Category Archives: Project Management

The ABC’s of Program Management

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There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure – Colin Powell

Imagine that you are asked to lead a large scale business transformation program. Before you start, you can pick 26 instruments that will set you up for success. It can be a mix of tangible or non-tangible items . What is your ABC of Program Management? What do you put in your bag pack before you head out and deliver? Here is mine:

Awareness

Budget

Collaboration

Decisiveness

Escalation

Finesse

Grit

High trust

Issues

Judgement

Knowledge transfer

Listen

Management information

Negotiation

Organizational Change

People

Quality

Risk

Scope

Timeline

Usability

Value

Willpower

Xroad

Yield

Zero defects

As you have probably noticed my ABC’s are a fine melange of core program management aspects and transformational values like grit, trust and willpower. Program managers who make-things-happen in today’s world are very capable of applying both dimensions intermittently. I am curious what your selection is. Let me know!

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

10 things smart program managers do

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Change your thoughts and you change your world – Norman Vincent Peale

Do you sometimes wonder how super-achievers outperform others? And perhaps why it is that these rare human beings are always ‘on their game’ and exceed expectations? For 20+ years I have been observing senior leaders who run enterprise-wide technology-driven-change programs and noticed 10 remarkable things they do. It is important to know that over the years they have made a habit of doing these things. For them it has become an automaticity. Here is what these smart program managers do:

  1. Understand the business context– As one of the first things, smart program managers do an exhaustive read about the company and the industry it is operating in, with a focus on the corporate strategy, product and service portfolio, key markets and customers. The first weeks into a new engagement they seek to understand more than anything else. They engage with people to get a good sense of what’s really going on and go deep on aspects that may have a high impact on the success rate of the program. Even the most industry experienced program managers go through this step as they believe that good preparation is half the work and rules out any coincidence
  1. Nail down the scope of work– Smart program managers are keen on managing a realistic scope. They work closely with the parties involved and ‘squeeze out’ the ambiguity in the scope definition that ends up in contractual documents, project plans and schedules. With the understanding of the business context, they know how to prioritize the scope of work. That is not only important for planning and scheduling, but also for building a strong team that has the right skill mix. Of course they want to have a strong team across the board, but especially for those scope items that are business critical. Throughout the project life-cycle they relate almost everything that happens back to the scope. What is the impact? Can we still make it happen or do we need to adjust to stay the course?
  1. Create awareness– Strong and consistent team performance is based on awareness, potential, motivation and focus. Smart program managers ‘build in’ a level of consciousness in the team such that each member is knowledgeable of what is happening, why it is happening and what the impact is to the project and business. The cause and effect mechanism is one of instruments they use in a team or individual meeting to create awareness. They may for example walk a team through a particular delivery step in its finest detail (e.g. testing) and point them to aspects that can influence the outcome. With that, the team is made aware of what they have to look at during execution, and more importantly how they can self-correct
  1. Visualize the future state – Pointing the team in the right direction by providing clarity of what the future state looks like is crucial. Smart program managers know this and therefore spend a lot of time on opportunity definition, envisioning, and setting goals and objectives. They have a ‘continuity of vision’ embedded in the approach and with that they ensure that the future state becomes more and more clear as the team goes from business requirements to design to build and ultimately deployment. Oftentimes they lean towards using a lot of visuals to clarify where the team is headed. They are keen on tightly knitting the building blocks of the future state to the scope of work to make sure that what’s being delivered brings the imaginary thoughts to life
  1. Commit and align key stakeholders – Immediately from the start, smart program managers begin to maintain relationships with key stakeholders that can significantly influence program success. The intention is to make the relationship a two-way-street where information about the program flows to the business and the other way around. With the understanding of the business context, the scope of work and future end state, the program manager helps to build the commitment and alignment by connecting the corporate strategy and business needs to the outcome of the program. They also make sure that the right stakeholders are identified and keep a close eye on stakeholders who have a minimum interest in the program, but ask for maximum attention
  1. Drive change – With their helicopter view, smart program managers have a good sense of what is going on where and when. With that skill they play a key role in business transformation by articulating what the program delivers, what the organizational and people impact is, and how that can be best addressed. They continuously keep reminding the team and key stakeholders of why they are going through this journey of change. They are strong motivators and one of the things they do is making things real by relating the outcome to what a day in the future looks like for an individual or group with a similar background
  1. Keep it simple– Smart program managers embrace simplicity and apply that to everything they do. They realize that the business context can be quite volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and that adding more value to these factors make things worse and can derail the program. It comes down to keeping project management processes, procedures and the application of methods and tools practical by only implementing and using those aspects that make common sense and add value
  1. Make things happen– The drive to think, change and achieve is immense and is the sole reason why smart program managers love to do what they do. Once things start to add up and the confidence grows that the program can actually be delivered, they put their teeth in it and take it to the next level. They are putting the pieces together and shape a plan to get to the future state. At the same time or shortly after they create alternative plans in case a course correction is needed. If they have doubts about the program when it is initiated, they will put a reality stamp on it by pointing to the areas where it falls short and giving recommendations how it can be resolved
  1. Care about people– It is not technology, not process, but people who ultimately drive the success of the program. Smart program managers realize that and make care of people their number one priority. They set their team up for success by arranging relevant learning events, managing expectations and clarifying what the program is about, where the pain-points are and how they can be addressed. Oftentimes they take on a coaching role and help top talent identify, unlock and extend their potential in a way that benefits the person and the program
  1. Sense and respond– Smart program managers are focused on the target and they have a good sense when certain events start to derail the program. Their intention is to prevent that from happening and therefore they have corrective actions readily available for execution whenever it is needed. They have their eyes on the ball all the time and know where it needs to go before it is handed to them. Relevant information is coming to them from many different sources, not solely from status reports but from people who they have build a strong relationship with from the start of the program

