Project failures often rooted in unfocused purpose

When we go in to rescue projects teetering on the brink of failure, the first thing we do is find out the root causes that resulted in the problems.

For management, the blame is often dropped at the feet of the project manager or project team itself. But that’s not always fair. Frequently, we find that the root cause is actually the project.

Sometimes what a business asks of a project group is not what they really want. And of course, it follows that what they asked for is also not what they need.

This is what drives project teams into twists. With a mandate to produce a product no one needs, stakeholders squabble over features and the team often ends up at odds with each other, trying to parse the intentions behind the requests.

Faced with such a turbulent situation we readdress with the business the intention behind the project… not so much what the team is expected to deliver but why. Answering that why can go a long way to getting a project back on track.

Once we refocus we then make certain the project stays on track by introducing our seven Key Success Parameters.

To learn how we can turn your projects around or train your team to be project management experts, please get in touch.

Levis Strauss project a failure to learn from

In Project planning, my go-to mantra is that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. If you want to avoid mistakes and errors in future projects, you have to study your project failures and learn why they happened.  

Failures are fascinating because within each one is a blueprint for how you can avoid making the same mistakes again and again.

There was a disastrous project failure in 2008 at the Levi Strauss organization which always has fascinated me. In short, they were implementing a SAP solution in their organization. This enterprise resource planning software install was, on the surface, a simple $5M project.

However during the switchover between systems, there were problems. As a result the whole ordering system went down for a week. One week of lost orders in the life of a business like Levi Strauss may not result in a loss of life, but to the bottom line it certainly counts as a disaster.

The problem had to do with the connection of the new SAP system to existing legacy software. That meant there was a week where they couldn’t fulfill orders. This resulted in a staggering 98 percent income drop week-to-week from the previous year. In the second quarter of 2008, the company took a whopping $192.5M dollar write-off for the botched project.  

Levi Strauss’ SEC filing about their financial position shed some light on what had gone wrong. The complication of integrating the new SAP system into the legacy software led to an emergency update to their internal controls and procedures. This update happened to coincide with testing the new setup, while also training employees on the new system.

They do say hindsight is 20 / 20 but it wouldn’t have taken too keen an eye to see how this disaster could have been prevented.

Of our seven Key Success Parameters, both Ownership and Customer Deliverable Focus would have come into play in a similar situation. Ownership is about ensuring that all members of a team work to the one common goal, in this case the smooth delivery of the project. For a team to have gotten to the point of integrating the new system to the old without some type of field testing betrays poor practices, likely spurred on by deadline panic.

Customer Focus keeps a project focused on deliverables, ensuring a smooth flow of product to the customers. Because the focus, in the case of Levis, was on project delivery, the team lost focus on the customer. If they had valued the customer, they would never have brought the new system online without adequate testing.

In the end, that error in judgement cost them dearly in terms of lost sales and lost confidence in their ability to deliver to deadline.

If you want to ensure your project management teams can avoid any disaster or deftly manage one if it happens, please contact us.

Don’t let silver bullet thinking shoot you in the foot

I read an article recently about the proposed notion of a California Calexit from the 50 states that make up our great country.

Although the notion of a California secession started as a humorous gag, recent political developments have caused more than a few people to consider this once oddball concept with various degrees of seriousness.  

A group called Yes California is currently spearheading a campaign to strike a line from that state’s constitution that denotes it as “an inseparable part of the United States of America”, setting up a 2019 election asking the question “Should California become a free, sovereign and independent Country?”                                 

As a person with a background in project management, I can put the politics aside and look at this development from a purely project-based viewpoint. And what I see is a classic problem of a solution that doesn’t address the problem it purports to fix.

When you fail to take into account the root causes of a problem you almost always set yourself down the path to a costly misadventure. In this case would removing a state from the union solve the reason for the move? The exit attempt is clearly motivated by recent events at the national level. But the notion that leaving would solve the reason for the discontent is unproven. Worse, it’s not even being examined.

The wish for a ‘silver bullet‘ solution always tantalizes those faced with a problem. Many seem to forget that the phrase ‘the devil is in the details’ is actually true. If something seems to be too good to be true, it usually is. Because details matter.

The idea that seceding is California’s silver bullet solution is just as absurd as similar notions in the business sector. Too often resources get squandered on solutions with no guarantee that it will solve the problem at hand.

It comes down to research, a firm understanding of the issue and developing solutions that address root problems. If a project, whether it be state succession or implementing a new IT infrastructure, fails to take into account the root causes to be fixed, then in all probability you’re going to end up with a hugely expensive mess.

Does your business carefully research all aspects of a solution or is it always frantic in a search for silver bullets? Talk to us and let’s make sure your projects deliver the right solutions for the problems they are meant to address.

Learn What Makes People Happy in Their Job

I read an interesting post on LinkedIn recently which focused on what made people happy in their jobs.

