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Keeping the Meeting Going 05/07/2010

Posted by TBoehm30 in Project Management.
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My client recently asked if we needed to keep up the weekly PMO meeting. This is a company that has 4 Business Units in different states of the U.S. I explained that the only way to know what is going on across the company, and to ask relevant questions of other leaders is to have a regular meeting.

It is a very normal feeling to be annoyed with regular communication meetings, especially when there are no important projects to discuss. Most people complain about the silly meetings they have to go to, the ridiculous discussions, and the cost to the company of having all those people there. Of course they are busy and could be more productive on their own, in their office or cubicle.

Good Meetings
Sometimes, however, meetings are important. Meetings that have a competent person running them, have a set agenda, and don’t run over can be very productive.

  • At the start of a project, meetings are essential for brainstorming, gathering requirements, forming the team, and setting a schedule.
  • Milestone meetings can be very beneficial to coordinate important steps in a project. The meeting could also be helpful in letting everyone know the status of a project.
  • Meetings may increase right before and during the Go-Live of a project. This keeps everyone on task, and lets them know the importance of their individual work.
  • Many managers like their group to have regularly scheduled meetings. These keep everyone informed of what is going on, and can bond people together forming a team.

In the case of my client, the meetings are absolutely necessary to keep the lines of communication open and to know what is going on at diverse locations. Sometimes we needed to make decisions for one Unit that would affect everyone. Sometimes one Unit would bring up an issue that another Unit realized should be happening to them too. Problems are discussed that can be solved by people in a different Business Unit.

The most important item in the list above is communication. Everyone at the company doesn’t need to know every little detail about what is going on everywhere. It is nice, though, when most people have a broad idea of what is happening. It keeps them involved, makes them feel like part of the team, and improves overall productivity.

Bad Meetings
The reason that most people get annoyed with meetings is that they feel nothing gets accomplished. One of the biggest reasons people stay happy at their jobs is the feeling of accomplishment. There’s nothing so frustrating as having important work waiting at your desk while you are wasting time in a fruitless meeting.

I have been to meetings where everyone says the exact same thing that they said last week. While doing support, we had weekly team meetings. Many times, when nothing big was going on, we could have just replayed the previous week’s meeting.

Once, I had to monitor a few meetings with an off-site development group. The manager of that group would point to the people in his group and say things like “last week you were 85% done, now what are you?” They would come back with silly statements like “well, I’m now about 90% done, but the 10% that is left will take me a few weeks longer than expected.” I would sit there thinking ‘Really! Does it matter how many small percentage numbers they completed this week?’ I wanted to talk about issues, about what was blocking the project, about how to get it done.

I’ve also done the meeting where I am just filling in people who don’t know what is going on, and probably never really needed to know either. They were told to get involved, and so it was my job to fill them in. I knew it was a waste of time, they knew it was a waste of time, but just in case that one small bit of important information would come to the surface, we had to have the meeting.

I’ve been to meetings where I was invited, just in case someone asked a question about my segment of the project. The meeting didn’t involve me, didn’t need me, and shouldn’t have required me. No one actually asked about my involvement and I got paid to waste my time.

Everyone has been to that meeting that was hijacked by someone else’s agenda. Nothing important got done because some blow-hard had to keep taking about his own project. Someone wanted to show us how smart she was, and just couldn’t stop talking long enough to let anyone else have their say.

How to Decide
To all of you that are about to call a meeting, I ask you to think about it first. Will this meeting fulfill a specific purpose? Does anyone have anything important to say? Has anything changed since the last meeting?

Create an agenda. Start and end the meeting on time. Don’t let people divert the topic of conversation too far from the agenda.

I told my client that communication is very important. The Business Units in different states need to talk every so often so that problems can be worked on together, and decisions are made that are for the good of the whole company. They won’t need a weekly meeting once I’m gone, but they should have it every so often. I am sure that they can find someone almost as good as me to lead the meetings.

They just need to find someone who knows that it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

Plans Change – A New ERP Plan 04/29/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in ERP.
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The only constant is change. (Isaac Asimov).

