Productivity-for-PR

You can rescue a failing IT project

If you work in the IT world, you’ve probably seen projects that have come off the rails and require a major course correction to get back on track. In this blog post, I will highlight the warning signs of a failing project from a recent client, along with the process we follow to get critical initiatives back on track.

Danger ahead!

This client was replacing an important legacy system as part of a long-term modernization program. The project had been in danger from the start:

  • High IT team turnover rate led to new hires that didn’t know the business
  • No strong project management on the team
  • Selected this project to initiate an Agile development approach
  • No Product Owner to represent the needs of the business

After two years only one major module had been delivered and the updated project timeline was three times longer than the original schedule. The alarming and unexpected extension of the timeline was the motivation our client needed to contact Edgewater for help.

Project Assessment

Our first step was to conduct an assessment of the project to better understand:

  • Major risks
  • Staffing and capabilities
  • The estimation approach
  • User involvement
  • Agile adoption

In this case, the findings clearly indicated a project at a high risk of failure.

Recommendations

Given the determination of “high risk”, Edgewater recommended some bold changes:

  • Establishing a realistic project schedule with achievable milestones
  • Hiring a full-time Product Owner to lead the requirements effort and build the backlog
  • Doubling the size of the IT development team to increase productivity and reduce the timeline
  • Using a blended team of full-time resources and consultants
  • Adding a full-time Project Manager/Scrum Master to lead the Agile development team, keep the project on schedule, and provide reporting to senior management

Initial results

After the first six months, the results are very promising:Productivity-for-PR

  • The project timeline has been cut in half
  • The development team has increased productivity by over 50% and has delivered modules on schedule
  • The requirements backlog has doubled
  • The client IT team is learning best practices so they will be able to support and enhance the system on their own
  • The Project Manager is mentoring the team on Agile roles and responsibilities, and managing the development team

Our client is extremely happy with the productivity improvements, and the users are excited to work on this project.  There’s still a long way to go, but the project rescue has been a success.

To learn more, watch our video then contact kparks@edgewater.com.

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!)

Project Triage During Rapid Business Change Cycles

A few years ago, we ran a series of blog posts on project triage, diagnosis and rescue:

How often do you perform project triage?triage

Preparing for Project Rescue: Diagnosis

Restoring Projects to Peak Performance

In much of our work since then, we have been working with organizations that struggle with performing meaningful project interventions to align their project portfolio with sudden shifts in business strategy, or to support their underlying corporate culture as it shifts toward more rapid innovation, originality, adaptability, engagement, collaboration and efficacy.

In such fluid business environments, our original medical metaphor doesn’t fully apply; triage and diagnosis were performed from a perspective of project internals.  In today’s world, the old project success indicators can be very much out of sync with the business.  If IT projects, the project portfolio, and a PMO are not accountable in terms of their value to the business, it’s time to change the ways we think and talk about projects, and begin to define new KPI’s for success.

  • First of all, let’s stop using the term scope creep.  To deliver business value, the project organization must be agile enough to rapidly address scope fluidity. Would it make more sense to measure how quickly a project team can replan/re-estimate a shift in scope?
  • Quality metrics may also need to fall by the wayside. Is the current release good enough to push into production with defects noted, and expectations managed–think of the release as a minimum viable product, like lean startups do?
  • In rapidly changing businesses, it’s very difficult to plan out a 12 month milestone plan for IT projects. It makes more sense to define a backlog of objectives at the beginning of the planning phase, and perform rolling prioritization, with the complete expectation that the prioritization will change at multiple points during the coming year. In such an environment, how meaningful is it to judge project success against the old notion of “on time”?

In the context of all of this change, it is no longer reasonable to judge projects based on their internal conditions. The measures of project success in today’s world lie in the greater business context.

  • Has the project or project portfolio enabled the business to respond to threats and opportunities more rapidly?
  • Has it increased our innovation speed?
  • Even if the application is buggy, has it improved overall efficiency, enhanced the quality of goods and services, reduced operating costs, or improved the business’ relationship to its customers?

While these questions have answers that are less quantifiable, they are certainly more meaningful in today’s business context. How is your business evaluating project success these days?

Happy Holidays

hotcocoWith the holidays quickly approaching, we reflect on this time of appreciation. Edgewater would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading our blog and following our thoughts. Whether you are a client, a partner, a team member, or a reader, we hope that you find peace and enjoyment during this holiday season.

May the holidays and the new year be healthy and happy for you and your family. We look forward to sharing with you all in the coming year. See you in 2013!

