Gee whiz! You read this email from Mr Flannel to Mr Creds, your supervisor. You are totally unaware of this HR project he is talking about. The decision to move HR to their new office was made a while ago. And as usual, you are the last person to hear about it. And this last person now needs to bring the ladies online!
Not exactly now - it should have happened yesterday! You just know what's coming: They will be on your case until it is sorted. This is not an uncommon situation in your company. It is so frustrating to always have to drop everything and just jump in. You really need to have this sorted out. But how?
Okay, so you have already made a few mindset alterations when reading How to take your IT Management Capacity to the Next Level and you are now in desperate need for some action.
But wait, you still have this burning issue of being seriously time-constrained and just can’t wait any longer to get into a tranquil state at the nineteenth hole.
So, here it is. The first step to tranquillity. The first quick win on the path to turn obstacles into opportunities for many busy IT Managers: How to properly define and categorise projects in order to have a super-informed overview that jump-starts communication. These are the basic steps if your projects are all over the show and you need to get in control of them… that is to get in control of your time.
Remember, this quick win will be followed by other weekly secret giveaways:
- In the next blog article we’ll present ways and techniques to prioritise projects and take you through the steps of how to get the buy-in from business stakeholders.
- After that we’ll show you ground-breaking techniques on how to balance a list of projects much like the portfolio managers in the investment sector do.
If you are one of those people who already know how to properly define and categorise projects, stay with us. We have some novel, nifty hints along the “recognising-where-I-came from” trip.
Let’s do some deep diving.
Please note that I will be using our freely downloadable Excel Template to convey some concepts in a practical way.
However, it’s best to implement the concepts in your own tool should you have one. If not, you can either use our tool to get started or look for a more advanced tool as recommended in our list of the most popular project management tools.
Step 1: Collect All the Things You Need to Do
The one thing in your way is most probably your "filing system". The one we all have with at least the following four folders: Inbox, To-Do List, Brain and Conspicuous Places. As you would perhaps know, between these traditional folders a lot of stuff falls through the cracks.
You need one place, one system from which to operate. One that catches all pieces of information and allows you to have it readily available on demand. One that you can trust in your quest to free up your cognitive processor of mere memorisation and to reserve some higher order thinking capacity.
First, you need to collect every piece of information that is keeping you busy. Find these projects and tasks from the four "folders" we referred to above, but also sources like instant messages, spreadsheets, status meetings, whiteboards and meeting notes. Take your time on this one.
For instance, you encounter an email with the subject "All Leaders Required for Mr Flannel's Meeting". Read through it and jot down the parts that have to do with projects that affect you and your team in any way. You now need to get access to the meeting notes for that particular meeting to gain more information. Okay, there you have it. An opportunity to chat through acronyms with his stylish PA!
Record all this project information on a single repository like a piece of paper, in a notebook, on a spreadsheet or sticky notes.
This in itself adds a lot of value. Not only as a base for the steps to follow, but it will instantly highlight those terrorist hiding holes out there. You now know where to look and what to look out for and should be careful to include them off the bat next time round!
Step 2: Process Your Project List
Your Different "Bucket lists"
Now you have to filter through the list. Use three buckets: "Business Technology (BT) Projects", “Operational Projects” and “Tasks” and decide where each item should be added..
As an example, take the item on your list that says “Daily To-Do's" and throw it in the “Tasks” bin.
Next, take the one that says: “Departmental Hardware Upgrade”. Chuck it into “Operational Projects”.
Next, flush “Office Move” nicely into the “Business Improvement Projects” bucket.
Once all of them are allocated to a bucket, collect all the items from the BT Projects pile to compile a list of project that you will be working on from now on. The remaining Tasks and Operational Projects will be taken into account during time allocation through a balancing act in a next blog article.
Give Each Project a Meaning
You now have to work a bit on the items of your newly compiled “Business Improvement Projects” list. Go through each and assign the following attributes:
- Name – Easy identification of project – everybody in your organisation should be able to at least in principle understand what this is about.
- State [Idea/Not Started/Red/Amber/Green/Done/Cancelled] – Understand where in the operational pipeline the project is. RAG: Assigned while project is in the active state in order to show project performance on time and budget.
- Sponsor – The main supporter of the project – often the business leader who initiated it.
- Manager – The person who manages the project.
- Resources – The individuals/teams (e.g. IT team) or companies (e.g. specific external IT vendors) responsible for completing the project.
- Start Date – The expected time the project should be started.
- End Date – The expected time the project will be completed.
- Planned [Yes/No] – Did the project go through the formal budgeting and planning process or is the project ad-hoc that needs to happen now (coming in from the side)?
- Priority [High/Medium/Low] – The importance of the project to the business.
- IT Involvement [High/Medium/Low] – IT’s contribution to the project.
- Notes – Any additional comments not included in the other fields.
The idea here is to create a mini business case (project deliverables) and status for each project, without going down the rabbit hole of too much detail. Regard this step as an absolute necessity for preparing future discussions. This is laying the foundation for transparency with others. So follow through with this as thorough as you can. It will soon turn into a huge value-add.
Step 3: Find Your Missing Projects
Make no mistake, there will be some diehard terrorists out there still in hiding state. Smoke them out!
Identifying your Stakeholders
First, you need to identify who your stakeholders are. Who, in your organisation, are the persons everybody looks to for a “Reliable, Cost Effective Platform” (probably you), “Business Process Optimization”, “Differentiation in the Market” and “Business Transformation”. We call these areas of focus the four Value Propositions (VPs) of Technology in the Business and we've assigned, believe it or not, an acronym to each one.
Each VP does usually have a de-facto leader, but often there are more than one important stakeholder per VP. You will need to identify each one of them. The Business Unit Leaders in the organisation usually also get classified as stakeholders as they do perform a technology leadership function for their department.
Anyway, for each project you should identify stakeholders along those lines. This insight will give you tremendous leverage. Those guys are your target audience; the people you need to talk to. And don’t worry, we’ll show you how to deal with them right here. We collectively will call them from here on Business Technology (BT) Stakeholders.
The easiest way to relate a BT Leader to a specific VP is to use as a guideline the areas in your organisation that this person takes natural and/or mandated ownership of.
You might also want to take the following into account while you identify the BT Stakeholders:
- In SMEs, these decision makers, aside from VP1, are often not part of the IT Team.
- It is entirely possible that you may not be able to identify a stakeholder for a VP (especially higher VPs) - if this is the case, then ignore.
- Ideally there should be different BT Stakeholders per VP, but the goal for now is to capture the current situation. So you may have the same BT Stakeholder designated for more than one VP. Record it “as-is”.
- Another ideal would be that there is only one clear BT Leader per VP, but once more please do record the situation “as-is” and identify all individuals who could be seen as leaders in the respective VP. These may include external consultants/contractors.
Getting to Know your BT Stakeholders
Have a closer look at each BT Stakeholder. You have your informants, right? Understand their impact, involvement, communication requirements, and preferences. How organised are the respective stakeholders? Do they support the project in question or are they critical of it? How influential or powerful are they? Do they prefer to be notified via phone call or email? How often? What is this stakeholder’s interest in this project? You can map your answer to the following matrix to get a better idea of how you need to approach them.
The idea here is not to have a complete portfolio of their whims and fancies, but just to prepare for unpleasant surprises. Knowledge is power!
Talking to Your BT Stakeholders to Find What Is Missing
By nature a lot of IT Managers are introverts and we are generally not the best of communicators. For me it usually helps if I acknowledge this shortcoming to others and so often I am surprised when I discover the same issue at the other end of the conversation.
There is some preparatory work that you can do to address this short-fall. Always have some rapport-building techniques at hand.
However, your fear is the one that is the big culprit. Trust me, if you get rid of this big one, then 90% of your communication issues will disappear. The only proven cure is to systematically get yourself out there. “Systematic Desensitisation” is a successful technique in cognitive therapy to address any kind of phobia. The basic principle is to not do it all at once but to address it through gradual exposure.
Another communication tool that you can include in your toolbox is that of business language. There are great online resources everywhere like this one to help you bridge the language barrier between Tech and Business.
Build up a Line of Super Credibility. This is a concept of Peter Diamandis that is worthwhile to explore.
There’s a two-step process to this:
- Use familiarity – Use the colleagues or superiors close to you to accompany you through this process. Make them help you to make contact and build rapport with the stakeholders.
- Be credible – Use the human resources above to help you sponsor your new ventures. Let them help you to compile your list and make your communication highly professional through iterations and let them reference it after it has reached maturity.
BUT BEWARE… don’t get hung up on these steps otherwise you will never get to the point of actually talking to your stakeholders.
In the end you need to communicate with the stakeholders in order to fill the gaps in your list. Ask them to help you find your blind spots in your register - projects that you have missed or projects not correctly defined or where key information is incomplete.
People generally love to help and you will be amazed how much assistance and goodwill you get when you approach most people.
This is where an email will come in handy. Remember to mention that you have already taken up this matter with a superior. Mention that superior and also ask for an appointment should they wish to discuss any gaps in your list. Tell them that this should not take up more than 30 minutes of their time and you don’t expect to have a formal discussion around it. You just need their opinion.
Subject: Input required for finalising a list of Business Improvement Projects
Dear Mr Flannel,
I have compiled a preliminary list of all running Business Technology Projects in our company and would like to have your input to find and rectify possible blind spots. The purpose of the list is to help increase collaboration and performance through project coordination.
This matter has already been taken up with my superior, Mr Creds, and both of us are of the opinion that your contribution to such a list will be most valuable.
I would like to schedule a short conversation with you, even during a coffee break or so. This should not take up more than 30 minutes of your time.
If applicable, follow up with a chat. It is important to record the session or at least the key takeaways via voice-note or a good old-fashioned notepad. You will probably not impress them if you take memory-notes nor will you do the project justice as you are almost guaranteed to miss/forget something.
And do yourself another favour and go to the meeting prepared. Know what you want to ask and do highlight the projects that are already on your list where the stakeholder or his/her teams are involved.
Update Your Project List with the Missing Information
You should now have a fairly complete list of real Business Improvement Projects that will not only be valuable to you, but potentially of immense value to your business. Keep it safe. This is expensive data and you may not realise it now, but this list is a crucial building block for your career!
Step 4: Sharing and Updating Your Project List
If you’re not already using a system, use whatever platform is known to your company to upload your document so that it is easily shareable strictly with predetermined and authenticated users.
Also, remember to make it editable for the BT Stakeholders. For that, you need preferably some change tracking.
You now need to make it visible. Send the link to each of your BT Stakeholders and provide them with an opportunity to make changes. This is email is an opportunity for highlighting resource allocation inconsistencies; a huge value-add for your business. Find your voice by raising possible concerns, using your interpretation of the data.
Subject: Business Improvement Projects List
Dear Mr Flannel,
Herewith the link for the living Business Technology Projects list as previously discussed. Thank you so much for contributing!
This has already provided me with some valuable insights. For instance, for September this year, you will see an excessive allocation of IT resources across the different projects. If not managed carefully this will inevitably lead to delays and frustrations and allows us to manage this proactively. In the list, you will also see projects that have been completed by my department but that are still marked as active as they have not as yet gone live in production.
If you know of any status change of any project since our last meeting, please feel free to change it on this central repository.
I have also had some interactions (with the help of Mr Creds) with Mr Pillar and Mrs Conduit and they are quite determined to keep this initiative running.
And last but not least. Remember to create a recurring reminder to prompt yourself and all other stakeholders from time to time to update the list of projects. Alternatively, arrange a recurring meeting with stakeholders should some of them opt for it or make this a standing agenda item if you already have a suitable platform.
This list is one of the golden threads for your organisation. A very critical point of reference for the BT Stakeholders. They just might not have realised it yet. You will save a lot of time and trouble by establishing a habit of keeping it up to date. Start forming this habit yourself and systematically drive this through your company to keep the information current.
It might well be that soon everybody will be using this tool – even for projects that have no impact on IT. We have seen this happen at several organisations where the IT Leaders implemented such a system.
One Small Step for Man…
There you have it. Going through your personal lists, you have assembled every piece of evidence that is keeping you busy. You have thrown those pieces in different buckets and identified one bucket to focus on for now. To uncover possible blind spots, you have identified and interacted with key business stakeholders. Attributing these Business Improvement Projects with necessary information helped you to give business meaning to each one.
You have achieved something quite extraordinary: By taking initiative you have raised your own profile with them! You have been noticed. Don't be surprised if leaders in your company will start using your concepts for non-IT related projects!
But the real value is that key stakeholders are now aware of all current IT projects and their deliverables that enhance real business value, i.e. Business Improvement Projects! As Peter Sondergaard from Gartner said in 2013: “Every company is a technology company”. Other people in your company may not (yet) realise this. You should now really feel good about yourself by recognising it as not trivial.
By now you and the other key business stakeholders should have a much better understanding of what’s eating your and the IT Team's time. The mere existence of this list will be of great value in terms of resource allocation, but this is only a very small step to unlock great value. We have only been scratching the surface.
Next, you will enter a new world of ways and techniques to prioritise projects for even greater business value. Again you will not be alone in this journey. We will take you through highly practical steps on how to get deep engagement from business stakeholders.
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If you have any stories about project management mishaps or successes for your business, please share them in the comments!
Thanks again for reading. I appreciate that you took the time to read this!