Friday, July 19, 2019

Case Study: Workday did not work for Sacramento Public Schools

Case Study: Workday did not work for Sacramento Public Schools
California’s Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) thought they were getting a good deal when they hired software as a service (SaaS) provider Workday and their service partner Sierra-Cedar for a program intended to improve the management of the district’s finances, payroll, and human resources (HR).

Unfortunately, SCUSD’s high hopes of cutting costs and increasing efficiency in these areas were more than dashed. They were completely destroyed. The school district alleges that after two years of major financial investment in the project, they were left with zero results. Not only that, but in a complaint filed in August of 2018, the district claims that each company infringed their contracts, falsely presented themselves, and defied California’s business and professions code. In addition, SCUSD alleges that Sierra-Cedar committed fraud.

Sierra-Cedar boasts a workforce of approximately 900 employees and has been in business since 1995. They purport to provide consulting services that pertain to upgrading, strategizing and implementing technologies specific to certain industries.

Sierra-Cedar claims to hold “over two decades of enterprise applications experience across a variety of industries including Higher Education and [the] Public Sector.” According to SCUSD, Sierra-Cedar stated that they would provide staff with specific expertise and experience in their area of the public sector, namely K–12 education. Yet the district alleges that no such staff was provided. Rather, they state that they were given consultants with no knowledge or work history in the subject.

Workday is 10 years younger than its codefendant, beginning as a start-up in 2005 with the goal of selling HR and finance technology. The company specifically targets many different industries, including education, specifically calling out to K–12 schools and school districts. Workday claims that their software can be used for teacher recruitment, to gain useful HR information, and to reduce overhead, among other services. It is designed to manage payroll and expenses, track absences, and organize job candidates.

According to SCUSD’s complaint, Workday has more than 8,000 employees and brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year. Workday had its beginnings with private companies, but soon branched into work with public entities like local governments.

In spite of Sierra-Cedar and Workday’s alleged failures to perform contractually required work for the Sacramento schools, the companies raked in enormous amounts of cash in the project. The school district claims that the contracts were written in such a way that both companies were able to extract enormous fees whether or not they performed up to par.

The district extended the project’s end date twice, presumably hoping to see an improvement in results, but none came. Finally, with a cringe-worthy payroll testing quality of, at best, a mere 70 percent, SCUSD threw in the towel. The project was never implemented and the district lost a serious amount of money. As the district so sharply stated:

“While Workday and Sierra-Cedar got paid… they put the district right back where it started with nothing to show after two years.” – SCUSD

These harsh words showcase the depth of the issue at hand.

As a result of claimed damages and a demand for the recovery of fees paid, SCUSD is suing for $5.2 million and they need that money badly. These days the district is in dire straits, suffering the threat of insolvency. It may soon have no more funds left and risks being taken over by the state.

The district claims that, should they be taken over, it will take 10 years to recover and the process will be highly detrimental to the student body.

Timeline of Events

SCUSD serves more than 43,000 students across 77 campuses and employs more than 4,200 individuals. The district operates with an annual budget of more than $500M in annual spend. In 2013, they determined the district’s HR and ERP systems did not position them to effectively move forward.

The district’s chief business officer (CBO), with the help of a consultant, set out to identify possible replacement options. In early 2013, the district personnel engaged with the Workday sales team and began to discuss their requirements. Over the course of a number of months, through the exchange of phone calls and emails, it was determined that Workday could meet the district’s requirements (even though Workday had no K–12 implementations).

Workday presented CedarCrestone as a qualified implementation partner and the project was initially presented to the board with a budget of $816K for the first year of Workday cloud fees. The maximum estimate for the time and materials contract presented by CedarCrestone was $3,871,000. The project was scheduled to run from August 2014 through October 2015.

In July 2014, Sierra-Cedar was formed by combining the operations of Sierra Systems US and CedarCrestone.

In October 2014, the numbers were adjusted to $1.275M in annual fees to Workday, and Sierra-Cedar’s anticipated fees were reduced to $3.098M. It is not clear if the amount of Sierra-Cedar’s PO represented the full maximum estimate.

In August 2015, the CBO left SCUSD. Around that same time, it was determined that the targeted January 2016 go-live date would not be met. The school district claims that they pressured Workday and Sierra-Cedar to provide a go-live date that would absolutely be met. The parties agreed to a target go-live of July 2016.

