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Lauren Davis, a sought-after author, speaker and evangelist of Continuous Performance Improvement is the Lead Consultant at pmNERDS supporting the CPI course, and deployment of CPI Initiatives. She travels around the World facilitating CPI Initiatives and research into better Integrated PM practices.  As Lead consultant Lauren has worked on hundreds of process improvement projects in the Marketing, and IT industries and has focused on methods of process training, skills coaching, and performance mentoring. She is a certified Workfront Consultant. Her professional interests lie in the support and development of emerging markets, international projects, globally distributed development and manufacturing, competency development, and capacity planning.

Balancing Short-Termism with Systems Thinking: The Enterprise

“If there is mounting pressure to deliver short-term results at the enterprise level, then the first step in resisting the pressures of short-termism is to correctly identify their source, but what is the root cause of short-termism at the enterprise level?”

Short-termism in big business is still under debate for some people. One of these naysayers would inevitably point out that if there was really an issue then there should have been a downturn in corporate profits over the last fifty years. We’ve been doing okay, there has been a suspicious lack of such a trend, but it is also self-evident that indigenous innovation has been dropping since the 1970s. Corporations aren’t coming up with as many truly new ideas. We aren’t solving the big problems. That’s perhaps why we are still driving on non-renewable resources and all our cellphones, movies, computers, and clothes seem to be the same. So, the symptom of short-termism is not a change in profits, but the level of innovation and growth in corporations.

There are still innovative ideas, but it seems to be the trend more and more for big business to acquire innovative small businesses rather than invest in becoming innovative themselves. This conscious decision to forego innovation is solving the short-term need to put out a new or improved product, but only temporarily. The small innovative company is absorbed and constrained by the same red tape. But there is only so much a corporation can acquire before it becomes too cumbersome to react accordingly to the market.

Corporations were not always fixated on the short-term. At one time, they were a positive force that invested in their workers and new technologies, everyone was prospering, but then slowly and over the course of a few recessions, something changed. With this change, the world seemed to speed up and organizations started playing with a quarterly mindset. They had very little consideration for innovation or issues that cannot be solved in the term of ninety days. By continuously absorbing smaller companies, we are just making it harder and harder to make innovative fundamental corporate improvements, but why? What is the root cause of this disease?

The corporations that absorb small businesses are eliminating the competition. They are identifying areas for profit and revenue, as well as expediting innovation, to the point that innovation-through-acquisition inevitably becomes the cheaper option. The reality is that the pain of not doing anything right away is just as painful as when the symptoms returns. Corporations maintain this toxic loop to maximize shareholder value as reflected in the current stock price. For as long as the stock market and the government continue to operate on the short-term concepts, big business will follow.

Breaking this rather dangerous cycle might be impossible, but the ramifications can still be alleviated by first admitting that these corporations are in fact applying a quick fix that creates bigger issues in the next decade. After admitting the we are merely easing the indicators, we can start considering how to enhance long-term incentives and making slow-gestating innovative concepts less risky. In the business world, this might be adjusted tax codes, a reevaluation of corporate governance laws, and spread out compensation packages, so that perhaps we can start solving some of yesterday’s problems with tomorrow’s innovative ideas.

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What is Necessary to Satisfy Client’s Need for the Project?

“If a project planner must at least satisfy the client’s needs for a project to be successful, then the planner needs to know what’s necessary, but how do we determine the client’s wants over their needs in a project?”

As we all know, what a customer wants and needs are often two very different things. It is nothing less of an art form in many different professions to be able to discern what is more important, or in the very least, pick a side in Marshall Field’s motto “the customer is always right.”

In project management, when assigned a project, it is never good enough to leave it at face value and create only what was asked of you. Doing that won’t get you long-term praise, a solid foundation for growth, or even notoriety. To be better, you must determine if the customer wants the wrong deliverable, and then from there, gently lead them in the direction that would better satisfy their constraint. We do this through gathering information on current operations, success factors, core values, and the competitive landscape from the eyes of the customer.

This is easy to say, hard to do, because projects come from a myriad of sources. Projects can originate from daily task lists, strategic planning sessions, enterprise roadmaps, or simply a project request, but no matter the source, the first step is always the same. We need to determine the principle purpose, a list of major objectives/deliverables, standard phases, a timeline expressing due dates, and a project sponsor. It is in this first step of developing the project purpose that the true needs of the customer or the user should be separated from the desires.

To get the conversation underway and start gathering the necessary information, a project manager needs to organize meetings, first with the sponsor, and then with the client. The objective of these meetings is to listen. These are opportunities to refine our understanding of the current situation and the problem that the final deliverable is meant to solve. A strong leader strategically listens for the competitive landscape, core values, success factors, as well as current conditions. This is the information that you need to make the best project plan possible.

This delicate dance can be accomplished by presenting your initial understanding of the principle purpose and objectives. The project objectives are derived from the principle purpose as two to eight key components that the project must deliver or effect to be called a success. Each objective is a category for strategically delivering or achieving the project purpose, and therefore, the final deliverable.

