A new virtual experience

Relating to earlier blog posts (“Are all IT projects worthless?”) there has been a number of new apps and webb-based services that has made life easier during the pandemic, at least in Sweden. Shopping online for groceries, with home delivery or packing and picking up the groceries at planned times has boomed. Zoom, Teams and other online meetings has been a global phenomenon. Online training is not a new thing, but it has definitely been a lucrative business the last years.

Yesterday I went to my local gym for the first time since early 2020. I live in a small town in Sweden, and the few spinning classes they had each week tended to be filled to the last spot pre-Covid. So when I got my new membership and saw in the booking app that there are virtual instructors now in several classes, and that there are several spinning classes each evening, I was thrilled!

Finally at the gym, I was alone in class. Not one other participant in spinning class. Just me and my virtual instructor 🙂

The instructor was english speaking (yelling “hee-vee, hee-vee” a lot, which I realized after a while ment “heavy, heavy”). And there was no real music. Just some loop to keep a beat. That part was kind of disappointing.

I think that this IT project is a good first step in the right direction. It has some child diseases, the next steps should be to get Swedish speaking instructors and above all have real music! And perhaps more than two different spinning classes, or people will get bored. If anybody goes to gym that is.

Am I still thrilled? No. Will I go again? Yes!

As a customer it is great to be able to chose between different classes and times, and as a business owner it is good to not have the room empty 80% of the time.

Many jobs are said to disappear in the close future due to digitalization. But my guess is that the gym instructors in Sweden can sleep at night for a while longer. They might be complemented by IT, not replaced.

Alchemy

Today at the zoom-sent class, we talked about how different companies collect ideas, analyze them and possibly adopt an idea to make a project out of it. That is an interesting topic. I have been working at smaller companies for many years, and dropping an idea at a smaller company is often nothing formal. But over the years, the realization that that is not always an advantage has hit me. The person receiving the idea has to be interested enough to take the time to listen, have an attentionspan to go with it and have the capability to understand the suggestion and its implications. This has become even more hard with digitalization in my opinion.

The digitalization of society and companies has lead to a, in many cases, more complex reality. Data has become part of the value between customers and a supplier, it is said to be the “new gold” after all. Data is the basis for new product ideas which is one of the reasons it has become increasingly important to keep safe.

The “smarter” a product becomes, integrating sensors and monitoring etc, the more likely it is for a company to not be able pull of the making of new product by itself. The need for partnerships arises. Security also becomes important, both internally in companies and between companies when they open up for partnerships. So security of data is one challenge when it comes to digital business development.

Another of the challenges is a lack of skills or capability. More IT-trained people, more interdisciplinary skills are needed to connect companies and technologies. Of course, knowledge in digital business development is needed to know how to compete in a market today with the digital possibilities and what pitfalls there are.

These challenges makes it harder to pitch an idea to a company. The person pitching the idea, no matter size of the company or the method of doing it, has to be able to truly depict the idea to the receiver in order to be properly understood. And the receiver/receivers has to have a complex and broad understanding of it business as well as digital possibilities and be willing to “fill in the gaps” in a positive way if the idea is merely a frame.

I think that when it comes to the possibilities of digital transformation, we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to reinventing or thinking completely differently in order to be able to deliver new products or services. There are enormous opportunities still out there. Keep panning for gold!

Eureka

Reading the PMI Benefits Realization Management (BRM) I fond my self , hmm… a bit underwhelmed. It is not that it is bad, really. Just not that good in my opinion.

Some things are repeated over and over, some things not lifted enough. Some things are explained briefly, like they are simple even though, thinking about them, they are clearly not in reality.

Our teacher does not seem fond BRM, it has to do with quantifying intangible benefits. That’s understandable. As well as considering that there might be benefits that nobody thought of beforehand, that nobody could’ve planned for.

So, I’m sitting here, wishing really hard that this book was one of those truly great coarse literature books. But it’s not.

While trying to picture how this theory would work in the reality, I suddenly have an epiphany. This might be brilliant! Brilliant!

I’m not sure I can explain the possible brilliance adequately . But I will try.

If A company has worked with BRM for a while and managed to create “the right” BRM culture, they have a good tracking of the development of their projects, outputs, benefits and so on. The roles are set as well as the follow-up. The aims of strategy and each project are knit together, integrated and aligned at some level.

So what does this imply ? We have all worked in companies where you cannot easily talk with management. Where they just seem not capable to connect to the internal company or employees, right?

In A company, working with BRM, the top management can probably connect with all level of employees. They can step in and ask relevant questions about calculated/planned benefits. They can be roll models and connect with employees at any level, encourage them, check status without stepping on anyone’s toes or micromanage the project or program manager.

Doing this will also show the top management’s engagement in the company and employees , but also the support of the project management striving to realise planed benefits. And it will give employees a sense of purpose. And give the top management can receive relevant information from the source that would have been impossible without a connection to the employees day-to-day situation.