All these 10 things are not just action items that can be checked off a list. They have all become an integral part of the day-to-day behavior of the smart program manager and are instantly executed when its needed. Only the smart program manager knows when.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

 

Articles published on CIO.com

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Since the summer of 2015 CIO.com is publishing my articles!

The articles are about program management, business transformation and coaching of business leaders and top talent.

Here is a summary list:

5 things elite coaches do with top talent

10 things smart program managers do

Collaborative willpower drives organizational change

Find your sources of inspiration

The ABC’s of program management

Why business transformation programs fail

 

Understand your Project Scope

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“People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it” – Simon Sinek

If you want to manage a realistic project scope that is meaningful and achievable, you have to clarify the what, how and especially the why.

In his TED talk “How great leaders inspire action”, Simon Sinek cracked the code of successful leadership. He discovered that people, teams and organizations who are able to connect the what, how and why, are more successful than others who operate in the same context. The buck doesn’t stop with only making the connection, it starts when everybody thinks, acts and communicates the same from the inside out. Getting to an understanding of the why is the hardest part, because you need to find convincing answers on the and how first. If you do it right, it becomes an iterative process where you continuously switch gears between them. Eh, but why are we doing this project? It’s not a bad question to ask if you want to start off on the right track with the right intentions, motivation and energy.

Oftentimes when we define project scope, we predominantly think about the what. A lot of energy is being spend on defining the scope along a number of different dimensions: functional, technical, organizational, geographical, systems, markets, products, services and so on. We are good in making deliverable statements, work break down structures and other highly formatted documents to define scope. But when it comes to the next step of connecting the future state (what) and the implementation strategy (how) to the objectives and business benefits (why), we tend to struggle quite a bit. In the transition from the ‘what and how’ to the ‘why’, there is a major hurdle to take. It’s the step where we have to go from an almost tangible, factual and specified understanding (hard) to a more imaginative and inspirational understanding (soft). At this crucial point in time, strong, visionary leadership is required with emphasis on conceptualization, visualization, communication, setting the sense of urgency, coalition building, stakeholder commitment and alignment. It is the moment where you gradually but firmly establish the future state in the mind of the people who make up your team and organization. I sometimes call it ‘the next level down’ of clarifying the project scope to all project stakeholders. It’s a creative and expressive step where the visionary leader passionately speaks about the purpose of the project, the business value and the deeper meaning of the intended outcome to the people and organization.

What I found a very helpful activity to get to a collaborative understanding of the why is to let the project team conduct a ‘scope playback’ session and have the leadership team relate that back to the project’s vision statement, purpose and objectives. As a preparatory step the entire project team would get access to a number of key documents, for example; business case, project charter, RFP, RFP response and the statement of work. Sub-teams, divided by business process area, prepare a presentation with their interpretation of the project scope and share that in a plenary session with the other teams. The playback of the scope, the direction from the leadership team and the interaction among the sub-teams, create a unique atmosphere that’s ideal to instill the what, how and why at a group level. It’s an effective measure to base line and level-set the team.

The journey of the ‘what, how and why you do it’ doesn’t stop with activities like the ‘scope playback’ session. As I mentioned, it is an ongoing, iterative process where the project team gains more and more insight and understanding as they go. What that means is that throughout the project life cycle, the team revisits the defined scope, implementation strategy, objectives and business case frequently to ensure that they ultimately deliver the intended outcome. Every time the team circles back it would be based on a different activity.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Ikenga, your Project Manager Robot

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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?

