Daily Archives: July 24, 2013

Project success is path to IT credibility – Step 3

project successThe path to IT credibility is by delivering projects successfully, , , and more.

In Step-1 we discussed the most obvious – building an appropriate project schedule and managing your projects so you deliver them on time, within budget and meet your client’s expectations.

In Step-2 we discussed the need to communicate the status and key issues of active projects, , , in other words, what’s going on in your IT organization.

Effective communication is just as important, if not more so, than actually completing a project successfully.

Step-3 is also about communicating effectively, , , and this one may be the most important of all.

IT organizations need to make others aware of the value they contribute to a company. If you don’t, I can assure you people in your company won’t have a clue about what you are getting done for them and the contributions your team is making.

It’s even worse than that. If you don’t continue to communicate your value and keep this in front of your client, , , they soon forget. You see, clients have very short memory when it comes to the IT organization, , , unless it’s something bad that has happened.

Most do not remember what you did for them last week or last month, , , and if you haven’t been telling them they won’t even know how much you are doing to help your company succeed at all.

I’ve heard IT managers say quite often things like, “My clients know what we are doing, , , how could they not know? Surely, they can see how hard we are working.”

Let me make something very clear, , , most of your clients aren’t paying attention to IT and how hard you work. They are focused on trying to meet their objectives and to take care of their own issues.

Now, it’s not necessary that everyone in the company know what IT is doing and what you are accomplishing. The people who do need to know are senior managers and department managers, , , these people are your key client groups.

Value, , , value, , , value. Most senior executives have a very difficult time determining what the IT value is for the company. They know we spend lots of money on IT support and technology but it’s difficult for them to quantify the value. In most cases, they simply do not know.

If they can’t place a value on their IT investment, , , even if it’s as vague as Good, Average, or Poor, , , it puts you and your organization in a difficult position.

Let’s get to the point. Your key clients, especially senior managers, need something that can help them place value in what your IT organization is accomplishing, , , and you certainly want them to view IT as a GOOD INVESTMENT .

Your clients need to know two key things:
– How successful you are in completing projects on time and within budget
– The benefits (value) your company receives from the projects you deliver

Are you aware that some studies suggest there is as much as a 70% failure rate in IT projects? That’s right, the studies point out that 70% or more of IT projects fail to be completed on time, are over budget, or do not meet the client’s needs.

Well, let’s say that this is grossly over exaggerated. Even if it’s only half of that, say 35%, , , this is still a huge problem. Project failure costs companies billions of dollars in lost capital and productivity every year. It’s recognized worldwide as a big problem.

What you want to be able to show is a positive track record of delivering projects successfully that contributes tangible value to your company.

You want everyone to see that while the world experiences as little as a 30% success rate in IT projects, your team has an 85-90% success rate or higher.

While other IT organizations struggle about how to show value, you want a report that shows the benefits and value derived from every project you do for the company.

I like to use an IT Initiatives Portfolio to do this.

I’ve written about this tool before. It is possibly the one tool that has helped me in my career the most. The reason – it shows in clear terms how good my IT organization performs in regards to delivering projects successfully and the value we are contributing in a very simple report.

Here it is:

IT Initiatives Portfolio

There are six key parts, , , this report tells you a lot:

1.  Success in completing projects on time

2.  Success in completing projects within budget

3.  Benefit results. In this report I have columns for expected results and achieved results for both 6-month and 12-month intervals. You won’t use these columns for every project but it is certainly helpful to list some type of business value benefit for every project you work on, , , this is the value contribution your team is making.

4.  Success in meeting client needs

5.  Overall success rate of each project – on time, within budget, achieving expected results, and meeting client needs.

6.  Ongoing run rates of completing projects on time, within budget, and meeting client needs plus overall project success rate. This is your track record and you want people to know how good your team performs in completing projects successfully.

Let’s take a closer look at this report, , , click on the image for a larger view:

it initiatives portfolio_results

In this example I’ve rolled it up so you can see the results of three projects. The nice thing about Excel is that you can summarize all the projects to calculate overall performance indicators at the bottom as I’ve done here.

