Accurate Project Tracking for Successful Projects

Accurate Project Tracking

One of the most important factors in a successful project is accurate Project Tracking. Projects are seldom tracked accurately for reasons we will describe below. Bad data means bad information provided to management who then take bad decisions based on that bad information.

Time Pressure

Virtually all the pressure put on those working on an IT Project is Time Pressure. To everyone involved in a project being on schedule is the most important aspect of the project while it is being built. That is because time is money and it is easily measurable.

From developer to project leader to Project Manager to the Project Sponsors and senior people in the company time against schedule is by far the most important measure of a project when it is being built.

Of course, when a system is implemented and put into production there are other factors that become more important, i.e. where the system does as it is supposed to do, whether or not it is easy to use, the quality of the system in terms of how it works and how often or little it falls over.

These will all become more important eventually than time. However, they are less easily measured than time and are less important in terms of the tracking of the system during the build.

Huge Mistake

Virtually all the Project Management tracking during a project is about tracking time. That is a huge mistake – and counterproductive. It is the main reason that projects are late and over budget.

Be careful what you measure because that is what you get. There is tremendous pressure on developers to deliver on time.

So they do. It takes the pressure off of them. However, sometimes they would be better to take a little longer to test the software to make sure that it is working properly before handing it over for testing.

However, at that stage, no one is putting quality or fit-for-purpose pressure on them.  So what you get is software on time – but not necessarily fit-for-purpose or properly tested.

Early is Cheap

It has been shown by studies that the earlier you catch a problem in the software development cycle the cheaper it is to fix. If it is caught early in the cycle it is very cheap to fix. If it is caught late, e.g. in User Acceptance testing or in Production it is very expensive to fix.

And yet there is so little pressure during the software development process to get things right from te start. It’s all time, time, time. That’s what gets measured and this where all the pressure comes from. And yet time is seldom the most critical factor on a project.

Solution

So, how do we get round this? How do we make the most important factors on a project the most important factors while the software is being built? How do we pit Fit-For-Purpose and Quality pressure on developers during a project?

That’s very easy. You ask the customers what is important to them, how important it is and then you reward all those along the software developer supply chain for giving the users what they want.

Simple, isn’t it?

How?

So how do you do that?

Very easy indeed!

You just ask the customers or users. You just ask them what they want from the Project and how important it is to them.

They usually come up with Fitness-for-Purpose(it does what they asked for and what they want), Quality (in terms of not falling over), Ease of Use, Timeliness and Documentation. You then ask them how important these different factors are. You ask them to give a relative weighting factor.

Results

It will usually go something like

5 – Fitness-for Purpose

3 – Quality

2 – Usability

2 – Timeliness

1 – Documentation

There you are. You see how relatively unimportant timeliness is in the scheme of things. And yet that is the main thing that is measured during a project. That is the source of the main pressure.

Counterproductive

However, this is counterproductive. The more time pressure you put on the less Quality, Usability and Fitness-for-Purpose you will get – and that will have a huge impact on timeliness in the end as all of this will have to be fixed late in the cycle rather than early when it would have been much cheaper to fix.

Once you know what the user wants from your software development and from the system you are going to deliver to them then you have got to make sure that this is what is delivered to them.

Supply Chain

So, how do you do that? You create a Supply Chain from developer to analyst to systems tester to User Acceptance tester to the End Customer. At each stage whoever is receiving the software will give it marks for Fitness-for-Purpose, Quality, Usabilty, Timeliness and Documentation. They will be marks out of ten.

These marks will then be multiplied by the weighting factors so that the Timeliness mark will multiplied by 2 and the Fitness-for-Purpose mark will be multiplied by 5. These marks will be added together to produce a total mark for the delivery.

Best Return on Investment

If I was allow to introduce just one process at any company I went into, it would be this one. This one makes the most difference. The reason is that it totally changes behaviour.

Whereas previously developers would succumb to the time pressures on them and hand over work they weren’t completely satisfied with, I found that the developers and analysts themselves would resist the time pressures a little more as the realised that the bigger marks were for Fitness-for-Purpose and Quality and wanted to make sure that they got good marks for those.

