Category Archives: Project Management

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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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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.

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Program Manager and Coach

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The future ain’t what it used to be – Yogi Berra

Is Ikenga, your Project Manager Robot, going to be your best friend because it completes your project initiatives on time, budget and quality over and over again? Time will tell what ultimately happens, but make up your mind and get ready for the next technology evolution that can significantly change the ground rules of the way we do business today. The application of artificial intelligence and robot technology in day-to-day business operations is rapidly moving ahead and already changing the DNA of certain industries. Don’t let it get ahead of you, but instead understand the possible implications, benefits and opportunities for personal development and growth.

The main reason why artificial intelligence and robot technology are evolving rapidly is because computation power has reached a level where it is cost effective and able to deal near real-time with massive amounts of data. A front-runner in this area is IBM with Watson, a cognitive computing solution that is able to answer questions and therefore assist humans in making informed decisions.

In their book Second Machine Age (2014), Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson explain the characteristics of and differences between the First and Second Machine Age. Over 200 years ago in the First Machine Age, muscle power was gradually being replaced by machines, starting with the steam engine, followed by electricity and other inventions. In the Second Machine Age, wherein we live today and are just at the beginning, knowledge power is gradually being replaced by machines.

There are three forces behind the Second Machine Age: exponential, digital, and combinatorial. Moore’s law enabled the exponential growth, meaning the doubling of computing power every 18 months. This constant doubling has delivered the advances we see today of which many appeared after 2006. The digital force brought us to the big data model that allows us to collect, process, store and utilize structured and unstructured content in massive volumes. The combinatorial force is the innovative power of humans to combine technologies in a way that was not possible before, because of limitations for example in computation power. The driver-less car, Siri, 3D printing, robots are examples of key technological advances of the recent past that are a result of the combinatorial force.

According to Carl Benedikt Frey and Micheal A. Osborne (Oxford University, 2013), routine intensive occupations could be susceptible to computerization over the next two decades. That in itself is not new, because for example in the automotive industry robots have been used for more than a decade. But what is new is the exposure to the services industry. Routine service tasks that are being done by humans today, may be done by robots or other forms of artificial intelligence tomorrow. The researchers speak about jobs in transportation, logistics, as well as office and administrative support. They estimated that 47% of total US employment is at risk. Occupations that require a high level of creative and social intelligence have relatively low risk of being impacted.

What this means is that artificial intelligence and robotics will also enter the professional service industry. Law Times (2014) wrote about the implications for law firms. They mention that Law firms will see nearly all their routine process work undertaken by artificial intelligence, completely changing the traditional associate leverage model. It is primarily the work being done by paralegals and junior lawyers who perform a lot of work that’s fairly tedious.

Pessimists would likely think that the continued evolution of artificial intelligence could end human life as we know it. Optimists would embrace the evolution as an opportunity and see a shift of focus by humans to the more analytical, conceptual and value add tasks, where a high level of creativity, pattern recognition and collaboration is required.

From an optimistic perspective, what can the evolution mean for the Project Manager? Or in other words, what can be some of the tasks that Ikenga can take on?

As I am trying to answer these questions, I realize that a substantial part of project management is non-routine. In many of the process areas of the PMBOK – Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMI), a high level of creativity, pattern recognition and collaboration is required. Perhaps it is because projects, contrary to business operations, are temporary and unique endeavors focused on accomplishing a singular goal . Having said that, projects do create deliverables, lessons learned and other historical content that can be leveraged in similar projects in the future. So projects are creating an enormous amount of big data that can be utilized by using artificial intelligence and robots. With that notion I think that Ikenga can assist the Project Manager as an Expert with the more routine activities like cost estimation, scheduling, and risk planning, but also once there is an approved, detailed plan and schedule available do the greater part of status reporting. Don’t you see Ikenga walking around the project floor seeking input from team leads on deliverable status?

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Program Manager Enterprise Applications

 

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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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The wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile – Charles Dickens

Have you ever wondered why people actually read quotes? According to Professor Ruth Finnegan, who did extensive research and wrote a book about it, quotations are at least as old as written civilization. It seems that quotes are often used to connect us with the supposed wisdom of the ancients, and people tend to leverage their insight to deal with present circumstances.

For me quotes work as an affirmation of a thought or an action that I am about to take. Or they serve as an inspiration to explore certain topics that caught my interest in more detail. Or when needed they can help shift, change or reset my perspective on things. And lastly, they can also work as a method to memorize certain concepts or experiences.