The article referenced a report called It’s Time We All Work Happy: The Secrets of the Happiest Companies and Employees.

In it the author specifically pointed out:

  • Six universal factors that affect workplace happiness
  • The unique elements that drive joy for each age group, experience level and industry
  • The link between happiness and performance
  • Specific steps you can take to increase employee satisfaction

The link between happiness and performance intrigued me. It’s always been my contention that a happy employee is a productive one. And of course productive employees make a company more profitable.

So is there a link between a happy workplace and profitability?

The report certainly seems to back up that assertion as it gives some credence that happy employees are more productive, focused and collaborative given the opportunity.

Opportunity is the key word here. We have seen how our Key Success Parameters develop Project Management teams into performance dynamos using some of the same strategies touched on in the report. The report notes that small businesses of up to 9 employees experience the highest levels of happiness. Oddly enough if you think of this as the typical size of a project team, then you can see how the common purpose and team spirit can affect outcomes. Properly trained project teams are the engine that propels new development in organizations and of course new opportunities for profits.

Give us a call and let us show you how to build project teams that are happier and more productive and profitable.

New research suggests great bosses also technically skilled

What makes a great boss?

I read an article the other day that asked that very question. And new research appearing in the Harvard Business Review points to a number of compelling answers.

We we think of a great boss style or charisma are often seen as key elements.  But this new research took a different tact, looking at how a bosses technical acumen increases their ability to lead.

Simply put, if a boss can’t do your job, do you respect them less than if they could?

The research considered these issues:

  • Whether the supervisor could, if necessary, do the employee’s job.
  • Whether the supervisor worked his or her way up inside the company.
  • The supervisor’s level of technical competence as assessed by a worker.

As it turns out employees are markedly happier when managed by someone with solid expertise in the work they are doing on a daily basis. This turns conventional wisdom on its head.

Contrast that to the accepted thinking that engineers should lead engineers, for example, which is a terrible idea.

So why should a manager have to know job specifics if they have compensating organizational skills and personal charisma?

The reason why isn’t fully explored in the research, but I understand why technical expertise is being increasingly seen as an essential skill for managers. A leader urging employees to greater productivity is respected because they know of what they speak, and employees know that they know and understand some of the reasons for the current pace.

At Ally Business, we use our Key Success Parameters to help businesses reach their project management potential. The seven KSPs work in tandem with each other, dovetailing to create a complete project management transformation. Specifically they are Clear Definition, Ownership, Customer Deliverables Focus, Cooperative Spirit, Managing Task Interdependency, Managing Risks and Rigorous Quality.

Although all members of a team have different roles, Managing Task Interdependency, goes some way toward ensuring that disparate parts of the process are known by all team members. And by extension any manager the team reports to will have a strong knowledge of the process as well.

To find out how Ally Business can transform your managers into experienced ones, please contact us.

Research shows value of project management guidelines

Someone sent me an article recently from early last year about the seven best practices for Project Management leaders as compiled by Gartner Research.

Although the focus was on IT projects, the research caught my eye for some very specific reasons. One was this observation by Mbula Schoen, senior research analyst at Gartner: “A failure to evolve and adjust to changes (in technology) can result in a PMO being misaligned with an organization’s goals, and therefore being seen as failing to deliver value.

That resonates strongly with us at Ally Business. Aligning project teams with organizational goals is part of what we do when we work with project teams. If that doesn’t happen and senior management doesn’t buy into a project’s value and direction, then it stands a very good chance of failing.

The other interesting aspect of the paper was the recommendation of seven best practices for project managers. At Ally Business we have developed our Key Success Parameters, seven methods of project management that work in tandem with each other.

I could put the seven recommendations in the article up against our seven but that would be missing the point.

Here are two factors to consider with our Key Success Parameters:

They all work in tandem with each other

We work with organizations to train their teams on how to put them into practice.

And perhaps I’ve buried the lead here. The success of organizations that use our seven KSPs is the increased profitability that can be traced to individual teams.

If you want to discover how our Key Success Parameters can transform your project

management culture, please contact us.

Cookie cutter project solution

Cookie cutter project solution

Every once in a while I come across an article about project management that makes me smile in recognition.

The 5 Illusions of Project Management looks at some of the fallacies of project management solutions and takes them apart one by one.

Here are a few excerpts:
Two managers listening to young man and making notesSoftware:

Enterprise project management (EPM) software systems do not change behavior, and employees who do not see the benefit of using a system will find ways to bypass it. Organizations should focus their efforts on changing the behavior of employees, before implementing an EPM system.


Methodology Illusion:

A methodology without training is just a eulogy. Training changes the way people think about their work, and is an effective change management tool to get consensus on work methods.