As the go-live date approached, the project team could not achieve payroll testing quality of more than 70 percent. With more than $250M in annual payroll at risk, SCUSD made the call that they would not go live.

Additional negotiations took place with Workday and Sierra-Cedar, in an attempt to salvage the program. In November 2016, SCUSD decided to kill it.

In July 2017, SCUSD named a new superintendent. And in August 2018, SCUSD filed a suit in Sacramento Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges that Sierra-Cedar committed fraud and that both Workday and Sierra-Cedar violated the business and professions code, misrepresented themselves, and breached contracts they had with the district, among other things.

What went wrong

According to the complaint filed by the school district, Workday and Sierra-Cedar had agreed to provide a cloud-based software system to suit their needs. SCUSD chose this particular software in hopes that it would improve many of their most important operations. Yet, after spending millions on the system and related services, the district claims they were left empty-handed.

The district argues that Workday and Sierra-Cedar used SCUSD as a test experience with the schools in order to “tout and enrich themselves as experts in elementary and high school, or K-12, education technology ‘solutions.’” Most significantly, the district argues for the return of the fees spent on what should have been functioning technology which, they say, was agreed upon but never delivered.

They allege that Workday never suggested that their systems could not be used effectively in K–12 schools. In fact, SCUSD claims that company representatives presented the software as being fully capable of handling the CBO’s specific requirements. In other words, SCUSD placed their trust in these companies to do as they promised.

However, SCUSD now believes that they were duped. Workday’s intentions, rather than to provide a cloud system to suit the needs of Sacramento’s schools, was, according to the district, a means to enter into the K–12 sector with as little financial risk as possible for what they refer to in their complaint as a “practice run.” Furthermore, SCUSD believes that Sierra-Cedar was well aware of Workday’s intentions.

The district claims that Sierra-Cedar was presented as the only option available for project implementation and that they were, thus, qualified to do so. A series of contracts were drawn up which the district assumed to be fair following the many conversations SCUSD’s CBO had shared with Workday regarding the project’s parameters. Workday, they believe, was under obligation to provide staff experienced in the K–12 sector and that were capable of getting the job done. Sierra-Cedar vowed to provide such staff for implementation.

Workday promised many things: regular reviews of Sierra-Cedar’s work, a subscription to Workday’s software as a service (SaaS), training for school staff, and support throughout the project. Various steps were agreed upon which would be applied in the course of project implementation. It was understood that Workday would check up on Sierra-Cedar and ensure they were performing in an agreed-upon manner.

The financial side of the project was problematic. The district believes that the companies wrote the contracts in such a way that all the financial risk fell on the schools. Before the project was made live, Workday required the payment of two fees of over $1.5 million. Training payments were requested to be made before training had begun. In addition, the district was to pay an hourly rate to Sierra-Cedar.

In spite of their promises to provide experienced staff, Sierra-Cedar SCUSD the district with a project manager with no experience in the K–12 sector. This was also allegedly true of the additional staff they provided.

Due to the staff’s alleged lack of understanding and knowledge of the K–12 sector, they had great difficulty in handling the schools’ data and organizing the technology to suit the district’s needs. SCUSD claims their data mapping and conversion was regularly late, incorrect, or only partially completed, which led to extra expenses and delays.

Another important aspect of Workday’s SaaS solution was that it was supposed to handle the schools’ payroll. Yet, between January and June 2016, Sierra-Cedar was unable to get the payroll accuracy to over 70%. Though Sierra-Cedar and Workday assured the district that they could go ahead and implement payroll, the accuracy numbers from the test were too low for the district to agree. Moreover, the district claims that the companies would not assure them that payroll would be correct if they did decide to implement it. Thus, the schools chose not to do so.

By November 2016, SCUSD decided it was not possible to continue the project in spite of investing millions of dollars in it. They claim that in 2016, the proposals that the companies made were entirely insufficient and not possible to put into action. On November 22, SCUSD notified Workday and Sierra-Cedar that they were putting an end to their relationship.

The school district believes that the project was an enormous loss of funds and time for them, while Workday and Sierra-Cedar exited the contract with both K–12 experience they could market to other customers and a gain of millions of dollars. In other words, the district claims that the companies made significant money using SCUSD as their K–12 guinea pig while enriching themselves.