They would hold on to their software for an extra day or two beyond schedule to make sure they were completely satisfied with it and it wouldn’t keep bouncing back to them.

Right First Time

Getting things right first time makes a huge saving in timeliness as it saved in the usual heaps of rework that timeliness pressure usually means so, you see, the less time pressure you put on and the more quality pressure you put on the more time you save.

What I found when I implemented this was that projects and people needed a lot less managing. People know what is wanted and managed themselves. In fact even when you put time pressure on them they’ll resist you as they take the long term view and deliver what is most wanted and what gets them the highest marks.

The easiest way to run a project is to put in good processes that reward people for the right things. That’s what you are doing here. Yet, how few project do this.

What type of Project Managers do we want?

What type of Project Managers do we want?

Not all good programmers or good analysts become good Project Managers. It is in fact a very different skill from either of these.

How do we know who will become good Project Managers? One of the crucial skills needed is leadership. Leaders, in real life, tend to evolve rather than being appointed. How often do we see leaders of countries who have been appointed by their predecessor, being swept aside after the ‘great leader’ is gone.

Also there are some people who are used to succeeding in life and those who are used to failing. If one tennis player is used to losing to another player, then when losing again will take no great steps to reverse this.

When it comes to the time when the one who is used to winning is behind, he or she puts great mental and physical effort into reversing this situation. They just ‘can’t let it happen’, and it usually doesn’t.

Natural Leaders

Picking natural leaders who don’t let bad things happen, and who can right bad situations when they do happen, is crucial. This type of person usually has a positive attitude and is keen to insert the kind of processes into the software development lifecycle which will help him or her succeed. Also, on a project, when reverses happen, as they invariably will, they have the self will and belief to set it right.

Those who are not used to winning, as in life they are used to this situation, will spend their effort not in clearing up the mess but in justifying themselves and in making sure the blame does not attach itself to them. You need people who will grow in a crisis not shrink.

Running IT Projects the way Movies are Made

The Movie Analogy to Running IT Projects

It may seem strange but running IT Projects is not that much different to making movies. They are created in small clips and then put together at the end and the way movies are made appears to be a far better and more successful process than running IT Projects.

Programming, Analysis, and Project Management are different skills. Some programmers and analysts make good project managers. Others do not. Many do not want to become project managers. What they want to do is earn more money.

How often have you seen, at your organisation, that the best business analyst with the best business systems knowledge can’t run a project for toffee? Also how often have you seen a project manager who is logistically good and gets systems delivered in reasonable time, deliver systems that are not fit for business purpose?

The Cure

There is a cure for this which enables you to use your best people most effectively and which helps to keep them at your organisation. This is the use of Directors and Producers. In the movie industry, the Director is the person who is the creative genius, the Steven Spielberg, the person who makes the picture. This is your Senior Business Analyst.

The Producer is the person who handles the logistics. He or she makes sure the actors are hired, the contracts drawn up, the locations are booked, everyone turns up at the right place at the right time, the costumes are made, the food arrives, the star has the best caravan, the movie is on schedule etc.

Doing all this, as well as making the movie, would sap Steven Spielberg’s creative energy. There is no reason why he would be any good at this just because he can make good movies.

Equal Standing

The Producer and the Director would have equal standing and would therefore have similar recompense. The Director may even have a higher recompense.

This is a difficult idea to sell to senior management as they like to see one person in charge, i.e. the logistics person. This idea of Producers and Directors seems to them to be a bit ‘arty’ and not of the real ‘hard-nosed’ world. They also usually have projects which run over budget and time, which do not deliver fit-for-purpose systems, and have their best staff leaving in droves in this ‘hard-nosed’ world.

It should be explained to them that they would only have one point of contact. As the pressures on them are mainly money and time, their point of contact should be the Producer.

Potential Conflict

There is also the problem of potential conflict between the ‘arty’ Director and the ‘real world’ Producer. It is important, then, to appoint a Producer who gets on well with the Director (notice that it is this way round). In the movie world, it is often the case that the Director appoints the Producer, often someone who he has worked with successfully in the past.

