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.

Just Pick 3

Fast away the old year passes, as the song goes.

It’s that introspective time when we all review the victories and defeats of the last twelve months and come up with a list of resolutions.

How long was your list last year?
How many of those goals did you attain?
Did you come out of the gate in January with a bang, and light a fire under 10 or more action plans, or did you attack your list in a prioritized sequence?
How did that work out for you?

In any year where I made a lengthy list, I ended up frustrated before February rolled around, and never looked at my list again. I just couldn’t achieve the progress I envisioned.

This year, I am going to do something different, and I think you should too.

By January 1, I will pick 3 areas to focus on in my work and personal resolutions. When I have achieved the desired results there I will pick 3 more.

The best way to do this is to pick 3 goals phrased as metrics you can measure.

Start your list. What do you want to change? How will you measure it?

Decide what is  most important.

Then, just pick 3.

One Size Does Not Fit All

One size fits allHave you been to the mall and purchased a shirt that says “one size fits all” for the size?  While the shirt may fit some of us perfectly, it might be too large or too small for others.  The same goes for a project.  This “one size fits all” mentality for all projects can put your smaller projects at great risk by bogging them down in a project management methodology that is too rigorous for the size of these projects.

 So what can you do?

Establish a flexible project management methodology framework

  1. Define what a “small” and “large” project is in your organization (e.g., a small project can be between 6 – 12 weeks and a large project is anything greater than 12 weeks)
  2. Identify the deliverables or documents needed for each project type
  3. Monitor smaller projects to validate the success/failure rate of these projects and adjust the deliverables within the framework as necessary

The key point to remember is that the project management methodology is a framework for all projects, not a straitjacket.  The framework needs flexibility to support all projects, no matter their size, while producing results.

One size really does not fit all, so find the size that fits your needs to successfully manage your small project.

Are You an Effective Leader?

Edgewater ConsultingI’m a bit of a history buff and I recently finished reading Jeff Shaara’s new book “The Smoke at Dawn” which focuses on the Civil War battle for Chattanooga.

The book has me thinking about what makes an effective leader. At the beginning of the novel, one general has every advantage, but focuses on the wrong things. While the other general begins at a major disadvantage, focuses on the right things, and ends up winning the battle.

The novel reinforced some core leadership principles that were good reminders for me.

  • First and foremost – where you decide to focus your energy matters. You can allow your attention to be distracted and squandered on the petty minutia or you can keep yourself focused on key goals. An effective leader doesn’t ignore the details, but does know what is important and what is not. An effective leader actively chooses to spend most of his or her energy on what is important.
  • Second, you need to identify a goal to be accomplished and share that vision. An effective leader ensures that everyone on the team understands what the goal is, why the goal is important, and the part they play in making the goal a reality. Even the “reserve forces” play an important role, and they need to be told what it is.
  • Third, you need to listen to and trust the people in the trenches. An effective leader listens to the team’s problems and removes roadblocks. He or she also listens to their ideas and lets them experiment with different ways to reach the goal.
  • Fourth, you need to recognize and acknowledge the efforts of the team, even when they don’t succeed. An effective leader holds people accountable, but also helps them learn from mistakes.
  • Finally, you need to recognize, acknowledge, and act to correct your own mis-steps.

So in brief, the refresher leadership course I gained from reading a novel. It seems that others have found similar inspiration:   http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/what-made-a-great-leader-in-1776/  http://theweek.com/article/index/259151/lessons-from-lincoln-5-leadership-tips-history-and-science-agree-on

So — What leadership lessons have you drawn from unexpected sources?

 

5 Warning signs that your methodology needs a reset

Project methodologies tend to grow dysfunctional as time goes on.  The breadth of their standardization increases until the only person who really knows how to use it is the methodology owner.

Too many templates, too many standards, too many hours required for initial training and training on new templates and standards, and perhaps too many good resources moving on to other employers with a less rigid approach.