In the example it shows we have achieved the following performance track record:
– On time percentage – 66.6%
– Within budget – 100%
– 6-month actual benefits of $21,500 which is $500 better then expected
– 12-month actual benefits of $63,500 which is $5,500 better than expected
– Meets User Needs percentage of 100%
– Overall project success of 66.6%

It helps to prepare an annual report that lists every project the IT team completed during the year and keep copies for every year to show progress and to analyze to determine how you get better. You will find this information becomes valuable to have handy at times.

Something else to consider. When people know you are tracking performance and you are serious about it, , , two things happen:
1.  Your IT team focuses harder to complete projects successfully.
2.  Senior managers view you more as a business manager than a technical manager.

Both of these are important for your credibility.

Summary
Project success is the path to IT credibility, something you must establish if you are to attain any level of IT success. To get there you need to do more than just complete projects successfully, , , you must also communicate the status of active projects and make others aware of the track record and results your team achieves in delivering projects successfully.

The tools and insight provided in this 4-part series will help you do all of this.

it project management ebookMore details of the entire project management process and customizable tools I use are available in my book, IT Project Management: a practical approach

Project success is path to IT credibility – Step 2

success6Continuing with the three key things you need to do in regards to delivering projects successfully on your way to establishing IT credibility, , , this is Step 2 of 3.

Let’s review the three things I listed in the overview article. They are:
1.  Build an appropriate project schedule and manage projects to deliver on time, within budget and meet your client’s expectations.
2.  Communicate the status of active projects.
3.  Demonstrate your organization’s project success rate and the benefits derived from your efforts.

At any given time, your IT organization will have several active projects. It’s obviously important for you to execute and complete them successfully, , , on time, within budget and meeting client needs as we talked about for Step-1 in the last article.

It’s also important for you to keep interested parties aware of where you are and what’s going on in your IT organization, , , specifically senior managers of your company. You must communicate effectively.

Let me share a recent experience. Last year I took on a consulting engagement to provide interim IT management services for an organization while they looked for an IT Director. When I got there it was clear there were many projects in the works.

What was not clear was that there was nothing in place so we could see the landscape of active projects. What I mean by this is that nothing was in place so we could even tell how many projects were underway or being positioned to get started.

blindfoldedAs I mentioned in the overview article, this is like trying to drive blindfolded, , , pretty much impossible to be successful.

Understanding the need to be able to see the active project landscape and to communicate the status and key issues of each project, I quickly developed a simple monthly Project Summary Report. In fact, I think I developed this the first week I was there because I needed to know what was going on.

When I completed my initial discovery work and finished the report for the first time it showed we had over 30 projects underway. It was a surprise to some. Over the next few weeks we discovered even more projects so the actual total was over 40 active projects being worked on or projects that were getting started.

Here is a blank form from the one I created. Click on the image for a closer look.

Project Summary Report

Let’s go through it so you better understand how effective this simple tool can be in communicating the status of active projects.

There are 4 main parts to this monthly project summary report:

1.  Project Name – Descriptive name of the project.

2.  Project Manager – Who you look to for additional information and who is accountable for the project’s success.

3.  Key Issues List – Below each project name there is room to list up to 6 key issues or important comments for each project.

4.  Timeline – I used the area shaded in beige to show milestones that I thought  important enough to communicate. I’ll give you an example in just a minute.

We had all types of active projects underway, , , big ones, smaller ones, , , projects that involved many people to projects that involved very few people, , , expensive and not so expensive projects, , , and projects that would take many months to complete to those that completed in just a few months, , , all types.

Many of our projects required 4 to 6 months or longer to complete. For these, I felt it important to be able to communicate certain milestones. For example, if we were installing a new software application, I wanted to show the installation date, file build time frame, testing and training time frames and targeted Go Live month.

Below is an example:

Project Summary_sample

First thing to notice is that I updated the month cells to reflect current time frames.In this sample, I just made up two fictitious projects and used upcoming months for 2013 and 2014.

