Conquering Data Overload – it is possible!

We all know data is important, but what do you do when you have too much data and not enough insights? Here's a company that addresses this issue.

Most of the company’s I’ve worked with are suffering from data overload.  There is too much data and not enough time to figure out what it means.  This is particularly true in the retail industry segment.  With all the point of sale data available it takes a huge amount of time and computing power to make any sense of the data.

Businesses have talked about turning data into information for years.  I think I’ve found the software tool that can do just that – easily!  (A small disclaimer…I didn’t do a thorough search for tools in this market.  I was introduced to Emcien, met with them, and think their products have promise, so I’m sharing what I know.)

Emcien has two products that I’ve learned about.  The first is their proven core platform for pattern analysis.  Their “secret sauce” is the pattern analysis logic built into the product.  Here’s my understanding of how it works:

  1. Upload your data to Emcien – This is accomplished by sending them a .csv file of your data.  They can process many different data fields and only have a few mandatory data elements; data elements that everyone wishing to find patterns in data would already have.
  2. Let them work magic – ok, it isn’t really magic!  They have very sophisticated pattern-based software analysis tools that find the patterns and represent them back to you as: basket analysis; buying pattern trends; automatic merchandizing information.
  3. Integrate the answers – Emcien also provides a multitude of APIs to facilitate integration of their analysis output into your applications, reports, and business processes.  This flexibility let’s you take your information to the next level.

The other tool from Emcien is  Gabbacus utilizes the Emcien pattern analysis tool to analyze social media information.  The value of this analysis is that you can find out what people are talking about right now instead of days or weeks later after the traditional analysis is done.  Integrating this immediate data flow into your marketing decisions is a great way to not only target your marketing campaigns, but also track and measure the effectiveness of various messages.

So if you are suffering from information overload there are now options.  Check out to learn more about their products.  I’m sure you will be impressed.

Innovation “on the cheap”

Innovation is critical for business success. This blog explains a simple innovation framework that any company can use.

For years now we’ve all heard that we need to be more innovative.  Large companies have invested millions or more in their version of an “innovation lab”.  Some of these labs have produced terrific ideas.  The question is how those of us running companies without millions to invest can be innovative.

In response to this need, GreatRidge put together an innovation framework.  We’ve used it informally at a couple of companies, and it has worked well.  The concept is pretty simple and doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to implement.  It is scalable and will grow with your company as needed.

The framework components are:

  • Create an “Innovation Council”. This is a small group of people who are good at motivating others to think outside the box.  The council should have members who are employees, contractors, and outsiders to the company.  This will foster creativity.  The council meets no more than monthly for a few hours.
  • Focus the Council. One of the common missteps in innovation is that people are given free reign to innovate in whatever area they want.  While this may work great for a global conglomerate, it can be the death of a medium size business.  Just like entrepreneurs with too many ideas (I wrote about this in a previous blog post), an innovation council without boundaries often wanders the desert with no clear focus.  Establish a strategy for the council and target the innovation activities.  If other ideas come up, save them for another more appropriate time.
  • Structure the Ideas. Like any set of unstructured data, the value of the information can only be realized once the unstructured data is structured.  There are tools available for purchase to manage the idea generation lifecycle (check out for a really cool tool), but medium size businesses don’t need something this expansive.  A simple, well-structured, sharepoint site will do the trick.  A simple set of “toll gates” for each idea with some basic criteria for each gate would suffice (sample gates: idea definition; idea design (how would it work?); implementation considerations/plans).
  • Track and Evaluate Ideas. No matter how large or small a company is, the need a way to track ideas as they develop and a methodology to evaluate the ideas.  The tracking is easy (see the sharepoint comment above), and the evaluation doesn’t have to be complex.  A good evaluation methodology takes into account the idiosyncrasies of each individual business, industry, and leader preferences.  You can still make “gut decisions” if you like, but tracking the ideas and having a consistent way to present ideas for evaluation adds enough structure to the process to ensure good ideas don’t get overlooked.
  • Reward the winners! Always a good idea, but particularly valuable where innovation is desired.  These rewards can be in whatever form is consistent with your corporate culture (e.g. money; paid time off; an idea statue; chocolate bars emblazoned with the winning innovator’s face; water bottles heralding the idea on the label; etc.).  The more creative and original the reward, the more linkage to the concept of innovation!
  • Post Innovation Review. This is the part where innovation ends and the cold reality of company profitability begins.  At some point companies must decide whether the innovation worked or not.  This is necessary since unbridled innovation usually masks corporate waste and none of us can afford to waste time, resources, or money.  The innovation review is as simple as seeing whether the expected metrics were achieved or not and then deciding whether to invest more in this innovation, stop investing, or make a few changes and continue on the current path.  It doesn’t have to be painful (have the review at the local pub if you want to), but it must be done.

