Author: Cameron Watson

IT Methodology – Offering Small and Mid-sized Businesses (SMB’s) Operational Performance and Impressive Bottom Line

As world market conditions continue to evolve, so too have the pressures and expectations being placed on organizations. In many cases, the difference between red and black ink can often be attributed to the operational effectiveness derived from the “IT Efficiencies” of the organization.

Since information technology became a part of the business mainstream, business stakeholders, IT practitioners and academia have debated the various and most effective organizational “IT Efficiency” solutions. Though opinions have differed, most concur that an “IT Methodology” is one of cornerstones any organization can leverage to increase its operational performance and bottom line. Many agree that an organization that utilizes an “IT Methodology” has a competitive advantage in its ability to deliver and support its products, business applications and day to day operations.

For the sake of context, “IT Methodology” can mean different things to different organizations and audiences. As a noun, “IT Methodology” can be viewed as the roadmap project managers and business analysts rely on to consistently deliver products and applications on time and within budget – examples include IBM’s Rational Unified Process, PMI’s Project Management, QAIassist’s Integrated Methodology, Prince2. As a verb, “IT Methodology” can be viewed as the various modes of travel (practices and techniques) a project manager applies while using the roadmap to get to their destination (completed project) – examples include waterfall, agile, spiral, rapid application development RAD.

The benefits of an “IT Methodology” are:

Repeatable Organizational IT Process – An “IT Methodology” (noun) can be applied as an organizational process. As a process, organizations are able to define, utilize and repeat a common approach used to develop and support their products and business applications. By utilizing an “IT Methodology” as a process, organizations are able to introduce corporate quality assurance (quality products and applications are produced when the process is followed) and organizational improvement (analyzing the metrics and measurements of how the process is being used).

Consistently Deliver Applications on Time & Budget – In being repeatable, an “IT Methodology” (noun) affords organizations reliability in how products and business applications are developed and supported. Project team members (stakeholders, business users and IT) are able to understand their roles and responsibilities, project plans can be defined and approved, and the necessary deliverables and artifacts needed to complete the project can be identified. Applying an “IT Methodology” establishes a degree of structure that project teams leverage (and re-use) to deliver their projects on time and on budget – the more often it is used, the more proficient the project team becomes at applying it – the more proficient they become the greater the savings in time and budget.

Optimize Communications (Stakeholder, Business Users, IT Project Teams) – An “IT Methodology” (noun) acts as the glue that keeps a project team together and working from the same page. This includes project stakeholders, business users and IT project teams. Project Managers are able to dedicate project resources to specific responsibilities and the creation of specific deliverables and artifacts as part of the project plan. Project team members have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and procedures used to administer the project. Project Stakeholders will have a mechanism to quantify the status of the project team with regard to progress, risks and issues.

Incorporate Organizational Governance – An “IT Methodology” (noun) provides senior management a tool that can provide predictability (schedule, costs, quality) on how the IT staff develop and maintain products and applications. This predictability affords senior management flexibility to budget and prioritize what applications are to be completed, when they can be completed and what resources will be available to deliver these products and applications. It also provides senior management an ability to re-adjust the priorities of the IT resources to reflect the business priorities.

Establish Resource Diversity – An “IT Methodology” (noun) provides organizations a basis for developing cross-functional expertise in both the business and the IT sides of the house. As a resource learns more on how an “IT Methodology” is applied they can leverage that expertise to become effective in other areas of the business (i.e. an apprentice carpenter that has learned to use a hammer to build a dog house can rely and re-use that same knowledge when building a deck or a house). This offers flexibility in how resources are to be applied and offers staff an avenue to gain additional expertise and knowledge in other areas of the business.

Though the concept of increasing operational performance and bottom line through an “IT Methodology” may be obvious, there remains a huge gap in how various organizations are able to implement these solutions. Large sized organizations have traditionally relied on large sized IT tool vendors and consultancies to acquire and implement complex and all-encompassing “IT Methodology” solutions – in the majority of cases they have created internal Project Management Offices (PMO’s) specifically dedicated to implementing and supporting these “IT Methodologies”. SMB’s have not always had the same financial flexibility nor the same need to acquire and implement these elaborate and all-encompassing “IT Methodology” solutions offered by the large sized IT tool vendors and consultants.

