A More Agile Approach to Project Management for 2013

project management.jpgIt’s been a while since we’ve done an annual wish list for project management, and while we are a few days into the new work year, it’s not too late to think about some PM rules to live by for 2013.

Fluidity is key; rigidity can stifle project progress. Traditional frameworks call for a priori definitions of roles and responsibilities. In many highly successful organizations, models have been shifting toward more collaborative structures. Efficient teams are being built of all-rounders instead of silo’ed specialists. Such a staffing model provides more opportunity for agile workload balancing over the lifecycle of a project, and may enhance the team’s ability to bring the project in on time.

Managing your stakeholders expectations is more important than managing your project team. Let’s assume you have a skilled team and a well written project plan. Should you be spending most of your time micromanaging and tracking the status of their every move, or would you add more value by communicating more often and more directly with your stakeholders? Let’s stop considering communication a “soft skill” and recognize it as a key enabler of project success.

Change is not a necessary evil. Typically, the project management framework views change requests or change control as a negative, but the level of agility required for most businesses to survive make changes in scope a GOOD thing from a business perspective. Classic project management provides a framework for executing scope changes, and good project managers embrace the change requests, calmly, cordially, and without an attitude of tension or disdain.

Collaboration tools are no substitute for interpersonal interactions with your team or stakeholders. Email alerts, project portals, tablet apps that give visibility into project status are all great tools. but sometimes the best way to stay on top of progress is still to walk around with your issues and tasks lists, cruising by cubes and offices to get status updates in the context of informal conversations. The upside is it allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of the people who are important to your project, and it promotes better engagement. A phone call to remote team members is always appreciated. This is especially important with key executives. Firing off email requests for status is not the hallmark of a good PM.

Less is more. Lean thinking is everywhere these days (and I’m not talking about post holiday diets here). In the entrepreneurial community it’s all about minimum viable product. Agile methodology has pushed projects in the lead direction, with each iteration being a minimum viable release of sorts. In 2013, let’s think about minimal project structure. Rather than adding to a methodology, think more about what we can strip away to do it better, faster, cheaper.

Crowdsourcing BPM?

One reason that global business process improvement and organizational change management initiatives fail is that they are driven from the perspective of a single business unit, usually the one closest to headquarters where the project sponsors are. Until recently, the other alternative was to painstakingly audit the similarities and differences across multiple business units in multiple locations, and piece together something that meets everyone’s needs.

As an alternative, the Center of Excellence for a particular process area can provide a light framework that prevents crowdsources input from across the organization.  The RACI chart is a great tool for setting some crowdsourcing boundaries, and safeguarding against anarchy. The goal of any Center of Excellence in a particular area like Supply Chain, Finance, IT or Customer Service, is to develop reliable, predictable, repeatable performance, no matter who is doing the work or where in the world it is being done.

Many businesses already crowdsource input from their customers with a variety of survey methods and incentives, but many still struggle with how to effectively pull together and act on the input from their global employee base.

With the adoption of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Sharepoint, and Microsoft Lync, process and organizational change initiatives can be driven from a single center of process excellence, but they can crowdsource improvement input across multiple process owners, process participants, and what we have always called the “process customers” – those who receive the value added outputs of any discrete business process.

The toolset provides broad opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.

  • Use Lync within your organization for scheduled voice/video meetings that allow collaborative authoring of process documentation.
  • To bridge the difference in timezones and keep the ball rolling between these sessions, Sharepoint offers rich capabilities for collaboration on working documents and drawings, which can then be officially published to the broader audience by the Center of Excellence.

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.

The Magic of Mash-ups: Co-browsing

What is co-browsing?

Co-browsing lets multiple users work together in their respective browsers through what look like shared screens and communicate via telepresence including video and audio.  The impact of this technology is enormous as companies become more virtual and the need for serious collaboration increases to be competitive in tough times.  To be able to share, interact and see the body language of your collaborator in real-time without extraordinary downloads to your PC or expensive third party solutions could simply change the way we work.  This innovation comes from not Google, or Yahoo but from IBM in a proof of concept project called Blue Spruce, a Web browser application platform that IBM is working on to allow simultaneous multiuser interactions enabled by AJAX and other standard technologies through the Web browser.