So once again we have changed our general approach to this project. We are now going to go big bang at each location. Each of the 4 business units will get both accounting and manufacturing for a single go-live. We are even going to space the go-lives a couple of months apart to give the accountants time to catch up after their first month-end close.

This puts the schedule out to June 2010. While I think that schedule is too long, it makes the whole project possible in the eyes of everyone in control. A positive attitude toward success will work wonders for these people.

This gives plenty of time for initial learning of the system, process modeling, maybe some process improvement, documentation and then training. We will do several Conference Room Pilots to test the system, test our process, and challenge the users. These pilots will be the key to success. If they go well, then we will know that go-live will happen on time. If any of them go poorly, then we will have our tasks mapped out for us on what to fix.

By the time we get to our Dry Run at the end, we should have everything scripted out, our key users trained, the data formatted, and everything ready. The final Dry Run before go-live will give us a chance to test all of our last-minute processes. We will then take a go no-go vote to make sure everyone is confident of success.

The new schedule puts our 1st go-live in September. We only have a few months to be ready for that one. We have started the configuration and setup sessions to begin learning how to setup the system. Soon we will have our first process modeling session. That will give us our first real homework in defining the system. If people can do their assignments and really spend some time thinking about how it will work, then we’ve got a chance at completing on time.

The fourth quarter is out of bounds for go-lives. So is January. Because of the amount of work for closing, end of the year responsibilities, and worries over projects like SOX compliance, we will not go-live during those four months. That means that the number two go-live will be in March. That should be plenty of time to fix all of the ongoing issues with the September go-live and get them up and running on schedule.

The accountants were worried about doing their first close on the new system at the same time as a go-live, so we spaced the go-lives two months apart. The second business unit goes live in February, so the third business unit will go in April. That allows March to be used for the first close.

This plan should lead us to success. It is long enough to accomplish all of the milestones, while short enough to please management. It is not so long that the people will get tired of the project, but long enough to give them time to work on this project and their day jobs. It is important that their day jobs don’t get ignored. Manufacturing products is what pays the bills.

They know that and that it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

Almost There 03/11/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in PMO.
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The PMO is still not out yet, but at least now I know the issues (I think. (I hope.)).

The IT director has talked to the CFO to find out that it is still a power struggle. The PMO (Project Management Office) cannot be given too much power because decisions will still be made at the highest levels. His concerns are that people will think that all decisions, not just the ERP project, are being made by the new PMO.

OK, we can easily word the announcement (read previous posts) so that it is obvious that this group is responsible for 1 project. Yes one project only. They are not taking over the company. They won’t decide who to layoff, or who to promote. They won’t change the manufacturing schedules. They are being created as a cross-functional team to oversee the very large and complicated implementation of the ERP system.

It turns out that the CFO has been working pretty hard lately. He actually, really, hasn’t had much time to think about our needs (really). This is a pretty good thing for him to realize because when the project starts going he knows that he won’t be, nor does he want to be, the guy making all of the decisions. The PMO will be making plenty of process decisions to successfully implement the ERP. They need to be empowered to do that and only that. Our newest announcement will grab power for that singular purpose.

The other issue is the board of directors meetings. He is going to talk to the leaders of the company separately about the new PMO. That is good news. That means that the higher ups will already be aware of what is about to happen and can support us when needed. He wants his ‘official’ announcement to go out after he has had a chance to talk to the board. OK – good issue, didn’t know that.

We are also going to include text in the announcement that specifically states that the PMO has been setup for this one ERP project. If this one project goes well, if the structure of the PMO enhances the value of the implementation, then they may continue it. The future of the PMO will rely on their own success.

The PMO announcement still hasn’t gone out. The CFO will be meeting with the board some time next week, so we are still in a waiting mode. At least now I don’t have to be thinking about strategies for overcoming our very first obstacle. I’ll give it one more week before I get frustrated again.

That is fine with me because I know that it’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

PMO Announcement Still Not Sent 03/04/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in PMO.
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My background is mostly tech. I have a tendency to solve problems quickly and efficiently. I get frustrated when I have to wait on people. This is particularly annoying since I know that the executives say they are behind this project and need it to succeed.