To find out if your project management methodology is heading down the wrong path, look for these warning signs:

  1. You have a full time position dedicated to policing methodology compliance
  2. Your methodology manages by standard and template instead of by desired outcome and requirements
  3. Your methodology continues to get bigger over time, and details with little or minor influence on success have never been pared away
  4. Your projects are taking longer to implement
  5. Your project sponsors are growing more frustrated with each project you attempt to implement

resetThe methodology should be a guideline, not a noose, for organizational projects  – supporting the strategic goals of the organizational ecosystem instead of drowning in a pool of standardization. If you see any of these warning signs, maybe it’s time to hit the reset button.

 

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.

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.

Why a PMO

shudder_homer_smallProject Management Office

The words make some shudder.  Of course PMOs have existed for a long timeThey grew as the discipline of project management itself matured and people recognized that project management was a distinct skill set that demanded training and experience, as well as certain natural talents.

While PMOs are often associated with larger firms which need to establish a standard methodology and approach for initiating, managing, and controlling systems-related projects, there are many reasons why a company might consider establishing a PMO.

First, a PMO does not need to be focused on systems-related projects.  The real benefit of a PMO is its ability to bring a disciplined approach to how an organization approaches projects.  Any time an organization is contemplating a series of projects to introduce transformational change, a PMO can improve the odds of success.  Those projects can be systems focused, but they could also be focused on business process redesign, new product development, geographical expansion, acquisition, or reorganization.  Each organization can decide for itself what type of projects should fall under the auspices of a PMO.

Similarly, a PMO does not need to be focused on all aspects of project management – at least in its initial implementation.  A PMO should address existing organizational problems.  If the organization struggles with prioritizing project requests and deciding which projects to fund and staff, the PMO should be focused on this issue.  If the organization struggles with keeping projects on track and resolving issues during project execution, the PMO should be focused on this issue.  Simply implementing a PMO doesn’t bring value to an organization.  Implementing a PMO so that it addresses the real-world issues that the organization is facing does bring value.

While PMOs take many shapes and flavors, they all seek to improve communication, collaboration, and consistency.  Organizations face increasingly complex environments while striving to respond to customer demands.  They often rely on a set of projects to drive the organization towards a new strategic vision of itself.  These organizations can leverage a PMO to more effectively meet these commitments.

So why consider a PMO?  If your organization is facing substantive change and needs to improve its ability to consistently and successfully deliver projects so that it can implement that change, a PMO can help.

How do you know when the gap is too big to jump?

SnakeRiverCanyonArrowEver watched a motorcycle jump?  Ever wonder how guys like Evel Knievel knew how far they could go? How fast they could make the jump?  How to tune that motorcycle so it would support repeated efforts to break and rebreak records?  Was the cycle the secret to success or was it more a matter of mind over matter, training and instinct?

Many businesses face the same challenges as they try to accelerate the pace of change, embarking on transformation initiatives that often demand that their people bridge frighteningly huge current-to-target state gaps. The price of failure is as catastrophic to a business as those motorcycle jumps are to the daredevils who attempt them.

Is technology the secret to success? Methodology? Only partly so — Objective measures of the size of the gap (a catalog of differences between the current and target states of process, technology, data, and business model) will only get you so far. Project phases can be designed to address this, and the classic stuff of project management can certainly help. I call this the hard science side of the equation.

However, for both the intrepid cyclist and the daring leader of an audacious business transformation, success is both an art and a science.  Just as a jumper has to factor in the strength of crosswinds, the nuances of posture and the internal state of mind, transformation leaders need to address the following questions, which speak to the art of success:

  • Does your organization have a framework in place to foster change (communication, collaboration tools; a training framework)
  • Is there a formal framework for facilitating alignment among stakeholders with different needs?
  • What is the state of employee engagement at your company? Who is burned out, checked out, counting down the clock to retirement? And who is revved up and raring to go?
  • Are there wounded bodies still littering the canyon from your last attempt to jump a big gap?
  • Do you have realistic expectations of the business input required to support a technology-driven transformation? Do you have a backfill strategy?
  • Have you defined success in business terms, or are you just eager to “put in a new system?”

When considering anything unprecedented or record breaking, don’t put all your faith in science—and don’t devalue the many human factors that are very much a part of the art of success.