During the nineties, we were shocked by the Chaos Report with stats that showed two thirds of projects were failing. After fifteen years and the introduction of new approaches including agile, project delivery has improved. However, there are still fundamental problems that have not yet been addressed.
Despite significant investments in technology and organizational change, companies fail to make the connection between strategy formulation and execution. This is evident as well at the government level where failure to implement strategy has the economy surfing in and out of recession. IT projects are a key component of implementing strategy, and the stats are dismal:
- Kaplan and Norton tell us that nine out of ten companies fail to implement strategy
- According to IBM, 40% of investment in IT is wasted
- Gartner puts this estimate at 20%, equivalent to $600B/year
- If we take IBM’s estimate, we are talking over one trillion dollars a year, wasted
If companies are failing to implement strategy and wasting fortunes in IT, there is clearly a problem in portfolio management. The mainstream practice uses a bottom-up approach:
- Put ideas through a “funnel” process, based on a business case that gets progressively elaborated
- Rank opportunities for investment based on their value, risk and alignment with strategy. This sometime involves complex multivariate analytic tools that few people understand or trust
- Select the top of the list for execution, all in a yearly cycle
- Confirm the benefits in the business case after delivery
While this approach is logical and sound, in many occasions leads to unexpected results:
- Business cases based on fiction and not used for decision making
- Executives that bring a last minute list of projects “on a napkin” that jump the queue and get approved
- The verification of benefits becomes an elusive task and just doesn’t get done
- Millions are invested and many times there is no clear idea of what the organization is trying to achieve
It isn’t surprising that portfolio management has not succeeded in helping companies implement strategy. The term portfolio comes from finance and leads to the root of the problem: the assumption that opportunities for investment are independent, and that each one generates measurable financial returns. Finance departments have dictated the need to come up with “hard numbers” and a rate of return for every project. This approach works well when projects represent incremental improvement of an existing system that is not changing significantly. As an example in manufacturing, a new press will cut scrap by 20%, you put the new press in and measure scrap, end of story.
The problem exists when there is a strategy for transforming the business. As Porter states in his article What is Strategy: “While operational effectiveness is about achieving excellence in individual activities, or functions, strategy is about combining activities”. The key word, in Italics in the original, is combining, as it goes against the concept of independent opportunities for investment. In a transformational strategy, activities are represented by projects that deliver capabilities, which then interact to generate results and sustainable competitive advantage. In his article, Porter presents Southwest Airlines as an example of strategy. In a nutshell, in order to offer lower fares, SW offers no meals, baggage checking or seat assignment and operates short flights from small airports. This allows SW to reduce gate turnaround time and increase plane utilization. In addition, it uses only one model of aircraft to reduce maintenance costs. As a result, SW can offer lower fares than their competitors and point to point flights, and after more than 20 years they are still in the market and thriving. Talking about SW, Porter affirms: “Its competitive advantage comes from the way its activities fit and reinforce one another”.
In the case of Southwest, would it make sense to create a business case for “not checking luggage”? How much of the reduction in turnaround time at the gate can be attributed to this? Of course you can come up with a number, but it would be a guess and impossible to verify. Most importantly, in order for the strategy to work, all of the key components need to be in place, so creating business cases and prioritizing a list doesn’t work in this scenario.
The alternative I am proposing in this article is a “top-down” business case approach using a Results Chain model that captures the interactions between financial outcomes, business outcomes, capabilities and initiatives. This approach applies to organizations that are planning a transformation, as opposed to incremental improvement. The top-down business case estimates the benefits the organization will realize from transformation; incremental to the results it would obtain using the current business model. The difference between the transformed and the current scenarios generates a stream of benefits for the overall business case for transformation. These benefits are then propagated through the Results Chain based on the relative contribution of each outcome, capability and initiative. Sounds simple? It is; the elegant simplicity of this solution draws a parallel with the alternative provided by agile to the problem of creating a schedule for projects difficult to estimate, by eliminating the schedule and using relative estimates in points. Today most of us accept this drastic approach, which has proven effective in many situations; a simple solution for a complex problem.
