Next Week, Next Month, Next Year

Which of these phrases do you use for putting off Planning for your Business?

You may be caught up in the struggle of each day’s situations, problems, complaints, bills, etc. BUT, at some point, each of us must take on the job of thinking about our future:

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • How can we move toward those accomplishments?
  • What will it cost and take in Dollars and Effort to take the next best step?

Take one strong next step and put an entry in your calendar to repeatedly reserve time, even just 30 minutes a week, to write down some ideas about your latest answers to these questions.

This alone will help you to build momentum towards a future perspective on your business efforts and THAT can help you make shorter term decisions about what is Most Important to you while you are caught in that daily struggle.

What do you think about this?

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Tales from the Crypt – Vol 1

I may be old and slow but my brain is still running!

Here are some ideas about Growth:

  1. If your resources are in short supply, don’t oversell them.
    1. Before you push new sales for your dream of new revenue for funding growth, focus on finishing up some active engagements (this would apply to a Service or Consultancy business) so that those same proven people can be available for new work.  Build your Resource Pipeline with these proven and some new resources and THEN Sell to fill up their capabilities.
    2. It may feel uncomfortable to slow down the Pace of Your Sales efforts for a while, BUT by giving the Delivery efforts some time to finalize committed Delivery, you do several things:
      1. Reduce the need to slice your existing resources even thinner
      2. Allow the committed plans / schedules / deliveries to be made with less interruption
      3. Calmly finish what is already on your resources’ plates
  2. If you are evolving from an Entrepreneurial organization to a more Process Driven one, remember to “Brace Yourself”:
    1. While the organization can be prepared for a new approach to business, those in the leadership positions up until that time, have had the luxury of not having to follow any repeatable / auditable process.  These folks will need support to embrace / accept these changes, too.
  3. Implementing new Standards, Measurements, Policies, Practices, and Metrics is a never ending effort, so do NOT rush into making a LOT of changes or one or two BIG changes.
    1. Start small and make sure you have a Recovery Plan in  case your early attempts at change are not so effective
    2. Be Persistent in looking at ALL processes and designing improvements in increments with lots of effective Communication to all affected parties
    3. Build an Advisory / Leadership board with a schedule and the appropriate authority to make changes within their areas of responsibility
  4. ???  What else do you think would be good advice for an organisation with the desire to grow and change?
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The Fundamental PM

As a Project Leader in charge of one project, what is it we should be doing?

  • Scope Control
    1. Reviewing all project deliverables to insure that In Scope Requirements are being addressed and
    2. That no new or changed requirements are being introduced
    3. Issuing and Managing
      1. Change Requests wherever they are found:
        • User / Management / Project Participant Submittals
        • Deliverable Content discoveries (see above)
      2. Monitoring Anticipated and Newly Discovered Risks could affect the planned progress of this project
      3. Monitoring known and Newly Discovered Issues that come up which are affecting the planned progress of this project
  • Budget / Cost Control
    1. Establishing a schedule of expected spending rates and amounts over the course or duration of the project
    2. Tracking and reporting on the actual spending rates and amounts to identify variations and predict the impact of these variations as they will / might affect the end state of the Allocated Budget
    3. Providing suggested approaches to potentially bring back the actual spend to the current approved Projected Spend / Budget for the project
      1. However, if the predictable end Budget is lower than planned, determine how and why our actuals are below plan
    4. Implement budget recovery approaches as agreed to by the Project’s Steering Committee
  • Resource Management
    1. Monitor the performance of each project participant including all members of incumbent staff, Vendors, Steering, Advisory, Audit Committees
    2. Assure that these individuals are doing what they are expected to do on the schedule provided by the project plan and at the quality levels expected for a successful execution of this project
    3. Track any and all Issues and Risks that come up as a result of our assigned resources in their performance of tasks assigned to each of them
  • Schedule Management
    1. Monitor the Start and End dates for each Task in the Project Plan to assure they begin and end on their assigned schedules so that all dependent tasks are not delayed / negatively influenced
    2. Track any and all Issues, Risks, and Changes that come up as a result of our intended task schedule variations (delays OR unplanned advances)
  • Vendor Management
    1. Establish delivery schedules with each participating vendor to assure that they understand what we expect of them, the level of quality we expect, and the cost and timing of these deliveries
    2. Track any and all Issues, Risks, and Changes that come up as a result of our intended vendor deliveries and their impact on our planned project progress
  • What else can you think of?
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Lessons Applied

When does your project management process or methodology suggest that you use the Lessons Learned from projects and apply these to the execution of your future projects?