In fact, on their website, Workday describes the company as a program which “streamlines the ‘business’ of education” for K–12 school districts by providing assistance in business planning, financial management, human capital management, and prism analytics. SCUSD believes they were the testing ground for forming this K-12–specific focus.

In the end, the school district sued the two companies for the following:

> Breach of Contract against Sierra-Cedar for not performing their contractual obligations;

> Breach of Contract against Workday for not providing the experienced K–12 sector experts they were promised, not offering sufficient check-up, and not fulfilling their contractual duties;

> Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing against Sierra-Cedar for failing to truly attempt to make the project go live and instead giving insufficient fluff proposals;

> Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing against Workday, for not offering true and real support to successfully release the project on the go-live date;

> Fraud against Sierra-Cedar for agreeing to provide staff with K–12 experience and expertise in the contract, then proceeding to do no such thing. In fact, SCUSD claims that Sierra-Cedar knowingly used whatever staff they had available for the project and took advantage of the opportunity by using the school district as a K¬¬–12 training ground while gaining a substantial hourly rate. If true, Sierra-Cedar would have knowingly misrepresented themselves. The school district claims that this misrepresentation caused a breach of their rights;

> Negligent misrepresentation against Sierra-Cedar for stating that they would offer experienced employees and then not doing so;

> Violation of the Business and Professions Code against Sierra-Cedar for unfair competition through their alleged misrepresentation and for allegedly using SCUSD as a K–12 experiment;

> Negligent misrepresentation against Workday for presenting Sierra-Cedar as being capable of carrying through on the project; and

> Violation of the Business and Professions Code against Workday for unfair competition through their claim that Sierra-Cedar employees were experienced and could complete the work well.

In the end, Sacramento City Unified School District claims to have paid $3,240,955.45 in fees to Sierra-Cedar, a substantial sum for any school district. Moreover, they never received the benefits which were promised by Workday representatives way back in the early conversations with the school’s Chief Business Officer Forrest.

For the school district, the project with Sierra-Cedar and Workday was a disaster.

How could SCUSD have done things differently?

If SCUSD’s allegations are true, both Workday and Sierra-Cedar were deeply in the wrong. But SCUSD also has to think hard about their own role in this project failure.

If you sign up a trusted advisor, make sure they are qualified.

The lawsuit claims that SCUSD used an experienced K–12 consultant to assist with the ERP selection process. This program looks like a disaster from top to bottom. It is not clear what experience the initial consultant had. Perhaps SCUSD is suing the wrong party. Or maybe the advice was sound, and SCUSD just ignored it.

Get IT on board.

The lawsuit makes no mention of IT. The published board documentation makes no reference to IT. Any well-qualified CIO would have likely stopped the idea of planning to use software that had not had a thorough industry shakedown, particularly in the public sector where budgets are tight and regulatory compliance requirements are high.

Get a decent lawyer on board.

The suit claims that simple boilerplate contracts were used that offered very little protection to SCUSD. They were largely relying on the “good word” of their suppliers. Given this was a $5M spend that involved a system that controlled the payment of more than $400M in salaries and benefits, you would have thought that somebody from Legal would have been a little more forceful in protecting SCUSD.

Never be first … unless you are willing to have the project blow up in your face.

SCUSD could have and should have known that there were no Workday K–12 customers. A simple reference check would have told them that. Any company that signs up to be the beta test for any software should do so with some form of significant financial gain possible.

If you do want to be the first, make sure the vendor is paying their share.

If Workday and Sierra-Cedar wanted to penetrate the K–12 market so badly, Sacramento could have likely gained major contract concessions to offset the risk they were willing to take. Having an experienced negotiator on their side could have saved SCUSD millions of dollars up front and likely increased the probability of success with the vendors having more skin in the game.

Do quality checks.

As a part of the Workday implementation practice, quality checks are performed, and the results are reported to the client. The lawsuit, while mentioning the quality checks were to be performed, makes no mention of what was reported and what the issues were that the team might be dealing with. It is entirely possible that Workday identified issue(s) described in this article. And even if they didn’t, as the paying client, you are always responsible for doing quality checks yourself as well. Never trust a third party to sign off on quality.

Be ready for the project and engage yourself.

Given the apparent lack of participation of IT and Legal, and the apparent lack of quality and detailed requirements documentation, it is highly probable that there was insufficient participation throughout the program. If quantifiable participation was called out as a part of the boilerplate contract, then this is going to be a heavy lift for SCUSD’s legal counsel.

