The Project Notebook

Lessons from a Project of the Year

This past Wednesday night I attended my local PMI Chapter meeting. The presenter was Dave Colby, the project manager responsible for the Project of the Year awarded by the local chapter. The first lesson was “they must be doing something right at Qualcomm”. This is the second year one of their projects took the top prize. The project had a fairly short duration, but saves them around 5% of their legal bills. Since most of the legal work they are involved in revolves around patents and intellectual property, this can be substantial. IP attorneys typically charge $500+ per hour.

The real lesson though was planning. Senior management took six months to complete the diligence and approve the project which only took three months to complete. It was on time and slightly under budget. This was attributed to the level of planning and diligence before launching into execution. Hmmm… you think there might be something to it? If you have any doubts, please go back and read Pl*n is not a Four-Letter Word and Look Before the Project.

Well I’m working on a new online course for UCSD Extension. It’s going to be a lot of work, so my posts will be fairly short for a while. Once I start putting the course online though, there will be a need for new material and articles here to support it. So don’t forget to check back soon.

Creating Project Templates

This week someone emailed me and asked me how I create templates for my pre-written software (PeopleSoft, Clarify, Siebel, INFORM, etc.) engagements, so I thought I would share the thinking and one of its products this week. First, let’s look at why I create them.

Effective consultants have tools which enable them to repeat engagements and bring value to customers while integrating new and improved practices, but never start from scratch. For a project manager, this represents a “starter” plan which can be used again and again. From the customer perspective, expectations need to be solidly set. An “out-of-the-box” plan is usually a good starting point since you can point to this plan and clearly identify the customizations and enhancements which are out-of-scope.

To create the out-of-the-box plan, you either need to get input from many people who have conducted implementations, both successful and unsuccessful or conduct them yourself. This will allow you to determine the correct list of tasks. The experiences will help you home in on the correct effort and resources to allocate to each task. Adding the billing rate of the resources means you can get a good look at the actual cost to the customer for the out-of-the-box implementation. Now, when the customer wants to start a discussion of customization and changes, you have something to build on. Before seeing the customer, I typically review the contract and any customizations already agreed to, populate them into the plan, and proceed to manage changes in an effective way which customers can easily understand.

Creating a good template doesn’t stop there, however. Its nice to make sure each concrete step and deliverable has some associated tools, templates, or guidance to assist in completing the tasks. At Siebel Systems we both posted them to our web site and zipped them up for CD distribution so consultants could refer to the plan and the tools necessary to complete the task.

I’m obviously not going to upload anything proprietary, but I do have a very old plan for a very old version of Siebel software which should give you some ideas of what’s possible. You will need MS Project to view this file (you may need to right click the link and save the file locally with a .mpp extension). In this particular case, we didn’t worry about the effort and resources so much since we had our own estimating tool which would help us fill that in. Don’t have MS Project but still want to peek at the file? Just drop me a line via email or comment and I’ll get you a PDF version.

A Very Brief Hiatus

Normally I have the ideas for weekly articles well in hand before each week. Due to a challenging schedule and planning for a vacation in a week, I have to admit I’ve fallen behind … that’s right — I wasn’t sufficiently proactive 🙁 Actually its more a matter of having too many projects to manage.

During the last few weeks I made some minor improvements to assist your reading pleasure — there are more links and more on the way. Google News on Project Management has been added. There is a “Print” link at the top of each page to allow you to print the article or articles on the screen and a search engine capability to locate articles. I’ve also registered this site in a number of places, including Technorati and, and Digg so it can be easily bookmarked and re-discovered.

Over the next 2-3 weeks I’m going to plan some additional upgrades, plus develop a plan to increase the value of my articles and other major upgrades for late August. I will definitely have a new post available during the week of June 25. At that time I just might be able to fill you in on some of the plans for this site. Among the candidates for change and improvement are:

  • increased article value with downloadable tools and templates
  • more frequent regular posts
  • giveaways and contests, special promotions, and special feature articles
  • guest and/or team bloggers (maybe you?)
  • announcements of major PM developments in San Diego and around the world
  • more integration with professional and social networking sites
  • an expanded search engine capability
  • more upgrades to the look and usability of this site

As this blog moves forward, expect less “stories” and more hard-hitting tips and news you can use in your day-to-day Project Management practice. Here’s to successful projects! See you all during the week of June 25 with plans to ramp things up!

Get Your “Ticket” to the Show

I was comparing notes with a colleague at a local PMI meeting last week and we agreed there seems to be an evolutionary step many companies go through as they emerge from chaos and move toward an environment supportive of Project Management. For lack of a better name, I’ll call it a “ticket” system. They use products such as Bugzilla, TeamTrack, Remedy, SharePoint Lists, and so on, to “organize” their work. This might range from recording service requests, issues, mini projects, and other discrete work tasks they need to complete.

Now there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this type of tool or organization. The problem seems to lie within why it is adopted and the expectations around its performance. A colleague at a major San Diego telecommunications company related this story [I’m paraphrasing] to me a few years ago …

Our IT Department installed a ticket system to handle their growing volume of work. Within 6 months, at least two new layers of management were installed to “manage” the system. Everyone was going crazy. The project team members were unable to get anything done, because every time they turned around, there was a manager on the phone asking about the status of ticket “x”. They needed more managers since the number of unsatisfied tickets just kept growing exponentially.

Now the real issue here is usually a failure to address the “root cause”. If these are problems with bugs, defects, or quality issues, sure a ticket system can help in organizing and prioritizing the work, but if the underlying quality issue isn’t identified and fixed, the ticket system keeps feeding itself.

Or maybe the underlying issue is planning and resources. In that case, some hard decisions may have to be made about what will and will not be done, or what resources may need to be added to accomplish goals, but throwing in more tickets to develop new features is not going to solve the underlying issues.

There WILL be a breaking point. After a near internal melt down, the telecommunications company realized the situation was not improving and hired consultants to a) improve product requirements so quality and other issues were addressed and b) started to adopt basic project management practices to prioritize work and review resources and schedules. Over time they de-emphasized the significance of the ticket system in favor of creating well run projects.

When I took over my current position, I had 6 pages of Excel spreadsheet of work (around 300 tasks taking anywhere from 8 hours to a week to complete) needed for customers. During my first six months, we triaged and prioritized work, identified roadblocks and planned their removal, and steadily reduced the list. During the second six months, we analyzed resources, looked at some trade-offs, and continued to build tools. Today, there is little or no chance this list will become unmanageable again unless something goes horribly wrong. Why? Some of our clients are now trained and would rather take on the work themselves than wait in a larger request pool, we have trained more people to perform these tasks so we shouldn’t easily run out of resources, and we’ve dramatically improved the tools and techniques we use to carry out the work. The root causes were successfully identified and addressed.

So if you are at the point that a “ticket” system is called for, step back and take a hard look at the root cause. The ticket system itself will often disappoint if you believe the organization it offers is the only thing that needs to change. Be sure you are planning to address the real root cause and not just institute a tool where tons of tickets will accumulate without resolution. The meltdowns may be entertaining for some, but they rarely lead to productive situations.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP