Artificial Intelligence is transforming ERP solutions

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If you don’t innovate fast, disrupt your industry, disrupt yourself, you will be left behind – John Chambers

Without a doubt, artificial intelligence (AI) will have a profound impact on the footprint of ERP solutions in the foreseeable future. AI will enable organizations to further optimize their operating model made up of business processes, software applications, governance structures and technology infrastructure.

To orchestrate this transformation, organizations must revamp their IT strategies and roadmaps and ingest the value of AI and ERP integration. These technologies go hand in hand because they cover the same spectrum.

AI enabled ERP solutions will by default impact the heart and soul of day-to-day operations. The mix of people, process and technology is going to change. AI solutions will take over routine tasks  in the end-to-end business process model that are currently performed by humans. This particular change is driven by an ongoing need to reduce operational cost. It is an irreversible process: “You either disrupt or get disrupted.”

At the same time AI can augment people’s capabilities and the effectiveness of the organization as a whole. This can be realized by shifting the focus to non-routine, analytical and creative tasks. Such a shift can only happen when AI and ERP are being addressed at the same time.

With the evolution of ERP solutions over the last 2 decades, organizations have gained access to a wealth of structured data. Nonetheless, they continue to struggle with transforming data in meaningful information, decisions and actions. The last 5 years, this situation got further challenged with the explosive growth of unstructured data that organizations capture without a clear approach on how to properly use it.

The ingredients to solve this situation are available and becoming more and more mature every day:

  • ERP solutions that enable organizations to run cost-efficient and effective operations
  • Big data solutions that can manage structured and unstructured data
  • Business analytics solutions that can provide information with a user-friendly experience
  • Cloud infrastructure that can make enterprise solutions widely accessible
  • Computing power that allow enterprise solutions to manage large data sets and complex algorithms
  • In-memory database technologies to explore large data sets in real-time
  • AI solutions that can learn, speak, read, respond, predict and execute transactions
  • Internet of Things (IoT) technology to capture real-time performance information

Customer service is an example of a functional area where AI technology is emerging. Very recently, KLM deployed an AI solution that has  the intent to improve the response to customer inquiries received through social media channels.

The deep learning and natural language processing solution for KLM was developed by DigitalGenius. It masters more than 60,000 customer questions and answers. That number keeps growing, because the ‘smart solution’ continues to learn and improve overtime. When a customer service agent receives a question, the solution gives a proposed answer. It’s up to the discretion of the service agent to follow up on the advice or not. The human interaction with the customer is still there, because customers still find that important. KLM is the first airline that deployed a customer service AI solution in the industry.

An AI enabled ERP solution for customer service integrates the customer interaction with the work order management process. The AI solution understands and learns from historical inspection reports and work orders. Depending on the nature of the customer inquiry it gives a proposed answer to the service agent. The AI solution assists with the planning and scheduling of the work by finding the earliest possible date to dispatch a service technician. That’s possible because it understands the required skill set and availability of required service parts.

This scenario is relevant for example for Cities. They render multiple services to commercial and residential customers. A customer may have more than one service issue at any point in time. An AI enabled ERP solution would in this case have the ability to provide insight into the status of all services by accessing and interpreting data from many systems. There may be many work orders in different stages of completion managed by different operational units. The AI enabled ERP solution would assist the agent with adequate communication to the customer, and effective coordination of the work with the departments.

Maintenance is another functional area where AI will be integrated with ERP solutions. A digital assistant  (DA) can help the service technician with the root cause analysis for corrective maintenance issues. The DA has deep understanding of the technical structure, performance and maintenance history of the troubled equipment. It also knows how  the equipment performs compared to similar units at other sites. The service technician is asking questions to the DA and gets evidence-based recommendations back. The DA obtained knowledge from the core ERP system and sources from the OEM. Inspection reports and work orders are important process documents to maintain for that purpose.

AI solutions are starting to appear in the area of predictive maintenance, which is different than preventative maintenance. The latter is triggered by time, events, or meter readings and results in planned, scheduled work. Predictive maintenance is much more based on real-time information about the actual performance of the equipment. Oftentimes, sensors and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies play a critical role in capturing that information and relaying it back to the AI enabled ERP solution. Predictive maintenance has the objective to reduce maintenance cost. Where preventative maintenance indicates that a part has to be replaced, predictive maintenance may recommend to replace it later based on the actual condition.

SAP is gradually moving into the AI space. SAP has a cloud-based predictive maintenance solution that is based on prediction models and machine learning algorithms. The service technician has access to dashboards with key performance-indicators and ad-hoc reporting capabilities. It helps the service technician to understand the real-time performance of the technical infrastructure and intervene when required.

Earlier this month, SAP announced ‘SAP CoPilot, the chatbot for enterprise users. SAP CoPilot is based on natural language processing and machine learning technologies. The main purpose of SAP CoPilot is to explore data and business situations, and assist users with evidence-based decision making with the help of a DA. SAP CoPilot will gradually learn from empirical data, which means that its recommendations become more reliable overtime.

The potential of AI enabled ERP solutions is immense. There are a number of steps to take before you can embark on a project implementation. The formulation of a digital strategy is one of them. I will elaborate on these steps in the next article.