The last couple of years I have captured a number of quotes that are related to project management and business transformation. I have put them in three categories: Think, Change and Achieve to put them in perspective:

Think

  • We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them – Albert Einstein
  • Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything – George Bernard Shaw
  • All things are created twice; first mentally; then physically.  The key to creativity is to begin with the end in mind, with a vision and a blue print of the desired result – Stephen Covey
  • Plans are worthless. Planning is essential – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination – Napoleon Hill
  • Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler – Albert Einstein
  • There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? – Robert Kennedy

Change

  • If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences – W.I. Thomas and D.S. Thomas
  • When trust goes up, speed will also go up and cost will go down – Stephen M.R Covey
  • To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often – Winston Churchill
  • All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and so gorgeous at the end – Robin Sharma
  • It is always easier to talk about change than to make it – Alvin Toffler
  • Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it – Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success – Henry Ford

Achieve

  • If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it – Steve Jobs
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started – Mark Twain
  • The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place – George Bernard Shaw
  • A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work – Colin Powell
  • Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success – Napoleon Hill
  • To make a decision, all you need is authority. To make a good decision, you also need knowledge, experience, and insight – Denise Moreland
  • Project Managers are the most creative pros in the world; we have to figure out everything that could go wrong, before it does – Fredrik Haren

Bas de Baat

SAP / ERP Program Manager, PMP© | SAP Solution Architect

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“Well, maybe up-teen zillion was too general a cost estimate” – Chris Wildt

Besides defining the project scope and attracting qualified people, estimating project cost can be quite a complex task. What are some of the measures that you can implement to be more certain about the accuracy of cost estimates such that little to no surprises come on your way?

The first measure is to make sure that there is a well-documented specification of the deliverable, whatever that deliverable maybe. In order to get there you must have a breakdown of the product or service that the project will deliver. And because that breakdown is subjective to change, you have to maintain it. At times that can result in change requests from the vendor. Document and document. Although it may not be an attractive tasks to do, overtime it certainly pays off (think for example of business process management and solution sustainment).

The second measure is about process. You need to define the delivery process as well as the scope, cost estimation and configuration management processes. The delivery process requires involvement from the subject matter experts, as they are the most knowledgeable and experienced of how a deliverable will be created. The project leader acts in this situation as a facilitator and involves all key players, from designers to developers to testers up to staff who sustain the solution. They all must come to a mutually agreed to delivery process, that becomes the standard. Periodically review the delivery process and make improvements. When the input is right (specification) and the delivery process is right, the output will meet your expectations. The scope management process is critical for a number of reasons. It tells the sponsor and other business stakeholders what the planned project outcome is in a ‘tangible manner’. Furthermore it forms the baseline of project plan, budget, and the contractual agreement with the vendor. The cost estimation process must be standardized such that all parties understand their roles and responsibilities, and what is required to come to an agreeable price. Full transparency of how the team calculated the estimate is crucial (for simplicity, I am making the assumption that cost and price of a deliverable are the same). And lastly, the configuration management process is important as it sets you up for long term success. If you keep track of the cost associated with the build up or configuration of the product or service, it becomes a reliable benchmark for future requirements. Let’s say for example that a dashboard with operational key performance indictors is a deliverable. Keeping track of the estimated and actual cost, helps you in the future when there is a similar business need. It all sounds very straightforward, but there aren’t many organizations who do it.

The third measure is to include calculation models for cost estimates of deliverables in the contract with the vendor or in an agreed to project standard. Here is a good example: vendors (system integrators) who design, build, test and implement ERP solutions, use standardized models that calculate the level of effort for certain development objects like workflow, reports, interfaces, conversion programs, enhancement programs and forms. Depending on the level of complexity the estimator says that for a medium complex report, it takes 3 days to specify, 5 days to develop, and 2 days to test, so 10 days of effort in total. It is quite common that the client only hears 10 days of effort and a certain price from the vendor, instead of the full breakdown. Depending on the negotiated, overall price of the project, change requests can become the ‘bread and butter’ for the vendor. Especially in saturated, highly competitive markets, where vendors may come in with a relatively low price and try to ‘recover’ along the way. Depending on the type of contract (see a previous post about fixed price), the status of the project and other factors, vendors respond differently to change request, effort estimation and pricing and at times present an unreasonable cost estimate in the eyes of the client. If it is not managed well, it can lead to major conflicts. Why would we let that happen? Why would we not be fully transparent about calculation models instead? When two parties embark on a journey to implement a technology that in many cases is the enabler to transform the business, it is wise to spend energy on those value driven activities instead of debates, conflicts or disputes about project cost. At the start of the project, get concurrence upon a standard that works for both and that, together with the other measures discussed above, will set the project up for success. Consider using industry benchmarks to validate the accuracy of the calculation model.

The fourth measure is about effort contingency. Oftentimes, the initial cost estimate of a new or changed deliverable is nothing more than an order of magnitude, SWAG or guesstimate. The vendor has to go with the client through the specification process first to understand the detailed requirements, before the estimate can be firmed up. Make sure that you incorporate a mark up for effort contingency in the cost estimate (some extra days). This kind of contingency differs from cost contingency. That’s more of a percentage based on a number of conditions and added as mark up on the total project cost. It’s more a safety net for unforeseen and in principle be ‘untouched’.

So in closing, to better manage surprises on the project cost side, strive for full transparency. Meaning: clarity in defining the business requirements, standardization of the delivery process, scope management process, cost estimation processes and calculation models, and finally using an adequate mark-up for effort contingency in the cost estimate.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP© | Solution Architect