Closing thoughts

The loss of millions of dollars down the drain for Sacramento’s public school district doubtlessly affects teachers, students, staff, and parents. SCUSD had high hopes of implementing a tech program that would save them time and money. In the end, dollars and hours were simply wasted.

Yet the school district is not a wholly innocent victim here, even if the allegations prove true.

Staff and school officials did not do their due diligence in checking up on the company’s background in K–12 or looking into the project managers they had on staff. Rather than simply accepting Workday’s word that they had experienced professionals at Sierra-Cedar, SCUSD ought to have looked deeply into the matter.

The schools would have done well to request specific evidence of Workday’s SaaS solution working successfully in other school districts. With a bill in the millions and hours of invested time, it seems like the least they could have done.

The district should have more carefully checked the language in the contracts to ensure that the companies could not have exited the project with the cash without delivering a functional product.

Regardless of the Sacramento Superior Court’s final decision, it’s clear that both the plaintiff and the defendants could have done better.

Other project failure case studies

> For an overview of all case studies I have written please click here

> To be informed about new case studies just sign up for my newsletter here

References

> Sacramento City Unified School District vs. Workday Inc a Delaware Corporation. No. 2018-00238302. Sacramento Superior Court. 1 August 2018

> Meeting Minutes Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education, 19 June 2014

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Principles of Project Success (Part II)

Principles of Project Success (Part II)
Project management principles are the foundation on which the profession of project management is built. Conformance to these principles is a prerequisite for successful project management.

I have written about the five principles of project success from Glen Alleman before. And they are still the best I have come across so far.

But last weekend I stumbled on an older blogpost from Bill Duncan that also gives a very clear and interesting perspective on the principles of project success.

Bill Duncan was the primary author of the original version of “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge”.

He wrote the post titled “Principles of Project Management?” in response to a question on LinkedIn, but originally wrote the text more than 20 years ago building on some work done by Max Wideman, Bob Youker, and others.

Bill starts his post with the following definitions.

Principle: A basic truth, law, or assumption; a rule or standard, especially of good behavior; a basic or essential quality or element determining intrinsic nature or characteristic behavior. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Project: A unique, temporary endeavor undertaken to create a product or service.

Project management: The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project. (PMBoK Guide, first edition)

Stakeholders: Individuals or organizations who may help or harm the project.

Next, Bill dives in to his five principles of project management.

Project Management Principles

1) There must be a project.

Project management is best applied to the management of a project, and all projects should be managed with project management. The usefulness of some project management tools and techniques outside the project context does not mean that project management is a substitute for general management. Likewise, the fact that project management borrows heavily from general management does not mean that general management skills and knowledge will be adequate for successful management of a project.

2) Projects must be properly authorized. 

Each project should be formally authorized by a level of management commensurate with the resource needs of the project: the greater the needs, the higher the organizational level which should authorize the project. Unauthorized projects are likely to be unsuccessful no matter how well-managed.

3) The project sponsor(s) must provide adequate resources

Resources include tangibles such as financing, people, and material as well as intangibles such as time and support. The need for the sponsor to provide adequate resources does not absolve the project management team of the responsibility (a) to communicate the impact of receiving inadequate resources or (b) to identify alternative courses of action that may be possible with fewer resources.

4) There must be an integrated project plan

Your plan must be documented and distributed to appropriate stakeholders and must include:

> Scope, schedule, cost, and responsibilities defined at an appropriate level of detail for the size, complexity, and phase of the project.
> A defined process for dealing with uncertainty in scope and work definition.
> Success criteria defining how the project will be judged and measured.
> A defined process for dealing with changes to the plan.

5) There must be periodic assessments of performance against the plan 

Periodic assessments are necessary to ensure that the project will achieve its purpose. Projects which no longer support the purpose for which they were undertaken should be cancelled or significantly redirected.

Principles of Project Success

The Five Immutable Principles from Glen are stated in the form of five questions. When you have answered these questions, you will gain insight into the activities required for the project to succeed in ways not found using the traditional process group’s checklist, knowledge areas, or canned project templates.

I) What does “done” look like? 

You need to know where we are going by defining “done” at some point in the future. This may be far in the future—months or years—or closer—days or weeks from now.

II) How can you get to “done” on time and on budget and achieve acceptable outcomes? 

