Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Mixing Social Networking & Business

Posted by iammarchhare on 28 August 2009

I’ve noticed that some organizations are on the bleeding edge of the social media realm.  There are some really cool things going on in various sectors.  However, is there really a strategy or are many of them just jumping on the social networking bandwagon?

Well, truth be told, I would suppose there’s a little of both of these going on.  Some probably have a strategy, but there are a lot of “ifs”, “ands” and “buts” in it.  Some are just out there so they can say they are doing it, but they have no clear idea of how to leverage it or even why.

It is this last group that concerns me.  It will be these guys that will say IT failed.  It will be these guys who will trivialize the successes in social networking.

When it comes to strategy, you know you are in for a ride when whenever the topic of strategy comes up, they get out the top hat and cane.  It is remarkable how some even stay in business.

Your business may be considering social networking.  Perhaps you are as a means of networking yourself.  If it is business related, there are similar concerns you will have as will a company venturing into ti.  Things to consider:

Does the company have a strategy?  A strategy is a business statement.  Keep the IT and tech talk out of it unless you are a technical company (even then, be very, very careful, as these are usually the worst at strategy).  A company with a strategy will be able to articulate its mission, its vision and its goals.  Even if they are all jumbled up together, they need to have a direction and know they have a direction.

  1. Does the IT solution support the strategy and goals of the company?  If so, how?
  2. How do you identify the inevitable distractions that will occur?  Remember, if it is supporting the strategy and goals of the company, it is not a distraction, even though on the surface it might appear that way.  Conversely, it is way too easy for what begins as a legitimate use to begin to trail off into various rabbit holes.
  3. What can be done to diminish the inevitable distractions that occur with social networking?
  4. Will your efforts to reduce distractions or enhance security also reduce the flow of innovation in the company?  Will it impede users from getting work done, or will it make it so difficult that they go out of their way to find another way to do it?
  5. Are the solutions dictated by the strategy, or are the solutions provided as a grassroots effort to support the strategy?  While decisions often have to be made, efforts have to be streamlined and approvals set, the sets of options for solutions should be done at the lowest possible level.  They will be the ones to carry out the solutions.

Are there any you want to add?

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Posted in Business Strategy, Social Networking | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Highlights From Seth’s Blog

Posted by iammarchhare on 20 August 2009

Most of you know by now that I enjoy Seth Godin’s blog.  You’d be amazed how many of his posts relate to project management as well.  Here are some highlights from this month:

1. “All storms are perfect” makes the point that a perfect storm can be anticipated.  I don’t want to give his whole post away (it’s very short), but notice where the actual failure is in his example.  Now, ask yourself, “What sort of ongoing verification have I put into place once this project has been completed?”

2. Godin tackles a requirements definition problem in “Are we solving the same problem?”  If you’ve ever had to sit through some large vendor’s sales pitch, you surely can relate to this post.  How many sales people drone on and on about features you aren’t even interested in?  Worse, have you ever delivered a project only for the enduser to say, “That’s not what I wanted”?  Perhaps you were, like the vendor sales person, focusing on the solution and not the problem.

3. Godin’s article on “When tactics drown out strategy” reminds me of my own difficulty in separating tactics and strategy.  It is far too easy for me to focus in on details and forget why I’m trying to get it done in the first place.

4. In “Critics that matter”, Godin points out that there are critics that matter, critics that are loud and critics that are difficult.  I have alluded to this in previous posts that you won’t please everyone.  As I have stated in “Ambiguous Scope”, the sponsor needs to define for you when a project is “done”.  It needs to be measurable.

However, there will be other key stakeholders on the project that you need to identify and engage them in shaping requirements.  They are called “stakeholders”, but don’t kid yourself that all of them have a stake in “the project”.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that their real concern is in the product being produced!

You know the audience is somewhat different, the tools are different and even the emphasis is different, but there are a lot more similarities between marketing and project management than either side will admit!

Posted in PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Highlights From Seth’s Blog

Strategic Project Management

Posted by iammarchhare on 15 June 2009

Last week, I posted about a CA Clarity TM presentation on how “Project and Program Management Key to IT Efficiency”.  One of the main points in the first presentation is that executives can look at the list of projects to see how well they align with company strategy.  The need is to work on the right things.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) Information Systems Special Interest Group (ISSIG) has also posted a webinar on “Strategic Project Management”.  If you are a member of ISSIG, then viewing the webinar is free.  Otherwise, you will need to purchase access.

Project management is often used as a tactical tool.  It isn’t normally viewed by businesses as a strategic tool.  Don J Wessels argues that 60% of the projects should be strategically aligned.  Strategic project management is a new process that comes between strategic planning and project execution.

Similar to the Clarity presentation, Wessels goes out of his way to note that executive championship is key to successful project-program management.  While Clarity mentioned that CIOs should sit on governance boards, Wessels’ angle points out that executive championship underlies the real challenge to many organizations in regards to project management and now strategic project management.  Attrition of executive champions has taken its toll on project management in general.

Wessels has a slide on “Without Strategic Emphasis” that lists symptoms of an organization that doesn’t have strategic project emphasis.  Boy!  Have I been in this organization!