GreatRidge believes that not only any company can innovate, but that every company must innovate.  Hopefully this simple innovation framework will enable your company to innovate without stress and strain.  Let us know your thoughts and any ideas you have to increase innovation in your business.

Lessons from Inc’s GROWCO conference – really!

I attended the Inc GROWCO conference and learned a lot. This blog contains the highlights of the conference.

If you read my previous blog (The Value of Conferences – is there any?) you know I’m not a big fan of conferences as a rule.  I followed my advice about how to make a conference valuable, and got a lot of useful information at the GROWCO conference.  The conference is for the owners of small to medium businesses and is focused on ideas for growth.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Data is still king! No matter how much you know in your heart that you have a great idea, without some sort of data to back it up your idea will never get funded.  Forrester has research on just about any idea you have that needs data to back it up.
  • Who cares about you? Figure out the 50 most important people to the growth of your company (external folks, not employees) and measure the strength of your relationships with them.  Figure out how to improve the relationships for any that are not where they need to be.  Keith Ferrazi has some great information on this idea.
  • It’s all about the people. Every company should have a relationship plan.  Most companies have a financial plan, product or services plan, customer management plan, etcetera, but very few have relationship plans.  A relationship plan is a specific, measureable, prioritized list of ways to improve your important relationships.  I’ve always had relationship maps in my strategic planning, but I’ve now expanded that to be a true relationship plan.
  • I am stunting my company’s growth. We were asked to think a moment about our “career crippling habits” (or “company growth crippling habits”).  This was a terrific question.  It made me think about what I’m not doing that could help grow the company.  I figured out that I spend so much time working on things and checking off my “to do list” that I hadn’t really leveraged people who have offered to help me.  That’s crazy!  If you are one of the folks who have offered to help, watch your email ‘cause requests are coming your way!
  • Analyze your revenue streams. OK, so we all knew to do this already.  What I learned at the conference was that I was being pretty narrow in my analysis and interpretation of the revenue streams.  I came up with a different way to look at the revenue streams and it shed a lot of light on my profitability.  It really reinforced where my growth will come from and what I need to be focused on building.  OK…so the presentation I went to didn’t have this in it, but since I thought of it while in the meeting, I’m giving the conference credit for the idea!

I’ll wrap this up with my favorite quote of the meeting (paraphrased of course).  Move boldly with “reckless abandon wrapped in common sense”.  I have no idea who said this and whether it was original or not, but I thought it really summarized my approach to building businesses.  We have to get off the dime and move to grow a business and as long as we do so with common sense, we’ll be fine!

The Value of Conferences – is there any?

Business conferences can be a big waste of time unless you leverage them for your purpose. This blog explains how to get value from conferences.

I know most of the executives and managers out there think business and technical conferences are a waste of money and time.  The golfing may be good, but the value of the content provided is usually questionable.  I tend to agree with this assessment.  I totally disagree however that conferences are a waste of time.  Seems contradictory doesn’t it?  Unfortunately a lot of things in life are contradictory, so I’ll take a moment to address this contradiction.

Why are conferences a waste of time?

  1. Many are so large that you can’t even find the right meeting room
  2. The presenters are more interested in what they have to say than they are in imparting something of value to the attendees
  3. The conference organizers use the event as a very thinly veiled advertisement for their research or magazine or new book or something that brings them revenue
  4. The vendors outnumber the attendees at such a huge scale that attendees spend the majority of their time avoiding the conference locations so they are not harassed by vendors
  5. Attendees spend so much time competing for “freebies” at the vendor exhibits that we have to purchase additional luggage to get our stuff home (maybe that’s just me!!)

So if this is a typical conference, why in the world would I say they are not a waste of time.  The primary reasons actually have nothing to do with the conference content.