Continuing with Porter, Figure 1 is my personal interpretation of the Southwest case study. The overall benefits of implementing the strategy are estimated in $100M, which are propagated from right to left, based on the relative contribution of each element. In the first propagation, 30% of the $100M goes to Revenue Increased, a financial outcome. These $30M are then propagated to Average fare reduced, a business outcome and from there to Average cost per seat reduced. A second flow starts from the right with $40M propagated to Variable Cost Reduced and from there to Average cost per seat reduced, which adds to the previous $30M for a total of $70M. What this is telling us is that 70% of the benefits are attributable to this business outcome and, as such, should be a focal point for the transformation.
In a similar way, investments for the initiatives are propagated from left to right, and $60M in investments are required to deliver the key business outcome Average cost per seat reduced, which has benefits of $70M, and this should yield a positive return on investment.
If you find this approach too complicated, there are tools that can handle the propagation and calculation of financial returns and allow you to concentrate on what is really valuable: translating the strategy into measurable outcomes, understanding (and not ignoring) their interrelations, identifying the capabilities to achieve those outcomes and the initiatives that will deliver those capabilities. The key for this approach is the identification of the proper business outcomes, which in essence “translate” the strategy into actionable and measurable results. All the fluff is removed from the strategy and the organization can focus on achieving those key business results and not just on delivering projects.
Going back to the business case, in this approach it makes sense only at the overall results level, by comparing the incremental benefits from transforming the operation and the investments to get there. The benefits and investments at each node in the Results Chain serve only as a reference to allocate and manage budgets based on the contribution of each element to the overall results.
This may appear as a simplistic solution. However, if we draw another parallel to agile, we find similarities in the fact that, as agile resolved the problem of predicting the future on a schedule based on hard estimates by eliminating the schedule and using relative sizing, this approach removes the need to come up with business cases for every project, and replaces it with relative contributions. Agile works well in projects that have high volatility and where hard estimates are impossible. Similarly, this approach works well in transformational strategy, where interactions make the estimate of benefits for individual projects impossible. In other words, the options are: create business cases based on fiction for those key projects that will transform the company, or look at the transformation with a holistic view, and manage the portfolio from the top.
By taking portfolio management to the next level of translating and executing strategy, this approach provides PMOs with the opportunity to reposition themselves in the organization and move towards a Strategy Management Office, as described by Kaplan and Norton, which focuses on execution of strategy. For consultants, this represents an opportunity to provide their customers with a fresh approach to implement strategy, and if nine out of ten companies are failing at this, and one trillion dollars are wasted every year just in IT, the business opportunities for everyone are significant, and this proposition does have a clear business case.
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Fernando Santiago has over 20 years of experience as a project manager/director and PMO manager in Canada, the USA, Latin America and Europe. He is a solid practitioner, consultant and trainer in the areas of PPM and strategy implementation. Fernando leads P3M Consulting, firm that provides training, consulting and develops PPM software applications.
Part I: The Challenge and It’s Scale
A Project Management Office (PMO) leader gets a call from her boss who just found out that a recent web portal service delivered by one of her project teams has been compromised by an ever growing population of cyber attackers. If this was your project, how would you respond to a call from your PMO leader? What due diligence can you reference showing that you incorporated essential security practices in protecting a strategic business revenue generating asset? In USA Today, a title in the Money section of August 12, 2011 reads, “8M Web Pages Hacked, Mined”. If you think this could not happen to your projects, think again. Organizations and career professionals who manage and make decisions regarding existing and newly deployed strategic assets must take a different delivery approach to further minimize significant impacts that lead to lost revenue and front page news stories.
Project managers have been traditionally driven by on-time and on-budget performance metrics rather than also including security as a top priority metric for project management deliverables. This results in making an organization’s strategic assets easy targets for cyber attackers. Out of all data breaches investigated in 2010 by Verizon Business, 96% were avoidable. (Source: 2011 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report). Cyber-attacks are real and will continue to target organizations of all sizes, regardless of the industry. Organizations and project managers must take a different approach in delivering cyber safe assets to the Internet. New organizational performance metrics for cyber safety will become mandatory in determining overall project and corporate success. Competitive advantage, in the age of cyber threats, will determine success for organizations and career professionals who take a proactive approach to cyber security.
This two part article has been written to begin increasing the level of awareness in organizations and career professionals such as project managers. These professionals need to start developing a security mindset and begin positioning proactive steps in delivering cyber safe solutions.
Cyber Security’s Emerging and Prevalent GAP
The expanding gap for organizations today starts with consumer driven markets and stakeholder pressure to offer differentiated services that grow the bottom and top lines of the business. In order to stay competitive, many new business and delivery models have leveraged the Internet, outsourcing, offshoring, cloud based services and mobility platforms that continue to outpace the reach of cyber security. A 2011 CIO cloud survey by CIO.com stated that 71% of enterprises had placed security among their top three concerns related to moving to the cloud. These strategic business decisions have created invisible windows that have opened gaps in making organizations easy targets for cyber attackers for the assets they deploy. The model has completely shifted to an open versus closed system, enabling an unprecedented level of access to sensitive information within companies and business partners today. Most organizations do not have the required visibility, knowledge, talent or capability to ensure cyber safe practices are incorporated throughout the planning, delivery and operating life cycles. Given the sophisticated techniques used by cyber attackers, organization and career growth will depend on how well companies and career professionals embrace their roles by enhancing their delivery competencies and skills.
Organizations have become more data-dependent. It has been estimated that just over the last two years, the data footprint used by organizations across the globe has doubled (Berkeley School of Info Management and Systems 2009). Although organizations and business leaders cannot disrupt services to customers, they can take the first step to make cyber security a strategic priority in the planning and delivery process. Acquiring new knowledge and having an informed mindset is the starting point in combating the new epidemic of cyber threats. Understand your current mindset by testing your knowledge today with the quick self-assessment below:
What Do the Numbers of Cyber Threats and Attacks Tell Us
Cyber threats and attacks are real and here to stay. The few statics we have shared below include just some highlights gleaned from thousands of breaches worldwide. Cyber Attackers may not always have a preference and consider no target too big or too small. These targets include projects, career professionals and organizations. One of the many statistics that directly applies to project delivery includes 6,253 new vulnerabilities discovered in 2010 (Published in Apr 2011, Symantec Internet Security Threat Report).
Many of these vulnerabilities go undetected during the project and software development lifecycle phases. Data theft reported last year due to these vulnerabilities being compromised has impacted on average 260,000 identities per breach. (ibid Apr 2011) Not only market pressure but rising legal precedence with new federal and state regulations has raised the stakes for all organizations and career professionals. The numbers over the past few years continue to show a rising trend of successful cyber-attacks with no end in sight. Organizations and career professionals can no longer afford being reactive and must take a proactive approach in delivering their strategic assets cyber safe.
Test Your Cyber Security Knowledge; Answer Yes or No.
- Do you know what you should track and trace throughout your project delivery regarding cyber security risks and threats?
- Do you know the difference between cyber threats and attacks?
- Do you know the techniques cyber attackers use to compromise organizations and assets delivered by projects?
- As the project leader, can you determine with little effort what data and records may have been exposed by a cyber-attack based on the project data you included in your project delivery plan?
- Do you know what your internal incident response team will ask of you?
- Can you validate to external auditors and investigators that you took the appropriate due diligence in delivering a cyber safe project?
- Do you conduct privileged penetration testing to determine if exploitable vulnerabilities may expose sensitive data used in your project solution to cyber threats?
Your response and understanding of these questions begins to illustrate the gaps you may have regarding the level of cyber safe practices in your project, business and career. If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, you may have a project already at risk of being compromised by cyber attackers.
In the second part of this article, we will review our approach to assist career professionals such as project managers on how to begin delivering better cyber safe solutions and the value it delivers to project quality. Organizations that embrace and apply this new approach will begin to reposition cyber security as a business advantage instead of being reactive to the market causing significant financial loss and consumer trust impacts.
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Eben Berry is President and Founder of Cyber Inspectors LLC. Mr. Berry formed a new venture enabling companies to have greater preparedness in responding to growing concerns with cyber-attacks. As a former CISO, his twenty three years of experience across Military, Fortune 1000 and non-profit organizations centered on business, technology and information security. He received his MBA from Northeastern University.
Ehsan Sabaghian is Sr. Director of Business Development at Cyber Inspectors LLC. After receiving his 2nd master’s degree in information technology management from Clark University, MA, Mr. Sabaghian joined Cyber Inspectors LLC. An information systems expert with extensive background in business management, he emerged as a strong change agent SME on many large IT projects.
