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 – Create Your Next Great Assignment

Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organizations they work for.” Stephen Covey

How long have you been doing your current job or filling your current role – project manager, change manager, etc.? Are you getting bored with the assignments? Would you like to try something new and different? Would you like new challenges? Then keep reading to see how you can create your next great assignment.

The Situation

A former colleague of mine, let’s call him Terry, was a very knowledgeable and successful technology architect. But he was getting bored with the role. He wanted something different, something new, a bit more stimulating. He needed a change.

As Terry was contemplating new opportunities, his boss, the CIO, handed him a ticket to an upcoming conference and asked him to see if there was anything to the new technology the conference was targeting – artificial intelligence. Obviously, this exchange took place a while ago. But Terry did attend. The timing was right. The subject matter was ideal. And the forum was perfect for establishing outside contacts and building relationships with experts in the field.

Terry returned to the office and mulled over what he had learned. As he was contemplating his next steps, the CIO departed the company. Now he had to sell the VP of Finance, who was not technically savvy and who Terry had never dealt with before, or wait until a new CIO was appointed. Terry decided to charge ahead.

The Search for the Next Great Assignment

As it turned out, the CIO’s departure was a blessing in disguise. Terry had to rework his whole approach. He had to change his focus, from the technology that was initially at the heart of his proposal to the business opportunity that would appeal to the VP of Finance. Instead of emphasizing the various technologies, he would promote Fast Change – delivering real business value quickly with bankable returns.

Terry realized the biggest challenge for his prospective business clients was getting stuff done. There was at least a three year backlog of projects in the traditional system development cycle and the methods and practices they employed meant big price tags and long delivery times. Many of the opportunities Terry wanted to focus on were small initiatives with potentially large impacts that were typically outside the core system development mindset and planning process.

So Terry put together his proposal for the VP of Finance’s consideration. He outlined the burning platform that was at the heart of the proposal – the number of business opportunities that were not being serviced by the major system development life cycle. Terry included a number of examples business managers had provided to him during his research. He proposed a small Fast Change team that would solicit assignments from the across the organization. It would accept projects that offered a 3:1 return, $3 for every $1 invested. It would be nimble and quick, focus on business need and deploy whatever technology and practices were required to support the benefit and cost goals. The business would be on the hook for benefit realization. Terry’s team would be responsible for managing costs in line with the target ratio. Projects that were accepted would deliver benefits within six weeks and would not exceed six months for all phases. All projects would be audited by Internal Audit on a rolling quarterly basis. Each project would go through an internal gating process and projects that failed at any of the gates would be relaunched or go through an early exit. Terry’s proposal also presented some alternative implementation schemes and growth scenarios to respond to the anticipated demand.

Terry reviewed his proposal with a number of trusted colleagues and then booked a meeting with the VP of Finance. He was confident in his material and the value of his proposal but he was unsure how it would be received. He needn’t have worried. The VP of Finance loved the business focus, the emphasis on nimble, fast delivery, the 3:1 benefit to cost ratio, the quarterly audit. He saw it as a low risk, high return venture that would enhance business confidence in IT and compliment the other core IT services. He gave Terry the go ahead for a four person team.


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The Results

Terry wasted no time getting up to speed. He assembled his four person team and together they began to socialize their service. They spread out to the various management teams throughout the company to introduce Fast Change. They conducted Lunch & Learn sessions over the lunch hour, offering sandwiches and crudité as enticements, open to all. Recognizing that their IT colleagues also had numerous contacts throughout the business, they encouraged them to promote the Fast Change service and pass on any leads.

In very short order, there was more work than the team could handle. They negotiated among the competing requests and selected two projects to tackle concurrently.  The initial efforts were light on methodology and documentation, using a project charter-like document as the mandate letter and relying on close collaboration between the team players – business, Fast Change team, IT resources and consultants as needed. Also, some of the initial technology search, selection and integration activity took longer and cost more than anticipated and the VP of Finance agreed to offload some of the cost from the initial project on the proviso that subsequent endeavours would benefit from the work. 

The first two projects were delivered successfully with enthusiasm all around. The word spread. Two more projects were selected in quick succession, followed by three more, and on it went. The order book was growing rapidly and a backlog developed. At the peak of operation, the Fast Change team had about thirty concurrent projects on the go at any one time and delivered over 150 projects over the team’s life. The full portfolio achieved in excess of the target 3:1 benefit to cost ratio with each individual project delivering a minimum 2:1 benefit to cost return.

Fast Change team members loved the experience. They were working with new and interesting technologies and engaging directly with the business members. They were talking to outside experts about new approaches and technologies that could help them solve today’s business problems. The business participants raved about the experience because they were working directly on and solving their business problems in the short term. The VP of Finance was most enthusiastic for the initiative. He was getting rave reviews from the executive offices and delivering the promised return on investment. And Terry was thrilled as well. He got to create and enjoy a stimulating and profitable experience.

How to Create Your Next Great Assignment

Terry went from a high performer in his technology architect role, to a novice Fast Change artist, to a rapid change master. His team went through the same learning cycle. And they all thrived. There were a few keys to their success – a willingness to learn, to try something new, a supportive and collaborative culture, willing and able business participants, a supportive sponsor and, of course, the golden opportunity.

The steps Terry went through are similar to the approach you’d take to launch a start-up venture. In fact, my previous post, Run Your Project like a Start-Up, covers a similar journey. If you’re keen on going after a new and different assignment, here’s the approach Terry used. Refine it as you see fit:

  • Explore – What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What technologies, processes and practices look interesting from your perspective? This stage is all about changing your frame of reference, from what you have been doing and are doing to what you could be doing in the future.
  • Research – Pick a few items from the Explore stage that appeal to you and do some research. Who is leading the way? What are they achieving? Does the timing put you on the bleeding edge? What’s the learning curve like? What’s the timeframe for delivering value? What’s the approximate size of the investment to get started? Would the field be of interest to your current organization or would you have to move to pursue the opportunity? The Research stage should help you narrow down your options and pick one or two possible directions to focus on.
  • Pitch – Develop your pitch. Target it to the individuals who will decide whether to fund you to the next step. Cover the burning platform/opportunities and the solution/secret sauce you believe will reap the rewards. Present alternatives for your offering and how to get there. Demonstrate market validation (who’s doing what) and include examples. Show the potential market size (magnitude of opportunity). Include the key selling points that address the burning platform and capitalize on the opportunities. Present the value equation – 3:1 benefits to costs in this case – plus other tangibles and intangibles. Cover the metrics, measurement and control practices that will ensure the targeted return. Present your market adoption strategies and options. Address the competition for your job, role, product or service and your and their competitive advantages, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Present your team, either the real people or the skills and capabilities needed. Lay out the next steps to get you on your way and delivering that value you promised. Put all this in a nice slick, short, succinct package with key pictures, charts, tables, graphs and graphics. Socialize your draft pitch with friends, family, your mentors and colleagues and refine accordingly. Finally, make the sale. Repeat as necessary.
  • Resource – In Terry’s case, his new assignment required additional staff and resources. The people he picked would ultimately determine the success of his venture. So he chose carefully. If your new assignment requires additional resources, be very clear on the knowledge, skills, attitudes, aspirations and capabilities your team will need to be successful. And proceed accordingly.
  • Trial – Once you’ve received the go ahead, pick a couple of tasks/projects/engagements – some low hanging fruit if you will – to prove the concepts, provide the training and learning opportunities and demonstrate the value to your clients and sponsors. Refine as needed. Repeat.
  • Promote/engage – Your target audience and your sponsors need to hear about the value you can provide and have provided to others. Use lunch & learn and information sessions, flyers, blogs, Youtube videos, face to face one on ones, whatever is appropriate and effective for your market. Also, tell your success stories. Or let the business partners who reaped the benefits of your efforts tell the stories for you.
  • Manage – This is where the rubber meets the road. Measuring your performance will make you better and your team more focused. Make sure you’re providing the value you promised, like the 3:1 benefits to costs, internal gating, early exits and quarterly independent audits in Terry’s case.

So, ask yourself what you’d like to do for your next assignment. As you consider that question, consider Terry’s challenge and the path he followed to a stimulating and fulfilling new assignment. I hope you too can create your next great assignment.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Best of the Best Project Performance Profile

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”

― John Wooden, American basketball coach, who won a record 10 national championships over a 12-year span at UCLA.

According to McKinsey & Company, 17% of large IT projects go so badly they can threaten a company’s existence. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2019 reported that “organizations wasted almost 12 percent of their investment in project spend last year due to poor performance—a number that’s barely budged over the past five years.”

And this comment from the Standish Group’s 2015 Chaos Report: “We found that both satisfaction and value are greater when the features and functions delivered are much less than originally specified and only meet obvious needs.” In other words, deliver what your customers really want and need. Wow!

It’s the end of a decade and it seems not much has changed in terms of our ability to deliver change successfully. I have been writing articles for Project Times since 2010. 110 articles to be exact. We are now entering a new decade, the 2020s. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the lessons learned from the stories covered in those articles. Maybe we can launch a new level of project performance, where success is the new normal, where project failure is an aberration.

95 of my articles written over the last ten years were about projects and the people who ran them. Most were successful. The remaining 15 articles were about people, practices and possibilities. I’ve gone through those articles to extract the keys to project success. There are ten factors that dominate. You won’t be surprised by any of them. In fact, we have known about the importance of all these practices for years. But, for whatever reason, change agents and sponsors aren’t aware of or are having difficulty applying them. Consequently our project success rates languish.

So, to make it easy for you and other change agents and sponsors around the world to leverage those ten practices and deliver a new and highly successful normal, I present the Best of the Best Project Performance Profile for your consideration and use.

PM Jan7 20 1

Using the profile is easy. Just rate each factor on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is low performance and 5 is high performance. A low performance rating poses a high risk of project failure. A high rating reflects a project strength. There are brief descriptions of what constitutes low and high performance.

For each of the ten factors, pick the number on the scale that best reflects your view of the project’s current status. Complete your assessment for each of the ten factors and total the columns – the number of 1 ratings, 2 ratings, 3 ratings and so forth times the value of the column. Then add the column totals together to get the project total. Any project with a total under 30 is in serious trouble. Any project with a total over 40 with no factors rated under 3 has a good chance of being a hit.

Next give the profile to your sponsors, some key stakeholders, some team members to see how their views compare with your own. Combine the results into an overall Project Performance Profile. Plan for the resolution of any factors that have an overall rating of less than 4, tackling the lowest rated factors first. Also, feel free to extend the use of the Project Performance Profile to all key stakeholders to ensure that all frames of reference are addressed and any identified gaps rectified. Your goal: A successful project delivery. To achieve that, look for a consensus rating over 40 with no factors rated under 3.

To help with your application of the Best of the Best Project Performance Profile, a copy of the spreadsheet is available from the Project Pre-Check Client Downloads page. There you’ll also find a number of checklists that offer much more granular assessments, from 50 decision areas to the full 125 item decision framework. Feel free to try them out.

Finally, if you have questions about any of the ten factors used in the profile, here’s an overview of each to help your assessment along:


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  1. Sponsorship: Project sponsors need to own the change from inception to value realization. They need the organizational, political and logistical connections and capabilities to understand the impacts and make the change happen. Remember, sponsorship cannot be delegated. See the articles Are You Ready to Be a Sponsor and Fixing Uncommitted Sponsors for more.
  2. The Business Case: Vision, Strategy, Value and Impact: The rationale for the planned change needs to be presented in a comprehensive and cohesive manner and in a form appropriate to each target stakeholder. Whatever form it takes, it needs to describe the burning platform, the desired target state, the reasons for pursuing that target, the expected value to be delivered and the impact of the change on people, processes, practices and infrastructure within and outside the initiating organization. It also needs to address the relationships to the organization’s mission, vision, strategies, priorities and core values and expected/desired timing and implementation approach.
  3. Goals and Measurement: The development of specific goals and metrics to track performance needs to start at the top and be debated widely and thoroughly. When the goals and priorities are finally nailed, it can help galvanize commitment at all levels. That enables a reasonable plan that everyone can commit to and be measured by.
  4. Stakeholders: As John Kotter and Dan Cohen suggest in their book, The Heart of Change, “…the central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. All those elements, and others, are important. But the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.” The stakeholders are the key agents for the behavioural change needed for project success. Identifying and engaging those players is a fundamental requirement. For more on stakeholders see Just Duck, Bob and Weave for Great Projects!
  5. Core Architecture, Processes and Practices: Leveraging standard architectures, processes and best practices can improve performance and responsiveness, reduce costs, improve quality and reduce risks by a significant degree. Practices like risk, change and issue management are essential. Costing, scheduling, release, quality, test, benefit delivery, resourcing and communication planning and execution are foundational. Frameworks ensure that all vital information is captured and considered to produce robust and comprehensive solutions. For more on the power of frameworks and best practices, see It’s the Mastery that Counts. For more on architecture see Transforming Projects with Architecture.
  6. Opportunities and Alternatives: Things change. What wasn’t available or possible yesterday might now be an option. New or changed technologies, client priorities, costs and pricing changes can open up exciting new opportunities. By keeping their options open, by taking advantage of new opportunities or alternatives, teams may be able to offer their clients significant price/performance and service improvements without having to redo the basic plans and priorities. Always be opportunity aware.
  7. Scope and Requirements: As Yogi Bera, the great New York Yankee catcher once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Scope and requirements are the Google maps of the project world. They help establish the breadth of the journey, the route the project will take and the features and services that will be delivered and experienced along the way. And don’t forget those pesky “non-functional requirements”, things like authorization, audit trail, correctness, continuity, compliance, service levels, security, ease of use, portability, coupling, scalability, flexibility and localizability. They are often the primary cause of project failure.
  8. Release Plan: The bigger a project or release, the greater the risk of failure. Craft a plan that delivers in small chunks, responds to priorities, reduces risks, improves quality and accelerates the delivery of benefits. That allows the organization to learn incrementally and enables changes to plans and priorities if conditions warrant.
  9. Team Resources, Knowledge and Culture: Change is delivered by people for people. Ensuring that the right number of resources, human and otherwise, is available at the right time, with the right knowhow, skills, capabilities and attitudes is the project force multiplier. For more on building supporting cultures see Cultivating Culture.
  10. Communication and Collaboration: Communication is the glue that connects the diverse players and personalities involved in a project. Collaboration is the mechanism that ensures all the parts of the change fit together to deliver the desired outcome. The information needs of each stakeholder and each role have to be determined and met. Plan it. Execute it. Measure its effectiveness. Revise and repeat as needed. For more on project communication and collaboration see Managing a Project’s Conversations

So, as you proceed through your project journeys, use the Best of the Best Project Performance Profile to build your project and change management capability and your track record of success. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a PM’s life easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Charlie’s Best Practices Book

“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.” – Dalai Lama

How good are you at your job? In your craft? Whether you’re a CEO or CXO, a project or change manager, a business analyst, a software developer or QA, an IT or business manager or fill other vital roles in your organization’s operations, I expect you have a wealth of knowledge and insight that contributes value every day. Some of that knowledge is undoubtedly shared locally, even widely. However, I expect some of your know-how is unique to you. Think about that unique insight. Could it contribute to your colleagues’ and teams’ performance if they also had that knowledge? Would it deliver greater productivity? Better quality? Increased value for stakeholders? Contribute to a culture of sharing and collaboration? Garner career recognition and advancement opportunities? Something to think about! And a good reason to continue reading about Charlie’s best practices book.

I have a friend. Let’s call him Charlie. He’s a civil engineer. He has been involved in designing, building and operating municipal waste and fresh water systems for decades. The infrastructure he oversaw has been around and will continue to serve the community for decades. These facilities cost tens of millions of dollars to deliver and need to stand the test of time. They serve millions of residents who depend on consistent, reliable, safe services. A design, construction or operational mistake can take months or years and millions of dollars to remedy and jeopardize lives. The stakes were significant.

When Charlie decided to retire, he was managing a mishmash of water systems that had started life as independent installations supporting villages and towns. As the area grew, those previously standalone facilities were merged and interconnected to serve new customers, provide better backup and recovery capability and reduce overall operating costs. He dealt with a few failures, problems and threats over the years and learned a thing or two about what worked and what didn’t.

Charlie worked with over 20 managers and their staff along with a multitude of consultants covering everything from soil dynamics to pumping technologies. He liaised with other water system managers and stayed up to date with current and emerging best practices in the industry. He recognized he had unique and vital insights into the area’s water services. He wanted to share that with the current and future management and staff to better serve the growing residential and industrial user base. He wanted to leave a legacy of lessons learned!

And so Charlie wrote Charlie’s Best Practices Book. He discussed the idea with his boss who loved the concept. It took Charlie over two years to complete, at over 60 pages. He covered the history of each of the water systems, some of the difficulties that were encountered along the way and how they were addressed. He described the overall system’s current state with maps, blueprints, diagrams and commentary on known issues, risks and vulnerabilities. And he included his ideas for future developments and improvements, again with narratives, maps and diagrams.

Charlie admits that his book was an opinion piece. His boss and all his managers received a copy. When Charlie visited his office after retirement, the book was visible on many desks and in many offices. So it may be adding value daily. But Charlie doesn’t really know.

Unfortunately, there was no time before Charlie left to institutionalize the learnings and directions into ongoing operations. When I asked Charlie if his old boss would ensure that a design proposal was vetted against Charlie’s material, he thought probably not. Although, he did think his old boss might do the review himself.

I reviewed Charlie’s Best Practices Book and was duly impressed. It includes information that wouldn’t be apparent to the uninitiated – a newly employed engineer or recently contracted consultant for example – and provides ways out of certain complexities that, if overlooked, could lead to local failures or more extensive catastrophes.