  1. You have the opportunity to interact with your peers in a “low risk” environment
  2. You get away from the day-to-day office work and can think strategically about your business
  3. You might actually learn about a new product that you can afford to implement (this happened to be last year much to my surprise!)
  4. If you look for smaller conferences they usually cost less and you can have real conversations with the presenters to get past the presentation and discuss the applicability of their topic to your business
  5. Conferences are an ideal environment for team building with your business associates

So how do you make a conference valuable to you and your organization?

  1. If you are attending a conference while you read this, stop just sitting there trying to take in the presentation and talk with someone.  You will learn a lot more by talking with peers than listening to presentations.
  2. Pick your conferences based on who is likely to attend rather than the presenters or sponsors.
  3. Attend all the cocktail hours and meals with the intent of learning something from another attendee.  You’ll be surprised what asking the right questions will reveal.

By using the tips described above, I attended a very useful conference lately.  For more information on what I learned, see my next blog entry.

Guest blogger on Project Management – Part 2

Guest Blogger – Rick Wyatt

This is the second part of an 8-part series which looks at how IT and Business Leaders and Stakeholders can avoid common project pitfalls.

Be careful what you ask for!

You’ve probably seen the cartoon circulating over the years that illustrates the importance of requirements in delivering what’s needed.  It’s about a tree swing and the disparate interpretations of the deliverable when requirements are misunderstood.  Just search the Internet for “requirements cartoon” and you’ll find several versions.

It’s good for a chuckle, but the sad part is that it’s absolutely true!  The single most important piece of any project is requirements – clear, documented, validated, approved, understood and executed.  Here’s how to avoid requirements pitfalls in your projects:

  • Clear – Be specific and don’t assume people will just intuitively know what the customer needs.  If requirements are not spelled out in basic terms, they will be misunderstood.  As much as possible, requirements should be written to transfer the mental images and meaning from the mind of the customer to the reader’s mind.   This is not the time to show off vocabulary or writing style – keep it simple, crisp, to the point, descriptive and non-artistic.  Diagrams and screen shots are extremely helpful in conveying the desired information, but stop short of designing the solution – that comes later.
  • Documented – An artifact is needed that can be shared with your customer and the team, one that can be referred to repeatedly during the project lifecycle and that can be retained for audit purposes.  It doesn’t matter so much what format it’s in, so long as the format captures the specifics of the customer’s need.  There are lots of templates out there to choose from – Use Case, Business Requirements Document, etc.  Pick one that covers all the aspects of capturing the customer’s need and that can effectively convey that need to the team, then use it consistently in all your projects.
  • Validated – Once the requirements have been clearly documented, circle back with the customer to validate that what has been captured is complete and correct.  This reality check is essential to make sure nothing was missed and to edit the document where needed to clear up any fuzzy terms or concepts so that the customer’s need is clearly stated.
  • Approved – After validation, formal approval of the requirements document by the customer is needed with the understanding that the validated and approved requirements define what is in scope (and not in scope), they provide a definition of project success and they are now frozen.  This will provide a control for managing project scope and preventing scope creep.  Any subsequent changes to requirements should require formal approval by the project Sponsor and could impact project duration and cost.
  • Understood – Requirements define the customer’s need (the “What”) and the project team uses them as the basis to create the solution design (the “How”) that will meet that need.  To be successful in this process, it’s essential that requirements are completely understood by the project team.  The best way to ensure complete understanding is to conduct a Requirements Review meeting for the customer and the team to jointly walk through the document, discuss each requirement in detail and get all questions answered.  At the end of the session, everyone should have the same understanding of what is needed.
  • Executed – Requirements drive all subsequent activities in the project.  Technical Specifications and Design combine requirements with technology to form the solution.  The Test Plan and Test Cases are created to confirm the solution works as intended and all requirements are met.  User Acceptance Testing (UAT) provides the customer an opportunity to confirm what they asked for has been correctly and completely delivered.  In the end, each requirement should be traceable through the entire project life cycle to ensure all have been appropriately addressed in design, development, testing and deployment.

The time spent up front in the project process on requirements will have a huge return on that investment when you successfully breeze through UAT and deploy your project.  On the other hand, skimp on requirements and you could find yourself bogged down in rework, or worse.  It truly pays to be careful what you ask for!

