Author: Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected]

From the Sponsor’s Desk; A Perfect Project

In my last post, I reviewed Project Pre-Check, a practice that PMs have used to become a project sponsor’s best friend, and a great PM in the process. You don’t need to use Project Pre-Check. You can use or build your own practice, just as long as you address the three core building blocks; the stakeholders, the process they’ll use to guide a project through to a successful completion and the decision framework, a collection of best practices (I call them Decision Areas) that the stakeholders need to consider and agree on over the course of a change.

Here’s one example of a PM who used Project Pre-Check fundamentals to achieve PM greatness. It’s called the Interface Initiative.

The Situation

This organization provided insurance and savings products to individual clients through over100 Canadian offices coast to coast. There were 600 plus staff in these regional offices.

The office personnel responsible for administering clients’ needs were faced with a motley array of mainframe, server and PC applications with widely different interfaces and formatting requirements, each application supported by its own 3-ring binder of procedures, entry protocols, codes and rules. The environment was a huge drain on productivity and quality and negatively impacted client service.

The Goal

The sponsor wanted to improve client service and the quality and productivity of the office staff by standardizing the look and feel of the interface and formatting requirements, providing online access to all support documentation, and ensuring that all new applications and future changes complied with the interface standards.

In addition, because of the number of staff affected, the new environment was to be sufficiently intuitive that it could be implemented effectively without formal training.

The Project

The organization reviewed available alternatives and launched the Interface Initiative, a tactical approach that would offer a standard PC-based interface to the office staff (this was before the ubiquitous web browser). Behind the scenes this new interface would connect to and communicate with the existing application interfaces. Over time, those old interfaces would be eliminated and the new interface would communicate directly to the required function. This approach was seen as the best way to accelerate project delivery with manageable risks.

In addition, the project (known internally as “In Your Face”) contracted with a recognized expert on usability and interface design and trained project staff to help address the no training target. All the content of the manuals would also be converted and accessible through context sensitive online help.

The project was sponsored by the VP Administration to whom the majority of the affected staff reported, through office managers and regional managers. The PM assigned had a proven track record as team builder and project manager. Project staff covered all the skills necessary to deal with the diverse set of technologies. An advisory council including ten office managers was formed to provide direction and feedback as design and development progressed, and to liaise with their counterparts across the country.

The Results

The project was hugely successful. It won the Conference Board of Canada’s ITX award for technology innovation and excellence. The ROI calculated by the (ITX Award) judging committee was about 800%.

The project delivered on plan and within budget and the high quality of the implementation was confirmed by the standing ovations the PM received as she travelled across the country introducing the new environment. When was the last time you received a standing ovation from your stakeholders? Let me know!

How a Great PM Helped

The project’s sponsor had a number of factors in his favour. The majority of the staff affected by the change was in his own organization, so he didn’t have to worry about the commitment of peers who might have had their own ideas about approach and priorities.  There were no new technologies involved so the risks were largely known and manageable.

However, the great PM the sponsor and his IT counterpart selected turned what probably would have been a good result into a great result. The great PM:

  • Helped mould the stakeholder group into a cohesive and productive force. The amount of collaboration was inspiring.
  • Leveraged the stakeholders’ authority to get the right resources at the right time.
  • Clarified and quantified the project’s goals and measured project performance against those goals on an ongoing basis.
  • Communicated upwards, downwards and sideways continuously, in whatever form was necessary to gain understanding and agreement including one on one, group sessions, presentations, demos, email, written reports, coffee klatches…
  • Used the project management, software development and management of change methodologies that existed within the organization and adapted them to suit the project’s needs.
  • Developed and managed a risk plan that resulted in some pragmatic changes in approach to improve quality and value
  • Developed the application in phases and rolled out in stages to reduce risk and accelerate business value.
  • Used industry best practices including usability, prototyping, partitioning and reuse to address the stakeholders’ needs and ensure effective ongoing support of the delivered solution.

On your next project, put these points on your checklist of things to do so you too can be a great PM, and your sponsor’s best friend.

Next, we’ll look at a project that demonstrates the old adage, you get what you pay for. In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens, send me the details and we’ll have a go. 

