The impact of sales context on project management

domino-effectData or software projects are usually purchased in one of two ways: as a part of a large, enterprise level deal that impacts multiple teams and has overarching corporate goals or as a stand alone purchase for a specific purpose for a specific team. This sales context can make for very interesting project management moments.

If we take the scenario where an organization makes an enterprise level implementation decision, you could have some additional levels of complexity. For example:

  • The project team may have to “sell” the project to the individual teams of users within the organization. The teams will likely have different levels of familiarity and maturity with the business process or solution.
  • Where there are varying levels of maturity, you have to be careful to effectively set expectations and cater to differently to teams based on their desired engagement.

In another scenario, one part of the organization makes a purchasing decision with dependencies on other parts of the organization. This will often result is some interesting yet awkward project conversations. For example:

  • If you need to engage with another part of the organization to make the project be successful, it’s important to lay out all the facts and deciding factors. Too often project conversations must occur to relieve stakeholder concerns without those stakeholders having all the facts. Those seemingly minute details can totally shift the tone of conversations, making or breaking success.

And last, let’s consider the scenario where a specific team is looking at a solution. In this case, there can be additional considerations both in the sales process but in the project management as well. For example:

  • Does the team control the purse strings? Or are there other dependent groups or players? Make sure you fully understand the landscape of stakeholders & stakes.
  • Does the pain points being discussed align to what you do best? Just because you can sell your solution, doesn’t mean you should.
  • How does this sale fit into the overall goal of you both organizations? Is this a one-off purchase by a team without any broader organizational support? or are there opportunities for growth for both parties?

Project management in itself is a fairly straightforward undertaking. Your job as project manager is to deliver on the project goals. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” You need to quickly assess the lay of the project land. Who are the key players involved in the project? Who are the key players not involved directly in the project? What are the potential pitfalls or landmines you need keep on your radar (not necessarily on your horizon as you should be working to mitigate these as much as possible)?

The value of user engagement

On-boarding customers to enterprise software can be a fairly long & daunting process. There’s usually a standard implementation process including setup, configuration, validation & training. The implied follow up to this occurs when the trained users start actively engaging with the software and embedding it into their business processes. Without this adoption and engagement, there’s a risk of undervaluing the investment.

http://mattshore.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/value.jpgEngagement is not passively granted, but rather actively earned. As part of the project implementation, there needs to be special consideration given to figuring out how to keep users involved & engaged. Here are 3 options for continuing the conversation with the user community:

  1. Develop subject matter experts within each crucial team – Working closely with a few key team members to develop their natural curiosity around your software and empowering them as experts can turn them into subject matter experts and advocates throughout the entire organization. Some ways you can do that is collaborating on a few critical business processes to meet a specific business goal. You should result in showing those users the possibility and delivering them a “aha” moment for them to share with others.
  2. Create opportunities for sharing – This applies to within the organization and with the vendor-organization relationship. Leverage the expertise from your vendor/implementation partner to identify best practices that can be applied to your business. Within the organization, it is rarely enough to wait for serendipitous moments to miraculously occur. Everyone is working towards their own goals, often on their own isolated path. Creating “train the trainer”, subject matter expert question time, or brown bag lunch show & tell opportunities can bridge the gap.
  3. Know your path to success – Hopefully, you defined your project success before the implementation. It usually isn’t instantaneous in nature, making it even more critical that you define your path to success as well. Understand where you started from, and develop a plan for moving towards that success. Measure your progress regularly and adjust the plan as needed. You may find that you’re starting point is different than you thought or it will take longer to fulfill your end goal.

User engagement post software implementation is instrumental in the success of your project. Don’t underestimate the importance or complexity of this step.

 

Mislaid project intentions

If you managed a few projects, you eventually come upon one with mislaid intentions of some sort. I’m specifically using that word because it comes bearing a sense of temporary-ness, and lacks a sense of malice. Both of which I think are what’s at play in these situations.

misplaced-meme

Sourced https://memegenerator.net/instance/66917865

What do I mean by “mislaid intentions?” For me it’s those situations where things just don’t seem to add up. The actions of the stakeholders or members of the project team don’t align to the published project goals. It might be the subtle (or not so subtle) withholding of information or the constant flux of sidebar conversations or even the lack of follow through.

So, what do you do? Do you put your tail between your legs and run away? Do you whine to the powers that be? I rarely shy away from a chance to show my scrappiness and use this as an opportunity to insert myself into the process. I’m not too concerned about what others think of me. My goal is to execute on a project so I need to use all the resources I have at my disposal and pursue those goals (sometimes quite aggressively, if that’s required).