Copyright 2010, Rick Wyatt, IPT Concepts, LLC

The “Cloud” – Hype vs. Reality

Deciding if and when to leverage "the cloud" is a critical decision for most businesses. This post examines the pros and cons of "the cloud" and when it might be a good solution for your business.

Everywhere you look people are talking about “the cloud”.  The term is used so generally that whenever someone mentions the cloud, the first question to be asked is: “How do you define “the cloud”?”.  The term “cloud” is used to mean anything from application hosting services provided by companies like RackSpace, Amazon, and Google, to software-as-a-service offerings such as SalesForce.Com.  We won’t even get into the entire discussion of public and private clouds!

The difficult part of the entire cloud discussion is figuring out whether or not is it a good solution for your company.  Although the cloud has some advantages for consumers, there are quite a few more complexities to determining whether the cloud is ready for use by an enterprise/company.

Pros of the cloud

  • Most cloud offerings use the latest technology – if your company cannot afford to upgrade technology, then under the right circumstances, the cloud could provide an alternative.
  • Rapid scalability – since cloud offerings are architected to be a standard, shared environment, it is easy to add and remove capacity when needed.
  • Shared or restricted option – most providers allow their customers to choose between shared services (where multiple customers share the same physical devices) and restricted services (where a customer has dedicated devices for their use only).

Cons of the cloud

  • Privacy and Security – very careful consideration must be given to any usage of the cloud for data or processes that interact with private or company sensitive information.  Any organization covered by regulations such as PCI, HIPPA, or SOX should utilize the cloud with caution.
  • Monitoring/transparency – many organizations today are striving for increased monitoring and transparency in their operations.  By using the cloud the IT organization is one step removed from the actual operations of their systems.
  • Performance – many cloud service providers will site statistics of their availability, but performance is just as important.  If a service is available but running slow it will not support your business requirements.

Leveraging the potential benefit of the cloud can be a strategic investment for your company.  There are a few things an enterprise could easily host in the cloud:

1)   Publicly available information – most information that is for use by the general public would be a good choice.  An example is a customer support site containing a searchable knowledgebase or list of frequently asked questions.

2)   Properly secured development and testing environments – by hosting these environments in the cloud a company can avoid having to invest in infrastructure for new projects.  If appropriately cleaned test data can be utilized, then the cloud could be a way to develop new systems without disrupting the current production environment or support processes.

3)  Peak processing power – companies can use the cloud to provide additional processing power during peak loads.  This could be a nightly process or a seasonal processing need.  By acquiring the additional processing power with the “as needed” capability the cloud allows, companies can avoid a capital investment.

If you decide to proceed with using the cloud for your company remember to manage them as you would any third party service provider or outsourcer.  There is no magic to the cloud and it must be managed and controlled to benefit your company.

To SEO or not to SEO – that is the question!

You can't pick up a marketing or IT magazine without reading about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This post discusses five key items to consider when thinking about SEO for your company.

SEO ConsiderationsYou can’t pick up a marketing or IT magazine without reading about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Although most companies that have a web presence have been told they need SEO, few know how to go about getting SEO.  Here are five critical things to consider as you embark on SEO.