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I’m not an engineer and I don’t know a lot about water services. But, there is no question, if I was engaged to do work for this municipal water services organization, I would want access to this book. A similar repository would be invaluable for anyone contemplating or involved in a change to any process, structure, system or service in any industry – aerospace, agriculture, banking, insurance, manufacturing, nuclear power, retail, etc. In fact, Charlie’s rational for his book is the very reason I wrote my books – to share information about practices and frameworks that will help organizations deliver change successfully.

So here’s a challenge to you – share your wisdom! And here are some thoughts on how you can go about that.

  1. Record your insights – Take stock of what you know, what works, what doesn’t, what you’d like to see happen and record it. Put it in a document, a video, a diagram, a blog. Use whatever helps you get the knowledge recorded and whatever will help it get consumed.
  2. Don’t wait until you retire – Do it now! Make it an ongoing exercise. Take stock monthly, after a project, before your performance appraisal, whenever makes sense for you.
  3. Make it incremental – Iterate the exercise. Add to your knowledge base. Include new ideas and insights, change things that need to change, delete stuff that is no longer applicable.
  4. Do a peer review – Socialize your material. Start out with close friends and colleagues. Ask team members for feedback, additions and comments. Take it to other parts of the organization to get their reactions. You can keep it informal or formalize it with sign-offs and version numbers, as you see fit.
  5. Institutionalize the best practices – Take it to your boss. Take it to your boss’s boss. Take it to the standards and practice body in your organization. Formalize the content, format and delivery vehicles and change mechanisms. Establish KPI’s for your book’s contribution and measurement mechanisms to gauge its effectiveness. If you’d like to take your best practices to this level, see my previous post – Leaving a Legacy of Lessons Learned.
  6. Take it to the world – Be the next Wikipedia, or parts thereof. Write and publish a book or three. Start a blog for interested parties. Create and manage a web site. Start a new organization to share the word – a PMI or ACMP equivalent for your discipline, perhaps with a supporting body of knowledge. Or contribute to one that already exists.

So, as you tackle your next project or venture, consider sharing your knowledge with others on a more formal basis. Feel free to use the story of Charlie and his book and the points above to motivate you. Feel free to use Project Pre-Check and its three best practice based building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework as a model. Or find your own way. But please, SHARE! It is a way to achieve immortality.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a project or change manager’s life a little easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Focus on Value to Drive Change

When you are led by values, it doesn’t cost your business, it helps your business.– Co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company.

Price Systems, a recognized leader in cost forecasting, conducted a study a number of years ago called “A Cracked Foundation”. The study found, among other things, that government IT executives believe that almost half of all failed projects could be avoided if project baselines were more realistic.

No wonder! A typical approach to sizing a project can go something like this:

Business Executive (BE): “We’d like to launch a new crammafrabber product. What’s it going to cost us?”

IT Guy: “Well BE, tell me a bit more about what you have in mind.”

BE: “Sure. It will appeal to our customer base. We’ll sell millions. Our stock price will go sky high”.

Overstated? Sure. But it does emphasize the all too common problem we face with projects – the emphasis on cost to make important decisions, even when we have a very murky understanding of what it is we have to deliver and what benefits will accrue. That’s the situation in this case. How did they solve it? They focused on value to drive the change.

Thanks to M.B. for the details on this story.

Situation

This consumer products company had just completed the first phase of a two part strategy to accelerate growth and profitability. It had acquired and implemented a CRM solution from a major software vendor, focusing on the needs of its sales, marketing and product development organizations. The results had exceeded expectations.

The firm’s Marketing VP, the project’s sponsor, was now ready to launch the second part of the   strategy, integrating the CRM front end into their back end manufacturing and supply chain operations and supporting new multi-channel distribution initiatives. He was supported in his planning by the manufacturing and information technology executives and he had the backing of the CEO and the company’s board, at least philosophically. But he was having difficulty making the numbers add up. The company’s target for payback on major projects was three years. The economic times were uncertain and it wanted to ensure fiscal stability going forward.

The Marketing VP had worked with his colleagues to understand and articulate the potential benefits. Productivity improvements in the manufacturing and supply chain operations were estimated at $500,000 annually. The remainder of the stage two benefits would come from increased business growth from the multi-channel distribution efforts. A conservative estimate of bottom line impact was     $350,000 annually over the next five years.

