Archive for March, 2008

Rise of the Project Workforce, Chapter 8: Initiating Projects

For more details about how to initiate projects more reliably using Project Workforce Management, see Rise of the Project Workforce.

While considerable energy and effort goes into executing and delivering projects, too many company still use informal, email-based processes to initiate projects.  Instead, a corporate-wide policy and process for project initiation will ensure that the right projects are executed, that they are funded appropriately, and that there is accountability for their approval. Additionally, a project initiation process that can be audited and archived will ensure compliance with government regulations, where applicable.

In some cases, project initiation can be a project unto itself–especially if it requires a feasibility study or business case development. Project Workforce Management provides a workflow foundation that can guide the project initiation effort, whether it is a full-scale project, or a routine business process.

Having a structured process within Project Workforce Management provides the benefits of: streamlining the information gathering phase; closing information gaps; integrating with CRM and other enterprise applications; reducing time spent on compliance activities; enhancing productivity; and formalizing the launch.

A typical project initiation workflow consists of:

  • A standardized proposal, which can often be submitted using a web-based form, and ensures that all initial information is complete and distributed to the proper stakeholders.
  • Business case review, in which the decision maker(s) can evaluate the proposal, request more information, and accept or reject it.
  • Feasibility or readiness study, to assess the project’s resource requirements and risks. Usually, the executive or manager who will be responsible for the execution of the project will manage this activity.
  • Budget approval, to assess the monetary requirements. Usually, the COO or CFO will manage this activity.
  • Launch, during which all planning is completed: the project plan, individual roles and responsibilities, tools and methods, reporting cycle, and other critical elements of the project’s execution.

Too many projects get funded based on incomplete assumptions, false expectations, and favoritism. But a structured, workflow-based project initiation process, especially when combined with intelligent project prioritization and selection, will enhance your ability to approve, fund and plan the best projects–ones that are aligned with your strategic direction.

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Tenrox Webinar: Help Me, Help You

I hope our readers will join us for a webinar on Tenrox’s Project Planning module.  The event will be held on Thursday, March 27th, at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern.

The title “Help Me, Help You” refers to the ways in which we need to enable our project workforces with the right tools.  Given the right tools, a workforce can easily input the data that managers and executives need every day to make informed decisions in real time. 

It takes two key components–input from the team, and output from the tool–to make project planning and execution as effective as it can be.  When both the input and output are working correctly, not only do managers get an accurate picture of a project’s progress, but they can improve their project delivery success over time.

Tenrox’s advantages include its Estimated Time to Complete (ETC) feature, which allows both project managers and team members to collaborate on planned work, actual work, and estimated work to be done.  Plus, the Project Workforce Management approach means that these tools are fully integrated with Tenrox Time and Expense (to get project actuals) and Tenrox Workforce Planning (to book resources on a planned project).

In the webinar we will provide an inside view of Project Planning and address these key components.

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Rise of the Project Workforce, Chapter 7: The Workflow Foundation

For more details about how Project Workforce Management automates workflows and enables business process management, see Rise of the Project Workforce.

Using email and spreadsheets to manage projects, and following habitual manual processes for most business procedures may feel like the most efficient course of action. It is natural to do what is familiar and to resist change. However, in a flat world, we must adjust to working with fragmented and remote workforces, and we must address mounting compliance issues. We must automate our business processes and link them together to find new ways to be efficient.

Workflow is a structured way to define and automate business processes. A workflow can be diagrammed using a flow chart, from one initial state (such as "Open Purchase Request") to one or more final states (such as "Request Rejected" and "Purchase Completed.") Workflow also provides mechanisms to assign, search, and report on tasks.

Any nontrivial human project or process can benefit from workflow management, which is also known as human business process management (BPM). A few examples of commonly automated workflows are Interactions with customers, repeatable processes in projects, workforce processes such as new hiring and skills updating, and financial processes such as invoicing and purchasing.

The main components of an effective workflow system are as follows:

  • Workflows can be classified and sorted by departments.
  • Users may be assigned to various roles for the creation, assignment, and completion of appropriate tasks.
  • Queries can be run to define priorities, create task lists for users, and send alerts.
  • Workflows are visualized, as in a common workflow diagram.
  • Exceptions to processes can be easy handles through conditional routing, escalation, or other measures.
  • Tasks in a workflow are automatically assigned as the process reaches a new state. For example, once a worker submits a timesheet, his manager is automatically assigned to approve it.
  • Parallel processes enable the fastest and most efficient operations.
  • Workflows are easily definable by users–they are not confined to out-of-the-box definitions.
  • Workflows can be linked together and nested to create comprehensive processes.
  • Customer access ensures a "self-service" environment where people can collaborate and questions and problems are avoided.

