Diagnose Your Inefficiency Potholes

potholesMany employees tend to complain about work-related inefficiencies as much as Wisconsinites bemoan the craters (aka potholes) left in the roads each winter. In response, companies usually acknowledge that making improvements is critical, and do their part in researching Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) options. But, are all work-related inefficiencies exclusively due to a legacy system? Are people jumping the gun in assuming so, or are they misidentifying a process problem? Could some of these issues disappear by making a few simple process adjustments? Without empowerment and support, all the technology in the world won’t move your business forward.

There is no exact formula to determine if a problem stems from a bad system or a bad process; but asking yourself some basic questions could help you figure out where the problem lies. For example:

  • Would implementing new process improvements really resolve the problem?
  • Could implementing new system functionality resolve the problem and also provide a competitive edge?
  • Do the system benefits outweigh process benefits?

The following steps should aid you in your diagnosis and decision-making:

Create a problem Inventory 

Interview Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) from the various departments affected to develop a problem inventory list.

Identify process-related problems

Identify all process-related issues from your inventory list. Ask yourself: What is the root cause of the problem? Is there a lack of communication, lack of enforcement, or lack of an actual process? If you answered yes to any of these questions, the problem likely stems from a process issue.

Examples of process-related problems include:

  • A customer is upset that they’re getting bounced around
  • Sales Agents aren’t required to track or manage lead information
  • No official process for returns exists. (If an actual documented process cannot be provided, there probably isn’t one.)

These items may also range in severity. While going through this process, consider assigning priority levels or at least identify quick fixes.

Make process improvements where possible

This step is important because it improves overall business processes and productivity by making identified improvements. It also validates problems that can be resolved realistically. This step may take a few weeks to a few months to transpire, but it provides important insight and brings the process to the next step.

Focus on system-related problems

Once process-related problems are identified and resolved, one is able to ascertain that the remaining problems are system-related and decide if a new ERP system would be advantageous.

Examples of system-related problems include:

  • No visibility to inventory availability
  • Multiple customer masters, item masters, and vendor masters
  • Manipulation applied to reports (current system lacks reporting functionality)

This step will not completely resolve a company’s problems and inefficiencies, nor will it guarantee employee satisfaction. It will, however, allow for a more focused approach when considering solutions. It also provides the added benefit of some inexpensive process improvements along the way.

When I grow up…a project manager’s path to the future

when you grow upWhen you were young, I bet you said “I want to be a project manager when I grow up!”

Probably not, since most of us plunged into project management the old fashion way – by accident. Someone probably approached you and said, “I want you to manage this project.” I bet you scratched your head and thought, “Ok, what next?”

Typically, companies don’t have career paths for project managers.  Project management is generally not seen as a core competency, so  career paths or training aren’t a priority. This reality leaves the project manager frustrated as their career seems to stall.

Another career conundrum: who wants a “new” project manager running the project? How else can project managers learn and gain experience? They can be mentored by a more experienced project manager, but mentorship is an area lacking in most organizations.

So what do we do? Here are some suggestions.

First, identify what your company CAN do to continue your growth as a project manager:

  • Work with your human resources department to create a career path, including continuing education and certification
  • Expand your sphere of impact by implementing project management methodologies, processes, and governance mechanisms to improve productivity across your company
  • Create a mentorship program. While we share some skill sets that make us good project managers, we can still learn from one another

Second, identify what YOU can do to continue your growth outside of work. Remember, it is our responsibility as project managers to continuously learn and apply this knowledge to our projects. Take charge of your growth as a project manager!

  • Join professional organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI) which, through local chapters, communities of practice and other events, provides additional learning opportunities and certifications branching across the project management universe
  • Think outside the box and identify other opportunities, such as mentoring, to learn and grow as a project manager

Companies want to hire the best talent, but like other professions the company and the project managers need to share in their career growth and development. This is a win-win all around for the company and the project manager.

So back to my question, what do you want to be when you grow up? Me, I want to be a Project Manager.

Are you ready for Agile?

agileMany companies are moving from the traditional Waterfall project management methodology to Agile.  Why?  Agile fits today’s fast-paced organizations and allows them to easily adapt their project portfolios as business priorities change.  It also allows organizations to better respond to customer needs and stay competitive.