You need a plan to get to where you are going, to reach done. This plan can be simple or complex. The fidelity of the plan depends on your tolerance for risk. The complexity of the plan has to match the complexity of the project.

III) Do you have enough of the right resources to successfully complete the project? 

You have to understand what resources are needed to execute the plan. You need to know how much time and money are required to reach the destination. This can be fixed or it can be variable. If money is limited, the project may be possible if more time is available and vice versa. What technologies are needed? What information must be discovered that you don’t know now?

IV) What impediments will you encounter along the way and what work is needed to remove them? 

You need a means of removing, avoiding, handling or ignoring these impediments. Most important, you need to ask and answer the question, “How long are you willing to wait before you find out you are late?”

V) How can you measure your progress to plan? 

You need to measure planned progress, not just progress. Progress to plan is best measured in units of physical percent complete, which provides tangible evidence, not just opinion. This evidence must be in “usable” outcomes that the buyer recognizes as the things they requested from the project.

Comparison and Closing Thoughts

When you compare Bill’s project management principles with Glen’s Five Immutable Principles, you will see many similarities.

Principle 1 is implicitly stated by Glen, because his principles refer to projects. But yes, they only apply to projects, so there should be a project in place.

Principle 2 is not part of Glen’s principles and I tend to agree with Bill that, when it comes to larger companies, this is a prerequisite for project success.

Principles 3 and III are similar, but I like Glen’s definition better. The project sponsor is not solely responsible for resources. Suppliers can have resource issues no matter how much money you give them.

Principle 4 is the same as principle II.

Principle 5 is the same as principle V.

Principle I is not a separate principle for Bill, but it is mentioned in principle 4.

Principle IV is not a separate principle for Bill, but I think it should be.

The post made by Bill Duncan has not convinced me to change my adoption of Glen Alleman’s principles. However, it did gave me a very interesting new perspective on project success principles, and I will go back and add a sentence to my previous articles stating that Glen’s five principles are only valid for authorized projects. This addition will cover Bill’s first two principles.

I hope this article will make you think about your own project success principles and practices. When projects do not work out, you can usually trace the root cause back to one of the principles and start fixing it. And when you want to give a new project the best chances of success, you should start with these principles in mind.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Project success and project failure are NOT absolutes

Project success and project failure are NOT absolutes
Project success and project failure are NOT absolutes. It may not be possible to be a little bit pregnant, but you can be a little bit successful.

Every project has multiple success criteria related to business results, product/service results, and project delivery results (cost, schedule, scope, and quality).

Some criteria are absolute, meaning they must be completed on or before the original planned date, and some are relative, meaning they must be completed by a date acceptable to the client.

Project success is determined by how many of your success criteria are satisfied, and how well.

Whether or not a project is successful depends on who you ask. The very happy project manager that implemented the SAP project as scoped on time and below budget (I know, this will NEVER happen), the end users who absolutely hate the complexity and slowness of the new system, and the COO that has seen IT costs double whilst none of the expected savings materialized may all have very different opinions on the success of the project.

Project success also depends on when you ask. Twelve months after go live the users will have a better grasp of the system and initial performance problems will have been solved. And slowly but steadily, the expected savings will often start to materialize as well.

So in order to determine the success or failure of your project, you should define all the criteria relevant to your project, define how you will measure them, and define when you will measure them.

When you need some guidance on how to define and measure project success, just download the Project Success Model here

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Your projects should start slow in order to run fast later

Your projects should start slow in order to run fast later
I am a big believer of short and fat projects and I am very vocal about it. Because of this I often get asked if I propose to fast track projects and reduce upfront work.

No, I am not. On the contrary, I think more time should be spent on upfront work.

Yes, to keep costs down and maximize benefits you should keep implementation phases short and delays small. This should not be seen as an excuse for fast-tracking projects; that is, rushing them through decision making for an early start.

For smaller projects, this might be something you can get away with, but for large technology projects all you do if you hit the ground running is fail hard. Front-end planning and validation need to be thorough before deciding to give the green light to a project, or to stop it.

You need to go slow at first (during project initiation) in order to run fast later (during project delivery).

Unfortunately, many times the situation is exactly the opposite. Front-end planning and validation is rushed, bad projects are not stopped, important projects do not get the money/ people/management attention they need, implementation phases and delays are long, costs explode, and value diminishes.