The first meeting with the sponsor is designed to create a consensus before further refinement with the customer. You should present your understanding and then listen to what the sponsor and client says in response. In these meetings, ask questions designated to elicit information as well as repeat the information you have gleaned through the questioning. The deliverable of a project is not change itself, but always ushers in some sort of change to the organization. Obtaining the true project purpose is important, but delicate. Take care not to push too hard.

Any member of a project should want to answer the question, what is necessary to satisfy client’s need for the project? Why do your customers need you? Every organization needs a reason for their customers to buy from them, or use them, and not their competitors. Understanding this reality means that you can tailor your project to better match their needs rather than just their wants, so start digging for the truth.

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Val Workman
First of all, thanks for the post. In an IT organization, talking about a customer can be confusing, and talking about competition... Read More
Wednesday, 08 November 2017 11:05
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Balancing Short-Termism with Systems Thinking

“If modern economics pressures are demanding short-term results, then there is little to no time to focus on long-term growth, but how do you resist succumbing to false short-sighted solutions?”

The great wall of china took roughly 2,000 years to build. Today, it is absurd for a lot of organizations to prioritize long-term innovation or human capital investment over their quarterly earnings. And let’s face it, we will never get back to that 2,000-year mark when it comes to investments and planning, because modern economic pressures are continuously mounting to deliver more and more short-term results. It seems almost impossible to meet those short-term demands as well as achieve long-term growth, but by giving into purely the short-term, and therefore, pushing for a shorter and shorter planning phase, are we metaphorically shooting our own foot?

Inadequate planning was a contributing factor in the levies breaking in New Orleans during Katerina as well as the Galaxy Note 7 occasionally catching fire and exploding. Samsung could have had stronger quality control procedures and safety testing, but obviously, jumped a few steps to meet the market window. This malady of short-termism has infected us all; Corporate giant must acquire to survive, small business fighting fires without long-term goals, as well as high school students that can’t think past their next tweet, much less their long-term career aspirations.

The average person spends most of their time planning to the next month, maybe some the next 90 days, with little to no judicious investment in the future repercussions, and it should be said that that is no more sustainable in the long-term, than planning for the next few millenniums. It seems we must force ourselves to get better at making decisions based on long-term considerations by strategically balancing cost/resources as well as supply/demand at work as well as at home. To change our collective orientations and resist the pressure of short-termism, we must first correctly identify the root cause in any given situation, so join me in the investigation and take the first step to a well-planned future.

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Building a Healthy and Thriving Organization

“If an organization is a system like the human body, then it too needs routine checkups, but what symptoms denote an unhealthy or toxic system?”

An organization is a system of moving parts like the human body, and like the human body, sometimes an organization becomes unhealthy, and is therefore, in desperate need of a checkup. Performance improvement strategies are synonymous with providing organizations with this required checkup. At pmNERDS, we enjoy a good checkup, there is a flow and pattern to the actions, after doing for a while we start to perceive the issue before we have the proof. Performance reviews of organizations provide clarity, and over time it is clear, communication is a common point of tension in unhealthy organizations. No matter the situation, people want to have a purpose and need to be appreciated.

In the human body, cells are constantly communicating, and when a cell does not respond, fails to send the message, or responds incorrectly, much bigger issues begin to appear as a result. Diabetes is a result of cells in the pancreas not releasing or unable to receive the necessary signal, known as insulin. Multiple Sclerosis is a nerve cell communication disease in which the affected nerve cells cannot transmit a signal correctly and a similar argument can be made for cancer, excitotoxicity, asthma, as well as others.

A system becomes toxic and unhealthy when there is a breakdown in communication, which enviably leads to a lack of sensitivity and common commitment. This is true even at the individual level, our interactions with others triggers instinctual responses. It can be a positive response, being open and transparent during a meeting encourages others to be the same. This produces higher levels of understanding, collaboration, and trust. On the other hand, not delegating decisions to anyone, creates a precedent for others to do the same. This produces breakdowns in communication, high levels of territoriality, and misunderstanding.

Just like our bodies, an organization needs to be monitored for communication breakdowns. It is everyone’s responsibility to create a healthy work environment, even if that sometimes means getting an annual checkup to preemptively scan for any ambiguous symptoms present in the system. Performance improvement activities are a way to get ahead of the illness or the infection before it even has a chance to take root in an organization. We are here to make you even better.

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A Capacity Planner: How Many Can You Lift?

“If I am a capacity planner, then I am always looking for optimal functionality, but really, what do I do?”

 

Who is a capacity planner? A capacity planner gathers performance data and measures the output to determine optimal fit within the production scheduling. A person in this position is normally at the business unit level, but there are enterprise level capacity planners that look at the whole organization, such as Resource Forecasters or Resource Estimators. A business unit capacity planner may be called a Performance Manager or a Performance Engineer among other titles, but who are they really? Every job is more than just a title.

In previous posts, I have determined the best way to describe a project manager to a child is to classify them as a superhero, like Batman. So, if a project manager is Batman, then a capacity planner is a lot like Alfred, Batman’s butler. Don’t be mistaken, Alfred was way more than Batman’s routine servant. He pretty much raised him. If Bruce was being foolish, then Alfred efficiently reprimanded him. In the background, he never stopped guiding him in the right direction. This is a capacity planner.

