Posts Tagged project management software

Why Your Project Management Sucks

Here is an article I wrote for PS Village explaining why companies have to very carefully assess how they select and manage projects in their business.

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Large software company playbook

Here is a blog I wrote about how some large software companies compete and the tactics they use against their fast moving, more agile and innovative best of breed competitors.


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Ten Major Trends for 2011 and How They Impact Professional Services and Project Delivery

As the year end approaches we all become prognosticator of all prognosticators. I ran into Jim Carroll, a bonafide futurist, in one of my trips and he inspired me to write this article for PS Village. He got me thinking about what are the trends for 2011 and how they will affect enterprise software, project and service delivery and cloud-based technologies, all of the stuff we work and live with everyday.  I started with Jim Carroll’s 2011 trends and wondered how these trends will impact our world.

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The Laws of Simplicity

In these prior blog posts:

Applying Occam’s Razor Principle to Product Design – Lessons learned from our Project Management Software design experiences

Occam’s Principle Applied to IT Investments

I outlined how Occam’s Razor principle could apply to product design and IT investments. I recently stumbled on to the writings of John Maeda who has authored a book on the laws of simplicity. A summary of the laws can be found here:

A review of the laws is a good refresher for anyone in charge of project management, new product development and software design. The last law states: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful. This is actually Occam’s principle which I described and provided some examples for in the above mentioned posts. In fact as John Maeda mentions in his book and on his website Occam’s principle is really an encapsulation of the first nine laws.

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The Year in Review in Software & Services and 90% Software Maintenance Margins

Here is a good short review of enterprise software and services stories in 2009.

What caught my eye was Brian’s referral to 90% software maintenance margin as a bad thing. Brain, most software companies invest significant dollars in infrastructure, R&D and new product development. Healthy profit margins from on-demand services and support are an absolute necessity. Without those margins no software company can attract great talent, investors or even consider any new ideas.

As an example, at Tenrox while 9 out 10 new customers are opting for Tenrox on-demand we still do have and support on-premise customers with perpetual licenses. One of these customers had gone without support for eighteen months thinking the software works great and they do not need our support, updates or innovations. Well something went wrong and they called our service team asking for help. They wanted to pay time and material for us to jump on the problem and fix it. We explained our policy that they must reactivate support, pay a penalty for the reactivation, and get up to date before we can even look at the problem. This customer was quite frustrated and did not take the news very well at all.

As a software company we have no choice but to establish such policies. Tenrox is not a consulting “time and material” provider. The profits and good margins from on-demand services and support are absolutely essential for continued innovation and first class customer support.

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Investing in project management software and the hair loss doctor

As I got the idea for this blog I thought a small cartoon strip would help convey the message much more clearly. My artistic skills however are sorely lacking and the Tenrox Web team is way too busy for me to dare ask for their help to develop a cartoon, for a blog no less.

So as everyone does these days I launched a new window and searched for “make a cartoon”. The second entry ToonDoo – The Cartoon Strip Creator – Create, Publish, Share, Discuss! sounded interesting, relevant. Amazingly enough, this is a totally Web based easy to use cartoon making site. It took me less than 10 minutes to make the strip below using the most basic elements offered by the site. Of course, my children (11 and 8) have already far exceeded what I was able to do. They quickly learned how to design their own avatars and have created some pretty amazing cartoon strips.

Back to the original subject for this blog, we live in very interesting times. In good economic times a rising tide lifts all boats. On the other hand, as we have seen, a severe economic downturn exposes the true state of all structurally flawed organizations, and incompetent leadership. What amazes me our headlines like this:

Company X, the leading provider of workforce management software, cuts jobs. A cut of about 8% of its global workforce as of January 9, 2009.

Y, the leading provider of on-demand project management software, announced its third round of layoffs. The company laid off 25% of its workforce in this round.

These same project management and workforce management “optimization” companies are advertising their expertise and pushing their solutions as the best software tools one can invest in. If they cannot plan and manage their own projects and workforce properly how can they claim to help anyone manage their resources any better? This is the definition of hypocracy.

Unlike many of our competitors who have suffered through multiple layoffs. Tenrox has cautiously hired new team members. So far, we have continued to grow and have remained profitable during this severe economic downturn. I think it is partly because we practice what we preach. We use our own software to manage our workforce, plan our projects and pipeline based on the same best practices we share with our customers. We use various trusted technology and marketing partners to handle peaks in our workload. We do not over-hire when times are good and then engage in mass layoffs when times are bad … As a result, we have a stable, loyal and enthusiatic team who actually loves what they do … We will do our absolute best to keep it this way.