blue spruce header

The Blue Spruce project is IBM’s solution to the classic one-window, one-user limitation of current Web browsers.  The application is a mash-up that combines Web conferencing with voice and video and other data forms to let people share content including existing Web widgets – at the same time.  Two different users, possibly anywhere, are able to move their respective mouse pointers around the screen in the browser to click and make changes on the shared application, with the platform enabling concurrent interactions through the browser without disruptions.  Despite the appearance, the co-browsers aren’t actually sharing content. Both collaborators obtained a Web page through the Blue Spruce client, but the “events” enabled by the mouse are what is being sent to the Blue Spruce Co-Web Server.  The idea is that no matter where the two users are in the Internet world, they pick up the general data caches on both personal computers and react to the events.

The applications for co-browsing collaboration are numerous, especially for knowledge workers. In healthcare, IBM has used Blue Spruce to create an online “radiology theatre” product, currently at the prototype stage, which allows teams of medical experts to “simultaneously discuss and review patients’ medical test data using a Web browser.” The project is being run in collaboration with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston.  According to IBM, it has created a secure Web site that allows select medical experts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to access and collaborate on data such as CT scans, MRIs, EKGs and other medical tests. Each medical expert can “talk and be seen through live streaming audio/video through their standard web connection, and have the ability to whiteboard over the Web page as well as input information to the patient’s record.” Basically it is a secure multimedia experience running inside a single browser window, using Blue Spruce as the platform.

It is important to note that Blue Spruce is not your typical “fat client” or downloaded application, but it is a fully browser-based application development platform, currently in development, which is being built on open Web standards. The main feature of Blue Spruce is that it allows for a combination of different Web components – data mashups, high-definition video, audio and graphics – to run simultaneously on the same browser page. It’s important to note that the Radiology Theatre app only requires a standard Web browser – so there’s nothing to download for the end user, in this case, doctors.

This is how IBM described how the new online radiology theatre will work:

 “A group of doctors can log into a secure Web site at the same time to review and analyze a patient’s recent battery of tests. For instance, a radiologist could use her mouse to circle an area on the CT scan of a lung that needs a closer look. Then using the mouse she could zoom into that scan to enlarge the view for all to see. An expert on lung cancer could use his mouse to show how the spot had changed from the last scan. And then, a pathologist could talk about patient treatments based on spots of that size depending on age and prior health history, paging through clinical data accessible on the site.”

“The theatre allows all these experts to discuss, tag and share information simultaneously, rather than paging through stacks of papers, calling physicians to discuss scan results and then charting the results. This collaborative consultation brings together the personal data, the experts and the clinical data in one physical, visual theatre.” 

The impact on rural medicine and the need for telemedicine for key healthcare experts is significantly advanced with this technology.
Perhaps the biggest potential benefit of the online radiology theatre is that it will enable experts from all over the world to consult on cases. The ability for multiple users to “co-browse” means they can interact in the browser in real-time and see each other’s changes.  Of course, since this is medical data, there are significant privacy implications involved in using the Internet to collaborate.  The time and cost savings from collaboration is important, but better and faster decision making is the key.

The need for inexpensive and minimally invasive techniques for real collaboration over the Internet is real and the backlog of potential applications is fun to consider.  Imagine reviewing your health care or insurance claims with a live person (and their reactions) at the insurance company to reduce cycle time, or collaborating on new product engineering drawings from the U.S. with your Chinese manufacturer.  Imagine the potential for teaching or training with key experts and a worldwide audience using a live whiteboard. Finally, imagine not paying big monthly fees for basic meeting collaboration needs on a daily basis.  Blue Spruce is really a technology to keep an eye on.

Why CEO’s must care about Enterprise 2.0 as a Strategic Imperative

One of the strongest and most misguided arguments expressed online and in many companies we speak with about Enterprise 2.0 is that it is not strategic.

That this collection of tools, technologies and ideas is not yet mature enough, lacks proven ROI, introduces a myriad of security and governance issues and even if successful is not a priority in today’s soft economy. It is too often delegated to IT managers to experiment with and report back in a few years.

Here’s where the difference is: Enterprise 2.0 is not a technology. It represents first and foremost a new way of thinking, interacting and communicating that includes attitude and cultural changes, empowered by IT. Is there anything more strategic than that and more important to a business future success?

It is arguably the biggest opportunity for IT driven cultural change facing organizations since the introduction of PC networks more than 2 decades ago.