10 Best New Features of SharePoint 2013

The new SharePoint 2013 was just reached “Release To Manufacturing” stage! It is available for download now to MSDN subscribers and slated to be officially released in Q1 2013.

To celebrate, we thought to share some of the highlights in this upcoming release. While SP13 builds nicely on the foundation of previous versions, it does offer plenty of cool new features / improvements for business users to get excited about.

So here are the top 10 in no specific order.

  1. Cloud First: while SharePoint was part of Office 365 for some time now, it was a limited experience. SP13 is promising the full experience in the cloud + regular release of improvements and enhancements.
  2. The Newsfeed: taking the best from Facebook and Twitter, the new Newsfeed is the centerpiece of SP13 social push. The foundation was there in SP10 but you needed an external component like NewsGator to make it work. Now you’ll be able to build your network, follow colleagues and post / search the newsfeed at different organizational levels. #hashtags for all! For more…
  3. Communities: the other new social feature is the ability to create communities. A community (as separated from a project team) is for getting a group of people to collaborate more freely around a topic and share expertise. Built around Discussions, it expands them into seeing members, their contributions and allows easy formation of expert communities. For more…
  4. Cross site publishing allows for the first time to share content across sites, site collections, applications and even farms. We built a custom solution for this for an insurance company that wanted to post new forms to the public site, Agent portal and Intranet in a single action. Now it is built in. For more….
  5. Search had received a major upgrade. The acquisition of FAST was finally integrated into the main SharePoint search resulting in a long list of great improvements such as: Search for conversations, videos and reports, visual results and in-page previews, context sensitive sorting, advanced filters and of course, better performance, API’s etc. For more…
  6. SharePoint Apps!: one of the major changes to SP13 is the concept of apps. Apps are just like they sound, web applications that can be packaged so users can add them to pages or use them from within SharePoint. Not that different from the concept of solution packs before (line the Famous Fab 40 that were discontinued in SP10..) of packaging your web app in a web part. The new model does have a few advantages. It gives users more control on apps to use and while IT can still approve apps, they do not need to install them for users. It can also make internal applications easier to find and reduce redundancy. For more on apps see the Microsoft SharePoint apps blog.
  7. Simple project / task management: for complex project management you still have project server but it is an overkill for most simple projects. The new team site template includes the ability to manage tasks, deadlines and a simple work breakdown structure for a project team. It generates a personal and a group view of tasks and timelines perfect for keeping everyone on time. For more.,..
  8. Enterprise eDiscovery: one of the essential requirements for ECM in this age is a good eDiscovery mechanism to ensure content related to litigation or information requests can be executed efficiently and across all information repositories. SP13 is adding a new eDiscovery center that would make this a lot easier. For more…
  9. New Usage Analytics and useful views: Microsoft is replacing the SharePoint analytics with 2 new tools: search analytics and usage analytics. Usage analytics provide more detailed view of how SharePoint is used and even better, adds up to 12 cutom events to be added and tracked without custom tagging. You can also use the data collected from these tools for useful views such as Most Popular, Popular Searches ect. For more ..
  10. Better support for digital assets: there is no longer a need to create a special media library for digital assets. Once enabled, audio, video and other rich media can be added to any library. For more…

Processes (Workflows) Best Practices

When enabling new workflow options in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011, the overall performance of the implementation can be affected. Keep in mind the following best practices, when considering how to ensure that Microsoft Dynamics CRM workflow functionality performs optimally for a particular implementation.

  • Determine the business purposes for implementing workflow prior to enabling the functionality. During planning, analyze the business scenario and define the goals of workflow within the solution. Workflow functionality can provide for businesses’ process automation, exception handling, and end-user alerts.

Decide on the appropriate security/permissions model for workflow. With established business goals in place, determine the scope of users that will be affected by the workflow implementation. Users should be identified to determine who will create and maintain workflows, apply and track workflows, and troubleshoot workflow issues.

  • Use the Scope property sensibly. The Scope property associated with workflow rules defines the extent of records affected by that rule. For example, rules configured with a User scope affect only the records owned by that user, while rules configured with an Organization scope will affect all records within organization, regardless of which user owns each record. When creating workflows make sure to identify the appropriate scope value for each workflow rule to minimize the number of related system events.
  • Take into consideration the overall load associated with workflow within a deployment. Think about the number of instances that each workflow definition triggers. Then also consider these factors which affect load of workflows:
    • number of workflows
    • which entities
    • number of records
    • data size
    • data load

Considering the factors above in the system on a typical day provides for better comprehension of the processes and load variance. Based on this analysis, the workflows can be optimized as required.

