Monday, April 26, 2010

Beyond Application Development

I come from an application development background myself. Moreover, I was involved in all aspects of app dev including Business Analysis, Programming, Quality Assurance and Project Management. It was only when I was first exposed to ITIL that I realized the tiny little well that I was a part of and the vastness of all the other parts of IT that existed that I had tuned myself out off.

SDLC, which, let us assume, for the sake of simplicity consists of the world of app dev is only a part of the going ons of an IT department. For those of us who have been involved in the SDLC most of our careers, there is a tendency to think only in terms of the application development lifecycle. However, the shift to understanding the entire IT infrastructure is important. There is currently a paradigm shift occurring in the IT industry globally where IT’s services to the business are being considered as opposed to the software IT produces only. The difference being that along with the application (or product) comes a host of related services. Consider a software application. The following will need to be considered once it has been released into operation:

  • Support for users during operation including a help desk that will provide at least first line support.

  • Continuous security management. This is particularly true for any sort of application that involves transfer of confidential data and financial information
    Capacity Management to ensure that the application can support the agreed upon number of users or load.

  • Constant Availability Management checking to ensure that the application is performing as per specifications and to ensure quick follow up if it isn’t.
    Service Continuity Management to ensure that in the event of a disaster, the application can be brought back up as soon as possible.

  • A continually evolving relationship with the customer to ensure alignment with customer needs and future needs.

  • A strategy that encompasses customer demands and financial considerations to ensure that the correct portfolio of services and applications is chosen, developed, delivered to the customer, operated and finally retired at the appropriate time.

  • A set of supporting processes that assist in providing the above services to the customer.

All this and more must be performed to ensure overall customer satisfaction over and above the development and testing of the software. The de facto standard for the services described above is ITIL. It is a large body of knowledge that most professionals will need to spend a significant amount of time and financial investment to master. It is recommended that most people get started immediately if not sooner.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Importance of a PMO

Project Managers are common across organizations all over the planet and their work function is well understood. However, what about a Project Management Office and its relevance to the organization? In most of my experiences with PMOs, there is a great disparage in the way PMOs are set up in organizations which results in confusion and lack of standardization across the industry.

There are two basic ways a Project Management Office can be setup in an organization. The first way is to set it up as a sort of super manager of the project managers and perform project portfolio management and task delegation functions for the entire Project Management function of the organization. Secondly, the PMO could be set up in a consulting capacity where it provides meaningful, training guidance and process improvement capabilities. There are pros and cons to each approach as is the difference in investment cost and return on investment in each case.

The main tasks that a PMO is expected to perform are:

  • Project support: Provide project management guidance to project managers in the organization.

  • Project management process/methodology: Develop and implement a consistent and standardized process and ensure that it is followed by the staff in the organization.
    Training: Conduct training programs as needed.

  • Department for project managers: Maintain a centralized office from which project managers are loaned out to work on projects. This may not be performed if the PMO is being done on a consulting model.

  • Internal consulting and mentoring: Advise employees about best practices.
    Project management software tools: Select and maintain project management tools for use by employees.

  • Portfolio management: Establish a staff of program managers who can manage multiple projects that are related and allocate resources accordingly.

The trick really is to determine at the beginning what kind of PMO would best fit the needs and culture of the organization. The next trick is for the PMO to not get involved in everything right at the beginning but to grow its role and responsibility incrementally. A major risk that PMO’s face is that direct metrics to determine their effectiveness tend to be difficult to set up and there is a grey area regarding their value and effectiveness to the organization. This could lead to a situation where the PMO is under-utilized by staff because they do not have quantifiable proof of the benefits provided. All this must be planned for and thought through as early as possible.

My personal view is that all organizations should have a PMO: the only difference being how much they are involved in the organizations project management activities. If nothing else, there is value in having a body that standardizes processes and methodologies for the organization.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Managing IT and Everything Else

There are 2 main areas that an organization must perform a balancing act in today’s particular marketplace and environment. One: there has to be excellent supply chain, enterprise resource planning HR, Sales & Marketing, Accounts and Finances etc. in place and managed well both in the day-to-day and long term basis. This results in an efficient and cost effective service to the customer. The second is an effective utilization of technology in all its forms that are relevant to the organization. This could include a savvy webpage, an easy to use online store, email and networking services to the employees of the organization etc. It is imperative, however, that both these areas are implemented and managed effectively.