  1. The two-headed monster (technology and marketing) - SEO is as much about technology as it is about marketing.  Improving your ranking in Google may or may not improve your ranking in bing.  You have to understand how search engines work in order to take advantage of them.  Unless you are extremely technology savvy and have the time to learn SEO tricks on your own, it is usually best to find an online solution or hire a consultant to help with the technical side of SEO.  Once you understand the technical elements needed, now you have to focus on the marketing.  This usually means rewriting your website to take advantage of phrases, keywords, links, headings, etc. that search engines use to determine your ranking.  Once again, professional help is usually required so that your website doesn’t look like you tried too hard to increase your SEO ranking.  As a matter of fact, search engines will check to see if they think you are trying to increase your ranking.  If they determine you are, they will actually lower your ranking. 
  2. Using online tools - there is definitely a place for online tools in the SEO business.  Numerous tools exist which will analyze your website and let you know how you should change it to increase your SEO ranking.  Once you have used one of these tools to analyze your site, you will not be at a loss for things to change.  The best tools are very thorough and provide you with a checklist of things to address in priority sequence based on their impact on SEO rankings.  The tools are very useful for analysis and planning.  You should however be wary of using them to build pages for your site.  While they may be excellent pages, you will have to continue to pay the tool provider as long as you want to use that page.  Since you are probably already paying someone else to build and host your site, this is just one more provider to pay, integrate with, and keep current when technology changes.
  3. Business applicability - before embarking on a SEO project, you should think about your business and how much impact SEO will provide.  Think about how you get new business, how your customers interact with you, and how your website is used today.  If most of your business is referral, then a high SEO ranking may not be as important.  Usually when people refer a company, they will give you the website link.  If people have the link then there is no need to search for your company with a search engine.  You may want to take advantage of the web as a new sales channel, in which case SEO will be very important.  You must decide what is right for your company.
  4. Processes, processes, processes - if you decide to undertake SEO, be sure to think about the processes you will need to implement.  A successful SEO activity will generate more leads for your business.  You will need a solid process to qualify and follow-up on those leads.  All leads are not good leads, so you don’t want to waste your time.  And remember, the worst thing you can do is get a lead and never follow-up on it.  This is not good for your image in the market.
  5. Cost and timeline - completing a SEO project will not be fast or cheap.  Even the simplest websites will probably take at least 3 months and cost between $5,000 and $15,000 to optimize.  The cost can skyrocket from there very easily.  Remember, you will need technology assistance, marketing/copywriter assistance, and processes.

The benefits of a SEO project are often well worth the expense and time.  We can all use more customers, and SEO can help you find them.  The items above will not ensure your SEO success, but they will help you decide if you are ready for SEO and whether or not you need SEO.  Each company will benefit differently from SEO, so it is important to be sure your investment in SEO has a good return.

Emerging Technology – Friend or Foe?

Deciding when to adopt an emerging technology within your business is a critical decision. This post poses a few key questions to consider.

Emerging TechnologiesDeciding when to adopt an emerging technology within your business is a critical decision.  Not every business is the same when it comes to emerging technologies. You may be working for an innovative, growth-oriented company that’s always on the lookout for new solutions, or you could have responsibility for an established, structured organization that’s wary of jumping into the latest IT invention.  Either way, if you’re going to stay competitive in today’s marketplace, you’ve got to keep your eye on emerging technologies and know how best to benefit from them.

The question is: how do I know when to embrace an emerging technology? The bad news is that there is no “silver bullet” that provides the answer to this question.  The good news is that there are a few critical questions that can help you decide.

  • Is technology a competitive differentiator for your company? if so, emerging technology is your friend.  You should budget and resource to investigate emerging technologies when they are on the “bleeding edge”.
  • How aggressive is your business strategy? If your company has aggressive growth plans that involve innovations, then emerging technology is your friend.  Many emerging technologies can help your organization grow with less initial investment.  Even if the technologies don’t work for the long-term, they may let you be first to market with a new product or service.
  • Does your company have a highly structured culture and approach to initiatives? if so, then emerging technology may be your foe.  By their nature emerging technologies are often fraught with starts and stops with projects rarely going as planned.
  • Do your company processes include R&D activities? If not, then emerging technology may be your foe.  Companies without a tolerance for R&D activities will lose patience with emerging technologies.
  • Is 100% quality at all times a priority for your company? If so, then emerging technologies may be your foe.  You will be better served to wait until a technology is mature before adoption.
  • Do your clients demand innovative solutions? If so, emerging technology is your friend.  By embracing new technologies earlier in their lifecycle you can meet your client demands sooner than the competition.

Assessing your company’s culture and processes will allow you to determine whether emerging technologies are right for your enterprise.  Be sure to readdress the tolerance for emerging technologies frequently since company strategies change frequently.  Whether a friend or foe, emerging technologies will play a big part in your IT success.

Guest Blogger on Project Management

Guest Blogger – Rick Wyatt

This is the first part of an 8-part series which looks at how IT and Business Leaders and Stakeholders can avoid common project pitfalls.