Organisations continually complain that they are constantly losing people with good business knowledge from the systems department. With this change of emphasis, you will be able to keep your best Business Analysts. At the Academy Awards it is noticeable that although there is an award for Best Director, there is no award for Best Producer.

In Tandem

To cut any potential friction between the Producer and the Director, make their rewards mechanism the same so that their goals are aligned. Don’t reward the Director for fitness-for-purpose while rewarding the Producer for Timeliness and meeting budget.

If you have problems selling this idea to senior management, just call them the Project Manager and the Senior Business Analyst while separating the roles. It is better, however, if you can convince them that this is a good idea. It makes it easier to justify the kind of rewards for the Director / Senior Business Analyst which would keep him or her at the company.

Selecting Project Managers – Category 4 Minks

Category 4 Minks – Selecting Project Managers

Selecting Project Managers is one of the most important things you can do. If you get it wrong the project is scuppered from the start. The right people with the best processes is the perfect mix. So what type of people do you want when selecting Project Managers?

Minks

A few years ago, in the UK, the Animal Liberation Movement, set free a number of minks from a mink farm. Some of the minks, who had been bred in captivity, remained in their cages even when the doors were opened. Others stayed out for a while but came back at feeding time. Others still stayed out but could not adapt to the wild and were either killed or died of starvation. Others however stayed, adapted to the wild and thrived in their new environment.

Try thinking of you employees and fellow workers and which categories that they would fit into. Select your Project Managers only from the ‘category 4 minks’. Do not confuse them with the ‘category 3 minks’ who are usually loose canons. Do not worry if they are relatively junior. Double or triple promote then if you have to.

Appreciate, also, that the ‘category 4 minks’ are the ones most likely to leave your organisation. Those are the ones that you most want to stay.

Promotion

If you promote the leader from within the ranks, you will find problems with those that they have leapfrogged on the way up. These problems come from people who want to stay at  the company but who assumed that, in the natural order of things, that their turn for promotion will come soon.

Many of these people are good analysts or programmers that you would wish to keep at the company. You need to be able to manage this or you’ll be left with good leaders but fewer good technical workers and especially fewer people with good knowledge of your systems.

Different Strokes

How do you handle this? By having different ways of progressing up the company. Very often people mainly want promotions because of the extra status and income attached to it. You must find other ways of giving them this status and income if they achieve good results.

Boost for IT as Government announce Paperless NHS

Paperless NHS

Government Health Minister Jeremy Hunt announced today that the Government plan to move towards a Paperless NHS. They intend that everyone should be able to access their medical records online by March 2015 – just before the next election. By 2018 all NHS should be able to access all patient records online.

These are brave targets. Will they be implementable by the time they want? From past experience that is unlikely. Governments have a poor record of being able to deliver major projects. Indeed this Government scrapped many of the mammoth IT projects that New Labour had initiated, including the huge NHS project which sucked in billions of pounds.

No Different

So, why do the Government think they will succeed when New Labour failed? What are they going to do differently that is going to cause them to succeed where Labour failed. They are likely to use the same partners. They are likely to use the same Project Development and Project Management methods that they used before. So why the big confidence that they will succeed?

They’ll concentrate most of their efforts on getting Timeliness. Quality, Fitness-for-Purpose and Usability will suffer as usual. Then there will be a massive amount of rework and the project will be very late and well over budget.

Huge Risk

They really are taking a huge risk here – and I don’t think they really realise it. Do they really want to go into the 2015 election with one more promise that they haven’t kept and one more target that they have missed? Having worked on projects in the private sector and in the public sector and having managed many projects I would be willing to predict that they’ll miss their targets – and miss them by a long way.

I predicted back in 2005 that the big NHS project started by New Labour would fail – and fail it did. As nothing much has changed since then I can’t see how this will succeed either. I would be astonished if it managed to do what it is supposed to do by March 2015 – just before the election. In fact I would be very confident in predicting that it won’t.