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The augmented project manager

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You can dream, create, design, and build the most beautiful place in the world, but it requires people to make it a reality – Walt Disney

The evolution and functional application of artificial intelligence (AI) is on the rise in many different ways and forms. The technology is going to impact the role of the project manager substantially in the next decade. We are shifting towards an era where intelligent machines work on our behalf rather than work on our command.

The enthusiasm for the emerging technology is outranking the scepticism by far. A recent poll held during the Microsoft Emerging Tech Virtual Summit showed that 59% of the participants find AI supercool, 36%  take a more conservative position, and 5% is deeply worried. The outcome is encouraging and indicating that people’s readiness to adopt the technology in their life and work is bright.

Driving forces like growth of computing power, maturity of cloud technologies, and enhancements in algorithms boost the evolution of AI in the last 5 – 10 years. Tractica, a market intelligence company that focuses on human interaction with technology, predicts a steep curve in AI revenue. They forecast that annual worldwide AI revenue will grow from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025.

AI as technology exists for decades, but we may not have realized that as much as we do today. Imagine that the postal industry world wide is processing billions of documents and parcels using AI since the seventies. They automatically sort items and trigger distribution events based on text recognition software.

It is widely expected that AI is going to replace routine tasks that are highly predictable. In this case, the spectrum of change holds all possible colours. It means that all jobs will be impacted, some more than others. Evidence-based decision making enabled by AI will become a standard for many jobs. It is already happening in the health care industry.

Non-routine tasks that have a high degree of uncertainty, require creativity and social interaction, will continue to be performed by humans. AI will struggle with recognizing patterns in the available data set and is therefore unable to understand and process a transaction. For these none-routine tasks, AI will enhance and scale the role of humans by acting as an advisor instead of a worker. The following diagram illustrates that.

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The role of the project manager is going to change with the infusion of AI into the work environment. I wrote the white-paper  ‘The augmented project manager’ about it. The document speaks about artificial intelligence or cognitive computing in more detail and how it can be applied to the role of the project manager.

The value of AI for project management is immense. It is a matter of time that AI roots itself deeper and deeper in the role of the project manager. We know that AI as technology is making rapid progress. We also know that the application  is the hardest part. To channel and expedite a meaningful adoption in the role of the PM, I am working with business partners to found a Think Tank. I will keep you informed about the progress we make in this blog on CIO.com.

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Functional areas where machine learning is applied first

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“The future of business process improvement is on making them intelligent. Machine learning is the driving force”

Machine learning is on a steep adoption curve and making its inroads in our daily lives and work. The application of the technology won’t be an issue at all. There’s an abundance of meaningful value propositions for many functional areas, business processes and roles across multiple industries.

Software vendors of enterprise business solutions are focusing their product development on machine learning and other related artificial intelligence technologies. CEO Bill McDermott of SAP said that intelligent applications will fundamentally change the way you do work in the enterprise in the next decade. He mentioned that we need the system to tell us what to do.

In many publications about machine learning we read about IBM Watson beating humans at Jeopardy, or Google’s AlphaGo beating a Go world champion. There are predictions, for example from Nick Bostrom,  that indicate that singularity, or the moment in time when a computer will be as intelligent as a human, is going to happen around 2040.

We also know that machine learning solutions work with structured and unstructured data. Data is growing at a fast pace and doubles every 2 years. 80% of the data is unstructured and 20% is structured. The technological advancements of the last 5 – 10 years removed barriers that artificial intelligence has been struggling with for many decades. Computing power being the most important one. As an indication, IBM Watson can read 200 million pages in 3 seconds and understand the content.

Machine learning solutions are coming our way. A fundamental principle is that they predict based on past behaviour.

Think about weather predictions. IBM acquired the digital assets of The Weather Company in 2016 and is leveraging IBM Watson platform to provide meaningful services to businesses and consumers. The weather notifications you can receive on your smart phone are coming from IBM Watson, a machine learning solution.

Machine learning solutions aren’t always perfect and there are ways to go. Facebook is using machine learning to recognize and understand photos, video and audio that are posted by its users. Content that is not meeting Facebook’s standards is removed. An example of this is the recent removal of a 1973 world press winning photo of the Vietnam war. After a public outcry Facebook reversed its decision.

A few weeks ago I had a personal experience with Facebook’s machine learning solutions and how it influenced a post. I was using an iPhone app to splice a few videos and thought it would be great to add audio to it. I selected the tune from the app library. When I posted the video, Facebook rejected it, because it believed that I did not have the rights to use the audio. Facebook’s interpretation was wrong, because the tune was general available to the app users. It’s an indication that machine learning solutions can learn on their own, but need human intervention to train them.

Machine learning is going to change the way we design and optimize business processes and functional roles. Automation will shift the role of humans more to exception based interactions and real-time, evidence-based decision making. The level of people, process, technology and data integration will further increase. Standardization of end-to-end processes in the supply chain will further manifest.