A Little Background: I have setup a Project Management Office (PMO) at a company that is about to implement a new ERP system. The C-Level executives wanted the PMO to guide the project. Once I got the group together and went over our mission, vision, goals, charter, etc. we decided to encourage an announcement on the formation of the PMO from the executives (who are not formally on the committee, but are the project sponsors).

As a group we wrote up a short announcement that was 4 paragraphs taking up about 3/4 of a page. The CFO said that it was too long and implied too much power to the PMO. The IT director and I re-wrote the announcement to make it short, about 5 sentences, and watered down the decision making powers. We wrote that the committee would work with the executives to get this important project done.

The problem: It has been a couple of weeks, but the announcement still hasn’t been sent out. How do I remind a CFO, that the number one reason that ERP projects fail is a lack of executive support?

I gave the new announcement text to him on Monday of last week. It took a week to find out that he didn’t like it. I stopped by his office every hour, to talk to him about it, until he promised to meet with me the next day. That would have been Tuesday, but his door was shut all day.

Our PMO meetings are held on Tuesdays so I found out that he talked to the IT Director, to have him handle this announcement. Unfortunately for the CFO, the IT Director has the same questions as I do: What is wrong with the first 2 versions, and how can we fix it?

Another week is going by and we have no chance for this announcement until next week. My frustration is starting to display itself, and I have to work to keep it in check. I don’t want to treat people like children and tell them to do what they know needs to be done.

In the meantime, I’ve tried to Google information on announcing a PMO. There isn’t much there. You can “Socialize” the idea, you can find actual announcements, even a few books talk briefly about the importance of announcing the PMO. But, there are no good “Here’s how to do it” articles. If you found this Blog looking for How To Do It, then I have this to say: “Good Luck!”.

While I’m waiting, I can comfort myself with the thought that It’s a global world out there and Technology makes it happen.

Power Struggles 02/27/2009

Posted by TBoehm30 in ERP, PMO.
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The PMO exists and they are excited about the new role they will play in this large project. The ERP system will help define the future of the company and they know it. The executives are entirely behind the ERP project, knowing how important it is, and they helped define the PMO. Now it is time to announce to the company that the PMO exists, what it’s goals are, and ask for assistance from everybody in this new project.

The first week was spent re-working the announcement to better fit the desires of management. It was too long, so we took out quite a bit. We had to remove some text that may have prevented some of the politics that I know will follow. We watered down the responsibilities just a bit so as not to conflict with the responsibilities of the executives. Now the announcement is simple and to the point. But it still hasn’t been sent out. The second week was spent waiting for executives to get the announcement out.

I can appreciate the schedules of executives, they are obviously full. They’ve got a really bad economy to deal with and board meetings are looming. However, business does go on.

I think that the problem is that the PMO will be making decisions on process that are currently the responsibility of executives. I think that they worry the PMO looks like it is taking over the business. It may look like they get to make the new decisions that will drive the company.

OK, I can see that issue. However, the executives are not going to want to make the decisions necessary for process engineering in a large ERP project. Not only will they have no desire, but it doesn’t sound like they have the time. That is why we created a PMO.

My job next week will be to explain the purpose of the PMO and convince executives that it is time to announce it. We have fully documented the PMO charter, its goals and mission, as well as the functions and services it will perform. This documentation should be enough to show the executives that the PMO will not detract from their power. The PMO will work WITH them to make sure these decisions are done right.

An ERP project is huge, it covers multiple business units, multiple functionalities, and several departments. This is not something you want run by a single person, especially one who is already quite busy. A committee of people containing representatives from numerous affected stakehoulders is the way to go. They will be in a position to monitor what is going on as well as having the knowledge to make the right decisions. We have an official reporting plan to keep the executives in the loop.

I know that helping a company do the right thing means convincing people to help. Just convincing them idealogically is not enough; you then have to ask for their action. Even with executives you have to follow up with them to make sure that actions are performed. It means continually convincing them to follow-up on their decisions. For a technical person, this seems like just politics. However, it is very important to get the politics right, or it will kill the project.

For you executives out there who are sitting on their action commitments: It’s a global world out there and technology makes it happen.