project management

16
CRM for Fun and Profit, Part II: Costs

CRM for Fun and Profit, Part II: Costs

Some time ago I was at a Microsoft Convergence conference and was immersed in all things CRM. During one discussion the topic of the costs of CRM implementations came up. I distinctly remember one of the comments.

“The trouble with CRM projects is that the first 80% of the project takes the first 80% of the budget and the remaining 20% of the project takes the other 80%.”

I recall that we all had a pretty good laugh over this.

Like most humor, it’s funny because it’s true. The typical CRM project costs more than originally expected.

I think there are a few reasons for this. The first is most of us are unreasonably optimistic and tend to underestimate the complexity of the average project. This just doesn’t apply to CRM projects – it’s virtually every technology project. (See Management by Wishful Thinking for background on why this occurs.) Invest some time and though in the planning process in order to combat this.

A second reason is that companies try to go it alone and don’t get expert help. It is very difficult to get it right the first time; contracting some expert help can minimize the risk greatly.

A third (and biggest) reason is that the scope of CRM projects become broader than originally planned. There are several factors that influence this.

Business Processes: Your company probably has its business processes documented and there’s a good chance that they reside in some dusty binders resting on an obscure shelf somewhere. The challenge is that they are likely out of date. Processes change fairly regularly and unless your company is extremely diligent the documentation doesn’t necessarily get updated. And these are just the formal changes. Users develop their own shortcuts and workarounds and these never get documented. The processes in those binders are at best an approximation of what actually happens. So you are going to have to spend some extra time understanding the current state of your processes.
Organization: It’s not just business processes. To get the maximum benefit from CRM you have to make sure the culture and philosophy of the organization are themselves customer centric. Companies that are implementing CRM for the first time typically aren’t focused on the customer – they are focused on whatever product or service they offer the customer. The journey to becoming customer-centric is longer and harder than expected.
Another organizational consideration is who owns the customer? I have seen CRM create turf wars in organizations over ownership of the customer. Sales? Marketing? Customer Service? Does the regional office or national office own the customer? CRM requires a customer engagement strategy where this type of thing is defined in detail, or else your customers could be bombarded by disconnected messaging from various functions in your organization. Developing this strategy takes time and money.

People: Winning the hearts and mind of the users can be difficult. It’s great that CRM is good for the company, but what’s in it for them? There will be resistance because the implementation of CRM is creating a new area of subject matter expertise and likely diminishing the importance of some existing subject areas. That’s a difficult situation for the present subject matter experts. Change is always hard – it can be helped along by providing compelling explanations of the benefits that the users will get from CRM. Make sure that end-user training is complete and answers the ‘why’ questions as well as the ‘how’. Also remember that CRM can give you a lot of information on end-user productivity and that attention is not always welcome. The bottom line is that training and education will be a larger effort than you originally anticipated.

Integration: Most CRM systems are integrated with existing systems and data. Integration with existing systems is harder than you think it will be. There’s a number of reasons for this. It’s likely that, like your business processes, your current systems and data are inadequately documented. The effort to better understand your current state will again be larger than expected.

Once you understand what you have there is the issue of data quality. Data quality has numerous properties that need to be considered (accuracy, validity, timeliness, consistency and completeness). The older your data the greater the likelihood that a data quality effort will need to occur before this data can be integrated into the CRM system. This is not a trivial effort.
One more thought about integration – there are actually two integration efforts that need to be considered. The first is the initial data load, the second is the periodic (daily, weekly or whatever) update/refresh. The efforts are similar but different; plan to manage them as two separate and distinct efforts.

Security: CRM collects (and generates) a *lot* of data. It needs to be managed and safeguarded. Regardless of whether it’s on-premise or in the cloud, security, confidentiality and privacy of data is a big deal and by implementing CRM you have just made it bigger, particularly if any of the data is being exposed to the internet through a portal. Protecting the CRM data from unauthorized access from both internal and external sources needs to be considered part of the project.

Success: Success can be a problem. Once the business community starts to better see the benefits of CRM there will be pressure to broaden existing functionality or add additional capabilities. There will be demands to broaden scope and start adding these additional capabilities immediately, particularly if you are implementing CRM in a series of small releases. Indiscriminately adding scope to the project is an easy way to turn a 12 month project into one that takes 18 months. Ensure that you have a robust change control process defined or you may find yourself with a project that never ends.

CRM is worthwhile investment but it’s good to start with your eyes wide open. There are aspects to CRM projects that aren’t readily apparent at first glance; missing these can lead to increased costs, extended durations, unfulfilled expectations and general disappointment.

And who wants that?

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

06
How to make better decisions

How to make better decisions

Can a fighter pilot can teach us something about decision-making? For a long time I viewed a decision as a point-in-time event. It seemed pretty straightforward – gather the pertinent facts, consider them and then make the decision. I was much more concerned that the decision was made rather than how it was made; any delay in making a decision would impact my project schedule and I sure didn’t want that to happen. Over the years I learned to better prepare the decision makers, and I learned to build some slack into the schedule around decision milestones. It wasn’t until I looked back at some of the decisions made, by both myself and others, and realized that while some very good decisions were made, there were quite a few that were sub-optimal, and other decisions were just plain bad. I wondered if following a generic decision making process or framework could improve the quality of decisions. This brings us to John Boyd. John Boyd was a fighter pilot who served in the Korean War. He was also a mathematician, an aircraft designer, a military analyst, a historian and a philosopher. His accomplishments include being:

  • Widely acknowledged as being the best fighter pilot in the history of the USAF
  • An air-to-air combat tactician
  • Directly responsible for design of the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-18 Hornet
  • Indirectly responsible for the design of the A-10 Thunderbolt
  • A military strategist – one of the primary planners of Desert Storm (the 1991 invasion of Iraq)
  • A major contributor to the study of decision theory

His work on decision theory started when he looked at the outcomes of aerial dogfights between the American F-86 and the Russian MIG-15 in the later stages of the Korean War. In comparing the two planes, the MIG-15 had a higher top speed, a greater operational ceiling and a better turning ratio; three capabilities that should have stacked the odds in favour of the Russian plane. But the actual kill ratios were close to 14:1 in favour of the American plane. An easy assumption to make was that the skill of the American pilots was the deciding factor, but that not the case. The study concluded that there were two design elements of the F-86 that resulted in the lopsided results: a bubble canopy and a fully hydraulic control system. The bubble canopy gave the pilot better visibility and allowed him to gather more complete information before he made a decision. The hydraulic control system allowed the plane to react more quickly to the pilot’s commands once the decision was made. The combination of better informed decisions and accelerated execution resulted in devastating superiority in combat situations. Boyd continued with this train of thought; over the ensuing years he developed a decision support construct that he called ‘The OODA Loop’. It’s also known as ‘the decision cycle’. OODA is an acronym for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. Boyd’s belief was that decision making occurs through the execution of a series of iterations through this loop, where the decision-maker repeatedly evaluates his situation, makes decisions, acts and re-evaluates and continues until the outcome is reached. His focus was on military matters and more specifically on fighter pilots; he was documenting the optimal process that a pilot should follow in determining his circumstances, gathering and evaluating information, determining the proper course of action and taking it. Success was determined by the validity of the information, accurate evaluation and rapid decision making and execution. It’s sometimes simplified into a diagram that looks like this: OODA Loop Unfortunately this diagram is a gross over-simplification. (It also looks an awful lot like Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.) When Boyd finally got around to drawing the diagram, it looked like this:

Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OODA.Boyd.svg

Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OODA.Boyd.svg

The first time I saw this model I wondered if it could be applied to projects or to change management, particularly transformational change. Is there a business application? One thing that is apparent is that the OODA loop is misnamed; it’s not a loop, it’s a network of loops that connect each of the stages in various ways. Another thing that may not be so apparent is that the model is much more reactive than proactive. The goal of the OODA loop is more tactical than strategic. It’s not used to define and attain specific objectives – used it’s to increase the quality of decisions and the speed with which they are made. And it’s worth noting that while it has a military heritage the terminology leans more to the scientific method (which is appropriate, because Boyd used such varied sources as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in the development of his theory).

Observe

The observe stage is fairly straightforward – it’s gathering information about the current situation. It looks at the environment, external information, internal information – I would call it a ‘current state model’. From the military perspective it’s concerned about what both you and your enemy are doing. From a business perspective it’s more about your organization’s vision, strategies and capabilities, the marketplace and what your competitors are doing. Think about the contents of a SWOT matrix – that’s the type of information that needs to be collected. One of the challenges of the observation phase is making sure that your observations are complete and ensuring that you are focusing on the correct information.

Orient

At one level the orientation phase is equivalent to the traditional analysis phase of a project or change initiative; it can be viewed as a situational analysis. However in Boyd’s model it goes deeper than that; it becomes a complex assessment or interpretation of the observations previously made, viewed through several different lenses. He realized that our analysis is distorted by our previous experiences, our heritage, traditions and value systems. They act as screens that filter out some of the information. Care must be taken to ensure that information isn’t filtered out for the wrong reason. The OODA model requires objectivity; it’s required to cope with our inherent biases and predispositions. This ensures that all information is considered, even that which doesn’t necessarily fit in our world-view. Ultimately, the goal of this phase is to analyze all the information and synthesize it into one or more actionable plans. Here’s a personal example.   My first car was a used 1971 Datsun 240Z. When it ran it was a great little car. Unfortunately it spent far too much time not running; it was spectacularly unreliable, in need of constant repair and was a colossal (and expensive) headache. I was not that sorry to see it go. Fast forward thirty-three years. I’m shopping for a new car. Do I go into a Nissan dealership? No, I don’t. Even after all that time the memory of the 240Z causes me to deselect Nissan. It’s neither reasonable nor rationale, but there it is. The amount of time spent in the orientation phase is another critical consideration. Too little time and the analysis and synthesis efforts are not adequately informed, leading to unreliable scenarios. Too long a time (‘analysis paralysis’) and the observations lose their validity; too much has changed between when the observations were made and when they were acted upon, resulting in scenarios that address the wrong things.

Decide

The decision phase is just that; choosing the best scenario from those that were developed. The criteria could be anything and may include a combination of risk/reward, ROI, time to market or any other of a host of variables. It’s considering how your enemy (or competitor, marketplace or maybe even your own organization) will react to the change and then picking the scenario with the best fit. What I find interesting is that Boyd has used the word ‘hypothesis’ in conjunction with the word ‘decide’. To me this implies, in a manner similar to the scientific method, that the decision needs to be tested. It predicts an outcome but the results need to be examined in the next phase before the decision can be considered correct. And this in itself is interesting, because it’s been my experience that individuals and organizations don’t normally test their decisions; they just assume that the decisions are correct and continue as if they are, sometimes even after it’s apparent that they aren’t!

Act

The act phase executes the decision. It’s testing the hypothesis and evaluating the result. It is only after action has been taken that the correctness of the decision can be properly evaluated. This evaluation as well as all the other information gathered during the execution of the cycle are captured for use in the next iteration; this closes the loop and either completes the cycle or beings the next execution. There’s one other aspect of the model that’s worth examining – ‘Explicit Command and Control’. In the military these could be considered the chain of command and rules of engagement; in business they are organization charts, regulations, policies, procedures and operating principles. Sometimes command and control has the effect of short-circuiting the decision cycle by limiting the solution space and reducing the number of possible scenarios. If can also cause problems by micromanaging and overcontrolling, or by abdicating its responsibility and not managing. Command and control also monitors execution of the decision cycles to make sure that things are progressing smoothly. It’s important to note that there is not just one decision cycle occurring at any one time; there are any number of decisions cycles occurring simultaneously. I visualize them almost like a stack of pancakes.   Everyone is involved in a cycle – from the general down to the private (or the CEO to the mail room clerk). Part of command and control is ensuring that these concurrent cycles are aligned and are executing in harmony.

Speed – The Key Factor

The key to success is speed. The OODA loop must be executed rapidly. In the military application of the OODA loop, the key to victory is getting inside your adversary’s decision cycle; making him react to what you are doing until he is unable to continue, at which point he is defeated or quits the field. Victory favors the side that can recognize changes in a dynamic environment (Observe), analyze and synthesize appropriate responses (Orient), choice a response (Decide) and execute it (Act) and do so rapidly and decisively. It’s no different in business. Organizations that can adapt to dynamic situations and that can execute their plans rapidly have much greater likelihood of success.

Projects and the OODA Loop

What do we need to consider if we want to implement a decision making model like the OODA Loop in our own projects or change initiatives? When we observe, we need to observe as completely as possible. Capturing just a subset of the available information provides a false sense of confidence and will likely result in problems as the process moves forward. It’s a lot like the parable of the blind men and the elephant; you may understand part of the situation but you will never perceive the complete whole. When we orient, we must continue the holistic approach and take a comprehensive look at all the information that is available, including our own perceptions and biases, and build one or more plans of action. In doing so we triage the information, deciding what is essential (and should be retained) and what is irrelevant (and can be discarded). Make sure that outlier information is not discarded just because it is an outlier; make the decision to discard information a conscious one and not just a convenient one. Decision balances the risk and reward of the plan(s) of action and selects the best option. The longer the decision takes the higher the risk; what we have observed may no longer be true, the conclusions of our analysis may be based on incorrect information, the plans developed may not be addressing the correct issues. And in order to manage risk the decision should almost always be tested in a controlled environment before being implemented in a more widespread manner. Then we act – quickly and decisively. Allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment.   In his book Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions, Gary Klein describes a study that was performed on the decision making by firefighters; specifically the process that captains used to decide how best to fight any given fire. The assumption was that the captain would develop multiple approaches and choose the best one. But that’s not what happens. After arriving at the scene the captain quickly assesses both the fire and the resources he has on hand; based on his assessment he immediately constructs a single plan that he believes to be best. He then takes this approach and tests it mentally. If it passes he immediately implements it; if it fails he tries to adjust the approach to compensate for the failure, and if he cannot he constructs a new approach, continuing the iterations until he arrives at an acceptable approach. Klein also documents at least one situation where a volunteer firefighter brigade spent 3 days trying to extinguish a refinery fire before calling in professionals.   The professionals put out the fire the next day. Based on this, I think it’s valid to assume that expertise is a requirement for effective decision making. Working with an individual who has experienced similar situations is a tremendous asset to the decision making process. They have learned what is material and what isn’t and can add their knowledge to the information gathered and the analysis and synthesis performed. Their expertise allows them to recognize conditions and qualities that may otherwise go unnoticed. This knowledge doesn’t even have to reside in an individual; any formal ‘body of knowledge’ can fulfill the same role. Finally, speed. The decision process needs to be executed with a sense of urgency. There are constraints to how fast the process can be proceed, but to be successful those constraints can’t be administrivia, bureaucracy or individuals who, for whatever reason, are unable to make a decision. Decision making is serious business. In a military setting good decision making can be a matter of life and death. In business it could mean the success or failure of your career, your project or, in some extreme situations, your business. Good decisions are more likely to happen if a decision-making process is followed; any framework is better than none. I think John Boyd’s OODA loop is worthy candidate for your consideration. John Boyd died in 1997 at the age of 70. He was buried with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Interested in learning more about John Boyd? Can I suggest: The John Boyd Compendium – http://dnipogo.org/john-r-boyd/ The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security by Grant Tedrick Hammond Boyd: the fighter pilot who changed the art of war by Robert Coram photo credit: mrBunin via photopin cc

22
Project Manager or Project Leader?

Project Manager or Project Leader?

I have a pet peeve that I need to vent about; it’s about the title ‘Project Manager’.

I just can’t stand it. It’s not really all that descriptive of all that you are being asked to do. I think it minimizes the scope and focus of the role. You are a Project Leader.

To me, the word ‘manager’ denotes something akin to an administrator or a bureaucrat. There’s nothing wrong with being a manager. I was a manager for a long time – it was a difficult role. Proper management of a project is critical, but on most projects you are doing far more than managing.

You are driving and implementing change. You are improving the customer’s condition. You are delivering value. You are leading.

Let me reiterate this – you are not merely managing. You are leading.

In order to be successful I personally believe that it is absolutely essential to understand what it means to be a leader of a project.

You are the CEO of the project. Or you are a general leading troops into battle. Or a great maestro conducting an orchestra. Or whatever. Regardless of the metaphor you chose, the salient fact is that you are in charge. You are personally responsible for the successful delivery of the project. You are accountable.

Project management isn’t just the management of tasks and activities on the project; it’s the leadership of the people who are working on the project.   Once you realize this the chance of you being successful rises by an order of magnitude or more.

You are a leader, as well as:

  • A manager
  • A mentor
  • A teacher
  • A student
  • A counsellor
  • An anthropologist
  • A task master
  • A choreographer
  • A facilitator
  • A problem solver
  • A negotiator
  • An envoy

You can never be a friend. You may have friends working with you on the project, but within the confines of the project they are not your friends. Remember that business is business.

There are other things you don’t want to be. A puppet. A marionette. A magician or fortune teller. And you don’t want to be a scapegoat. If you’re a truly a leader it’s unlikely that you will be any of these.

Leadership, Organization and Appreciation

The role of the project leader boils down to three separate and distinct responsibilities; the first is a leadership, the second is organization and the third is appreciation.

Leadership

You can go into any bookstore and find literally hundreds of books that deal with the subject of leadership. It is up to you to decide how applicable they are to your particular situation.

From the project perspective my belief with regards to leadership is this: leadership is the ability to give direction in terms of what needs to be done to who needs to do it, as well as to provide guidance on how it should be done.

It is your responsibility as a project leader to drive out ambiguity and replace it with clarity; to replace uncertainty with certainty, supplant chaos and confusion with order and predictability.

You are responsible for the successful delivery of the project; you are responsible for that the methodology being followed on the project is sound and valid; you are responsible for ensuring that the development effort is complete.

One thing you are not responsible is the business outcome of the implementation – that is the responsibility of the project champion.

Organizing

Organizing is also a core responsibility; it’s what people think of when you say ‘project management’. You have been hired to get things done. Getting things done is best accomplished by having a process or methodology to follow – this will help ensure that the journey as smooth as possible. This is more than a project plan; it’s ensuring that key stakeholders are available when required; that expectations are reasonable and that they are managed; that individuals’ vacations are taken into account; that documents are circulated and signed off in the appropriate timeframe as well as a myriad of other things. If you are making up the process as you go you are likely to fail.

People need to know the steps that the project is going to follow – the planned sequence of events. This is the document that everyone associates with project management – the project schedule.

Every project should have a set of agreed upon ground rules that all parties consent to – rules that define the general accountabilities of the group. Think of them as operating principles for the project. Things like turnaround time for document approvals, how much notice is required for a meeting, what responsibilities meeting attendees have – at a minimum it’s no more than a couple of pages worth but having these rules documented and agreed to at the start will eliminate a great deal of anguish later in the project. But it’s also needed to ensure that the eventual outcome to be reached at the end of the project (or phase, or task) is understood and agreed to by all the stakeholders.

It is important to never lose sight of the fact that you are really an intermediary who is representing the needs and desires of the project champion and the larger organization. You may be a general but the project champion is the commander in chief.

There is another aspect of understanding that both you and your team need to keep in mind. You and your team are engaged in important work that is going deliver benefits to the organization that has hired you. The project is actually a secondary concern. It is a means to an end, and the end is the delivery of the expected benefits. It is very easy to get lost in the details and the day-to-day concerns of the project and lose sight of why the project is actually being undertaken. A well-conceived project will always have a clear line of sight to the value it will deliver, and that value should never become secondary to the execution of the project. If the value isn’t clearly apparent at all times then it’s an indication that there are some fundamental flaws in either the construction of the project or that the raison d’etre of the project has not been well thought out.

Appreciation

Appreciation is a word with multiple meanings. In this case we are using it to denote totally different connotations.

In the first sense, appreciation is used to mean ‘understanding or comprehension’. As the project leader, it is your responsibility to understand the status of the project at all times. The state of the budget and the schedule, who is assigned to what task, upcoming milestones, when the next major deliverable is due, and so on, and so on … there is a myriad of details that must be tracked and reported on. It’s up to you to ensure that it all gets done. It’s also up to you to ensure that everyone else appreciates just exactly what is required of them, as well as when it is required.

In the second sense, appreciation denotes gratitude and thanks. This is closely aligned with leadership; you should always recognize the efforts and contributions of your team. You will only succeed if your team delivers. It is very easy to take them for granted. Don’t.

At the end of the day the terminology might not matter all that much. What really matters is your attitude and actions; whether you call yourself a project manager or project leader is immaterial. Do you see yourself as someone who is executing a project, or someone who is delivering value through the execution of a project? It’s a small shift in perspective but sometimes a small change makes a big difference. Try taking the latter view; you may find that you’ve become a leader.

I’m through venting. Thanks for your indulgence.

PS. I don’t hold out much hope that these views about project leadership are going to catch on. After all, the term ‘project manager’ is entrenched in the business world. You can get an MBA in project management or become certified in project management, but in project leadership? Not so much. And in looking at my CV, in my list of previous roles you’ll see that I was a project manager, not a project leader.

PPS. But should I ever work on another project, I will do my best to not just manage, but to lead.

 photo credit: Sky Noir via photopin cc

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