The alignment of my project methodology to the lean process

I’ve written before on the implementation methodology that I tend to follow when managing my integration projects. If you missed it, you can see it here. I’m taking a lean six sigma course from Simplilearn and was pleasantly surprised by how well our methodology aligned to the lean process.

lean-six-sigma-process-flowStep 1: Critical to both processes is identify the value. Why is the customer engaging in
the in this activity? what are they trying to accomplish? how is it measured?

Step 2: In six sigma, the next step is to map the value stream. This step is about getting to the goals & requirements. In our integration methodology, this encompasses steps 2 through 8 and is the core of the nitty gritty details. Since most of my projects relate to data integration, I need to know:

  • where’s the data coming from?
  • what’s the source of record?
  • who owns it?
  • what’s the data format(s)?
  • how is the data accessed?
  • how does the data need to be transformed?
  • what’s the frequency of exchange?
  • what’s the trigger?
  • are there software requirements or limitations?
  • have yo closed the loop? do you need to?

Step 3: The process of defining and discovering the requirements and goals leads naturally into the development of whatever flow(s) you need. This is true from a data, development and dependencies perspective. This process also helps identify gaps, complexities, inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

Step 4: In lean, like in data integration projects, you must discuss and determine push versus pull. Lean is seeking out the most efficient solution, generating the least amount of waste. While that is the ideal in data integration projects as well, you’re often at the whim of the technology, or other decisions.

Step 5: Seek perfection in all things! In lean, this means developing a system without waste. In my data integration projects, this means developing the process that will deliver the cleanest, simplest, consistent, and reliable system. And for that you need to be vigilant in your measurement, and you can’t forget or forgo testing and validation. This is not a one-time endeavor. With data (and more and more processes (if not all) are driven by data these days), things can change. The importance of closed feedback loops, regular use and validation, the process and data become stale.

As the project manager for data integration projects, I believe that that we should all be looking for ways to simplify and streamline what we are doing to reduce errors and ultimately become more efficient. As we all know, there is a lot we can not control in project management (and in life). We need to be constantly re-evaluating our state and making incremental improvements. This is the core to both lean six sigma and my integration methodology.

For more information and case studies on lean six sigma, check out this “Learn Lean Six Sigma Part 1” article by Mohamed Elgendy.

 

 

When are you done?

it-compiles-ship-itAs a paranoid project manager, I will conduct my own validation before communicating to customers. There have been too many times where I have not done this extra validation and sent it to the customer who immediately identified obvious issues. That doesn’t help anyone during a project implementation. And actually, it can cause serious credibility issues with the stakeholders.

For me, a task is done when I can demonstrate that the requirements are met or the issue is resolved. I’m not talking about the detailed nuances that are found the stakeholder does their deep dive into the solution. I’m also not talking about the scenarios where we have set the foundation early on that the validation would be collaborative in nature. However, I’m finding that the ability to follow through and conduct basic validation before communicating it’s done is a skill. And it’s one definitely not found in my teenage daughters and in many adults. I’ll walk through two quick examples, before I set some guidelines.

My husband pays my teenage daughter, Cayla, to do his laundry. Every week, I over-hear the same conversation. “Is my laundry done?” from Carson to Cayla. Once Cayla confirms, the follow up is either “so why don’t I have any socks (or whatever)?” or “then where is my basket (as it hasn’t been returned to our room)?” For the most part, Cayla has done the majority of the work, she just didn’t fully follow through. This could mean the laundry has been washed, folded and put away but the baskets not returned; or just washed and in a pile downstairs; or some other variation on an incomplete status.

In the workplace, I’ve seen lots of examples of this. A project team member will hand over what is supposed to be a complete deliverable, but I can’t get it to run, or it doesn’t meet the basic requirements. I’ve heard all sorts of excuses as justification throughout the years: “it’s done but not complete”; “it compiled so I thought it would work”, “I installed it but didn’t configure it”, “I finished one piece of it”, “it works if you do x, y and z  (even if that’s not the logical use)”

So, when are you done? I think there a few critical components that project team members should be consider before marking something as complete.

