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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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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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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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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.

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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 robaxin 1500 mg.

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 robaxin 500 mg dosage 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 ‘robaxin 500 mg for dogs’. 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 ‘robaxin 500 mg muscle relaxer’. 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.

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“The minute you start compromising for the sake of massaging somebody’s ego, that’s it, game over” – Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay is a Scottish born British chef and restaurateur, and his restaurants have been awarded 15 Michelin stars. He is a world-class performer and knows how to cook an excellent meal with the ingredients and resources that are available to him. Gordon is well known by a broad audience through his TV shows. In his latest TV program he guides a number of top talented chefs through an ‘obstacle cooking race’ and ultimately awards the winner with the title ‘Master Chef’.

When I thought about how you keep a SAP project on time, budget and quality, what came to mind is that doing SAP projects is similar to running an ‘obstacle race’. In order to pass all the obstacles you, like Ramsay, need to be fully aware of the quality of the available ingredients and resources. With ingredients I mean things like: standards, leading practices, software functionality, hardware, infrastructure, processes, data, policies, procedures, regulations, performance indicators, etc, and for resources think about: people, vendors, thought leaders, dollars, facilities, methods, tools, etc.

Once you are aware of your capability to deliver, the next steps are to explore the course of the race and its potential obstacles, and to continuously update your plans. This is an iterative process throughout the project lifecycle. Be mindful of the fact that although an obstacle may look familiar to you, it can behave very different. So what has worked for you in the past, may not work this time. Be creative and fully leverage the insights from your team. Examples of obstacles that you may encounter are: poor requirements definition, misalignment of key stakeholders, silo-ed behavior of teams, unqualified people in key positions, poor data integrity, severe software defects, poor testing, indecisiveness of the key decision makers, weak support organization, inadequate organizational change management, insufficient communications, unplanned work, scope changes, resource conflicts, lower than average vendor performance, etc.

Now let’s go into more detail on some of the obstacles and determine actions that you can take:

  • Requirements: when organizations struggle with defining business and technical requirements, there oftentimes isn’t a coherent vision that is well articulated, communicated and shared. Fragments of the ’to-be state’ are lingering and waiting for qualified individuals to take on to put more detail and definition to it, such that they can ultimately be glued together in a high level solution architecture that can function as a reference model for requirements definition. Organizations who initiate a SAP project, must have qualified resources available that deeply understand SAP, for example solution architects. They are responsible for solution management from start to finish, from requirement to implementation
  • Silo-ed behavior: with the implementation of SAP, due to it is integrative nature; organizations are forced to shift from vertical to horizontal behavior as business processes go straight through many functional disciplines. From an organizational change perspective, this is for many organizations a big hurdle to take, especially when activities and transactions shift from one silo to another, for example from finance closer to end users in supply chain processes. The key action is to create the awareness and understanding at all levels in the organizations, and find common ground between the involved functional business teams to work out an effective, practical model
  • Software defects: although you can trust that SAP is thoroughly testing its software, there will always be software defects that require their assistance. Especially when you are implementing fairly new SAP functionality, make sure that you have the right level of attention and support from SAP itself, as there will be cases where the system integrator cannot help you. Get to know the experts

As you can tell, there are many possible obstacles that can derail your SAP project and the potential impact can be very high because of its broad and deep exposure. SAP solutions permeate through the body of the organization and can cause immediate operational disruptions, and it’s on this particular aspect that SAP projects are quite different then other technology projects. It is very important that senior leadership has this kind of awareness in mind at all the times when they initiate, plan and execute SAP projects. Its imperative to start with the end state in mind with a well-articulated vision and roadmap, work all the way backwards to the start of the project, uncover the needs to be successful and identify the possible obstacles that can throw you off-guard. To make that happen, invest in qualified people who have been in the field and know what needs to be done. Or in Gordon Ramsay’s context, identify the ‘Master Chef’ who has proven his ability to cook and can serve you an excellent meal.