Stop the madness. Start slow, and run fast later.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Your best insurance for multimillion dollar tech projects - Independent Project Reviews

Your Best Insurance for Multimillion Dollar Tech Projects - Independent Project Reviews
It was to be a great digital leap for Germany’s biggest discount grocer. Instead, after seven years and €500 million in sunk costs, the project tasked with creating Lidl’s new inventory management system with SAP was killed in July 2018.

In planning since 2011, the project quickly lost its shine when roughly a thousand staff and hundreds of consultants started the implementation. The costs quickly spiraled beyond the two groups’ estimations without bringing the project much closer to success.

***

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service launched the largest public-sector information technology (IT) program ever attempted, the National Programme for IT.  It was originally budgeted to cost approximately £6 billion over the lifetime of the major contracts.

These contracts were awarded to some of the biggest players in the IT industry, including Accenture, CSC, Atos Origin, Fujitsu, and BT. After significant delays, stakeholder opposition, and implementation issues, the program was dropped in 2011, almost 10 years after its inception and with costs estimated at over £10 billion.

***

The American car rental company, Hertz hired Accenture in 2016 to completely overhaul its online presence. Their new website was expected to launch in December 2017, was then delayed to April 2018, and now indefinitely.

While Hertz weathered the delays, it found itself in a bigger nightmare: it was saddled with a product and design that didn't do half of what it was expected to do and that remains incomplete. “By that point, Hertz no longer had any confidence that Accenture was capable of completing the project, and Hertz terminated [the contract].” The car rental company launched a formal lawsuit against Accenture this past May (2019), suing for the $32 million USD it paid Accenture and millions more to cover the cost of fixing the mess. “Accenture never delivered a functional website or mobile app,” Hertz representatives claimed.

***

These 3 examples (and there are many more like them) have 1 thing in common. The plug was pulled far too late.

All too often, project teams, sponsors, and stakeholders lose sight of the larger vision and are unable to course-correct and make strategic decisions. There are many reasons for this: overconfidence, oversimplification, avoiding pain, binding contracts, lack of skills, lack of experience, egos, lack of information, and confirmation bias.

So how do you insure yourself against such catastrophic failures that can bring your organization to its knees?

Simple. Independent project reviews.

What are independent project reviews, you ask?

When we talk about a project review, there are many names thrown around that, at face value, are all taken to mean the same thing: project review, project health check, project audit, project retrospective, and project post mortem. But are they really the same? The short answer is “no.”

A project audit bears on issues of compliance and has to do with the now. An audit aims to show the extent to which your project conforms to the required organizational and project standards, its fidelity. So, if your organization uses PRINCE2, or their own project management methodology, an audit will look at how closely you follow the processes. An audit can take place either during the project or after it is completed.

A project retrospective, or post mortem, is about learning lessons so that your next project will run better or, at least, equally well. A project retrospective is performed after the project closes, so is of no use to the project itself.

A project review has to do with project success. A project review will give you a good understanding of the status of your project and whether it is on track to deliver against your definition of project success on the following 3 levels:

1) Project delivery success: will the project delivery be successful? Essentially, this assesses the classic triangle of scope, time, and budget.

2) Product or service success: this refers to when the product or service is deemed successful (e.g. the system is used by all users in scope, up-time is 99.99%, customer satisfaction has increased by 25%, and operational costs have decreased by 15%).

3) Business success: this has to do with whether the product or service brings value to the overall organization, and how it contributes financially and/or strategically to the business’s success.

Note, “independent” suggests that the person (or team) that is completing the review is not involved in the project, and lacks ties with any associated companies working on the project. In short, reviews by vendors, your own organization, or implementation partners have no place here.

So how does the reviewing party get the information they need?

Below are the 12 building blocks of a typical project review. The row order is not carved in stone and can be adapted based on availability and priorities. It is worth noting that the results of 1 building block will be an input of another.


1) Success: Understanding the project success criteria mentioned above

2) Stakeholders: Understanding the project stakeholders, i.e. their desired outcomes and expectations

3) Governance: Sponsors, steering committee, and controlling. How does it work in theory? How does it work in practice?

4) Engineering: Is the system created through separate development? What about testing and product environments? Is there continuous integration? Bug reports? How is quality so far?

5) Technology: Solution architecture, stable technologies, back-up, disaster recovery, and performance

6) Team: How is the project team working together? What is their capacity, collective skills, relationships, and project management methods?

