Category Archives: Project Management

Is it worth going the extra mile?

That last bit of effort

Most of us have encountered many situations where we need to make a decision: do we want to put in just a little bit more effort or should we just let it go. There is the project proposal that we have been working on for days. Should we do another spell-check, should we have somebody else take another look at it? And there is one of our customers. Should we invite him for a quick cup of coffee despite our busy schedule? There are many situations. Unfortunately, we are often tempted to take the easy route.

A small investment

In many cases, we should make that little bit of extra investment. The potential pay-back is just too big. And it’s usually a relatively tiny investment of our time and effort. I was reminded of that the other day while I was out biking. My house is at 550m altitude (1804 ft). Within a mile there are a bunch of sunflower fields. They are all in full bloom right now. It is gorgeous. There is a town on my cycling route that is just ten miles away. It’s located at 590m (1935ft) altitude. The fields were completely green this past Sunday. Not a single yellow sunflower bloom. A minor difference in temperatures due to the proximity to the Alps and the altitude. (This town actually has more snow in winter than we do).

Sunflowe

Not going the extra mile has inherent risks. I flew back from a conference a few weeks ago and wasn’t feeling well. The staff on the flight seemed to be a bit off as well. Dealing with an arrogant and unfriendly staff was the last thing that I needed. Was it really that difficult for them to bring me a second cup of coffee? Was it that hard to greet me with a smile? Was it that difficult to apologize for the water they spilled on me? I doubt it. What could have been a nice experience (I was upgraded) turned out to be a real mood spoiler. I have booked several upcoming trips on other airlines since that experience.

Make the effort

Going the extra mile does pay off in many cases. The required effort is usually small. Why don’t we do it more often then?

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The robot – a case study about the value of process automation

The case for process automation

Many business analytics programs follow a classic approach – they start with process automation. It is the low hanging fruit. Executives and project managers like process automation as it is usually easy to measure and identify the benefits (e.g.: cycle time reduced by 2 days, aggregation is 60% faster). However, that raises a question: What happens with the ‘free time’. Can automation lead to higher effectiveness as well? Let me tell you a personal story….

Stuck in the process

AutomationMy wife and I hate mowing the lawn. Our garden is not all that big but it still takes us around 1.5hrs per week to get the task done. Setting up the equipment, getting the stuff cleaned and put away consumes the majority of the time. We do not enjoy any of the involved tasks. It’s just a waste of time without any added personal benefits. It’s really just basic garden maintenance without any kind of physical improvements over time.

Last year was really busy for us as a family and we often neglected the lawn for obvious reasons. As a result, our garden looked like a football field at the end of a season. It was not pretty. We ended up not enjoying ourselves in the garden.

The robot

A few weeks ago, we made the decision to invest in a new tool – a robot for mowing the lawn. It is a tiny and friendly 10lbs car that whizzes around your garden while mowing the lawn. It works extremely well and it is fun to watch. Setting it up every other day takes about 2 minutes. It doesn’t need any major cleaning and there are no wires. Pretty cool stuff. This saves us a few hours every week.

Process automation in action

And what are we doing with the time savings? Well, here is the honest answer: we spend more time working in the garden than ever before. However, it is time well spent and we have more fun doing it. Why? Very simple: the garden always looks nice and fresh. That in turn has inspired us to do more. We now frequently dedicate time on improvements and enhancements that benefit our family. The efficiency gains have effectively been translated into effectiveness gains. And this is a self-perpetuating process. It is contagious.

Robomow

Business analytics and process automation

Process automation with business analytics often allows us to dispense with mundane and boring tasks. Think about spreadsheet maintenance. Think about copying and pasting data from one system into another spreadsheet. Think about fixing formulas that don’t work. That type of work typically zaps energy. Process automation allows us to get rid of the boring work that does not add value to us personally and to our company. Getting rid of the mundane work allows you to focus on the important things. And that’s where the true benefits are.

Once we gain time, we often identify improvements. Our energy and motivation increases as well. Trying to improve things without process automation is tough.

Take a look at your business analytics projects. Are there opportunities where you can leverage the power of process automation?

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You have ten minutes to complete that task! Working smarter not harder

No more riots

Today is May 1st. Most European countries are off work to remember labor day. May 1st is indeed a historical date. In 1886, workers in Chicago and other cities laid down their work to demand better working conditions including eight hour working days. The situation escalated over the next few days and several people died. The event is remembered as the Haymarket Riots. Since then working conditions have improved considerably. However, despite the standard eight hour working days, many of us are often forced to work more than that. There is just too much stuff. But longer hours do not necessarily increase quality. It is therefore important that we take time to figure out ways to work smarter.

Productivity increase

Last summer a friend shared a very simple but effective productivity technique. Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad supposedly came up with the idea for it. The technique is super simple: Divide your work in 10-minute increments. Let’s say you to book travel for an upcoming business trip. It’s easy to waste a lot of time on researching hotels and prices. But give yourself ten minutes to get the task done. Guess what happens: You will do your best to get everything done within that time limit. Your productivity increases while you spent less time on unimportant things.

 

Productivity Increase

It's critical to work smarter in a frantic world

The power of ten

The ten minute idea works really well for me when I need to get stuff done that I am either not good at or that I really dislike. In the past I have found that I tend to either procrastinate those tasks or that I get side-tracked while doing them. But allocating a ten minute budget really helps me get started. The task looks less daunting and I make every effort to get it done.

A great side-effect of this method is that it can really boost your confidence and motivation. I have had days when I was sluggish in the morning. Completing various things on your to-do list in record speed changes your mood and boost your confidence!

Working smarter

Most of us have great employers who treat us with respect. But the increasing workload creates unprecedented levels of stress. Also, there is a lot of distraction these days. Think about corporate messaging systems, social media, meetings etc.. Working smarter is therefore a critical skill.Try this ten minute technique. It certainly works for me. I don’t use it every day. But I do pull it out when I really need to. Happy Labor Day!

 

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Why you should add prototyping to your toolbox

The value of prototyping

Last week, I came across an excellent post by the Truly Deeply blog. It was titled ‘Brands need to Innovate or they will fade‘. The author of the blog argues that brands are under pressure to innovate their products and services. But innovating becomes harder and harder as the “future is less and less an extrapolation of the past“. While this is nothing new and surprising, the post provides an idea of how companies can stay innovative. The writer describes a technique that business analytics professionals need to be familiar with: prototyping.

Prototyping boosts thinking

Dubai Marina

Prototyping helps you explore ideas

The author(s) of the Truly Deeply blog describe how the famous design firm IDEO leverages prototyping to rapidly innovate. Rather than sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and waiting for inspiration, IDEO typically get immersed in a new topic that they are working on. Not only that: they jump right in the water and start prototyping new ideas very early during any given project.

“They refer to it as ‘building to think’ instead of thinking about what to build.”, The Truly Deeply Blog

But why does prototyping work for them? It kick-starts the learning process (see quote above). Prototyping allows them to play with their ideas and to expand their thinking. Let’s keep in mind: theories on a piece of paper rarely inspire. And once you have a prototype, you can start making sound decisions that are based on direct and hard evidence. This in turn can help you with obtaining commitment. This is especially important when people are risk-averse or lack understanding.

“The power of prototyping or pilot testing is you fast track moving to evidence based decision making.”, The Truly Deeply Blog

Prototyping and Business Analytics

I couldn’t agree more with the Truly Deeply blog. Prototyping is an extremely valuable technique. Every business analytics professional should add it to the toolbox. Traditional IT project management taught us that we had to write lengthy requirements and design documents. But the problem with that approach is that business and IT have a very hard time figuring out and agreeing on what is really required. I wrote about those problems a while ago. Prototyping on the other hand allows the analytics professional to rapidly understand the true requirements. At the same time, the business person can quickly identify how the new solution can add value.

Prototyping in Action

Prototyping doesn’t have to be difficult and time-consuming. The new Cognos Insight solution, for example, allows business users to do prototyping by themselves. With Cognos Insight you can not only explore data but also develop small models on the fly. Take a look at the picture below. I started with an empty workspace and developed a prototype for an initiative-based view of my budget. This took a few clicks and some minimal typing. All that in under 2 minutes. And now I can go ahead and play with prototype and test drive it. Contrast that to a dry requirements or design document.

Prototyping with Cognos Insight

Prototyping under 2 minutes

Prototyping creates value

Make sure to add prototyping to your toolbox. It is tremendously helpful and valuable. I argue that proper prototyping significantly increases your success rate. Cognos Insight especially allows you do develop neat prototypes for dashboards, reports, plans, budgets and forecasts. But keep in mind: prototyping should never violate good solid project management processes. You can read more about that in a prior post.

How can you leverage prototyping to advance your thinking or that of your users? What are your experiences with prototyping?