Bas de Baat

SAP Program Manager, PMP©

 

 

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“Clarity breeds mastery” – Robin Sharma

When we initiate a technology-driven-change project, we all want to start off right. We all want to be successful in the end. Now, let’s put the odd exceptions aside for a second and make the assumption that when you turn the ‘Wheel of Fortune’, it does actually spin to the point where you make a jump for joy, because you have achieved all your goals: 100% project success on all counts.

In reality, the likelihood that you reach that ultimate, optimum state is not that high. If you read the number of articles about why project fail or not deliver what was originally intended, we still have ways to go. The wheel of fortune is highly symbolic and refers to the fact that things go in cycles. There are good times and there are bad times. The main idea behind this mysterious wheel is that you are fully aware of what’s happening inside and outside of you, and that you are taking actions to influence the outcome when required.

So, what can you do to make sure that when you do spin the wheel, you land on an acceptable spot or at least make a significant step forward from where you are today? Here are 3 behaviours that you want to embed in your project organization:

  1. Clarity: Be transparent in your goals, actions and communications; remove ambiguity all the time

My experience is that organizations that were able to achieve their goals through people, process and technology change, provided full clarity of WHAT they wanted to achieve and communicated that to all project stakeholders at the right time at the right place with the right level of detail. They realized that clarity is progressive and subject to change. Therefore they assigned highly skilled leaders to key roles in the project organization, who are mindful of the fact that ambiguity is a ’silent killer’. Think about roles like the project sponsor, project leader, solution architect, functional and technical team leads and the organizational change management lead. They were all aligned, committed and capable of adequately communicating the project goals, solution direction, business impact, project strategies and major risks.

  1. Far-sightedness: Always be prepared and have alternative plans to make things happen

The same organizations had a well-defined, structured and communicated project plan. They consistently went through a recurring planning process, such that the project team and business stakeholders knew what was coming when, why and from whom. At the project level there were alternative strategies and plans readily available in case circumstances required the team to adjust the course. Where possible alternative delivery strategies where followed to expedite or to be responsive in case business requirements were for valid reasons in a state of flux.

  1. Stamina: Never stop, but keep moving forward, also when you feel you are making a step backwards

Perseverance is crucial for all business transformation projects to succeed. “All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end” [Rob Sharma]. It’s oftentimes said that technology-driven-change is like a ride on a roller coaster or a bad day on the stock market. A caveat to that statement is that nobody knows when you are about to make a turn or enter a circular loop. Like nobody can accurately forecast the price of oil, it’s the same for managing change. At best you can make reasonable predications based on past behaviour. Organizations who have been successful in dealing with significant change wisely invested in professionals, who know how to prepare, avoid or respond to different kind of scenario’s and sudden shifts in motion. Companies who ‘go on the cheap’ will in the end be less cost effective. They may have saved on project cost, but likely have not achieved the ‘deep change’ that is needed to achieve the end user adoption and planned business benefits.

When you are about to turn the ‘Wheel of Fortune’ make sure that you are prepared. When you land in a spot where you don’t want to be, ignite your action plans and sit through it. A key element of the preparation is making sure that you have the right team. As I mentioned in previous posts, in the end it is all about having access to talented and intrinsically motivated people. It’s rare that process and technology change put the project in a ’troubled’ state.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP© | Solution Architect

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Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth – Sherlock Holmes

Being from dutch descent, I obviously have a passion for soccer. Years ago, Louis van Gaal, a well-known and very successful dutch soccer coach gave his point of view of world-class performance, by saying: “quality is about ruling out coincidences.” Years later he completely re-build the footings of soccer club Bayern Munchen, and ever since that transformation, they have dominated the European soccer leagues. And now he is replicating the same principles at Manchester United.

What would Louis van Gaal do if he was a project leader? I think if you translate his principles to project management, many troubled IT business transformation projects most likely wouldn’t have ended up in that state. What would some of his principles look like?