A capacity planner can go by many different names, but at the end of the day, the goals are still the same. As a capacity planner, you are here to understand the priorities, the resources available, the true cash flow, as well as the intricacies of the time frame. Alfred understood Batman’s true priorities. Batman wanted to destroy all his foes and save every single maiden, but it took Alfred to continuously remind him that he is only one man. As one man, he only has so much capacity. This inevitably led to the introduction of Robin and later Batgirl. Batman increased his capacity to match the increasing demand.

It might seem trivial to say that the capacity planner needs to understand priority, the cash flow, the time frame and everything else, but it is more complex than you think. It is a balance of continuously fixing the past, adjusting the present actions, and planning for future growth. Planning for growth could entail adding more physical locations, adding personnel, or capital to raise for any given expansion. This plan is always a factor in determining how many transformational/major change projects you can accomplish in a year. How many projects can you really afford given the resources as well as the budget? Sure, you could run yourself and your team down, but as Alfred understood, you still must eat and sleep, even if you're a superhero. In capacity planning, you can’t invoke only major change if you have requests for maintenance/utility or compliance mandate projects.

Your business unit and organization needs a continuous spectrum of projects. If you can do three transformational projects given your organizational constraints than you would need to sufficiently space them across the next few quarters. In between these major projects, you always have a spot for last minute projects or required maintenance projects. A capacity planner is working to design an optimal project schedule by weighing the risk, priority, cash flow, and organizational capacity.

Capacity planning involves looking at what resources are being utilized and making sure these are being allocated correctly for optimal functionality. Managers with this mission are leading their Batmans’ in the direction that means success and growth of the organization by considering the priority, resource availability, and the fluctuating cash flow within a given time frame. Alfred is the only real father figure Batman has in his life. The one force that Bruce Wayne knows will always have his back in any situation. He is the man behind the man. He is the capacity planner.

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Capacity Planning: How Much Can You Lift?

“If I invest significant resources to capacity planning, then I understand the production capacity needed to meet the changing demands, but I am not sure what capacity planning really entails.”

My morning is never complete without a cup of coffee. So, when I first came across the term “capacity planning,” I automatically went to my regular morning struggle, how much coffee can I put into this travel mug without burning myself? This might seem trivial, but it is a delicate process. How big is the mug? Do I want to leave room for cream? How much cream? If your calculation is even slightly off you burn yourself at some point, have a subpar cup of joe, or you managed to cheat yourself out of some coffee.

After some research, I now understand that capacity planning is slightly more complex than filling up a cup of coffee. Capacity planning is the process of determining the production capacity needed by an organization to meet changing demands for its product or services. The goal of capacity planning is to understand the capacity of the organization, and the demand of the customer, to minimize a discrepancy between the two forces.

If only it was as easy as filling your travel mug in the morning, but really, most of capacity planning comes down to two questions. Given the resources I have, how many projects can I do? Given my projects, how much resources do I need?

You might be reading those two questions and think it is that easy, but just like pouring coffee, there are lots of variables involved. The cream to coffee ratio and the size of the travel mug, turns into skill sets, number of projects, strategic plans, as well as the number of resources. If the path to high performance is a pipe, then each of these variables are something blocking the flow.

The key to successful capacity planning is identifying the biggest blockage. You could have a reasonable number of employees and projects, but have a gap in the job roles that can be filled by your resources. Alternatively, you could have resources that are being severely overworked. You have too many projects and not enough resources, in which case, you can reevaluate the number of future projects that can be attempted. The first step to unplugging the pipe or filling that mug is to understand what you have, and what you can do with it, and that is capacity planning.

The luckiest of us out there no longer need to worry about filling up our coffee mugs to the appropriate level. We have Starbucks or an automatic machine that fills our cups to that perfect full, but not too full point. If only real world capacity planning were the same way. The more you understand the more you can plan for at your organization. Capacity planning ensures the long and short term success of key business initiatives at a reduced cost, and who doesn’t want that?

 

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Capacity Planning: How Long Can You Lift it?

“If you want to determine the production capacity and the plan necessary to meet the changing demands for its products and services, then you have done sufficient capacity planning, but what strategy and steps were taken to develop your plans?”

It should be self-evident as to why an organization should care about capacity planning. No one wants to be in the situation where they have tons of people with nothing to do or to have too many projects and not enough people. As work piles up you are unable to become more efficient or grow as a company. You are unable to do much more than fight the fires. A company that has done sufficient capacity planning understands their priorities, the resource availability, the cash flow, as well as the intricacies of their time frame. Every project matters!

The repercussions of a poorly planned product launch are not just some unplanned operational costs, but a battlefield of ruthless customer reviews as well as negative impacts on the company’s image. The goal of capacity planning is to reduce that possibility, by minimizing the discrepancy, and provide satisfactory service levels in a cost-efficient manner. In other words, you are checking the system, and determining if you have the roles and skills needed before scheduling the work. Regardless of the situation, capacity planning involves three basic steps:

  1. Determine Capacity Requirements: Understand what will need to be supported.
  2. Analyze Current Capacity: Determine if it is meeting the organizational requirements.
  3. Plan for Future Capacity: Forecast future business activities and requirements.

