Monthly Archives: September 2014

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A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality – Yoko Ono

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Think

In simple terms, organizations do projects to implement new ideas. Where the business leader is most of the times the originator of the idea, the pragmatic project leader shapes the path to attain it. It is crucial to clearly define WHAT the organization wants to achieve. The generation of the idea is just the first step of many.

One of the next steps is to ask WHY the organization wants to implement the new idea. Organizations go through a thinking process where they quantify and qualify the business benefits and associated cost. They often conduct an impact assessment and determine the change the organization must go through to ultimately manifest the desired end state.

Once the organization has a decent understanding of what it wants and why, the final step is to think about HOW to achieve it. There are many aspects that come into play at that point in time. Implementation strategy, time line, methods and tools, required skill set and business partners are a few to mention.

What do you want?

Organizations must understand that this question needs to be answered many times throughout the project. The level of detail is increasing as you go, because experience and insight in the future end state continues to grow. Clear and transparent documentation and communication of the WHAT is therefore an ongoing and primary project task that is often misunderstood resulting in projects delivering less than expected or potentially to fail. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to organize that in terms of specific types of deliverables at specific times in the life cycle of the project.

When the level of detail of the WHAT is increasing as we move along, the level of ambiguity is decreasing at the same pace. As soon as you approach the build phase there can be no ambiguity left. If there is, you know that specifications are not accurate and must be revisited before you proceed.

The following list are examples of deliverable that define the WHAT. I have put between brackets an indication of the level of ambiguity: H = high, M = medium and L = low.

  1. Dream collage (H)
  2. Vision board (H)
  3. Business requirement (H)
  4. Design criteria (H)
  5. Solution architecture (H)
  6. Demonstration (H)
  7. Process design document (M)
  8. Business blueprint (M)
  9. Integrated solution design (M)
  10. Functional specification (L)
  11. Technical specification (L)
  12. Test script (L)
  13. Training material (L)
  14. Work instruction (L)
  15. Business procedure (L)

Defining WHAT the organization wants in a progressive and consistent manner is one of the biggest challenges in IT business transformation projects. “Continuity of vision” is a critical success factor throughout the project life cycle. Organizations must ensure that in the evolution process from ‘dream collage’ to ‘business procedure’ the vision is carried forward by an individual or team from start to finish. The business leader is accountable to delegate that responsibility to for example a solution architect.

The pragmatic project leader is responsible for implementing a robust framework of processes, methods and tools that support the end-to-end definition process. This framework must also includes quality assurance and control steps, as well as measures that prevent the business leader from making definition changes randomly at any point in time.

It is imperative that stakeholders are made aware of the roles and responsibilities, the framework, as well as the risks associated with non-compliance.

That the definition of WHAT an organization wants is a critical step in the overall THINK.CHANGE.ACHIEVE TM process may be obvious and logical, but is often not followed meticulously. Here is why:

  1. People assume that others understand WHAT they want
  2. Business is requesting changes that are not well understood and/or documented
  3. Vendors over promise and under deliver (commercial, capability, or financial reasons)
  4. A knowledge and experience gap (technology) between organization and vendor
  5. Stakeholders from different disciplines are not aligned (vertical organization | silo-ed behaviour)
  6. Stakeholders are not aware of the end-to-end definition process, deliverables, roles, responsibilities and risks
  7. Any form of non-compliance that is not being corrected

Shortly after the organization has started to shape and define the WHAT, there is another question that must be answered, and that is WHY you want something.

Why do you want it?

The definition of the WHAT is an ongoing process that never sleeps. For the WHY it is exactly the same. Organizations who are about to embark on a new initiative must always answer the WHY question. Depending on what stage of the initiative you are, the answer is different as well as its impact. For example, a change to a business requirement in the testing phase close to deployment can be fatal, because of its impacts to the core of the solution, whereas rolling out a solution to a country that was not in scope before can be accomplished because resources are available and the timing is right.