A key principle is to have a plan and alternatives, call it a plan B, that are well-communicated and shared at all levels in the project and relevant business areas. The plan provides a clear sight of the future end-state and the path to get there, in terms of deliverables, approach and time line. There is a common belief that the planning process is more important than the plan itself. The process is a recurring, consistent, collaborative and inclusive activity supported by all key stakeholders and has plan versions at different abstract levels. There are many walk-throughs of the plan with the all the players, and together with the leaders they discuss major risk and mitigation strategies so everybody is well prepared. The core team is far-sighted, able to connect the dots and keen on translating requirements into work products, making estimates and crafting smart delivery strategies and tactics.

The project leader is audacious and creative in finding the most attractive path from A to B given the quality of the players, the business context and other conditions. When Louis van Gaal was the head coach of the dutch soccer team during the last world championships in 2014, he realized after thorough analysis, that he needed to change the tactics from an offensive to a more defensive style. The average age of the team was relatively low and therefore the experience level. He changed the formation from a 4-3-3 system to a 5-3-2 system. That change caused a huge turmoil across the country, because the default formation that dominated the ‘dutch school of thought’ was 4-3-3. Louis van Gaal was convinced of his bold change and trained the team on the new approach in a very short timeframe. They pulled it off by ending in 3rd place by beating Brazil and exceeded the expectation of the Royal Dutch Football Association. Germany won the tournament, and many of their players came from Bayern Munchen. Louis van Gaal was successful because he had an alternative plan and the courage to execute it. He got the buy in from the team players, and subsequently prepared, coached and motivated them to win. He changed before he had to, and knew what it looked like

Another principle is to implement industry best practice project management and delivery processes in the initiation phase including effective methods, tools and reporting. All project staff must be trained in the functional use of this model before the actual work starts. Ideally, the training is repetitive and addresses case material where performance did not hit the quality mark. That’s an effective way to build consistency. Major motivators for talented project staff is to learn new skills and gain experience throughout the project lifecycle. Seasoned project leaders find ways to combine that progressive learning ambition with continuous improvement of team performance and team bonding. An example of that would be recurring ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, where people come together and discuss a very relevant topic, or at times an odd, fun topic to trigger the creative minds.

Knowing what’s important and what’s not and being able to set the right priorities for the team is another principle. The project leader needs to be observant and have an eye for details without loosing side of the big picture. He has a transparent work style, open-door policy and is an effective communicator. Google Executive Chairman and ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of Products Jonathan Rosenberg wrote a book about ‘How Google Works’ [2014] and said that one of their key responsibilities was to be a ‘router of information’. They said: “Most of the best—and busiest—people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions, and being responsive to everyone reinforces the flat, meritocratic culture you are trying to establish.”

If Louis van Gaal would be a project leader, he would make a lot of notes, gather a lot of data, conduct detailed analysis and with all of that provide constructive feedback and coaching to the team players. He would share his opinion based on facts, and point the team into specific directions. He may consider doing project analysis, based on video recordings of the team performance and all kind of statistics. This approach is becoming more and more a differentiator in soccer and other sports. Big data and analytics has entered that industry the last couple of years as well.

The use of fact-based data in the decision making process is another principal. The project leader would use it for example to assess where the project is vulnerable and define corrective measures  to be ready in case identified risks materialize into real problems. Together with the core team, the project leader would think through scenarios for areas where any surprise can catch the team off-guard.

There are many more principles from Louis van Gaal that we can apply to project management. They have one things in common and that is their focus on quality. Every aspect of soccer, on or outside the field, must be well thought through and meet high quality standards. That in combination with real-time fact based reasoning and decision making must put the team on the right track for high performance.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be – Jack Welch

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end” is a well-known saying from Robin Sharma, a motivational writer, speaker and leadership expert. The existence of projects is to drive the change that the Executive has in mind. Imagine that you are the leader of an enterprise-wide IT business transformation project that is the centrepiece for manifesting the next growth spurt of the organization. Your work relationship with the Executive is critical to make this initiative a success. How do you manage the Executive such that both of you are effective? Here are 5 management rules you should be aware off and practice.