The problem was the estimated cost of the project. The software vendor was asking $5 million for the back end software they needed. The IT organization estimated another $1 million to implement and integrate. That one time total plus the annual software maintenance fees put the total cost well beyond the three year payback target.

The Marketing VP worked with the company’s CIO to pressure the vendor for a better deal. It wouldn’t budge. He asked the CIO to take another look at the integration costs and he did. But his software development folks wouldn’t budge. He pressured the CEO to relax the three year payback target, arguing that the project was a strategic initiative and vital for the long term success of the company. The CEO wouldn’t budge. He worked with his counterparts in manufacturing and distribution to refine and improve the benefit estimates. They wouldn’t budge.

Frustrated, the Marketing VP sat down with the CIO over lunch to try and find a way forward. He invited the CFO to join them to provide a fresh perspective. They mulled over past attempts to get the deal done – tweaking the benefit estimates, pressuring the vendor on acquisition and maintenance costs, cutting software development costs for implementation and integration. No new ideas emerged.

Finally, the CFO, getting ready to leave for another appointment, suggested that they abandon the selected vendor’s solution and instead consider options that they could implement to achieve the three year payback. And he left the meeting.

The Marketing VP and CIO looked at each other. And then the impact of the CFO’s suggestion dawned on them. Eureka! A way forward! Pencils out, they calculated that they would need to find a solution they could implement for a one time cost of no more than $2.5 million – $500,000 annually in productivity improvements plus $350,000 annually in new business times three years. If they used the $2.5 million target as a proxy for the estimated cost of the project, would the CEO fund the project?

They reviewed their approach with the CFO. He was on side. They revamped their business case accordingly and reviewed it with their colleagues. They were on side. They took the business case to the CEO. He backed the project and approved the funding. They were in business! They would focus on value to drive change.

The Goal

Discover and implement a back end solution that would satisfy the three year payback mandate.


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The Project

The Marketing VP and CIO selected Kaitlin, a seasoned project manager, to lead the way. She knew the business, she knew the key players and was respected by them and she had a stellar track record.

Kaitlin recognized the challenge immediately. Most projects fix on functionality and vary the time and cost elements to deliver. She would need to target and maximize the benefits and vary functionality and time to achieve a three year payback. She established the following priorities for her project:

  1. “BfB” (bang for the buck) profiles – to identify specifically which processes, practices, features, functions and services yielded what benefits
  2. Solution alternatives – what options were available to deliver the benefits within the three year payback target
  3. Release plan – given the first two priorities, how could the most lucrative features and functions be packaged on a release basis to accelerate benefit delivery and manage risk.

Kaitlin assembled a team of business analysts and subject matter experts from the affected areas and paired them up to build the BfB profiles. She charged her teams with being fully collaborative and creative as they assessed benefit opportunities. Her mantra: KISS (Keep It Simple Silly)! The emphasis was on “low hanging fruit” opportunities.

Every Friday morning, the BA/SME teams presented their BfB discoveries for comment and feedback. Each was rated using the MoSCoW scale (Must, Should, Could, Would) based on the potential value to be realized. The sponsors and other involved executives had standing invitations to attend and would often be present. The presentations were informal, the discussions often lively, the ideas conceived were expansive and the passion generated was infectious.

In six weeks, Kaitlin and her teams had completed their analysis, had identified the high, medium and low value opportunities and had packed them into an initial release framework that maximized benefit delivery and minimized risk and organizational disruption. As important, forecast savings from productivity improvements had increased to $750,000 annually. Now the challenge was to find a solution that could achieve the three year payback target.

Kaitlin created a solution team with the addition of a technology architect, a senior software developer and a senior technology infrastructure resource to start the solution identification and assessment process. They also took on the request for proposal (RFP) effort that would be used to assess the various alternatives.

The solution team found four vendors who expressed an interest in bidding on the project. Included in that group was the original vendor whose too high price drove the project to take a value first approach in the first place.

The RFP was drafted, vetted with the BA/SME teams, the sponsors and other engaged executives and distributed to the vendors. Three weeks later, when the RFP submissions were received and reviewed, the lowest cost and most comprehensive proposal was from …… the original vendor! When queried on this, the vendor explained that their original quote was based on the assumption that all modules of the back-end solution were required because the company hadn’t specified their specific requirements. With the benefit of the BfB analysis that shaped the RFP, the vendor was able to exclude a number of modules and reduce the cost accordingly. That cost, together with the company’s software development costs for implementation and interface work, would yield a payback of three years.

And so the project continued, with the original vendor on board, at a reduced scope.