If you are ready, here are five tips for transitioning to Agile:

1.  Perform a readiness assessment of the organization

  • Determine if your organization is ready for Agile
  • Ensure the organization understands how Agile works

2.  Educate the team and the organization about Agile

  • Define roles and responsibilities of the Agile team
  • Train the team on their roles and responsibilities

3.  Provide decision-making authority to the Agile team

  • Ensure the team has the authority and decision-making ability
  • Ensure that team members feel capable to step into decision-making roles
  • Guarantee management support

4.  Start with a pilot project

  • Identify a project
  • Set up the team infrastructure

5.  Have an Agile Evangelist

  • Support the Agile team (and organization)
  • Provide recommendations to the team

Many companies try to jump into agile, get frustrated, and run-away from the experience.   It takes thought and preparation to make the transition a successful one.  Agile just doesn’t happen.  You have to make it happen.  But the rewards are worth the journey.

Project Management Resolutions for 2014

resolutions-catIt’s that time again folks.  New Year’s Resolutions. Been a few years since we did project management new year’s resolutions, so here’s what I am offering up based on this year’s project experiences.

1Make change management integral to your project management methodology. If it’s considered a separate discipline, it can often get left by the wayside with disastrous results. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to make sure that there are tasks in the plan that pertain to the people-readiness for the go-live of any project.

2. Document meetings in project artifacts, then link or copy into minimalist meeting notes. Back in 2010, we talked about limiting meeting attendance, let’s talk today about eliminating or minimizing meeting minutes. The way to do this is to parse the meeting content directly into project artifacts. Actions go in an action log and issues go in an issues log or register or whatever your flavor of project management calls it.

3. Simplify. Simplify ruthlessly.  Instead of adding to your methodology, look for ways to streamline it and cut it back. You may find that you get better adoption of your pm methodology when less is more. The trick is in knowing where and when less is appropriate.

4. Broaden your knowledge base. Read new and different blogs and books, delve into business journals, neoroscience, leadership, psychology, sociology and other seemingly peripheral topics. You would be surprised at the creativity it sparks in your thinking and approach to your projects.  My favorite ways to do this include:

5. Embrace new tools.  The rumble from the trenches is starting to include disatisfaction with MS Project as the be-all and end-all of project management tools. Have you looked into alternatives yet? Sometimes it’s actually simpler to manage projects with Excel.   Are you using social media effectively to manage, motivate and communicate with your project teams? Be especially alert for tools that can help you simplify to achieve resolution #3.

Let’s grow this list:

  • How are you looking to change the way you manage projects in 2014?
  • What new tools are you going to explore?
  • What’s on your reading list?

The Road to Social Media for Project Communications

yellow_brick_roadRemember when Dorothy arrived in the Land of Oz?

She was faced with a new environment, far different from Kansas, and the change was extraordinary for her. To go home, she was told to follow the Yellow Brick road to the Emerald City. Faced with no way to communicate or even know where she was going except to follow the Yellow Brick road, Dorothy began her journey. Along the way she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin Man and a Cowardly Lion, all with specialized knowledge, to help her along her journey. They stumble along at times, sometimes due to lack of information or unexpected situations, like when the Tin Man needed additional oil to keep his joints from freezing up.

So what does this have to do with project communications? Over the past few years, many social media tools have jockeyed for favor amongst the business community to provide “information” to the masses. But in today’s world, how can you know, as a project manager, what are the best tools for project communication, other than traditional email to send a status report? How do you know that your status report has been read and clearly understood by your Project Sponsor, Stakeholders and your project team?

Are you willing to try something new? Are you willing to travel down the Yellow Brick road and see how social media tools can improve your project communications and reach your Project Sponsor, Stakeholders and project team? Are you willing to let your project team provide updates via social media channels? Are you ready for the Yellow Brick road to something new and exciting, or do you want the Wicked Witch of the West blocking your communication withflying monkeys spreading inaccurate information about the project? Remember your companions on your trip down the Yellow Brick road – the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion? Leverage them to your advantage. They are the brains, heart and courage, and as project champions can enhance your communications across the project’s social media channels and help block the flying monkeys.

With so many social media tools at our fingertips, how do you choose which is best? That decision is up to you, based on your audience and what you want to communicate, but there are many innovative options for collaboration. Many of us use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and there are options to use these tools internally. Additionally, there are tools like Yammer, LinkedIn and SharePoint that allow you to have internal “communities” to get your message out.

But are they secure, you might ask? Of course! Using tools like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn – they are all secure channels of communication.

