10 signs your project is in trouble

I was just reading a study of Project Failures which got me thinking about the warning signs. The following are true warning signs and issues I have had or witnessed in my Project Management career.

Project Frustration

You know your project is in trouble when:
1. The project team was just assigned but the customer wanted this 6 months ago. And the deadline isn’t changing from the original.
2. Your project team is very unhappy because the project has this overly aggressive schedule.
3. You have some team members that don’t like each other – to the point they are acting like 5 year olds asking you to remove the other team member. Time to provide a lecture on being a good team member (and acting like a grownup).
4. Your sponsor is nowhere to be seen – has completely dropped his or her sponsorship of the project.
5. One of the team members has developed a mantra: “I will have that done tomorrow”. This task was due last month!
6. The project contract has a specification that is tighter than the spec your team felt they could meet.
7. Your designer has kept a secret from you: that he doesn’t have a clue how to design the solution.
8. Your stakeholders selected the software – very thorough analysis of alternatives involving tons of people and tons of hours. They selected the application that will work much better than any alternatives. Unfortunately, that is not the application you are implementing. At the last minute an executive informed you that you were to buy one of the alternatives. He claimed that, as a company, we only purchase from this major software vendor.
9. Stakeholders are not happy about this change but they are happy to tell you they don’t want this change.
10. You day-dream a good deal about changing careers.

Men Rowing on Placid River

Some ideas around these project issues:
• Good risk management is important. At the beginning of the project work to determine what can go wrong and what you will do about each risk. This is not just for the PM to do but the entire project team will be valuable in working on this.
• Thorough stakeholder analysis and management will help avoid users that don’t want to use the new system or process.
• Research has shown that a project with no sponsor is more likely to fail that a project with a strong sponsor.
• Communication, communication, communication – with the project team, the sponsors, the stakeholders
o This includes communicating problems – along with what needs to be done to solve the problems.
• If faced with aggressive schedules make sure this is included in your list of risks. This is a difficult issue. The customer always wants it asap and meeting all goals and high quality and in budget. That is a daunting task!
What signs of project trouble have you had? And what did you do about it?

Why in the world do we need change management?

I hear this question often so I have come up with ideas to help those of us who believe in Change Management convince others of the value.

Background:
Most projects involve people changing. They have to use new technology or they have to use a new process or maybe take on a whole new role because of a reorganization. There are many scenarios and we all know that change takes us out of our comfort zone. You may even have change saturation in the organization.

Why do we need change management? That is touchy feely stuff!
For a new process or technology project, or both, the ROI is generally based on the assumption that users will adopt to the change at go live and will be proficient. What if the people aren’t ready or are resistant to change? Your return will be pushed out and will not be what you expected.

Loss of productivity is an issue whenever you upset the status quo. When people are anxious about a change or resistant to the change, productivity goes down. By working with people to understand the root cause of the resistance, you can minimize this negative impact by helping people understand the business value and personal benefit of the change.

Ultimately projects can fail when change is not handled properly. People can revert to the old way of doing things. There are many business cases out there about major losses caused by failure to pay attention to the people side of the project and properly bring the individuals of the organization through the change.

In summary, Organizational Change Management enables transition to achieve and sustain the desired business strategy and drives ROI through:
– Accelerating the Adoption Curve
– Ensuring Proficiency
– Minimizing the dip in Productivity
– Increasing project success

Let me know if you have other ideas for “selling” change management to those who don’t get it.

Keeping Calm under Pressure

I am seeing companies out there asking for people who work well under pressure. I thought everyone was good at that because there are always plenty of issues and challenges in the workplace. But I have seen a lot of different attitudes when difficulties occur in the business. Here are some attitudes that are all wrong for dealing with business challenges:
1. Ignore the problem and it will go away. NOT!
2. Hand this off to someone else. You can collaborate with others, run your solution by others but complete handoff is not something you can do and expect to go anywhere in your career. We all need to be problem solvers. If you feel you must push this further up the chain of command, at least offer your ideas on resolution of the problem.
3. Let out your frustrations and rant and yell about who is to blame. I don’t think anyone sees this as working well under pressure but I have been amazed to see high level people get away with this. I do think this is becoming less common though.

So how should you deal with pressure, issues, challenges and downright disaster?
1. Remain calm and analyze the problem. What is the root cause of the issue and potential solutions?
2. Keep a positive attitude and open mind. I got this idea from people I have worked with. They say that when I worked under great pressure, I kept a positive attitude, which in turn helped keep my teams motivated. Negativity is not productive or motivating, generally this just leads to the issues not getting resolved quickly.
3. Negotiate. Some of the biggest pressures I have encountered related to the customer (internal or external) wanting it now (schedule problem) and wanting it cheap (budget problem) and wanting all the bells and whistles (scope problem). I have found that it is good to find out the prioritization of scope, schedule, cost according to the client. Which of these constraints is most critical? If it is schedule, tell them what you can do by that date and how you would phase the rest of the solution. If it is money, convince them they will have what they need without every last bell and whistle.
4. Corporate culture is key to dealing with issues. If the organization punishes people for reporting problems, there will be more problems. If the organization is consistently looking at performance, proactively anticipating issues and risks while planning mitigation and empowering people to solve problems, the business is likely to run smoother.
5. As I mentioned in item 2 above, your best move might be to all take a deep breath and remind yourselves that panicking doesn’t resolve anything. Then get people together and brainstorm solutions.
6. Keep the issue in perspective. Is this something people will even remember in a day, week or month? Is it possible you will laugh about this later?
7. Plan on getting your frustrations out from all the pressure at work by exercising – the number one stress reliever!
What are your ideas for keeping calm under pressure? If employees are constantly seeking this in their workforce, its a good idea for everyone to work on this.

How are your IT Systems and Applications Performing?

A thorough analysis of IT applications and systems in most organizations should reveal many opportunities for savings and improved efficiencies. Application rationalization is a process in which an organization’s IT assets are thoroughly reviewed and analyzed to develop a plan for improvements across all systems. Application Portfolio Management (APM) is a process to maintain and optimize the Portfolio of applications and systems.

The Business Drivers for Application Portfolio Management

What are the issues and concerns addressed by Application Rationalization and Application Portfolio Management? The table below shows the issues from the Business Leaders, users, IT Management and software management perspectives.

Issues Driving the Need for Application Rationalization and ongoing Application Portfolio analysis
Business Leaders:
•Inefficient Legacy Systems
•Costly Maintenance
•Business Interruption from System downtime
•Business needs not being met by the IT Initiatives
IT Customer Complaints:
•Takes too long to get information
•Data accuracy is suspect
•Technology issues are affecting the efficiency of the business Processes.
•Cannot obtain reports needed in a timely manner.
•Manual data entry and re-entry is required.
IT Management Pains:
•The IT Asset inventory is too large to be maintained by the limited IT resources.
•The Business does not see the value added from IT investments – Results in IT not having sufficient funds to complete required improvements.
•Database Centralization is needed as data is entered in more than one place manually or kept in individual spreadsheets, or paper forms.
•Systems are not Retired prior to the point where they fail.
Software Management Issues:
•Costs include unused licenses as the license tracking process is inefficient.
•Software is in use that is no longer supported by the vendor.
•Maintenance costs are out of control.
•Duplicate applications for the same purpose.
•Underutilized applications that should be eliminated.

Application rationalization looks at the business processes along with the IT systems, analyzing procedural issues as well as system issues to determine what needs to be improved or fixed.

What Application Portfolio Management does for the business
Application Portfolio Management extends the value of IT to the business by ensuring IT is meeting the business needs. Application Rationalization will provide cost savings and improved efficiency of business processes.

Application Rationalization optimizes the operation of the IT systems and applications, ensures data accuracy and ensures compliance with regulations. From the business perspective, the analysis ties IT to the business strategy and streamlines and improves processes.

Inventory
The first step in the process is to inventory all applications, systems and processes. Questions to be answered for the entire application inventory include:
• How are the applications being used and who uses them?
• What processes does each application support?
• What data is input and output to the application?
• What is being spent to maintain, support, upgrade?
• What is the business value of the application?
• What strategic objectives does the application contribute to?
• What are the technical requirements?
• What is the level of customer satisfaction with the application or system.
• What is the risk associated with the application or system.
• Is there sufficient support for the system?
• Is the system managed and supported well?
Answers to these questions provide a clearer understanding of the state of the IT assets.

Analysis
Application Portfolio Management requires thorough analysis of processes, operations, data and systems to enable good decision making regarding plans for the IT systems and applications. The analysis should look at the relationship of each asset to process, function, capability and data input and output.
Tools used for the analysis include:
• Process flow diagrams,
• Entity Relationship Diagrams for each application,
• Application budget and support costs
• Enterprise Architecture,
• functional and technical specs, user lists,
• help desk data,
• Database Analysis (requirements and data map)
• Data/ Process/ App/ System Relationships
• Associated Process information (process efficiency etc.)
Analysis of this information will identify redundant capability, costly assets (high cost to maintain), determine underutilized assets and highlight downtime issues. This analysis will be combined with the process analysis to determine required activities to optimize the portfolio.

With regard to process, the first questions to be answered: are the processes written and are they accurate? Just like applications, processes need to be easy to use and follow. Feedback from those who use the processes will determine which processes need re-engineering. A review of all processes together will determine gaps, overlaps and areas where the process flow is not optimal. This analysis will also determine opportunities for process automation.

Data accuracy and accessibility are essential to efficiency. Is data entered in more than one place? This would indicate opportunities for integration of systems. Users need to confirm that data is easy to find.

While data is gathered separately for applications and systems, processes and data, the information must be cross referenced. It is important to look at the relationships between the processes, applications and data. Which applications support which processes? What data is collected for each process? Are there labor intensive processes that can be automated? The Application Portfolio analysis will determine improvements for processes, applications, database structure and data collection. Decisions will be made to upgrade, sunset, combine and replace applications.

The analysis provided in application rationalization provides a great opportunity for IT to provide business value in cost savings and improved efficiency. Establishment of an ongoing Application Portfolio Management process ties IT to business as it clearly demonstrates the business value of the IT strategic plan.

Application Portfolio Management is an ongoing process requiring update to the inventory, information, analysis and recommendations as capabilities are added and as applications are retired. In addition, the Application Portfolio must be monitored and re-evaluated to ensure it is contributing to the business strategy.