7) Scope: Understanding when the project is “done.” Is it defined? At what level? Is it clear? Is there a change management process in place? What changes have taken place since the beginning?

8) Schedule: Is there a plan? Is it realistic? Are there contingencies? Have there been any significant changes to date?

9) Financials: Is there a clear overview of costs? Are these complete and correct? What about forecasts, budgeting, and controlling processes?

10) Impact: Who and what will be impacted when the project goes live? What changes need to take place to anticipate and respond to associated needs? How will the change be managed? How is it operationalized?

11) Risk: Assessment of (currently) identified risks, identification of new risks, and review mitigation actions in place

12) Contracts: Review existing contractual obligations for all parties involved

Closing thoughts

Smart companies will organize periodic reviews of large, multi-year, strategic projects to verify that all components are on track; that the technical foundation is solid; and that the business case(s) remain valid. This can be performed once a year, or at certain project milestones.

When your company is unwilling to make this investment, the second-best approach is to organize a review the moment you think one of your key projects is in trouble.

An independent project review will give you:

> An outside 360-degree view of the current status of your project;

> The information you need in order to make good decisions;

> An outside opinion on the project’s likelihood of success (project delivery success, product/service success, and business success); and

> Suggestions for corrective actions on the discovered project issues and challenges

Quite simply, an independent project review is your best insurance against losing touch with reality.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Your (lack off) training efforts can easily ruin the outcome of an otherwise well-executed project

Your (lack off) training efforts can easily ruin the outcome of an otherwise well-executed project
Any system is only as good as how well it is used. If its a CRM, ERP, or any other system, when users don’t know how to use the system effectively the benefits of the new system for your company will be small, or even negative.

So educating and training your employees is critical to the success of a project — you can never over-train employees on a new system.

Unfortunately, it is hardly ever done right. How many of the below statements sound familiar to you?

“The training was too fast and did not allow time for people to move up the learning curve. There was a very small time window between training and go-live.”

“The training was not supported by written procedures or reference materials — the project team thought some online ‘help’ files would suffice; they didn’t.”

“I think the training team thought they did a great job as their end-of-session evaluations showed good results, but the real measure was the subsequent level of demand on the ‘help desk’ and that showed the training failed to meet the needs of the business.”

“The training was system-operational based. It was too limited. We did not know the business context, the opportunities, why the changes were required, etc. We were just told, this is how you do it now. The business change was ignored in the training scenario, yet this was the most important bit.”

“There were no ‘sustain’ activities, so people quickly reverted to their old habit patterns; often working around the new system to create the old processes as closely as possible. Equally, the new employee’s onboarding training was ignored. We tried to give them the implementation training but found it was inadequate for people new to the firm and its processes.”

“The new systems introduced new disciplines. Correct account codes needed to be entered at source, purchase orders needed correct part numbers on them before they could be sent. These and many other ‘disciplines’ were introduced as part of the system but without any pre-emptive education or communications. They were therefore seen as examples of the new systems’ complexity and increased workload. The downstream benefits were neither known nor considered. As a result, the system got a bad name as ‘too cumbersome’.”

We are all aware of it, and yet we somehow refuse to spend sufficient fund, focus and time on employee education and training.

So in order for your next project that introduces a new system to be a success, make sure that training is a priority.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

A powerful story to help you with stakeholder management

A powerful story to help you with stakeholder management
When dealing with one or multiple project stakeholders I often use the story below as the start of a planning workshop. Sometimes it’s at the initiation phase of a project, but more often during re-scoping of projects because of time and/or budget reasons.

A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The students laughed. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed again.

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else. The small stuff. 

“If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and change a light bulb.  

“Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers."

After telling the story I draw a big jar on a white board and ask my stakeholder what the big rocks are for their project. What key elements drive the most benefits? If we could realize only ONE thing, what would this be? Why?

When you have multiple stakeholders (sometimes with conflicting interests) this exercise will help you make it clear to them that you cannot do everything for everybody. And you will have all the right people in the room to come to an agreement.

After we have defined and agreed on the big rocks, we check to see if they all fit in the jar. When they don’t, we start talking about a bigger jar (more time and/or budget), or fewer rocks (scope reduction). When selecting scope reduction, please be very aware of value creep.

Only when the big rocks are all in the jar do we start discussing the pebbles.

And yes, having a beer afterwards really helps with your stakeholder relationships as well.

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