Under each Project name are the key issues I think need to be communicated.

And finally, I color coded and inserted short descriptions in the top row of each project to reflect:
– when we are starting the projects (green shaded cells)
– when certain real project work takes place (yellow cells)
– when the Go Live or launch month is targeted (red cells)

You can use any color code you desire, , , the important thing is that this helps you see the key timeline milestones of each project as well as the key issues for each project.

Not only will this simple tool help you stay abreast of what’s going on in your IT organization, it’s a great aide in communicating IT project activity to others who need to know, , , including your boss.

Another thing you can do if you want to be able to view everything on one or two pages is that you can copy your workbook to a new one and delete all the key issues rows to create a higher level summary of all projects. This is great for senior executives because they usually aren’t so much interested in the key issues as they are in just having an idea of what the IT organization is working on.

Here is a sample:

project summary_sample-executive

What I’ve found to be the easiest is to update the workbook that includes the key issues. Then, when you are done with updating it copy the entire workbook to a new tab called “Executive Summary” and then strip out the key issues rows. It’s quicker and insures both worksheets are consistent with one another.

This tool is simple and quick to start using. More importantly it helps you communicate every month where you are and what’s going on in your IT organization, , , something you cannot afford to neglect.

Effective communication contributes to IT credibility as much as completing the projects successfully, , , both are required!!

it project management ebookMore details of the entire project management process and customizable tools I use are available in my book, IT Project Management: a practical approach

Project success is path to IT credibility – Step 1

Clock helpIn the first article of this “IT credibility through project success” series I outlined three key components required of you in delivering projects successfully in order to gain IT credibility.

1.  Build an appropriate project schedule and manage projects to deliver on time, within budget and meet your client’s expectations.
2.  Communicate the status of active projects.
3.  Demonstrate your organization’s project success rate and the benefits derived from your efforts.

In this post we will discuss the first component – building an appropriate project schedule and managing projects.

First, let’s identify a few key tips that will help you manage and deliver projects successfully:

  • One of the biggest reasons projects fail is because IT people do not clearly define the goals, objectives and specific deliverable of a project. We charge off to do the work before getting it all defined and agreed upon by the project sponsor, , , when this happens, the project is already doomed.
  • IT people like to be “exact”. To manage projects successfully, you have to be conservative and add buffer to the budget and timelines. There is a golden rule to follow when managing projects. Always remember, , ,

projects take longer and cost more than you think they will

every time

  • Conduct a Project Kickoff Meeting to get project team members on the same page and to set their expectations on what you expect from them. It may be their first real project so spell out in clear terms that you expect them to have their tasks completed on time.
  • Explain to the team that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. IT employees don’t like to ask for help, but asking for assistance early gives you an opportunity to overcome something that might cause the project to be late or over budget.
  • Projects don’t get completed on their own. Good project managers anticipate early and often and they push the project along by having weekly project status meetings to keep their projects on target.
  • Identify key bottlenecks or critical tasks in the project and get after them quickly. These are the culprits that jeopardize completing projects on time.
  • Hold project team members accountable and expect them to complete their tasks on time. In the Project Kickoff Meeting, get commitments from everyone that they can complete all their assigned tasks by the designated due dates.
  • Inspect, , , inspect, , , inspect. Remember, what gets inspected gets done. If you are surprised to discover someone is late on a task at the status meeting, , , shame on you for not inspecting. If you don’t inspect, you will always be surprised and surprises usually spell trouble.
  • Managing client expectations is a key ingredient for project success. To do this, you must communicate effectively and regularly.

Simple tool for building a project schedule
Developing an appropriate project schedule and using it to manage the project is key.

I use a very simple tool to develop project schedules. It’s an Excel spreadsheet template. I’m experienced with Microsoft Project but I’ll always revert back to this spreadsheet tool whenever possible because it’s quick and easy.