Organizations often make the wrong decisions, because of a lack of awareness and/or understanding of the impact. And if the awareness / understanding is there, its often an inadequate ranking and prioritizing of the WHAT that pushes things off track. It is the responsibility of the pragmatic project leader to bring that awareness, insightfulness and reality check to the key stakeholders and decision makers. As long as that reality check is based on factual insights it is meaningful and situations can be corrected and reversed. If the executive stakeholder and/or sponsor needs to be involved to steer the decision making in the right direction, the pragmatic project leader, must do that without hesitation. In order to make that happen, escalation paths need to be pre defined, transparent and respected.

The general rule of thumb for answering the WHY is two fold. You need a business case and an impact assessment. The materiality of the WHAT determines the effort to complete these tasks. Less material requirements can almost have an immediate answer, whereas material business needs require a documented process with formal reviews and approval steps. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to orchestrate that process.

Examples of deliverable types that you can expect are:

  1. Cost-benefit analysis
  2. Business case
  3. Impact assessment 
  4. Strategic decision document
  5. Key decision document

How do you achieve it?

The last question that is part of the THINK step is about HOW you are going to achieve the WHAT. The result of this step must set the entire project up for success. You cannot proceed to the CHANGE or ACHIEVE steps if you are not a 100% confident on the overall approach. The pragmatic project leader is best positioned to determine whether the project team is ready to move forward or not.

Here are a number of items (there are many!) to be considered while answering the HOW:

Implementation strategy – This item is primarily about how the organization is going to deploy the solution when it is ready for use. The typical options vary from a big bang to an incremental approach by function, organizational entity and/or geography. The key decision driver is the level of risk the organization finds acceptable. Risk averse organizations tend to go for incremental, pilot, staggered and phased deployments, whereas on the opposite side of the risk continuum, risk taking organization tend to go for a big bang go live. The pragmatic project leader must provide detailed insight in the various deployment options, their risk profiles and cost/benefits. This is one of those steps where the organization must do sufficient research and listen to experiences from other organizations, the software vendor, the system integrator and industry experts. Be aware that key stakeholders who have defined the WHAT, oftentimes want to achieve that fast. There is nothing wrong with an expeditious process and aggressive timeline as long as it is realistic, do-able and warranted by build in contingencies. The pragmatic project leader must bring that reality to light.

Required skill set and eduction –  You can only start the initiative, project or program when you have the right team with the right mix of skills. As I wrote in one of my other posts, it is key to select talent based on knowledge, experience and personality. These criteria are equally important. Set the bar high and don’t easily walk away from the requirements if you cannot seem to find the right person. The pragmatic project leader must develop a learning strategy and team leads learning plans for each of their team members. Learning must be a key performance metric in the project performance plan. Education is a critical success factor for the short and long term. For the project (short term), organizations want to make sure that they can deliver quality. Organizations also want to bring their people close to the knowledge and experience level of the external project resources as soon as possible to minimize ambiguity and maximize output. For operations (long term), the organization must be able to develop talent that can sustain the new solution and operating model. To make that happen, education and knowledge transfer must be carefully planned and executed

Methods and tools – This item is oftentimes not well taken care off. Organizations spend a lot of time on defining WHAT they want, WHY they want it, and HOW to get there from a time line, business partner and required skill set perspective, but underestimate that methods and tools ultimately determine the quality of the outcome of the project. You cannot simply assume that the vendor brings that to the table, although some do. The pragmatic project leader must organize ‘method and tools adoption workshops’ where the organization and the vendor assess, review and decide what methods and tools will be used. Part of the selection is also the implementation, education and support requirements. Depending on the size of the project and available budget, organizations can consider to assign a ‘method and tools’ subject matter expert, who is responsible to implementation, support and education. Make that a serious consideration and realize that a robust set of methods and tools are essential for crafting WHAT the organization wants.

The THINK step is one that continuously needs to be revisited throughout the project lifecycle. It interacts with the other steps CHANGE and ACHIEVE all the time. It is important to be mindful about that as pragmatic project leader.

Bas de Baat

Business consulting | Program Management | Coaching

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You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – Steve Jobs

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In today’s world, organizations are looking for pragmatic project leaders, who can steer projects to success by applying the technical aspects of project management combined with a practical leadership style.

