Saturday, 1 November 2014

Project management simplified in 1,000 words or less

All IT-enabled business projects should follow a project management methodology, and that includes an established project intake and approval process.

Every organization should have a basic set of templates and forms available to ensure best project management practices are followed consistently when implementing IT-enabled business projects.

The methodology is intended to be scalable to the size/complexity/risk of the project.  The Project Sponsor and the Project Manager will determine the amount of detail to be included in the project pre-planning steps, reflecting the size, complexity and scope of the project.

At a high level, follow these project management steps for medium to large projects:
1.    Project Proposal – A business analyst works in conjunction with the sponsor to identify a project proposal outlining at a high level the purpose and benefits of proceeding with the project. Approval of the Project Proposal gives approval to develop a Business Case.

2.    Business Case – A business case captures the reasoning for initiating a project or task. A detailed business case must be completed for each project. The business case contains the background of the project, the expected business benefits, the options considered (with reasons for rejecting or carrying forward each option), the expected costs of the project, a gap analysis, privacy requirements, and the expected risks. From this information, the justification for the project is derived. Although the business case is the responsibility of the Sponsor, the Sponsor may engage the Project Manger to develop the business case on his/her behalf. Approval of the Business Case gives authority to go to the next step of a Solution Evaluation.

3.    Solution Evaluation – When a business case recommends that a RFP be conducted, the solution evaluation is the structured process for evaluating potential solutions. A scoring template is available to assist in the evaluation. The Project Manager leads and is responsible for the Solution Evaluation recommendations to the Sponsor/Steering Committee.

4.    Project Charter - is a statement of the scope, objectives, and participants in a project. It provides a preliminary delineation of roles and responsibilities, outlines the project objectives, establishes the project governance, identifies the main stakeholders, identifies key milestones and timelines, and defines the authority of the Project Manager. The project charter is written by the Project Manager and approved by the Sponsor and IT. The approved Project Charter formally authorizes the existence of a project and provides the Project Manager with the authority to apply organizational resources. The project process best proceeds with creation of effective implementation teams, lead by a single project manager, with strong representation from both Business Area and IT.

5.    Detailed Work Plan – The Project Manager in conjunction with the project team develops a detailed project plan outlining key milestones. The project plan is a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to facilitate communication among stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule. The plan should be agreed to and approved by the sponsor and the project team. The approved work plan becomes a baseline that can be only changed through a formal change management process.

6.    Project Execution – The Project Manager directs and manages to the detailed work plan. He/she has the authority to manage assigned work and monitor performance and is accountable to the Sponsor/Project Steering Committee. Any significant changes shall follow a formal change management process. This execution phase involves many components including managing the timelines, cost, and scope along with communications and risk.

7.    Change Management – A formal change management process is used to manage changes to scope, timelines or costs. Changes may be requested by any stakeholder involved in the project. Although changes may be initiated verbally, they should be recorded in written form. Every documented change request needs to be evaluated as to its impact on the project and either approved or rejected by the project manager and/or the project sponsor.

8.    Project Completion – The formal hand-over from the project to operations. Deliverables and knowledge are transferred between the project and operations for implementation of the delivered work. The Sponsor formally accepts the project. Lessons learned about the project are documented to assist future projects. In addition, the handover stage records the transfer of all the information required for the Business Area to administer and operate the system, and for IT to manage the support of the hardware, software and infrastructure (systems administration function) associated with the products delivered by the project.

The following diagram illustrates the major project stages and approvals required for a large project. Note the approval by the Business Area is ensuring that the business needs are met whereas the IT approval is making sure that the project conforms to the organization’s technical standards. In addition, at each stage both groups sign-off recognizing that the timelines are realistic and resources are available to execute and sustain the project after completion.

Also in the following diagram, we illustrate on the right-hand side where some project management pre-planning stages may be combined, recognizing that this pre-planning effort reflects the size, complexity, and scope of the project and therefore indirectly affects the number of sign-offs by the Sponsor and IT. 

For example, in a small project all the pre-planning stages may be combined into one short document consisting of a page or two. In a medium-sized project, the proposal, business case and solution evaluation may be a single document of just a few pages.

Remember, the level of detail is determined by the Project Sponsor and the Project Manager, and should reflect the size, complexity and/or risk of the project.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Does your board have IT expertise at the table?

 "Board Briefing on IT Governance" second edition 2003:

Board members need diverse skills and expertise in many areas - and that includes information technology and IT governance. 

Essentially, boards are as accountable for IT and the associated strategic risks as they are for finance and legal compliance issues. Governance starts at the top and the board should provide the leadership and oversight in setting strategy, managing risks, delivering value, and measuring performance.

Technology is ubiquitous in organizations, and because Information Technology affects every area of an organization, boards need to review how critical IT is for the delivery of their company's strategy.

One of my goals as an IT professional is to increase the awareness of IT governance at the executive and board level.  