The benefits of automated workflows are numerous. They reduce dependence on IT, lower maintenance costs, and generally enable people to do more work in a self-service mode. Workflows are visualiz representations of standardized business processes that help companies implement best practices and ensure compliance.

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Opening and Closing Doors in Project Workforce Management

Another post by Boaz Rauchwerger at BoazPower.com inspired me to think about the successes and failures that project workforce managers encounter, and how we handle them.  Boaz describes a bank he visited that had an elaborate system of security doors that forced him to stop and wait while one door closed before the next door would open. He writes:

While between the two security doors I had to stop everything for a few seconds. I had to let the door of the past, the one behind me, close completely before the door the future, the one in front of me, would open.

I think that too much of the time we drag things from our past and let them affect our future.

The entire article is posted here.

This is a valuable lesson for our lives in general, but it is particularly applicable to people who manage projects and workforces.  Every planned project has milestones and deliverables, kick-offs and post-mortems, beginnings and endings. These are the doors we all pass through to get our work done.

I often see project leaders and teams, after they have trouble on a project (and we all do), get stuck between doors. They dwell for too long on the missed opportunity, and lose sight of what is relevant here and now. They don’t let the door to the past close behind them so that they can focus on delivering the next project better.

Likewise, when successful milestones are not celebrated and shared, then the good experiences can be left behind as the doors close behind us.

I encourage project workforce managers to think of the tasks and milestones on their project plans like doors that are opening and closing.  Manage what passes through them carefully.

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Rise of the Project Workforce, Chapter 6: Organization and Work Breakdown Structures

For more details about how Project Workforce Management automates and integrates organization and work breakdown structures, see Rise of the Project Workforce.

A Project Workforce Management system provides a platform for managing:

  • Organization Breakdown Structures (OBS): the hierarchy of companies, divisions, departments, groups, people, and skills available to the organization
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): the hierarchy of clients, portfolios, projects, subprojects, work types, and tasks to be serviced

The benefits of managing a company’s OBS/WBS using Project Workforce Management are strategic, tactical, and financial:

  • Strategic: With real-time reporting–which is the most critical reason to use a Project Workforce Management system–the company gets instantly updated status on the projects and people throughout the organization, with roll-up and drill-down capabilities.
  • Tactical: With alerts and dashboards, and the ability to define budgets, limits, costs and revenue rates, users at all levels can be notified when thresholds are reached for any "branch" of the structures.
  • Financial: Time, expense, cost, and billing data can be assigned and rolled-up to the appropriate cost centers, business units, and groups of the WBS.

Moreover, the linking of OBS and WBS components is a key benefit of Proejct Workforce Management. For example, customers can be linked to the business units that serve them; and tasks can be matched to the skills required to perform them.  Once automated, OBS and WBS elements can also be integrated with other enterprise systems.

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Project-Based Solutions: Recommendations for Project Workforce Managers

Forrester Research Analysts R “Ray” Wang and Andy Salunga have published a new report entitled "Trends 2008: Project-Based Solutions" which is highly relevant to project workforce managers and the executives who run project-based organizations. Project-Based Solutions (PBS) is Forrester’s term for the array of software products, including Project Workforce Management, that enable companies to deliver services and projects. The full report is available here.

Here are my key take-aways for project workforce managers who seek a solution:

  • "Traditional approaches segmented by internal or
    external stakeholder orientation and product or service delivery no longer make
    sense," states Wang. Companies that have a good solution for serving either internal or external customers are doing their best to leverage their project-based systems to the other type of customer and project. Companies who are looking for a solution should consider the solution’s ability to help deliver both internal and external projects.
  • "Metrics have also emerged as a critical focus for project-based solutions. Companies continue to need performance measurement tools to help them understand how well they are executing projects and programs relative to plan." This means that companies are relying more heavily on these solutions for actionable, real-time information—not just weekly or monthly updates.
  • Wang recommends: "Align your requirements with project-based processes. In fact, some of the vendors we interviewed indicated the opportunities for smaller organizations (200-1,000 employees), particularly in the services delivery automation space, to quickly standardize their project management methodologies." Implementing a project workforce management solution gives a company a rare and critical opportunity to standardize product methodologies and many other business processes using templates and workflows.
  • Integration to, or inclusion of, other enterprise processes is critical. Wang mentions specifically "core financials, core human capital management, or other project-related systems." Companies rely more heavily on their ability to share and use the information they gather with project-based systems, but also need to prioritize IT spending for custom integrations more carefully.

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