I add value? Do you bring more to the table than you take away?

Small business owners, especially partnerships and sole proprietors, have a different perspective on what they can... and will pay employees... and their vision of value. It's a very simple kindergarten style philosophy. If I pay employee "X" 40K per year, do they add either through efficiency, quality, or sales, of at least 40K per year? If the answer is no, then "X" isn't adding value... and should find a way to add value, or refresh their resume.

You make these utilitarian decisions every day. Should I change my oil, or should I pay a mechanic $30. Should I clean my carpets, or pay Stanley Steamer to come clean them? Businesses make the same decision every day. If your carpets aren't that dirty, or you can get by with a quick vacuum, Stanley probably won't get your business.

If you're not adding more than your taking away in a paycheck, you're probably a really good candidate for downsizing. Ask yourself... would I pay may salary to do this job if I were the owner, and it was coming directly from my paycheck?

Let me put it another way. Recently I had a conversation with one of my employees about adding value. He was discussing how he liked to code projects from scratch because that was a process he enjoyed. I asked him... if I paid you $5K to do this project, and didn't care how you did it, or how long it took, how would you do it? Would you take a few months to hand code it, or finish it in a month? The month was the answer, of course.

This is the type of question you always need to ask yourself. It isn't to get a short term focus, it's to focus on the addition of value. If hand-coding was more efficient in the long run, and this was a multi-year project, of course he would have chosen to hand-code it if it would have provided the opportunity for him to make more money over the long haul (and would have saved the business money). This would have still require the project met expectations for functionality, performance, maintainability, standards, and usability.

Project Management adds value through efficiency. If you are managing a project and things get done on time, and resources are utilized efficiently, they you can probably answer yes... you add value... if your projects add value. If you're an extremely efficient project manager, you must select projects which add value... or you do not add value.

Ask yourself... are you really adding value... and are you worth your paycheck. If you can't honestly answer yes, I suggest you either find a way to add value, or think long and hard about your potential career choices. Companies only pay charitable salaries for so long, in a down economy, it's the performers who succeed and prosper.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Creating Project Plans and Critical Paths

When you create a project plan, think of yourself as a general contractor trying to build a new home. As the general contractor, you’re not necessarily going to physically perform each task. By yourself, you probably would not dig the trenches, mix cement, lay blocks, plumb pipes, wire the electrical, frame the house, set the drywall, paint, lay carpet, install siding, shingle the roof, and many of the other tasks which are often associated with building a house. You either have crews of specialists that are necessary to complete the tasks… or you have sub-contracted different parts of the project to different people.

What would happen if the roofing contract came before the foundation was built? He’d have to go home… or you’d have to pay him until everything else was done and he could do the roof. If the excavator doesn’t complete his task at the beginning of the project… and waits until toward the end of your 180 day contract… nothing else gets done. The general contractor won’t be in business long if they can’t optimize their resources… which we refer to as Project Management.

With any project, it’s basically the same thing. There is a natural order and sequence to everything, and the absolute best performance you can hope for is called the critical path. Why is it critical? It’s critical because anything that get’s delayed on the critical path will automatically have a ripple effect and delay the overall project by the same amount of time unless you have sufficient slack in the schedule. Without slack in the schedule to absorb a delay, if an item on the critical path is a week late, then the project is a week late. That is barring some heroic effort to reduce the time required to complete a downstream task on the critical path.

When managing a project, make sure you know the critical path. Manage the critical path, and you will manage the project. If other tasks not on the initial critical path become delayed… they could easily become the new critical path… and should be managed appropriately.

Project Management - Adding Value

I once tracked actual time against projects using Google Docs, and would download the information into Excel. As a power user, I could easily create advanced charts to show where we used our resources, our effectiveness, and used this to help plan future projects. When another tool was implemented a couple years ago, I decided to stop this practice. Why do double work... especially when it didn't add sufficient value to justify double tracking every project. The analytics that this process provided would have justified the extra effort. In hindsight, this was an extremely powerful tool.

As you approach project management, I'm a strong believer in the kiss principle. Keep it simple stupid. The more detail you add, the more time you manage the management of your project. That's great... until you realize that you manage the project to add value to your customers, not to justify your role.

Approach every project with the question on how you add value... and if you were your customer, would you pay $50 per hour (or some other arbitrary number) for someone to perform this task? If you can't answer yes... then you aren't adding value.

I have benefited from the experience of working for some very savvy business men. Early in my career, my experience on the leadership at Jennmar Corporation was extremely critical in the formation of my work ethic and values. I gained an understanding of why it's critical to service our external customers... and the importance of recognizing internal customers and providing excellent service to both. Frank and Jim - thank you. These individuals demonstrated a unique knowledge of their customers, their organization, and their products. The set high standards for their employees and their products, and looked for ways to add value in the services they offered to their customers.

That said, I've worked for... and with people that don't add value -- or even worse, they add negative value. How can you add negative value? Create an atmosphere where people are stagnated by an aversion to risk, or one where they are compelled to justify every action. You soon see a failure to innovate and add value. Sometimes you need to accept reasonable risk... mitigate where you can... and have a plan to fall back in case a failure occurs. Successes become home runs, and failures become learning opportunities which lead to future success. So go big... with a plan... then go home... and enjoy you're evening knowing that you are truly adding value.