 

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7 things recovery has taught me about project management

Project Management

“Only big dreams have the power to move men’s souls.” Marcus Aurelius

Back in December I was diagnosed with cartilage damage in my knee. This is a nasty injury that often results in people not being able to walk without pain let alone do any kind of weight-bearing sport like skiing or running. As a devoted runner and skier, this was really bad news. But luckily, I found an excellent physio therapist who gave me hope. His advice along with my experience as a project manager has gotten me on a path towards recovery. This journey is reminding me of a few project management principles.

project management

Some projects feel like a series of marathons

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A lesson in simplicity

SIMPLICITY IS THE ULTIMATE SOPHISTICATION?

Last year, severe knee pain caused me to completely stop running for two months. The physical therapist I started working with quickly came to a conclusion about my problems. It took him two minutes. Over the course of six sessions he developed an intricate training program that consisted of various stretches and exercises. It looked awesome but it was complex. We never had the opportunity to completely work through it together as it took so much time. Guess what happened. It frustrated me and I gave up after a week. It took too much effort and I did not know whether my movements were correct. Plus, I travel a lot and setting up in a hotel room late at night is not practical. Luckily, the pain gradually disappeared for a while.

SIMPLICITY APPLIED

Four weeks ago, the pain reappeared and I cannot go running again. I decided to see another physical therapist. The first session was yesterday and I am optimistic about the recovery. Why? He did a thorough exam and really listened to me to understand the core problems. He then decided to focus on four simple exercises to get me started. That’s all I have to do for the first three weeks. Four exercises, three times per day, six days per week. We had ample time to practice. And it paid off: I am already comfortable with the routine. The simplicity of the program makes it feel very do-able. And I bet that I will be ready for the harder stuff in 1-2 weeks from now.

simplicity
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

SIMPLICITY AROUND US

There are two lesson.

  • Listen
  • Keep it simple

Speed without purpose and unnecessary complexity might initially look impressive. But long-term success is doubtful.

Let’s take time to listen to our business partners. Let’s break complex projects into a few simple initiatives. Keep applications simpler. Cut out unnecessary buttons, tables, logos, process steps.

It will pay off. I am sure about that.

Less, but better — because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Dieter Rams, legendary designer of Braun products

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User Adoption Strategies – Insights and Strategy

USER ADOPTION ISSUES

user adoption strategy

Fully adopted to his environment

The other day I was exchanging emails with a prior client. She was quite frustrated about the status of her project. User adoption of the new Business Analytics environment was still much lower than she had originally anticipated. Despite the amazing dashboards and planning models her team has built over the past two years, too many users are still relying on spreadsheets to get their daily work done.

This story is not unique and it happens across the board. User adoption is one of the toughest things to manage. But it shouldn’t be that hard. My prior client did some research and forwarded me some interesting insights by management coach Marshall Goldsmith.

DEFAULT BEHAVIOR: INERTIA

Human beings do not like change. As a matter of fact, our typical default behavior is to continue doing what we have done in the past. Goldsmith points out a typical example: watching TV. When you are done watching a show chances are that you will zap the channels and continue watching something else. It’s as simple as that. Goldsmith states “The most reliable predictor of what you will be doing five minutes from now is what you are doing now.” And there is a negative impact. Goldsmith somberly continues “Very few people achieve positive, lasting change without ongoing follow-up.”

ONGOING FOLLOW-UP

There is a keyword in the last sentence: ongoing follow-up. Goldsmith found the following to be true for most people: “On the other hand, if they know someone, like their coach, their coworkers, or their manager, is watching – in the form of paying attention to them, or caring about them, or evaluating them with follow-up questions – they are more likely to change. The key is measurement and follow-up, in all their myriad forms.”

If you think about it, this is not surprising. We all intuitively know this from our private lives: We only change our diet when we know that the Doctor is monitoring our progress. We start doing those grueling interval sessions on the track when our coach is watching us.

Unfortunately, these insights are hardly ever implemented in companies. Change management for systems implementations too often focuses on creating a few happy slides and t-shirts that are supposed to outline the benefits of using the new processes. Experience has clearly shown that this is highly ineffective.