The first date you hear is not “the date”

How many times have you been in meetings where the Business has asked IT to deliver a project of some sort and the question is casually posed to IT, “So, when do you think you can get this done?”  At that point, the best thing you could do would be to plug your ears and not hear their answer.  Why?  Because anything they say at that point in a project lifecycle is just an unqualified best guess.  But what happens time after time is the whole room hears IT say they think they might be able to deliver the project by around a certain date, and from that moment forward, everyone thinks that’s “the date”, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s look at the reality of this situation.  At conception, a project is simply an idea – pure vapor.  Here are some of the components of project initiation and planning that will need to be fleshed out to move that idea from vapor to reality:

  • Documented, detailed requirements.  Everyone, the Sponsor, project team and the project stakeholders, need to understand and agree upon what is to be delivered.  This establishes the scope and drives the understanding and creation of the tasks needed to turn vapor into a tangible, expected outcome.  Until this is done, we don’t know what we’re being asked to deliver, so how can we provide more than a ball-park estimate for delivery?
  • Priority.  How important is this piece of work?  On one hand, if this is the most important thing to company profit or growth, it might need at the top of the project list and take precedence over all other discretionary work.  On the other hand, if it’s a nice-to-have item, it might be low on the list and would need to compete for resources with the other less critical projects.  At one end of the spectrum, the project could have a dedicated team and executive help clearing roadblocks, and at the other end, the project could be delayed by higher priority projects that consume the resources and cause your project work to be sporadic.
  • Capacity.  How much discretionary work can IT successfully take on?  What skill sets are needed for your project tasks and when will those resources be available?  You can create a beautiful project plan with all the tasks and dependencies well thought out and documented, but until you have a good understanding of the specific resource that will perform each of those tasks and when they’ll be available to do so, how can expected task completion dates be determined?  And don’t forget the biggest capacity planning pitfall – production support.  Unless you have the ability to dedicate resources 100% to the project, you run the risk of losing some of their time to unplanned “lights-on” activities such as resolving production problems.  This can be difficult to avoid in relatively lean IT shops and equally difficult to manage for project planning purposes.
  • Buy versus build.  Do you have the skills internally to deliver the requirements or will you need to rent some expertise from contractors?  Do you have the capacity to do the work yourself or will you need to outsource some of all of the work because your internal resource won’t be available to meet time requirements?  Do you have a hard stop date and need to do “right-to-left planning” to meet your date but internal capacity is inadequate for the job?  Is there an off-the-shelf solution available that would be more cost effective, less risky or faster to market?  All of these unknowns need to be considered and decisions made in order to begin to understand the project timeline.
  • Risk.  Is this new technology with high risk associated to it because “you don’t know what you don’t know”, or has your team done this a ton of times before, it’s a core competency and it’s low risk?  Is the complexity of the project relatively high with multiple opportunities for time consuming issues to arise, or is it straight forward and easy?  Generally, time estimates for high risk projects are themselves more risky than the lower risk projects which can more accurately be estimated.
  • Project Plan.  The typical waterfall project lifecycle moves through seven basic phases:  Initiation, Requirements, Design, Development, Testing, Deployment and Close.  The first six, Initiation through Deployment, comprise the delivery estimate.  In the Initiation phase, all you have is a concept with no tasks to hang on it that would lead to delivery of the desired outcome.  Until you document the requirements (the “what”), you don’t really know what you’re delivering.  Until you create the design (the “how”), you have no real idea how the requirements will be met.  And there’s no way to understand the development and testing efforts until you’ve gone through the requirements and design process so you know what to code and test.  But here’s the kicker – tasks on a project plan, by best practice and common sense, need to be identified and estimated by the people who will actually be doing the work – not the Subject Matter Experts or the Managers who tend to underestimate based on how long it would take for them to do it (not their lower level resource with emerging skills) or tend to be optimistic in their estimates due to pressure from above or a desire to please.

All of this gives credence to the basic premise at the beginning of this article:  The first date you hear is not “the date”.   OK, let’s assume that’s a given.  But we can’t wait until delivery of the project is imminent to communicate to the Sponsor and stakeholders when they can expect to receive their deliverables, so here’s what we can do.

As we move through the project lifecycle, more and more becomes known about all of the items discussed above, and as our knowledge in these areas increases, the accuracy of our estimates also increases.  That’s why the more mature IT shops and their business stakeholders adopt a model of increasing estimate accuracy based on project phases.  At the completion of each phase, the components of project estimates are reviewed and updated so that estimates can be refined and restated to reflect what we’ve learned to that point.