Comparing observed behavior to project management actuals

Coming back from a vacation is never easy. I have been trying to finish this post for the last week and time was just in short supply. Anyhow, I have finally caught up and gotten back to normal. In the last post I decided to embark on an experiment to examine what if any differences there would be between what one observes people doing at work versus what they report using our project management software, weekly timesheets, and status reports.

I sampled people in various departments at Tenrox twice a week as discreetly as I could in order not to disturb them or attract any attention and change behavior. I employed the following rules during my observations:

  • Observe 2 different people in each department and record what they are doing at that moment; I called each of these observations a sample
  • Exclude all managers and executives from the experiment; except for R&D managers because I wanted to measure how much they actually spend on various tasks, specially on meetings
  • Take 2 samples per day; twice per week; for 8 weeks
  • The samples must be taken randomly at different times of the day and of different people

After the sampling was complete I compared the approved timesheets and status reports to the observed activity. Here is a summary of my observations:

Table 1 – Percentage of Time Working (includes meetings)

  Based on Observation Based on Timesheet
Account executives 88% 100%
Inside sales 81% 100%
Marketing 88% 100%
R&D team members 94% 100%
R&D management/project managers 100% 100%
Support 94% 100%
Professional Services 100% 100%


Table 2 – Percentage of Time in Meetings

  Based on Observation Based on Timesheet
Account executives 13% 0%
Inside sales 6% 0%
Marketing 6% 2%
R&D team members 13% 8%
R&D management/project managers 63% 45%
Support 6% 0%
Professional Services 6% 5%

In my observations I considered that the person was “not working” when they were talking about non-work related topics, or just taking a break (such as a smoking break, coffee break etc.). Also, to be fair, for those specific individuals who took longer “breaks” during the day, I took a note and checked to see if they left later that day to make up for it. If this was not the case then “percentage worked” reflects the deficit.

Well! The experiment was much harder to run and took a lot more time to perform than I had expected. Here is what I learned and the action items:

1) Broken Breakdown Structure

In our timesheet system we have the concept of a Task and a WorkType: Task = Project + WorkType

WorkType is used to define the type of work one does; and it can apply to any project. For example “Design” is a work type, “ABC Design” is a task you report time against when you are doing design work for project ABC.

One of my first surprises was that we had more than 6 different “Meeting” work types in the system such as “General Meeting”, “Meeting”, “PS Meeting”, “R&D Meeting”, “Marketing Meetings”. With each of these work types associated to one or more team-specific and customer-specific projects.

I had to generate time reports that included all of these work types to be able to measure how much time is being reported as time spent in meetings.

We definitely do not need 6 meeting work types. First action item is to clean this up so we have clear and consistent work types used by all teams to report meeting time in their teams and for any projects.

2) What’s a Meeting?

We have to make sure everyone has the same definition of a meeting. For example, R&D managers and sales team have a lot of 1 to 1 or small group meetings in their offices. This time was not reported as meeting time which is fine as long as we do so consistently. Looking at the samples versus what is reported in timesheets, and after speaking to a few people, I can see that this is not the case right now. Also some people marked some training sessions as meeting time whereas others recorded this time against a training work type.

3) Now let’s look at Table 1 results and my analysis of the differences:

  • Our account executives do take time during the day to socialize with each other and other team members. However they work hard and I know they are responsive to customers even when they are called upon outside business hours. So the observations while valid are not a cause for concern.
  • Our inside sales team also does some socializing and participates in meetings but their timesheets report no such details. However, they have a pretty tough job. Making hundreds of calls per week following up on Web leads and other marketing activities. I hear them sometimes, they show remarkable patience and they actually care about their work so the breaks are very much needed to let some steam out.
  • Marketing which includes our Web team definitely has room for improvement. The observations confirmed what I already suspected. This team can and should do better than it does now. Web team members have to feel more intensity and a sense of urgency in their day-to-day deliverables. The experiment has actually provided me with new insight on this team.
  • R&D team members require a lot of freedom so they can be creative, intense, and excited about what they do. Therefore, given the great success of the last two releases, the occasional walking, chatting and longer breaks are not a cause for concern.
  • I am willing to cut the Support team some slack too. As part of this experiment, I decided not to just let one number lead me to any specific conclusion. Our 90 days plus accounts receivable (A/R) as a percentage of total receivables is near an all time low, our blocking support issues and SLA (service level agreement) compliance were well under control, so the team is more than justified in taking a break here and there. Of course, this would have been a red flag if the other metrics came in on the critical side. Definitely I will sample this group again if and when I see our A/R creeping up or an increase in SLA-compliance related issues.