YOUR NEXT PROJECT

Marshall Goldsmith’s insights are not surprising or new but they are crystal clear. I would like to propose that we leverage this for our current projects. There are a few simple user adoption strategies:

  • Pro-actively schedule quick coaching sessions with important users instead of letting them alone after go-live. Review their issues and help them work through difficulties. This will send a clear message.
  • Eliminate options. Inertia is holding people back and the default behavior is to continue doing what they have done forever. Do not offer that option. Way too many companies allow users to run parallel processes (for example: ability to develop the budget in the new system or in a spreadsheet) to help ‘ease the pain’ of having to change.
  • Monitor usage through system audit tools and publish the numbers. (‘great news – usage of the new Cognos 10 system has increased by 65% last month!’). This will send the message that people are indeed paying attention to this. If you want to loose weight you need to step on a scale, right?
  • Work with management to include system adoption in the annual goals. Make sure to be very specific: “Develop the annual budget in the new Cognos system.”

As always, it is critical to use careful judgement. Every organization is different and user adoption obviously requires proper system design and usability.

My prior client is trying some of these things right now. She has seen positive progress so far. What do you think?

P.S.: The ideas originate from Marshall Goldsmith’s book Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It

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How to deliver more than just a good project

A few weeks ago, I had my road bike serviced by a mechanic who was highly recommended. And so I dropped off my bike. Went through a few basic questions and I asked for an opinion on a number of things. To my disappointment, the guy was pretty quiet and did not provide too much input. One week later I picked up my bike and was presented with the bill. No explanations. Just the bill. So, I payed. I was a bit disappointed. But He definitely did a good job and the price was ok. But something was missing and I promised myself not to go back to the mechanic in the future. So what was wrong? – Pretty much everything except for the results.

SERVICES SHOULD BE EXPERIENCED

Bicycle Repair Main

Become a hero by delivering great service

My former mechanic in San Francisco was different:

  • He always took the time to explain things to me.
  • He involved me in the decision making process (“Which cable do you prefer? I personally recommend this one for this and that reason.”).
  • He shared cool stuff and news with me (“Hey, check out this really cool new widget!”).
  • He kept his promises and provided me with clear estimates.

It’s easy to summarize this: The great mechanic involved me in the process and he made me feel good about it. And that’s what it’s all about: good service is an experience. It’s not only about the qualification of the person delivering the service: When I compare the two mechanics, both were highly qualified. The difference was the communication. It didn’t cost the guy a single cent. His total time investment was less than 3 minutes. That’s it. But it made a world of difference to me and he earned my trust.

BUSINESS ANALYTICS PROJECTS

If you are a project manager, solution specialist or a consultant, think about your role for a minute. You are in essence delivering a service to the business. The business is your customer. And just like me and my bike, business people are usually passionate and have a lot to loose and to gain. And they are usually a bit nervous about the implementation. Unfortunately, too many project members and consultants think it’s just about getting the work done and to deliver results. Based on my experience, I would argue that just being smart and that just doing a good job won’t get you anywhere. Instead, we should all try to fully engage with our customers on the business side. We should try to be the good mechanic. Think about your recent projects. Have you done one or more of the following activities:

  • Keep the business informed about the progress, potential obstacles & opportunities? Do you do this frequently?
  • Have you taken the time to explain concepts & technology to the business? We should offer this up?
  • Have you involved the customer in certain decisions? Even small decisions can make the business feel appreciated.
  • Do you share good news or cool discoveries with the business? Why keep the good stuff for yourself?
  • When is the last time you tried to surprise the customer? Finish a deliverable a bit earlier, add something extra, do something unexpected. Those little things go a long way

YOUR NEXT PROJECT

Delivering a successful business analytics project requires all of us to deliver great customer service to the business. It’s not only about building a cool solution. The project won’t be a success until the business thinks it’s a success. And by delivering a great service experience during the implementation we can all set the foundation for success. Doing that will help alleviate concerns, increase the excitement and develop ownership. It has worked for me in the past and it is working for the great mechanic in San Francisco. The guy in Munich lost my business. Quality was fine, but I’d rather have fun while spending my hard earned dollars! What type of ‘mechanic’ are you?

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8 ideas for delivering a better demo

Demos are a critical part of every business analytics implementation. There are frequent occasions during any project where we have to show present tools & processes: At the beginning, we might show the new software to our users to educate them. Later on we might want to review a prototype and we need to solicit productive feedback based on the demo. Training sessions require us to teach the new process and tool while also obtaining buy-in from the business. Overall, I would argue that being able to deliver a great demo is a critical skill for every business analytics professional.

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How to create happy business people

“Projects could be so much fun if it wasn’t for the users.” Well, I have often heard this from different project teams. And there is some truth to this: Too many projects fail to ‘wow’ an organization because the business is disappointed about the final results. Based on my personal experience, I believe that the traditional implementation approaches are partially responsible for that.

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