Archive for November, 2008

The difference is I

I am subscribed to a newsletter from Boaz Rauchwerger. He writes motivational and inspirational articles from time to time about situations he encounters and the people he meets. The difference is I is an amazingly positive and truly inspiring article I highly recommend to anyone going through some tough times which is most of us these days.

The difference is I

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The energy crisis

I sent this quote to our management team a few weeks ago:

Many people have the talent to become great, but few have the energy. – Pat Fallon

One of our project managers wrote back to me and asked:

"Rudolf, that is actually very true. I also think that the level of energy is different at various points in your career. So in your opinion how do you ensure that the level of energy always stays at a high level?"

Here is how I replied:

"I have three children; I can see how excited they are about life every single day, every minute. Similarly, when you start your career you are all excited and full of energy. Everything is new and you are all fired up to learn as much as you can and get to know as many of your colleagues as possible. The project you work on is your passion and you cannot believe how fast the day has gone by … One should do everything to protect and nurture this enthusiasm. If the enthusiasm is lost, if the magic is gone, it is very hard, if not impossible, to get it back. If you always keep it, you will do extremely well regardless of the problems you face."

One of my most important responsibilities at Tenrox is to try as hard as I can to keep everyone excited about their project and the team they work in. I do that by:

  • Talking to people about their projects: asking them questions about their role and then relating back to them how the project is making Tenrox a better company or how our customers are benefiting from it
  • Celebrating success: we buy an expensive bottle of whisky and have a drink together at the end of the week when a key milestone is reached. For the none-drinkers we buy a cake, ice-cream or dinner, whatever it takes for us to connect and cheer the great results for an hour or two
  • Recognizing the team and its members: at our quarterly all hands meeting we make a point of mentioning the teams and projects that performed remarkably well.
  • Management does not mean entitlement: we have no reserved parking even with the cold winters in Montreal. Whoever gets to work first gets the best spots including indoor parking spots. Those who are late (including me on occasion) have to park far away. Same goes for offices, I work in one of the smallest offices along side the sales and professional service teams. I chose this office because it is the best place for me to be, so I can collaborate with our sales and service teams right from the trenches.

Essentially, our goal is to create an environment in which success is celebrated and people, regardless of their seniority or title, feel that they are part of one team. If people are fired up any issue or obstacle we face seems beatable. I have seen this over and over again. An excited team destroys obstacles, Terminator style.

Given our outstanding performance in 2008 in spite of the gloomy macro picture, I have to say what we do to create and maintain an enthusiastic team has been working.

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When project management software isn’t your thing

From time to time we encounter prospects with the following modus operandi. The company:

  • Uses a small to mid market accounting application such as QuickBooks, ACCPAC or Great Plains for financial reporting
  • May be using Microsoft Project to build plans for projects that require planning
  • Has implemented spreadsheets (or a custom app) to track cost and billing information that is then manually keyed into the accounting system

The company’s management is aware that how they run their business can be much improved and there are tremendous cost avoidance, cost reduction and revenue increase opportunities if the right process improvements are made. The company has allocated the funds and resources to make the investment. Now the hard work begins.

After months of research, demos, questions and walkthroughs the decision is made to purchase a solution like Tenrox project workforce management. The full software cost including a multi-year on-demand agreement, integration and implementation costs are prepared by the vendor and reviewed by the company.

And here comes the doozy.

After reviewing the project deliverables, some of the members of the customer team in charge of the initiative insist that all project details be exported back into the accounting system. The rational being that financial types (CFOs, senior executives) want to have all the cost and detail information in the accounting system. Sounds pretty harmless doesn’t it?

The problem with this approach is that the accounting system is being used as a detailed project tracking system with too many GLs (general ledger accounts), too many segments, too many transactions, too much data. Also, if you look at any GL entry in the accounting system you will still not be able to easily trace it back to the exact time entry, expense entry, or project charge that created it, unless you add even more complexity to the GL transactions you create.

Here is a true story from one of our customers who experienced this (names are anonymous for privacy):

“Many years ago, I recall we attempted a similar initiative at XYZ. We decided that we wanted to know everything when we look at our financial reports:

  • who bought which products and services?
  • how much did the project cost us?
  • which customers, projects, products or services has the most margin?
  • how much expenses were incurred for a project, by an employee, etc.

We redesigned our GL accordingly and came up with a 3 page document that described the GL structure. I came into the office 2 days later and was passing by the desk of one of our accounting resources. The image of Mary (not her true name) has been with me since that day, I will never forget it.

Mary had an expense report in front of her and she was on the third entry. She looked exhausted and confused. I asked Mary if everything is ok. She said she was having a lot of trouble understanding what each GL segment meant what and which full GL should be used for every expense type. The combinations were too many! We tried various lists and formats to try and simplify their work without success. Our entire accounting team was frustrated and confused by the complexity.

We ultimately dumped our “smart” GL system and went back to a more simplified GL model that captured cost and revenue information at a high level for financial reporting.”

Before you roll out any project management system, you should be convinced of the following fundamental principles, or the project management initiative will fail before it ever sees daylight:

  1. Use your accounting application to do what it is created for; to report on financials
  2. Use your project management system to plan, budget and track detailed project and workforce actuals, cost and revenue
  3. Export client/project cost and revenue transactions to your accounting application with enough detail to manage your receivables, accounts payable and financial reporting. However, stay way from trying to reproduce in two systems detailed cost and revenue information that you already have access to in your project management solution.

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Taking people and their work for granted

I have enjoyed reading the newsletter about enterprise software from Michael Burns for years now. I kind of always have taken it for granted that Michael will share his insight with us every month. When he did not write last month I felt like something was missing. It turns out Micheal had a personal health issue. Here are some kind words of advice from Micheal, unrelated to project management but very much worth mentioning.

Something Personal

I (Michael Burns) do most of the work in sending you our newsletter. We did not send our newsletter last month as I was in the hospital for 4 weeks, and have been recovering since then. I am making good progress and have begun working again. Working for me is great therapy as I enjoy what I do.

I have had lots of time to contemplate the universe while not well, and you would think that I would be able to share great words of wisdom. Alas, I can’t tell you anything that you don’t already know such as being thankful for health, family and friends. Unfortunately, most of us are so caught up in day-to-day living that we don’t show our appreciation or spend much time with those people we care about. Most of us will get angry over small things and miss the big picture. Don’t wait for a serious health problem to show your appreciation, and to spend quality time with family and good friends.

Micheal, I wish you health and thank you, always, for sharing your thoughts and perspectives with us.

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The Rise of the Project Workforce book review

Here is a review by Brian Sommer of the book I wrote in early 2008 about an increasingly project-based workforce and how companies have to deal with the challenge of managing dispersed customers, projects and teams operating in multiple time zones and under various compliance and regulatory requirements. Here are a few excepts:

"The book’s title is a bit of a misnomer. As the three parts of the books indicate, this book is about more than the changes driving an increase or rise of a project-based work world. The book has less of an intellectual feel (a la Friedman’s The World is Flat) and more of a practical purpose. This is a book for practitioners."

"I’ve read a number of books re: professional services and project management. Each was focused on a single aspect (e.g., selling services, history of the space, etc.). This is the first I have read around the automation that service organizations need. Who should read this? My guess is that the best candidates are leaders of service groups specifically those who are newer to the role or have recently parachuted into a new firm with stated goals to becoming a better services group."

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