  • Available – The solution must be available in a form to distribute to the business user. Even if it’s something you are developing and installing on their behalf, there should be a tangible output to show for it.
  • Configured – Having a solution installed is often not enough. Is the solution configured as required to meet the customer needs? or in a state where the customer can configure it themselves?
  • Validated – Have you followed the steps the user would use to interact with the solution? Have you ensured the workflow makes sense, the solution does what it needs to and produces output that is as correct as you can determine (sometimes it is just doing a gut check on the output or making sure the user interface works for the inputs).

This is one of the most frustrating components of projects from a customer perspective. We all need to take ownership of the work we do and make sure we are doing some form of validation against the requirements and against basic usability. Does your solution do what the requirements define it should. I understand that not everyone has the business context, but own the functional requirements of whatever you’re developing.

3 differences between Customer Success and Project Managers

I had a recent conversation where I was challenged in my use of the term “Project Manager” to describe myself versus “Customer Success Manager”, the prevalent description for people doing similar work in their SAAS organization. This week’s blog post will explore the key differences.

I’ll first begin by providing some basic definitions.

Customer Success Managers (CSM) – According to Teresa Becker, CSMs provide “a proactive, real-time sales approach consisting of building relationships with existing customers, understanding in depth their company and product goals, and helping the customer meet those goals through day to day contact. Each customer has different needs and uses for your product, so it’s up to the Customer Success Manager (CSM) to thoroughly understand each customer and to be their champion throughout their entire customer journey. The role of the CSM is a value-add and is usually not a fee-based service.”

zombie-customer-success

Implementation Project Managers (PM) Webopedia defines an Implementation Manager as “an IT project manager who focuses on implementing information systems into a business environment. The implementation manager oversees the task, ensuring the project adheres to budget and time frame guidelines.”

From my perspective, there are 3 core differences in the two roles:

  • Longevity  – Implementation PMs are generally involved on a short-term basis for the duration of the project, while CSMs are closely tied to the customer for the length of the customer engagement (or pending other customer alignment decisions).
  • Technical Skills – The technical skills required to do a complex integration or implementation are higher than those required to maintain the customer relationship. CSMs do need to understand the product, the implementation and how to apply the product towards achieving customer goals. However, the depth and breadth of technical skills needed to navigate the implementation process is usually much broader in scope.
  • Project Management Skills – Typically CSMs take on basic project management tasks in the process of deriving & delivering value to the customer. Implementation PMs are often required to dive into the more advanced project management tasks (detailed requirements analysis, project plan definitions, risk assessments, etc).

As companies continue to evolve, we’ll continue to see blurred lines between roles,  responsibilities and titles. Both of the roles will continue to exist, but what you call them really is dependent on the organization, the product and the implementation lifecycle.

Resetting project expectations isn’t a bad thing

dream-catcherThe project I’m working on is perfect. I have the all the money, resources and time I need to be successful. The stakeholders are really engaged, the success criteria is clear and we are moving along on the project timeline exactly as we originally defined it.

Yes, that was a lovely dream. Unfortunately, we all know that most projects don’t go like this. I was working on a project that should have been a quick implementation, but immediately after the kickoff it became apparent that the scope defined in the sales process didn’t align to the requirements of business stakeholders. This made for some interesting project discussions. A couple of weeks in, just as the project was on the brink of derailing, we were able to have a very honest discussion and reset the project expectations.

This was a necessary step in making this project successful. There was definitely a miss in the early scoping process, but as a result of the communication among the business stakeholders and the project team, these issues were identified early. It also helped that this was a case where we didn’t lose any time working on unnecessary components. All the work that had been done before the project reset was still a valuable contribution to the project. Too often, project teams are hesitant to have these very honest conversations. Instead, time is wasted dancing around the problem, or implementing solutions that don’t meet customer needs.

To enable recovery from a project that is going awry, you need

  • Business stakeholders who are involved and advocate for their needs from the beginning
  • Project manager and leadership that is open & honest about the existing scope
  • An entire project team who (project implementation team, decision makers, business stakeholders) want the project to be successful and are willing to re-evaluate and reset the project scope and timelines accordingly.

