Archive for the ‘ Project Management ’ Category

The Death of the IT PMO?

Earlier this month, I attended a session hosted by our PPPM Community of Practice. During the session, I was surprised to see the old gem: “The Standish Group Report” on the state of IT Project Management. (More commonly referred to as “The Chaos Report”). This report has been published since the mid 90’s and is routinely [ab]used to support every premise from “Fire all of your PMs” to “Turn over the reigns of the company to your PMO”.

Admittedly, the Chaos report is a very interesting piece of research and the details are extremely useful for identifying areas of concern. But the summary statistics that are generally quoted have a bad habit of leading people to make some seriously flawed assumptions about IT project management
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Institutionalized Insanity

Consider the following scenarios:

1. A teenager comes to parents and asks for a new car. The justification is that the current car is old, doesn’t go fast enough and costs too much in maintenance. The proposed solution is to buy a brand new Ferrari. It’s expensive, but will go more than fast enough for any foreseeable situation and the dealer will include the first 3 years of maintenance with the purchase.

2. A woman goes to her pharmacist to pick up a prescription. The pharmacist provides the medication and informs her that the drug company skipped most of the testing in order to meet their market release date. However, if she encounters any severe side effects, the drug company will make sure that she’s first in line for any corrective medications or required surgeries. He also provides her with a 1 month supply of disposable undergarments as a “workaround” for the known gastrointestinal issues.

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What is the true sense of quality in IT projects?

What is true sense of quality in IT projects?

Hi all

Happy New Year 2009!!!

I am seeing some project management techniques and most of them are focused on quantitative approach.

How we can measure & manage knowledge & creativity in quantitative units? How much it is effective to achieve true sense of quality?

Is any project management technique is based on qualitative approach?

Please share your experience and opinion. It will be great help for me.

Thank you very much in advance.



Ram Srivastava

Team (Innovation, Marketing & Execution) Lead @ YMSLI. Open Source, LAMP, Agile, CMMI. Success story in recession!!

I have this discussion pretty regularly. Typically, PMs and PMOs become focused on budget and schedule to the exclusion of any other metrics or considerations. As indicators of general project health, they’re not bad. But when organizations start equating them with “project success”, We end up with projects that are deemed “successful” but often fail to deliver any business value. It also leads to a number of bad behaviors such as throwing warm bodies at late projects, skimping on QA, poor risk management, code-like-hell programming, requirements disconnects, poor documentation and traceability, etc. Personally, I believe that there is no greater threat to project success than focusing on the wrong metrics. The approach that I’ve generally tried to promote is a process-centric one. Establish the right processes and behaviors to capture and manage requirements, maintain stakeholder involvement, control changes and scope creep and to ensure proper QA throughout. Then measure process compliance and customer acceptance at each stage (quantitative) with customer satisfaction (qualitative) shortly after major milestones. In addition, when scoping the project, determine what the customer’s real KPIs (key Performance Indicators) and KGI/CSFs (Key Goal Indicators/Critical Success Factors) are and include them in the tracking processes. Having that discussion can be surprising. Unfortunately, you need to have somewhat mature processes to be able to implement something like this and you also need some sort of neutral oversight to review process exceptions to determine if the exception was appropriate or just laziness. A project shouldn’t be penalized for bypassing process steps that aren’t providing business value. However, those decisions need to be made consciously and with some form of review/audit to keep people honest.

Q: What software cost estimation model do you use and why?

What software cost estimation model do you use and why?

Gene Leshinsky

VP, Consulting Services at QuantRiver Systems

It depends on the maturity of the client organization. If the project is small enough or similar enough to other projects that I’ve done, I’ll simply SWAG it. If the organization is mature and has a history that we can draw on for past projects, I use detailed requirements and a sort of loose Function Point Analysis. If the organization is less mature, the project is something really new or the requirements are in flux, I break down the project into a WBS (Work Breakdown structure) and use Delphi techniques with the business and the developers. (“SWAG”ing the later phases). It’s more time consuming, but provides a lot of good level-setting between the groups as consensus emerges. I’ve experimented with other techniques, but I usually find myself coming back to these three.

The Value of Virtual Teams

Are there any advantages of virtual project teams to the project or the team?

Other than benefiting the individual does the project or the team benefit from virtual operations or virtual team members?

Dan Light

Win More Federal Business

Most definitely. Virtual project teams allow you to pick the best people for your team regardless of geography. The benefits to the individual generally make for happier and more productive team members and you often get unique insights and perspectives that you wouldn’t get from a co-located team.

