Our prospects put a voice to those numbers, with complaints such as Ive invested so much money and time in project management training, different software tools, and sophisticated measurement techniques. Im still not delivering on time consistently or viewed as successful by my management. And my project managers are frustrated too.
Indeed, its a constant battle. The good news is that were starting to see a way out of this frustrating pattern. This is partly due to new advancements in software tools that better support the project lifecycle, but also due to a growing recognition by senior IT executives that improving project outcomes starts at the top.
Core to this effort is learning how to optimize your resource utilization across all of IT which ultimately will give you the planning flexibility you need to keep the right people on the right projects. Additionally, when faced with the all-too-common unplanned change request, you will know exactly what your trade-offs are and what choices you can offer your business customers. Making such informed choices will reduce the number of projects in jeopardy.
A focus on achieving this type of strategic agility requires a shift from two predominant resource management approaches that have thus far impeded project management success rates:
1. Maintaining a narrow focus on time-tracking systems. Capturing time is a key component of resource management, but when it is not implemented with a parallel top-down resource planning process, the quality and value of the data is greatly limited. No question, capturing end-user time will allow you to perform after-the-fact trend analyses but it cant help with up-front planning or determining how an unplanned change is going to affect critical projects mid-stream.
This puts IT in a perpetually reactive mode. You also run the risk of end-users ultimately abandoning the time tracking effort if they do not see how their data is being used to improve overall project outcomes. Simply put, time tracking is necessary for effective resource management, but it is not sufficient without support for high-level planning processes that bridge planning with reality.
2. Lack of workflow automation for key processes. Invariably when I hear a customer particularly a large customer tell me they track projects, budgets and resources separately in various stand-alone tools, I know at minimum they have project management efficiency problems and that they are definitely not able to harness the power of the data trapped within the spreadsheets or other manual tools.
Additionally, without any automation to enforce a consistent project methodology, you will also get inconsistent data as project teams capture data of their choosing not necessarily what the business needs to make smart decisions.
Six Best Practices for Achieving Strategic Planning Agility
As a software development executive who has spent many years creating products for the project and portfolio management market, Ive arrived at the following as best practices for getting an enterprise resource management initiative started and sustained. Fortunately, the industry now has examples of customers who are achieving better outcomes so I am hopeful that todays project outcome trends soon will reverse to the positive.
1. Secure and maintain executive management support. Gaining and sustaining top-level support and commitment from senior executives is essential for implementing a successful enterprise resource management initiative. When I hear a customer struggling to maintain momentum for their implementation, it is almost always because executive management has not clearly and firmly communicated its support. Project managers and end users need to know that their work and the information they put into the tracking system is necessary and valued by senior management.
The most successful example Ive seen to secure adoption and keep it going is when executive management bonuses are tied to the adoption of the solution. A real-time dashboard that shows how the adoption status of an IT executives enterprise resource management solution (via the familiar red, yellow and green status indicators) adds a layer of visibility that also taps into the natural competitiveness amongst managers. Nobody likes to be in the red or lose their bonus!
2. Adopt a combined top-down/bottom-up approach. This tactic incorporates resource management into strategic, upfront planning processes so you can build an enterprise view of resource utilization over time. At this stage, you are defining the roles needed to accomplish the work and estimating the time each role will be needed on the project. I call this particular tool a staffing profile.
Then, as the project moves from proposal to acceptance through to execution, the staffing profile becomes a real representation of your resources and their project and non-project work activities. By showing executive commitment to resource planning and allocation, you are telling your end users that inputting their time is necessary and valuable to the business. Additionally, using a consistent top-down/bottom up approach will help you create a single system of record that can be relied upon to give managers a view of where actual time is being spent.
Adopting just one of the approaches top-down or bottom-up tends not to work very well. A top-down approach that typically does not incorporate actuals from the end user community will be a forecasting tool that does not get refined as actuals start coming in and thus remains just a forecasting tool. Conversely, if a time-tracking system is put into place but does not feed reliable information into the planning cycles, you will simply have collected data that reflects what has taken place placing you in a perennially re-active mode.