One of the C suite most important tasks is to shape an organizational culture that will make their company innovative, competitive, efficient and successful not just now but in the future. Embracing Enterprise 2.0 now and guiding their employees through this transitional period should be one of their top priorities.

While in a few cases adoption started from the bottom up, a change of this magnitude usually needs to come from the top accompanied by the matching set of values and actions that prove the seriousness and commitment to change.

It requires leadership that is able to see that transparency and increased visibility into activities throughout the company will finally enable them to know what is really happening and will create a culture of trust. That openness and exchange of ideas will lead to innovation and efficiency. That collaboration will enable a diverse workforce to work together in emergent ways while being physically and geographically dispersed.

In short, it requires vision that will set a future path and will ask managers to overcome the obstacles in the way. The type of vision CEO’s need to provide and not delegate to IT managers.

The challenge and opportunity is that not many chief executives have realized yet that embracing Enterprise 2.0 is a strategic imperative and are focusing the discussion around short term ROI.

Dion Hinchcliffe at ZDNET provides a comprehensive review of the evidence and opinions regarding ROI and adoption challenges, and adds his own interesting model of collaboration cause and effect chains that while clearly provide benefits, make them harder to pinpoint and measure.

He also concludes that

an accumulating body of knowledge is pointing to potentially dramatic business returns with Enterprise 2.0. If these continue to be borne out, it will affect the competitive and financial positions of the companies that are proactive and therefore their long-term marketplace success

And wonders what it will take to break the current status quo?

His colleague Dennis Howlett on the other end thinks the ROI is still years off and concludes

As always, the secret to long term success depends on management’s ability to maintain a sustained commitment and all that goes with it. The difficulty today is that same management is wondering where the next sale comes from or how cash will be generated.”

The good news is that Enterprise 2.0 does not require large capital expenditures but mostly thorough organizational commitment. There has rarely been an opportunity for businesses to gain so much competitive edge by investing so little.

As in many cultural revolutions, by the time Enterprise 2.0 related changes start translating into business differentiators, organizations that have not made the transition will look as outdated as an organization resisting getting these useless PC boxes or adopting email.

Collaboration Style Revisited

When looking at the results of our last poll on collaboration styles, several things jumped out at us.

1. Nearly a third of the respondents are either still relying on email collaboration or under-utilizing basic portal functionality (document checkout/checkin for version control).

2. Among users of collaboration portals, there was an even split between Sharepoint and other tools.

This led us to wonder how broad corporate adoption of collaboration tools might be. And it leads us, of course, to another poll.

Comments always welcome, and in case you missed the first post in this series, it’s still open and you can vote here.

Missing pieces in your portal implementation plan?

missing-pieceClearly, many companies have collaboration tools such as portals on their to-do list as one of the top technology trends of 2009. Even this early in the year, we’re already hearing some frustration with the earlier adopters, in terms of the difficulties in getting their organizations to actually embrace the powerful functionality of collaboration portals. 

Here are four key elements to fostering user adoption of collaboration tools. They need to be baked into your portal implementation plan, because you need to sell this change aggressively into your organization to realize the full ROI of the technology investment. Sometimes, this can be the part of the implementation that requires the most finesse.

1. Strong executive sponsorship. Portals can fail when they are perceived as an IT initiative. Someone at the top has to get the early message out about how the portal can make the whole business more efficient. Executives can then lead the way by making the portal the preferred place to interact with the executive team.

2. Data Migration plan. If your business has traditionally used shared drives for file-level collaboration, make sure your portal migration plan includes moving the latest versions of files over to the portal site and decommissioning the old shared drive. 

3. Refine your collaboration processes to fully exploit the new technology. Workflows that have burdensome review/approval cycles can bog down any attempt at collaboration. While such rigor is useful in highly regulated businesses, it’s overkill in many others. If you make the portal a place where people can quickly share lessons learned and the new tools they develop for doing their jobs more efficiently, they will rush to embrace the portal. Limit approval requirements to the bare minimum and don’t let their contributions languish an an approval queue.

4. Change management. More than just training in portal functionality is needed. Key elements of your portal change management plan include organization design (assigning clear responsibility administration and creation/maintenance of portal sites), getting the message out early and often about the benefits of portal functionality, training in key user procedures (checkin/checkout, alerts, discussion boards, etc), and handholding as the business units create their own working sites.

