This is the third article in the series 4 Easy Steps to Project Coordination. If you have not already read through the previous articles, we strongly recommend you to do so.
A couple of months ago you took bold initiative; and boy, did it pay off! You got everybody excited by a complete overview of all your Business Technology projects.
For the first time ever they have started to realise the actual workload of your team. This bought you quite a bit of goodwill from people previously hitting you with unreasonable requests. The result was a lot more focus within your team.
This euphoria has now faded, the low hanging fruit have been plucked and eaten, your team still multitasks between many tasks and projects seem to drag on forever and you are again being pulled from pillar to post.
You need to do something drastically. This huge responsibility keeps bugging you, but you don’t have a clue how to capitalise on your initial break-through.
You are not alone! Your company’s expectations of you have actually evolved and now you are facing new challenges. Let’s rather call it “opportunities”. Tell me this is not positive! What is now expected from you, is another step-up to have everyone excited again.
This is exactly what we are heading for in this article. We will systematically show you how to accomplish coordination across silos in your organisation to increase your Business Technology Project throughput.
Our first article in this series, How to take your IT Management Capacity to the Next Level discussed how to gear yourself up with the right mind-set to address the challenges in your organisation.
The second article took you through the steps of identifying Business Technology Projects across your organisation. It furthermore showed you how to properly define and categorise projects in order to have a super-informed overview that jump-starts communication to turn current problems into huge opportunities.
By now you have probably realised that you are dealing with actual business improvements, not mere technology improvements. You really need to stop thinking Information Technology (IT) and start thinking Business Technology (BT).
The IT Launchpad is not enough anymore. You now need a proper BT Launchpad and a group of people to support you in this endeavour.
Guess what, you have already defined this group in step 3 of the second blog of this series. They are your BT Stakeholders and the ones that you now need to bring on board in order to take your list of projects to the next level: from a mere projects overview to an extremely powerful prioritisation tool in the hands of key decision-makers.
The mechanism to bring them on board is by ways of a meeting.
Note: The need for having the right stakeholders around the table is absolutely crucial. If the stakeholders do not have the decision making power to start and stop projects, there is a big chance that your effort is going to be in vain.
I can almost hear you saying: “Wait a moment. Just pause for a second. Did I hear you correctly?! Are you saying that I need to lead a business meeting?”.
Yes, YOU, my dear IT Manager. It’s about optimising your work. As a matter of fact, you are most probably the one with endless opportunities waiting. You will be the person to best understand the relationship between technology and business. With the latest insights you are most probably better equipped than anybody else.
Some call it an Ops Meeting. Others call it a BT Steering Committee. You can call it a Business Improvement Meeting, but I would call it a BT Projects Meeting, as this describes the new emerging term as well as the reason for existence best and makes a clear connection between – you guessed it – Business and Technology. This way nobody says “This is not for me”.
This is normally the hardest part. Let us recap a few key points from our previous blog post
With the help and support of your “sponsor” you need to compose and send an email to the BT Stakeholders in your organisation, asking them to come on board. Depending on your organisational make-up you might even need to ask your sponsor to write the initial mail.
Here is an example of what such a mail might look like:
Subject: Establishment of Business Technology Projects Meeting
Dear Mr Flannel,
With regards to our previous correspondence I need your input again to help formalise a process that can be of even greater value to our business.
As you would know, I recently took initiative to compile a list of all the Business Technology Projects. I made it available to all the relevant stakeholders in our business and the overview we have gained and the insight we now have on resource allocation turned out to be of great value.
You would probably agree that it is natural for such an initiative to get quick wins, but as the expectations of business evolve, new challenges normally arise. I have taken this matter up with Mr. Creds and we both agreed that we need urgent input from business.
Furthermore, we both agreed that there should be a body in our business that takes responsibility for prioritising and demarcating projects according to business outcomes and available resources.
Literature also shows us that the completion rate of projects can drastically improve if we formalise such a process. You are currently aware that the completion rate is at this stage of big concern to business. But we are confident that we will solve this conundrum by establishing a structured forum of business leaders to tackle this issue.
We have identified you as a key stakeholder in this process.
I have gone through everybody’s schedule and identified tentatively the 8th of October this year at 09:30 am to be a convenient time for most of us.
Can we count on you? It will really help me a lot if you would come on board.
Our experience shows that the meeting agenda below works well for such a first meeting.
A typical agenda for such a meeting will have the following agenda points:
There are lots of generic resources out there to help optimise your business case. I found the following two very useful: The Right Way to Present Your Business Case and Structure Your Presentation Like a Story.
Be prepared to take meeting minutes as this will also add a lot of credibility to your initiative. How to Write Effective Meeting Minutes is a great resource. Have your meetings recorded, but transcribe them afterwards and save them to a central repository. Trust me, in the follow-up meetings you’ll need this.
There you have it. All the ingredients for a highly successful meeting. You have your agenda covered, you have your mind-set covered and you have your support in place. You are now much better off than the average convenor and more than ready to take the bull by the horns.
We know that you might not really have chaired a meeting such as this. Here are a few tips to start off the meeting. After that: Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride! The rocket has been launched.
But let’s now have a closer look at the meeting through the individual agenda items:
Clearly recap the purpose of this meeting. And here I would suggest putting into words something as simple as: “To coordinate Business Technology Projects”.
Communicate to them that you need their help to clearly prioritise projects and demarcate your (and by extension their) team’s workload into manageable chunks in order to speed up business.
This will also serve as a tool to set the expectations of all involved parties and the business as a whole.
Explain to them the reason why they are the “chosen ones”. Swiftly introduce the concept of Value Propositions and the need for each VP to be associated with a leader in the company. For your reference, this is all covered in the previous blog post and this prior blog by Mark Geschke.
Now we are getting into the meat of the matter:
The group should now go through the list of BT Projects that was previously identified and documented and think about how important each project is to the business.
Note: This is also the time to identify any projects that might be missing from this list. It is not ideal to add them only now, but it is imperative that you have a complete list.
Your team of business people will most probably, and rightfully so, weigh up each project in the list against the business value it provides. Assigning a simple High/Medium/Low priority to each one through group consensus is the first objective. It should not take up much time.
Remember, you can use the Excel spreadsheet that has been made available for download, but you can also use any other preferred tool for this.
Next, your group’s target now is to rank the projects marked as High Priority. The group can reach consensus on it through various techniques.
One that we found very useful is to go down the list and systematically compare one by one.
After each comparison, go to the “All Projects” sheet and sort the “Group Score: column from largest to smallest.
This step is the core of this meeting and it is imperative that you get consensus here!
The group should understand that the number of active projects at any time stands in a direct reciprocal relationship to the completion rate and that multi-tasking is killing a lot of value in your business.
Rule of the thumb: It depends on your business and your available resources, but generally you should not have more than 10 concurrently running projects. Consider less if you have a small team or more for large teams.
This is the flip side of the coin. Any projects that is not in the active list, should be stopped as soon as possible. It will be looked at next time around.
Beware that some projects might need a logical stop. Your meeting need to consider this to determine a proper “pause date”.
Congratulations! You have just achieved a major milestone that this article tried to convey. This is definitely not something that should be easily downplayed.
Many of our clients have come to this point and are just blown away by the results. The insight of identifying a limited number of active projects is getting the most “wows” in the Mastermind groups.
Projects normally enter an organisation via the yearly strategic budget planning process or they are added at a later stage throughout the year. The first we call “Planned Projects” and the latter “Ad-hoc Projects". Whatever the entry point, each and every project should be properly motivated and accompanied by a Statement of Work.
Once a year, during strategic planning, your IT Team will be fed with new projects and you will typically put them into a preliminary project schedule.
This schedule will probably have served as a basis for your initial list of BT Projects.
“In love there are no rules, only exceptions.” - Marty Rubin
In real life, you often get these party-poopers. The ones that let you say: “as soon as you think you know everything, they change the rules”, right?
Wrong, dude. You need to look at your settings of objective reality…again! You need to manage it. As this will turn out, like love, to be of huge benefit to your company. Some pessimists refer to these ad-hoc projects as “nuisance coming from the side”. Others call it “quick wins”.
The big difference is that these ad-hoc projects are just not budgeted for – neither in money nor in resource allocation. They do not go through strategic budgeting.
But that does not say they can’t be of great value and high urgency to the business.
You need to be open for the quick wins, as it will give your company some much needed agility in this day and age. So, your BT Projects Team should embrace them wholeheartedly. But be warned, as they can be quite risky if not handled with care. Just giving in to adding these projects to your schedule without scrutiny can re-introduce the much hated multitasking.
Your team now needs to decide on who’s going to make the judgement call to include them in the active list in future. Should it be on the fly or through calling a quick meeting? I don’t know all the answers. Your team of experts will know best.
If this group of BT Stakeholders are responsible for handling such cases (and in my view they should be), then you guys might consider some “filters” or “triggers” before all of these expensive guys come together just to waste their time on trivial intruders. So you might decide that at least one BT Stakeholder should second such a project before it is considered for review.
Once it is on the cards for review, the team should now carefully weigh up the variables of time, cost and scope.
Once it has been decided to include this project in the master schedule of projects, the meeting should go through the process of identifying active BT Projects as per agenda item 3.
This means that, in the case where an ad-hoc BT Project gets activated, the BT Projects Team should re-evaluate impact on other running projects. The meeting should then decide if cost, scope or time should be compromised on those projects and if one or more of the other projects need to be placed on hold to stay within the defined boundaries of active projects.
How this process is handled is something that needs to be discussed and clarified in this meeting. It may take more than one meeting to reach consensus, but this process is key to making sure you know how to handle new projects.
With this piece of ammunition in your arsenal your team will be ready to address what is perceived in the Mastermind sessions to be the most frustrating factor in project coordination. And your team members will love you for turning these problems into opportunities!
Stuff happens and you need to deal with it. Rather decide on a strategy beforehand than deal with it reactively. So you need to discuss within your group how do handle things that disrupt project outcomes.
The best way to deal with them is to make a shared list with happenings and record the decisions or recommendations by your group on it as time goes by, much like a Q&A. Some examples of things that happen:
We strongly recommend that the BT Projects Team should schedule at least a monthly recurring meeting. With this schedule, you will enable your company to deal with all new projects throughout the year.
You should schedule a recurring appointment in everyone’s calendar, but you also need to send out an invite reminder via email at least a day before the meeting.
In this reminder you need to attach the meeting minutes of the previous meeting (or include the link to the central repository). Request them to go through the meeting minutes beforehand to raise any outstanding issues in the meeting.
Also, request them to scrutinise their items on live projects overview (provide the link). This will ensure that the correct information of each project is updated and brought to the meeting.
Apart from the introductory agenda points and the initial rules-setting, the recurring meetings will look very much like this first one. The core outcome is a central, agreed-on, prioritised list of active and deferred BT projects.
Now you have done all this reading and it’s actually just about one principle: Business continuously needs to identify the most important BT Projects to create the right environment for them to be completed as fast as possible. As simple as that.
This can only be achieved if business is fully aware of everything that is currently running and in the pipeline. In the previous article we have showed you how to let all the key stakeholders become aware of all the BT Projects.
With this article we’ve taken a step further. The “view” can now become a useful “tool” for business to first identify the priority of each one and then to use that to limit the number of projects to be focused on.
Another critical outcome has been reached. We have placed the ultimate responsibility of deciding on projects where it belongs: On the BT Leaders in your company. You all should be responsible to ensure that business is improved through technology. And you all should do that collectively.
By systematically introducing and implementing the concepts in this article you will be the person to let that happen - to help make your company nimble by getting everybody on the same page and introducing mechanisms to act quickly and decisively.
But be warned: If you follow this path, you will soon hit another limit. But this is a good thing. Where there’s improvement, next challenges will appear on the horizon. You will for example constantly be challenged by business on why important, but not urgent projects are not reaching active state.
With our next blog, we will introduce ground-breaking insights on the art of balancing a list of projects. And this is where your company will gain capacity to grow exponentially.
Be ready. You have, up till now, only reached the moon. With the next article you’ll be heading for the stars!
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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!
André was a member of the Xuviate team until June 2019. He has more than 20 years of experience in Information Technology with a primary focus on designing and developing software solutions on all application tiers. Also, he has a solid theoretical background in curriculum studies and a thinker on the topic of new education.
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