Many methodologies I have some experience with suggest that collection Lessons Learned is reserved for the “Close” out phase of each project so that we can get them all together at one time and use these discoveries to build a Library of good ideas for next time.  This is not such a bad idea to learn from our prior efforts; however, I have been trying something else for my last few projects.

At every Status Meeting, I ask for ideas about things we could have done better, different, not at this time, etc. so that we can collect these Lessons as they have occurred in our current efforts.  It is then up to me and the Project Sponsors / Steering Committee to decide if we should apply these lessons to our Current Project rather than wait until this one is over and try to find time to apply these lessons in future projects.

By collecting these Lessons Learned earlier in the process, we could avail ourselves of some relevant and current improvements in our existing projects and also learn by the application of these ideas, in near term, about their efficacy.

What do you think about this idea?

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Estimating in the Blind

Usually, estimating a project that is similar to others completed in the past can use prior performance and even previous project actual time and dollars spent as a basis for a new project’s estimated costs.

Usually!  However, what if you are being asked to estimate a project that LOOKS like many similar and previously successful projects but has some aspects that have never been been done by the people and organizations involved in this particular project?  More importantly, what if you are being asked to estimate a project that will need to create new solution components that have never been built before by this team AND you are not aware of these unique new components?

Well, your estimate is going to be OFF by some factor and when, exactly, do you suppose you will find out about these gaps in your estimating knowledge?

Hopefully you will discover your oversight before you get too far into your project execution so that you can position your remaining Estimates To Complete to reflect some new discoveries.  Then What?

Generally assume that when you are building your project estimates, you really don’t know all the real truth about the work your are estimating and that your preparatory steps to creating your estimate, including assumptions made in the Work Breakdown Structure are insufficiently informed and that you are, in fact, Estimating some portions of your project schedule “in the Blind”.

Try to start your estimating by being extremely paranoid about past performance reflecting directly on future estimates.  Ask some probing questions about how this project could be dramatically different than others in the past that appear similar.  And, hedge your estimating bets with sufficient qualifiers that clearly state that no one really knows what the actual’s for a future project WILL be until after they become Actual’s from the current performance.

Position your assumptions so that you can tell your Sponsors and Team members that you will measure the first iteration of certain phase start up tasks to determine if they align with your original information and assumptions but, if they don’t, you should reserve the right to re-calibrate your estimates based on discoveries during execution.

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Quality Assurance vs Quality Control

Back in the days when Software Engineering was a new art form (trying to be scientific), we differentiated QA from QC in the following ways:

  • Quality Control was focused on proving that the solution / product we were building did what it was supposed to do and did not do anything unanticipated or unplanned: ie. Testing
  • Quality Assurance was focused on assuring that the processes and techniques we followed while building our solution / product were well-grounded, well documented, measurably attuned to producing the right quality solution and, hopefully, repeatable given similar future project expectations and needs:  Process Controls, Pre-documented Procedures, Well Defined Dashboards measuring tactical and strategic indications of potentially high quality performances of the program and project teams’ performances

So, why, recently, have job descriptions for Testing Skills been categorized as Quality Assurance positions?

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Governance Fundamentals

Smarter people than you or I have established a rudimentary truth about managing people towards goals when they have said and repeatedly proven that:

PMO Manage Measure 20150306

In the context of Information Technology, the typical operational structure for applying this discipline is a “Program Office” with several implementation options depending on more precise understanding of what the organization needs.

Program Offices come in several “flavors”:

  • A Project level office focuses on developing and maintaining a set of procedures, templates, and guidelines for how each individual project can be conducted and tracked from the Kick Off of each project to its ultimate conclusion: Success or Failure.
  • Program Management will take the responsibility for providing guidance and controls over a series of projects focused towards an end goal that is larger than any one of these projects.  This office will assure that as each project is executed it takes full advantage of its predecessor and develops materials and artifacts that support the project(s) to follow it.
  • Portfolio management looks at a collection of projects and programs from an investment perspective and provides guidance on how to make business decisions about which combination of these project / program options will deliver the best overall and financial benefit to the organization.
  • A Process Office looks into the opportunity presented by performing each of the Project, Program, and Portfolio disciplines to determine whether the published processes need improvement or the people conducting them have need for more information or coaching in how to perform these procedures.