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

 

5 big steps to a successful project launch…

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“Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject” – Thomas Mann

Most of the time, people, teams and organizations get very excited when they are working on project initiatives that have huge potential in terms of people, process and technology change at the enterprise level. They are spending a lot of time talking about the intended outcome, what it takes to make it happen, and the associated risks. But when they start putting it in motion, they realize it isn’t such an easy task.

What are the 5 big steps of a successful project launch?

  1. Leadership alignment and deep understanding of the future state that goes further than a vision – implementing change at the enterprise level can be quite a challenge, even when there is leadership alignment on the key aspects and success drivers of the program. Before you kick off the initiative and enter into the design phase, you must have a common understanding across the leadership team of the major pain points by business process as well as a direction as to how you prefer to have them solved. Think for example about a set of design principles and leading practices that you may have experienced at other organizations within or outside your own industry. It is the next level down in shaping the future end state that goes beyond a vision statement. It is the extra definition of the ‘WHAT’ that is critical to engage and resonate at the same level with internal and external subject matter experts
  1. Powerful, broad and deep communication of the purpose to all stakeholders – this is about the ability to communicate the intentions of the program with different abstract levels to different audiences. There is a rule of thumb that says communications about vision, purpose, future state or solution direction can be best captured in 3 – 5 key messages. The level of detail can vary depending on the audience, but it always comes back to a limited set of essential statements. Oftentimes they are based on a combination of words and visuals and they are widely distributed across the enterprise, such that a broad audience is reached. This kind of messaging is not a one-time event, but more a continuous, well-paced information flow to keep stakeholders informed and engaged
  1. Assignment of qualified and dedicated resources on a full-time basis – any enterprise-wide solution these days, is a combination of people, process and technology change. Within this triangle, technology is the dominant change driver or enabler, but the real transformation comes from the organization’s ability to make changes on the people and process side. To make that happen, organizations must assign qualified and dedicated resources to the team with creative delivery capabilities. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that qualified people are humble, hungry and intelligent (cognitive and social). They are dedicated when they are able to identify and connect their personal ambitions with the program objectives, and understand the positive spin-off, symbiotic interdependence and growth potential. Organizations can play a key role in that process by taking on a coaching role
  1. Investment in the delivery capability such that the team becomes unstoppable – in his book ‘Relentless’ (2014), Tim Grover, the trainer of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and dozens more, writes about what it takes to become unstoppable. He breaks it down as follow: “you keep going when everyone else is giving up, you thrive under pressure, you never let your emotions make you weak.” Planning, executing and successful delivering enterprise-wide, technology enabled business transformation initiatives is comparable to playing in a premier sports league. The mentality is the same. Think NBA, NHL, NFL, Champions League soccer. The organization is aiming for something unique, something new, and something better. Oftentimes a new platform that supports sustainable growth strategies in combination with significant operational improvements and better business intelligence. To reach those objectives, the delivery capability of the team must be world-class. A continuous investment in skills development, as well as incremental improvements in the delivery process, procedures, methods and tools (lessons-learned, kaizen) will eventually get you there
  1. Progressive, elaborative plan and schedule that everybody lives and breathes – there are two ‘dynamics’ that come with a good plan and schedule. First of all the understanding that the planning process is a repetitive undertaking and more important than the outcome itself. Plans have different abstract levels at the executive, project and team level, as well as different horizons. An executive plan has a view across the entire project lifecycle and has a representation of the key work streams and associated milestones. The same applies to the project plan, with the caveat that it contains at a minimum all the known deliverables and key tasks from the scope statement, and a realistic schedule with detail for a 3 months rolling window. Team plans are different in nature. They are much more activity driven, still geared towards to completion of deliverables and milestones though, but with a 4 – 6 weeks detailed schedule that clearly articulates what needs to get done when and by whom (week by day view). Second of all it is crucial to broadly communicate the plan to all project stakeholders, as well as the progress made along the way. Status is being reported in different ways for each of the 3 levels and communicated on a high frequency basis, such that everybody knows where the project stands, and what’s next to come and being expected. Plans succeed when there is a robust process and regular communications

 

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

How would Gordon Ramsay keep a SAP project on time, budget and quality?

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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©

 

 

The best 21 project management quotes

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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

Is the Price Right? “No surprise” cost estimates

Estimation

“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

“Quality is about ruling out coincidences…”

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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©