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Exit Excel Hell - Part 2

In my previous 'Exit Excel Hell - Part 1' blog I started talking about how sending all those Excel attachments is a misuse of the email system. Other problems also exist. When you ask staff to update a spreadsheet and email it back to you, how do you incorporate multiple staff input changes? Doing that manually just creates an opening for errors. You might be surprised at the number of copies of a given spreadsheet in an organization. Which is the most recent and correct version? And, what happens to a spreadsheet that is used annually and is dusted off each year: does the creator and/or user relearn the contents and how it is used? Old spreadsheets are breeding grounds for errors because people will automatically assume it was correct. Or for that matter, if a user builds onto a spreadsheet that someone else developed, they often have to reverse engineer it to truly understand it. Furthermore, as Excel users become more sophisticated, their spreadsheets get more complicated and they start using external links and hidden references creating even more risk.
Well, how can this proliferation of spreadsheets be controlled and what other controls can be used for spreadsheets?

My first preference is, obviously, not to use a spreadsheet. But if you must, and if it is to be shared by multiple staff, it should be in a repository (or an Electronic Document Management System) where only one person can check the spreadsheet in or out to modify it at a given time.

Another control feature you can use is to put a password on a spreadsheet or part of a spreadsheet so someone can change or access only certain cells. In addition, important and complex spreadsheets should be documented. How would you document a spreadsheet?

There are several ways. The first is to use named cells wherever practical. For example, when calculating revenue, the most popular way is to multiply two cells — for example, F12=N12*P12. But why not define columns N & P and name them Cost and Quantity so column F becomes Revenue=Cost*Quantity. The formula itself becomes more descriptive and understandable to anyone looking at the spreadsheet. You can also insert comments in the cells to help explain the reason for your calculation or process. You can embed instructions right into the cells themselves, or create an external documentation manual, or even create a spreadsheet tab call 'Instructions'. You could maintain a revision history in which each person who makes a change to the spreadsheet logs what they did and when.

Some companies, when they have important spreadsheets, will follow a structured methodology similar to developing software. Some call it the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) which includes user requirements, design, development, testing, training, and so on. But unfortunately not many Excel users have formal SDLC training and they usually develop a spreadsheet in more of an ad-hoc fashion.

When you have an important memo or communication to send to a lot of people do you have someone else look at it before it is sent out? I do. I want someone else to give it a once-over. I want to make sure the message I’m trying to communicate is free of grammar and spelling errors, but also I want see how someone else interprets my message.

That same concept is exactly what should happen with Excel spreadsheets. Someone, other than the creator, should be auditing and verifying the spreadsheet. It’s too easy for those of us who create the spreadsheet to become so close to give it a truly objective look. You’re unlikely to find all your own mistakes. This is even more important for monthly, quarterly or year-end financial statements which are so often rushed.
Ideally, if it is a financial report, have the report come directly from the financial system. With the flexibility and options in report writing these days, you can even get a nicely formatted report. If the report, which can be run anytime, comes from a single official corporate source, there is far less chance of error than re-entering the summary data into some spreadsheet report.  If you must use Excel for financial reporting or some other corporate reporting function, consider having your IT department develop scripts to automatically query the corporate database and deposit the data in the spreadsheet (Excel can do SQL queries to a database). This will at least avoid transcription data entry errors. 

Spreadsheets provide a great analyzing tool. Personally I think spreadsheets are great for individuals to do their job, but I try to categorize spreadsheets two ways. It’s either for personal job working purposes or for corporate use (i.e. many staff use it). By that I mean when that person leaves the company, their files, and I refer to Excel files in this instance, should be thrown out, deleted along with all the other files in his/her data directory. If it is a corporate Excel file that should be kept, it should be documented and kept in a location other than the employee’s data directory.

Any file that is used by more than one staff member should be in a department or corporate directory or an Enterprise Document Management System (EDMS) or an Enterprise Content Management System. When a person leaves, the supervisor or manager can quickly look at files in that employee’s data directory to see if any might be useful to the next incumbent in that role, but for the most part, good file management procedures should include deleting the personal directory of staff members when they leave the organization.

Enterprise Content Management System, or ECM as it is commonly referred to, is a formal way of storing and organizing corporate documents or other content in a central repository. I will tackle ECM in another blog.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Exit Excel Hell - Part 1

Did you know, and this is based on studies by PWC, KPMG and others, that over 90 per cent of spreadsheets have errors? The larger the spreadsheet, the more errors found.

Many organizations I’ve worked for in the past relied on Excel too much. Recognizing the problems with Excel, I tried to promote a strategy that I called ‘Exit Excel Hell’.

Too many senior managers rely on the dubious quality of data in a spreadsheet.Taking this to the extreme, look at what happened to Worldcom or Nortel. At some of these companies, senior managers manipulated or unknowingly introduced errors into the spreadsheet financial reporting. Those looking to misrepresent the business can easily manipulate spreadsheets.