There is lots more that can be said about each of these steps, but to begin you must understand your limits. After that is determined, you can start to understand your organizational constraints, the true project priority, and further speculate on production holdup. Companies use one of four general strategies to determine the production capacity, and produced the plans necessary to meet the changing demands for its products and services:

  1. Lead Strategy: Loading the system in anticipation of an increase in demand. The Lead strategy has the goal of luring customers from your competitor by improving service level. You are ensuring that the organization has adequate capacity to meet all demands even during high growth periods.
  2. Lag Strategy: Add the capacity after demand has increased beyond existing capacity. This strategy decreases the risk of overbuilding, greater productivity due to higher utilization levels, and the ability to put off large investments, but it may result in the loss of possible customers due to the product being out of stock or low service levels.
  3. Match Strategy: Add the capacity incrementally in response to changes in demand. This is a more moderate approach to reach the same advantages as in the lag strategy.
  4. Adjustment Strategy: Add or reduce the capacity in small or large amounts due to the consumer’s demand, or do major changes to product, or to the organization.

You made the resources available to really look at the capacity and demand in your organization. You even allowed others to adjust a few of the associated variables such as hiring a new copywriter and adjusted a few projects. So… you’re done with capacity planning? Right? Not so much.

We live in a fast paced world were nothing ever stays the same for too long. The capacity is defined as the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained. This could be about the amount of data on a hard drive, or the maximum amount of work that an organization can complete in each amount of time. It is important to know those numbers, but it is more important to know that capacity requirements can fluctuate between peak and limited demand. You might not require the same number of resources in normal operations as you do in peak demand. You are only human, to ensure the success of business initiatives and reduced cost, capacity planning should be actively done semi-annually, but with this concept, should be continuously in the back of your mind as things change!

 

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Market Sensing: Customer Satisfaction

“If I gather market sensing information with the concept of customer satisfaction, then I understand the market’s perception of my product, but I am not sure how to gather such information.”

The motto “the customer is always right” was popularized by highly successful retailers like Marshall Field in the early twentieth century. They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously even if they can sometimes be dishonest, unrealistic, and/or greedy. This concept did not seem to have too many benefits for the business owners, so why? What did these men really get out of it?

Customer satisfaction is one of the three groups for gathering evidence to determine your sense of the market. Market sensing helps to discover your competitors within the market, the market forces and behavior, and the market’s perception of you. Customer satisfaction is largely the latter. It measures how products or services supplied by a company, meet or surpass a customer’s expectation.

The point is to gather honest information from your customers about their feelings on your product. Some of the customer satisfaction techniques include the following:

  1. Enhancement Requests: The users provide noteworthy improvements after reviewing the product or services.
  2. Customer Surveys: This method is all about constructing surveys and selecting respondents for specific targeted market segments.
  3. Net Promoter Score: This is an approach to measuring and quantifying the level of your customers’ satisfaction. It involves a quick questionnaire, that gathers a small amount of data to monitor your customer standing.
  4. Lead User Analysis: This approach engages your users in testing and evaluating new products and services by bringing them in early during the development process.
  5. Voice of Customer: This method helps teams balance the customers’ voice with their expertise.
  6. Sales Force Inputs: This method leverages the Sales Force to gain insight and direction for increasing customer satisfaction, including modifying the sales process.
  7. Employee and Business Units: Use those closest to the work to gather market evidence and ideas for customer satisfaction.
  8. Creativity Events: This method leverages many different disciplines for creating high-performance teams, and driving them towards solutions of specific market needs to produce an enhanced innovation process.
  9. Beta Trials: This method encompasses many varieties of pre-launch activities leveraging customer/user engagement to test the product.
  10. Defect and Issue Tracking: Tracking the defects and issues to leverage for use in customer satisfaction initiatives.

Marshall Fields and company understood that the customer is always worth listening to, and therefore always right, because knowing the customer’s expectations provided them with a metric that they can use to manage and improve their businesses. Customer satisfaction is a point of differentiation in the market, it provides indicators for customer intentions, it increases customer lifetime value, and reduces negative word of mouth.

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Market Sensing: Competitive Analysis

“If I do successful competitive analysis, then I understand myself, the competition, an acceptable price, and the correct positioning, but I am not sure of the techniques for gathering the correct information.”

Competition in any form always seems to bring out everyone’s inner Ninja, and at least for me with Ninjas, comes Sun Tzu.

Regarding competitive analysis, it is vital to remember at least two of Sun Tzu's more famous teachings:

-To know your competitor, you must become your competitor.

-If you know the competitor and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the competitor, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the competitor nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

OK, so maybe it was an enemy, but competitor fits this situation a lot more…

To digress, competitive analysis is part of market sensing. Market sensing helps develop a relationship of understanding with the targeted external market. This includes your competitors within the market, the market forces and behavior, and the market’s perception of you. That is a rather large deliverable, specially sense it is unique in every situation. The practice of market sensing incorporates many different information gathering techniques that can be sorted into three distinct groupings; market analysis, customer satisfaction, and competitive analysis. Competitive analysis being the method that helps to determine the acceptable price and positioning.

