May 29

Understanding what the business needs

The last installment in my series about IT Organization will discuss the PMO. What does that stand for? Most often, Project Management Office, but some call it Program, others Portfolio, and though the words have different meanings which affect the focus, they all boil down to one thing: Understanding what the business needs, prioritizing it, and getting the organization’s resources behind getting it done.

The PMO’s first task is to understand what the business needs. Portfolio management is the best starting point. The portfolio managers are linked to lines of business and understand their roadmaps. This can be done by pairing portfolio managers with product managers in the business units, if they have them. Since the business units have more work than can be done at once, the portfolio manager also provides prioritization of strategic portfolio work as well as projects and maintenance work (where the line of business has reported bugs or requested minor enhancements not sufficient to group into a project). The portfolio manager must understand all work streams for their line of business and organize the work streams to fit the amount of time IT management allocates to that line of business.

Program managers are typically assigned one-to-a-program where the scope of work is strategic and large – to the point that the program manager may have a project manager or two working for them. Project managers will typically work on more than one project at a time, providing project management shared services to the enterprise. Project and Program managers should be certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Of all the certifications I have taken or seen, this is the most meaningful. It requires the candidate not only to be able to recite their taxonomy, but also to demonstrate several years of experience actually doing the job.

The second segment of the PMO is the Systems Analysts and Business Analysts. This group is the font of knowledge of what capabilities the business has. These analysts elicit requirements from the business users and translate them into specifications for the developers. They become the experts on the details of what must be done, and work in conjunction with the subject matter experts and architects to figure out the ‘how.’ The strength of the analysis group allows the development group to become centers of excellence for their technologies rather than silos aligned to the business units.

The head of the PMO is the natural leader for the Project Governance group, but a key characteristic that must be sought in this position is the balance between delivering when needed and following the process. It is too easy for the leader to get caught up in making the process king and becoming a bottleneck in achieving the business’ strategic goals.

I watched an organization struggle trying to make their PMO fit this vision, but left before it was implemented. The difficulty they had was getting sufficient knowledge of the business in their Business/Systems analysts, when starting from the ground up. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to accomplish this?

May 14

Framing the Problem…

There are a lot of frameworks out there: ITIL, CMMi, PMP, TOGAF, Six Sigma, and a couple dozen more.   Do any of them work?  Do they add more value than the effort to implement them?  I have seen companies adopt them thinking they are a panacea to solve their organizational problems, and other companies avoid them as if they would rather catch the Bubonic Plague than implement a framework.  Today, I am going to take a break from my ever-growing series on organizational structures and talk about the benefits of a framework.

“The Benefits of a Framework” is a good starting place because it really does not matter which framework you try.  Nor does it truly matter how “complete” the implementation is.  Purity is not beneficial in this case.  If you are starting from zero, and go about it with the right attitude, ITIL will be just as transformative to the organization as Six Sigma – and they could not be more different.  Which one will be easier to implement?  Which one will give you more value?  The framework cannot answer that question.  Only the implementing champion can.

This means that the critical key to the success of implementing a framework and the majority of the benefit the organization will achieve lies in the decision of who will champion the effort.  It is that person’s attitude, vision, and ability to rally support around that vision which determines success.  It is ironic that the principle of the framework (every one of them) is to move away from reliance on the organizational hero, yet the implementation depends exactly on that hero.

So what are you looking for in that champion?  First, and foremost, their conviction that the framework will solve organizational challenges and bring business value.  If they do not believe, they cannot inspire.  If they’re not focused on business value as the end-game, they will not achieve it.  If they cannot see the full scope of organizational challenges in the harsh light of day, including in their back yard, they have no ability to apply the tools to solve the problems. 

Another key characteristic is that the champion must plan their own obsolescence.  The framework is not successful if it requires personal charisma to maintain.  The hero is not only no longer needed, but an actual hindrance to eventual success.  The champion must be able to get follower momentum until it is capable of sustaining itself, then get out of the way.  It is about the organization’s success, not the champion’s personal resume or fiefdom.

Finally, the champion needs a healthy dose of realism.  What will the framework solve, and what can it not solve?  In reality, it solves nothing in the present.  It is only the way it was implemented that solves or does not solve a problem – did the implementer aim to solve the right business problem?

So if the framework doesn’t matter, and it is only the alignment of the implementation to the challenges of the business that determines the resulting value, what good is a framework anyway?  Nothing – now.  But it provides a common language with which the future can be described.  Whichever framework you choose to solve any given problem gives you a common taxonomy to ground the discussion with vendors, with potential candidates for key positions, orienting new hires and guiding the thought process of the strategic thinkers in the organization.

So, it does not matter which framework you adopt, only that you have one.  So what if it is only adopted within two groups of your organization – it provides a communication structure and it solved business problems.  This group believes in CMMi and that one believes in Lean?  Great!  Neither one solves all problems, and each has drawbacks that detract from their value which can be solved by the other.  So get the two talking to each other and see what results.  It’ll be interesting, and if it is approached with the right mindset, the offspring of that union will generate business value.  The only problem is that no one will know what to call it.

So: What are the different frameworks and where do they fit in?

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) focuses on – in a phrase – service availability.  It defines several disciplines and organizational structures, but in the end every one of them is aimed at preventing a service disruption or restoring a service to operations as quickly as possible.  It provides one possible map for how to structure an IT Operations group and processes for managing change.  The change management is best suited to a Waterfall SDLC, but can be adapted to Agile.  The effort is typically led from the Operations side of the house, in either Risk Management or Production Operations.

Capability Maturity Model, Integrated (CMMi) focuses on process in the hope that if you get the processes right, the end result cannot help but be right.  Any failure in the result, by definition, was caused by a defect in the process.  CMMi is frequently and incorrectly thought to be the answer to software quality issues.  It is usually led from the Change Management group.

Project Management Professional (PMP) is one of the best certifications I’ve seen.  In order to achieve the certification, the candidate must have lead projects throughout the full lifecycle for at least 5 years – and that claim is randomly audited.  Most other certifications test your ability to absorb and repeat their taxonomy.  While PMP speaks in terms of process, with inputs and outputs, it truly centers on communication.  Leadership typically centers in the obvious portfolio/project management organization.

The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) derives from earlier architectural frameworks, but from what I can see it appears to be a re-cast of PMP with an architectural point of view.  While PMP focuses on communication, TOGAF centers on the artifacts.  The obvious group for this is Enterprise Architecture.

Six Sigma is all about statistical process control.  It is frequently disregarded in the IT realm because it is strongly linked conceptually to manufacturing, and of course manufacturing software is completely unlike manufacturing anything else…  The real problem with using Six Sigma in IT is that there must be sufficient statistical data points to generate a meaningful sigma.  I am lining up a guest writer to discuss how some Lean concepts such as Kanban can apply to the software development process.  This is often led by outside business units or by the Process Improvement committee in the Governance arena.

Understand that any summarization of these extensive frameworks that boils down to 3 or 4 sentences is generalized almost to the point of uselessness, but it helps to understand the “problem space” that each is intended to solve.  I do not recommend implementing any of them in their entirety, but cherry-picking the best of breed processes to solve targeted operational problems.  Has anyone experienced something that shows otherwise?  Any disagreement with the overly simplistic summaries here?  Please comment so we can all chime in.