Jul 19, 2008

Project Progrestination

If you look around the web for the term "Progrestination" you will find a number of different definitions. It is a term that we use quite a bit when it comes to managing projects in the public sector.

For us, the term is defined as:

Progrestination n. (pro - gres - tin - a - shun) - Creating the illusion that something is progressing nicely when actually it is stalled or going backwards.

For example, when required to provide an update to my team on how our data migration project was traveling, my reply was "... the project is currently in an advanced stage of progrestination and is tracking well against stage goals...".

In other words, we are waiting for senior management and elected officials to say the magic words that will empower the project with what it needs to undertake the work (i.e. resources, money etc).

We are being told that this data migration project (and its parallel migrations being undertaken at the same time, care for a resource conflict anyone...?) is of the utmost importance and priority to enable our organization to become a unified entity. While at the same time being stalled for commitment of, well, everything.

So there we have it, the project team are currently in a heightened state of "hurry up and wait!"...

Project Impact:

Staff Morale
The mixed messages from senior management have the tendency to cause angst in the wider staff population. There is a feeling that the project team are not doing anything with the project.

Project Momentum
Any momentum we were able to create has all but gone.

Project Schedule
This project has a definite end date but the start date is being delayed. May need to review other project tolerances to find areas of compromise that will allow the project to be delivered on time.

Jul 4, 2008

Project Momentum

I guess most of you who have been following the previous posts have been wondering when we are going to get down and dirty with some data migration action... Well, not just yet I'm afraid. Is this not a blog dedicated to managing data migration? I hear you ask...

True, true, however the reason we are lacking in the data area is simple; it comes down to momentum. When dealing with a large scale project like ours, never under-estimate its power.

So far in our project, we have been trying desperately to follow sound PRINCE2 project management practices but unfortunately our organization does things its own way (often, it would seem, in spite of any reasonable logic).

We entered the Starting Up A Project (SU) process a while ago and had we waited for everything we needed (according to PRINCE2) before moving on, we would still be sitting in the SU processes. The problem lies with our senior management structure and although I like to blame them (as much as possible in fact) the issues are understandable and, to be honest, expected.

In a previous post I explained our very new and widely dispersed management structure which is only just finding its feet. This has meant that although we have the go-ahead for the project, we are having difficulty getting anything else from them.

PRINCE2 tells us that all projects need a Project Board from which the project manager takes high level direction for the project. This is especially important for us as the project manager (aka yours truly) does not have the authority to do things like commit resources from the business, commit budget funds or set enterprise level priorities. Although we have hassled senior management to get their act together, they have to sort themselves out first (there's power structures to be built and reinforced don't you know...). At this stage we have a headless

We made the mistake of waiting for senior management to catch up with our fast passed schedules and in process we have lost some project momentum. People in our organization got a taste when the project was first mentioned (dare I say, even a little excited!) but because we were not able to follow up on that initial interest, we lost some focus and attention.

However, all is not lost.

While trying to get through this stalled period, the Project Team have been madly working through the Initiating a Project Stage and many other areas (PRINCE2 purists will be horrified) taking into account what we know and making assumptions left, right and centre.

Basically we are not prepared to simply sit and wait. What we hope to do when management get their acts together, is to flood the organization with our massive wave of project planning. Before they realise it, they will be swept up in the project and we will have our momentum back!

Project Impact:

Project Planning - Positive
We have used the delay in managerial decision process to gain more planning time that may not have otherwise been available. Extra time is spent on solidifying our communication plans to ensure the momentum is regained.

Project Planning - Negative
As we are currently 'headless', our planning in some areas has been based on assumptions or tentative schedules. These may very well turn out to be invalid further down the track.

Jul 1, 2008

Project Management Software

Those who have ever attempted to set up an organization with any form of project management software will know that it's a minefield out there. So many options each with their own spin on the "must-have" features and functions needed to make running your project easier. The one thing I have found is that there is not any single product out there that will be all things to all people involved with your project.

