Archive for category project management software

We’re going SaaS‚ no exceptions

I attended a PS Village meeting last week. PS Village is a pretty interesting, fun and educational breakfast meeting that takes place in various cities all across the United States and Canada. The attendees are primarily professional service executives, project management and software professionals. The sponsors are Professional Services Automation and project management software solution providers like Tenrox and others. The breakfast meeting lasts about two hours, is pretty informal, and the attendees simply sit around the table and discuss a few topics together.

One of the people at my table (name and company will not be disclosed of course) was the leader of a professional services team in a large multi-national organization, let’s call him PS-man for short. He was complaining about a meeting he attended where the division’s CEO articulated his strategy for the division’s product and service offerings.  The CEO said, and I quote:  “We’re going SaaS, no exceptions”.

PS-man was quite frustrated and unhappy with this sudden shift. To him, the CEO had not articulated a believable vision and a clear path to achieve that vision. According to PS-man, it seemed like the CEO, being sort of new to the job, had heard of the industry buzzwords and decided the industry trends are the way to go. However, PS-man felt that neither the company’s products nor his team were ready for the shift to the SaaS (software as  a service) model. They did not believe that SaaS was the answer to their challenges or that it could drive new growth. PS-man’s reaction was “Yeah right, we’re going SaaS until a sales guy comes with the next big order for an in-house implementation”.

Our table spent the breakfast talking about SaaS, its benefits, how to transition a traditional product and service offering towards the SaaS model and the roadblocks one can face on this journey. At the end of the meeting, PS-man seemed more sold on the opportunity that SaaS could represent for him and his team, but he was still unsure as to whether his company’s leadership truly is willing to make the investment, has the sponsorship and the expertise to navigate the company towards this change. I tried to highlight a roadmap to SaaS from our experience, and how to take some steps towards this goal without completely abandoning what works for them now.

This meeting reminded me of how executives can so quickly get out of touch with their teams. While our “visions” and ambitions may sound great and exciting to some, many out in the field will react exactly as PS-man did. Your team has to see and feel that you have really done your homework, you have thought it through in great detail, and that you are truly in it to win it. If you are unsure, unprepared or it looks like you are simply following the crowd then even a good strategic initiative and good intentions can actually hurt instead of help the organization.

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Occam’s Principle Applied to IT Investments

In a previous blog I looked at how Occam’s principle can be applied to product design and development. Now let’s look at applying this principle to making IT investments.

The question to answer:  How long should I stay with the technology I have already invested in and should I choose to stay with our existing IT investments or move to a brand new technology?

Applying Occam’s rule to IT investments could go something like this:

  1. Choose technologies that are simple to use
  2. Use just one IT system to automate a specific function
  3. Don’t oversimplify

1) Choose technologies that are simple to use

All things being equal, such as cost of adopting the new technology versus cost of staying with the current technology and processes, choose the simpler alternative. If the new technology is easier to implement and support then making the new investment is the right choice. If not, best to stay with the existing technology.

2) Use just one IT system to automate a specific function

We often run into organizations that use several different systems for time tracking, project management, workforce planning and billing. Most of the time this is because every group or department chooses and implements the solution it prefers.

As an example, accounting staff are naturally biased towards accounting applications. As far as they are concerned, everything including project cost and revenue data should be driven by the accounting system. However, IT, project or professional services staff hardly ever choose such an option if they have any say in the project management software they use. The time tracking, job costing, project management and workforce planning add-on’s offered by accounting systems tend to be subpar, based on older technology, and at best mediocre applications. This is because these are not the main focus areas for accounting software or ERP vendors. Similarly, IT and project teams would never choose a departmental project management solution for its strong financial reporting and accounting integration capabilities.

In applying Occam’s principle, accounting, HR, IT, professional services and project teams have to collaborate much more before making new enterprise software investments. Any investment that reduces the number of redundant systems, eliminates manual integration and reporting, or breaks down the communication barriers between various teams is a definite move towards the key elements of the OCCAM principle.

3) Don’t oversimplify

As mentioned in the previous blog you should not try to take things too far when it comes to simplifying. As an example, IT investments must take into account and accommodate the unique requirements of various stakeholders and constituents. Imposing oversimplified washed down software that everyone in the company must use may standardize a process at the expense of lost group-specific productivity, flexibility and innovation.

Let’s look at an example of a typical project management software initiative. A prospect contacted us to investigate whether they should invest in Tenrox Project Workforce Management software. They had the following project management software investments:

  • Timesheet: an in-house timesheet application they had developed a few years ago and maintained over the years; customized to run on top of their ERP/accounting system
  • Expense reports: using Excel file to report and approve expenses
  • Project planning: using Microsoft Project desktop to plan projects
  • Billing/cost reporting: done manually by extracting the information required from the timesheets and expense reports

Should this prospect:

  1. Change only the timesheet application
  2. Change only the timesheet application and automate expense reports with a single time and expense tracking solution
  3. Change all systems at the same time; replacing them with a single solution
  4. Do nothing – stay with their current systems for another year

According to the OCCAM principle the simplest approach that does not create redundancies or oversimplify is the best option. Let’s look at each option in that light:

  1. Change only the timesheet application
    - If the old timesheet system has no major shortcomings, this option replaces one working system with another; without really creating any new value. Changing just the timesheet system in such a scenario does not add any value.
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  3. Change only the timesheet application and automate expense reports with a single time and expense tracking solution
    - This may be a suitable option. Two disconnected systems are replaced with a single system and the new system is simpler in that manual processes and spreadsheet are eliminated, and a standard approval process is used for time and expense tracking and approval.
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  5. Change all systems at the same time; replacing them with a single solution
    - This option may oversimplify requirements of the various teams that need a project workforce management solution to get their job done. However, if all user groups conclude that a new system is as good as their current system, is as simple or simpler, and even solves some existing issues then this is the best option.
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  7. Do nothing – stay with their current systems for another year
    - Staying with legacy disconnected systems is definitely not the simpler path to choose. While on the surface the company does not take any risk, using old disconnected processes to manage in today’s highly connected and competitive world is the worst option.

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