4) Let’s look at Table 2 results and my analysis of the differences:

  • The account executives report time at a very high level; simply reporting hours worked against a task called “Sales Activities” so you cannot tell how much time was spent on calls, in meetings or anything else. I do not think we need more detailed time reporting for this team especially since most of the team is comprised of veterans.
  • Our inside sales team also reports time at a high level. I think this should change. We need to cross reference their timesheets with phone logs, qualified lead counts and lead quality. Although I understand they need to take some breaks from time to time, I think more detailed time reporting will help us ensure this team stays on top of its game and reassess what they spend time on if and when our lead count or quality goes through a rough period.
  • Marketing which includes our Web team was inconsistent in their timesheet reports. Some people are reporting time spent in meetings and some are not, some are providing more detailed time reporting against specific tasks and some are not. I will meet with the head of that team to discuss these inconsistencies and agree on what the reports should include. I think the marketing team, specially the Web team, should provide a more accurate picture of what tasks and projects they are working on (for example: search engine optimization, trade show preparation, Web site design, PR, etc.). Right now it is a mixed bag.
  • In comparing what was observed versus what was reported, R&D team members were remarkably accurate in reporting how much time they spent in meetings. The percentage spent on meetings was higher than I expected but this is probably because the R&D team is gearing up to work on the next major release so specification meetings and reviews are likely to be more frequent and longer.
  • R&D management/project managers are spending a lot of time in meetings. The discrepancies in the percentage spent in meetings come from higher level executives who are not providing detailed reporting of what they are spending time on. If I take the higher level managers out then what was observed is in the range of what is being reported. Still, I think perhaps too much time is being spent in larger group meetings by high level managers. I prefer more of smaller, shorter, targeted group meetings to fewer large meetings, even for a major release than what I observed.
  • Support team was a mixed bag as well. Those on the on-demand side are not reporting at the project level or any details of what they do. On the other hand, core application support team who is spending time with customers is providing very detailed time reporting. This should be addressed as we need to track costs of our on-demand initiatives and any time our on-demand team spends with customers.

Summary and Closing Remarks

This was quite a valuable experiment. Comparing observations to what is being reported to actual results has provided me with new actionable information that will help us improve how we run the various teams and our tracking systems.

The conclusion I draw from this exercise is no single data point can help management run their business well. You gain insight by looking at all of them combined: project management reports, observing people, walking and talking to people, customer surveys, and looking at the company results. That is the only way you can spot potential problems and prevent them or identify best practices and promote them to other parts of the company.

I would highly recommend this exercise for any high level executive or line of business manager. These types of activities help us get closer to the action, get the real facts; not just see things through rose colored glasses, and better understand the inner workings of our teams.

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The Measurement Inversion in Project Management Software Investments

In his book How to Measure Anything – Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business, Douglas Hubbard makes an astute observation regarding how companies measure the value of their IT or software projects:

The Measurement Inversion: In a business case, the economic value of measuring a variable is usually inversely proportional to how much measurement attention it usually gets.


(Diagram reproduced from the book How to Measure Anything by Douglass Hubbard, Copyright 2007 John Wiley & Sons)

Hubbard makes this observation based on his analysis of 20 major information technology investments. Each business case having 40 to 80 key variables that were used to decide on project funding, internal resource allocation, and vendor selection.

At Tenrox, I can concur that we see this time and time again, specially for projects that fail or experience significant stress. An example of this was alluded to in my previous post. After a few more discussions by our team with the customer the conclusion seems to be the following:

The customer has now identified several key work processes in their everyday business management that were not originally scoped. As a result, even though the implementation of the original project’s scope is 95% complete they still cannot derive the full benefit of the investment that has been made. So what happened?

As the Measurement Inversion finding confirms, when making IT or enterprise software type investments, companies measure initial costs, long-term costs, and cost-savings benefits the most. Why? Because they are easier to measure. However, these are the least important measurement values for the ultimate success of the project.

The more important measurements are the probability of project completion, successful navigation of the inevitable but often necessary scope changes, technology adoption rates and revenue increase. Yet, such things are hardly ever measured because they are not easy to measure. Hubbard suggests that companies should pay a lot more attention to how they measure project value, and to what they should measure, before they ever embark on such strategic investments. Of course, based on our experience with such projects, I could not agree more.

Back to our Excel story, the company in this case focused too much on initial cost, long-term costs, and cost savings. As a result, several months later, new scope changes are being discovered that put the entire project at risk.

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It’s easier to use Excel

Our VP Services heard quite an interesting comment from some of the team members at a recent implementation of Tenrox project management software. This customer has spent several months and tens of thousands of dollars to implement the Tenrox solution for end to end billing and cost accounting. The system manages projects that are initiated from (opportunities that turn into projects), through to project planning, execution, billing, invoicing and accounting integration; the full project life cycle. Virtually the entire work is complete, including all integration points, live and functioning.