Like Sun Tzu stated, war like competitive analysis, is all about understanding yourself (or in this case your product) as well as its place in relation to the competition. The idea is to keep close tabs on your competition and stay ahead of the curve, like a Ninja. Comparing yourself to others is not about assimilation, Sun Tzu is not suggesting becoming something you are not, you want to be unique, but to be both exceptional and successful, you need to know what you are up against. Knowledge is power.

There are all sorts of software out there for the competition analyst, but the information gathering techniques behind such tools remains relatively stagnate. The more readily used are as follows:

  1. Win Loss Reports: A sales report that provides insight into why a business opportunity was lost or gained. What did the competition have or not have?
  2. SWOT Analysis: Typically used throughout new product development, this method is determining if the enterprise and market is ready by understanding your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  3. Benchmark Analysis: This measures the quality, time, and cost of a practice or performance metric to others to identify gaps in the organizational processes.
  4. Driving Force Analysis: Identifying the current trends and key forces in the market place to provide insight into future product and service offerings.
  5. Fundamental Competitor Research: Determining the market size, value, and demand to compare to other market segments, so that better product and planning decisions can be made.
  6. Sales Force Reports: Leverage the market information coming into the sales division to make better development decisions.
  7. Partners, Alliances, Suppliers, Distributors: Use your partners as a source of competitive information.

To be a Sun Tzu Ninja, you need, above all else, to understand your product and know who the true competition is. From that point, you can use techniques to determine what works, their strategy, and then position yourself accordingly. Competitive analysis is an asset to any Enterprise, because it can be a source of inspiration for new ideas, new directions, and confirm or help to improve some of your business practices. So be the ninja of your market segment!

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Market Sensing: Market/Client Analysis

“If I want to release a new product or service, then I need to do some market sensing, but I don’t understand what it means to understand the past, present, and future market needs, opportunities, risks, and demand for an offering.”

Do you remember a truly awful new product hitting the market? I am not talking about something that did not work, more like something that you can’t imagine anyone buying and you strongly question how it made it into stores. Well, it most likely made it so far because, the company that created it didn’t spend enough time or effort on market sensing activities. One such product from my childhood was Orbitz soda. It looked super cool. The drinks were modeled to looked like little orange, red, and white lava lamps. I was so excited when I saw them at the store for the first time, but then I tried it… not good. It tasted like sealed plastic cough syrup. The aesthetics were perfectly on par, but Orbitz soda must have completely skipped the taste test. I, by no means, had good taste at six, but that does not mean I was willing to ever swallow plastic cough syrup again, and it seems neither was any other kid.

Market Sensing is an allusive beast for many big and small corporations. It is even a little bit of a stretch to ever expect to be able to say it out loud and everyone know what you’re talking about. I normally get blank stares, but it is an important topic. Market sensing are activities in analyzing and gathering past, present, and future market intelligence on the needs, opportunities, risks, and demand for a new product. These activities are the Salesperson's Win/Loss Reports, the customer services’ processed Enhancement Requests, the marketing offices’ Marketing analysis, and many more.

Market sensing is about developing a relationship of understanding with the targeted external market. This includes your competitors within the market, the market forces and behavior, and the market’s perception of you. Some might put this concept in a little box and call it market research, but market research is one of three main categories within market sensing; market analysis, competitive analysis, and customer satisfaction. Market Sensing is not just interview questionnaires, or feedback forms, but trend analysis, tracking defects/issues, as well as studying the competition.

You want that kid to not only buy that lava lamp like soda, but forget all others, and come back for another one. A company is doing market sensing when they conduct exclusive events for customers, develop a community for suggestions as well as feedback, and when they prove that they are committed to fulfill the customers’ requirements, but this is difficult to do successfully.

Before you can increase your competitive advantage with market sensing, you need to understand the five important concepts that form the acronym D.A.N.C.E.. pmNERDS has a whole course on Market Sensing, but before anymore can be said, market sensing is not a one-man job, you need many different advocates with different points of view… this is a team sport.

D is for Differentiation: You need to impact customers' margins by making the client or customer look good.

A is for Anticipation: Plan to set the bi-directional expectations for your audience and don’t forget to give them increasingly more reason to continue watching.

N is for Nudging: You should plan the desired reaction of activities and leave them wanting more from you in the future.

C is for Cost-Position: Be aware of your cost, time, and effort in relation to the competition. Understanding your position roughly compared to others before hand is imperative to success.

E is for Echo Chamber: Finally, don’t listen to yourself, success means that the idea you sent out comes back to the you from another source.

Market sensing allows you to increase customer loyalty as well as your competitive offerings by successfully building a process to gather and manage the life-cycle of market evidence. Understanding this capability ensures that you won’t have an issue identifying new market opportunities, because you obtained an understanding of your customer needs, rather than just blindly processing ideas. Remember no one wants to drink plastic cough syrup again, so start deducing the meaning and direction from market contradictions and noise as you process various forms of market evidence. 

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Project Planning: Coordinate Workflow

“If I establish a coordinated workflow, then my project team is operating effectively, but I am not sure how to prevent a tactical error in the execution phase.”