This webinar is worth 1 PDU.

Posted in Business Strategy, PMI | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Strategic Project Management

Technical Debt

Posted by iammarchhare on 12 June 2009

I always wondered what it was called when bad decisions, bad programming or even the “we need this now” syndrome create a backlog of things that, sooner or later, will have to be fixed.  Well, it turns out that it is called “technical debt”.  Steve McConnell wrote about “Technical Debt” on his 10x Software Development blog.

McConnell distinguishes between the unintentional and the intentional.  Bad programming would be the first type.  The “we need this now” scenario falls under the second.  The willingness to cut corners in order to save the situation today may result in future rework (and, in my experience, almost always does).

Like credit, you will likely have long-term debt and short-term debt.  Also like credit, short-term debt needs to be paid off soon and frequently, while long-term debt might be years away from payoff.

When does it make sense to incur technical debt?  When the cost today is more than the cost in the future.  Often, financial debt is taken on when the rate of inflation creates cheaper dollars tomorrow.  If the interest rate is sufficiently low, then the debt can easily be justified.  McConnell argues that there also are circumstances in which technical debt makes sense.

McConnell’s financial comparisons don’t end there, either.  I think the most important point he makes is to not ignore technical debt and make it visible.  I can relate to this, as I know of one organization that made hiding inconvenient facts into an art form.  It always backfired, but it seemed the individuals involved kept doing it instead of learning from the experience.

I’m not going to regurgitate his entire article, which you can read here.  Since there are times it makes sense to take on technical debt, he also has a follow-up post, “Technical Debt Decision Making”, which is also a worthwhile read.  I really like how McConnell breaks down the costs in the follow-up article.

Posted in Change Control, Tracking | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Technical Debt

Project and Program Management Key to IT Efficiency

Posted by iammarchhare on 11 June 2009

I attended a seminar last week in Columbus put on by CA called “Challenging Times Require Efficient IT”.  In it, they showcased the CA Clarity TM PPM On Demand solution.   If you have worked with Clarity before, it is basically just the version that they push for their Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.  If you haven’t worked with Clarity before, you might want to give it a once over if you are looking for an enterprise solution to PPM.  I don’t get paid for any endorsements, I just prefer their solution over at least one other.

Overall, it may seem like a strange time to invest in a tool.  However, curbing waste and ensuring your project portfolio is strategically aligned with your business goals can save you money in the first year, or so believes CA (note that isn’t a guarantee; they are just saying it can do so).

At any rate, the real attraction was the first part, “Why Project and Portfolio Management Matters More in an Economic Downturn”.  There wasn’t anything really earth shattering in the presentation, but I did want to hear what they had to say.  Without taking notes, here are my take-aways:

Gaining insights into what is going on with your resources answers the question: Are you working on what’s strategically important?  Strategies may need to change.  Ongoing projects need to be regularly evaluated to see if they are still meeting strategic needs.

The CIO really needs to be part of the change governance board.  Prior to the economic mess, there actually was an upswing in CIO participation on these boards.  The CIO is the one that can reach across the organization to get the right kind of input from other departments.  Without CIO participation, the other departments discount the board’s importance and so key decision makers are not present at the meetings.  After the economic mess, CIO participation is down from what it was, which is a disturbing trend.

A strong governance board and appropriate executive views into work allow projects to be killed earlier.  If they are not meeting the strategic needs or it turns out they are too costly, then the proper decision makers can kill it before it gets worse.  In a down economy, lessening such waste is a huge benefit to the company.

New projects are less likely to be started if they do not meet strategic needs.  Again, this reduces wasteful spending.

The last part was a demo on the On Demand solution.  Like I said, if you’ve used Clarity, the interface is pretty familiar.  I don’t know the costs involved, but having someone else worry about the infrastructure costs may be attractive to certain companies.  Obviously, a lot will depend upon company size and IT objectives.

Posted in Economy, Tools | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review: The Dip by Seth Godin

Posted by iammarchhare on 17 April 2009

The opening of The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin goes like this:

I feel like giving up.

Almost every day, in fact.  Not all day, of course, but there are moments.

~ p 3

Thus, I was immediately drawn in.

For a high-level philosophical viewpoint, I think Godin gets his point across quite well.  For a low-level practical standpoint, though, I’m not so sure.

However, since it is a high-level look, it can apply in so many areas.  It can apply personally or corporately.  It can apply to marketing, general management, IT, or any area where you might have a goal.  It can apply to a corporate strategy or a career path.

Types of Obstacles

Godin outlines 3 types of obstacles:

  1. The dip.  This is what separates the experts from the amateurs.  It takes resources to cross the dip, to get back up the hill and succeed.
  2. The cul-de-sac.  This can also be called the “dead end”.  No amount of effort is going to get you where you want in this space.
  3. The cliff.  You climb up and up, but then you suddenly crash.  A disaster is the result.

I think we can all think of examples of these.  Godin gives the example of passing organic chemistry as the dip for pre-med students.  Getting past HR might be a dip for a job seeker.  A dead-end job is a cul-de-sac.  Cigarette smoking is a cliff.  You puff along and puff along, and all of a sudden you’re dealing with a life debilitating disease like emphysema.