The challenges, of course, are the lack of personal contact. The camaraderie and team dynamic that comes from co-location and the non-verbal communication and nuance that comes from a face-to-face team. I’ve found that the best way to deal with that is to bring the entire team together on some neutral ground for a kick-off meeting. Use the opportunity to do some immersive team-building and force the awkward socialization with exercises and assigned seating at meals to mix the team up a bit. If you have an opportunity to do some brainstorming around your project or initiative, that’s also an excellent way for team members to get to know each other personally.

Once you have that “personal connection”, the virtual team tends to work much better together than a group of semi-anonymous voices on the phone or in a web-meeting.

One other “gotcha” to be aware of (and one that most organizations overlook) is that if you have a co-located group and a bunch of virtual team members, meetings will often have an underlying “us vs them” dynamic. People in the room will have side conversations that don’t carry through to the virtual team. Virtual team members will IM each other or exchange background emails and it’s easy to divide the team. I generally use an “all or nothing” approach. If the team is virtual, meetings should take place entirely on the phone or online (even if some of the team sits next to each other). Make extensive use of online whiteboards and other information sharing tools. It’s too easy to exclude virtual team members if you have a group of people physically meeting in a room.

Clarification added August 28, 2008:

I would also like to note that I find virtual teams to be better at communicating issues than face-to-face teams. (at least once they’re established). People today are much more aware of the need to communicate clearly and effectively when it’s in an email or IM. Verbal communication is much more fraught with nuance and interpretation. There are advantages to both approaches, but I find that once a virtual team gets over the initial hurdle, the communications are generally more efficient and precise than face-to-face teams. Your mileage may vary.

Prioritizing PPM

In rank order, what are the criteria you use to drive prioritization of the various projects and programs in your portfolio?

Question received via Gartner Symposium Forums

1. Discretionary vs Non-Discretionary

This requires the discipline to accurately categorize your projects. “Non-Discretionary” simply means that if you don’t act, something in the organization will break. Whether it’s a process, tool, or technology, there is a better than even chance that a failure to approve the project will result in damage to your business. This doesn’t mean that you miss an opportunity or you fail to make a sale. It means that you will suffer some sort of loss or degradation of your operation. A technology refresh is discretionary unless something is very likely to fail or put you into a position where you will be harmed by not upgrading.

Most organizations don’t have the stomach to draw the line that distinctly. “Non-discretionary” becomes “politically prudent” and “Discretionary” becomes “good to do, but nobody is really pushing for it”. The problem is that if you follow that model, you’re very likely to start cutting into Non-discretionary projects when money gets tight and there’s no way of knowing what was *really* critical to your survival. By definition, a non-discretionary project is something that has to be done or some other risk mitigation takes place. It can’t simply be rejected.

2. Required timeframe (is there a critical window of opportunity or risk?)

This applies to all projects. Again, many organizations put arbitrary schedules and timelines in place which undermines the ability of the portfolio manager to understand what the “real” time constraints are. When you establish your portfolio, there needs to be a clear distinction between a “requested date” and any actual time constraints on the project. Unfortunately, most tools that I’ve worked with don’t make that distinction.

3. Benefit (or risk avoidance)

Once you’ve determined the criticality and hard time constraints, then you can start looking at benefit realization or risk avoidance. Most organizations start here by prioritizing strictly based on ROI. However, the PMO and the project teams have to address the critical time-constrained projects in the margins to keep the company running. If your house is on fire, you need to deal with that first and not worry about selecting new carpets.

4. Cost/Cash flows

This and the next category are what’s going to control the actual flow and scheduling of your projects. Once you have your prioritization sequence in place, you can start allocating your cash flows for the next month, quarter or whatever planning calendar you work with. This allocation will end up being iterative with the next category. However, it’s important to recognize that resource constraints can often be addressed with external consultants or some other form of outsourcing. Budgetary constraints tend to be firm.

5. Resources

Once you know what you have to do, the windows for doing it and what money is available to do it, resources are the final gate. If you don’t have resources in-house, consider planning for the development of new resources in-house (time permitting), acquiring staff or outsourcing as appropriate. While this is the biggest practical limitation on executing your project, it’s also the one where you have the most flexibility.

Other factors such as strategic fit, synergies between projects/programs, missed opportunity costs, balancing the availability of critical resources, etc. all come into play as the portfolio is optimized. In addition, this is a recursive process. So sunk costs, project performance-to-date, and other metrics are also included in subsequent review, but may not be part of the official “checklist”. Instead, they become factored into the other elements like the anticipated benefits, risks and risk avoidance.

Creating a winning team in corporate America

Image your company as a sports franchise. Your managers have recruited the best athletes from around the world, the best coaches and you’ve provided them with the best equipment. The owners and board of directors are up in the skybox looking down on the field and anxiously anticipating a winning season.

