It was always going to be a challenging project. The end users had the attention span of a gnat. The delivery was to change their way of working significantly. We knew we were looking at an uphill battle of acceptance, agreement and adoption. But it was a transformational project and had benefits beyond the front line use (CRM).
My key sponsor knew how to play this landscape and knew how to navigate the culture and habitat of the business. As such he drove an extremely hard line on the project team and maintained a level of focus and engagement that ensured that we did the “right things”, not always “did things right”.
As the project manager this approach often conflicted with the fundamental way minds work in an engineering project discipline. It clearly did not sit well with the project team. “Where is the best practice?” rang in each team meeting, “this doesn’t work with the deliver dependencies in the plan!” Somehow we needed to find common ground and understanding with the business and agreed demarcation of decision making and domain respect.
I was accountable for the delivery of the solution. It had to meet the business needs but also needed to be sustainable and workable across the wider solutions and process platforms. It also must protect the long term ROI by the manner in which we engineered the solutions for several international areas of the business.
Some environments can tolerated the “do the right thing” v’s “doing things right” approach and other will push back. The birth of Agile PM as an example has been bastardised from it pure efficiency gains into a delivery expectation paradigm which is wrong, wrong, wrong. It places business, projects and outcomes at risk by setting expectation that do not align to a design and puts avoidable pressure on all sides of the project. Some things we build need foundations; it isn’t just painting and decorating!
However, in this instance my sponsor had the positioning bang on and influenced the way I priorities and multitasked the project into what would “curry” favour with key stakeholders, answers their concerns and keep the project from by flushed down the loo! The key was to make an early deliverable to the end user communities and make an immediate and important win whilst building solid reputation and greater tolerance of the project for doing thing right going forward.
I must confess, at the beginning of this journey this approach created some degree of challenge for me and great anxiety for the team. It went against all my experience and best practice as a PM. I was tasked with managing a delivery whilst my sponsor was tasked with delivering an outcome. I have since come to realise that these in essence are one and the same.
So over too many drinks one night this miss-alignment resulted in a heated debate (constructive and open) between us. My sponsor resolved it by setting me a test. This proved his point and influenced how I would assess delivery forevermore.
“You have been out all night drinking copious amounts of beer. You’re hungry and in desperate need of a toilet. You grab a microwave curry on the way back to your flat. Keys in the door into the hallway and you see that you have some messages on your answerphone (those were the days). So you’re hungry, desperate for the toilet and there are messages waiting for you. What do you do first?”
I’ll leave you to work out what is the correct answer and please let me know by leaving your comment below,
Suffice to say this approach has continued to influence my thoughts and approach in engagements and project management. Where there is a clear need for “quick wins” that conflicts with “best practice” it is important to find a way forward that allows leveraging greater stakeholder tolerance of the wider delivery and a more pragmatic direct focus on doing the “right things” by the team in order to do things right.
As a leader of the project team my task is to gain buy-in from all parties to identifying why a “doing the right thing” by your business stakeholders is the first deliver that any project needs to make.
The order of the day was a complex in an international institutionalised practice desperate to move into “best practice” methods of doing business. Now surely “best practice” can only be defined in context of the performance of the individual organisation. You’re only as good as your last . . . . .
They had worked hard, tirelessly to assimilate all the requirements and categories them, align them, group them and dissect them. Good job clearly a momentous effort.
The list was extensive, each statement hanging in the breeze like leafs on a branch, connected and bound by their precarious stems waiting to detach at any moment under the stress of the changing breeze of business. They twist and turn on the branch, and not easily translate to the canvas of colour and texture that defines . . . . . . .
It was going to take a big effort from the team to pull this into shape. The countless workshops and PowerPoints, papers and examples given, received, digested, regurgitated and pondered only added to the strength of the breeze blowing the leafs and stressing the branches. The task stared us in the face, the cutting wind of Requirements Definitions. Were we able to see the wood for the trees?
But what is a statement of requirements as the first stage of a project life cycle? If we stopped to ask what is it we are trying to achieve and what part of a process we looking to complete or why do we need to do this, we may rethink an approach and weighting of this stage. For sure the business will change during the life time of the project and therefore our requirements may become irrelevant or just plain different.
We want to ensure that sufficient understanding of the domain space has been transferred into a project artefact and that the project is able to articulate what the project must deliver and for what outcome or benefit; “The solution should allow . . . . to do this to achieve the following outcome.“
There are several tools to help describe definition such as flow charts, Unified Modelling Language (UML) Use Case, Swim Lanes, User Story, State Transition Diagram etc . . . . However, we want to be able to communicate to a non-technical, non-engineering audience, typically business Subject Mater Experts (SME) and key stakeholders. These participants often work from the repetitive, process driven lens or day-to-day operation. Not the engineering lens looking to dissect and rebuild. Making conceptual requirements difficult to relate to the now of the everyday operation.
Assume in existence is a strategy statement, a vision, a mission statement and all that good stuff, something to hang your hat and scarf on in the stiff breeze of requirements gathering. Assume there is visibility of a value proposition and quantifiable KPIs. I guess if you cannot substantiate these assumptions you should STOP now.
The project is being set up for failure without clarity on this. Speaking to my previous blog (SoO) these should be listed and counter signed as part of the outcome partnering proposition between organisations.
For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume all that good stuff is in place. Otherwise I should stop writing now.
A requirements definition could then reflect the following:
- A reference number – Always useful and unique
- A short title – Representing the gist of the need
- A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
- Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
- Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
- KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
- Audit/Knowledge Custodians – Who, when, SME, version, date etc
Yes there is a ton of other stuff but let’s not boil the ocean here. It should not include design and implementation matter or commitment to user experience and/or solution design. We are after all trying to relate business needs to a set of deliverable to form the exercise of design, not design as a seed to requirements. Reminds me of the saying “a good invention waiting for a purpose.”
Language, texture and tone. We need acceptance, buy-in and most importantly agreement and alignment to take these to a formal approval sign off. So this document has to be non-technical and speak a business language and not an implementation and/or technical one. It must bind leafs blowing in the wind into a coherent sway of changing winds.
As such it must be a collaborative effort and individuals on both sides of the table must approach this with a view of making this work. It must speak a common language and it must engage and satisfy many masters.
A by product: This exercise is a great asset to any organisation as a by-product often establishes the missing corporate procedure manual that can go a long way in managing the overall alignment and effectiveness of the enterprise.
So the next time a requirements gathering phase is initiated it may be worth looking at your template, tool kit and definition of this task and asking: “What is it that we are trying to achieve through this effort?”
But how does that translate into a company culture? And how does that get realised in the execution of service? And how does that define the customer relationship?
The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.
The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due! Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?
Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?
Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation. Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership. A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters. The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.
Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.
Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.
I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.
I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.
When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership. In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture. I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.
Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today. Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.
In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking. It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!
This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.
How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)? We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.
So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”
I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.