Birthing An IT System

Managing IT projects is no easy task.


You’ve got to get the requirements right. 


Technical issues need to be resolved. 


Dependencies have to be lined up. 


Integrations need to work. 


Design should be user-friendly and intuitive. 


Change management takes real leadership. 


And so much more. 


A lot needs to go right for the project to be a success. 


While of course, just one or two bad apples in the project equation can quickly make for a failure if not controlled for. 


But you can’t let it…the show must go on, progress is waiting to be made, and the systems need to be delivered for the benefit of the organization. 


This is where real strength and determination by so many good people come in. 


Keep moving things forward–one step at a time–don’t stop!!!—another step and another–heave ho, heave, ho–until one day soon a beautiful and efficient IT system is born. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Project Management – The Best Day

So a colleague said something interesting to me about project management:

The best day of project management is usually the first day, but I want to show you that the best day is really the last day of the project.

And as I thought about this, I sort of starting laughing to myself and thinking, you know what, I think this guy has something here. 


– Day 1 of a project, everyone is usually all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 


We’re embarking on an adventure together to build something new for the organization and our customers. 


We’re going to team up and everyone will contribute.


And out of the project sausage maker–poof!–like magic comes a new system or product. 


– But as we all know, things don’t always go so smoothly.


With some projects, the pretty smiley faces of day 1 may quickly turn to ugly frown faces.


There is analysis paralysis, scope creep, conflicting or changing priorities, resource issues, technical challenges, or the sausage just doesn’t come our right–oh sh*t!


Thus, many  projects end up going bust in terms of cost, schedule, or performance. 


That is, they end up costing too much, being delivered behind schedule, or just not meeting the performance requirements. 


You have some projects that never even truly get off the ground, have multiple resets, or get dumbed-down or even cancelled altogether along the way. 


So by the time you reach the last day of the project, many people seem like they’ve been through the project ringer. 


I’m sure that I’ve heard more than one project manager say:

Just take me out back and shoot me!


So when this colleague said that he wants the best day of the project to be the last–in terms of satisfaction with the project (not that that pain was finally over!)–I really appreciated this as an awesome goal. 


We should all look to the last day of our projects as the best–one where we can look back and say: 

Wow, great job everyone!  We really got something great done here–and we did it right!  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

You Can’t Eat The Elephant

So there is a popular saying:


“You can’t eat the elephant in one bite.”


The idea is that you need to break things down in little pieces to get them down. 


If you try to eat the elephant in one bite, I assume that your mouth would easily split in half and your face would literally explode. 


Similarly with projects, if you try to get to the nirvana end state in one fell swoop , the project explodes with complexity and risk, and you will fail miserably.


Thus, managing requirements and phasing them in chunks is critical to projects’ succeeding. 


Sure, customers want to get the Promised Land immediately–where the projects have all the “bells and whistles”–but you don’t want to sacrifice getting the train on the tracks for the accouterments either. 

Think big, but act small–little by little, one step at a time, you can actually eat an elephant. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Say YES!

Really liked this sign on my colleague’s desk.


It says:

Start With Yes


I remember an old boss who used to say:

Don’t make me get through no to get to yes. 


The idea as another colleague put it is to:

Keep a smile on your face and your focus on the customer; everything else takes care of itself. 


Basically, it’s all our jobs to make sure that the customer’s needs are being met. 


That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to differentiate between requirements and desirements or that we need to deliver the yacht in the first go around.


As a 4th colleague put it:

The customer is in the water. They want the yacht. But I can give them a boat. It gets them to where they want to go, and they no longer need to swim. We can work our way up to a yacht.


Good analogy analogy and good things to keep in mind for customer service excellence! 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Snowflakes Are Unique

Thought this was an interesting analogy. 


A colleague refers to some customers as snowflakes.


At first, I didn’t get it. 


Then I understood. 


Every snowflake is unique. 


Based on how the ice crystals fall to the ground through different temperatures, moisture levels, and atmospheric pressures, the shape of every snowflake is different. 


Sometimes when it comes to project management, customers too think they are unique, different, and special.


They think that solutions that work industry- or enterprise-wide could never work for them and their wholly distinct ways of doing business. 


Hence, as I learned, the term snowflake. 


For those of us who have been around the project management block a few times, we know that while there are specific customer requirements, most of them are not all that unique. 


And when some customers simply don’t want to do things differently than they’ve done it before, there can be greater resistance to change. 


Hence, the “We’re special. We’re different” reframe along with the standoffishness, doubting, circling the wagons, throwing up obstacles, or just refusing to fully participate. 


Obviously, it’s a lot more difficult to modernize and transform through technology and business process re-engineering when your customers aren’t on board. 


So it is critical to manage organizational change, address the questions, the fears, and elements that are truly unique, and bring the people along as true partners. 


Not every requirement is a snowflake and neither is every customer, but we have to manage the similarities and differences in every project and make sure it improves performance and meets the needs of the customer and the organization. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Agile Doesn’t Mean Endless

So Agile development is great for iteratively working closely with customers to develop and refine information systems that are useful to them and the organization.


But even in Agile, there is a beginning and an end to the sprint planning and project management.


Taking Agile to somehow mean endless in terms of adding more and more requirements or scope creep is not what is intended. 


Agile has to be bound by common sense somewhere between what is needed for a minimally viable product (MVP) and what is achievable with the designated resources, objective, and scope. 


Good project managers always have to be sound arbiters and be willing to ask the tough questions and determine if something is truly a requirement or simply a wish list item that is out of scope (but of course, could perhaps make it in for future enhancements).


We need to understand the difference between genuine customer service and irrational project exuberance based on inflated expectations. 


It’s not a dangerous project bubble we want to create that can and will get busted, but rather a successful project that is delivered for our customers that help them do their jobs better, faster, and cheaper.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Who You Calling Ugly Baby?

So in multiple organizations, I have heard systems referred to as ugly babies!


Whether or not it’s true, it certainly doesn’t make the IT folks that develop, run, and support that system feel very good. 


Are some of these (legacy) systems ugly?


Well, of course, they are. 


Many of them work despite themselves. 


What I mean by that is they are awkward to navigate and use. 


The functionality is flawed or outdated.


The workflows are unnecessarily complex.


The user interface is inconsistent and sloppy. 


The user experience is punishing. 


I told someone recently in using a particular system that was so convoluted:

“Is this system what they give to prisoners and make them use over and over again to punish them for hideous violent crimes?”


Seriously, that’s how it felt, even as I knew it was still lightyears ahead of what a paper process still used in other organizations looks like.


Generally better than the waterfall methodology for the systems development life cycle, I understand that one dilemma with agile development is that requirements can be spotty from sprint to sprint and instead of doing the hard work and thinking it out upfront, users are made to expect a nearly endless series of enhancements and tinkering, which isn’t practical functionally or financially either.


Even an ugly baby is still ours, and we love it and nurture it, and even help it change for the better–that’s part of our responsibility. 


Whether we parented a real baby or an IT system, we have pride of ownership and a sense of accountability to the person, system, and future. 


My father always taught me never to throw out dirty water until you have clean water. 


Similarly, we shouldn’t throw out the (ugly) baby with the bathwater. 


We need to work together–technologists and system users–to make truly functional systems and a user experience more like gaming where the players are so happy, attached (and even addicted) to it that they sometimes don’t even get up to eat or go to the bathroom. 


We should love what we have and use, and we should, therefore, work hard to make these things great.


And an ugly baby can be made gorgeous again. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)