So, why don’t everyone do this? Well, I think smaller companies might do it partly intuitively. But going all out, the company needs to be large to be able to support all the administration. And according to PMIs survey in 2018, lesser than 1/10 organisations reported having a very mature value delivery capabilities. So, grit is important. Again.

Turning Technology into Business

In yesterdays post, I mentioned a book by Westerman G, Bonnet D, McAfee A. (2014) “Leading Digital – Turning technology into business transformation”. Even if it is a couple of years old now, it is a really good book on digital transformation, what you can do, and how, to transform your business.

The authors had during several years studied more than 400 large companies (the Silicon Valley companies or tech start-ups that do digital technology for a living are not included) from different industries and countries to investigate how they implemented digital technology and how they succeeded investing in it. Based on the results of the study, the authors divided the companies into four categories; Beginners, Fashionistas, Conservatives and Digital Masters.

Fyra nivåer av digitalt mästarskap.

The study shows that the digital masters have 26% higher profits than the average in each industry and that they turn over 9% more than others with their existing physical assets.

The digital masters have completed a successful digitalization and they excel in two areas; Digital ability, (“WHAT” in digital transformation), and leadership (which is “HOW”) which includes creating a goal vision and drive for the change required to move towards the vision.

So, the digital ability what is that? Digital capability includes three areas for digital development; customer experience, operational effectiveness and business models.

The advice regarding customer experience is to put it at the center of the digital transformation journey, to design the customer experience from the outside in. Make sure the digital and physical customer experience is seamless for the customer.

Good operational processes require a stable digital platform to rely on for further digitalization. Companies with better operational processes have higher productivity and efficiency and it is also a prerequisite for a better digital customer experience.

The company’s top team should continuously challenge the company’s business model and the company should monitor symptoms that show if the business models in the company’s industry are changing. You should consider how your company can change the industry you operate in before anyone else does.

The authors want to show that it is not impossible for a company to become a digital master. Becoming a digital master requires a certain level of human capital and investment, but first and foremost it requires time, grit and leadership. Simple as that 🙂

Unspoken wishes are met randomly, prt2

Yesterday I wrote the first part of this post, you will find the link here.

The discussion was about whether the company should implement the ERP system next even though the most obvious benefits, more cost control and effective operations, connected to that project are not highest on the BRMs list of benefits, but increased customer satisfaction is.

Of course they should implement the ERP-system! As I wrote in a previous post, projects drive change. What changes are executed and how is partly up to the project. So while investing in this ERP project, with increased customer satisfaction highest up on the benefits realization management-list, the company needs to ask itself if there is anything that can be done to improve customer satisfaction simultaneously.

Operational effectiveness is actually one of the things that effect customer experience and can increase customer satisfaction according to Westerman G, Bonnet D, McAfee A. (2014) “Leading Digital – Turning technology into business transformation”. So in this example, the company can for example involve customer support in the education of the system so that they quickly can answer customer questions about when delivery is possible and if changes in an order still can be done, etc. This will most likely increase the customer satisfaction and customer experience. It will perhaps improve things like communication within the company as well.

The example is perhaps a bit simplified. But I think that it is showing that the benefits can be integrated in a project and therefore aligned with the strategy in a not immediately obvious way. And this small tweak will give an even better result compared to not include the BRM in this case at all. It also shows that what the theory describes as “align benefits with the strategy” is not that straight forward in reality.

And turning it around and say that a company should prioritize projects that will increase customer satisfaction, what would that have given the company in the example? A great looking webpage, maybe. With customers frustrated because while the webpage looks great, nothing else about the company works. So starting with only the benefits is perhaps viable either.

So, the theory describes it like it is really simple (aligning benefits to stategy) but in reality it seems to be a non-linear process with different phases that needs to be integrated and alternative routes to reach other possibilities discussed.

In the example, without the BRM-list the benefits of the project would not have been as good as when taken customer experience in to the equation. Now it was re-worked with a new desired benefit in mind because somebody had made a BRM-plan. Somebody wanted to lead the company in a certain direction.

I don’t remember where I heard it or who said it, but it goes something like; unspoken wishes, needs and goals will be fulfilled randomly. Think about that for a while…

If you want to lead a company in a certain way, communicating that clearly direction is important. Essential even. Communicating that through BRM seams to be a good idea since benefits can be drawn from all types of portfolios and projects. But I think it all comes down to how you work with it and the execution in the end.

Until tomorrow!

Unspoken wishes are met randomly 

We have been speaking about BRM, Benefits Realization Management, in class. According to the PMI-book ”BRM A practical guide” the need to ensure that the investments in portfolios, programs & projects lead to clear and sustainable benefits is greater than ever.

Lifting out BRM and discussing it as a separate subject feels kind of backwards to me. The intended benefits should align with strategic goals and initiatives according to the theory, and a documented plan over BRM drawn up. That seems foreign somehow.