But, what’s the point? To me this is actually the more interesting question. If we are all working towards the same goal of delivering on the project goals, what’s the point in mislaying intentions? This is where the organizational and personal dynamics come in. Usually the reason for this behavior has nothing to do with you at all. It usually has to do lack of knowledge or understanding (of your role, value, or even the mechanics of the project); or it could relate to broader project issues that originated before you arrives; or it could have to do with personal insecurities.

It’s really not necessary for you to spend too much time speculating on why this is occurring. Remember these are “mislaid” intentions with implications of benevolence and a lack of permanence. Your job is to figure out how introduce your role, and work you way into the dynamics of the project often changing it as you march towards your goal of execution. Don’t stop fighting the good fight.

 

3 reasons to embrace your most vocal customers

So, you’re in the middle of a project and your customer spent the last 15 minutes telling you all the ways the are frustrated with how the project is going, and what you need to do to fix it. As a project manager, this can be quite disheartening. Often we put so much of our selves into our work and it’s hard to hear that your falling short. That said, I think we need to view this scenario from another perspective. Here are 3 reasons to embrace this vocal customer:

improvement_construction

  1. Engagement – If your customer is taking the time to vent their frustrations with you they are still engaged. At this point they still want the project to be successful and haven’t given up on you as a vendor. You still have work to do to resolve issues and mend the trust issues, but they are enabling you to do this.
  2. Improvement – Your most vocal customers are the ones that are pushing you to be better. These customers are sharing their intimate business challenges and opportunities and asking for your help in solving them. While it can be frustrating and  the relevancy to the organization may be foggy, this customer has chosen you to help them. Working closely on defining solutions together allows you to do a better job servicing other customers in the same industry.
  3. The alternative is futile – Doing nothing to respond to your customer’s concerns sets you on a very difficult path. This will ultimately drive your customers away. They underlying business requirement doesn’t go away in this situation so if you aren’t helping to solve it, so other vendor will. Additionally, if you aren’t constantly listening to the changing landscape of your customers’ industries, you aren’t able to iterate to solve those challenges.

Next time you are feeling a bit attacked by your customer, take a step back to breath and recover. Once you relax and realize this isn’t a bad thing, then you can identify your plan for exceeding expectations and delivering to the customer.

Do Project Managers still deliver value in 2017?

“Between agile and automation, project management is going away. There may be jobs with that title but the work will be very different.” — Kevin Brennan

I saw the above quote today on Twitter. Just like a couple of weeks ago, I was totally taken aback. Agile and automation doesn’t take away what a really good project manager can do. These are methodologies and tools that a project manager can use to deliver projects better. When I asked my husband, a software engineer, what he thought of the quote, he suggested that maybe these would drive the non-technical project managers into extinction.

I guess it all really begs the question of what does or what should a good project manager do? I’ve been asked to help train someone on how I run implementation projects, so I guess I should start putting to paper the criteria around what I do and why it allows me to deliver on implementation projects. I will start by saying that all project managers are not equal. This is a big part of the reason that many technical resources are so critical of the PMO and project managers. They don’t see the value and often feel that the project manager just adds work to the technical resources.

Above anything else, a good project manager should remove obstacles from the team and the project. This might be resource alignment, or a dependency from another department, or almost anything. Status meetings, project documentation and stakeholder management are merely manifestations of this work. The catch here is that the project manager needs to be technical enough to fully understand the nature of technical issues, and work with resources on getting them what they need to resolve them.

Second, a good project manager has the analytics wherewithal to assist business and technical resources. On the business side, the project manager can help bridge that gap between that user story or business requirement to the details of how functionality works, to ultimately helping coordinate the validation efforts further offloading work from the technical project team. On the technical side, the project manager with strong analytic foundations can step in at any point from requirement interpretation to design to validation/QA.

natural curiosity can also differentiate a good project manager. The ability to ask questions and drill into the details yields a great project management dividends. It shows your stakeholders and project team that your interested in what they have to say, and is instrumental in the trust building required to successfully deliver. Very few projects run without hitches. The desire to ask why can broaden the range of solutions, ultimately resulting in a successful implementation despite the twists and turns.

A good project manager will balance tenacity with adaptation. Too much happens too quickly these days for project managers to stagnate within in a set methodology, toolset or process. We too often see project managers so set in their ways, unfortunately often following the PMI rulebook to its smallest minutia. The moment the project offsets the delicate balance (of the PM), the delivery becomes jeopardized. Come to the table with your preferred methodology and toolkit, but be willing to be flexible during the project implementation. Ultimately, the project manager will be more successful.

At the end of the day, I don’t think being a good project manager is really difficult. I think a shift in mindset and the ability to constantly learn can make you successful. I’ll continue to do what I do and deliver projects. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this description of a project manager, sent to me by a former coworker. He hadn’t been a fan of project managers until he had the opportunity to work with me on a project. In addition to the several job referrals, he sends me funny project management memes.

pm-meme

 

What did #givingback teach me about team dynamics?