A model used by some IT organizations is as follows:

At Completion  of Project Phase:

Accuracy of Estimates:


+100% or -50%


+50% or -25%


+25% or -10%


+10% or -5%


Using this model in an example, let’s say we have a project that involves developing a new accounting system.  When IT reviews the concept and provides their experience estimate based solely on a high level understanding of what might be involved, the estimates at that point are accurate to a range of +100% or -50%.  Let’s say their estimate at project initiation calls for the project to take 12 months to deliver.  What this is actually telling you is the true delivery effort will take somewhere between a high of 24 months down to a low of 6 months, twice as long or half as long as their best guess at that point.  Not quite the first date you heard!  As the project progresses and unknowns become known, the team re-estimates at the end of each phase with an ever reducing range of accuracy, as indicated in the model.

What are the impacts if IT and Business Leaders and Stakeholders ignore the reality of estimate accuracy described above?  This is what their project experiences could look like:

  • IT rarely delivers projects “on time”, defined as in keeping with their initial high level estimate which is just a guess.
  • Confidence in IT project capabilities suffers due to their track record of never delivering “on time”.
  • Project teams are constantly under pressure to reduce timelines so they can deliver “on time”, resulting in too much overtime, too much distraction and stress, burn-out for key resources and turnover.
  • In order to get delivery closer to the fictional “on time” date, projects can wind up with quality issues since testing is the last phase in the project lifecycle and is the usual target for cutting time to meet dates.  This leads to higher project costs due to rework.

The next article will focus on project requirements and their importance to over-all project success.

Copyright 2009, Rick Wyatt, IPT Concepts, LLC

‘Tis the season for planning

While we are enjoying the holidays our businesses must continue.  How well your business finishes 2009 and starts 2010 is dependent upon good planning.  Although plans without action are not very useful, actions without plans can be very harmful.  Below are five tips for planning success.

  1. Set aside dedicated planning time.  It is easy for planning to be “rescheduled” due to immediate priorities.  Everyone has urgent items that keep taking precedence over planning and strategic thinking.  During the holidays is a great time to focus on planning.  Be sure to set aside a day or half-day to plan for 2010.
  2. Define clear objectives for planning.  A good plan does not get created by accident.  You need an approach to make the plan come alive.  Create an agenda for your planning session.  Even if you are the only one doing the planning, know what your objectives are for the plan and attack them.  Whether you will be growing your business through acquisition, expansion, or new products and services, all of your activities need clear objectives and measures of success.  Be sure you have objectives for your planning as well and consider all areas of your business: sales and marketing, infrastructure, product development, support services, customer care, company leadership, your competitors, etc.  Whether you need to make major changes, protect the base, or create a market, a stable plan with clear objectives is essential.
  3. Invite advisors – but not friends.  Friends are great and can be very supportive.  They are a necessary part of any successful business, but you need your trusted advisors to participate in planning.  You need advisors who will challenge you and push you to excel.  They should help you identify your blindspots and assist in identifying ways to drive the business forward.  Stay focused during the planning and make the best use of the talent available to you.  Be open to new ideas, prioritize the ideas to be implemented, and then send your advisors away.  Now you need some “alone time” with your leadership team.
  4. Turn strategies into Tactics.  A plan is only as good as your ability to execute it.  Take the strategies you’ve identified and determine how they will be implemented.  Answer questions like: How much will this cost?; How soon will I get a return on my investment?; Can I afford to do this now — can I afford not to?; What other resources do I need?  Once you have each strategy defined, go back and be sure you have a holistic plan that includes the “baseline” efforts you perform today as well as any new activities.  This will ensure you have an integrated plan that can succeed.
  5. GO!  Be strategic at least a few minutes each day.  Things don’t change overnight, but without effort, they never change.  Spend a few minutes every day making sure you are sticking with your plans.  Don’t be afraid to abandon something if it isn’t working out, just do so consciously and not because you didn’t have time to think about it.  Measure your progress and hold yourself accountable for the successful implementation of the strategies.

If you spend the time now to create a good plan for 2010, you will reap the rewards.  You will be more confident in your business model and everyone on your team will know where the company is headed.  They will have a plan to rally around, and they will help it succeed.

Enjoy the holidays and have a great 2010!