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Know when to pull in subject matter expertise! New Year, new IT Project Manager you - part 4

Image of a fireman putting out a fire

How are those New Year Resolutions holding up?

It’s OK me too!

As I write this, we’re now (just) into February. Dry January can, at last, be consigned to history! Perhaps as well as we are now one-twelfth into the new year - how are those 2020 goals progressing?

Discussing those goals with IT Project Management colleagues, friends, clients and acquaintances, it occurred to me that there are some broad themes in the areas we have identified for improvement this year.

That’s what this series of five posts is all about. So far, we’ve talked about managing with meaning and purpose, confirmation bias – how and why to avoid it, and how making good habits will make a big difference, and today … knowing when to pull in a subject matter expert!

When’s the best time to start putting out a fire?

It sounds like a silly question but imagine that you walk into your kitchen and it was on fire. Your partner is cooking chips and the oil in the pan has caught light. The eye-level cabinets around your hob are blazing and the fire has spread to the kitchen blind. What do you do? At this point you call the fire service, right?

A firefighter friend said something that chimed with me once, he was saying that in many cases people leave it too long to call the emergency services … the damage and risk increases with every second you delay making the call. IT Projects can be like this!

Back to your kitchen, this chip pan fire that we’re imagining is on an event timeline. Like an incident within the lifecycle of your IT Project, there are stages at which you can sort it yourself with the resources you have and there is a point where you need expert help. So, the chip pan starts to look like it’s going to boil over – you take it off the heat and let it simmer down; the oil catches light – you spread a wet tea towel over the pan; the oil catches light but you can’t find a tea towel and it spreads to the cabinet above the hob – you grab the fire extinguisher; and so on. When do you call the firefighters out?

IT Project firefighting

In any IT Project, inevitably, there will be times where something comes at you and blindsides you from left-field. A scope creep request, new requirements from a client, a question that you don’t have an answer for.  It always seems to happen on a Friday afternoon, in my experience, when my minded has started to think about fish and chips and the weekend ahead.

Like the chip pan fire, as an IT Project Manager, you’re on an event time continuum when your project veers off course. There will be stages where you can sort it yourself with the resources you have and a point when you need expert help.

Have you ever looked back at a failed IT Project and identified something that you could have done differently? It’s eye-opening, isn’t it?! Post mortems are great for learning for the future, but so much better to get in at an earlier stage when the project can be saved – hindsight is great but foresight is better!

When we’re asked to help save a failing project with resources from the Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) universe, one of the first things we do is assess the current state. Like my firefighter friend, there are times when what’s before you is a small chip pan fire and there are times when the whole kitchen is alight. And, again like my firefighter friend, we’re left wishing you’d called us sooner.

Prevention is better

Of course, in an IT Project, you have the wonderful opportunity to actually have the firefighter with you all the time. PMaaS talent makes a great emergency service but, actually, they are an even more potent incident prevention resource.

Often, IT Projects flounder because of a capability gap. Something happens and you have to react but you don’t have the experience, the people or the tools to meet the demands of the situation. Or, even worse, you DO have the resources and subject matter expertise in-house but you failed to deploy them.

The best IT Project Managers I know see asking for help as a strength, not a weakness – and the greatest ones know who to ask and when.

The inevitable football analogy

As regular readers will know, I love a football analogy.

So, here we go (here we go, here we go).

In the FA Cup recently Liverpool (world and European champions, and runaway league leaders) were coasting to a two-nil victory over Shrewsbury (who, as I write this, are in 16th  position two divisions below).

The manager identified a need and, an hour into the match, made a substitution. On came Jason Cummings who scored twice within ten minutes to force a replay.

Now, imagine if Shrews manager Sam Ricketts had made that call ten minutes sooner or fifteen minutes later or decided to play Cummings from the start … would have been a different story.

So it is with IT Projects. Having a PMaaS resources partner sitting on your bench is a no brainer but knowing when to call on them to take off their tracksuit bottoms and warm-up is a judgment call and a skill.

Of course, with PMaaS you have a distinct advantage over a football manager – you have a whole universe of talent on your bench waiting for the call.

So, the question is, when do you make that call? The answer is aaS soon as possible (sorry, not sorry).

aaS soon as possible (still not sorry).

Take Business analysts (BAs). They deliver considerable value to IT Projects by bridging the gap between IT and the business. They engage with business leaders, stakeholders and IT end-users to understand, identify and recommend data-driven solutions that can add value, facilitate change and drive efficiencies.

Now, a BA could be brought into a struggling IT Project mid lifecycle. They’d use data analytics to assess processes, thoroughly understand business requirements and deliver data-led reports and recommendations. You’d get a return on investment (ROI), as I’ve said in another post on the subject “the best BAs combine the creative instincts of a project manager, an accountant’s eye for financial feasibility, a business leaders understanding of culture and an IT experts knowledge of the technologically possible, to advise on how to improve products, hardware, software, services or processes”.

But imagine having this resource from the start! Business analysts are often the first to engage with project stakeholders at a critical stage of the project lifecycle – the point where what you do will influence how well a project will meet the needs of the wider business. Why wouldn’t you have data-driven insight at this crucial stage?

With Business Analysis as a Service (BAaaS) you can have this resource at the start without adding to your payroll headcount. Where on that failing IT Project incident time continuum we imagined earlier will you get the greatest ROI?

aaS and when

The ‘as a Service’ universe is expanding by the second to meet the changing demands of IT Projects. Every capability gap, every incident, every stakeholder request … there’s a resource ready to meet it.

It may even be that subject matter expertise is even closer than you think, sitting just a few desks away or somewhere in your contacts list!

The judgement we have to make is when to make the call. If we can just get a little better at that, the damage to our IT Projects will be reduced significantly. 

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