Now for the complications:

Nobody actually sat down with the hiring managers and told them what game was going to be played. So the athletes and coaches are from a dozen different sports and disciplines. Additionally, they’re all equipped with their own specific equipment, balls, pucks, rackets, etc.
The playing field is completely shrouded in fog and your players can only see what’s happening within a few yards of where they’re standing. They only interact with other players that happen to enter within that circle of vision and they have no idea where they are relative to the goals, the competition or the rest of their team.

The coaches get feedback from the players that they can’t find the goals or even the ball. At the same time, the coaches are getting feedback from the skybox that the team is losing the game. To try to make sense of the game,  the coaches decide to mark up the field with some guidance. Each coach makes assumptions about the game being played and what the goals are. Unfortunately, each coach draws different plays and strategies directly onto the field and the team can’t tell which is which.

The Owners sees that their team isn’t winning. They can only see the people that come out of the fog right in front of them looking lost and confused. The owners have  the goals to directly under the skybox in the hope that the realignment will result in some of those wanderers scoring points.

The team gets frustrated with the inability to score and they try to figure out the problem on their own. They decide that the coaches and owners must be stupid or crazy. Small groups of players independently decide on strategies to fix the problem. Since the game has never been defined and they can’t directly see the goals, the players are forced to make assumptions.  Between them they decide to bring extra balls, a hockey stick, two tennis rackets and a team of seeing-eye dogs onto the field.

The coaches see the changes and begin to question their own assumptions about the game. They re-align around whatever small successes they perceive. They  try to keep the  game going by hiring pro hockey players, a pair of tennis stars and a dog trainer. The Board tells the coaches that they’re over budget, so the coaches fire the most highly paid of the original players to try to reduce expenses.
The fans (the users) become confused and disgruntled and start looking towards other teams and players to follow. Some of the fans get ambitious, form their own teams and enter the field in the assumption that they could play better.
The Board sees the money drying up and the lack any apparent scored goals. They fire the coaches and the rest of the original players. They look at the organization and determine where the team seems to be struggling. They hire 3 more animal trainers, a consulting tennis coach and they buy a zamboni to ice the field to make better use of the hockey players.

The dogs get run over by the zamboni. The animal trainers all defect to Las Vegas to train tigers. The hockey players join an off-broadway ice show. The tennis coaches try to recruit tennis players, but the board decides to hire professional cricket players for half the price.

The situation fails to improve.

Hoping to turn it around, management equips everyone with headsets so that they can communicate. New scoreboards are installed to better report the scores to management. Everyone is sent on motivational training and the markings on the ice are all repainted in neon green.

So, you now have a bunch of cricket players being coached by tennis coaches, sliding on the ice in dense fog trying to make sense of what the actual game is and where the goals are. However, you truly do have a group of talented individuals. Each individual is performing to the best of their abilities. Occasionally goals are scored through acts of personal heroics. But the overall efficiency, control and alignment of the organization is shot and you’re left wondering how you got here.

This scenario may seem extreme. But, surprisingly, it’s not that far off what’s happening in organizations on a daily basis. The larger the organization becomes, the more difficult it is to keep the pieces aligned and focused on common goals. The lack of a shared context leads to a lot of ambiguity, conflicting goals and strategies, a perception of others in the organization as “stupid” or “incompetent” and a considerable amount of misdirected and wasted effort. Groups adhere to their own agendas, often with no regard or awareness for corporate strategy. Impacts to other teams are only considered when something “breaks” and often, the organization continues to function by brute force and individual efforts rather than through good planning or alignment.

This goes beyond a simple communication problem. As an organization grows, alignment drifts, personal political agendas begin to overshadow the “good of the company” and the idea of “team” becomes a localized concept. We forget that the “team” is really the entire company and not just our little corner of the corporate world.
The larger the organization, the stronger the leadership needs to be. That doesn’t mean that the leaders need to micromanage. Instead, they need to provide clear direction and expectations (what game are we playing and what are the rules?) ensure that every level of the organization has the authority to make their own decisions within the rules (fans stay off the field. Coaches set the strategy. Stadium staff maintain the stadium, goals and markings. Equipment managers control the equipment selection, etc.) and provide feedback on what’s successful and what isn’t. Trust is a big part of successful leadership. It leads to empowerment, better decision making on the floor and a more responsive and agile organization. But direction is needed if you want to keep those trusted individuals aligned to common goals. You can’t just assume that everyone is playing the same game.

By recognizing what’s going on, opening up a continuous dialogue and providing your staff with the tools and information to make the right decisions, you can recapture that small-company alignment, passion and team dynamic. Couple that with the resources and talent pool of a large corporation and you have a potential championship team.