My expectation is that the software vendors of enterprise business solutions like SAP, Oracle and Salesforce will put their focus on functional areas where there is a high volume of routine transactions first. Think about the order-to-cash process where recurring orders flow through the order entry, fulfillment and delivery processes with limited human intervention. Think about the customer service process where the scheduling of work orders is further automated. Through internet of things technologies, real-time data becomes available that enable machine learning solutions to schedule service orders at the right time with the right spare parts ordered and skilled technician assigned.

There will be niche solutions too where machine learning is augmenting the human capability in a specific area. Think about travel and expense management solutions, where the processing of entries is for the greater part done without human intervention. Another example is recruitment. Machine learning solutions will take over the steps of identifying and screening candidates. Recruiters will receive a short list of qualified candidates and can focus more on the softer aspects that do require human interaction, for example determining if the candidate is a good fit with the organization.

Interaction with customers through call centres and other channels like email, apps or internet is another example. Machine learning solutions can understand text and speech and process simple transactions. Audible from Amazon does that to process refunds for audio books that the customer does not like.

Machine learning and other artificial intelligence solutions are at the top of Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2016. The evolution of the technology in the next decades will be fascinating, because it is coming so close to our existence as human beings. The potential to apply it in a meaningful way to our live and work will be enormous.

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How cognitive computing will change project management

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You aren’t going to stop it. The trend is going to keep moving – Ginni Rometty

Cognitive computing is rapidly making inroads into the professional services workspace. The emerging technology will have a lasting impact on all jobs across all industries, with health care, finance and legal as early adopters. As much as it changes current jobs, it will also create new jobs.

For many years, IBM is the leader in the field of cognitive computing with IBM Watson.  According to IBM, the purpose of cognitive computing  is to enhance and scale human expertise, rather than an attempt to replicate human intelligence. IBM prefers to call it augmented intelligence (AI) instead of artificial intelligence.

The underlying thought is that cognitive computing functions in an assisting, sub-ordinate relationship to humans. This is an interesting point of view and positioning of the technology, because many experts believe that cognitive computing has the potential to advance in a superior relationship to humans.

There are a number of technologies that are related to cognitive computing like machine learning, text to speech recognition, natural language processing, image detection, sentiment analysis, and others. All of these technologies have the intention to improve human productivity and decision making.

Cognitive computing will have a material impact on the way we manage technology-driven-change projects. It is a fantastic opportunity to bring the role of the project manager to the next level. The emerging technology shall operate as an assistant and expert in many PM disciplines. It will change the execution of tasks and shift the focus of the PM to more creative and analytical activities. It will provide better information to make decisions.

Here are 5 examples of where I think cognitive computing will have a material impact on project management in the future:

Methods, Tools and Best Practices – The AI assistant is knowledgeable of all the relevant methods, tools and best practices for the project, because it can read and understand speech. The PM can ask specific questions and gets accurate feedback from the AI assistant in real-time. The information can be used for any PM task. As the project progresses and the AI assistant learns about the project deliverables, it can give recommendations to the PM, based on what could be versus what’s actually being delivered. It’s basically a quality check on deliverables that helps the PM to manage expectations. At the conclusion of the project, the AI assistant conducts lessons-learned sessions with the project team and updates the knowledgebase for use in other engagements

Scope management – The challenge with managing scope is not only the change management aspect. It is also the verification of the scope that is being delivered. Something we are not necessarily good at once we are getting close to the finish line. The AI assistant is capable of understanding the planned scope, based on the statement and detailed definitions in design documents. With that knowledge it can verify the scope based on data from status reports and test systems. The AI assistant can make a recommendation to the PM where the project is at risk close to a go live

Time management – Project scheduling can be a daunting task, because of its complexity. The AI assistant can not only provide a baseline schedule that the PM can adjust and refine, it can also make predications based on historical and empirical data. This improves the productivity of the PM and the entire project team. The AI assistant can plan and forecast the required resources based on an estimation model that it maintains with data from the project itself and other projects. The AI assistant can determine if the project is on track and if there are tasks at risk that are on the critical path. A prerequisite to many of the functions that the AI assistant can provide is the access to data. For example, project team members must record time at the task and deliverable level

Cost management – Based on the scope definition, baseline schedule, resource plan, approach and risk tolerance, the AI assistant can calculate a cost baseline that the PM can adjust and refine. As the project progresses, the AI assistant can make an ETC and EAC forecasts based on earned value parameters that the PM has set. Based on the approach the AI assistant can calculate the cost impact of alternative delivery scenarios. As example, it can determine the cost and schedule impact of using more off-shore resources

Organizational Change Management – This is an area where the PM can provide more value with the arrival of the AI assistant. When a majority of the routine tasks have been delegated to the AI assistant, the PM can apply his creative and social skills on driving organizational change. The AI assistant and PM can work collaboratively in this field. As example, the AI assistant can provide a baseline of questions to conduct change impact assessments and training needs analysis. Based on the analytical outcome of the response, the PM can optimize the change management plan and properly engage with the key stakeholders. Furthermore, it can determine what course are required to train the project team and end-users. Another example is stakeholder management. Based on text analysis, the AI assistant is capable of understanding the key characteristics of the main stakeholders and provide recommendations on how to best engage with them. The analysis is also benefiting the PM in aligning and committing the stakeholders to the project goals

The evolution of augmented intelligence or cognitive computing in the professional services workspace is fascinating and should be welcomed with open arms. I strongly believe that an AI assistant can further strengthen the role of the PM and increase the value of services to the client. The majority of the examples that I have used have yet to be developed as applications for practical use. The technology is there. It is a matter of when, not if.

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How companies limit project success

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It always seems impossible until it’s done – Nelson Mandela

Companies can limit project success and may not even know it. If they do, they tend to ignore it at first and move ahead, often up to the point where it really becomes broadly visible and dismaying. By then the damage has already been done and it’s hard to recover, if at all possible.

Technology-driven-change projects have a massive impact on the organization, because they touch people, processes, and technology all at once and deeply. Before you start the project, you need to take care of a number of derailing factors that can be deeply rooted in your companies DNA.

I will list a number of these factors first, select a few and address those in greater detail:

  • Establish leadership alignment and commitment on vision, scope and strategy
  • Remove silo-ed behaviour of departments and groups
  • Assign full-time, qualified people on the key positions
  • Implement governance structures within the project and outside with external stakeholders
  • Focus the team on the key tasks by minimizing distractions and prioritizing the work
  • Educate project staff on how to execute key tasks and what the new technologies are about
  • Select qualified business partners to help you deliver and act upon their recommendations
  • Adequately resource the organizational change management team
  • Communicate the project scope, timeline and strategies over and over again

The factors that I have picked to explain in more detail below are not necessarily the obvious ones, but they can be very detrimental to the project outcome.

The first factor is about silo-ed behaviour of departments and large groups. Traditional, function oriented companies struggle in today’s fast pace world with cross-functional collaboration. The majority of the leaders of these organizations are still very comfortable in their verticals and do whatever it takes to optimize the fragmented reality of the day for themselves first, and others second. When they engage in cross-functional activities and communications, they appear to work well together, but in reality they hardly do. This is a severe challenge for projects who are implementing enterprise business solutions.

It is very hard to course correct this behaviour and oftentimes requires people changes to remedy. A short term effective measure is to work with performance metrics that stimulate cross-functional collaboration at the executive and mid-level of the organization. Another short term measure is more frequent involvement of the CEO or GM who can bond the team of senior leaders, foster the right behaviour and make key decisions in adversarial situations.

My point of view is that traditional, function oriented business models don’t work effectively in today’s world. Instead, organizations should strive for a horizontal design of their business operations. They should orient their structure by end-to-end business processes and lines of business. It is business process first and then function, instead of the other way around.

The second factor is about distraction and competing priorities. Most people and project teams struggle with getting things done when there are too many tasks at hand at once with similar deadlines. They have a hard time dealing with planned work that happens concurrently. At the same time, they are getting distracted by unplanned work that grows in volume towards the end of a project phase. When the pressure goes up, the team’s progress slowly comes to a grinding halt. People start to point to the timeline being to aggressive. But is it really? What do you need to do on this front before you start the project, and as you move forward?

The biggest step to make or take is to educate the team on how to organize and schedule the work. Make sure that every project and sub-team has work planners and schedulers. Make sure that highly effective communication structures are set up. Make sure that internal and external dependencies are identified and managed. Use a hierarch of work plans and schedules, with a MPS – master project schedule, and TWS – team work schedules that are aligned all the time.

There has been a lot of discussion the last years of waterfall versus agile project management methodologies. Without going into detail in this post, my point of view is that for technology-driven-change projects a combination of both is most effective. As example, the baseline of the project can be waterfall oriented, but when the planned work volume peaks you use SCRUM techniques to get through that particular moment. You can also decide to use agile for certain parts of the project scope, where waterfall is more effective for others.

There is one behavioral element that is hard to deal with when you are in-flight and can be addressed at best before the start of the project. It is called procrastination. Many people have a habit of leaving the work up to the last minute. This can be devastating if they don’t understand what the work is in detail, and when at the same time unplanned work comes up.

When you staff the project team with internal and external resources, be aware of the core personality traits of the key resources on the project. Do not only focus on the expertise that the person can bring to the project, also focus on ability to deliver under pressure and tight timelines, collaboration with other individuals and teams, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Get the right team on the ground. From your own internal organization, and from the business partners.

The third factor is about project management capability. Companies limit project success, because the majority of the resources they assign to the project don’t have  the right level of knowledge and experience to manage a project. Let me be more clear on this. Every resource in the project has a responsibility to manage the project to some degree. For the program and project managers it obviously is a full-time responsibility, for team leads and team members it is a partial responsibility.

An example of what happens quite often is an issue that should be reported upwards to the project level, stays far too long at the team level without a decent chance of getting an effective response. When it does finally boil up, the severity and impact has gone up dramatically with less time for resolution. Another example is work planning and execution. It happens regularly that project resources get stuck with their project work, because their functional leader has other non-project work assigned to them that the project leadership is not aware of.