 

 

What I mean with the technical aspects of project management is how the Project Management Institute (PMMI) has defined it in the “Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).” For more information go to how to order robaxin online

Pragmatic Project Leadership is going beyond PMBOK. It is about the leadership style and characteristics of the project leader. It is about the practical, no-nonsense approach where aspects like focus on making things happen, people management, building trust, learning and growth, play a critical role on project performance. They make or break the project. It is a combination of delivering projects by applying standard methods and tools, with special attention to the personal interest of people assigned to the project. That can for example be, job satisfaction, career development, personal growth, coaching, mentoring, team development, organizational change, culture change and transformation. The thought behind this is that when you take good care of your project staff, it has a positive impact on the project outcome as well as long term business benefits.

What are key characteristics of a pragmatic project leader?

  1. Have a broad interest and understanding of business, technology and organizational change management
  2. Are able to understand, communicate and translate the vision set by the business leader into a well defined and transparent path to attain it
  3. Act with confidence, optimism and determination
  4. Listen carefully and with empathy to their people, understand their needs, concerns and professional goals
  5. Bring people together to work as a team to manifest the end-state
  6. Is comfortable in dealing with ambiguity, taking calculated risk and managing conflict, disruption and deflection
  7. Is realistic, fact driven and has eye for detail
  8. Selects the right people for the project to get the job done
  9. Build trust in relationships and delegates responsibilities to people they are aligned with
  10. Is straight-forward, sharp aware, decisive, sound in judgement, intuitive, creative and far-sighted
  11. Prefers to operate at macro level using a helicopter view, but if  necessary can manage at detailed level
  12. Coaches top talent and help them grow in their careers
  13. Is a big picture thinker, connect the dots all the time and is able to tune by taking immediate corrective practical actions
  14. Is able to align business leaders on the execution of the vision
  15. They have a good sense of the power structures of the organization, are very capable of influencing and using it in favour of the project and future state of the organization

This is the first publication of 4 in total and speaks about the characteristics of the pragmatic project leader. Subsequent version will be about the Think.Change.AchieveTM process that PM Consult is using to advise and coach business leaders when they are engaged in IT business transformation projects.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

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When  I decided that it was time to broaden my horizon beyond leading projects into areas like business coaching and writing, one of the things I did was looking up quotes of successful, accomplished and famous people. I find that a very inspiring activity. Besides great leaders like Colin Powell, Peter Drucker, Einstein and Stephen Covey, I came across George Bernard Shaw.

I would not be surprised that after reading and internalizing them, your perspective on project leadership changes, and that you are excited to follow a much more practical style.

“George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright, a co-founder of the London School of Economics and Nobel prize winner in Literature. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was fordrama, and he wrote more than 60 plays. He was also an essayist, novelist and short story writer. Nearly all his writings address prevailing social problems with a vein of comedy which makes their stark themes more palatable. Issues which engaged Shaw’s attention included education, marriage, religion, government, health care, and class privilege. ”

Here is a selection of this famous quotes:-

  1. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything
  2. The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place
  3. Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will
  4. Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time
  5. The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people
  6. You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
  7. Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get
  8. Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance [there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, see also the book “Think like a Freak” from Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner]
  9. People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it
  10. A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing

Hope you liked it. Let me know what you think.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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In business, words are words; explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality – Harold S. Geneen

How often have you experienced that the Vendor (implementation partner), who you carefully selected, does not perform as you expected?  How often have you not been able to turn that around?

Organizations spend a significant amount of time on the commercial aspects of the project. Lengthy and complex selection processes that ultimately lead to contracting the preferred Vendor. Both organizations are at that point in time very excited to further engage, keen on celebrating the partnership, and eager to start the project as soon as possible. Overtime, vendor performance issues start to occur and you are spending more time on corrective actions instead of working with your team on manifesting the project goals.

Vendor performance is a risk area that you must address and manage in the contract negotiation stage. The best strategy to manage it is to transfer a substantial part of the performance risk to the Vendor.

Behaviour drives performance. In order to have the ability to influence behaviour of the Vendor you want to negotiate an incentive score card and include that as a risk sharing agreement in the contract.

The incentive score card contains a number of pre defined and mutually agreed to performance criteria that are directly tied to the payment schedule. Incentives work in both directions. If the Vendor exceeds expectations and reaches a certain score, there would be a financial reward. If the Vendor performance is poor, the organization has the opportunity to penalize the Vendor by for example withholding payments.

