Sunday, January 28, 2007

Week 21 (Building a PMO) - Reporting part 2

So, last week I talked about Just in time reporting – getting the information to the right people while it’s “hot.” This week, I want to talk about getting the right information there. This can be tricky! There are some serious pitfalls. There are problems with giving useless information, presenting the information incorrectly, giving too much, too little and so on. Let’s start with the quantity of information.

You will rarely hear your stakeholders ask that you give them less information; because of this it is your job to start with a little as possible without giving so little as to be meaningless. Ha – that was easy to say! It has been my experience that every time I present information I get good comments about how the information can be used, and am asked if I could include “a breakdown by month”, or “a list of projects over $1million”, or…. This means that if you start with a lot, you will end up with too much information and the associated excess of work. So what is enough?

Let’s look at it this way; you are usually producing reports for some level of management. So what do they want to know? In my experience both as a provider and recipient of these reports, the primary questions are: How are my resources being spent (time, people, money)? Will we do what we said we would do? What can I do / what do you need of me? Although these are all closely linked, let me address them individually.

How are my resources being spent? Any project is an investment by your stakeholders and they want to know how their investment is doing. Did they spend the right amount? Are the resources the right ones? Will the investment pay off? In order to answer these questions, you will focus on the past and the present. These metrics or measures are often seen in dashboards. So some examples would be milestones, earned value, budget, time spent, adherence to schedule, utilization and other similar measures. The purpose here is to say – you (the stakeholder) have invested this (money, people, and time) in the project and we have created this (value, product, service).

Will we do what we said we would do? This relates to commitment and promises. Each project is a promise to meet a need or want of a stakeholder. Those who are receiving the end result of the project want assurances that they will get what they want. While those contributing to the project want assurances that their investments will produce the desired results. This information will focus more on the scope of the project than on the cost / time aspects. Measures here might be number of requirements met or forecasted to be met. Change control information, quality measures, achievements and deliverables demonstrate that the project will achieve what is expected.

Finally, management wants to understand what is needed of them. Everyone wants to contribute to the success of the project, but it is not always obvious how this can be done. Most of those reading your reports do not have intimate knowledge of the projects and do not know immediately what is needed. It is then your responsibility to simply ask for help as needed. Do not assume that any fool seeing this report would know to do such and such, simply ask for the help and explain what is needed and why. If you need more time, money, resources ask. If you are stalled because of a particular problem, call in the big guns. That is what they are there for.
Well, that’s all well and good, but what does a “just enough” report look like. Here is my criteria:

1. KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE LONG AND NO LONGER !!!!!!!! (I can not stress this enough) – if you can’t say it in one page then don’t expect anyone to listen and it is YOUR FAULT – management does not have time to read excruciating details about everything they are involved in or responsible for. That’s why they hired you! Give it to them short, accurate and ON ONE PAGE!!

2. Use illustrations and diagrams whenever possible. This is not because words and numbers are too complicated for pointy haired managers, it is because pictures communicate more information in less time and with greater accuracy. If you haven’t studied work by Edward Tufte then do so. The expression of information is vital in our work for so many reasons.

3. Answer the three questions above. If you don’t, you will be asked these questions every time. Take care of this up front.

4. Tell a story. Make your report more that a point in time snapshot, show the past and predict the future. Some models are good at this – EVA has a lot of potential. One that I use is to show simply actual expenses against budgeted. I use a graph with a line showing actual expenditures up to the current date with a colored in area showing past and future budgets. Bind the past, present and future together in a consistent flow that tells a story of your project(s).

5. Keep the format consistent – same things at the same place on the page every time. Do not make the recipients of the report search for the information every time.

6. KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE – oh – you get the idea – really if they want more they’ll ask. Trust me – you don’t get to Senior management by being shy – keep it to one page, everyone’s life will be better for it – and you will rise to the challenge of presenting just enough information just in time!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Week 20 - (Building a PMO) Reporting

I’ve been thinking about reporting a good bit lately. What makes good reports? What type of reporting is the PMO responsible for? When? What? To whom? And so on. I have been working recently on streamlining the reporting we are doing on the project and yet providing more information in a more useful and timely manner.