If you’ve implemented a collaboration portal and are finding that your enterprise is ignoring it or under-utilizing its capabilities, please leave a comment–we’d love to hear about the challenges and how you’ve overcome them.

Project Management Resolutions for 2009

new-yearFast away the old year passes. It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Even if you’re not a resolution-making sort of person, the additional challenges the economy imposes on the coming year make it absolutely essential to think through some changes in approach.

Budgets will be tighter, and in the grand tradition of good things that roll downhill, the people who will most feel the squeeze are the people in charge where the rubber meets the road, the project managers. You will be challenged to do more with less, to face multiple changes in strategy and scope, and to achieve success on tighter timelines.

Here are some suggestions for thinking outside the box in 2009:

Manage your team, not your project plan.  Your project plan file is merely a tool for planning and tracking. The key to success is your daily leadership of your team.  Meet frequently with each contributor to your plan to understand where their difficulties are and to suggest tactics for moving past bottlenecks. This is much more valuable to the project than reporting that task 345 is only 45% complete as of the end of the week. This leads to the next resolution, which is:

Embrace collaboration tools aggressively.New times and new challenges call for new tools.  Use project portals to the fullest. Get beyond Level 1 portal usage (shared documents) and fully exploit the discussion and alerts features. Build status dashboards for your executive sponsors, so that status communication becomes more than a once a week meeting or conference call. With widely dispersed teams becoming more the norm than the exception, twitter-like tools can help project managers to keep tabs on the current activities of all team members, and foster real-time assistance when team members tweet about a newly encountered difficulty.

Slim down that project plan!  You just knew there had to be a diet resolution in here somewhere…  Your plan needs only enough detail to quantify effort, predict duration, and define a critical path. More detail beyond that means more overhead in terms of status tracking and replanning, and if this is not in the project budget, it’s only going to come out of your personal time.

Build contingency plans into your approach from Day 1. All that stuff about completing projects on time and within budget as the measures of project success is very pie-in-the-sky.  There will be changes in scope. There may be changes in budget before you get to the build phase. The key milestone date may well be pushed up while you are still in the analysis phase. Have a clear idea of what’s essential for launch and what can be deferred from Day 1 and you will be in better shape to roll with the changes.

Align effort with risk.  Don’t spend 80% of the analysis effort on 20% of the business functional domain, unless that 20% is the most mission critical, the most regulated, or the most central to driving revenue. As the  project manager, you must rein in project team members who are focusing on areas that are not really central to the success of the effort. In this new tighter budget, compressed timeline world, there are going to be some bumps in the road. You need to make sure that mission critical requirements are safeguarded at the expense of those business requirements that are less crucial from a bottom line perspective.

“The Trouble with the Future…

fortune_teller…Is that it arrives before we are ready for it.”  A bit of plainspoken wisdom from American humorist Arnold H. Glasow. Thanks to the miracle of google, it becomes our intro quote for today’s topic of acquisition integration readiness.

In an earlier post, we talked about data integration readiness, but that’s only one task on a list of things you should be doing now if you plan to acquire a company in 09. Readiness is the word of the day, and the best way to sum it up is you have to have a documented platform to integrate with across the board, or you will lose time during your integration period. Lost time means revenue drag–you won’t hit your projections.

So, let’s make a list.

1. Data integration readiness, already covered in detail here.

2. Process readiness – are your procedures for key business areas up to date? You will need to walk through them with business team leads on the acquisition side to rapidly understand the gaps between the way they do business and the way you do business. Can you rapidly train the influx of people you will be onboarding with the acquisition? An effective training plan is a solid way to minimize post-close chaos.

3. Collaboration readiness – don’t underestimate the amount of time those new employees will take up with endless “How do I?” questions. Hopefully, you have a corporate knowledge portal in place already and you can give them access and a navigation walkthrough on Day 1. Make sure it includes discussion groups, so that the answers to their common questions can be searchable and institutionalized. There was a great post on this recently describing how IBM is using collaboration tools to help with acquisitions, and Edgewater’s Ori Fishler and Peter Mularien have posted extensively on Web 2.0 tools for corporate collaboration.