The Results

The project was delivered in six stages over fifteen months. The quality was exceptional. The support and buy-in were almost universal. And the delivered solution was projected to cover the original investment in two years, seven months, clearly a result of the focus on value to drive change.

How a Great Leader Changed the Result

Kaitlin was masterful in guiding the project to a successful conclusion. She used her sponsors effectively, always keeping them in the loop, getting the decisions she needed and leveraging them to engage with those affected by the change. She used project management best practices effectively to control risk, manage issues and changes and ensure timely and quality deliverables.

But the master stroke on this project was the CFO’s offhand remark to abandon the vendor’s too costly solution and find some other alternative that could be implemented to achieve a three year payback. It completely changed the frame of reference, from one emphasizing cost to one focusing on value. It changed the project from a functionality first perspective to a value first exploration of discovery. Instead of being obsessed with cost, as so many projects are these days, the sponsor and supporting senior managers were focused on the benefits that could be achieved and the three year payback target. Of course, with that emphasis, the company did exceed the projected return in less than three years. All because they focused on value to drive change.

So, as you put together your next business case, consider these proven practices for focusing on value first to improve project performance. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three best practice based building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors for managing change.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a project or change manager’s life a little easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Every Project Is a Business Project

“Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without talking about the other.”- Bill Gates

We have all experienced the euphoria over (or perhaps terror of) a new technology upgrade. Remember changing ISPs, or email servers, a PC hardware or operating system upgrade, moving to a new smart phone, changing online banking? Integrating that shiny new technology into our daily, everyday existence can be a challenging, even terrifying journey. But, until that integration is complete, the full promise of the new technology often isn’t realized. We need to move things to a business as usual basis to get our bang for the buck.

That’s what happened in this case. What started out as a project installing some shiny new technology ended up as a business not as usual disaster. It required a complete restart to finally achieve the promise. It showed, once again, that every project is a business project.

Thanks to A.K. for the details on this story.

Situation

A small wealth management organization was acquired by a global insurance company a number of years ago. Over the intervening period, the insurance company had moved to standardize the technology infrastructures between the two operations to reduce costs and complexity and pave the way for better process integration.

The standardization effort was driven by the insurance company’s IT organization. As the wealth management’s technology products approached their end of service life, the insurance IT group would initiate a project to replace the wealth management technology with one used by and supported by the insurance company.

One of the last products to be replaced was for document management. Two different products were being used in the two organizations and the wealth management product was no longer supported by the vendor. That fact added some extra urgency to the project. The insurance company’s CIO assigned a technology lead to the effort and urged him to get the job done as quickly as possible. And so the tech lead launched his project.

The Goal

Replace the wealth management organization’s document management software and services with the technology used by the insurance company. Get the job done as quickly as possible.

The Project

The tech lead met with the wealth management organization’s Director of Administration, let’s call her Katie. From what the tech lead could determine, her organization was the largest user of document management services and would be the customer most impacted by the change.

The tech lead explained to Katie that the project he was running was simply a technology swap, a “like-for-like” change that shouldn’t require too much of her time and attention and wouldn’t impact her operations in any significant way.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Katie had been on the job for less than three months. She wasn’t yet familiar with the organization, its operating processes and practices and its technology. As well, she was up to her proverbial eyeballs learning her new job, getting to know her staff, responding to day-to-day demands and understanding how her organization tied into the whole wealth management entity and operated within the overall corporation. The document management upgrade project wasn’t top of mind.

While Katie was coping with her learning curve, the tech lead put together a plan for his project. He figured it would take him less than a year to get the job done. He needed three programmers to deliver access to the existing systems archives and some system admin time to set up user access for the new software and roll it out across the organization. He reviewed the plan with the CIO and got the go ahead to proceed.

As the work got underway, his team brought a number of issues to his attention for decisions. They found the ‘like for like’ assumption at the outset was faulty. There were significant gaps between business requirements and new system capabilities. Other issues arose. For example, the data mapping between the old and new systems wasn’t completely compatible, the security categories that allowed different classes of users various rights to view, add, change and delete information weren’t the same and there were a number of problems with formatting information exchange to and from other applications.

The tech lead met with Katie as the issues were brought to his attention. Katie, distracted as she was, told the tech lead to find a way to make it work. And so he did. His team did some cursory testing to prove that the new software worked as it should. They reasoned that the application was satisfying the document management needs of the much larger insurance organization so more extensive testing wasn’t required. And the work continued.


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The Results

The new document management system went live on a Monday morning, eleven months after launch. The tech lead and the CIO were happy with the project and the new services that were delivered.