One-Size-Fits-All Illusion:

This illusion springs from two change mantras that are rarely true. One is adopting an approach that worked at another company, and the second is an off-the-shelf or case study solution. Organizations are unique in many ways, and even small differences in structure or risk appetite may render an adopted approach useless.

There’s more but that gives a good idea of the article and also why I liked it so much. There is no magic solution for good project management: there’s no single piece of software, no specific processes to follow to ensure good project management outcomes.

With our Key Success Parameters the focus is on seven areas of project development and how they interact. The reality is that transformation is a work culture change and puts the lie to magic bullet solutions be they software or specific processes.

To learn how we can use our Key Success Parameters to change your project management culture, please contact us.

Preparing communication strategies key to communication success

Preparing communication strategies key to communication success

Elegant businessmen communicating at meeting

There are many definitions of communication. But ultimately it comes down to a simple reality; effective communication occurs when a message is understood exactly as the sender intended.

Despite the seeming simplicity of communicating clearly, it is actually quite difficult. In English many words have multiple meanings and most of us leave enough wiggle room in our conversations that wrong interpretations and misunderstandings happen all the time.

Communication failures can be heartbreaking or blithely comic: Abbot and Costello’s classic Who’s On First still endures for this very reason.

Business communication is hard work, requiring more preparation than finesse. Every communication or conversation begins with research. What do you know about the person with whom you are going to communicate? What is their frame of reference? What is their context? Do they have a preferred way of communicating? If so what is it?

You probably do a lot of this subconsciously already. However if the request or the person you’re contacting is important, then you should be even more mindful. Sometimes it’s something as mundane as the time of day: are they better after a cup of coffee or lunch? Or if it’s a colleague, their demeanor may give clues when it is not a “good time” to have a serious discussion.

There are times however, when time is of the essence and we just damn the torpedoes and plunge into a discussion. This however, rarely works as well as one would hope because urgency can be a one-way street and they may not appreciate your tone or approach. Sometimes even just taking one deep breath and an ounce of caution can go a long way towards making such a scenario a success.

At Ally Business Solutions, we take communication very seriously and coach organizations and teams as to how it can lead to successful outcomes if done properly.

Please contact us to talk about effective communication for your teams.

Project management drives business culture

Project management drives business culture

Business meeting

The most crucial driver in project management today is unsurprisingly the same driver pushes the entire business culture forward.

I’m talking about change of course.

More specifically the rate of change and the ability of business to keep up with it. It’s a race where the competition is always getting faster. And today’s leader can quickly find itself eating someone elses’ dust tomorrow.

Quality must always be improving. And the price point has to be competitive or even cheaper than that of your competitor. Oh, and your customers want it yesterday.

Customers no longer have to spend much time on price or product comparison. They can do it in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee – and then pick up the product ten minutes later.

And it you’re a big company, don’t take much comfort in that. Because you’re the prime target for smaller innovators.

In developed countries, new and younger companies constantly innovate and have the ability to pivot quickly to respond to the marketplace. This sense of urgency continues to build and will likely continue to do so well into the future.

The next generation will likely hold jobs that don’t exist today because the technology, the science, and the innovations to create those jobs haven’t come to maturity yet.

These very same technologies continue the pattern of constant disruption we’re seeing today and create the new industries of the future. And each of those new industries has the potential for disrupting and replacing the systems we take for granted today –  in some cases offering quantum leaps in function and benefits.

This might be scary if it there weren’t so many upsides to the dynamic business culture we’re in.

To ensure that businesses can  continue to innovate and find continued success in this era of rapid change, we created our Key Success Parameters, based on the best practices of project management.

To talk to us about our Key Success Parameters and how they can transform your project management culture, please contact us.

Project management transformation requires top to bottom management support

Project management transformation requires top to bottom management support

Gathered team of four making an important choice

When talking project management transformation to an audience comprised of company employees, a very interesting thing happens.

Invariably during the talk, people sneak glances at their management leaders, looking to analyze their responses to the concepts being floated as solutions.

It’s not a surprise to me in the least. As employees their instincts are sound.

If management doesn’t like the ideas presented, employees and the next layer of management will have a good idea as to how seriously to take them.

We at Ally know this well because we have long since grasped that the key to our success working with an organization is validation from all layers of management.

Notice that I didn’t just say senior management. Certainly support from the top is invaluable but key to the success of it all is support through the ranks. A senior management directive can be subtly side-stepped by a skilled corporate manager.

As goes management so goes the existing work environment. If management at every level opposes the new belief system, via direct management dictate, punitive action, or even ridicule, the ability of the individual or group to perform is almost impossible.

Individuals and groups in an organization have to succeed in the act of planning and connect that act with improved results (both individual and company) to show the organization the value of strategy planning on a constant and ongoing basis. It starts as a personal habit and in time can become an institutional practice.

If you want to explore how Ally Business Solutions can transform your project planning, please contact us.