The information presented in this article is intended as general advice. Specific advice would require a qualified organization to become familiar with the facts of you or your organization’s particular situation.
At crucial moments, well-timed executive decisions to steer projects and programmes are often in short supply. Subsequently, issues are left unresolved, key milestones are missed and the overall project delivery is delayed. Whilst it may appear that executive indecision is the main culprit behind the delay , it not the primary cause.
The root cause lies in how executive leadership is exercised in project steering committees. Normally, such committees are organized to encourage executives to provide guidance to project teams and participate in the resolution of issues amongst other responsibilities. However, this is usually done in a pluralistic manner as leadership is collectively shared amongst the executives. Figure 1.0 below shows a typical project hierarchy that consists of a project steering committee that has four C- level executives.
Figure 1.0 A typical Project Steering committee that exercises pluralistic leadership
In practice, this works fine for issues that are clear-cut to solve, as executive consensus is normally reached. But for more complex issues, executive agreement is at best painstakingly slow and more often than not, issues are deferred for the CEO’s input. The input can be either in the form of guidance consisting of principles, or a definitive decision thereby putting to rest any executive misgivings about solving the issue. Usually to obtain the CEO’s input requires the PMO together with the Project Sponsor to compete with other departments for a time slot with the CEO (predictably this can be an arduous wait, as CEOs are extremely busy people). The ensuing delay can very quickly bring the organization’s flagship project/programme to a complete halt, escalate costs, and squander opportunities to address competitors.
Another drawback of pluralistic leadership is that most solutions negotiated are often diluted to appease other executives. In the end, a compromise solution is reached, which neither addresses the problem, nor helps the project move forward. Its only achievement is that all the executives concur—not whether the solution is right, or wrong. Such resolutions render projects steering committees ineffective, deter Project Managers and Sponsors from escalating issues, and promotes a culture of indifference.
Yet, by making a small but significant change in the structure of the project steering committee, the aforementioned problems that plague traditional steering committees can be avoided. By the creation introduction of a ‘Project President’ in the steering committee, where the CxOs are demoted to subordinates, can engender an efficient mechanism to deal with issues quickly. Figure 1.1 below shows this new appointment of the Project President in relation to other executives.
Figure 1.1 The Project President and the Project Steering committee
To enable the Project President to discharge his/her responsibilities, the CEO must delegate all the powers related to project work. This implies that that the Project President must be able to overrule CxOs, interfere in their respective domains (within valid reason) and have a free rein to implement, or revoke decisions. As a consequence, the CxO’s are relieved of their collective leadership and the leadership is solely handed over to the Project President. In this new structure the CxO’s play an advisory role in decision making, whereby taking decisions is exclusively at the prerogative of the Project President. It also means that the Project President’s scope of work and stewardship encompasses all projects and programmes, and is not limited to one, or two initiatives i.e. the Project President may preside over several steering committees.
In the launch phase of the company, the CEO is the person entrusted with executing the role of the Project President. But soon after launch, the CEO usually hands over this responsibility to the CxOs collectively, without nominating a successor with all the powers of the CEO. Invariably, this pluralistic leadership exercised by the executives leads to the all too familiar problems mentioned earlier.
In practice, the best candidates amongst the CxO to perform the role of the Project President are the Chief commercial officer (CCO), Chief Operations Officer (COO) and the Chief Project Officer (CPO). However, the COO and CCO can become too pre-occupied with their day to day duties, and may not have enough time to execute the duties of the Project President. Therefore, the CPO is the natural candidate for this role, but in many organizations the CPO lacks the mandate and the support of fellow executives.
If company’s really want to improve their performance in the execution of initiatives and reduce time to market then they should take a serious look at restructuring project steering committees. By appointing the right person to play the role of the Project President, delivery of projects and programmes can be vastly improved.
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Abid Mustafa is a seasoned professional with 18 years' experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry, specializing in enhancing corporate performance through the establishment and operation of executive PMOs and delivering tangible benefits through the management of complex transformation programs and projects. Currently, he is working as a director of corporate programs for a leading telecoms operator in the MENA region.
Have you ever attended a dining event where the host had a perfect understanding of his guests, knew just how to arrange the event and delivered a beautiful dining experience? Or, you may have attended several different kinds of special events at their invitation and they always seem to get it right.
