Monday, June 4, 2012

Spreadsheet Liberation


Getting the “Why” and “How” Clear

A Company’s future depends firstly on devising an effective strategy. Such a strategy is a plan that helps to formulate why a change or direction is necessary. (See Start with Why, Sinek)
Many hours are spent by management requesting, building cases, and lobbying for investment to take the company towards a better future. Every company executive knows, that without this crucial investment, the company is doomed to a slow (or fast) demise. With the right amount of investment, channeled to the right places, the business has a competitive chance in the market. 
However, a strategy alone is not enough to propel the business towards a desired state. While a plan is good, something significantly more is needed. Fire power! The knowledge and ability of “How” to implement the strategy. This second most important factor for success is the means and ability to execute the strategy. Once you have the “Why” it is now time for the “How”.
Here is the problem. While a business has to start with good strategy, it is rather effective execution that differentiates one company, one division or one department from another. Without execution, and without the knowledge of “how” to realize the hopes and dreams of the organization’s executives, the strategy remains only a pipe-dream.
It is no new revelation. Up to now, one can say: “So what? Heard it all before!” Here is the question: “What is it then, that is holding back businesses to achieve an even more desired end-state or outcome, more effectively?”  “Why do organizations appear to be driving blind when they try and implement their strategy?” 

The answer: “The efficiency of their strategy delivery machine - their Portfolio, Program and Project Management organization determines the success of their strategy execution!”
The Machine

Most companies I know are deploying, or have deployed Project Management, Program Management, and some even Portfolio Management. PMI has done a good job drilling into the industries the value of these disciplines, and the importance of employing and contracting competent (...read certified) professionals. 
Most of these companies have someone in charge of the company’s PMO (Project Management Office). It is an important support function. Yet, here is where it is getting challenging. Here is where most companies undo the good work of their strategy: Keeping tabs on a Portfolio or group of projects without the right processes and tools is every company’s PMO nightmare. It is fast becoming every company’s nightmare. It is time to recognize the importance of improving how companies utilize their project machine.
How can we as executives expect to run these very important functions, responsible for determining the outcome of our company futures, and expect these complex disciplines to be carried out over email and with spreadsheets? 
Worse even, some company’s enforce no standards, except documentation templates to ensure their Portfolio’s success, and allows every Project Manager to use what he/she deems fit (and not in violation of archaic desktop tools policies). I have personally experienced PMO “retrofits”, “upgrades”, and “improvements” where the only progress that could be made un-contentiously was yet another reformatting of the standard PMO artifacts - the very spreadsheets and documents that is failing to meet expectations, and another round of “training” on how to keep it all together.
How can one help executives recognize the time-wasting efforts, the duplication, the second class information contributed by substandard tools? Spreadsheets, emails and more reports entered manually by cadres of project administrators just doesn’t cut it if your organization wants to see the future.
Poor tools undo all the good intentions and hard work of a committed project organization. It should be eliminated and replaced with a “Work Management Toolset” that truly empowers an organization for execution! The organization see more success in strategy implementation. It will also retain more competent Project professionals. 
In this Blog entry I make the case that we need to consider changing the Corporate Portfolio, Program and Project approach and its typical players if our businesses desire improved results from its hard earned investment funds. I show the signs of a failed approach, and provide guidance on how to launch and operate a successful strategy implementation machine. It is deceivingly simple when done right! What is needed is “Work Management” capability.
Work Management versus Managed Work     

There is a new generation of toolset available that is transcending the spreadsheet, email and gantt chart generation. It is referred to as “Work Management” tools. 
These tools are no longer constrained by the narrow definitions of the PMI PMBOK process landscape and goes beyond the project schedule, budget and resource plan. It is rather recognizing that a lot more is required to get people working together effectively.
Some features include:
  • Collaboration: Allowing work teams to contribute to each other’s work in a social media manner. Volunteering for assignments. Providing real time status feedback. Answering questions. Raising issues and at the same time generating real-time data on the project progress, expense and health state without the need to write reports and fill in time sheets. A tool that facilitates work, instead of controlling it.
  • Resource Management: Being able to identify the skills, and capacity available for a project. Seeing how they are utilized and recognizing contributions to activities, etc. Understanding need, capacity and capability, and turning around the right resources where and when required.
  • Issue and Risk Management: Keeping tabs on risks and issues, their status and their progress. Also understanding the real-time impacts and workload these add to a project and a Portfolio.
  • Portfolio balancing and what-if scenarios: Providing an executive perspective of how well the organization is doing in meeting its strategic objectives. Showing how a decision about resources, strategy, etc. will impact the work in-flight. Showing when and how goals are achieved and eliminating wastage.
  • Time Management: Identifying productivity, billing, utilization and progress in integrating this information to know how are resources’ time spent. How much it costs, and how it can be better managed.
  • Process Improvement: Understanding where the Portfolio is getting stuck, and how the Project organization can be improved by measuring the efficiency of matters such as planning, approvals, reviews, etc.
  • Capacity Management: Understanding how much can be achieved with resources, how best to assign them, what impact decisions have, etc.
  • Auditing and Governance: Providing an audit trail for all the above, and enforcing governance and policies as it unfolds organization wide without the need for retraining the troops. Enforcing workflow and providing or integrating repositories for all project related data and information
  • and much, much more...
The above should provide a mere glimpse into why MS Project, EMail and spreadsheets can no longer serve an aspiring organization’s objective of realizing its strategy. A PMO without a “work management” foundation is a PMO in trouble.
Project management is no longer about managing work, rather it is about work-management. The ability to get people effectively working together without introducing barriers to the activities, holds the prize. An organization getting, real-time knowledge, of how well it is implementing it's strategy - while people are working, has the ability to be responsive and lead the market in real-time.
Conclusion

The shift is an acceptance of value and an understanding that more is required to succeed as a PMO. Moving beyond the current functions of a PMI Certification, (nicely formatted templates, and spreadsheet)  and project managers in your company that do more than fill in a Charter or spreadsheet. 
Having a PMO with templates is the first step. Having good Project Managers to manage work, the next. Making a PMO truly serve its purpose of facilitating strategy execution by effectively facilitating work, is the ultimate step. 
PMO’s need to move fast to adopt “work management practices” if they want their businesses to truly succeed. They have no choice but to move on these initiatives or face the next retrofit, cleanup or clean-out.
Without the right tools, this will be impossible. At Profiled IT People, we hope to help our associates and clients to better explore how this can be achieved. We’ve done it all before, and we have the right tools in hand to make the journey not just viable, but pleasurable as well.
Hendrik van Wyk

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