The first part, the “overall management”, is the traditional management style that has been in place for centuries. The danger with this is that organizations strong in this area tend to neglect the IT side of things. Furthermore, they tend to neglect the IT connection to the rest of the organization and fail to seek out new ways to involve effective utilization of IT in a constant and repetitive manner. Recently Wal-Mart has come under fire for failing to maintain high levels of IT capabilities while being quite successful in its supply chain setup.

The second part is of course the effective implementation of IT. The danger here again is that the organizations, strong in IT tend to be weak in the rest of their management. Furthermore, with the rapid changes in all aspects of IT including process methodologies, this is a herculean task for any organization even one with a core strength of IT.

The fact of the matter is both sides of the equation must be taken care of for an organization to perform optimally and the tendency to veer one way or the other must be kept in check. Gone are the days of the tech savvy “whiz kid” creating a multi-billion organization just by his brilliance. Also gone are the days of the old school management style. A strategic all round approach is necessary to survive nowadays with experts being called in to provide advice on best practices in all areas of management.

Monday, April 5, 2010

IT Investments

For all the flak, the Government usually takes for being bureaucratic and slow and inefficient, in the world of IT, the Governments of the western worlds in particular are doing well to adopt a lot of sensible policies and procedures to help increase efficiency. In fact, the US Dept of the Interior’s Information Technology Capital Planning and Investment Control Guide (CPIC) is one of the best investment frameworks out there for IT investments.

It actually all started with the GPRA (Government Performance and Results Act) which mandated that all federal agencies had to be results–oriented. This included defining general goals and objectives for their programs, to develop Annual Performance Plans specifying measurable performance goals for all their programs and to publish an Annual Performance Report showing actual results compared to the projected goals for each program. As a result of this, the Government’s Office of the Chief Information Officer came up with the CPIC guide to govern and manage the IT investments for the Government and to align all IT investments to the to the strategic goals of the Department.

The CPIC process consists of circular flow of 6 phases:

  • Pre-Select Phase: In this phase, the business recommends IT services based on their requirements. A concept is created and a Business Case for the new IT service is developed, evaluated and approved. Based on these actions a final approval to move forward will then be obtained from the relevant stakeholder.

  • Select Phase: In this phase, a project plan is created with established performance goals and quantifiable performance measures. Costs, schedules, benefits and risks are identified and evaluated. With the completion of all steps in this phase, approval is obtained to proceed to the next phase.

  • Control Phase: The goal of the Control phase is to ensure that through timely oversight, quality control, and executive review, the IT initiatives are conducted in a disciplined, well-managed, and consistent manner. It is in this phase that the project is moved from the requirements definition to implementation. The project management occurs here with the project progress being monitored, reported and evaluated with course correction taken as needed. This phase is considered complete when the production deployment or implementation is completed.

  • Evaluate Phase: In this phase, the actual results after implementation are compared to the projected results and any changes or modifications needed are implemented. A Post Implementation Review (PIR) is conducted in this phase and based on the results corrective action is taken. Once this is completed, the next phase is entered.

  • Steady-State Phase: During this phase, analysis is used to determine whether mature systems are continuing to support mission and business requirements. Customer satisfaction is evaluated and opportunities to improve performance and reduce costs are considered. The investment stays in this phase until a determination is made by the appropriate stakeholders to modify, replace, or retire the system. A major enhancement can be defined as, new architecture, or new functionality. The cycle then begins again at the Pre-Select Phase.

The CPIC fits in nicely with ITIL and its Service Strategy Phase. It also fits in well with ITIL’s consideration of IT Services as a portfolio of services which CPIC does as well. The interested reader can easily obtain more information on this and other Investment management frameworks. The question isn’t which one to choose but how well are we implementing and evaluating the one we have chosen. If IT investments are not being performed under a proper investment management process but rather by some sort of emotional, ad-hoc fashion by top executives, then return on investments is going to be low – guaranteed.