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Straight Talk on Project Management

Four ways to forecast outcomes

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How IT Projects give spoilers. Four ways to forecast outcomes

A client who is a huge M People fan was delighted that I’d remembered this fact when I called her this week, she was less delighted though that I’d called to discuss that the band’s lead singer, Heather Small, had been revealed to be Chandelier on Masked Singer!

“Thanks, David, I’ve not seen that one yet!” she said.

Brilliant! As I write this, we’re less than a week into the New Year and I’ve already dropped a spoiler.

Last year, a colleague accidentally spoiled The Great British Bake Off final for a co-worker who had it recorded to Sky Plus ready to watch that night; an Amazon delivery made me pause a football game I was watching, but the notifications from my sports news apps bombarded me with updates on the last-minute winning goal and result, meanwhile, the winner of the ‘most interesting way to hand in your notice’ award went to a Project Manager on a project I was consulting on who ruined the end of the new James Bond Movie, No Time To Die, for his CIO, he thought she had seen it.

Spoilers, it seems, are everywhere!

Wouldn’t it be good if IT Project challenges gave spoilers?!

I mean who wouldn’t welcome a heads up on the surprise, curveball ending that’s in store for their IT Project?

The thing is IT Project calamities DO ‘phone ahead’ with spoilers!! It’s how receptive you are that makes all the difference.

The truth is IT Project Management teams DO predict what’s going to happen in the future all the time – when you forward-schedule resource needs and plan tasks or forecast the budget required for work that hasn’t happened yet. So, you’ve got the intuitive skills.

I recall, when I was writing for CIO.com, I was impressed by a brilliant piece from a fellow contributor about how predictive analytics can help forecast future results based on historical data and how analytics techniques, like machine learning and statistical modelling, can make a big difference to business outcomes. I’ll share a link to John Edwards’ article, it is worth a read, but you don’t have to go down a statistical modelling route to see what’s around the corner. 

FOUR WAYS TO FORECAST 

1 – DECISION TREES

In his CIO.com blog, John touches upon one of the most popular techniques – decision trees. A “schematic, tree-shaped diagram that’s used to determine a course of action or to show a statistical probability. The branching method can also show every possible outcome of a particular decision and how one choice may lead to the next.”

I love a decision tree or any system that encourages you to think on paper. Writing down decisions and actions forces you to consider their consequences and is often the best way to predict their outcomes. 

It’s not just cataloguing decisions on paper that can have a tremendously positive impact either. Any thought, written down, becomes a thing to be actioned rather than fleeting across your busy mind and out into the ether. 

Over the years, I’ve seen many a project flounder through such a simple, avoidable, basic error as not making thoughts physical and permanent – and writing them down. Who hasn’t been driving into work and their subconscious mind has made you think to check something on your way in only to be lost in the distraction that follows a driver pulling in front of you at the last minute?

One friend always carries a notebook and pen with him, so that he can jot down thoughts as they come – he’s even been known to do this in the loo because the risk of distraction occurring between the bathroom and his desk was too great!  

2 – TAKE A HELICOPTER VIEW

Especially in these times of increasingly reactive IT Projects, it’s more important than ever to elevate above the noise being generated by your IT Project and listen out for the signals it is sending. It’s tempting to plough on, delivery lead times have contracted, budgets have been squeezed, who has the time or money to take time out to hover above the project?

I often quote this section of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where Stephen R. Covey uses a fabulous jungle metaphor to explain strategic leadership.

Covey asks the reader to picture a group cutting their way through the jungle undergrowth with machetes. Behind them are the managers, sharpening the machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, implementing muscle development programs and improved technologies, and allocating resources by setting up working schedules for the machete wielders. Covey says, “The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘Wrong jungle!”

When teams and resources are stretched, as they invariably are these days, omitting to occasionally climb the tree and check you’re chopping through the right jungle can be more costly than ever. Which leads nicely onto …

3 – A FRESH PAIR OF EYES 

Stoneseed’s Technical Advisory Services, and Technical Architecture expertise is a great way to ensure that there is a fresh pair eyes always evaluating your projects to ensure that they’re fit for purpose, aligned with business need, etc – throughout the lifecycle. 

ACTUAL SPOILER ALERT!!! I’ve written a whole blog on this which is coming soon, in it I use this building site analogy.

In your project team, you have a Technical Architect, and they’re like the architect on a building, they will take your requirements and produce a blueprint, a plan of how what you need will be achieved within the constraints of current building technologies. Then, the builders crack on transforming this into a deliverable reality, adjusting for changing conditions, and managing external factors, like the team who deliver the IT Project do. 

In my building site scenario, a Technical Design Authority (TDA) is the surveyor and/or building control; they make sure that what you have built is compliant, well-built in terms of quality and is fit for purpose. No construction site has building control sat in the canteen ready to check that everything is compliant, at every moment. Instead, they come at the end of the build and sign off. In IT Projects, this is too late. Realising that an IT Project is no longer fit for purpose, because it veered off track somewhere around the midpoint of its lifecycle, can be the difference between success and failure.

Stoneseed’s Technical Advisory Services and Technical Design Authority expertise can keep you on track, call me and ask for more.

4 – EFFECTIVE COMMS AND PROPER DOCUMENTATION 

My friend is working on a huge project right now, it’s being delivered across a number of offices, all in different cities, spanning three continents and, of course, different time zones. To achieve this they have the biggest, most extensive, and most colourful Gantt chart that she has ever seen. Every task is really broken down, colour coded to the point where they ran out of ‘regular’ colours, I recall her telling me that it was a thing of beauty!

Nothing was left to chance.

Except for the day that a delay occurred but wasn’t communicated immediately via the Gantt chart. The delay affected handover for three teams, which had a knock-on effect for two other teams who are now up against it to hand over their part on time and bring the project back on schedule. A delay will have cost consequences for the business – time is money!

The irony here is that the teams waiting for handover had finished the work they were completing in parallel with the delayed team – ahead of schedule. They could have jumped on the overdue work and probably prevented the overrun that led to them being hamstrung waiting! BUT they too didn’t communicate the efficient completion of their work.

Good news or bad news! Good communication and documentation today give amazing insight into the health of your project tomorrow.

Spoiler alert! You can predict the future of your IT Project by intending, anticipating, and designing it. At Stoneseed we have lots of other ways to take control of your outcomes too. Call me on 01623 723910 or email info@stoneseed.co.uk to find out more.

  Find out about Stoneseed’s Technical Advisory Services and the wider PMaaS model

Source: Predictive analytics: Transforming data into future insights | CIO