My younger daughter and I did some volunteer work yesterday at the Capital Area Food Bank warehouse in Washington, DC. We were part of a group of about 12 people, some parents with kids who needed community service hours and other adults. It was fascinating to watch us evolve from individual or small groups to a graceful machine that just did what needed to get done. I left thinking about how a group of strangers working for a good cause can naturally meld, while we have all been in professional situations where people seem to work against the natural evolution.

team-dysfunction

Our job was to unload several pallets of breakfast and lunch foods in the refrigerator, repacking it all into individual banana boxes. Our group of volunteers started working either individually, or with the people that came together. Fairly quickly, people started stepping into roles that just needed to get done. Instead of fighting for floor or pallet space to load boxes, started opening all the boxes and handing them off to packers. Stronger individuals started collecting the boxes as finished, and others stepped into to funnel empty boxes to those that were packing. As pallets were packaged and left empty, others stepped into to breakdown boxes. And we did all of this, with politeness and instinct. I’m not sure anyone even asked any other person their names. It was awesome to have a bunch of strangers work together so seamlessly, all pursuing the same goals (either the short term one of getting out of the fridge or the more altruistic one of helping a worthy cause.)

Why is it then that I have been in more than one professional situation where the team  doesn’t meld in any capacity, let alone as smoothly as yesterday? I’m not talking about the individual who marches to the beat of their own drum, as I’m pretty sure I fall into that position quite a bit. I’m talking about the person or team that seems to fight against almost every request or initiative to solve our customers problems. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up around small businesses as a child and for most of my professional career. Small businesses need be customer focused to survive in a way that larger companies some times forget. My professional roles have always been in bridging the gaps between customers and technology, so for me, every decision I make is with the customer in mind. It’s unfortunate then when I’ve been in situations where process or team goals have been misaligned. If I’m working to deliver customer value but all efforts are stymied, does it mean the unhelpful person or team isn’t aligned to delivering value to the customer?

I know that this is a harsh criticism. I also recognize that different people have different motivations, and are provided different team goals within organizations. While I don’t truly believe that these teams intentionally set out to hinder what I’m trying to accomplish, I do think it’s unfortunate that there’s that much misalignment across organizations. Too often, customers see the results of this disfunction and ultimately are the ones that get hurt.

 

What are processes without people to follow them?

The … process is only as great as the people who participate in it. – Jeff Miller

Congressman Jeff Miller is attributed to saying this quote in reference to the democratic process, but I think it applies to most process. A process without people following doesn’t go very far.

If you know me, or have navigated my site at all, you know I love to read. Fiction, non-fiction..books, articles, blogs, pretty much anything I can get my hands on. This also means I look for and want documentation and process. I want to see my starting point, and then figure out where I need to go. This also means that I strive to leave the same for others. I am not afraid to leave behind my knowledge or information for others to benefit.

Too often though it is becoming more common to want to be fed information, rather than seek it. When did we lose our natural curiosity? And further, why are we so quick to stop after the first roadblock? Even more frustrating to me are those that should know where to find the information they are looking for, but still don’t follow through.

Don’t get me wrong, this inclination has yielded plenty of new opportunities for me. Because I know these resources exist, I can leverage them and very quickly expand my knowledge, making me more effective. I guess I will keep doing what I do, and try to leave my knowledge on for the next person. I can hope that someone will take advantage of it.

 

 

 

Losing ourselves in the moment….

or maybe it’s just on conference calls. I believe strongly in remote work, and by extension I believe in asynchronous communication like email and chat apps, but also believe we need real-time communication like phone calls, conference calls or web sharing sessions. However, I am still amazed by how people behave on conference calls. It seems as if people just lose a little bit of themselves, and forget common courtesies. Today I’m going to use my soapbox to discuss some of my bigger pet peaves.conference-call-meme

  1. Remember everyone on the conference call, not just those in the room. As a project manager, I try to be conscious of everyone on the call. This includes multiple people that might be in the same room or that person sitting alone. There have been times where I’ve been the only decision maker participating by conference call. During these times, I feIt I had to time my opportunity to speak up just right. I had to do this by jumping in on any pause, regardless of where the discussion was at the time.  Alternatively, I will often have side conversations via text to facilitate progress. For people in the same room, or for the conference call organizer, it is important to remember to intentionally include all participates. You invited them for a reason.
  2. Someone needs to lead the call. The belief that conference calls aren’t effective speaks more to the organization of the call, than anything else. There is always a reason a conference call gets scheduled. Someone needs to facilitate the call. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the take away? And most helpful, if something needs to be prepared or investigated beforehand, make sure that expectation was set when the call was scheduled. Otherwise you are wasting everyone’s time.
  3. Don’t forget your manners. I guess all my frustration really boils down to this. I want to believe that we are all passionate human beings and sometimes tempers flair. I know that’s happened to me. We can only control our own behavior so let’s try to reign in our tempers and remember we are all there, in that moment, for a common good.

