OnPoint, LLC

Becoming both a quitter and a winner

Agile organizations must be prepared to adapt quickly to changes in the market. To pursue a new opportunity, they must be willing to re-deploy scarce resources by abandoning a product, service or activity that already exists. The decision to abandon is painful and is typically delayed far too long, thus depriving the new opportunity of resources.

In his book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, the late Peter Drucker proposed that abandonment decisions must be practiced systematically. Drucker described an outsourcing firm that scheduled abandonment meetings on the first Monday of every month. At each these meetings, all levels of management complete a comprehensive review of one aspect of the business and identify what should be changed or abandoned. Twice a year, all levels of management must report on the actions taken as a result of these meetings.

Without a formal review process, unnecessary work and unprofitable business will drain resources and impede progress. If you periodically review your operations, you will find projects that should be canceled, services that are no longer profitable, and reports that no one reads. Such work should be identified and eliminated. Your competitive edge could very well result from the work you don’t do.

Life in the fast lane

You see them on the freeway, driving in the left lane, 5 feet behind the next car, staring at their cell phones and eating breakfast.  Their driving style limits their ability respond to changes in road conditions or to react to the actions of other drivers. They take an excessive amount of risk in order to save a couple of minutes. There is a good chance that, if they make it to the office safely, their driving style will carry over into their work.

Excessive speed is standard operating procedure in business today.  Staff levels have been cut but workloads have not, leaving no resources to maneuver around obstacles and pursue new opportunities.  There is an excess of activity and a shortage of results. As the Eagles (the band, not the football team) would say, life in the fast last will “surely make you lose your mind.”  Is it time to back off the throttle? Following are a few thoughts how to slow down and still improve performance.

  • Challenge the thinking behind deadlines. Is there a business need for to hit this particular date? Or is the date merely a means to create a sense of urgency?
  • Adjust your project portfolio to make sure it is complete and matches your capacity. It is common for people to work on projects that have not yet been identified, approved and prioritized. Even if they are working on approved projects, the sequence of those projects may result in bottlenecks while awaiting the availability of key subject matter experts. Try to stagger project start dates to minimize the risk of colliding priorities.
  • End a project and declare victory. When employing an agile project approach, business value is delivered incrementally according to priorities set by the business owner. After a point, the incremental business value for a given project may be lower than that of a competing project. You do not need to complete every deliverable on the backlog list. Take a look at the entire portfolio of projects and identify those that can be considered complete, then close them out and free up the resources for other work.

Belts and Suspenders

Have you ever seen a fellow wearing both a belt and suspenders? Not only is this a Class B felony among the fashion police, but it is redundant. Either one is sufficient to hold up a pair of pants. While this is a rare fashion faux pas, the thinking behind it is quite common in business processes.

Consider business processes that require multiple management sign-offs. How often do these sign offs result in catching an error that would have otherwise been missed? If the answer is “never,” then the sign-off steps are worse than wearing belts and suspenders. The step is not only redundant, it adds multiple days of lag time in the process. A lean, nimble organization should not tolerate a design faux pas such as this.

Real World Project Risks

If you are responsible for planning a project, you will need to perform a risk assessment. You will need to identify and make plans to mitigate those events that will impact your project’s schedule, cost and quality. Instead of starting with the blank sheet of paper, begin your risk assessment with some of these common events.

A New Sheriff Comes to Town

It may come from a merger. It may be the result of a management shakeup or even a promotion. Whatever the reason, there is a high probability that the sponsor of your project will move on within the next 12-24 months. Whoever replaces your sponsor will challenge every major decision made by your sponsor, including your project. If you are lucky, your project will be canceled. If not, you will be ordered to meet your project objectives with fewer resources. The mitigation for this risk is to break your project down into smaller phases. If you wait more than six to nine months for your first implementation, you are taking on considerable risk.

The vendor does not deliver

This risk is so common that it is almost a certainty. Having worked on both sides (vendor and buyer), it is easy to understand how this happens. The vendor is in the business of selling services, and sometimes they overachieve. The vendor may have the capacity to handle, for instance, two new customers. But they sell three – and you are number three. At the same time, the buyer finds it necessary to “get tough” with the vendor. During contract negotiations, your management will extract commitments for unrealistic deadlines and low prices. The vendor will agree to the terms then put their least experienced resources on the project (the best resources go to the customers who pay full price). The best mitigation is to encourage the buyer’s contract negotiator to leave his machismo out of the negotiations and focus on the success of the project. If that does not work, look for opportunities to build in a significant risk buffer in your project. You will need it.

The “solution” does not work

Perhaps your project will rely on a “state of the art” programming language, an advanced database management system, or a new project management methodology. If so, your project will become a “learning experience,” and it will be a very expensive education. This risk must be mitigated by starting out small and then expanding. Begin with a proof of concept, and then scale up from there.

The primary subject matter expert (fill in the name) does not start on time

Even in very large companies, there are relatively few true subject matter experts – people who know the both the business and the systems. These people are incredibly busy and they are already working on multiple projects. Your subject matter expert may be working on a project that will finish late and thus delay your project. To mitigate this risk, minimize your reliance on this person and try to schedule around her availability. Avoid relying solely on her manager to determine when she will be available. Have an off-the-record conversation to determine when she will really be available.

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