Believe it or not, before we had laptops and spreadsheets I used a paper form similar to my spreadsheet template and a pencil (and eraser 🙂 ) to manage many large computer installation projects as an IBM Systems Engineer.

Managing a project schedule is not about the tool as much as going about your work appropriately and in a manner that works.

Here is what my blank project schedule template looks like, , , click on the image for a closer look:

project schedule template 2013

There are three key parts:

1. Task – These are the specific tasks required to complete the project. I organize my tasks by major groups or categories. For example, in a large systems conversion project, I might set up a group of tasks by the following categories:

  • Ordering and Setup
  • Infrastructure
  • Programming
  • File Build
  • Training

This organizes the tasks into logical groups and saves time when you work through a project status meeting to determine the status of this week’s tasks that are due to be completed.

My approach is to quantify the tasks to complete a project first. I focus on identifying and listing all the tasks first and then work from there.

Something else to consider as you develop the tasks is that some tasks will be bottlenecks or key tasks that can jeopardize your project if they are not completed on time. You want to identify bottleneck tasks as quickly as you can and place priority on getting them completed early. Eliminating a bottleneck may actually give you a time advantage.

2.  Responsibility – Each task needs one person assigned to be responsible in getting the task completed. It doesn’t have to be the person who actually works on the task, but it needs to be someone on the project team who sits in the weekly status meetings so you can look the person in the eye when you hold them accountable for the task.

Another note on this, , , keep responsibility for each task to 1 person, even if multiple people work on the task. It’s hard to hold more than one person truly accountable for a task and it’s easy for them to point at the other person if a task is not completed.

3.  Timeframe – These are the columns you see titled Month-1, Month-2, etc. Under each month, there are 5 columns. These are weekly columns for the month, , , five because some months have 5 weeks. I use Friday dates. More on this in a second.

So, let’s say the project starts in January and the first Friday is the 7th. I would put in the weekly columns: 7, , , 14, , , 21, , , 28 underneath the month of January to designate each of the Fridays in the month of January. Put in the Friday dates for the other months that are required to complete the project.

Once you have the week ending dates established, , , work through each task to determine the week the task needs to be completed in order to complete the project successfully. What I do is to key or write in a “/” (slash). When the task is completed, I change the “/” to an “X”. This creates a visual effect that makes it very easy to see the status of all the tasks. You will see an example of this in a minute.

You may have a very large project, , , 20 pages or more with hundreds of tasks. By using the “/” and “X” notations, you are able to work through a project status meeting quickly and thoroughly. You just focus on the tasks that are due this week and possibly next week plus bottleneck tasks you know exist in the future.

I mentioned bottleneck tasks earlier. You may want to highlight these by shading the cell background of the completion time to bring attention to the team that this is a key task that can cause the project to fail. It also makes the task easy to spot in status meetings so you can ask about its status weeks ahead of when it is due. Remember the point I made earlier, , , get after these bottleneck tasks quickly!

I also mentioned that I use Friday dates. Friday is the last day of the work week in the US so I show the tasks as needing to be completed by the end of the week. I hold my weekly status meetings early in the week on Mondays or Tuesdays and as we work through this week’s tasks it gives us a few extra days to complete a task if it’s not already completed.

Project managers have to push the project to completion, , , it’s not going to be completed on time if you don’t push to make it happen. By holding project status meetings early in the week and showing tasks required to be completed by Friday it gives you additional time.

Quite often, project team members will procrastinate and wait until the last minute to start focusing on their tasks, , , they think they have plenty of time. This can cause a project to fail because sometimes a task is bigger or more complex than anticipated and takes longer to complete. The additional few days after a project status meeting will help you keep the project on track.

Below is the first page of an actual project where you can see the visual effect of what I described in designating completed tasks with an “X”. You can easily see that we are about to hold a status meeting for the week of October 19th. Click on the image if you need to see a larger version.

projectplan

In the next post we will talk about communicating the status of active projects and I’ll share a simple tool I developed and used recently to do this.

it project management ebookMore details of the entire project management process and customizable tools I use are available in my book, IT Project Management: a practical approach