It is important that the performance criteria are well defined and unambiguous. Keep it simple. Performance criteria are very similar as the critical success factors of the project. Make a list of approximately 10 criteria and score the Vendor on a monthly basis. You do not want to score the Vendor only at the end of the project or stage or every quarter, because those lapse times are too long. Behaviour can change quickly and you need to have an effective instrument to influence it right away. Doing that on a monthly basis is best. Use a weighted average calculation as some of the criteria have a higher impact than others

There are many ways to define incentive score cards, but to keep it simple consider only 3 performance rating outcomes:

  1. Performance above expectations
  2. Performance met expectations
  3. Performance below expectations

In case the Vendor has met expectations there is no incentive required as all goes according to plan. The organization pays the planned amount to the Vendor. When the Vendor performance is above or below expectations an incentive action is triggered and the Vendor receives a financial reward or penalty.

The incentive does not always need to be a financial reward or penalty. I have used score cards that had non-chargeable consulting hours as incentive. As long as you can quantify the incentive (like $ and hours are) you can be as creative as you want. Be careful though not making it too complex and that you loose sight of its purpose: the ability to influence behaviour and performance.

Here are some scenarios where you have a higher success rate of turning the situation around when you have an incentive score card:

Key resources availability – You are dependent on the Vendor because they have expertise and skills that you do not have at all, or do not have at the maturity level that is required. The Vendor promised you during the selection process that their top notch solution architect is available to the project. Success guaranteed! You were actually introduced to the resource by the Vendor and were very impressed. At the start of the project there are suddenly two solution architects showing up, the resource that was selected and a junior resource. Within a few weeks into the project, the selected solution architect slowly disappears. You asked the Vendor what is happening and for awhile you are being kept in the dark

Action: Identify the key vendor resources, define their skill set and level, and determine when they must be available to execute tasks. Include that in the contract. Consider adding a condition that you have the right to source a qualified resource from a third-party if the Vendor falls short

Performance criteria: measure turn-over of key resources + lead time to replace key resources

Quality of deliverables – You are preparing the deployment of the solution. The go live is just around the corner. There are a number of critical defects outstanding and the deadline is rapidly coming closer. The project team is heads down with hands to key board, working over time and not consistently following procedures, because a lot of work has yet to be completed. The clock is ticking fast, much faster than you have ever seen. Your IT staff has discovered that the development, test and production systems are not in sync and that the overall integrity of the solution is at serious risk. You escalate it and the Vendor tells you: “This is normal for these kind of projects, it is typical and we see it more often at other clients.”

Action: Identify the key deliverables and provide a clear description / specification. Define the complexity level and acceptance criteria. Use external references if needed to indicate the level of quality you are expecting. Design and implement quality assurance and control processes. Train project resources in methods, tools, technology and procedures

Performance criterion: measure on-time completion of deliverables according to specification

Schedule attainment – You are waiting for a detailed project schedule from the Vendor with major milestones, tasks and target dates for key deliverables. The contract clearly states that the Vendor is accountable to create and maintain such a schedule, but does not seem to be in a hurry to provide it. There is a high level GANTT chart that has some merit, but in order to execute the work and monitor progress you really need a detailed project schedule. Meanwhile the Vendor has started the work. You escalate it and the Vendor tells you: “This is how we work, don’t worry, it will get done…”

Action: Collaborate with the Vendor to create and maintain a detailed schedule. Follow a 3 plan level approach: GANTT, project schedule and team work schedules. Clearly document roles and responsibilities for schedule management and status reporting in the contract

Performance criterion: measure on-time completion of milestones and key tasks [you may want to consider using EVM – earned value management techniques, but that can make it more complex]

Vendor performance rating by using incentive systems coupled to payments, is a must have for all major IT business transformation projects. It is the preferred mechanism, because it is following a pre defined and mutually agreed to system between the Client and the Vendor. It is an effective approach to keep your critical business initiative on track and out of trouble.

Feel free to contact me for more information about vendor performance and incentive score card. Just click the email button at the top right corner.

Thank you for reading my post!

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©