So as you begin your journey down the Yellow Brick road with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, work with your project team and identify the tools you think will provide you the best channels of communication. They may not be perfect out of the gate, but the only way to know is to start and continuously improve your use of the tools through your project. Remember that the Yellow Brick road was fraught with danger – but Dorothy successfully made it to the Emerald City – and you can too.

Change Management Lessons from the Animal Kingdom

My recreational reading this week has been Temple Grandin‘s Animals Make Us Human. (Don’t worry, it’s not another animal post from Skeptechal!) I’ve found lots of great insights that will help me figure out why my cat behaves in ways that have been puzzling (although I am sure she will keep me guessing). Some of the lessons from the animal world are really reshaping some of my entrenched thinking about organizational change management.

Much of Grandin’s approach to more humane animal handling boils down to preventing the rage, fear and panic responses, and promoting seeking (curiosity) and play behaviors.

When we think about some of the typical overt and inadvertent messages that many companies release in the course of launching a big business initiative (be it a new ERP system, an acquisition, or an internal reorganization) we see much that is likely to press those rage, fear and panic buttons right out of the gate.  Once these responses are in play, they are difficult to quell:
rage

Welcome to the core team! You will need to spend 20 hours per week for the next nine months getting our new software ready for release. We know you will be able to work this into your schedules along with your current day job.

fear

Here is the course outline for your job role (5 pages, 55 unique system tasks). We have one training session for your group (53 people), with 1 hour allotted this Thursday.

 

panic

We haven’t had time to complete the testing but we only have a small launch window, so we are going live this weekend as originally planned.

You get the idea.

What if we approached things differently….and used early messages and techniques to promote curiosity and made even a small effort to make things fun:

  • Instead of the typical big bang kickoff (complete with bulky boring  slide deck) use internal social media tools like Yammer and Sharepoint to build excitement — dropping hints about how things will change for the better, without revealing all the details.
  • Use gamification and crowdsourcing to augment formal software QA processes, rewarding people for completing their test cases on time, or naming winners for finding the must bugs
  • Show users how to interact with the new system to get answers to their everyday questions BEFORE teaching them to plow through lengthy transactions

If we turn on the seeking and play behaviors first, we may have a good shot at keeping fear, panic and rage to a minimum.

Top 5 Warning Signs you are on the ERP Desert Highway

desert carThere are many wrong turns on the road to the Desert of ERP Disillusionment.  Some teams go wrong right out of the gate. Here are the top five warning signs that your real destination is not the pinnacle of ERP success, but the dry parched sands of the desert.

1. Your steering committee is texting while driving. If your key decision makers are multi-tasking through every steering committee session, its easy for them to miss critical information they need to actually steer.

2. The distraction of backseat squabbling causes the PM to miss a turn.  Political infighting and lack of alignment among key stakeholders can be as difficult to manage as any carful of kids on a family roadtrip AFTER you have taken away their favorite electronic toys.

3. The driver is looking in the rearview mirror instead of the road ahead.  While there are some lessons to be learned from your last ERP implementation (how long ago was that?) , modern state of the art systems require significant behavior changes in the way users interact with information in the system.   If they are used to greenbar reports laid on their desks every morning, the gap may be too big to jump. 

4. You read a guidebook about the wilderness once….  You can’t learn all your survival skills from a book.  In life threatening terrain, there is no substitute for having an experienced guide on the team.  If you haven’t put experienced change leadership into place before you bid your consultants goodbye, you will have neither the insight to recognize the warning signs, nor the skill to lead your people out of the desert.

5. You ran out of gas!  You didn’t fill up at the last station because the ATM was out of cash, your credit card is maxxed out,  and you used your last dollars on Slurpees and Twizzlers for the kids.  If you fritter away your project budget on non-value added-customizations like moving fields on forms and cosmetic report changes, you won’t have money left to address any business critical requirements that come up late in the game.

(Hat tip to Mark Farrell for #5!)

Beware What Lies Beyond the Valley of Despair

If you’ve implemented an ERP system in the last few decades, you have surely seen one of the many representations of the traditional ERP change management curve, with copious advice for avoiding, or reducing the depth of the Valley of Despair. The graph is somewhat misleading, in that it typically ends with a plateau or pinnacle of success, implying that your troubles are over as soon as you go live.

If only that were true.

A more comprehensive graph would look like this:

DESERT OF DIS

Notice the descent into what I will refer to as the Desert of Disillusionment, that awful place where every “productivity improvement” line item in your rosy ROI analysis (the one that you used to justify the project)  is revealed as a mirage.