Basically, his advice seems to be that as long as it is worth doing, it is a dip.  If it is not worth doing, then it is a cul-de-sac.  If it is a dip, keep persevering.  However, one should be more than willing to quit for cul-de-sacs and cliffs.

It’s easy enough to say that one should quit if it is a dead-end.  Godin tells of people who quit because they did not cross a dip, though.  Instead of quitting a cul-de-sac, they quit in a dip.  I’m just not convinced that he gave clear enough guidelines to distinguish the 2 in a practical situation.

Woodpeckers and Diversification

Throughout the book, Godin argues that diversification takes away energy from other pursuits.  It takes resources away from the energy that’s needed to overcome the dip.

A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy.  Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.

~ p 29

This analogy breaks, though.  What if there is no dinner to be found in that tree?  The woodpecker starves as much by trying too little in a thousand trees.  I think he tries to address that later on by stating that you should write down the circumstances in which you’ll quit, but this question just screamed out at me when I was reading the book.

The other problem, of course, is that especially in the IT world, you have so many options that it can be hard to narrow them down.  Sometimes you really do have to experiment with different things and ideas before you find something that works and works well.

Cul-de-sacs and Space Shuttles

Godin argues that the space shuttle is a cul-de-sac and not a dip.  It exists because “no one has the guts to cancel it”.

Perhaps he is right.  After all, what is the goal of the space shuttle?  What are we trying to accomplish?  I mean, NASA had a goal when it was trying to be 1st to the moon.  Those were exciting times.  From what I understand, even the space station is likely to be abandoned in the near future, so what should we be trying to do with space?

Does that make it a cul-de-sac, then?  It does seem pretty dead end if you don’t have a goal.  However, if there still were a goal, would it still be a cul-de-sac?  That part isn’t clear to me.

Flexible Dips

To me, it gets even more confusing then, as Godin presents dips as not being concrete objects.  They are subject to change.

Microsoft, for example, was able to create a dip by becoming the standard.  They themselves overcame dips by persevering with Windows, Word, Excel, etc.  They failed a few times before they won.  Now, the dip has become much larger for those who follow.

Yet, what might appear as a cul-de-sac really is a dip.  Microsoft products run on Microsoft platforms.  Google is now a challenger because their products are online.  In other words, Google is competing on a different platform.

His point is that to overcome a dip, you must act.  It isn’t something you ride out.  You must engage it.

Then, he states that quitting in the dip is a mistake usually based upon short-term concerns.  Here I think, then, is what probably is the key to dip vs. cul-de-sac.  One is a short-term problem that can be overcome and even changed with effort and insight.  The other is long-term and immovable.  I really think not stating this concretely and earlier in the book is the book’s biggest weakness.

Sunk Costs

Godin presents a Harvard Medical Degree as an example of sunk-cost.  Someone who is studying medicine but cannot stand to cut someone open is probably not going to make a great surgeon.

I actually think he could have emphasized this even more.  I’ve been thinking about sunk-costs since reading a post about the sunk-cost fallacy on the blog Get Rich Slowly.  It’s surprising how much it motivates our decision-making.  The problem with it, though, is that it can lead to “throwing good money after bad” instead of knowing when to quit.

How many IT managers have been afraid to shut down a project because some executive wanted it?  How many executives have been afraid to stop a bleeding project because they perceived that was what the customer wanted (when in fact it might not be what they need at all)?

Before You Quit and Before You Start

Perhaps the most practical sections of the book are “Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting” and the one immediately following called “Quitting Before You Start”.

The 3 questions:

  1. Am I panicking? — don’t decide things when panicked
  2. Who am I trying to influence? — markets vs individuals
  3. What sort of measurable progress am I making? — sticking with a situation in spite of forward progress is a waste

He then spends some time on tactics vs strategy.  Quitting a job is not giving up on making a living, for example.  A job is a tactic.  It gets you to where you want to go.  If it doesn’t, then it is time to quit.  Again, I have to believe the difference is short-term vs long-term here.

To me, though, the most valuable part of the book is to write down the circumstances in which you will quit.  This really seems to differentiate the dips from the cul-de-sacs.  An athlete isn’t going to quit because of a bruised knee.  A congenital heart condition might be a good reason to quit, though.

This points out why I say it is more of a philosophical book than a practical book.  The specifics are going to depend upon you or your team as well as your environment.  In the end, it seems to me only you can truly distinguish the cul-de-sac from the dip.  In addition, there are sections of the book that speak of creating your own dips.  In theory, then, even a cul-de-sac might really be a dip in a different market.  Thus, if you can create your own market, you have a distinct advantage.  It just isn’t cut and dried.

In project management, a team really needs to decide upfront what constitutes a failed project and how to pull the plug on it before more money goes down the toilet.

Wrapping It Up

It seems appropriate that there isn’t a neat bow to tidy things up at the end of the book.  Rather, it ends with a lot of questions.  These questions should guide you to further thinking on the subject.  I’ll let you read the book and answer them yourself.

Posted in Book Review, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »