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.

From Concept to Benefit – Achieving Corporate Strategy

The Business Need
Sound strategic planning is fundamental to achieving business objectives. Execution of the strategy is difficult and the complexities created by out of sync and competing activities, processes, functional groups and systems across the organization create many obstacles on the road to success. Constant change, corporate politics, functional silos and many other factors affect progress toward business objectives.

A sound business plan and clearly defined goals are essential, but the key to successful execution is understanding how to accomplish those goals. This post looks at process relationships and information flow across the business from strategic planning to achievement of the strategy, from great ideas to benefits realization. To ensure the business efficiently and effectively achieves its strategy, the organization must optimize the outcomes from their processes across the entire life-cycle.

While organizations put emphasis on improvement of individual processes, improvement across processes and systems is often neglected. This big picture transformation is more difficult to tackle. Over time, standalone systems, functional stovepipes and constant change cause issues around data, communication, processes, systems and performance. While this task of analyzing and improving the full life-cycle is difficult, the results are very valuable to the organization.

The Business Issues
Virtually every organization has information fragmented in multiple repositories and enterprise applications. Many obstacles keep organizations from meeting their basic needs for efficient operations, strategic alignment and profitability. Common business issues include:
• Process Issues:
o Inefficient
o Duplication of effort and disconnected processes
o No standardization, documentation or understanding of process
o Poor metrics and poor performance
• Data Issues:
o Insufficient or bad data
o Difficulty in obtaining data
o No authoritative source of data, duplicate entry
• Technical Issues:
o Insufficient applications and infrastructure to support best practice processes
o Disparate applications and systems

The Holistic view of the full life-cycle
Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Project Management and Operations (with many processes under operations). All of these processes contribute to achievement of strategy, thus are critical to business success.

Weaknesses in Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Project Management or Operations will result in problems in the other areas as there are information feeds and dependencies between these functions. In addition, the processes in each of these major areas must be efficient and must provide quality information to the other areas. The table below provides the typical issues for each of the processes.

Function/ Process
Typical Process Issues
Strategic Planning
• Objectives not clear, not understood by the organization
• Organization is unable to interpret the strategy into what needs to be done
Portfolio Management
• Not using objective criteria for investment selection
• Selection criteria not clearly related to strategic tie and benefits realization
• Not sizing the portfolio correctly to match resource capacity to demand
Project Management
• Overlapping projects, redundant projects
• Projects not aligned with strategy and not meeting customer needs. Projects working at cross purposes
• Resource conflicts, poor project performance
Operations
• Transition process not sufficient for smooth roll-out
• Rush to get to production can result in problems after roll-out

The strategic goals are meaningless to the organization unless they are clear, understood by all and interpreted into the activities required to achieve the goals. This means that executives should not throw high-level strategic goals out to the organization with the directive to make it happen. Instead, they should have a clear idea of the major activities designed to meet the strategic objectives to ensure the organization is headed in the right direction. Leaders in Strategic Planning and Portfolio Management can work together to clearly connect the strategy with the required tactical activity.

Portfolio Management will determine the optimized Portfolio of investments based on analysis, valuation and prioritization of the business needs. To prioritize investments, a scoring model is developed based on the organization’s definition of value. The model will provide strategic alignment and will represent the benefit provided by the investment.

Portfolio reviews and analysis require up-to-date information from Strategic Planning, Finance, Enterprise Architecture, IT Governance and Project Management. Finance provides available budget information to be used in determining how many items in the portfolio can be funded. Enterprise Architecture provides capabilities and Enterprise Architect requirements used in Portfolio Management selection process while Portfolio Management provides portfolio performance to capabilities and requirements to Enterprise Architecture. In some organizations, IT Governance will utilize the investment scores to prioritize and grant funding to investments.

When funding decisions are complete, approved projects move to the Project Management process in the life-cycle. Project Management is complex and key to achievement of the business needs. Therefore, best practice processes are key to achievement of the corporate plans.

Performance Management

Performance Management is an element in each of the processes as metrics and analysis are required to ensure each area is achieving its goals and to ensure benefits realization from the system as a whole. For decision makers, Portfolio Management will provide benefits realization metrics including financial benefits. Portfolio Management measures progress toward corporate goals based on the metrics for each goal and reports this information to Strategic Planning/Executives. For each Project, metrics will be established to ensure the project team is meeting the project goals. Project Performance is measured and analyzed to develop corrective actions and ensure risks are managed. This Performance information is reviewed in Project and Program reviews to ensure Project Management performance is optimized. Performance information is fed from the Project Management system to the Portfolio Management system (and/ or the Program Management system) to allow decision making for the portfolio and programs. In Portfolio reviews, project performance is taken into consideration and failing projects may be stopped.

Building the Holistic Life-cycle Solution
How do you build the holistic life-cycle process to optimize sharing information across processes, eliminate duplication of tasks, and improve each process while optimizing across all processes? First, ensure high-level sponsorship with a clear understanding of the value of this effort from the top down. As this solution provides both strategic and tactical benefit and provides significant financial benefit, this holistic approach should be an easy “sell” to the leaders of the organization. However, the new life-cycle design may require breaking down barriers between functions and may bring major changes in governance and decision-making. Good Change Management planning can help ensure success of the new solution.

By mapping the current processes, systems and data flow, you will reveal gaps, duplications and problem areas. Analysis of this current situation will determine required improvements to establish the optimized life-cycle. Keep in mind that the goal is to improve individual processes as well as tying the processes together and developing good information flow and process coordination across the life-cycle.

This improved life-cycle will provide benefits of strategic achievement, a portfolio of investments with the highest ROI and improved efficiency across the organization. The transformation effort is not easy to achieve but well worth the effort.

Is your Strategy up to date?

For awhile my husband and son have been telling me I should put my “sports commentaries” in a blog post. This refers to my comments during various sports they are watching while I am waiting for the game to be over so I can watch something else! Before you write me off as a nut, I do like watching sports, just not some of them and I prefer being at the game. When you are waiting for a game to be over, it seems to go on forever. So during the time outs, I provide my comments: gee, is the coach telling them to hit more home runs, get more baskets or touchdowns? I know it is not that simple. But I also don’t like the way time outs make the game so much less spontaneous!

So here is a sports analogy. These sports teams are taking time out to strategize when something is going wrong. When a business is struggling, they usually regroup and try to figure the best strategy to resolve the issue. Sometimes this results in a knee jerk solution versus a strategic solution.

We all know change is constant, so review and analysis of changes in the industry, market, opportunities, trending and competition should be an ongoing part of the business. And this analysis should bring about new strategy to stay on top of the market. So just as in sports, business needs to change direction as external and internal events effect the business. In the past, annual strategic planning worked for businesses, not anymore! While change is constant, strategic planning and thinking must be ongoing.

While I get frustrated with the interruption in games caused by changing strategy, I think frequent strategic planning in business is not an interruption but a valuable, necessary part of business. And of course, as in sports, the strategy must be interpreted into what needs to be done to meet the new goals. The question must be asked often, are we doing the right things now to ensure ongoing success?