The skills for setting the table for a dining event is not unlike the skills needed to deliver portfolio management to an organization. Three important skills will get you to the ideal portfolio management setting: 1) Your guests, their experiences and expectations; 2) the food and service costs; and 3) gathering guest taste feedback to make your next event even better.
Guests and their Experiences – Stakeholders and their Expectations
When you start to plan a dining event, you think about the guest list and consider palates and preferences. For instance, they may be frequent gourmet diners and have had broad exposure to different ethnic foods. There are also other considerations as you think about your potential guests: allergies, personalities, common interests, etc.
Similarly, when your organization starts to look at portfolio management as part of its service offering, you have numerous items to consider. You must understand your audience and stakeholders, and determine their level of understanding of portfolio management; it may be a common level of understanding or widely diverse. You also need to think about the company’s overall exposure to portfolio management, whether it’s rolled-up project reporting, idea intake or both. It’s also good to know if your company is a leader or follower, and what’s in it for them.
Back to your dinner plan. It’s time to think through the kind of menu you want to create and your end goal with the event. You may want to feed a large group in a short period of time, or create an intimate five-course fine-dining experience for a special occasion.
For your company’s efforts, you’ll determine what type of portfolio management to deliver and its overall purpose. You’ll work on the list of considerations, including the type of decisions your team supports – whether you’re a reporting team, audit team, if you’re helping align work to a company strategy, whether you support a chargeback system and more.
Understanding who is sitting at your table – whether it’s a dining table or a portfolio meeting table – will ensure a higher satisfaction rate when the experience is over and coffee is served. The team’s types of services and deliverables will depend on the functions your team will support. Knowing whether you serve the management team, the business team, the project teams, the resource managers or all of the above will determine the number and types of settings at your portfolio table.
Cost of Food and Labor – Portfolio Management Cost of Control
When planning a restaurant dining event, the chef needs to look at the cost of the meal as well as the cost of serving (or delivering) the meal. He considers the cost of ingredients versus the price for the meal, then determines the value and worth of the ingredients. For instance, serving fresh versus frozen can mean a lot to the quality of the overall meal.
Knowing which type of portfolio management your team will deliver, how much status reporting and what kinds of trending to collect for decision-making are just a few of the cost inputs to effectively run your team. You also need to consider the time it will take for idea intake, estimating at an idea level and balancing your portfolio forecasts. In addition, rolled-up status reporting and understanding how project change requests impact your current portfolios will impact your services.
Next is the type of table setting you’ll use. A buffet may work best if you’re serving large amounts of people and using a small serving staff. For a more formal affair, you may go all out with multiple forks and knives, cloth napkins, wine glasses, water glasses, a centerpiece, a chef, a sous chef, servers and bussers. You make sure you have the right venue, equipment and staff to execute the event and create the experience you desire for your guests. There is a cost of service associated with the type of menu you set, as well as your operational costs for space and equipment.
In addition, portfolio teams must account for the time needed to operate under organizational services or functions. These include, for example:
- Auditing or quality checks
- Phase gate reviews
- Collection of measure and metrics/reporting/trending
- Governance meetings
- Project health facilitation
- Portfolio idea management
- Portfolio change control – balancing portfolios
- Project staff augmentation or project rescues
- Center of excellence (process and tool ownership)
Portfolio teams also determine which resources are needed for the team (in terms of people, processes and tools). Depending on the functions or services, you may need "super PMs,” financial analysts or program managers. You then locate which tools and processes will best enable your team. The cost of running an organization is called the cost of control. The level of this cost of control may depend on the risk tolerance level of your organization. General industry standards, depending on the portfolio management service offering, can run between 15–25% of total project spending. 
“How was your Meal” or “Is this Working?”
There’s a wide set of expectations around the dining experience. Informal, fast-food or buffet diners may not hesitate to tell their hosts how they feel, and yet these diners know they have little impact on changing the long-term results. A fine-dining experience may not include a server that solicits feedback, but results can be gathered by what is left on the plate at the end of each course. Either way, both types of dining experiences want repeat customers.