In what was to be a routine call on project status in preparation for the eminent go live date, the customer's project team declared that using Excel was easier and they have decided to consider reverting back to working with Excel.

I find this comment quite astonishing.

Yes, Excel is easier. Paper is even easier than Excel. As a matter of fact, just leave it to the memory of the managers to run the projects right as well as to bill accurately and on time. Lack of accountability, poor traceability (who did what when) and transparency, the potential for errors and worse fraud is also more likely with this type of thinking. One thing is for sure, there is a lot more job security in a company like this. You can make yourself indispensable with fancy manual processes and spreadsheets flying all over the place.

I hope the leaders of this company watch the news sometimes. To see how loose processes, lack of accountability/transparency can lead to total disaster … this whole financial mess we are in came from this kind of thinking. Not one person has gone to jail and yet so many innocent people have been hurt by this crisis. Everyone is losing their jobs and their homes because a few people were able to game the system, and, it seems, get away with it.

Yes Excel is easier … so is smoking, binge drinking, gambling and fraud … in the short term.

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Ten Predictions for Project Management Trends in 2009 Part 3

We covered the following 2009 trends for project management in the Part 1 and Part 2

- #10 The increasing correlation between project management and operational excellence

- #9 The CFO and the project manager friendship

- #8 The rise of the Project Workforce

- #7. Dispersed customers, projects and teams kill politics

- #6. Finding the right talent gets a lot easier

- #5. Emphasis shifts from project management to workforce management

Let’s look at the last four trends.

- #4. Uncertainty is the new normal

The unceasing uncertainty we have all felt about our jobs, our homes, the economy and the world in the last two years is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. The credit crisis, terrorism, climate change, and prolonged wars will continue to directly and indirectly impact our lives, our psyche. However, with human being’s remarkable ability to adjust to any situation we are starting to get used to it! When this whole war/economic mess started I remember how shocked and surprised I was every time I turned on the TV. Now, I do not watch as much predictably bad news anymore, and if when I do, I know it will be bad … so it does not really bother me nearly as much as it used to.

- #3. The rapidly increasing service web

The business model of virtually every large monolithic company is under attack. The web has enabled small, fast moving, low cost global competitors to emerge virtually overnight. This is even more true in the enterprise software space. Small companies with deep expertise in a particular problem area are able to build and offer Web service based solutions that solve the customer’s pain point a factor of time-cost faster than the ERP/established vendor alternative. With ever improving collaboration, Web service and integration technologies this trend will only accelerate in 2009.

- #2. Enterprise software technology cross-pollination gains momentum

Web services and new technologies continue to create a powerful seemingly perpetual wave of innovation in productivity tools. One of the more recent developments that is starting to gain further momentum has been is the surge in hybrid software technologies. Here are some examples (with varying degrees of success):

  • ERPs offering and embedding analytics
  • Project management vendors embedding business process management capabilities (true enterprise class workflow engines)
  • Project management and workforce management (not just time tracking but also workforce planning, time for payroll, leave time and other integrated HR/labor related functions/services) hybrid applications
  • Accounting systems offering CRM and other enterprise solutions

Generally, hybrids that create large monolithic all or none propositions do not provide compelling value. Vendors with such solutions seek vendor lock-in as their ultimate goal and only pay lip service to the true goal of standards-based pluggable solutions that are based on Web services allowing the customer to pick and choose the services that best address their needs. However, modular Web Services oriented hybrid technologies that can be quickly implemented are on the increase and offer a compelling alternative to the legacy application models.

- #1. Leadership matters

Above all, I think one of the most important lessons of the last several years has been the critical importance of the leader. It does not matter who is on the bus, what great technologies one has access to, how many best practices you are fully versed in, it is all for nothing if the people that lead your organization and projects lack the leadership skills and intuition to make the right decisions. An incompetent leader can lead the best team, the best technologies and the organization with the most abundant resources to total and shameful failure. The primary reason we are in the mess we are in now is extremely poor ignorant leadership at some of the largest public and private institutions throughout the world. We have learned, the hard way, that choosing a bad leader or project manager can be hazardous to us, to our way of life. I think, in 2009 every single one of us, whether we are executives, members of a board of directors, members of a committee, voters … will pay a lot more attention to who we pick as our leaders, representatives and our project managers.

These are my predictions about what to expect for project management in 2009. It should be helpful to consider these trends in your business plans so you can leap ahead of your competition.

What are your thoughts about how project management practices and technologies will change in 2009?

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