Why does this happen, and does it have to be this way?  More importantly, what are the warning signs and how should you deal with them?  We will deal with specific topics in future posts, but for now, we invite you to take our short survey on diagnosing enterprise system impact on business productivity.

take the survey

PMOs and Business Strategy

cogsFor most organizations, the Project Management Office (PMO) is simply a centralized organizational structure for standardizing practices used in the delivery of their projects.  An effective PMO allows these organizations to more consistently deliver successful projects.

For some high-performing organization, the PMO is able to achieve much more.  It is able to help the organization drive and achieve its business strategy.  So how can something as boring and ordinary as good project management become a key to organizational success?

First, let’s think about the planning process.  Successful organizations define their goals and their plans for meeting those goals using some type of strategic planning process.  As a goal (e.g. achieve 5% organic growth) is refined into a strategy (e.g. by attracting more customers through a better customer experience), strategic and tactical projects emerge (e.g. redesign customer portal to improve ease-of-doing-business).

A mature, fully-engaged PMO becomes the keeper of the project portfolio.  If the PMO understands the strategy that the organization is striving to achieve, the PMO can use this understanding as it manages the project portfolio to drive that strategy.  First, and most critically, the PMO ensures that key, business-critical projects are delivered successfully.  It also ensures that project success is aligned with and measured against the strategic goals that the project is defined to address.  The PMO works with the project teams to define KPIs that clearly tie to the organization’s strategy.  If a project can’t be tied to the strategy, the organization can then determine if the project fits into the portfolio.  Similarly, the PMO can be used to resolve priority conflicts between projects, helping to clarify situations where the strategy may be at odds with itself.

More pro-actively, the PMO can forecast capacity, helping the organization understand how much change it can realistically undertake within a given budget or timeframe.  The PMO can also see and exploit synergies between projects, helping the organization take advantage of unexpected opportunities.  For example, given its view of the project portfolio the PMO may see how a service being built to support one project can be utilized to simplify or enhance another project.  Finally, the PMO provides a feedback loop, informing the organization of its progress against its strategic goals and allowing it to take early, corrective action when progress lags or goals shift.

Thus, a PMO becomes a crucial management tool for implementing the organization’s strategy.  Organizations that are able to effectively use this tool are better able to achieve their organizational goals and thus continue to thrive.  In today’s competitive and challenging environment, can any organization afford not to take full advantage of a PMO?

Do PMOs Matter

successProject Management Offices (PMOs) have become a fixture in many organizations.  According to the 2012 State of the PMO Study, 87% of organizations surveyed have a PMO, up from 47% in 2000.   Although mid-size and large companies are more likely to have a PMO than small companies, the biggest growth, by far, was in small companies – 73% of small firms now have PMOs and over 90% of mid-size and large companies have them.

Still, people question their value and ask, Does having a PMO matter?

The statistics say yes.  According to the 2012 State of the PMO study, PMOs directly contribute to the following performance improvements:  a 25% increase in projects delivered under budget, a 31% increase in customer satisfaction, a 39% improvement in projects aligned with objectives, a 15% cost savings per project, and a 30% decrease in failed projects.

Experience also says yes.  A 2012 PMI White Paper described multiple PMO success stories.  In one case study, a company shifted the focus of its PMO from a process orientation to an outcome orientation. The PMO now focuses on working with organizational units as they launch projects, requiring them to build a business case and complete a scorecard to demonstrate how the project aligns with corporate strategy.  The reorganized PMO was able to triple the number of projects that delivered on organizational strategy.  In another case study, an organization was able to reduce project planning time by 75% through standardizing and leveraging common project plans defined by the PMO.

Having a PMO CAN matter, but simply having a PMO is not a silver bullet.  Implementing an idealized methodology that isn’t tailored to an organization’s needs and cultures won’t suddenly or magically solve all problems.  To meet its objective of improving the likelihood of project success, the PMO must gain maturity and acceptance within the organization.  It must become more than another structure or process.  It must become focused on continuous process improvement and proactive management of the project portfolio.  Keys to achieving this level of maturity are strong executive sponsorship, tailoring the PMO to solve practical, real-world problems within the organization, and actively measuring PMO and project success.

So if you are an organization that struggles to consistently deliver business critical projects do you have a PMO?  If you do, is it as effective as it could be?  Maybe it is time to consider the benefits of a PMO assessment and reap the rewards that a highly functioning PMO can bring to your organization.