Whether your portfolio team is in place to manage idea intake, project health escalations or quality checks, or to manage the financial aspects of your portfolio, continuous feedback will help to refine the kinds of services, functions and deliverables (reports) that will help make the portfolio management offering better. Depending on your organization’s culture, you may solicit formal or informal feedback. The results should be a validation of what’s working and adding value, and what could be done better. What you do with the results is what will bring back customers to your portfolio table.
Ensuring that you have a follow-up process for any of the services your portfolio team offers will lend legitimacy and credibility. Just like you don’t want to eat off of dirty plates and torn table cloths, stakeholders want accurate reports, timely meetings and follow up to unanswered questions. Continuing to ask, “Is this helping you to make decisions?” or “Does this incite the correct behavior?” will help keep the table clean and ensure repeat customers.
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Cindy Lee Weber is a highly motivated, dedicated and passionate project management professional experienced in both corporate and small business cultures. Her focus on maturing best practices, while providing practical solutions has been applauded time and again by clients.
Cindy believes in measuring success and provides strategic foundations for delivering on-time and on-budget implementations. She consistently leads large improvement efforts for clients, including detailed process improvement for governance, portfolio management process improvement, and process documentation and refinement. Her expertise includes: project management, project management office, portfolio management, project and portfolio framework and methodology, project management training programs, solutions implementation, and measures and metrics.
Cindy is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and an active member of the Project Management Institute’s Minnesota chapter
Controlling projects is a good thing. Controlling people is not. What does it mean to control projects, not people, and when have you crossed the threshold from controlling the project to micromanaging the people?
When you start telling people how to do their jobs instead of focusing on the results they create is usually an indication that you have stepped beyond the bounds of project control and into the realm of people control.
Creativity and innovation are magic wands. They endow projects with enhanced performance and new profit-making results. They spark creative genius and the potential for creating wealth.
Most innovation springs from a conscientious search for new opportunities. These opportunities exist both within and outside a project, organization or industry. Innovation opportunities within a project include:
I have written before about how critical it is to be a good team player. Regardless of your skills, you limit your growth and potential if you don’t play nice with others. We are taught from an early age to share, listen, use our magic words (yes and please), and never, ever bite. These basic principles are not just for 3 year olds. They should stay with you for a lifetime. I know there are some people who are just bad team players and others that only play nice with people of influence, like a boss or someone signing their paycheck. Although this post is a good reminder for them, it also relates to everyone. For most of us our intention is to be a good team player, but work stress and life in general get us out of our team player mode.
In the continuing drumbeat of bad economic news over the past month, there is a fundamental underlying shift on how this economy has impacted project selection and execution. This is also an excellent opportunity for the creative risk-taking PM to gain a career advantage and strengthen the role of the PMO in today’s companies.
Trend Number One: Companies want to do more with less
We have all seen this trend and unfortunately some of us may be among the casualties of this trend. I advocate that Project Management is more important than ever to fully understand how we do the basic package of work in business: the project. I want to be clear in this area: the PM must be a hands-on PM not an administrator. The company needs to have a cost and
History witnessed one man motivating half a billion people to follow his vision, implementing non-violence strategies, and executing architecture for ‘Quit India’ movement. I believe this commemorative piece of solution delivery (Indian Independence) crafted and led by Mahatma Gandhi a.k.a. Bapu (Father of the Nation) resembles to  following ways through which we deliver IT solutions.
- Stick to the Vision
During solutions delivery, it is easy to drift while moving toward deadlines. Drift happens if there are frequent changes in the vision due to imminent business challenges, as well as external factors. These changes affect scope and delivery timelines. Vision changes may also cause rework in affected project areas. Implementation of analysis, build and test strategies, and definition of knowledge transfer channels allow teams to stick to project or program vision. Bapu’s vision was precise (clearly defined), correct (non-violence strategy can deliver), complete, and conforming (to every citizen’s dream of a peaceful
I have blogged recently about Plain Language here. This was in the context of poor-quality RFP and bid-response docs. The basic premise: if you apply some basic Plain Language checks to your writing, quality will increase.
In this post, I wanted to look at the IT space to see how we can improve documented requirements.
As background, people like Tom and Kai Gilb argue for improving requirements quality by rewriting them in a notation (Planguage) that is measurable and testable. This is really great if your team is able and willing to adopt that approach. In most business organizations, however, it is a bridge too far. This is because Bas (Business Analysts) are not conditioned to translate informal English into mathematical statements.