I am not much of a football fan and that’s a possible understatement, but I do remember the total devastation of the people in 2006, when Tony Romo fumbled the ball as he tried to catch the snap and set the ball down, in the game against Seattle. Romo was so close, it was 21-20 in favor of Seattle, and a field goal could have won the game for the Cowboys, but it wasn’t to be. He messed up the handoff and any amount of scrambling couldn’t have saved the game.

Fumbling is not limited to sports, it sometimes happens in the middle of projects too. The plan can be in place and the instructions clear, but the ball still dropped in the handoff between team members. So, why do such things happen?

In football, there are a million moving parts, there are all the tactical variables on the field as well as so many more present before the game even starts. The same can be said for project planning and project management, so it is important to go in with an understanding that you can do everything right, but sometimes the project still fails. This is because there are so many pieces, and there are only so many opportunities where you can ensure that the ball is in play, but this reality doesn’t mean you can’t increase your chances for success…

A couple of the most noted reasons for project failure are over allocated resources and unreliable estimates. This is the tactical side to creating a project plan. On a project plan, estimates are very often guesstimates on how long it took or cost me to do this last time. Having a completely inaccurate estimate can lead to a flawed schedule, increased risk, or an inevitable likelihood of overshooting the budget. To accurately estimate how long or how much a project takes requires a little research as well as capacity planning. In other words, understand the skills available to you and the effective resource limits of the organization.

You need to know how many projects your team can be working on at any given time, before the duration time taken to complete the task, needs to be increased. At the same time, this should give you a better idea for when to increase your contingency time or project risk budget. This process should also shed some light on understanding who should be given this task- who has the time and skills to complete this task?

No one ever said a touchdown is easy every time. Understanding your team’s capacity takes lots of effort to understand, so having access to good historical data on previous projects is a major bonus. When making estimates you should be trying to gather as many points of reference as possible, before putting pen to paper. Simply having your team members guess is never going to be as accurate as reviewing similar projects, understanding the capacity of your team, as well as having them give you a number.

So, we agree? It is important to build a coherent, accurate, and logical plan. Yet, all that can still be for nothing if you don’t have good leadership and management practices. This is the more strategic, pregame preparation, to being a leader. It is you, the customer, and the sponsor gathering project information, creating a charter, and strategically aligning the project. Defining the final deliverable in these processes is integral to accurately creating your budget and schedule, but your team should be part of the preparation too. They should be right next to you as you are building your project plan, because it creates genuine ownership, motivation, and understanding.

As you empower your team, consensus becomes more and more valuable. Reaching a point where everyone agrees, means that you not only have a higher chance of getting the job done, but that any fumble in the process with be avoided that much more.

Having coordinated workflow, where people understand the process as well as know the project was planned correctly, means that your team and your business unit is operating efficiently. This translates to fewer project failures, more opportunities to be innovative, and who doesn’t want that? Now, let’s pass that ball and get a touchdown!

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Project Planning: Setting a Solution Vision

“If I determine the solution vision, then I can develop a collaborative project environment that adapts and changes, but I am not sure what it means to have an effective or efficient project team.”

When you see the term “solution vision,” you might think I am talking about nothing more than an idea to solve a problem, but it is more than offering a solution or highlighting the value of something. A solution vision describes the target audience of the solution, what will be satisfied by the solution, what the key benefits will be, as well as differentiating it from alternatives at the same time. In a project, this is embodied in the project plan, but to reach it, you’ll need a coordinated team that efficiently collaborates. How, pray tell, do you do that? Well let’s find out.

“Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”

-John C. Maxwell

To prevent the possibility of having a “bad team,” you must have good leadership practices in place before the team is formed. As a project manager, it is important to understand that people own what they participate in creating. When we invest our time, energy, and selves into creating the project plan as a team, we take ownership, accountability, as well as self-assigned determination in making sure that it is successful.

To take ownership, your team must understand the purpose of the project as well as their place in the project, so make it clear in the project plan, as well as individual assignments. By building a team that understands, you are engaging their minds as well as their hearts. They are motivated to push forward as a team. But to ensure smooth sailing, it is always important for you to have a plan for conflict resolution, decision making, idea generation, monitoring, as well as project planning.

Having a plan in place at the beginning creates a structure for systematically handling any issue that might arise during the project, but you should still be very aware of the project environment. You should attempt to create an area of mutual respect and trust, so honor diversity, keep commitments, be honest, and show your appreciation for the contributions of everyone on the team. Empower your team to succeed, is easy to say, but hard to do. It will take lots of time and effort, but it is worth it!

A goal in building a project plan is to capture the actionable behavior of the project. A single successfully designed and executed project plan will mean more growth and further triumph. Using a solution vision to create a collaborative project environment means that it will be easier to adapt, change, and be more competitive as time goes on, so start harmonizing and succeed!

 

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Project Planning: Know What it Will Take

“If I do project planning successfully, then I’ll have a focused project objectives and a clear project plan with correct approximations of the necessary features, time, and resources, but I am not sure how to anticipate the project needs.”

