Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The importance of understanding the different roles in a System Implementation Project

While the various roles in a system implementation project should be clear to everyone involved it is quite common to have some misunderstandings. This needs to be addressed right at the start of the project to ensure project success. This could be done with a meeting that addresses the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) questions or whatever other way works best for your company culture. At the end of this exercise it needs to be clear to all stakeholders mentioned below who is doing what and why.
This applies to all projects no matter if you use any form of agile or waterfall project management methodology.
As an example let's look at a "typical" project in the technology industry. This could be a new system implementation or a system improvement of an existing system like SAP ERP, Oracle, Salesforce, Apttus, BigMachines etc.

Usually there are the following stakeholders
  • Project Sponsor - that is the person / group of people that requested this project e.g. Head of Sales. They usually have a clear business objective in mind that this project is expected to meet. Example: When the current Salesforce improvement project is done the forecasting accuracy increases from x% to y%
  • Business Team - this is the person / team that provides the detailed requirements that will ensure we can meet the objective from the project sponsor. This could be e.g. Sales Manager or a Sales Operations VP. This person/team knows the current challenges and works with IT to tell them what they need. Usually there will be KPIs/metrics to measure a before/after status to determine how successful the project was. The members of this team are business specialists.
  • IT Team - this is the team that will review the business requirements from the business team and determine how they can implement this solution technically in the best possible way. This could be e.g. System Architect or IT SVP. The members of this team are technical specialists that setup the solution. Example: If this is an Apttus implementation project this will be someone who sets up the contract management in Apttus.
  • Project Management - this person/team is helping to organize the project to ensure it's scope, time and resource objectives are met. In the best case the Project Manager is very familiar with the subject matter (e.g. PM knows SAP ERP) so that they can provide the best planning to meet the project objectives. These resources are usually neither business nor IT specialists.
The challenge now comes up with all the roles that don't necessarily fit easily into just one of these categories. Like for example a BigMachines Solution Architect. While the general expectation is that the skills are broad and deep on the IT and the business side my experience shows that everyone has a preference either towards the IT or the business side. In order to address this appropriately and in a timely manner the Project Manager needs to determine right at the Initiation of the project
  1. Who is the Project Sponsor?
  2. What are the Project Sponsor's expectations or in other words what makes this project a success from the Project Sponsor point of view?
If we stick with the example of the BigMachines Solution Architect If the Project Sponsor is from IT their expectation is most likely that they will get someone who knows the in's and out's of BigMachines. They should be certified in BigMachines and have multiple years of experience in hands on development so that whatever business requirements come up they have a sleek technical solution for it. This should be someone who is onsite and can demonstrate his/her superior technical skills in F2F meetings with the IT (and Business) Team. The expectation might be that a prototype of the system is available rather sooner than later.
If the Project Sponsor is from the Business the expectations are most likely very different. They will probably seek more guidance on how certain goals can be achieved. How did other customers in the same industry or even a different industry tackle this problem? What system tools or business processes did they use to achieve these goals? What business requirements do they recommend to address and what is the expected impact based on experience? Example: How can I best achieve my goal of raising my revenue in the US by 10%? They will most likely focus more on the business experience and subject matter expertise instead of a BMI certification. The expectation is probably a well thought out plan on what needs to be implemented and the time frame by when this can be done.

Conclusion: The Project Team needs to keep in mind who is sponsoring the project and what their objectives are. This will determine if the project can be successful.
Even if you have the best business focused specialist available on an IT focused project there is a higher chance of this project not being successful. So chose your resources on a project carefully (as far as that is possible). Keep in mind that what I wrote above is an example and in a real project this can be very different and hence the Project Management Team ( or PMO or Manager) should always build a close relationship with all stakeholders to ensure the Project Sponsor objectives are understood early and clearly in the project. This is especially important if you work in any kind of Service Provider capacity to ensure you are not signing up for something you will struggle to deliver.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book suggestions

Here are some key books (in my opinion) that I think will help you be successful as a Project Manager and beyond

  1. The 7 habits of highly effective people  by Steven Covey. This is a classic which every person interested in leadership should read
  2. Made to stick by Chip & Dan Heath. This is about communicating ideas so that they stick with your audience. Naturally this is also a big topic for Project Managers
  3. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini . A classic with tons of useful information about how "influence" works
  4. Getting past No by William Ury. If you want to learn more about negotiating this is the book to start with.
  5. Drive by Daniel H. Pink. Explains what drives people. If you want to learn more about Motivation this is a good book to read.
  6. Mojo by Marshall Goldsmith. He is a famous advisor to business leaders and this book is about how to achieve happiness and meaning in our lives. 
If you read these books and apply what you've learned you will be more successful. But keep in mind that just consuming them and then forgetting about them doesn't help. You have to take some time and really apply the advise that works for you and your situation.  

If you want some advise on relaxing (especially for high stress jobs) I would suggest one book by Thich Nhat Hanh like "Peace is every step" . This can also help in business situations by learning to focus on the moment and not getting distracted. 
Good reading!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Basic Communication skills

Clear communication is a critical key to most business activities (e.g. Programs, Projects, Business Transformations, M&A, QBR etc. ) . Do you spend enough time on it? Do you get your communications across to the intended recipient(s) as planned? How do you measure if your communications come across as planned?

Basic Steps - This needs to be done at the beginning of every communication effort/project
  • Determine who needs what kind of information - Stakeholder determination 
  • When does he/she need this information? 
  • Who will deliver the information? - keep company culture etc in mind 
  • How will the information be delivered? (e.g. Face-to-Face, phone, email) 
That sounds very easy doesn't it? But as you know in reality this can be quite tricky. Here some notes on what you should pay close attention to.

  1. Keep in mind who you communicate with! Executives prefer high level, clear summaries w/o you going into all the details. They don't have the time for that and rely on you to work this out. For meetings with Subject Matter Experts be prepared to discuss more details. Don't succumb to the trap to use the same communication for different audiences. In most cases this will not work! 
  2. Use words that everyone understands in your environment! 
  3. Really listen before you try to answer any questions! Take your time to answer questions! Note: If you think about the next meeting or planning the next activity in your current communication you are not really paying attention. There is a reason why you have two ears and one mouth. 
  4. If possible do really important communications in person ! (Note: 55% of communication is non verbal!) 
  5. Be aware of cultural differences when you communicate! Check this link and/or check this book
  6. Be transparent in your communications! This will establish trust. 
  7. Keep all your business communications professional at all times 
Lastly, be prepared that you will be a lifelong learner of communications and don't ever stop learning more.