 

Not at the top of my game this week

I was not at the top of my game this week. I don’t really know why. Yes, it was has been a busy week, but that’s usually not an issue. I’m working on a few different projects, all in different phases, and different level of engagement. That made for some comedic moments, but again, I don’t think that was the reason for overwhelming sense of chaos.
chaos And unfortunately, I did demonstrate my sense of chaos very publicly amongst my peers. Thankfully, it wasn’t so much evident to the customer teams I worked with, but it was clear to the internal teams I engage with.

On Wednesday, I expressed an extreme sense of frustration being adamant and forceful about pursuing an open issue that I felt was being brushed under the rug and told “that’s not an issue.” I was sure I was right. I compiled the “facts” and sent an email trying to communicate the necessary details so we could get it resolved. I coordinated a meeting about the issue on Friday, the earliest time I could get the right people on the call.

In the meantime, I did other work. On Friday, i get online and start checking different things. And on 3 different issues, I was told it was resolved but when I checked it I wasn’t seeing the resolution. The call comes around and we get on it and it was clear that I was a bit crazy. One of the attendees was able to explain what I was seeing, and clearly demonstrate that it wasn’t an issue for the customer. Not just on the issue from Wednesday, but also my other issues. At that point, I said was done and clearly needed to take the rest of the day off. I did go ahead and send an email to some of the team members thanking them for their patience and apologizing for wasting their time.

Ultimately, I probably wasn’t wrong for pursuing a customer issue that wasn’t getting the proper attention. But I wasn’t as respectful as I should have been in my behavior towards my fellow team members. I can say tomorrow starts another week, and it will be better. I can’t dwell on the mistake I made yesterday.

3 Signs you over-thought it!

How often are we faced with a system, process or application that leaves you frustrated and confused? Based on my own experiences this week, and that of many of my friends (thanks social media), it occurs pretty frequently. Feeling inspired by all this disfunction leaves me thinking about how we can quickly assess whether we have made it overly complex.

over-engineered-system

  1. It’s difficult to maintain – A well designed process or system is one that is easy to understand it’s purpose, and intuitive enough (or simply documented enough) for someone to maintain it. Our environments are not stagnant so we can expect our processes or systems to be.
  2. Users complain about it (or just don’t use it) – Processes and systems are designed to solve a business problem. If we make them so complicated and cumbersome users won’t use it, and if there is no other choice, will complain relentlessly about doing so. If the system or process requires more people to enforce it, then it’s time to take another look.
  3. It’s not delivering the quantifiable measure of success you thought – Again, you implemented this to solve a business problem. Hopefully, you defined a measure of success. If you are only seeing marginal improvement, or even a decline in performance against the business problem, this is highly indicative of having over-thought your solution. It’s may be time to start over.

I don’t think overly complicated systems or processes come from a malicious place, however they can be detrimental to the overall success. Be conscious of these warning signs and be aggressive if fixing these. It will make for a better overall user experience improving morale and positively impacting the bottom line.

To read more on this topic, see these blog posts by Gregory C. Smith, Code Simplicity, and David Meehan.

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.

 

Find your “green flash” in each of your projects

A green flash occurs when the conditions are right as the sun rises or sets. Growing up on St. Croix with many weekends spent at the beach at the west end of the island, I’ve seen a few of them. As I sit down to get some work done on this damp, dark, dreary, rainy day Monday I think about this one to two second flash of brilliance on the horizon. Sometimes it is just what you need to refocus your attention on the task or project at hand.

Green flash – www.sandcastleonthebeach.com

So, what then is the equivalent of a green flash moment on a project. It’s that thought, idea or component that drives you forward. It could be the group of people you are working with; or the ability to use a specific skill; or learn something new. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but rather that it motivates you. And this is a more personal endeavor than just being on time, or on budget, or meeting a specific stakeholder KPI. This can and probably should be different across different projects.

Just like a lighthouse beacon, every decision or action you take should be with this point in mind. This means that you need to consciously think through your actions to make sure they align to this particular project goal. While I don’t necessarily think it’s necessary to share your personal green flash moment, but I do think that you need to visualize yourself succeeding in the way you defined. Your mental conversation should be how you get to the end, not questioning whether you can get there.