You’re probably still a little confused on what I mean by “project planning.” I’ll tell you that is normal, it is not building or helping to build anything, that’s project management, which comes after you’ve sufficiently planned. In project planning, you determine the benefits, time, function, money, and resources needed to complete the job. Have you ever seen a half-built house that never got finished? There is a good chance that they did not accurately estimate cost, time, and effort necessary to build the whole home.

Building a "house" is a big project, but how big, exactly? That depends. Do you need one or two floors, how many bathrooms, etc. What will it take to make the future "residents" (aka your customer) giddy with excitement at the mere thought of “coming home." Next, to understand how long you’re going to be working on this house you’ll need to do some research. Ask someone who has done the task before as well as potentially create a prototype. Logically, the next step after time is the budget, how much is this going to cost you? To do it, you need to know who is doing the work, what materials are needed, as well as the time it will take to complete each task. Finally, the competing demands of feature vs. time vs. money, need to be balanced against the realities of your market, budget, and resource availability.  The scale of this project should be daunting and highly compelling, but doable by the time you are done estimating and adjusting.

At pmNERDs, we believe in the importance of planning so much that we have a whole online course devoted to project planning called the Project Planning Essentials and it’s FREE. In it we discuss how to correctly gather the essential project information and then correctly estimate the time, resources, and functionality required to deliver a successful final product.

Yet by the end, you’ll know exactly what it will takes to build that big beautiful house, because the goal of project planning is to have a solid foundation for what you’ll be doing, who is doing what, how long, as well as how much it will take to complete the project. An accurate project plan helps track your progress, get team coordination/collaboration, get focused project objectives, and help you improve as you grow.

So gather the approximations, gain the control, motivate the masses, and start planning!

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Project Management: Governance & Approvals

“If I want to have a focused project with a uniform approval process, then I need to have strong governance principles, but I am not sure how to build a foundation of good governing practices.”

When I hear, someone mention the term “governance,” I automatically think about men in powdered wigs standing around shouting at each other. I can’t really tell you why my brain automatically goes to the 18th century, but the term, governance, nevertheless speaks to the same set of policies, regulations, functions, processes, procedures and responsibilities that define an establishment, a government governs their people.

In the project world, it is the management and control of projects, programs, and portfolios. In this governance, the goal is to provide clear and uniform oversight of projects at the management level by formal review and strategic decision-making. A review is an assessment by upper management as well as the uniform evaluation of deliverables as they are being constructed.

A good project manager is not only someone that can communicate effectively, but that has the forethought to continuously prepare throughout the project cycle. Good governance has been a serious topic for centuries, so there is lots to it, so let’s put on our powdered wigs and contemplate actions that would build clarity and establish harmony during a project…

As I mentioned before, there are many different types of governance. Corporate governance defines your organizational line of authority and responsibility, the true powdered wigs. You need project governance to ensure that your decision-making process is as streamlined as possible. Establish a clear line between the two. This will help to define your own line of command for yourself as well as your team, because this is not a short process, project governance starts at the very beginning with the business case and continues past the final review of the deliverable.

In the beginning, with the business case document, you are making a case for why this project should be accomplished and what the exact benefits will be. If these points are not stated clearly up front, then there is little chance you’ll gather the support or teamwork necessary to produce a good product, so no point worrying about governance. At the start of every project, you and your team should have and understand this clearly defined purpose. With this purpose, your team has a focus and can, therefore, single-mindedly create goals for the project cycle.

As the primary wig wearer, how are you going to communicate? Who is going to approve what? This should be established early in the project. You should have a communication plan for all key stakeholders, including your sponsor, the client, the team members, as well as all the other important stakeholders. This is sometimes a regular email or meeting, but rather than taking sole responsibility, you can assign spokespersons to key stakeholders, but updates should remain separate from approvals.

You should have a clear division so that when decisions are needed, setup focused sessions with this select group only. If you include decisions into broader sessions which involve your other stakeholders, the session will become more about getting people up to speed, thereby losing focus and negatively impacting your ability to get to a decision point quickly & efficiently. Having both established at the beginning, promotes project confidence and stability, since you won’t be scrambling to put anything together in the middle of everything else.

Even in the 18th century, people had to work for their wigs, because they were a sign of maturity and authority. Attaining a sense of ownership as a project leader is a similar process, but make sure that the team feels that some ownership is important. After you and your team possess it, you have a single point of accountability promoting empowerment and ownership. You successfully ensured that nobody should be standing around confused about what they should be doing. To get that ownership, everyone should know from very early in the project who is needed for which type of decisions and why. By defining this upfront you’re ensuring less confusion further down the line should an issue or critical decision point bubble up unexpectedly.

The formation of good project management practices takes time, and this is just the beginning of true and meaningful project governance. Yet, building a project foundation with these qualities means that your project has focus, and a uniform understanding of what is expected. You want good governance, because it provides you and your team with solid accountability, strong strategies for project formation, honest disclosure, a definite Business Case, as well as the ability to terminate the project. So maybe governance is not all guys in powdered wigs yelling at each other, because the gentlemen of the 18th century did not have true accountability or honest discourse with each other. The men of the wig wearing period did some incredible things, but in regards to governance, the modern project manager has a slight advantage.