I am a minimalist at heart. I believe in one-page. From a reporting perspective, there may be a need for more than one, but I think that the PMO that provide management with a one-page comprehensive status report has found the Holy Grail of reporting. My quest is probably equally romantic and impossible, but I think there is a lot of room for improvement out there.

Let me start with two components that I have been struggling with lately – I call them the “Justs.” They are Just enough information and Just in Time. I’ll start with the latter as that is the more familiar.

Just in Time started as an inventory management practice and Dell showed the world how effective and profitable this can be. Just in Time reporting refers to the freshness of the information. We have all walked into a meeting with management to review the reports we sent out yesterday knowing that some (perhaps many) pieces of information were no longer accurate. Face it, by their nature, projects change quickly and frequently and they have a terrible habit of being unpredictable. Part of the problem is the ever popular hierarchical reporting methods.

To use my current situation as an example, I have a weekly board meeting every Wednesday morning. At this meeting we discuss the current issues, action items, and status for the two programs we are managing. These programs consist of multiple projects from multiple departments. One of those departments is IT. I get the final set of IT information on Monday afternoon for presentation on Wednesday morning. Let’s look at how that information gets to the board.

Working backwards – On Monday the consolidated IT reports are reviewed by IT management and approved for general release. These reports are created on the previous Friday afternoon from a collection of status reports by each project. These individual project reports are due by end of day Thursday. Each project team puts their report together in the day or two preceding Thursday. In this case the IT information that the board reads on Wednesday morning is a week old. A lot can change in a week. Unfortunately this means that we often report tasks as incomplete and behind schedule when they were actually completed on time.

We take a different approach on the business side. Here, there is a full program meeting on Tuesday morning. At this meeting, each project leader and team member reports their status as of that moment. The project manager updates the schedule, issues and action items right there. The program level report is published immediately after the meeting. Since the PMO is present in these meetings, we are able to produce the business components of the weekly status right after the meeting as well. This means that on Wednesday morning the board is hearing about information that is less than 24 hours old.

There are two circumstances that influence the difference. First, the business organization is less hierarchical and less formal than IT. This allows much quicker communication. My observation is that IT is oriented around structure, process, exactness and consistency – all of which contribute to some excellent, stable and reliable systems. Unfortunately, this means that non-emergency information has a long way to go to be seen.

Secondly, the PMO is directly present in the lowest level of the business meetings while we are not present in the lowest level IT meetings. This means that we get the unvarnished “raw” information straight from the people who know it the best. This enables us to better understand the information and to weigh its importance and urgency. This is not the case with IT.

I think the solution is two fold. First, set up a system and process that has the shortest amount of time between the collecting the information and reporting it. Second, eliminate every step possible between the collection and reporting. The fastest this can be done is obviously to have the person collecting the information turn right around and report it. Even better have the recipients of the information hear it first hand. Of course, it is rarely possible to get today’s busy executives to spend that much time listening to details. Don’t forget, your value-add in the reporting cycle is to aggregate, summarize, separate useful from useless, and elevate the important.

To parallel this to Just In Time supply management, getting information from the business is like going to the orchard to pick the oranges while the information from IT has to be obtained by driving to their grocery store and waiting until it is stocked on the shelves. Go to the orchard, pick the best fruit and get that to your board right away.

Monday, January 15, 2007

PMO Reporting

Reporting is often viewed as a less-than-glamorous responsibility of the PMO. I think that reporting is probably one of the most visible methods that a PMO can show value. The PMO reports go to management and those managers and executives make decisions based on your reports. By providing accurate and timely information in those reports, you – the PMO – are ensuring that the foundations of corporate decision-making are solid and built on the best information available.

With that as your mission, there are several different types of reports that the PMO may be responsible for: department reporting, project reporting, portfolio reporting and PMO reporting. Let’s take a quick look:

Department reporting takes several different forms; one common form is resource management and projections. These focus of these reports is to give information on a department or group.

Project reporting is probably the most familiar, this can take the form of your red/green/yellow status reports, buffer reports (for those using CCM), or earned value. These reports give information on a project or projects.

Portfolio Reporting gives information about a collection of projects, some common reports are the pipeline report which shows where each project is as it moves thorough the project lifecycle. Other reports include a project priority list, resource and cost projections, and possible other more sophisticated sets of information. While project reports are more tactical in nature, portfolio reports are used more for strategic decision-making.