While we are on the subject of collaboration tools, let me tip you off to an important secondary benefit. The people that use them and participate actively in discussions are your change agents, the people that can help lead the rest of the acquired workforce through the integration. The people that don’t participate, well, they are your change resistors. They need to be watched, because they may have emotionally detached from this whole acquisition thing. If they are key employees, you want to make sure they don’t have one foot out the door.

4. System integration readiness – It’s oh-so-much-more-challenging (meaning time consuming and costly) to integrate into an undocumented or underdocumented architecture. Get your data flow diagrams and infrastructure diagrams, as well as your hardware and software inventories up to date before you close.

That first quarter after you close will still be a wild ride, but you can be sure you’ve cut the stress level down significantly if you make these readiness tasks a priority before closing day.

Building a Collaborative Enterprise: Twitter (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series of posts covering collaborative tools that can make an impact on your business. If you’re new to Twitter, I’d suggest you read part 1 first.

Why Twitter?: Internal Collaboration

Honestly, many of the very creative ways Twitter can be used as a real-time communication platform probably haven’t been invented yet. Here are some creative ideas we came up with using an internal poll on our Sharepoint site:

  • Server or systems uptime monitoring and alerts (tying into Twitters excellent SMS capability with major cell phone carriers)
  • Corporate workflow integration and notifications – new business notification / blasts, integration with development workflow, etc.
  • Events planning and communication – for companies that sponsor annual users’ group meetings, setting up a dedicated Twitter account to communicate details and updates to attendees

Enterprise Use

Especially for large companies, something like Twitter can even take the place of other solutions (such as Office Communications Server), or (as in many companies I’ve seen) public IM services such as Yahoo or AOL. IM services that function outside the company may present serious security risks, including exposure to vicious worms or malware.

Companies such as Yammer and Present.ly are springing up, providing Twitter-like services running for private intra-company enterprise use. These provide the benefits of Twitter, including collaboration and greater dissemination of information, while retaining privacy that enterprises mandate.

While the market for corporate Twitter-like products is still in flux, examining the options available should be an important part of your enterprise collaboration strategy. With recent management changes at Twitter, it is highly likely that Twitter will be introducing a for-pay Enterprise service in the near future. Twitter CEO Evan Williams recently stated that

There is commercial value, not just personal value [to Twitter]

Integration

Twitter provides a very rich series of web services that can be used to integrate Twitter accounts with many existing back-office systems – both for receiving incoming tweets (imagine your Twitter feed integrated with salesforce.com, for example), and for outgoing tweets (imagine integrating QuickBase or Microsoft Dynamics to drive marketing campaigns). The Twitter web services can easily be integrated into existing Java, .NET, or Ruby on Rails infrastructure.

Downsides

Because Twitter is a realtime mass communication mechanism, gaffes can hurt you very quickly, since bad or inappropriate twitstream content will assuredly ripple through the as Internet fast as possible. Additionally, Twitter serves as a very rapid sounding board for poorly vetted social media ideas by aggregating feedback from thousands of users or consumers.

A very recent example of this from November 15-16, 2008 was the very strong consumer backlash to Motrin’s new advertising campaign. Immediately after the advertising campaign was released, negative comments on Twitter began piling up, causing Motrin to decide to pull the ad from its online media campaign.

On many corporate blogs, and certainly traditional “press release” communications outlets, content is reviewed, re-reviewed, and approved many times over before being released for public consumption. Part of a corporate Twitter strategy should include a good understanding (and documentation) of rules of engagement and proper Twitter etiquette, since a traditional review process would be cumbersome and reduce the “immediateness” of responses.

Name Squatting

With the uptick in corporate attention being paid to Twitter, “Twitter squatting” is starting to be noticed by corporations. Much as “domain squatting” happened in the early days of the Internet, Twitter squatting could be potentially either damaging or expensive for companies that don’t own their name. Twitter doesn’t yet have an official policy of releasing names to trademark holders (unlike, for example, domain squatting); however, they will release “inactive” accounts, and I’d bet they will have a policy on this issue very soon.

Should You Twitter?

In the current highly-connected and collaborative business climate, companies must have a social media strategy. Companies must understand all of the major social media platforms and identify how they will bring value to the business.

Twitter has provided a unique service, and many companies, especially ones that deal with B2C services, should consider a strong Twitter presence.

Next in our series of blog entries covering collaborative enterprises: Facebook.