By midafternoon, there was a huge outcry from both remote and local users. It took many users much longer to complete their transactions and the processes were more error prone. There was a frustrating learning curve to cope with interfaces that were just different enough from the old system. The cursory training that was offered hadn’t addressed the need. It was discovered that a significant number of PC’s in wealth management were running with only 4 gigabytes of memory. The minimum requirement for the new software was 8 gigabytes. The software timed out after 15 minutes, losing any work in progress, and there didn’t seem to be a workaround. Also, the new software lacked a number of features that were used regularly in the old environment. Productivity suffered across the board.

As the negative feedback flowed to Katie, she got in touch with the tech lead, gave him a piece of her mind and told him to roll back the changes. When the tech lead investigated, he was told by numerous sources in IT that he couldn’t back out the change. The personnel and technical services weren’t available. When Katie got this message, she called the CIO and her boss, the VP of Operations. Suddenly the document management project became her top priority, a critical operational challenge for the entire wealth management organization and a painful lesson for the corporate IT department.

The VP of Operations, with the CIO’s blessing, selected a seasoned project manager from the PMO and charged him to make things right as quickly as possible. Over the next nine months, the PM carefully steered the project to a successful conclusion using established best practices to deliver a high performing document management service. He identified the major operational challenges and resolved them first. Subsequent releases addressed the outstanding performance, usability and functional issues. The final solution earned accolades from all involved.

Katie was replaced as Director of Administration. She left the company.

How a Great Leader Changed the Result

I wrote an article a number of years ago entitled “There Are No IT Projects”. It is still relevant today. The case we’ve covered in this post provides ample justification for managing every project as a business project, regardless of how much or how little technology change is involved.

How did the newly assigned PM redirect and deliver a successful implementation after such a messy and painful start? He went back to the beginning and moved forward with the basics – every project is a business project.

1. Know your project’s sponsor – This project started out with the CIO as sponsor. It ended up with the wealth management VP of Operations as sponsor. If he had been sponsor from the outset, I expect the course the project followed and the project’s initial outcome would have been very different. Having the correct sponsor in place, engaged and leading the charge influences a project’s degree of success more than any other single decision.

2. Build your guiding coalition – There was no guiding coalition in place when this initiative was launched. The sales organization didn’t have a place at the table. They were heavy users of the document management service. Nor did the Finance organization, Human Resources, not even the Service Desk. Under the restructured project, key decision makers in all of the wealth management organizations using the document management services and affected by the planned technology changes were engaged, involved and committed to the venture. They all helped shape the outcome for the better.

3. Manage the change – Understand the burning platform, the motivation for initiating the change in the first place. Articulate the desired end state. Establish specific goals for the change including benefits, costs, key milestones and outcomes. Identify the impact – what’s changing and what’s not – throughout the organization and beyond. Identify who has to learn new skills, capabilities and behaviours for the change to be successful. Engage with those affected to make everyone a part of the solution. Communicate with each based on their need. Celebrate successes and help everyone learn from failures. Manage the change! The new PM led that charge.

4. Follow a proven path – The first instance of this project had a ballpark target, installed some technology, did a bit of testing, offered a bit of training and implemented. The second instance followed a proven path. The PM identified the stakeholders affected and brought them together for their insights and assistance, thus building his guiding coalition. Together they articulated what the venture was trying to achieve. They established their priorities. They developed a plan that leveraged best practices used on other projects within the organization. They tracked time, cost, quality and acceptance to a successful conclusion. Yes, as part of that effort they determined requirements, both functional and non-functional. They identified and managed risks. They tracked issues and their resolution. They identified desired changes and managed the change process pragmatically. They developed and executed test plans to prove the solution was fit for duty on all fronts, both business and technical. They communicated widely. They celebrated successes. Finally, they had the right people in the right place at the right time to produce quality deliverables and move the project forward.

5. When in doubt, restart – Sometimes a project gets off to such a rough start that the best course of action is a complete restart. That’s what happened here. I did a story a while back called If at First You Don’t Succeed. It was a similar project with not one restart but two. It too turned out well. In this case, picking a new project manager and relaunching the project as a business undertaking set the stage for a great comeback.

Katie had a rude awakening when it came to managing change. She was so preoccupied with everything else going on in her life that she didn’t take the time to reset her priorities when the tech lead informed her of the planned change. She should have asked others with more experience in the organization what the change would mean to them. She didn’t. She paid the price.

So, as you work on your current project and when you tackle you next project, consider these proven practices for improving overall project performance. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three best practice based building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors for managing change.