Legacy already

It used to be that I would expect the PCs being installed on desks would be one model behind the market – something would have been adjusted or replaced in the new model but it would not be so far ahead of our newly tested installation. In some suppliers the speed of innovation has increased and the availability of supply and services expands almost daily.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than towards the end of a project attending the launch of a product or service that you wished was available at project start. That is what happened to me today. We had the vision of focusing of the customer’s contact preference, being responsive, integrating backed systems with customer side service.

The organisation is close to the installation of the final part of the last phase of the 80% solution and I have just met a company that is launching proven technology that does exactly the unified Communications and CRM we wanted but wasn’t available in the UK. They have been in the USA and Europe for 4 years, today they launch in uk. The best solution available is legacy already – before the project managers have signed off the last work. While the return on investment will be realised, it won’t be the shiny new system we wanted on day one.

That is the frustration in business solutions – for most organisations, the solution is out there but finding it is harder.

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Making the Most of your Team

“I’m calling to warn you: the CEO is cutting 10% of your budget. You’ll be asked for a plan to do this at the project review on Monday.”  Many project managers will have heard something similar.

You can talk to your suppliers about alternative solutions at lower cost. You can ban overtime and risk the project running over budget because you miss deadlines. Or you can think differently.

Project teams often have individuals that have latent skills: things they are skilled in that are ignored because they have been pigeonholed for specific skills they are associated with within the organisation. This is the opportunity to take advantage of these latent skills as well.

Ask the team the question: if we were starting today with a budget of 20% less, how would we do what we have to do in this project?  What skills have you got that we could use?

You may be surprised at the results. After initial horror at the suggestion of such a budget  cut, you will usually find creative or simply pragmatic solutions emerge from the team. Of course, you can’t take the idea at face value: work it through as a change request and prove it.

This might be worth a try for all projects in different situations: how can we do this cheaper? faster? simpler? better?

Welcome to 2012

Well it seems so odd to finally be in 2012!

I spend a lot of time in London and the pre-Olympic theme in many places has lulled me into a dream-like state of it already being 2012. Now it really is 2012. That got my attention: something has changed and yet nothing has changed.

Christmas was also a reminder of the truth behind “culture shock”. I hear change specialist worrying about culture shock for big changes in organisations or moving teams to new locations. However, the biggest shocks I see are when people arrive somewhere after being away. How many of us expected our parents to be the same with other children as they were with us or return “home” after a long trip  expecting to be treated to the same reception as we used to get only to find things have changed? We may have changed but so has own old home and the people in it. The behaviour is not what they expect it to be. That can grab our attention too.

That grabbing of attention makes me stand still for a moment to work out where I am,  what I expected and how to reset my expectations to deal with the reality.  That is fine if I have that time to spare.  If my project doesn’t have that time, I need to be better prepared.

In projects, you can prepare people and help them be ready for a change but if that change doesn’t meet their expectation then there will be a shock. Managing stakeholder expectations of the changes your project plans to make needs to include two-way communication to discover what they think it will be like and correct any misunderstandings. It is an area of change that, with a little more understanding of the people concerned, can show lasting results.  A little research will uncover assumptions and associated risks.

My new year wish for project managers is that your people are healthy in terms of change, your projects are wealthy or at least appropriately resourced, and you grow wise in terms of risk management.

Happy New Year

What are we trying to achieve?

Setting the objective for a programme or project is something that some managers and organisations give too little analysis. The instinct is to say “make me widget X” or “make this new organisation structure happen”.  That simply defines the solution that seems obvious at the time. For some projects that is enough but for many that is like saying “go to Plymouth” without say why or what you need to be ready to do when you get there.

For a project team to be successful, it helps to know what the end state needs to be and why you need that end. Read more of this post

Does an interim have to be industry specialist?

Some HR managers and interim providers seem to be advising executives and directors on hiring interim managers who have specialist experience in their sector.

It has always been so for certain sectors and they have a point: understanding the language and “standard operations” of these sectors is a real benefit when you want an interim to start fast and make positive impact quickly.  Especially where the role is to be a heavy weight temporary role.

However, one way in which I have been able to help clients is by bringing insights from other sectors which gives them a way of looking at the problem with fresh eyes. Read more of this post

Scaleablity: strength or weakness?

One of my current projects is the consolidation of a diverse collections of legacy “systems” into one end-to-end integrated business system. Why are we doing it? Efficiency.  The organisation can streamline its operations and free staff to concentrate on the higher value work they never get to do at the moment (because they are doing things to join up the current systems manually.)  Scalability will be a strength for this system. Read more of this post

IT Project failure: can we blame the techies?

The business commentators have noticed: IT is not giving most businesses the benefits they claim IT should.   The projects themselves bring change that the businesses and their people aren’t handling properly.  IT projects lock wasteful practices into new systems. The dream and the promises have been broken.

It is so easy to throw stones at IT people. Read more of this post

True Cost of Change

The Sales Manager rang me to arrange our regular review. The meeting was pleasant and the new software looked really good. It would give the business some benefits for the projects we have planned over the next year.

Will I take the upgrade earlier?  He’d find a way round the service contract : it will be free to me.  He had a hard time believing that even if there were no cost for the products and services he was ready to deliver, that the upgrade would still add costs to the business. Right now we can’t carry that cost and I will wait for the next upgrade. Read more of this post

Blueprint for Success

A team at Warwick Business School has surveyed 500 above average trading performance businesses employing between 20 and 250 staff.

These business had these approaches in common:

  1. Striving for growth – seeking to increase sales
  2. Managing flexibly
  3. People planning – skill needs and focus on staff development
  4. Marketing – reach new customers with broadcast
  5. Research and development – technology, new ways of doing business
  6. Process changes – reducing costs, improving service quality

How does this apply to programme management, change management or project management?   We can use these to consider things we might need to plan to under pin the success of our projects. Read more of this post

Getting the Communication Right

The British Commuter Society has changed considerably since I joined (more than 20 years ago) and so has the world.  In the last couple of years, it has recognised that the world was leaving it behind. I’m glad to say the sleeping giant shook itself and started to move. The United Kingdom’s IT profession and government started to realise it had an organisation that could unite the diversity in the IT profession and make a real difference: from professional computer games players/testers, to embedded systems engineers, to teachers and researchers, through to programme managers making strategic decisions about business systems.   Read more of this post