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

From the Sponsor’s Desk; A Great Project Manager – the Sponsor’s Best Friend

Project managers generally have oodles of responsibility but limited authority. They seldom have any significant control over the five W’s (the who, when, what, where and why of the planned change). Their primary focus is usually figuring out how to take the many diverse (and often unstated) wishes of the project stakeholders and juggle those into a timely, cost-effective and quality implementation. Something like herding cats! Yet, for all the obstacles PMs face, their greatest challenge (and opportunity) is to become the sponsor’s best friend. And, vice versa.

Over the next few months, we’ll explore the differences great PM s did make (or could have made) to real world project experiences. We’ll look at how they worked with (or could have supported) the project sponsor and the other project stakeholders to ensure a successful implementation. But first, some background so that we can share a common understanding and apply a standard set of principles to the project experiences. 

Fromthesponsorsdesk1
Figure 1 – Building Blocks

I’ll use my Project Pre-Check practice as the vehicle for assessing project and PM performance. It is based on this premise: If the stakeholders for a given change are actively involved in and agree with each decision, and all the vital decisions are addressed, the project will be successful. Great PM’s use these fundamentals every day.

Project Pre-Check relies on three building blocks to ensure that premise becomes a reality; the stakeholders, the processes that the stakeholders follow and the decision framework that facilitates stakeholder decision-making.

As a sponsor, I look to PMs to bring this foundation to every project they tackle, using a formal practice like Project Pre-Check or their own combinations of wisdom, experience, intuition, tools and techniques.

Stakeholders

Having the right stakeholders engaged in and committed to a project is absolutely fundamental to project success. I expect PMs to ensure that the stakeholders are identified and actively engaged from a project’s inception to completion. So, what’s a stakeholder? They are the influencers and decision makers. Project Pre-Check includes four roles: sponsor, change agent, target and champion. 

A Sponsor is a manager who legitimizes the planned change, has the economic, logistical or political power to make the change happen and is ultimately responsible for decisions relating to the five W’s (who, when, what, where, why).

A Change Agent.  Typically, but not necessarily, a project director or manager – is responsible to the sponsor(s) for implementing the change. Authority is focused on determining how to deliver according to the sponsors’ mandate and targets’ needs.

A Target is a manager who directs individuals or groups who must actually change the way they think and work for a change to be successful. Targets include managers of departments within the initiating organization but can also include managers who are external to the organization initiating the change, such as customers, vendors, partners and distributors.

Fromthesponsorsdesk2
Figure 2 – Stakeholder Roles

A Champion is a manager or senior staff member who enthusiastically supports the planned change and has the power, influence and respect necessary to help bring about the necessary behavioral changes in the managers and staff that are affected by the change.

Decision Framework

I look to PMs to ensure that stakeholders are actively engaged in decision-making and that their deliberations encompass the breadth and depth of the planned change.

Fromthesponsorsdesk3
Figure 3 – Decision Framework

For example, the Project Pre-Check Decision Framework addresses four domains: the nature and characteristics of the change itself, the impact on the environment within which the change will be implemented, the assets that will be needed to support the project or impacted by the change and the specific requirements for how the project will be conducted.  

These four domains contain 18 factors and 125 decision areas that can be considered for each and every change. It’s a great starting point for building and monitoring stakeholder cohesion.

Processes

I expect PMs to ensure that stakeholders understand the processes they are using to manage a change and use them diligently from inception to completion. As an example, Project Pre-Check includes three processes to deal with various project stages: Framing, Diagnostic and Oversight.

Fromthesponsorsdesk4
Figure 4 – Stakeholder Processes

The Framing process leverages stakeholder commitment at project start-up to agree on expected outcomes, assess impact on each Decision Area, and agree on the contribution various Decision Areas can make to the success of the project.  

The Diagnostic process assesses existing, in-progress projects. It’s perfect for a major change in project scope or direction, changes in key project players (sponsor, change agent or major targets) or simply to take stock of stakeholder involvement and comfort with progress to date.

The Oversight Process controls scope, risk and organizational impact and ensures expected results are delivered on budget and plan. It monitors stakeholder agreement levels on each Decision Area for the duration of the change to facilitate timely, targeted and effective stakeholder decision making.

Conclusion

Yikes! I know lots of stuff. Hopefully you’ll see how it all relates in the next post, where I’ll look at a very successful project called the Interface Initiative. You’ll see ample proof that a great PM is, in fact, the sponsor’s best friend.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens, send me the details and we’ll have a go.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below