What you also see is that the initiative is not managed as a true project, but more as an initiative that functions as an extension of the departments involved. Let’s say there are two departments leading the initiative. That means there are two circles of influence that overlap. Ideally the overlap would be significant. Project resources operate where the circles overlap. You may call that area the project. In such a situation, project resources tend to go to the home base first to discuss anything that is related to the project. Once that happened, they may or may not discuss it within the project. This occurs because the traditional function or department is stronger than the project. What should it actually be?

There should be three circles of influence. The two circles of the departments and a third circle, being the project. The project needs its own identity with its own leadership, governance and resource structure. With the project assignment, resources move over completely to the project and only report to the project and not to the home base they originate from. At the same time, the company must have a clear strategy of how project resources at the conclusion of the project flow back to the organization. Such a strategy builds trust and gives comfort to the project resources, because they know what will happen in the long run.

An example of a behavioral issue that happens all the time with two circles and not with three, is accountability. When there is no true project (two circles that overlap), the needs of the home base can take precedence over the needs of the project. Resources tend to ignore project leadership in favor of their functional leadership, because they know that in the long run the functional leader has more impact on their future at the company. This is a situation that is not beneficial for anybody: company, department, project and resource, yet we still allow it to happen.

Before companies embark on technology-driven-change projects , they must take care of a number of factors to maximize the potential for success. I am a firm believer that projects do not fail of the technology itself. If they fail or realize less benefits than planned, it is about key decisions the senior leadership team did not make properly before the start, or not adequately executed them while in-flight.

If companies want to deliver projects and achieve the planned benefits, they must set people up for success. If they do that for each individual, they will build high-performing teams and get the anticipated results. Make sure you have got all of the factors addressed before you go.  Investigate what leading practices or world-class standards are and implement them. Use the expertise from professionals in the marketplace to get you off to a right start. Build the right project platform to operate from.

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Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is a game-changer

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A goal without a plan is just a wish – Larry Elder

The chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment that has become the new normal, needs Project Portfolio Management (PPM) to drive value. Organizations struggle to prioritize the right initiatives and manifest them at the right time. They are falling behind on their peers and over time put their existence in the market place at risk.

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) are forces that have an immediate impact on an organization’s ability to perform. PPM is the answer to VUCA. It provides a level of structure and concerted, orchestrated organizational behavior that is needed to drive ideas to results.

It is time for a new PPM vision.

PPM is not just implementing a tool and you are done. It is much more than that. PPM is a mindset. It is an organization-wide solution that impacts people, process and technology. Its purpose is to unlock and extend organization’s potential and innovative power, which is then translated in meaningful projects that successfully get delivered.

PPM is a business function at a strategic level of the organization. Ideally, PPM has a direct reporting relationship to the CEO. With that, it gets the right order of magnitude and can operate in an independent and effective manner. If you move PPM under a dominant function, for example technology or finance, it can less optimally operate as facilitator of organization-wide initiatives.

PPM is a business process and permeates through the body of the organization. PPM operates as a facilitator of 4 main process steps: prioritize demand, manage portfolio, execute project or program, sustain and improve. The end-to-end PPM process drives consistency and enforces all key stakeholders to actively participate. It allows people to work collaboratively towards manifesting a shared set of goals and initiatives. The recognition of PPM as a business function and process, sets the organization up for success in responding to change.

PPM requires a robust solution architecture. What that means is that PPM is an integration of 4 building blocks: process, application, analytics and governance. It is important to keep the PPM design simple. The value is coming from how well you deploy the solution, not by adding secondary conditions and increased levels of complexity.

There are organizations who believe that PPM is a stopgap measure for failed projects. It is not. PPM will provide a robust platform for planning, execution and control. It will increase the number of successful projects, but it is not a magic wand. That’s because the root cause of project failures our outside PPM’s control. Projects fail because of wrong people behavior that may have been identified but has not been properly addressed. PPM requires a horizontal, cross-functional focus of the entire organization, instead of a vertical, silo-ed focus of a team or department.

PPM is a game-changer. It can drive value and provide sustainable competitive advantage. If you do it right, it attracts top talent. They want to work for organizations who are successful, because success helps manifest their dreams. To build a world-class PPM solution, an organization has to go through 4 stages. The first one is where it “grounds” PPM, by building a cross-functional coalition of key stakeholders. The second stage is where the coalition “visualizes” the future end-state and documents the PPM vision. In the third stage of “align and commit”, the focus shifts towards broadly communicating the vision and getting buy-in. In the fourth and last stage, it is all about “making it happen”. This is where the PPM solution has been successfully deployed, and the organization is consistently performing and delivering high priority initiatives.

If you do it right and implement this PPM vision, the changing environment with its VUCA forces, become less of a problem and can actually work in favor of the organization. PPM can get you ahead of your industry peers. It allows you to have a real-time view of your demand (ideas), your supply (resources) and in-flight initiatives (portfolio) supported by analytics (transparency) and effective governance structures.

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3 steps to make project portfolio management a business process

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If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing – W.E. Deming

Organizations have a hard time to plan and execute the right initiatives, because project portfolio management (PPM) is not deployed as a business process.

With an increasing need and desire to innovate and change the ways we are doing things, one would expect that organizations are keen on project portfolio management. In an ideal state, PPM is managed as a business process, equivalent to the more traditional process like finance, marketing and sales, procurement and human resources management. Yet we are not doing that, or at best we are trying, but agree that there is room for improvement.

The PPM process should be cross-functional of nature and serve internal customers from all business areas. To make that happen it should reside in a business function that by default is set up as such. A Project Management Office or Information Technology Department are then quickly becoming the logical candidates.

What are the steps to deploy PPM a business process?

Align Leadership

Ideas, become successful when we all buy into it, make it happen, and live up to it once it is in operation. Implementing PPM as a business process is a game changer and requires adequate change leadership. Part of that is executive alignment. A key element of the alignment process is visualization. Senior leaders must be able to envision what the future-state looks and how that improves their business area and the organization as a whole. An introduction to the high level process design, a demonstration of the PPM application, and a walkthrough of a few use cases, are instruments to get them all on the same page. Once the alignment is there, a change leadership committee should be established, tasked with delivering the PPM solution.

Implement and Deploy

PPM is an enterprise application, which means that the implementation and deployment must be managed as such. The project team is a balanced representation of the organization with functional and technical resources. If these two principles are violated, the probability that the end-users do not adopt the PPM solution as intended, is high. The focus of the implementation must be on business process, analytics, application and governance. These four components make up the integrated PPM solution, and all need to come into play at the same time. Examples of PPM applications are: Innotas, Workfront, Clarizen, ChangePoint, and others

PPM projects tend to fail when the focus is primarily on the application. Organizations rush through the software product capabilities, make design decisions on-the-go and forget the importance of the business process, governance and analytical requirements. Mobilize a team with internal and external resources. It is imperative that the vendor can provide the expertise in all the four areas of the PPM solution, and can assist the change leadership committee with manifesting the future-state

Execute, learn and adjust

When the PPM solution goes live, it’s the start of a new beginning. The primary focus of the project team and business must be on user adoption and tying the experience back to the original business case. It is a good idea to have super user representation in all of the business areas. The super user is a functional expert in the PPM solution and an evangelist pur sang. It is the first line of support for all the end-users. The PPM business process has a natural cadence where at set times and gates, certain activities must be completed. It is not uncommon that this is a one year cycle. As a consequence, the learn and adjust cycle is at least equal to that period. The organization must go through all the hoops and loops, complete lessons-learned sessions and optimization steps, before the project can be declared a success and closed.

Project portfolio management (PPM) must be perceived as a business critical process for organizations who have the intention to grow, accelerate and improve. Those organizations who want to be an outlier and exception in their marketplace, out serious effort in implementing and deploying a robust PPM solution. It is part of innovation and getting better than your competition.

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Under pressure everything becomes fluid

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Nobody works better under pressure. They just work faster – Brian Tracy

There is a misunderstanding that under pressure people perform better. Pressure to a certain degree is fine and can have a positive impact on performance, because people become aware of the fact that things have to get done. But too much pressure will have a negative effect on the quality of output. And if that happens the probability of rework at later stages in the project goes up significantly.

Under pressure everything becomes fluid. In other words, when hitting deadlines becomes the primary driver and focus, deliverables will eventually get done, but oftentimes with lack of quality. People start to demonstrate irrational behaviour, remove standards and constraints, and go the extra mile to get the job done with making sacrifices. This makes sense, because in the devils triangle of project scope (quality), schedule and cost, the latter two are fixed, and the only variable that can move is scope.

When the project schedule is aggressive and tight, the risk of a balloon effect is high. At the start of the project, people believe they have tons of time to complete the work. You actually see the opposite happening. People are focused on scope and quality of output, instead of schedule. But as we go, those two variables start to shift.

What can you do as project manager to mitigate the ‘risk of pressure’?

  • Build a hierarchy of schedules that reflect the milestones, dependencies, tasks and deliverables. That sounds simple, but in reality people struggle to build meaningful schedules. They need to be granular enough for the level you report status. You need to be able to communicate the schedule. Many project managers are challenged to find the right level of detail. If there is too much or too little, nobody else than the project manager looks at the schedule. I would recommend to use 3 schedules. One for the executive level that you use for steering committees and CXO. One for the program or project level. And one at the team level. You build them top down, and validate them bottom up by assessing the work and estimates against the time line
  • Communicate the schedule and report accurate status. How many times have you been in projects, where you knew there was some sort of schedule, but you did not know the details, nor did you have access to it? It happens more than you think and if it does, you can rightfully wonder if there is one. Project managers must communicate the schedule and status at a minimum on a weekly basis at the project and team level. For the executive level and CXO it can be bi-weekly to monthly. Status reports have to be accurate and complete. But how do you know that you something is accurate? For deliverables and tasks that are on the critical path you want to do cross-checks to mitigate the accuracy risk
  • Paint the bigger picture. When people perform under pressure, they tend to loose the big picture. Although you want them to be in the zone for optimal performance, they need to be made aware of what is happening around them. They need to know what is coming up next, and how they impact that with their current output or lack of output
  • Facilitate daily scrum meetings to set focus, priority and urgency. When the going gets tough, the though gets going. You cannot be early enough to start with daily scrum meetings. I am using the word ‘scrum’ to refer to a daily stand-up meeting at the team level, where each and everyone is present and provides input on the schedule and status. The project manager and solution architects are on point to resolve issues on the spot and to keep the work flowing.
  • Open up your toolkit and be creative. When that deadline is looming and smiling in your face, you want to do a step back as project manager and assess, reflect and adjust. It is the only way, to let your creative mind go and provide new and better mechanisms to get the finish line with the best output possible. The worse thing you can do is to get hooked into the pressurized momentum as well. If that happens, it could be game over

Every project gets under pressure. If it hasn’t, it probably wasn’t a real project, meaning there was tons of time to deliver. Project managers need to be aware of this and understand that under pressure everything becomes fluid. When that happens it is time to roll up the sleeves and apply specific techniques to bring the game home with the right level of quality. Most of these techniques centre around better and more timely communication, detailed work schedules, ad-hoc actions to keep things moving forward, and creativity.

Bas de Baat

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Who moved my schedule?

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Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go  Spencer Johnson

Project schedules are subject to change all the time. When you think that you have it clearly defined and communicated, something unexpected happens and before you know it, you are making changes. It is not that changing schedules is necessarily your idea or desire to do, it is more often a consequence of movements that occurred outside your control. Program managers are typically responsible for the overall timeline. What   are some of the habits that you practice daily to stay comfortable with that responsibility?

Understand the business context – One of the first things you want to do as program manager is to network with the key stakeholders on the business side, who indirectly influence the program. It is crucial to understand the business needs, constraints, expected program benefits, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Assess the decision making process by figuring out who the key players are, how much time it takes to make decisions, and what buttons you can push to get things done. Involve these key stakeholders as you execute the program by keeping them involved and engaged. It is one way to mitigate the risk of a schedule change for unplanned work or not well defined work

Control the scope of work – The single biggest driver of success for any program is a clear and unambiguous definition of the scope of work. As much as it sounds obvious, it is the most complex activity to do. From a scheduling perspective it is important to understand the level of effort, the timing and sequence, as well as the probability that the scope definition changes as you execute the program. Is it in, is out, if it is in has it changed, if it is out, has it been replaced, why is it out, can it come back? Each variation has its own schedule impact. Be in control by communicating the scope of work, who is responsible, when it needs to be completed and what that status is based on a progress tracker. Simple concept, simple on paper, complex stuff in the real world

Assess the skill set and mix – You get the job done well and on-time if you have the right people. Always put priority on the quality of the team, no matter what. Assess team performance on an ongoing basis and adjust where you must. If that is not completely your call, influence leaders to make changes as best and often as you can. Schedule attainment is for 100% a result of having the right skill set and mix in your team.

Maintain visibility of work status – Building and maintaining work schedules is a must as long as they have meaning for the receiver. I am a fan of keeping schedules crisp, concise yet complete. Many of the detailed project schedules with thousands of line items do not work, because you cannot communicate them. Try to set up a schedule hierarch with a high level timeline with a GANTT view, a master project schedule with the key tasks, deliverables, milestones and dependencies. And last but not least, maintain a number of detailed progress trackers by deliverable type. These trackers are really helpful as they ultimately help you drive the work to completeness. They are easy to communicate if set up correctly, and help build focus and momentum in the team

Continue to build and sustain trust – The silent killer of any project schedule that is always out there to get you is the lack of trust among key stakeholders. Work gets done on-time or faster when people trust each other. Works does not get done at all or gets delayed when the level of trust is low. It is a core accountability of the project sponsors to foster and establish a healthy and trustworthy working climate. The program manager is responsible to manage trust as a risk and initiate and influence corrective actions when needed. It is important to understand early on in the program what the people and organizational change impacts are. These game changers oftentimes have an immediate effect on trust

There are many factors that can move your project schedule. The five that I have mentioned here above are only a few. They are the more impactful ones. I think the overall key message is to always try to stay ahead of the curve. If you understand the context, the scope of work, the capability of the team and level of of trust, you can rely on your instincts and assess at any moment whether you can deliver on-time or not.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager and Coach

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Find your sources of inspiration

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Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve – Napoleon Hill

If you want to get your creative juices flowing, you want to know what your sources of inspiration are. Whether you want to resolve an issue, respond to a risk, craft a project strategy, you need to be able to tap into the creative zone of your brain. It applies to all non-routine activities that you are facing on a daily basis. Be effective, smart and of real value to your clients by being aware of where your inventiveness is coming from.

The greatest sources of inspiration are stories about work and life experience of other people, and memories you have of achievements that had a lasting impact. Inspirational leadership is based on stories. Think about it for a minute. Inspirational leaders like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Michael Jordan, Johan Cruijff or Hasso Plattner all have great stories to tell about their accomplishments. They entice you because they can vibrantly articulate what they have done, why they relentlessly pursued on that path and how they dealt with obstacles along the way. Many people want to replicate behavior of inspirational leaders and do it slightly better.

People love stories. The best presentations you remember are the ones where the speaker gets your attention right from the start by telling a unique story. The best stories grab your energy and direct it to a better, high motivating level. A formal setting is not needed for storytelling. It can simply come from somebody you are talking to, or from the different kinds of (social) media we have today. It can come from a location that is special to you and where the setting and ambiance is inspiring.

The stories that I remember and like to go back to for inspiration are from people who contributed to my personal growth and performance. They gave me meaningful messages that I instantly knew I would never forget. I also obtained insightful stories from biographies, audio books, magazines, TV or radio programs. Not necessarily from academic literature. Of course there are a number of key concepts and theories that you have memorized for a lifetime, like a SWOT analysis, the five forces of Porter, or Mintzberg’s structuring of organizations. Truth to the matter is that most of what you remember and recall when you need it is from experiences, either your own personal experience or somebody else’s.

It is key to have a broad interest in topics, also outside your field of expertise, outside your comfort zone. By expanding your horizon, you are able to expose yourself to information that you have never imagined and which can be very helpful for completing a task you have been struggling with for quite awhile. As an example, one of the areas that I have been exploring the last year is artificial intelligence and its impact on professional services. It is a fascinating topic that is rapidly evolving and one day will impact all of us to some degree. A development that is very interesting to follow is what IBM is doing with Watson.

Sources of inspiration can be ‘real-time’ or from past experiences. When I was 15 years old I started working for a grocery store in a small city, north of Amsterdam, who was well known in the area for their fresh produce. It was a family owned business with a long tradition of serving top-notch products to a very loyal group of customers. The owner and his two sons ran the business. Each son had his own store. The owner was in his late seventies when I met him. He was a great storyteller. I remember the days that he asked me to work with him in the warehouse. It was a very old building not far from the office where my father worked. Together we prepared the fresh produce for the store. We would load a silo full of potatoes and unload it by filling 5 kilogram bags for example. That activity could easily be for half a day. While doing that, he told stories about the Second World War and what he and his friends did to hinder the Germans. Or how he helped local people survive by handing out food. He spoke about the evolution in transportation, and that the distribution of fresh produce was now so much easier with the use of trucks. Small vessels did when he was young most of the transportation from Amsterdam. With him telling stories, they days went by fast. When we were done with bagging the potatoes, we would switch to sorting all the different kind of bottles that the customers returned to the store. Crates and crates full of bottles, sorting a getting them ready for return transport. I did not mind doing the work, as long as he kept telling stories. What I have learned from this period in my life was to always deliver quality output, even when the work is repetitive. But also to respect the quality of life we have today, as well as the freedom and security. He taught me what it means to persevere, especially by explaining what it meant for him to stay alive during the cold winter of 1944-45 of the Second World War.

Locations you visit on a regular basis can become a source of inspiration as well. There is an island in the Caribbean that I visit quite often with my family. The entire experience from arrival to departure completely renews, replenishes and reenergizes me. Whether it is going to the white sand beaches, listen to live music, nice dinners or get togethers with friends, all of them or very inspiring. One day I met the founder of a Brazilian company that manufactures, installs and services ATM machines, entrance technology and ticketing systems around the world. He was in his eighties and had passed on the business to his sons. He was still involved as an advisor. I had long talks with him about his life and work. He told me that he worked in many different places and companies in Europe and North and South America. Engineering was his trade and he made a number of major inventions. Through this storytelling he handed a number of lessons:

  1. Be the dominant leader player in your industry – Be so damn good in whatever you are doing, such that you always attract business
  2. Know the key players and work with business partners – To be successful you have to collaborate with other stakeholders in the market segments where you operate.
  3. Know your clients – The most important stakeholder is your client and you better understand their needs and challenges they have to overcome
  4. Have lots of cash, cash is King – You will be facing difficult times whatever you do and you need a cushion to keep going
  5. Be fit – No matter how busy you are, find time to maintain your health through exercise and clean diet.

Despite his age, he swam a few kilometres in the ocean every day. He would park his car, warm up his muscles, put on his goggles, watch the tide, decide what direction to swim, swim and walk back. During the swim he would oftentimes get ideas that he would share with his sons, the new leaders of the company that he founded.

Another source of inspiration for me are performances from business leaders who really made a difference and changed the world we live in today. Steve Jobs is an example of such a leader. His commencement speech at Stanford University says it all. The advice he gave to the students has made a huge impact on me and many others who I know admire him as well: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. 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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.

In the 1989, Stephen Covey published his bestseller ‘the 7 habits of highly effective people’. I remember that many people around me in the workplace read the book and mentioned that it  changed their attitude towards work and life. The 7 habits transformed the way they work and interact with other people. The book became of standard and many companies included it in their management development programs. Overtime, it became a source of inspiration for many successful leaders. His book also inspired his own son Stephen M Covey to write the bestseller ‘the Speed of Trust’. One of the key lessons that comes to mind frequently when I lead technology-driven change programs, is that when trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. Stephen came up with this equation to clarify a simple dynamic that can make or break any initiative, and that is that ‘trust in relationships is the main driver of success’.

You can make it a habit to get to your sources of inspiration. Most of those habits require a moment of silence or time for yourself. It could be a walk in the forrest, or some form of meditation, an outdoor run, an intensive workout or any kind of activity where you are detached from the day-to-day routine. Try to find what that habit is for you and seek your sources of inspiration.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

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