But put it like this instead. Imagine a company that has decided to implement a new ERP system. The need for more cost control and effective operations to survive the competition makes it the most prioritized project.

More cost control and effective operations are great benefits, but highest on the BRMs list of benefits in this example are:

1. Increased customer satisfaction.

Hm, what to do…. Should the company not implement the ERP system next? Should some employee delete the BRM-plan by misstake?

I’ll tell you what my thouhts about it is tomorrow. But it has to do with the header of this post 😉

It isn’t a failure if you learn something.

Second part of ”Are all IT projects worthless

Since our lifes have changed fundamentally through the output of IT projects, my previous blog came to the conclusion that a lot of projects are successful from a users point of view.

I have been part of of test groups and first user groups in implementation projects, like a change of ERP systems, at different companies. Have the projects been fun and easy? No. Have they been without some serious problems? Not once. Have they been worthless? No. After everything finally is up and running and everybody has learnt the new way of working and the gliches have been solved, the result has been pretty good. Painfull, but essential for the future in all cases.

I have never been in a IT development project, so I will have to get back to you on that one. But I think that it cannot be a total failure or worthless if you learn something on a organizational or personal level.

And if an organization or the persons in the project has learnt absloutly nothing when it’s closed, then nobody has taken the time to evaluate or summarized ”lessons learned”. And that is just sad!

Are all IT projects worthless?

In todays class we had a discussion on the topic above . It was meant to provoke and I have to admit that it does provoke me.

Perhaps one reason is because I am not in the IT business, and my point of view is the users view. Using computers and smartphones everyday to call, send messenges, check what friends and others are doing, check time tables, participate in meetings, plan a project, set alarms, watch a movie, take a picture and send it to your mother… the list can go on and on with outputs from IT projects that would be tough to live without.

The only conclusion as I see it, has to be that some IT projects have succeeded in completly changing the way we live in the last decade, right?

So of you are one of those persons that think that pretty much all IT projects are worthless, I would love for you to leave a comment on your perspective. (And please add your average mobile phone and computer screen time/ day as well.)

To be continued…

About project management

Continuing on the topic of yesterdays blog; if you are looking for answers to why projects fail or succeed, you are bound to find The Standish Group CHAOS reports pretty quick. (Be aware of the one that is very generously referred to where the IT managers have responded to what factor that generates success and what generates disaster! The data is EONS of time old measured in the history of IT, since it is from before the internet boomed.)

The latest report was released early 2020. The success rate for software development is still not very high to express it mildly. 31%. Hmm. I am not sure what to do with that number. Better perhaps.

I haven’t bought the report, if you want to read some more here is a link to a blog post about it:

Reading about factors of success, you find the three most important factors:

  • good place
  • good team and
  • good sponsor

Here it gets interesting given my studies. A good sponsor is the third greatest success factors. It is also the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest thing to adjust since only one person in the project is sponsor. Sounds good?!

I thought to myself “What is a Project sponsor?”. So looking in the course literature it is written about in one page, p29, saying; “The project sponsor is generally accountable for the development and maintenance of te project business case document.”

That is it! But then it actually gets worse.

The epilogue of the report summarized in the blog linked above says:

The Agile Period started around the year 2000 – and their prediction is that it will end shortly. They are now seeing the beginning of what they call the Infinite Flow Period, and they imagine that the Flow Period will last at least 20 years. In the Flow Period, there will be no project budgets, project plans, project managers, or Scrum masters.” 

Gah! Am I going to be without a job? Are IT project managers one of the roles that is going to be redundant in this AI/IT evolution?

Well, personally I think that it is a role that will not disappear. It might change and evolve. Perhaps get a new name. But look at the success rate for software project above. Too many good project managers are not listed as one of the failure factors, as far as I know.

But hey, it might be a good idea to include a short course about sponsor-responsibilities, right? 😉

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. (J. R. R. Tolkien) so I will break for the weekend now!

Time management

Traditional project managing is often considered to be constrained by cost, time and quality, this is called the project management triangle. These constrains are balancing each other so if more time is needed to complete a project it is going to effect the cost or the outcome ( or both) as well. This is often showed visually something like this:

The project management triangle is a predictive lifecycle, and it is pretty straight forward. The iterative life cycle where the scope is determined but there is no way of knowing how much time and therefor at what cost it will take to get to the goal is also easy to understand. But incremental or adaptive life cycles, how can they ever give the customer what they want?

It sounds to me like the possibilities as a project manager to be proud of the work executed are small. And I like to feel that the job I have done is good, so I am really looking forward to getting to learn how to control and manage those types of projects.

A new blogger, as I am, I have come to the conclusion from this weeks blogging that I have to cut my time writing shorter if I am going to reach my goal in passing the present coarse in strategies, benefit and alignment at Stockholms university.

Until tomorrow i leave you with a quote:

My favorite things in life don’t cost any money, it’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time” / Jobs