If these are some of the types of “Program Offices” that organizations can choose to implement, how can we help ourselves determine which one makes the most sense for each of us?  And, then how can we prepare to collect performance information to show that our choice is providing management value to our organization?

Keep in mind that although the context of this discussion is focused on an Information Technology environment, these same ideas can be applied to several internal organizations or at the business unit level for such things as: Compliance Management, Skills Training Management, Customer / Product Service Level Management, etc.

The questions that you can ask yourself and your organization to help determine where you are on something we could call the “Program Office Readiness Scale” could be found in the following list:

Question PMO Indication
Is there a published process for conducting each {technology implementation, new product development, compliance initiative, …} project? A Project Office can help to build these and a Process Office can help to keep these current.
Does this project process get applied to all appropriate projects? Project and Program Offices can bring pressure to bear on the application of published processes and measure that compliance level against Risk.
Does your organization differentiate between the process for performing each project and the processes for managing any project? A Process Office will help to separate the life cycle of each project and the management of each or many projects and programs.
What part of the organization do the Project Managers who run these projects come from: technology, business, back office, administration, staff, or someplace else? A Program Office can help to select the most appropriate individuals for leading, sponsoring, funding, auditing, and overseeing projects that you decide to run.
Do you currently prioritize all known project requests and hold to the determination of which projects are the highest priority throughout the projects’ execution? A Portfolio Office can help to establish consistent measurements for all requested projects so that selections and approvals are done in an objective and consistent manner.
At the conclusion of each project, do you assess the originally predicted “Return On Investment” of this project to determine if your organization has achieved that goal? A Portfolio Office can assist in preparing initial ROI predictions for each project and a Program/Project office can support the procedures for following up afterward to determine if the ROIs are being prepared accurately and whether they are being achieved or exceeded.
During the execution of each project, can you reliably predict whether the outcome will be a success or not? A Project Office can provide the tools and techniques for estimating and tracking and a Program Office can assist in determining the probable outcomes through Estimates To Complete and Earned Value assessments.

In its simplest form, the overlap of each of these “PMO” forms and disciplines looks like the following diagram.

PMO Scope Diagram 20150306

Each organization that implements a combination of these forms of PMO, probably in an organization chart format, will show how the components of their particular PMO fit together.  The organization chart helps to understand the beginnings of how information about projects can be distributed through an organization; however, to improve the effectiveness of this organization, a good communication plan is needed.

Gov Org Chart 20150306

The communication plan should identify when and how each of the implemented “offices” inform each other of what has or will be taking place regarding each of the known projects.  The frequency of the reports and meetings that are identified in your communication plan will provide a planning and preparation schedule for each of the individuals working in and around these offices so that they contribute to these reports and meetings.

As an example, much of the following can be included in a communication plan:

  1. Project Office report showing all active projects, their position in the life cycle, their earned value to date and the Estimate To Complete in terms of Hours, Costs, and Percent of Requirements Achieved
  2. Program Office dashboard identifying each series of projects being managed toward a combined goal and identifying how many projects in each series have been completed to date; their percent of “On Time and Budget” accomplishments; and the status and number of projects remaining to complete each program.
  3. Portfolio Office status report showing Completed Project ROI Achievement score card and Active Project ROI Predictions.
  4. Process Office status report showing Project Completion Statistics including Original to Forecast Final budget comparisons, Lessons Learned and Applied, and Process Components under review or successfully changed and ready to apply to new projects.
  5. Steering Committee meetings for all newly submitted or as yet unapproved Project Requests to be presented, assessed, and re-prioritized.

One of the basic processes that will need to be addressed is how your organization will collect information about projects that have been requested for consideration.  An underlying assumption of all of this is that there are not enough resources (people, money, time, etc.) to get all the needed projects done in the time frame that is perceived to be needed so some of the requested projects may be delayed until those resources are made available from higher priority projects.