  • Review workflow logic wisely. Consider the following factors:
    • Workflows that include infinite loopbacks, due to semantic or logic errors never terminate through normal means, therefore greatly affect overall workflow performance.
    • When implementing workflow functionality within a CRM 2011 deployment, be sure to review the logic in workflow rules and any associated plug-ins for potential loopback issues.
    • As part of ongoing maintenance efforts, periodically publish workflow rules and review them to ensure that duplicated workflow rules are not affecting the same records.
  • When defining workflows that are triggered on update events, be cautious. Taking into account the frequency at which ‘Update’ events occur, be very particular in specifying which attributes the system looks for to trigger updates. Also, avoid using ’Wait’ states in workflows that are triggered on Update events.
  • Scale out as necessary, to improve performance in large deployments. Use dedicated computers to run the Async service for large-scale deployments. That being said, increasing the number of servers running the Async service creates additional stress on the server running Microsoft SQL Server. Therefore, make sure to follow appropriate optimization and tuning strategies on the data tier and investigate the possibility of increasing the number of computers running Microsoft SQL server.
  • Test workflows. Make sure to test and monitor the performance of new workflow functionality before implementing it in a production environment.
  • Async plug-ins. Think through whether plug-ins should run synchronously or asynchronously. When the priority is user responsiveness, running a plug-in asynchronously will enable the user interface to respond quicker to the user. But, asynchronous plug-ins introduce added load to the server to persist the asynchronous operation to the database and process by the Async Service. When scalability is essential, running plug-ins synchronously typically requires fewer loads on the servers than running plug-ins asynchronously.
  • Balancing workflows and asynchronous plug-ins. Asynchronous plug-in and workflow records in the asyncoperationbase table are managed with the same priority. Hence, introducing a large number of asynchronous plug-ins into a system can reduce overall throughput or increase the time between triggering and processing of individual workflows. For that reason, make sure to consider the relative importance of the workflows in the system before adding numerous asynchronous plug-ins to the solution.
  • Child Workflows. Child workflows run as independent workflow instances from their parents. This can facilitate parallel processing on a system with spare capacity, which can be useful for workflows with multiple independent threads of high processing activity. Additional overhead can be introduced if the parallel processing is not critical because other workflow logic threads are blocked waiting for external events to occur.

NOTE: If workflow functionality within a CRM 2011 implementation is not acting as expected, verify that the Async service is running properly. Often, restarting the Async service will unblock workflow processing without affecting the functionality of the workflows that were in the pipeline.

  • Monitor the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 database for excess workflow log records. Workflow processing in Microsoft Dynamics CRM depends on on the Asynchronous Service, which logs its activity in both the AsyncOperationBase table and WorkflowLogBase tables. Performance may be affected as the number of workflow records in the CRM 2011 database grows over time.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 includes two specific settings, ‘AsyncRemoveCompletedJobs’ and ‘AsyncRemoveCompletedWorkflows’, which can be configured to ensure that Asynchronous Service automatically removes log entries from the AsyncOperationBase and WorkflowLogBase tables. These settings are as follows:

    • The ‘AsyncRemoveCompletedWorkflows’ setting is visible to users in the interface for defining new workflows, and users can set the Removal flag independently on each of the workflows they define.NOTE: When registering an Async plug-in, users can also specify that successfully completed Async Plugin execution records be deleted from the system.
    • Using the deployment Web service, users can change the AsyncRemoveCompletedJobs setting by. Nonetheless, the setting is by default configured to True, which ensures automatic removal of entries for successfully completed jobs from the AsyncOperationBase table.

Is the 1-9-90 rule for social participation dead?

It has long been an axiom that getting people to participate in online communities is hard, and the 1/9/90 rule helped explain why. 1% will be die-hard content creators, 9% will participate and 90% will be passive consumers and sit on the sidelines.

A recent BBC study claims the old rules are dead and that a whopping 77% of adults should be considered participators in some capacity. Interestingly, GigaOm pounced and claimed the old rules still apply.