In today’s world, SMB’s are being squeezed from many directions and must rely on their ingenuity and nimbleness to navigate through these challenging realities. All too often the difference between an SMB keeping its doors open and making a profit is a direct result of its operational performance and “IT Efficiency” – on whether or not it utilizes an “IT Methodology”. Although benefits can be derived from an “IT Methodology”, SMB’s must assess the other side of the ledger in the Return on Investment (ROI) equation – implementation requires addition considerations. They include:

Access to “IT Methodology” (noun) – Traditionally SMB’s have had limited options in acquiring an “IT Methodology”. Their only alternatives were (a) acquiring the complex all encompassing solutions offered by the large tool vendors and consultancies or (b) not using any one at all because the costs of acquiring these all-encompassing products and services are often too great.

Acquiring an “IT Methodology” (noun) – As more and more SMB’s are recognizing the competitive advantages of implementing an “IT Methodology” several vendors and consultancies are now delivering scalable products and services that afford SMB’s the products and services they require to improve their operational performance and bottom line. Scalable “IT Methodologies” (i.e. project management, software development, software testing) can now be acquired at a minimal cost – a standard licensing fee is applied. Licensing fee applies to the initial acquisition and a minimal monthly support fee.

“IT Methodology” Implementation – Upon acquiring an “IT Methodology” SMB’s must go through the exercise of having it customized (scaled) to ensure it is optimized to contribute to both operational performance and the bottom line. Though implementing an “IT Methodology” is unique to every organization, most SMB’s will incur costs associated with customizing the “IT Methodology” to their specific circumstances, training the staff on the applying the “IT Methodology” and coaching the staff through several initial projects.

Ongoing “IT Methodology” Expertise – As an SMB becomes more proficient at applying their “IT Methodology” there may come instances and temporary circumstances where they will require additional “IT Methodology” expertise in delivering or supporting additional products and applications. In these cases it will be advantageous for them to acquire consulting resources familiar with the “IT Methodology” – these resources will be able to make an immediate contribution to the project team and an impact on the delivery of the product or application.

As global competition continues to drive business and technology, organizations armed with an “IT Methodology” increase their operational performance and their ability to consistently deliver higher quality products and services to their clients. The result – more satisfied clients and an increase in bottom line.

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Cameron Watson is the President of QAIassist. QAIassist helps small and mid-sized organizations (SMB’s) increase their operational performance and bottom line through IT efficiency. QAIassist’s Integrated Methodology incorporates the disciplines and deliverables SMB’s leverage to consistently deliver quality applications on time and within budget. Visit QAIassist’s website-www.qaiassist.com

Meet Your New Best Friend; the Project Charter

meetyournewbest1The project charter has been around for as long as the concept of work.

The Egyptians used project charters to create the Pyramids. So did the Greeks to erect the Parthenon. The Romans used a project charter to create the Coliseum. Little Johnny used a project charter to construct his miniature house made of lego blocks.

As different as the times and methods used to create these structures, one common thread exists – success was based on the creation, maintenance and oversight of a project charter. The Egyptians may have created theirs with hieroglyphics in the sand, the Greeks may have chiseled theirs in Mount Olympus, the Romans may have penned theirs in Latin, and little Johnny may have used crayola on the kitchen table. The point is not how complex or sophisticated these project charters were, but rather, that one was required, prepared and relied upon to act as the cornerstone to creating all of these structures.

While academia can spend days crafting a definition of the complexities and internal dynamics of a project charter, anyone can understand it using six simple words: “what are we trying to do?”

Though the term project charter is routinely applied and recognized within the Information Technology (IT) industry, the concept of project charter is as applicable to organizational strategic planning, corporate budgeting and operational oversight. It is difficult to fathom a corporate president or CEO performing their roles without defining and documenting “what are we trying to do?” or a CFO maintaining fiscal control without defining and documenting “what are we trying to do?”.  The question of “what are we trying to do?” permeates every facet of every organization. Suffice it to say, the tenure of a CEO would not be very long if they were unable to articulate and obtain approval of “what are we trying to do?” from the shareholders.

On the surface, addressing the project charter “what are we trying to do?” question appears to be a simple exercise, be it a CEO, CFO or an IT project manager. In reality, it can become a very trying and taxing exercise. The amount of definition and explanation required in a project charter depends upon the magnitude and complexity of the “what are we trying to do?” question. A project charter used to document how one person should dig a hole in the ground could be documented on half a sheet of paper, while a project charter used to document how to send a space craft to the moon and back would probably require volumes of detail. 

The utilization of a project charter is as varied as the number of organizations that create and apply them. In some cases the project charter is the project’s cornerstone and is relied upon throughout the project. In others cases, the project charter is a project title and a brief project description. The project charter has been adapted and customized by organizations to address a myriad of needs. Here are a few contexts where the project charter is used.

Corporate – Project Definition

As an initial project document, the project charter establishes the goal posts from which the project will be initiated, planned, pursued and completed.  The project’s definition will reflect its size and complexity. It can include the following:

  • The purpose of the project
  • The scope
  • The objectives
  • The resources (HR and otherwise) to be utilized on the project
  • The plan
  • The constraints
  • The quality
  • The cost estimate
  • Project hierarchy and organization
  • Risks and impacts the project will have on the organization.

The project charter is not a stagnant document; it evolves and is maintained to reflect the changing circumstances and conditions associated with the project. The project charter acts to establish the project context and boundaries to ensure all project team stakeholders and resources have a common point of reference and communication of the project throughout its duration.

Corporate – Project Authorization                                                                                             

The project charter gives organizational stakeholders the ability to review and evaluate priorities. Utilizing the project charter to obtain formal authorization ensures there is a correlation between the corporate strategy, planning and budgeting exercises, and the organizational resources allocated to complete a project. This ensures organizational resources will remain focused on the authorized projects.

Corporate – Project Scope Management

After establishing the project context and boundaries and receiving formal authorization, the project charter can be used to monitor and evaluate the scope of the project from beginning to end. Project stakeholders are able to reference the project charter to monitor the project progress and direction in relation to the context and boundaries they had originally approved. This affords project stakeholders the flexibility to stop, defer or accelerate IT project team priorities to better reflect organizational business needs. It also enables IT project team resources to re-calibrate their efforts based on decisions and approvals of organizational stakeholders. 

Corporate – Formal Deliverable

The project charter establishes an operational premise to promote structure and formal documentation. This is very important to the efficiency of IT delivery and support. This concept of structure and documentation can be leveraged by the organization to introduce quality assurance and to improve the maintenance and support of applications.

Project – Planning and Oversight Benchmark

Once authorized, the project charter can act as the basis for a project planning exercise. The project manager is able to reference the original definitions established and authorized in the project charter to provide greater clarity and detail on how the project will be executed. Project plans, project schedules, project resources, project budget allocations are derived from the authorized project charter.

Project – Team Communication

The authorized project charter provides the communication mechanism the project team will rely on throughout the life of the project. It acts as the basis for the deliverables and work products identified in the project plan and project schedule. Having formal documentation prepared provides several benefits. Project development teams will have access to the necessary information to ensure project team communication is consistent and based on formal approvals – all project development team members can rely on the authorized deliverables to ensure they are working off the same page. Application support and maintenance teams have a common point of reference they can leverage to effectively maintain and incorporate new functionality into the applications.

Wrap-Up

Although the concept and need to create a project charter has meant different things in different environments for different audiences, its primary purpose has remained the same. Be it the Egyptians or Little Johnny, as long as the concept of work exists, success will be dependent on our ability to understand the significance of “what are we trying to do?”  A project charter is the basis to help us answer that question.

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Cameron Watson, President and Managing Partner of QAIassist (www.qaiassist.com) has over 25 years of experience in developing and delivering organizational PMOs, project management, IT methodologies, process management, and quality management frameworks. His experience ranges from Senior Management at fortune 500 companies, to management consulting (big 6) at the world’s top aerospace company, to managing several large sized PMO initiatives in both the private and public sectors. His work experience has led him across North America with stops in Toronto, Seattle, Ottawa, and Moncton. Cameron believes every organization can optimize its operational effectiveness, competitiveness, and bottom line by increasing its IT Efficiency.  He can be reached at [email protected].