 

Semi-homemade is better than bespoke for data analytics

I read a product review this week where the company referred to themselves as a provider of “bespoke” data analytics. I had never heard that term used in the context of data analytics, or software specifically. However, when I googled the term, I found many companies using it in their marketing language, but no reference to it by the people who write about data analytics or software. This led me to start thinking about my experiences managing data integration software projects and how my customers view the solutions.

The projects that I’ve worked on in the last couple of years have primarily been data integration projects where we are combining multiple datasources into a single data warehouse and then leveraging that data to deliver data insights. The platform has some standard integration components that you can leverage, but there is also room for quite a bit of custom development. In every implementation, I have had conversations about what “standard” tools are available and what capabilities can be developed custom. On one hand, once these customers start reviewing the available tools, the first questions asked are usually about how we can customize those tools to their business. Each customer self-identifies as a unique even though most are within the same overall industry. There are always unique scenarios for each customer that needs to be accounted for.

bespoke-suit-pattern

http://www.giandecaro.com/img/background-bespoke.jpg

On the other hand, customization takes time and effort, regardless of whether the work is done in house or by external consultants. Where does that leave us if our customers want/need something specific to their business but don’t want or can’t invest the time and money to do so?

I think as integration partners, we are probably looking at the entire product management and implementation process incorrectly. Our customers need a balance of standard tools that they can quickly customize to their specific needs along with partners who will work with them to develop custom solutions for new or innovative work. This is similar to the idea of leveraging a template to develop your website, but then be able to customize your experience by changing colors or adding widgets that extend the template capabilities. We can think of these types of products as “semi-homemade.”

Semi-homemade is a term used heavily by Sandra Lee regarding her cooking style. She leverages pantry staples and other ingredients and creates amazing dishes. By not having everything made from scratch, Sandra Lee reduces the cooking & prep time but is still able to deliver tasty dishes people want to eat. If we apply the same principles to data analytics, I think we can definitely leverage some basic tools that we allow people to extend or meld, which result in delivering data insights without the pain of everything being a custom solution.

It’s time to shift our mindset away from solely developing out of the box solutions, or solely developing custom solutions. Product and services should be working together to build base tools that are easily extended to meet the changing needs of our customers. We won’t totally eliminate the need for custom solutions, or new products for that matter. But we will more quickly be able to meet the changing needs of our customers.

 

Whose job is QA?

not-my-problem-meme

Tribute to Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka – it’s not my problem meme

developer.com defines the QA (quality assurance) role as “the role responsible for guaranteeing a level of quality for the end client. It’s about contributing to the quality of the final product.” I really like this definition as it does 3 critical things. First, it highlights the importance of the client. A product that works as designs, but doesn’t solve the customer problem fails to address the crux of software development, giving people an application they need or want. Second, it directly states that the QA role contributes to the quality of the final product. Just as developers contribute to the building of the product, and project managers contribute to getting the project done. Last, this definition removes the perception that QA is the responsibility of a single person. And this, my friends, is the topic of today’s post.

Our job as the project team is to build a solution that solves a customer problem or need. I agree that sometimes you are building a solution that customers don’t know they need yet, but unless that need or problem exists, there’s no point in building it. From the very beginning of development, we should all be working with this goal in mind. And if everyone is focused on the same goal, are we then inherently focused on QA? I think so.

My role as project manager puts me directly in front of the customer. This means that I need to be familiar with the solution, in order to speak intelligibly to customers. I tend to do the “final test” of replicating the steps provided by the customer and using the output as proof that the issue is resolved. Unfortunately, there have been too many times where I’m delivered a solution that doesn’t solve the problem or clearly doesn’t yield the “correct” results. Or, if I report a more general issue about performance, I get very tactical response, rather than considering the customer experience.

So what happens? Why does the solution I’m provided not solve the customer problem? Is it because the developer didn’t understand? didn’t care? More likely, it is the developer did some initial investigation and solved what they thought was the problem but didn’t walk through the steps to see it from the customer perspective and therefore missed a critical step.

I’m not advocating for or implying that I wouldn’t or shouldn’t still have the final sign off not the solution, before delivering it to the customer. I’m suggesting that each person who has touched the solution before getting to me should understand the problem we are trying to solve, and be focused on delivering a quality solution. Each developer should be incorporating regular quality checks into their own development. I never want to hear that “my team doesn’t have a QA person” or “it passed my acceptance test.” If the team members understand the goal, and view QA as a part of their job, the customer solution is bound to be better.