Understand and challenge the vision: the single most important success factor of any project is a clear understanding of the vision, purpose, impact, and benefits of the project. It is all about a broad and deep understanding by all stakeholders of the WHAT. It takes awhile for the organization to absorb a vision statement. It’s the responsibility of the project leader to facilitate that process by working closely with communication experts and the Executive on crafting messages and broadcasting them to the right audience at the right time and place. The project leader should challenge the Executive on the vision with the objective to sharpen it. It is in the best interest of the organization that the vision is unambiguous and rock solid before you move forward with the planning and execution phase. If internal and/or external subject matter experts are needed in the ‘vision refinement’ process, the project leader takes care of that. Throughout the project lifecycle, the project leader is accountable for a ‘continuity of vision’ process, which means that the future state gets more and more defined in detail from vision statements to blueprints to specifications. The project leader is the linking pin between the Executive and the project and orchestrates a bi-directional communication and collaboration

Have a mutually agreed to plan: Once the vision has sunk in and all internal and external stakeholders sing from the same song-sheet, it is time to get to a mutual agreement of the project plan between Executive and the project leader. In parallel to the envisioning phase (see above), the project leader is working on a draft plan based on strategies and principles that have been discussed with the Executive. The plan has 3 levels, a GANTT for planning at the Executive level, an integrated project plan at the project level, and work plans at the team level. Throughout the project lifecycle, plans get further refined. The project leader is responsible to involve the Executive in this progressive elaboration planning process as required, not only when plans need to be adjusted and re base lined for unforeseen events. Progress and status will be reported at the GANTT level, such that the realization of the vision is transparent to the Executive at all times. Last but not least: always have a plan B…, just in case

Share the real status with facts: The Executive likes to see a coherent, crisp and concise story of where the project stands on a single page every week, and at peak times  more frequently. Use a dashboard displaying the GANTT and status indicators for the key dimensions: scope, schedule, cost, people, quality, issues, risks and vendor performance. Provide factual information for each dimension that is valuable to the Executive and the project. Include a section where you keep track of key decisions that need to be made. Make sure that the overall story has a rolling forward approach, where the indicators speak to the current and previous period status. Refer to other documents where you keep track of detailed project status, for example issues and risk logs. Have them up-to-date and available upon request. Most of the Executives that are accountable for enterprise-wide IT business transformation projects have a hectic work life. In case the project leader does not get the attention that is needed, think about sharing status information in a creative but still effective manner. An example that works well is to distribute the status report as an attachment to an email. The email itself only carries 3 to 5 key messages. Point in the email to action items or key decisions that need to be made. Follow up with the Executive verbally in a subsequent step that can go quickly, because the project leader already gave a heads up by email, and can focus in the discussion on what’s important

Come with options: One of the ground rules the project leader wants to set at the start of the initiative is that options are being presented at the same time as the problem. Options should be realistic and when possible supported by qualitative and quantitative statements. There is a golden rule that the decision maker can select from a list of 3 to 5 options. The project leader is responsible for making a recommendation to the Executive with input from the team. Make sure that the recommendation is the result of an impact analysis and rational trade-off process between the pros and cons

Get the Executive on the floor: Key ingredients to a successful project is the demonstration of Executive commitment and alignment, as well as acknowledgement of the contribution of the organization, team and people. The project leadership team is responsible on a daily basis for people management. Coaching top talent is one of the premier activities in that area. The project leader must establish a recurring platform where the Executive ‘connects with the floor’. Projects that realize the most benefits have the Executive at arms length. They have the Executive participating in key meetings, or conduct town halls on a recurring basis, do walk arounds to meet with project staff, or have social events once in a while. As I wrote in my post ‘Want a World-Class Project Team?’, the people factor is very important, at least equally so not more than process and technology. The Executive as the visionary leader plays a crucial role

With the projects that I am talking about, ’The Executive’ is oftentimes more than one person. A major responsibility of the project leader is to ensure that along the way, the Executives stay committed and aligned. There are 2 key measures to make that happen. In the first place, work with the Executive in charge to get buy in and to build a forceful coalition of Executives. In the second place, make sure that all the Executives receive the same project status information, such that the context of the project is transparent. When everything is unfolding as envisioned and planned, you are good to go as project leader and be successful with your team.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©