Another underlying assumption is that there are no “skunk works” projects – projects that are consuming resources but somehow the proper organization management is not aware of this expenditure.  The more of this that is going on, the less effective your efforts to initiate any kind of PMO will be.

In the Time Line below, this Identification step is first in the series that will ultimately get a project identified, selected for execution, conducted, and concluded with an adequate level of information to the organization management so that they are acutely aware of its movement, progress, and accomplishments along the way.

Gov Time Line pic 20150306

My suggestion for the basic information needed to identify and categorize each requested project is the following:

  1. Requestor Name
  2. Request Date
  3. Requestor Business Unit or Department
  4. Description of Business Problem to be addressed by this request
  5. Description of the anticipated Business Benefit once this request is approved and the project is concluded
  6. Name of the Business Unit, Department, Customer List or other people who will benefit the most from this project’s successful completion
  7. Other Business Units, Departments, individuals who will be affected by this project but may not benefit from its success
  8. Initial Perceived Value to be derived from the successful completion of this project:
    1. Increased Revenue
    2. Reduced Costs
    3. Improved Service
    4. Compliance Satisfaction
  9. Estimated acceptable project costs to achieve the Perceived Values
  10. Description of ideal implementation time frame for the project’s completion date
  11. Description of anticipated Risks if we do or do not approve and successfully conduct this project
  12. Description of the anticipated integration points for the envisioned solution:
    1. Procedural
    2. Internal Applications – automated integrations
    3. External Applications or Services – automated integrations

The selection step is performed when the list of the open requested projects is analyzed and compared by your Steering Committee.  Each sponsor and the benefactors can present their case using the information collected in “Identification” along with other influential information.

By using the “Perceived Value” section of the collected information along with the Estimated project costs and schedule prepared for the “Selection” process, the decision-making body can list the project in order of Cost Versus Benefit to determine if there is a priority order based on this information.  Further investigation focused on “Selection” should also include an understanding of the currently implemented solutions and how they would fit with the intent of the newly proposed project.  Some projects will build onto or enhance existing implementations while other may propose to replace components or the entire prior solution.  These factors should be part of the “Selection” decision-making process to determine which projects will be given the approval to proceed to the next step.

The accumulation of all the implied resource requirements in addition to the information outlined above will give the Steering Committee sufficient information to determine which subset of all the requested projects can be approved for Execution over the coming time period.

Once each of the approved projects is expected to begin, the published System Development Life Cycle process steps are prepared into a project plan and the Execution phase begins.  These Life Cycle steps along with the Project Management steps will make up the entire Execution phase.  The Project Management steps will define the measurements taken and the metrics that will be analyzed to track the progress, issues, risks, and changes that occur during the Execution of each project.

During each of the phases of the “Execution” of the approved projects, information will be collected to identify progress against the planned expenditures towards the intended benefits.  This information should include Internal and External hours of labor and incurred expenses for each of the contributing participants as well as direct costs for software, hardware, and other non-personnel related costs.  These can then be compared to the planned expenditures in each of these categories to demonstrate whether the anticipated expenditures were sufficiently accurate to rely on for the remainder of the project phases.  If not, then they will need to be re-calibrated.  Additionally, while the actual costs are collected and compared to the planned costs, new predictions of the “Estimate to Complete” should be collected and reviewed to determine whether these new costs will stand to replace the original budgeted plan or not.  If they should be used to replace the original budget, then the Steering Committee and the Project Sponsors should be involved to agree that these new “Estimates to Complete” are acceptable for measurement of all remaining phases.  Once these people approve of this change, then all new comparisons can be based on the Revised Budget rather than the Original.

Using well known formulae (see the PMBOK and other similar sources), the Actual and Planned Cost schedules can be used to determine such measurements as “Earned Value” and “Estimated at Complete” and “Variance at Complete” costs.  These calculated values can also be used to review the possibility of continuing each active project to its next logical phase.  These numbers will indicate whether one or several of the currently active projects might be considered for early termination or a return to an earlier phase for re-work before proceeding to their next phases.

And, at the Conclusion of each project, your organization can use the information from all the prior steps to determine how successful each project effort was.  The collected results and Lessons Learned can be applied to each of the projects that will follow the completed ones whether the originals failed or were a glowing success.

Thanks for reading, bgbg

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