I think the BBC research is on to something and that the online participation patterns have changed. Few of the things may have contributed:

  • Consolidation: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter consolidate for us updates and posts from multiple communities and allow us to respond directly from there. You no longer need to go and check on 7 different communities to see what is going on.
  • Ease of content creation and sharing especially from mobile devices. Probably too easy if you ask me. if you allow it, your phone will post your location, the pictures you take and more without even asking. The success of Instagram is just one example. Being connected 100% of the time allows us to interact 100% of the day.
  • We are not anonymous anymore. It has been a slow change but if the late 90’s were about virtual identities and avatars, now we interact as real people. It may look like a small change but the whole nature of online interaction shifted from an outlet to interactions we wanted to have outside of our normal (and sometimes restrictive) social circle to where now most of the online interaction is with our social circle. More and more the online communities and social networks augment and extend our real relationships with people and brands.
  • While some people who came to the party felt a bit out of place and stayed close to the wall for a while. After some time you realize that keeping to yourself in a social setting is not very nice and that people actually notice. If you are part of the community, participation is now expected.

So if the BBC is right and we should be expecting more participation what does it mean for businesses?

Business social participation may still be closer to the old rules because they do not reflect a close knit social group but as more people become comfortable in sharing it will start to have an impact.

Internally, collaboration and social networking with colleagues will eventually follow the same pattern of heightened participation if you allow the same enablers. Aggregate and consolidate activities and updates so they are easy to access, make it easy to respond to them and embed interaction and sharing everywhere in internal web applications, sites, tools etc. Making sharing a social norm may not be too far off.

Externally, in addition to the brand enthusiasts and deal seekers there is now a potential in making a lot more people participants

  • Think about creating content that people would want to share. Too many websites and social media sites focus on the marketing side “what we have to sell”. Cool or useful things to do with the product or that are just related to the category will more easily be viral.
  • Many websites have added sharing and likes to their pages but few take it to the level of actually allowing specific questions or comments through social networks on content or products.
  • Think mobile sharing. From QR codes in trade show booths to special coupons for scanning or photographing in the store. Even my dentist has a promotion for getting free whitening pen if you scan a code and like him on Facebook. Brilliant.

Share More: a framework for enhancing collaboration

In a great study, McKinsey and Company published last year they showed how companies that use social and collaborative technologies extensively (networked companies in their terminology) outperformed traditional companies. They called it “Web 2.0 finds its payday”.

So if you work for a networked company – congratulations. Now if your company is part of the vast majority of companies struggling through some forms of collaboration but not seeing enough benefits, how do you get to the payoff stage?

In this following series of posts, I’ll try to offer a methodology and examples for how to do just that. Elevate the level of collaboration and create a fully networked organization one step at a time.

We call this process Share More.

The premise is simple, for each business area or function, find a real world business challenge where collaboration can make a difference. Implement it. Move to the next one.

Creating the overall framework is like creating an association wheel for the term “Share” in the middle:

Sharing can be with just a few team members or with the whole company. It can be internal or external. If you stop and think about all the interactions you have in a week, which causes you the most pain and time? Can these interactions be made simpler using technology? Can you Share More?

The first Share More solution I’d like to address is process and workflow solutions.

Share Process

Process and form automation is all about tracking and control. The real dramatic change is in giving managers and administrators visibility into every step and log of every change and update. It can also speed the process up and save effort in typing information into other systems, initiating emails or filing paper into physical files.

We’ve worked with a large hospitality organization to automate all HR and Payroll related forms through the use of InfoPath and SharePoint and learned a lot of valuable lessons that can be valid to many a process automation:

  • Strongly enforce data integrity: Most forms are created to collect data that will be fed eventually into another system. Therefore data input must come from the same source system it will end up in. Values and choices have to be restricted to valid combinations and open text fields limited to a minimum. The cleaner the data is, the less trouble it will cause down the road.
  • Know how organizational and reporting hierarchy is maintained: While you may know what system holds the organizational reporting structure, knowing that it’s 100% accurate and maintained up to date is a lot harder. Since some forms require sending confidential information like salary for approval, the wrong reporting relationship can compromise important information. Consider masking personal or confidential information if it is not essential for the approval requested (while the data, encrypted, can still be part of the form)
  • Don’t over customize: like our beloved tax code, approval workflows can get extremely complicated and convoluted as organizational politics that evolved over the years created special cases and more exceptions than rules. Codifying these special cases is expensive and prone to change. Consider it an opportunity to streamline and simplify the rules.
  • Augment with stronger 3rd party tools: while the core systems – like SharePoint contain built in (and free) workflow mechanism, it is limited in the control, flexibility, scalability and management as it comes out of the box. Some 3rd party tools like Nintex and K2 BlackPoint provide added flexibility and scalability. For a price.
  • Version deployment: Forms and process will change. How will updates be deployed without interfering with running flows and processes?