In our case, the decision making process was all but made for us. Our organization had, at one stage or another, purchased MS Project Server but had never really implemented it. The IT unit were already using Sharepoint for a few internal team sites and I have been using MS Project for a while so there we have it. Many project managers will recoil in horror at the mention of MS Project Server but for what we needed, it should do quite nicely.

The other reason it suits is due to the maturity of our organization in the project area. We are at a time of reasonably large change and even the concept of project management software is new to some. I really wanted a collaboration platform for our workgroups and the MS Project Server solution gives us familiar interfaces and integration aspects that MS Office users seem to have an easier time adopting.

That being said, I would by no means say that it is the be all and end all in the area. I would encourage anyone in the market for project management software to thoroughly research and benckmark their options against things like:
  • Is the software likely to be a time burden or a productivity tool?
  • Is the organization or project team ready for the level of functionality available?
  • What sort of reporting does your organization expect from the project and does the software easily deliver it?
  • Does the size and complexity of the project warrant a dedicated project management software solution?
There are many, many factors to consider and a big one for us was not to make the implementation of project management software a project within a project. In the end, it was the small implementation and learning burden on the end users that sealed the deal for us.

Project Impact:

Project Team Organization
Should (and I repeat, should) see productivity gains in day to day management of tasks, activities, issues and risks. Given that our project is likely to raise a high number of issues the ability for all project team members to raise issues directly into the central repository is huge advantage.

Project Team Training
Additional time required to familiarise some subject matter experts and team members with the new software.

Staff Morale
By keeping a constant collaborative channel open, all team members are able to contribute at their own pace. Some staff may prefer to raise issues in a passive manner rather than in front of a group. It also construes the message that every team member's input is valueable.

Jun 28, 2008

Setting the Scene - Part 4 - Business Process

It can be quite amazing to see how many different ways people can think of do the same thing, we are, after all, a naturally creative species. This is truely evident in our new organization when we look at how things actually get done and the differences between the original organizations.

Business processes will always evolve over time and are impacted by many factors both internally and externally, such as:
  • Management Strategy (or lack thereof)
  • Management Reporting Requirements
  • External Report Requirements
  • Business Systems Utilised (or lack thereof)
  • Personal Innovation
  • Legislative Change
  • Technology Change
  • Business Growth

As we set out on our journey to provide a new information system platform, we find (as is often the case) that we first must address what the business does and how it does it. In many areas we find four ways of performing the same task.

In a perfect world, those of us who are custodians of the techology would be approached by the business with detailed plan, strategy, anaylsis and documentation on how they wish to proceed forward and we would say "Great, here's your system, have fun and let us know if you get stuck". In reality however, we find ourselves having to be catalyst for business process change before we can even start thinking about our system.

On a side note: We have actually been approached previously by a business unit who had their hearts set on a particual business system. When we started going down the project planning path and looked at the business case we were told "The system does everything that we want it to". Great! Couldn't be happier, until we asked "..so what is that exactly" and were told in all seriousness "Everything that it does". This logic will make you dizzy if you think about it too hard... But I digress.

Our destination information system has modules that cater for the majority of critical civic functions which means a wide and varied reach across the organization. Some business units are quite pro-active in their process change where as others may have other priorities or focus. This variation in attitude toward business processes forces our project to change from a straight data migration to a much larger business transformation project.

Project Impact:

Project Planning
Planning needs to expand overall scope incorporate products for business process transformation. These products dramatically increase the time required to complete the project as compared to a straight data migration project. It also increases the size of the project resource pool by now creating process workgroups.

Staff Morale
With this being a merger situation, there is resistance to change as many people fear they will lose the process that they have worked so hard to build and refine. The project needs to focus strongly on personal change management issues.

Setting the Scene - Part 3 - The System/s

Prior to the merger, we were four organizations with four individual business systems. We now need to be one unified organization with one unified business system. Sounds logical.

The business systems we are interested in for this project are the ones used to perform critical civic duties such as:
  • Manage property details
  • Collect taxes
  • Issue infringements
  • Manage permits
  • Take payments and issue receipts

Our cause is helped a little by the fact that City of Atlantis and New Coast County used the
same system. Green Fields County and Red Mount County also used the same system bringing the source data structures down to only two.