Lastly we have PMO reporting – This is simply reports that tell how the PMO is doing. Some examples are budget reports, balanced scorecards, staffing and others.

Each of these reports offers you a great opportunity to demonstrate your PMOs independence, neutrality, honesty and consistency. They are also a great marketing tool.

Marketing your PMO

Yes, Marketing your PMO. Good, bad or otherwise, this is one of the primary jobs of the PMO Director. If the leader of the PMO is not doing this, then who will be? You want your organization to grow in knowledge and capability and you want to share how Project Management can help your customers better achieve their goals. There is nothing that helps you communicate this more effectively than the practices of Marketing.

If you’re like me, you’ve seen that vague smile and zombie-like glaze that comes over your loved ones when you start talking excitedly about how you were able to streamline the change management process by reducing the number of steps, modifying the forms and blah blah blah.... – Now imagine if the people you were talking to didn’t love you?

There is a lot to learn in Marketing and I won’t pretend to be an expert, but let me suggest three simple steps - I think you will find these effective, I have.

First - Find out how you can give value to your customer through project management.
Second – Give them that value with no strings attached.
Third – Talk to them about how you were able to achieve what you did.

I can’t tell you what your customers will value, but they can. Talk to them and begin your marketing campaign.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Week 19 (Building a PMO)

Distributed v Centralized PMOs

Yeah, I’ve skipped a few weeks. My official excuse is that those were the holidays and not much was happening. Since you all know it’s because it was the holidays and I got lazy, let’s just pretend.

A comment I got a few weeks ago about staffing has had me thinking about PMO models. There are a lot, but the two extremes that come to mind are the highly-centralized versus the distributed. Let me just set my definitions of these two and then talk about where I see the problems and possible solutions.

Centralized PMO – this PMO would contain almost all the project management work, knowledge and oversight for a single group or organization. Within this department would be all the project managers, PM trainers, methodology and tool experts, mentors, and PM specialists. If you want project management, this is where you come.

Distributed PMO – in this model, the PMO is very small and probably contains no more than a few people who have primary responsibility for the tools, methodology and maybe reporting. The PMs and specialists are distributed in the teams, and PM training would be part of corporate training.

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to these models. I still hold that the centralized model is more effective to the larger organization overall, but that is not the point of this post. What I have been thinking about is how to use the best of these models in a more effective manner, so here are my thoughts on a hybrid model.

First we start with the model of a centralized PMO, but we limit the involvement of PMs from this area to only certain types of projects (strategic, cross-department, high profile…). Or – and I think this is one of the key benefits of a centralized PMO – these PMs would be available to help departments that do not have their own PM. All other projects are handled at different levels of the organization by “imbedded” PMs. This removes some of the staffing and inequality issues related to a central model.

Next we need to address the tendency of distributed models to move toward entropy with the PMO becoming ineffective methodology police. I have a real personal bias towards this, because I did not get into this career to run around telling others that they needed to run a phase-gate review using forms 21 – 36 before they could go on with their project. I believe that this creates an atmosphere of compliance and that is not what we are about.

So, how to move from compliance to integration where all PMs regardless of location use the same practices and procedures because they are the right ones, not because they are the only ones? I don’t have a full answer, but I think there are several steps in the right direction.

  1. Project Manager Rotation. This can be pretty tricky, but I think we should look at having this as part of a PM’s career path. The project manager would serve a certain period of time in the PMO (as a mentor, trainer, strategic PM, portfolio manager…) and another period as an imbedded PM. In fact moving from group to group would also work well. With the addition of timeframes such as no less than 6 months and no more than 2 years, we can keep up the circulation without constantly upsetting workflow.

Cross pollination of team members will create a group of project managers who have worked in multiple areas of the company. They have shared their knowledge, and learned about the business. This is consistent with the value of integrating project management within the organization. This also creates a cadre of professionals who have a wide understanding of the business and of management – not bad for any organization.

  1. A simple, flexible methodology. I know I harp on this a lot, but complicated methodologies are difficult to sustain, manage and follow. The truly useful and efficient methodology will be very simple, flexible and will not change often. Maybe methodology is the wrong term, maybe better a set of guidelines, practices, values and a framework. Trying to integrate a methodology with hundreds of forms and process steps is irrational in almost all cases.

Some other ideas come to mind, more on those later. I have to go move a refrigerator.