Think about it, anyone can change a cell, manual errors happen so easily, even accidentally keying in the wrong number e.g. 200 instead of 100. How do you know if you have keyed in the wrong number? If you're lucky, you visually catch it. Other things like simply cutting and pasting the wrong cells can easily happen. Even formula errors are so easy to make —  a row was omitted in the sum for a financial report is easy to do. Sometimes when adding rows, Excel will adjust the formula, but not in all cases. It’s so easy to make a mistake. Even knowing the pitfalls doesn’t prevent mistakes; many times people have found errors in my spreadsheets I’ve used in making business cases.

There are some simple controls you can do such as build in control totals. For example, if you had a spreadsheet that reported staff absences and the number this month was ten times what it was last month that might be a warning flag to check the numbers. The spreadsheet designer should devise tests to verify the results generated. Another control is to lockdown cells. By lockdown, I mean set a cell so it can’t be changed by a user (also known as protecting a cell). This applies to cells where data is not being changed, such as a formula cell. More sophisticated spreadsheets may actually extract data from a corporate database, such as the financial system. Getting the data directly from the source provides a better control than someone manually re-entering the data and you are more assured of the data integrity.

Since each spreadsheet is largely manual, reconciling numbers and the source can involve, and waste, a lot of company resources. That’s why I like to promote using a single source for certain data. For example, revenue recognition should be in the financial system, not in someone’s spreadsheet or spreadsheets. All departments should agree on the process entering data for sales and rules need to be clear. If Sales uses one system and Finance uses another, you are caught with two different sets of numbers — which is correct? Who do you believe?”

Sometimes staff try to create their own systems using Excel rather than relying on a corporate application system. As an example, suppose rather than using the purchasing module within the financial application, the purchasing department used a system of Excel spreadsheets to do their work. This creates a disparate system, often without appropriate controls, that does not tie into the existing systems. These Excel systems were never designed to be enterprise-level applications.

Perhaps the most popular Excel system is for budgeting. Many companies claim their budget process is unique so they have to use Excel because it is so flexible and accommodating. Ideally though, it would be much better to use either the budgeting solution in the finance system or have a system that is specifically designed for budgeting. The main problem that occurs with budgeting is that you often have many spreadsheets, hundreds or thousands for some companies, that your managers use to fill out their budget, with finance probably going through hoops trying to link or consolidate all the budget spreadsheets. In addition, in both the purchasing and budgeting spreadsheet examples, you end up creating a duplication of data that must be re-entered into the financial system at some point. In a corporate application system, you often have data entry validation. For example, in Purchasing you might enter a supplier number. The computer would look up the supplier name and address at the time of entry. Or, when entering the GL account number the application would validate the GL account number and it could look up to see if funds were available in that account for this purchase. Staff using Excel often do not build in data validation for cells that require data entry.

You know, Excel spreadsheets can proliferate like rabbits, and once that happens, version control becomes a real problem. As people create, modify and share spreadsheets, how do you keep control of the latest version? Is the latest version on a shared drive, on someone’s laptop, in someone’s email, where? During a budget process, sending hundreds of emails with budget attachments can choke your email system.

More in my next blog - 'Exit Excel Hell - Part 2'.
 Dilbert Copyright Scott Adams

Monday, 23 September 2013

Increase Productivity: Low-Hanging Fruit, Part Two

In my last post I identified probably the best way you can improve productivity in an office.  But wait, there is an even easier way to improve basic computer productivity - add a second monitor. 

Recently I had a project in which I needed some staff to test a new application based on a conversion from an old system.  To help them with the testing, I arranged second monitors for this group of four office workers with the proviso that at the end of the project they may have to give the extra monitor back.  Yes, you guessed it, none of the staff would return their second monitor.  Give anyone a second monitor, let them use it for while, and then try to take it away - it just won't happen.

Think about it, you can have a primary application on one monitor and run email or a browser or whatever else you need on the second monitor.  You can even have two browser pages on separate windows.  With a normal 17" monitor, you can display approximately one page (i.e. 8½" x 11") of information.  On our physical desk we have multiple documents and generally need space to work effectively.  So why limit ourselves to such a small screen space on our computer?  We can add large and/or multiple monitors to increase this space allowing us to work more efficiently.  It really is all about increased screen space.

Formal studies show that a second monitor can increase productivity by 10%-50%.   Many studies have been conducted over the years that you can easily Google but here are two from Dell and Microsoft:
I started promoting dual monitors five years ago, but the original multiple-monitor pundits have been promoting this for over a decade. So why don't many offices take advantage of this quick and easy productivity boost?  Original monitors were big, bulky, expensive and took up lots of desk space, but we don't have that excuse today - LED monitors are thin, light and inexpensive ($150).  Sometimes you need to buy a second inexpensive ($50) graphics card for your computer as well.  Still, the financial ROI on this $200 investment could be days or weeks, not to mention the increased satisfaction of your staff.

Try it!   

This is an instant boost to office productivity.