The other positive is that the system selected to be used by the new Atlantis Regional County
is the one that was used by the old City of Atlantis and New Coast County. So our destination system is the same as one of the sources.

One might think that this is starting to look reasonably straight forward. Once you look under the hood of each of the systems however, it is soon apparent that the configuration of the systems is different in a many, many ways. This is even true for the two source data sets using different instances same business system. The systems themselves have been configured and enhanced around the differing business processes used by the original organizations.

Not a problem, all data migrations have some element conversion involved otherwise your not
migrating, your just copying. All we need to know is what the data structure needs to look
like in the destination system and we're on our way...

"So, business, what do you want this new system to look like?"

... and the silence is deafening ...

Project Impacts:

Project Planning
The project now needs to drive the business through designing the new system, the project is no longer a straight data migration. The differing data sets may require consultant resources from the vendors to assist with getting it right.

(In many organizations, this may be handled as a separate project on which the data migration project depends. Our organization doesn't quite see it that way... Advantage is that this is now within the control of the project team. Disadvantage is that it has at least tripled the effort required for the project).

Setting the Scene - Part 2 - New Management

With the merger of the organizations comes the integration of staff into a new structure. Our merger was constrained by employment guarantees so that no-one lost their jobs as part of the process.

The entire management structure of the four previous organizations was thrown into the air and where it all landed is where it stayed. In areas where there was competition for roles (e.g. Senior Management), new roles were created for those who needed positions.

Another constraint on the merger was that no staff member would be made to relocate to another site or office. Given the wide geographic dispersal of the original organizations, the new management structure faced challenges of distance and fragmentation. In some business units of the organization, the manager has been appointed from one of the original organizations where the team that they now run did not exist or have an equivalent. That manager now has to run the team from an office 30 miles away which does help the process.

Project Impact:

Staff Morale
Staff morale in some areas is low due to issue surrounding the new management structure - more effort will be required to encourage active participation in the changes the project will bring.

Communication Barriers
In some business units the psychical distance between staff has been turned into a communication barrier - a heavy focus needs to be placed on a formal Project Communication Plan to bridge the gaps

Management Ideologies
With an expansion of the management group (approx 50 managers) as a result of the merger, there are now great variations in management styles, personalities and agendas - the Project Manager needs to invest a large amount of time in a diplomatic capacity to negotiate agreements between units regarding business activities

Decision Making
The size and fragmentation of the management group adds time onto the decision making process - project time lines need to allow for this during planning

Jun 27, 2008

Setting the Scene - Part 1 - The Organization/s

Our project takes place in the local government arena where grassroots meets politial agenda. The organization as recently undergone a massive overhaul ordered and legislated by the state government. We used to be four separate but neighbouring entities, now we are one giant and widely dispersed organization.

Our previous organizations:

City of Atlantis (Administration centre - Atlantis City) - Main economic and population centre of the region but little available land for development. Surrounded on all sides by other counties.

New Coast County (Administration centre - Oceanview) - Smaller coastal population centres around 24 miles from Atlantis with enourmous amounts of available development land

Green Fields County (Administration centre - Westville) - Outlying rural area with townships and widely dispersed population

Red Mount County (Administration centre - Red Mount) - Smallest of all counties with little infrastructure

Our new organization has been named Atlantis Regional County by the state government and is centred in Atlantis City. It includes all area, infrastructure, population, assets and staff from the four previous areas.

The merger itself occured in the recent past and now it is time to make it all work properly for our residents (... because being a local government organization, getting it to all to work before the merger was far too much to ask...)

Jun 25, 2008

The scope and context of "Managing a Data Migration Project"

Welcome to the inaugural post...! Before we get into too much detail, I would like to explain our limitations in the blog.

This blog is "based on true events" so all events reported are real. Names, identities, titles and place names have been changed to hide the guilty and protect the Project Team.

Any resemblance to any person or organization (living or dead) is coincidental.

That being said, we aim to bring your the inside action on what is shaping up to be a slow paced behemoth of a project.

It is our intention to focus on the technology, project management and people aspects of getting this off the ground and hopefully provoke thought and discussion in like minded individuals.