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A Coordinated Project Manager

“If I become a project manager, then I am responsible for the success of the project, but I am only one person and there is a lot of things to do.”

When I was younger I never said, I want to be a project manager. I doubt very many teachers hear a child mention “project management.” There are the unique few that make the declaration and seek out a career in project management, but that is only after some research or encountering a PM professional.

Most of us are accidental project managers. We were successful engineers, technicians, and salespeople who got asked to head/lead/or manage a project. We, therefore, do not come into it knowing that being a project manager means that you sometimes have lots of responsibility without much authority, or that you should quickly build a significant tolerance for interoffice politics. So, it is also not surprising that some new-comers walk into the position with the idea that everything depends on them.

The project manager is responsible for the success of the project, so as the PM, you are the person who can do the best job of planning and controlling the project. The project manager conducts the planning effort and then delegates tasks to the team members. You then need to closely monitor that everyone is completing their tasks on time, as well as solve any issue that come up.

Running a project where you are the sole planner and director, means that you can be creating longer phases (you’re only one person), a confused project team (no hyperlink to your brain), and little genuine team ownership or commitment to the project. No one ever really tells you that managing a project doesn't have to be that hard.

A project manager can be the facilitator rather than the director of the project management process. We usher the team through the different steps, and together we monitor the progress of the project as the work is completed. We plan and make decisions as a team.

With this management style, I am creating an environment of trust and creativity. More ideas and solutions are generated. I want my team to have a deep understanding of the project as well as their place in the project, because that creates ownership which strengthens commitment and accountability. Who doesn't want higher morale, less rework, and increased project performance?

At pmNERDS, we understand this distinction and take it a step further with a holistic approach to project management that we call Integrated Project Management. This brings together all project management practices to form one holistic management process. We are PMs, project, product, program, and portfolio managers. We recognize the interconnections and correlations between those roles. We bring them together to create real solutions to the problem with systems thinking using the Scientific Method, Management Science, and Operations Research. Be sure to check out the Planning Essentials Course if you want more information!

Even an accidental project manager can become a great project leader. You need to just accept that sometimes, it takes a village to come up with a truly innovative product or process. Don’t just be the project director, be the project facilitator, or better yet be the pmNERD, because you could be leveraging all the tools and the diversity of talent available to you to be innovative and be that much better at project management.

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Project Management: Anticipate the Problems

“If I am a project manager, then I am a superhero, I have aligned the project and team towards a singular goal, but it takes lots of practicing, planning, and monitoring to get really good at project management.”

What is a project manager? How can I explain it to a child and why in the world would I need to? These are the questions that should be explained before diving into any grandiose statement about what should or should not be done in project management. These are valid questions, because for all but the fortunate few, most do not even encounter a project manager until faced with a major corporate project or problem.

We are the problem solvers, but before you can go into anymore detail, what’s a project? Are there limits to what a project could be? To a project manager, a project needs to produce a deliverable, involve stage sign offs, and last more than two weeks. Each project requires at least one supreme leader to use tools, techniques, skills, as well as their own knowledge to meet the requirements through management processes. This is the project manager.

So, in the comic book world where most modern kids live, a project manager bravely sweeps in aligning and uniting the people to accomplish a common goal, like a superhero. It is a pretty important job. We drive organizational success and add value by adhering to PM methods, strategically reducing risk, cutting out inefficiencies, all while producing the necessary deliverable. If I am a real-world superhero, how can I possibly live up to this courageous parallel? How do I bring a project team together, plan for the worst, speak boldly about outcomes, as well as seamlessly monitor each detail? Well, no one becomes a renowned superhero or project manager overnight. Everyone starts somewhere.

There are six basic things that any project manager needs to monitor in each project; the scope, schedule, resources, budget, quality, and risk. If these areas are accounted for and well-managed, then I am a successful project manager. Although, to be a real hero and savior I need to have the discipline to build, run, and handle a high-functioning team. In other words, to master this level of valor, I should possess effective leadership and management practices.

But before we get too bogged down in the project management activity and character checklist, it is significant to acknowledge that most of our modern superheroes had to work hard to be their amazing selves. Batman is a psychologically damaged philanthropist who spent a good amount of his time practicing, planning, and monitoring the world around him. Project managers should be putting in the same amount of work.

Yet, don’t forget that even Batman lost a few fights, and that’s okay, because a good disciplined project manager prevents a company from spending money on a project that will fail. We can perceive the risks and hurdles by never skipping over the planning phase. The planning phase is answering the question, can I reach this finish line given the budget, scope, and schedule of this project? What type of risks are present in the situation? What needs to be monitored during execution? Don’t be fooled, Batman never jumped off a building without internally answering these questions. If, on the way down, something did not go as planned, well, Batman had a well-planned contingency plan in mind.

As project managers, we are asking the big questions and solving the major problems, so the planning phase should never be avoided, governance is never not significant, and assessing risk happens throughout the life of the project. I know that I want to be that superhero who knows how to seamlessly deliver outcomes, speed up processes, and measure results. I am a project manager.

I AM BATMAN.

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