Category: General Management
“It’s not Personal” – IMA’s inaugural networking event

Well, this may not have been the official title of the event, it was definitely one of the key takeaways from our guest speaker, Jane Huxley.

We set up this night, with the aim to build on the events we have been having in Melbourne over the last 12 months, getting guest speakers to speak at our company meetings, to share some insights and hopefully drop some inspiration for our Consultants. The powers that be in IMA Sydney, decided to take this idea one step further. We invited along, not only IMA staff, but their partners, clients and people from our talent pool to join us in learning, with the added benefits of some magnificent canapes, drinks and stimulating conversation.

Jane Huxley, (as of writing this) the soon to be MD of Spotify, was our headline act. In short, if you are in the position to get Jane to speak at an event of yours or you can steal her for a 30 minutes coffee, take it, take it every day and twice on Tuesdays. Jane was amazing. For someone whose background includes roles like MD at Pandora (music streaming not jewellery), CEO and Publisher at Fairfax Digital, Head of Product at Vodaphone, and a Director at Microsoft, she was so relatable to everyone in the room and really impressed everyone. As mentioned about “it’s not personal” or “INP” was a takeaway we can all learn by, when those days are getting a little long, and the meetings a little too awkward or tough. Her stories on mentorship and disruption and her strength on mind to succeed had everyone at the edge of their seats.

It was a great night, even if I didn’t get to win the Haighs chocolates, I draw comfort from the fact that a person who scrubbed my name off one of my business cards and wrote her name at the back of it did win. No commission for this little Recruiter for that transaction… unless they are in the mail of course. I hope you see this Madeline Jack

Challenges in Agile Project Management
Gayathri Ramamoorthy

Gayathri is a proven Project Manager with experience spanning over a decade in the IT industry in all areas of the SDLC. A strong end to end technical and functional background has enabled Gayathri to perform multiple roles such as Delivery Lead, Project Manager, Solution designer and Technical Consultant over the span of her career.

In last few years, we have been hearing the word ‘Agile’ frequently in the project delivery workspace. Quite often, we had constructive debates and interesting discussions among colleagues on challenges in Agile projects. Common concerns were – lack of ownership from team, mixed signals from senior management and ineffective cost management. I would like to share my experience where we applied agile methodology to a project aiming to deliver the functionalities/features quicker for the business to use and the challenges we encountered.

The project was initiated to develop new reports for a business unit to measure their sales performance. The data required to build the report was sourced from a datawarehouse which hosted the consolidated transactional data from various source systems. The project scope was to develop reports and to implement the required business rules and data transformation. The project applied agile techniques to deliver the reports in an iterative deployment schedule. The features required in the reports were listed and prioritised by the business sponsor and the sprint period was 4 weeks. In Agile methodology, sprint is the time period within which a selected list of feature is completed and made ready for business use.

In an agile project environment where the team is set of highly skilled developers, a sponsor who was supporting the team to follow agile framework, a management team who applied the agile techniques appropriately, what could go wrong in such agile project? In spite of an optimistic agile environment, there were still challenges.

Design changes during the iterative sprints – Are you thinking of doing design, development and testing in an agile way? I would recommend to read ahead and validate if that approach would help your project to achieve the desired outcome on time.

The project started with minimal business requirements from the business and the list of features required were identified. The project included redesigning the underlying data model of an existing application and adding the new features identified to the application. The project did not have the detailed requirements at the start of the project and the design, data model, build and testing started simultaneously following agile approach. As we progressed through sprints, any design or data model changes, while developing the features down the line, eventually resulted in rework on the features completed in earlier sprints. The finished products were revisited every time there was a change in design which increased overall cost and caused delay in progressing with the remaining open activities.

From my experience in this agile project, it would be challenge to complete the sprints on time if design is evolving across sprints. If the project involves major redesign or new application development, it is worth investing initial few days in preparing high-level design with the available requirements. This would avoid rework on the features while we get into the development sprints. Development and testing goes well within a sprint timebox.

Team member sharing while sprint is in progress – The projects had a dedicated skilled team which was a key strength to get the development on time and of high quality. The project deployment was planned into multiple deployment phases so that the finished products can be released earlier. There were cross impacts due to other inflight project and the part of the development team was deviated to focus on sharing the knowledge of the project and its impact on other projects so as to enable first deploy release to go ahead as planned. As per Agile guidelines, the core sprint development team is expected not to be deviated from the locked down list of features. But in the real world, the knowledge of the skilled team is required to mitigate any risks related to that project. We had delays on the sprint that was in progress in order to accommodate risk mitigation activities. A dedicated and committed team is a key for a successful Agile project. The agile project manager should implement the two key techniques that the Scrum methodology emphasises strongly.

  1. The Scrum Master should ensure that the team is not impacted by any changes or other external influences that could potentially deviate the team from the current sprint. The Scrum master should ensure that the team remain focussed on the current sprint until the end of sprint
  2. Any changes in resource plan should be restricted while the sprint is in progress.

Requirements unclear even while sprint is in progress – Agile framework facilitates the business SMEs to change or finalise requirements while the feature is being developed. But in order for the development team to complete the development within the sprint time, the business should be clear on the requirements for the features in the current sprint to enable on time completion. Ambiguous requirements, while sprint is in progress, lead to delays in completing the feature within the sprint and may result in increased backlog.

The business subject matter experts have to have the requirements clear to enable the team to complete the project on time. Any requirement changes from the business SME impacting the sprint has to be considered as a new item in the backlog list. Requirement changes during the sprint has to be recorded and tracked to effectively manage the sprint timelines and overall project cost.

While Agile framework accepts less documentation, we need to understand the main objective of agile framework is quick delivery. Documents that enable quick delivery and better control on time and cost are still required in agile project management. As much as projects are unique, challenges within the projects are also unique. Lessons learnt from past experience always helps in the handling these challenges effectively in the future. Agile methodology also gives the opportunity to identify any challenges at the end of each sprint which will enable to apply corrective measures throughout the journey of the project. Go Agile, enjoy the continuous learning and eventually master the skill of Agile project management.

Negotiation for Project Managers

Negotiation is defined as “a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement” (Oxford). An elegant and simple definition encompassing yet a powerful and sometimes hard to master skill, especially for project managers (PMs). Here’s why:

Projects involve change. Many parties interact during a project lifecycle including stakeholders, users and delivery team. Sponsors empower PMs to deliver, however, it should be no surprise to PMs that conflicts arise in projects due to many sources including matrix organisations, conflicting priorities, expectations gap and scope creep. Without an effective way to solve conflicts in a timely manner, projects can quickly come to a standstill and may even fail.

The good news is that by mastering and applying these negotiation skills in day-to-day activities, PMs can ensure progress through even the most difficult of conflicts. Read on to take a look at how to apply negotiation skills effectively from a PM’s perspective.

What is negotiation for PMs?

Negotiation in projects is about finding timely solutions to conflicts that arise between people linked to the project and/or impact it in some way. Negotiation is a highly effective interpersonal skill that PMs must master to move projects progressively. Finding an ‘agreed’ solution that either:

  • Benefits all parties – means everyone got, or at least feels they got, what they were after from negotiations. A solution acceptable to all is usually the one that builds great teams and enjoys best support afterwards
  • Benefits some of the parties or one only – means someone had to compromise (take one for the team) probably for the greater good of the project
  • Just escalates the conflict to next level in project governance since the negotiations could not reach any agreement

An agreed solution that benefits all parties is also often called a ‘win-win’ scenario and is the most desirable outcome PMs want from their project negotiations.

Why do PMs negotiate

Temporary endeavors to achieve something unique, projects typically require some form of ‘agreement’ from time to time between those delivering change and those who will use or benefit from it in future (like users, stakeholders and outside world). To name a few:

  • Requirements, scope and resources agreed during Planning & Initiation
  • Deliverables and milestones accepted during Delivery & Implementation
  • Changes to scope controlled and agreed during Monitoring & Control
  • Sign-offs and project handover at Closing

Who do PMs negotiate with

For PMs, formal and/or informal negotiations happens everyday. With project’s success as focus all the time – PMs are always negotiating solutions. Engage these groups throughout the lifecycle of the project and negotiate timely solutions to any conflicts that risk your project:

  • Users (requirements management) – negotiate project requirements with users (or their representatives) to finalise scope. Being the end beneficiary of what your project will deliver, effective negotiations with users help set right expectations from start and will make acceptance, handover and closing smooth.

  • Suppliers and vendors (contract management) – formal negotiations to select best supplier/vendor for delivery and after a contract is awarded, negotiations continue in matters of contractual compliance, performance and any changes needed. It is best for PMs to seek specialist support from Legal and Procurement during these negotiations.
  • Team members (and their managers) – your project team is the centre of it all, moving the team together as one unit requires regular internal sync ups, prioritisation calls and agreements on the implementation strategies. Negotiations here are very informal but lead to highly effective collaborative work. As PM, you should also expect to negotiate with line managers of the project team in a matrix environment.
  • Stakeholders (stakeholder management) – negotiate project scope, time, cost and quality with stakeholders as well as seek their buy-in on scope changes, risk mitigations, contingency funds (if needed) and commitments on organisational resources for the project. Honest and open communications here are necessary to manage stakeholder expectations.

How to negotiate
Now we get into the mechanics of how should PMs negotiate in a typical project setting. Project negotiations could be segregated into following distinct phases:

 


Let’s see what happens within each:

  • Plan: Plan for negotiations ahead – do your homework. Gather background information on the topic, set targets, know your tolerances around the targets.
  • Discuss: That’s where the actual negotiations start. PMs lead the discussion – keep them from digressing off topic. Open negotiations by setting the scene – introduce key issues to discuss. Remember to listen, paraphrase key points to ensure common understanding and keep driving the discussions forward.
  • Propose: Brainstorm, propose solutions and listen to solutions being proposed. Focus on reaching agreements. Communicate clearly and openly.
  • Bargain: Be prepared to trade-offs and give & take. Show flexibility to reach a plausible agreement. Your homework of knowing your tolerances will pay off here.
  • Agree: Reaching an agreeable solution is the real goal. Be mindful of the fact that the agreement could be one of many types explained above. In all cases, ensure you get it in-writing/signed-off from participants. Summarise conclusions for all and later distribute minutes appropriately.
  • Review: Following up on the resolution of agreement is essential. Ensure all parties are kept informed of next steps taken. Update any impacted project documents.

By now you should have a good sense of how important negotiation skills are for the successful delivery of projects. Effective negotiations could literally turn people in opposition of the change your project delivers to its biggest supporters. They could be the missing link to get those stumbling blocks out of your project’s way to success. Take time to prepare well for your negotiations, be reasonable and respectful, listen to others’ views and remain focused and calm all the time. A proven ability and a track record to reach ‘win-win’ solutions – of which there are sometimes many in difficult situations – is a hard sought after skill in Project Managers. I hope these thoughts will help you master this skill.

I leave you with a question: Have you faced a situation where it was difficult to make everyone happy, but yet, you were able to carve out a ‘win-win’ scenario? Reiterating points of common benefit could sometimes help people let go a little to reach an agreement – please share your thoughts. Cheers.

Some information here is sourced from articles in Association of Project Management.

Rana Ali Saeed – Rana is a Project Manager and Technology Solutions professional, having served clients in IT, telecommunications and academia sectors for past thirteen years. These years have probably experienced the fastest wave of technological change. The explosion of digital data touched almost every industry and the demand of data speeds grew exponentially. Telcos evolved from 2G to 5G and smartphones became a commodity from once a luxury. Having ridden this wave of change, Rana has a passion for taking on new challenges. He is enthusiastic about Data Science (analytics, visualisation, presentation) and currently spends his leisure time as a student of Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Inferential Statistics.

Deliver a Solution Not a Project: What To Look For!

Have you ever been assigned to a client who had the budget approved, the solution identified, and the project initiated, and you were requested to manage the project? Have you ever worked on a project where you understood that the scope of the solution should have covered more than what the client had planned for? Have you joined a project only to find that key stakeholders are missing? How more hard could it be to manage a project without being in full control of its elements?

It reminds me of some statistics I came across a while ago. Being a BA/PM consultant becomes a real challenge when you know that you have only a 64% chance of successfully delivering your projects, according to PMI’s 2015 report Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management.

But why after all the maturity that took place in the project management and business analysis fields that projects still fail? I argue that many of the PMs and BAs who were sampled in the report are expert in their fields. This is clearly inferred from the same report where it shows that more than 60% of the surveyed organisations already fully understand value of project management, actively engage sponsors, and possess high alignment of projects to strategy. These organisations are expected to hire top notch BA/PMs and ensure continuous development of their resources.

If even expert BAs/PMs fail, then why there are some who managed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the crowd and associate the word “Great” or “Successful” to their title? Do they have the “magic wand” that turns any project they work on into a success story, or do they manage to see things other professionals are not able to, and manage to save themselves from losing the case? I am inclined to bias towards the second probability for obvious reasons 🙂

THE MISSING LINK!

Let’s have a deeper look into why projects fail and see what gaps have these great professionals managed to bridge. Statistics show that 47% of failed projects are a result of poor requirements management, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: Requirements Management — A Core Competency for Project and Program Success.

Being an expert BA/PM will most probably grant you 64% of the success you need, but focusing on requirement management could increase your chances to 81%. This means you need to focus on factors that lie somewhere outside the boundaries of the simple project management realm. Yes! Outside the boundary of the project. Managing and controlling these outer factors is, in my opinion, the key to succeed in most of your projects.

But why to look outside the project? isn’t requirement management already a part of the project? Well, yes and no. Requirement management starts way before the project starts and forms the basis on which projects initiates, and this is where the risk comes from. Remember the scenario discussed at the beginning?

Back to the consultancy world, you usually join the client when the project is kicked off and you are required to deliver it “successfully”. This means that some sort of requirement management effort has already been taken place, and you have no control on the level of quality done to identify the business requirements behind the project and the value this initiative is expected to bring to the organisation.

If you proceed with your project as initially planned, you put your destiny on the hand of anonymous stakeholders who promoted an idea, formulated a project, and put you in front of the cannon. What happens if they have laid the wrong foundation for your project? For example, what if the client:
● Mixes desires with needs, and formulated a project around these desires without real business need?
● Articulates solutions as requirements and expect them to be delivered without proper assessment of their validity and effectiveness?
● Agreed to a solution that is not linked to business objectives?
● Has no business case or enough support from within the organisation?

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

In these cases, a project manager would be able to deliver the project according to the stated requirements but would put himself a potential prey to the 36% of failed projects and some reasons for that would be:

● In reality, projects are judged by the value they deliver to business rather than to what extent they match stated requirements.
● The ones who evaluate the project success are not necessarily the sponsor who initiated the project. These stakeholders might not have been identified as key stakeholders.
● The project delivers the intended value but it is not enough to realise the real benefit to the organisation.

MEET ORGANISATIONAL EXPECTATIONS!

The key to “great” project management and business analysis work is to meet the expectation, and by expectation I mean organisation’s one and not merely the sponsor’s. Remember that great BAs/PMs need to align project objectives to organisational ones, and this what grant them sustainability and success.

To meet expectation, you need to find and work on a complete solution that resolves client’s underlying problem, and not only smooths the symptoms that appear on the surface. Delivering the “stated” project might not give you the result you need because, at the end, the deliverables will be part of the new organisation’s capabilities, and you wouldn’t be sure if someone has already verified whether such deliverables would fit in the organisation smoothly.

SEEK SOLUTIONS NOT DELIVERABLES!

Successful projects manage to synergise deliverables with organisations’ environment. This means that project needs to take into account the organisation’s readiness to implement the solution successfully, integrate it into the day-2-day operations, and grant enough support to sustain its existence and realise its benefits.

This means that BAs/PMs should seek solutions that consist of some or all of the following:

TECHNOLOGY

Assess what and how technology is used and promoted inside the organisation. Verify that existing technology doesn’t fulfil the functionality requested. See if the new solution is in alignment to the technologies existing within the environment. Check contractual agreements and make sure the new solution is not limiting the organisation in expanding its business. Check if the technology used doesn’t need a change in other areas, like processes and organisational structuring.

PEOPLE

Assess what skill set is available within the organisation and whether it is enough to guarantee project success. Assess what development areas should be addressed to ensure value realisation. Verify that enough resources are available to get the job done. Assess how processes are setup around the solution and whether such processes are efficient. Process re-engineering is gold mine for boosting operational efficiency.

Organisational restructuring can also be part of a solution. Changing the way people are structured throughout the organisation could help streamline operations, increase efficiency, and ensure the right people own the right solution components.

CULTURE

Assess how internal culture impacts the work carried within the organisation. Understand how formal/informal politics/power impact and drive decision-making. Locate informal influencers and make sure they are content, if not satisfied, with your solution.

If a solution doesn’t require a cultural change, understanding how culture impacts the daily operations helps getting the right people engaged, and keeping the project on focus. Granting buy-in to your deliverables is key to project success.

THE CATCH!

When you join a project, don’t settle for what you are told to do. Maybe you are obliged to abide by the scope of the contract, but this should not hinder you from being on watch for what could cripple your project, continuously revising the givens and making sure what you are delivering constitutes a “complete solution”.

Be in search for external factors that grant you success. Influence decision makers to take corrective measures. If you are not able to change the course of the project, at least you know what you are missing, and maybe you could influence decision makers on the right time. Keeping key stakeholders aware of what a complete solution should be puts them on the same boat with you.

Don’t lose focus of the critical solution components: Technology, People, & Culture.

This time I highlight “what” I think you need to look for if you want to increase your chances of getting it right, wait for the next blog where I will discuss “why” and “how” looking into the bigger picture increases your chances of delivering great projects.



Wael BassionyPassionate about project management and the challenges faced by project managers. Over the last 16 years, Wael assumed several positions in IT and Telecom sectors, with specialisation in business analysis, project management, technical architecture, and leadership. He has hands-on experience in managing diverse types of projects, from small, short-term, to MM$, strategic ones. He holds a Master’s degree in Computing, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and a number of technical certifications like PMP, CBAP, and ITIL.

Dad jokes…. why we love them

Those of us are accomplished at dad jokes are accustomed to the rolling eyes, face palms and sneers that are the stock response to our creations from those who have neither the wit or the will to understand.  “Cruel and unusual punishment” they moan.  “Puns are the lowest form of humour” they cry.

But wait, there’s more.  Let’s have a closer look at the dad joke.

‘Normal’ jokes are malicious.  The basis of ‘normal’ comedy is mocking someone’s misfortune or perceived weakness, thereby diminishing them.  This recognition is nothing new, millennia ago it was propounded by Aristotle that comedy focused on personal “weaknesses and foibles”.  ‘Normal’ jokes rely on and reinforce stereotypes and prejudice.  Behind the laughter there is cruelty, and it’s personal.

Dad jokes are benign.  Their basis is exploring words and meanings and ideas and how they play nicely together.  Dad jokes celebrate collaboration and creativity.  Behind the laughter is delight.  Which is why it appears in silhouette.

Dad jokers are special people (and they don’t have to be dads) who have the skill and ability to appreciate context, to interrogate and comprehend language, ideas and meanings, to recognise and interpret patterns and trends and explore the ways in which all these things can be recombined into something new and then deliver it, all in an instant.  It’s more than an art, it’s chemistry or, more likely, alchemy.  It’s Mohammed Ali in ballet shoes and a wizard’s cloak.  These people walk amongst us.

I contend therefore that because all these marvellous qualities express themselves in the form of dad jokes, that makes dad jokes an excellent predictor of someone’s ability to think differently, to derive profound insights and imagine innovative responses to satisfy business needs.  To add value.  Who wouldn’t want someone like that in their enterprise?

So, if you’re prospecting for talent, think a bit different and ask a question like “what gives you delight?”.  If the answer is something like “dinner with friends” then demur politely and move on.  If, on the other hand, the answer is “de switch on de wall” you know you’ve got a live one.  Play your cards right and add a dad joker to your pack because, like Parmesan, they’re the gratest.



Additional Budget? How to spend it wisely…

MONEY- this is the word that rings first when any task has to be accomplished.
Often, organisations allocate budget for projects that are considered as business enablers or enforced as mandatory changes to be implemented for that year. It’s a dream for the management that there is more money allocated to the project than what is required to achieve the project outcome. Such dreams comes true when the board realises there is money that is not yet spent for the financial year and authorise the additional money to be spent for any projects or initiatives.

It sounds easy to spend money but it’s always a challenge to spend additional money constructively to bring in positive outcomes. Spending additional budget is yet another project which requires evaluation of options, estimation, good planning and successful execution.

While additional budget is available, we also need to be mindful that it has to be spent to the benefit of the sponsor. At the same time, all stakeholders would expect the fund to be spent wisely and effectively. While there are numerous options to constructively spend additional budget, there are few options which benefits project, team and sponsors equally.

1. Invest on activities that benefit the sponsor such as Process Improvement
There is always a room for improvement in any organisation. We identify a list of improvements and in most cases, those initiatives don’t get mobilised either due to lack of funding or due to other high priority activities in the pipeline. When money is available for initiatives, it’s good to start implementing those improvements that would benefit the organisation. On implementing improvements, the organisation would realise the benefits in near future or upcoming projects and would result in a satisfactory outcome both for the sponsors and the project and eventually it would be a good learning experience for the team.

2. Identify potential future projects and invest the fund to do the initial assessment for the potential projects
Most of the projects limit their scope to what can be achieved with the allocated funding and within the expected timeframe. The tasks that are deferred for the future eventually become the scope for the a new project. Additional budget available in the current project can be used to do the initial assessment of those deferred tasks which serves as the key input to initiate the next phase.

3. Onboard additional staff and invest on up-skilling the team members and at the same time the team can contribute to the project outcome
Knowledge of a business process and technology is an asset for any organisation. On-boarding additional resources and up-skilling them during the project journey has a two fold benefit; the new member can contribute to the project and at the same time the resource can be trained in the business process which can be leveraged in the future projects.

4. Allocate some fund for rewards and recognitions
A motivated team brings in remarkable results and timely recognition and rewards ensures that the team is motivated to continue to do their good work. Some of the additional budget can be spent for rewards and recognitions while will keep up the morale within the team.

5. Organise team building activities
Teamwork is one of the top soft skills that is required to have a healthy and positive working environment. Team collaboration helps to achieve the project objectives efficiently. Team events provide an environment for the staff to interact and socialise with their colleagues out of their daily work. This helps to build a more friendly work environment, which eventually results in better project outcomes.

6. To retain skilled resources until start of next assignment.
To spend the additional funding inline with the project objectives is a tricky challenge in a scenario where you may already have enough funds to meet the project commitments. If there is a possibility to carry forward the remaining fund to the next phase of the project then the fund can be utilised to continue the core skilled team members if there is a visibility of any upcoming projects where their skills are required. This in-between time, while the next phase is yet to start, can be a good reason for the team to document their learning and prepare knowledge artefacts that can be used to train new members in future.

Ideas to spend money are never ending but at the end of the day, the money has to be spent constructively and wisely. The key success to spending money is to first get the ideas open to the stakeholders and get the buy-in from everyone involved on the option chosen to spend the additional budget. The task doesn’t end in just finalising the option. The challenge is to execute the budget plan successfully, monitoring and tracking throughout the journey and to achieve a positive closure by accomplishing the expected outcome within the budget. Also ROI and benefits has to be evaluated before starting the budget plan.

Money and business are in a cycle, spend money to improve business and improved business gives back the money. It sounds easy, isn’t it? But we all know its not in reality. So Spend Smart!

Gayathri Ramamoorthy – Gayathri is a Project Manager who joined IMA recently and has over 14 years of experience in IT industry. She has been working in IT projects in diverse domains, which includes Manufacturing, Telecom, Chemical and Food Process Industry, Financial Services. She spends her leisure time with her daughter playing interesting kids games. She has now started to explore the experience of blogging and this is her first attempt towards the blog journey.


How to be influential to your stakeholders – Part II (A PM’s perspective)

After reading the blog from Supriya (see it here), I was inspired to write a blog to discuss influencing leadership (or decision makers/ senior stakeholders) from a Project Manager’s perspective.
The way I see it, Leadership is one of the most valued assets in the corporate world. As such, influencing is one of the important aspects or subsets of leadership.

Before understanding how to influence let’s try and understand what influence really means.

Influence is commonly perceived as: something hypnotic, something about having an impact on the behaviour or change in thinking. It does indeed to a certain degree. But in the real world (read corporate world) its relevance is more about having a common goal, having a common purpose; it’s about having a strong buy-in and support for a common “motive”.

Influencing is a process of having your stakeholders acknowledge, appreciate and eventually align with the reasons to have a successful endeavour/project and the way we achieve that. It becomes imperative for a Project Manager to focus on arguably the most Critical Knowledge Area called “Stakeholder Management” in PMBOK.

1) It all starts here. BIG PICTURE. Why are we doing this project? How does it align with the organisation mission/vision? Believe it or not! “Implicit Assumptions” are made even at this stage. Elicit information from the sponsor/project owner. It all starts here.

2) Identifying the stakeholders is the key here. Consolidating a correct and complete list of ALL the stakeholders, their roles, decision making authority and their stake within the project/endeavour is the activity that needs to be taken up in the “very beginning”. Importance of this activity is often overlooked.

3) Understand the expectations. The next step is to identify what is the outcome each stakeholder expects and “how” they expect it to happen. This is the step where the Project Manager’s communications skills play a VITAL role.

The Project Manager needs to be a STRONG listener and also needs to exhibit his/her skills in eliciting the information. This indeed is a challenging activity especially if the Project Manager is unfamiliar with the environment (which is mostly the case in consulting organisations), does not understand the business terminologies (read jargon☺) and does not have a clear idea about the organisation structure. Hard truth is not everyone will open up. The art here is to LISTEN to the stuff that is not being said.

Understanding the organisation structure and reporting structure (both dotted and solid line) within the stakeholders is of utmost importance. This may help you to identify points of contact rather than chasing multiple stakeholders during the project lifecycle. This will clearly help to understand the right way of “getting things done”.

Though it is expected that the Project Manager needs to address as many questions as possible; it may sometimes be frustrating for the stakeholders answering questions they perceive to be trivial. The skill lies in striking out exact balance between understanding the detail enough to facilitate further activities BUT not going overboard. Here’s a link providing some insights on “How to ask effective questions”?

Influence and be ready to be influenced. Yes you got it right! Be absolutely open and ready to analyse new ideas, methodologies and ways of working.

Do it in closed rooms or coffee shops or while having your afternoon snacks. Do not trust your brain. Take your notes. That way you need not to be stressed while you catch up with a friend for the evening beer or two! ☺

4) Analyse. Good Morning. Make/Buy a big cup of coffee. Yes I will prefer this to start in the morning ONLY AFTER a cup of coffee! ☺

Check your notes. Analyse.

a) Identify if there are any conflicting expectations.
b) Identify what “ways” have been suggested. Try to understand the underlying reason (if you did not get an opportunity to do that in the previous step).
c) Validate your expected outcomes.
d) Analyse and identify the best ways or devise your own ways considering the impacts on the outcomes.
e) Document your suggestions and make sure the reasons are validated when you choose any particular way of working/methodology/expected outcomes.
f) Have your stakeholders engagement assessment matrix and Power Grid Matrix. Handy tools for stakeholder management.

5) Iterate. It may not all happen in one go. You may need to iterate Step 1 to 4.

6) Influence. Yes! Your hard work has paid off. You have all the data and a strong reasoning behind what, why and how you suggest doing it.

You have developed significant buy-in from most of the stakeholders and you have been successful in setting the appropriate expectations.

Things will start to MOVE for you. Of course they do!

The BIG thing you achieved is proactively addressing the issues that may have potentially surfaced much later in the project possibly leading to a SIGNIFICANT NEGATIVE IMPACT on the triple constraints of the project. You can sleep well!

Stating the obvious: Integrity and “Walking your Talk” goes a long way in having the FIRST DIRECT INFLUENCE on the people you are working with!

Here’s a bit about Abhijit. He has been in the IT industry for 18 years and has been fortunate enough to work in different areas like Education, Banking, Health Care, Telecom and Environment & Heritage. His career has seen him have the opportunity to work in different roles like a Developer, Architect, Business Analysis, Team Leader and Project Management. Highly experienced working with cross cultural and distributed teams in different countries across Asia, Europe and now in Australia. Abhijit thoroughly enjoys working in handling complex, challenging and demanding projects. He loves to travel and is a self-proclaimed foodie. Abhijit loves playing with his daughter and facing her tough questions. Occasionally he tries his hand at Table Tennis and badminton on and off.


How to be influential with senior clients/stakeholders – Part 1 (A BA’s perspective)

Stakeholder management is one of the important aspects of business analysis. In this blog, I want to share my learning on how to be influential with senior clients/stakeholders as a business analyst. I usually follow the “Five Ws and One H” format, which forms the basis of “Problem Solving”, but have modified these questions to fit the topic.

  1. Who is a senior stakeholder?

Stakeholders are people, groups, vendors or organisation who participate in the projects and have different levels of involvement and interests. They also are likely to be impacted because of the project. Senior stakeholders are those who possess the highest authority in the project environment.

  1. Where to find them?

Stakeholders can be in the office, on the field, in the factory or anywhere else. When a business analyst is assigned to the project, he /she needs to identify the stakeholders and conduct stakeholder analysis. The BA has to use multiple ways to find them.

Get the list of stakeholders involved in the project from the manager or supervisor. Talk with people to find the decision-making authorities, executives, third parties and end users. Also in IT projects, there are instances where the software systems interact with other software systems and hence it becomes necessary to find who owns these and check if they are impacted by the new initiative.

A simple method to capture this information is via Stakeholder Analysis Matrix. This matrix should contain all the required details about stakeholders involved in the project. It helps in identifying senior stakeholders and estimating their levels of interest based on how it would impact them. That will in turn help to prepare before interacting with them.

 

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  1. When to influence the senior stakeholders?

Influencing stakeholders from all levels (junior till senior) is an ongoing activity, which starts from day one of the project. Early start to this activity is always beneficial to the project.

  1. Why is it needed to influence them?

Business analysis is a critical part of a software project. In complex projects with diverse stakeholders, their different motivations might affect the delivery of the project. The BA needs to quickly resolve all types of issues and lead the way. The BA also has to keep them interested. However BAs don’t have any formal authority. Hence they must be influential enough to exercise that power informally.

  1. How to be influential with senior stakeholders?

Now to successfully influence the senior stakeholders, I follow the below techniques:

  • Communication techniques

Get to know how they want to be communicated. Some might prefer one to one meetings, emails or even phone calls. Understand which method would help. Prior to your interactions, do the homework, anticipate how the discussion is going to be and be prepared. Listen to them, take notes, analyse, be clear in communication and show willingness to act upon the points communicated by them. Ensure that desired response is received at the end from the stakeholders.

  • Focus on high-level details and avoid technical jargons

Senior stakeholders might not understand or be interested in technical details involved in the project. It is always good to give them the high level details and if they require more details then provide them. Focus on knowledge and facts.

  • Be confident and trustworthy

Be confident and show interest at all times and in all situations. There might be instances where stakeholder might come up to you and ask you for information. Hence keep your data handy. Senior people appreciate if you provide counter arguments, differ in opinions or are frank to tell that you do not have sufficient knowledge to answer right away. It makes them believe that you mean what you say. Provide evidence as to why your approach is better one if asked. Keep communications channels open, listen to what they say and be transparent. Always keep them informed on the status of the project, risks in the project, deadlines and results. This way it helps them to trust you.

  • Deliver commitments

Take responsibility of the project and stick to what has been committed. Show results to prove your competence. This shows that you care about the stakeholders and care about delivering project successfully.

  1. What are the benefits of being influential?
  • Benefits to the stakeholders: At the end of the project, stakeholders are satisfied and their requirements are implemented. They get what they need, have positive experience with project delivery and they get business value in terms of results.
  • Benefits to the business analyst: Benefits are on both personal and professional ends. It helps BA to perform better and it boosts confidence, builds credibility and leadership qualities. Further helps in professional success by creating positive relationship with the stakeholders and in creating brand value.

 

Finally, I would say that influencing senior people would require a planned approach and but keeping in mind “Keep it Simple and Sincere” principle doesn’t make this look so difficult.

 

Supriya Joshi BioSupriya has recently joined IMA as a business analyst. She is an IT professional with more than 7 years of experience and has worked on banking, automobile and healthcare domain projects. She has worked with diverse stakeholders from several countries and demonstrated good business analysis skills. She possesses good analytical, problem solving, and communication skills; always strives to deliver quality products. She likes travelling and exploring new places, cooking and spending time with family.


Learnings from an evil boss

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 12.34.58 PMWorking in the HR arena is tough! Especially in bad times. Who likes sitting across the desk from someone explaining to them that as of now your livelihood has been taken away. (I have only met person ((and catbert)) in my career who actually enjoyed it)

We are hearing lots of stories about redundancies at the moment, I was talking with one of my colleagues today about this and how we (the collective “we”) handle it. We must remember there is almost a whole generation in the workforce who have never seen a downturn. Sales people who have never seen an environment where budgets just weren’t to be found, HR people who have never had the “I’m sorry, there is just no job for you here anymore… through no fault of yours”, or candidates who have never had to find a job in a candidate rich market.. phew.

Thus the people delivering the bad news, may have never experienced the bad news before (or had to deliver it before) and may find it difficult to engender sufficient empathy to perform such a task adequately.

Poor handling of such events actually pushed me into this industry! Originally I wanted to be an HR professional. Why? because of the way a company handled my father and his redundancy. My father had worked for a company for 34 years (give or take), until in the early 90’s it was time to rationalise etc (during what one prime minister of Australia called the“Recession we had to have”) and his job was deemed redundant. How was it handled? Poorly from what I remember. Now what I remember may be a little inaccurate as it is seen through an emotional teenagers eyes. However, there was little council, little warning, little payout, little explanation, and less support. It was one of the rare times I saw my father in a very emotional state. The sole bread winner, having spent his entire working life at this establishment, only to get discarded like yesterday’s newspaper. His identity had been taken from him in my view.

My fear is that the marriage of these two points, could mean that, in these most difficult times, the handling of redundancies may not have improved.

In one of my first jobs, as a console operator at a petrol station, my boss decided to teach me a lesson. Why? I still don’t know, but the lesson was learned.

My boss at this time treated me like he was going to fire me. ALL day.. the entire 6 hour shift I had anyway. At the end of the day, he started the you’re fired conversation… I was really scared, stammering and stumbling over my words, really struggling through the conversation.

He then stopped, and grinned. “Have you ever been fired before?” he asked
“Nope” I responded nervously. “Well now you know what it feels like!” “so now before you decide to take this option with someone you know how it feels and how to respect the people you will be doing it too.” Powerful huh! This was almost 20 years ago. You know what, although harsh, and bordering on harassment, I’ve never forgotten it or the feeling.

For those of us who may have to sit in on discussions around redundancies, have the actual conversations, as well as those of us who now are charged with finding them new work, please keep a few things in mind.

Ensure you have thought of everything to prevent having to do this. Just because everyone else is, is not a good enough excuse.

Bring your empathy. Be human, and be aware that these business decisions will have real personal effects on the people hearing the news. It may not be personal to you, it will be for them… guaranteed!

Bring your respect, and give them dignity. Take your time in telling them, spell it out clearly and concisely (Don’t get in an argument though).

Expect to feel bad. That’s OK. The conversations are about them, not you. If people cry, allow them to. Give them space and time, silence is OK. Do not feel the need to fill a silent void with words.

Bring some options for them. Outplacement, agency names, something. Think about the people and what they may need before the discussion.

Be prepared for criticism and finger pointing, but again, there is no need to buy into arguments, the decision has been made.

And of course have everything organised, current and covered off BEFORE the meeting.. triple check it.

Bottom line… REMEMBER you are dealing with people (with lives, responsibilities, and dreams), not employees, not numbers, not inventory.

I read an article a little while ago which stated that

“More than 40 per cent of the Australian workforce has been made redundant at least once in their careers and for most (70 per cent) it was extremely stressful….”

The stress mentioned will be for a number of reasons, the loss of income, the loss of identity, the loss of self confidence due to the stigma attached to a redundancy.

Redundancies are not just a clear out of dead wood anymore. Good/Great people are being laid off too. IT IS A REALITY. We have a responsibility to ensure that people being made redundant know this, and as Employers, we need not to look at people who have been made redundant, actively challenge the idea that only the “Dead wood”, would be culled first. Hard business decisions are needing to be made everywhere.

OK, these are tough conversations to have, you have every right to feel uncomfortable and nervous about having them. If you are the person delivering the message…. Please remember these discussions aren’t about you, they are about the person you are talking to. Give them the respect and dignity they deserve by present for them and not just a messenger.

I am not a religious person, however the term “Do unto others…” rings true to me.



International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day 2016.

 

 

One of the greatest issues facing the IT industry today is the declining number of women entering and remaining in the industry.  The development and retention of  high performance female staff is critical to the longer-term diversity of the IT industry.

At IMA, we support the career aspirations of our female staff without expecting them to sacrifice or compromise other priorities.  The IT industry is traditionally a male-dominated workforce and at IMA, women make up close to 30% of our team (according to VIC ICT for Women, women only make up 16% of ICT roles in Australia).  We have a strong focus to enhance our workforce to better represent society as a whole, and are striving to ensure that women within IMA are fairly represented in all technical, leadership and professional roles.

Our HR General Manager, Shelley Brown says, “We have a solid number of strong, professional women at all levels of our organisation.  From Consulting to Sales to the Management team, women are an integral part of our continued success. People tell us it is a high percentage for the industry, but we just hire the best people we can for the work that we do, and do what we can to encourage, support and engage the people that choose to work with us.”

Archana Patel who has recently taken up an Account Manager (September 2013 when her client engagement concluded and as of April 2015 as General Manager of our NSW branch!) role with IMA adds that her experience with IMA “has been refreshing”.  She further says “A few months ago I was offered a position as an Account Manager within the organisation, something I am really looking forward to, and a great opportunity for me to work with IMA to put both our clients and consultants first, to ensure the best fit and exceptional client delivery.  As a woman, a minority, in the world of IT – I can’t wait for the challenge.”