In future posts I’ll explore other opportunities for Sharing More including Sharing Insight, Sharing Responsibly and we’ll look into specific opportunities for collaboration and sharing in insurance and healthcare.

Future_Touch_Screen

Virtualization in Insurance

The Power of a Desktop in the Palm of Your Hand

Is Desktop-as-a-Service a Subset of IT-as-a-Service?

I read this blog recently, and it prompted some reflection on the possible applications for time- and cost-saving benefits in the insurance industry.

There are two basic types of insurance carriers from an IT perspective

  1. Carriers that sell insurance and use IT to support their business goals
  2. Carriers that are an IT shop that also sell insurance.

Though these types of carriers are very different, virtualization is a concept that benefits both.  Virtualization enables carriers with smaller IT shops to effectively leverage improved support efficiencies and more flexibility and allows larger IT organizations to redeploy resources for bigger projects like core system upgrades.

“Virtual desktops,” the keystone of visualization, free a user from hardware burdens by introducing “greater synergy, efficiency, and agility.” This allows users to embrace a mobile and more flexible work style.  This versatile technology applies to a variety of scenarios. With the help of an iPad or Galaxy tablet connected via WiFi to the local area network (LAN) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, doctors have all of their patients’ records at their fingertips. A similar approach benefits insurance agents when visiting customers. With mobile desktop in tow, Claims Adjusters carry their office with them, and Underwriters spend more time in the field reviewing referrals with Agents.

Desktop-as-a-Service as a Subset of IT-as-a-Service has its own benefits. With virtual desktops, new users easily and quickly enter an established network with their own legacy systems already on their desktop.  It becomes easier for an agent to catch a plane to another office, log in, and there’s his desktop, ready to provide personal office functionality.

Lastly, as a part of efficiency improvements, virtualization minimizes the cost of hardware upgrades not only for those of whom work remotely, but for all users in an office.  Because all applications run on servers, users operate smaller systems without a large hard drive and processor.  In addition, any application and operating system problems users experience are addressed without requiring IT to visit the remote machine.

Sorry, Nick Burns the computer guy! You’ll be out of a job.

Doublin’ Down in Hard Times

Hard times are definitely here.  By this time everybody in IT-land has done the obvious: frozen maintenance where possible, put off hardware and software upgrades, outsourced where possible, trimmed heads (contractors, consultants, staff), pushed BI/CPM/EPM analytics projects forward, and tuned up data and web resources.

Now is the time to think outside the bunker!

IT needs to consider what will need to be done to nurture the green shoots poking through the nuclear fallout. All of the talking heads and pundits see them ( glowing with radiation or whatever) and  the utmost must be done to make sure they survive and grow or we shall all sink into the abyss!

This is the time to double down in IT (poker speak).  It is not about heavily hyped Cloud Computing or the latest must-have tech gadget, but about something much more mundane and boring: improving the business process.  There, I’ve said it, what could possibly be more boring?  It doesn’t even plug-in.  In fact (shudder!), it may be partially manual.

Business process is what gets the job done (feeding our paychecks!).  Recessions are historically the perfect time to revise and streamline (supercharge ’em!)  existing business processes because it allows the company to accelerate ahead of the pack coming out of the recession.  In addition, recession acts as something of a time-out for everybody (I only got beatings, no time-outs for me), like the yellow flag during a NASCAR race.  When the yellow flag is out, time to hit the pits for gas and tires.  Double down when it is slow to go faster when things speed up again, obviously the only thing to do.

How? is usually the question.  The best first step is to have existing business processes documented and reviewed.  Neither the staff involved driving the process at the moment nor the business analysts (internal or consultants) are that busy at the moment.  That means any economic or dollar cost of doubling will be minimized under the economic yellow flag.  The second step is to look for best practice, then glance ouside-the-box to maximize improvement.  The third step is to look for supporting technology to supercharge the newly streamlined business process (I knew I could get some IT in there to justify my miserable existance!).

Small and medium businesses get the biggest bang for the buck (just picture trying to gas and change the tires on the Exxon Valdez at Daytona) with this strategy.  This process allows SMBs to leapfrog the best practice and technology research the Global 2000 have done and cut to the chase without the pioneer’s cost (damn those arrows in the backside hurt!).  Plus implementation is cheaper during recession ( I love to be on the buy-side).  The hardware, software, and integration guys have to keep busy so they cut prices to the bone.

The way forward is clear, IT only needs to lead the way, following is kind of boring anyway.