Make Interoperability Part of Your Project
With CRM being this month’s focus area, making all your systems interact with each other is a key part of being able to get the data you need to feed your CRM system. Your project, therefore, if it has anything to do with IT, systems or data, probably needs some kind of interoperability approach in order to make it possible to pull relevant bits of information out when they are needed.
Think about it for a moment. If you design and build something that is completely standalone that’s good for a short while. But when you need to create a single view of the truth – a single customer record or report showing various data points – you will have to merge data from that system with data held in other systems. Which one is the master data? Even something simple like a customer informing you of a change of address becomes a problem if the systems aren’t linked.
What is interoperability?
Interoperability is that link between systems. This includes things like programming languages. When you are designing a product, think about the environment in which it will operate, who needs to use it and how it will link to, provide data for or send data to other systems. It’s often easier to think about information or data flow rather than the systems themselves, as these can be mapped on afterwards.
Using common standards and programming languages for system builds can save money and make it easier to find technical team members to work on your projects. Using open source tools, for example, is one way to build interoperability into your systems, but of course this will only work if your other systems use the same protocols.
Why is it important to your project?
No project is really standalone. Including interoperability in your design specifications as a non-functional requirement builds in future proofing. It also simplifies making links with other projects and systems which is especially important if your project is being carried out as part of a programme.
How do you get it?
You can’t design in interoperability yourself, although it doesn’t hurt to know that you need it! Involve your firm’s technical architect or, if you are using commercial off the shelf packages, talk to the supplier. A business analyst can help map processes and explain how the business users will actually use the system, so they can be really helpful when it comes to showing where the data comes from and how individual records are used and updated.
The best advice is to look at the big picture from the start of the project. Consider how things connect and consider what might be asked of the system or the project in the future. Of course, you can’t always predict how your new IT package will be used, but you can have a good guess. And you may find that users are already suggesting technical and functional changes that you are having to put into a bucket called ‘Phase 2’ for assessment and analysis later. These features may give you a good idea about the sort of things users will be asking for in the future so you can build in (or at least not shut any doors) for them.
Interoperability is probably already in your company’s technical strategy, so that’s a good place to start if you are building up your project requirements or including constraints in your project initiation document.
It isn’t the most glamorous of project requirements, but if you want your product – be that CRM or something else – to be useful and to be used, then it is worth considering from the outset.
4 Pitfalls of project estimating
In this video I talk about 4 pitfalls of project estimating.
What’s your USP?
One way to distinguish yourself from the other project managers in the department is to think about how good your grasp is of project finances. This is often an area where project managers have weaker skills because not all projects require them to balance lots of books and sometimes big projects even have financial analysts assigned to them so they don’t have to worry about working out the detail themselves.
So if you want to set yourself apart and develop a USP (unique selling point – something that makes you different from everyone else), building your project financial skills is a great start. You can then demonstrate how much value you add by being able to explain the project financials to your C-suite stakeholders.
Show you have a grasp on project finances
When asked, you should be able to talk knowledgeably about your project’s budget and whether or not you are on track. If you don’t have the figures to hand and you’ve been caught in the corridor by an exec who wants to know, explain that you don’t want to tell them the wrong thing and that you’ll check when you are back at your desk. Then follow up and email them the right figures as soon as you can. Of course, if pushed, you can always give a ballpark figure.
Show you understand the business case
Ideally, when you discuss your project with C-suite stakeholders (or anyone else, for that matter), you should be able to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the financials of the business case. If the project is going to deliver some kind of return on investment, then you should understand how that is going to be calculated. If there are other financial benefits, make sure you understand those and how the project deliverables and the work the team is doing will actually end up generating cash when the project is complete.
Work with your finance team
Get to know your finance department! They are a source of lots of useful information so find out what help they can offer you and make use of them! Even if they don’t have the staff to be able to dedicate lots of time to your project they can often help with ad hoc queries especially when it comes to things like invoice processing, year end processes and accruals.
Be aware of context that your project is working in. For example, is the company under some financial strains or is there pressure to spend a certain amount of the department budget before the end of the year?
Also make sure that you understand the financial terms that you are likely to hear when it comes to company budgets – ROI, IRR, payback period and so on. Check out my videos on these subjects if you need a refresher.
Think big picture
How does your project fit into your programme and the business strategy overall? This will also help set you apart as in my experience many project managers don’t have the ability to think about the bigger picture overall and focus very much on their own projects and getting those done (although this is changing). Being able to see the big picture is a further way to demonstrate your value to the C-suite and to set yourself apart from your fellow project managers.
Showing that you have a grasp on your project finances and how this affects the project and the company overall brings a touch of reality to business case, and helps you explain your project’s contribution to your team members as well. Make your business savvy the way you distinguish yourself from the competition at the top level – it really can set you apart in the quest for a new job or for recognition in what you do.
1. Euro invoices still require VAT
From time to time I get invoices in euro from suppliers who are based in mainland Europe. The invoices arrive without VAT. But according to local UK regulations, we still have to pay VAT on the services received. Check your local rules! Your accountancy team should be able to help clarify what taxes are required in your country, whether or not these are specified on the final bill.
2. EVM is really not that complicated
There’s lots of jargon and statistics around Earned Value Management (or Earned Value Analysis, whatever you choose to call it) but the basic principle is easy. It’s just a toolthat shows whether you are over or under budget, behind or ahead of schedule, at any given moment in the project. As EVA takes time and effort to do properly I find that it adds limited value to small projects. With a larger project you may find the EVA method useful to help you understand where you are.
3. Tolerance is there to be used, that’s why you agree it
Don’t feel bad about using your tolerances. Your project sponsor really doesn’t want to be bothered by every small change that affects the budget or time delivery for your projects, especially when they don’t make a material difference to what you have already agreed with him or her.
4. On a capital project you can’t capitalise everything
If you are working on a project where pretty much everything is capitalised, even the staff (which local rules might let you do in some circumstances if you are bringing an asset into service), then it’s tempting to think that you can pay for everything out of your capital budget. Unfortunately (again, depending on your local rules), you can’t. For example, even in situations where you can capitalise staff costs you can’t capitalise training. Of course, local accountancy regulations vary from country to country and even within a country, so check with your Finance team before you assume that you can capitalise all your project costs.
5. Accruals are complicated if you don’t plan for them
At the end of the year you will have to accrue for work that has been done but not yet paid for. That ensures that when the bill does turn up, it comes out of this year’s budget, not next year’s – very important if you are trying to balance the books and have budgeted for it this year! But that means you need to tell someone to keep that money aside for when you receive the invoice.
Keep good records as this will be a massive help come year end and it will make a real difference to how time consuming this task is. Take advice from your Finance team and plan early so that you aren’t trying to work out what’s been done but not paid for at the very last minute.
Even better, get your capital accountant to do it for you if you can!
6. One template doesn’t suit all
Your project sponsor wants a different view of the project budget to what works for you on a day-to-day basis. Your detailed tracking spreadsheet is probably too in depth for your sponsor and even some of the project team. Be aware that you may have to present different options for viewing the same data or different types of reports, but be sure that whatever you do, the data is consistent. You really don’t want your own records to be showing one set of figures and then the reports you send out to the Project Board to add up to something different. That’s a sure-fire way to damage your credibility!
Get more efficient with apps
Did you get any gadgets for Christmas? And are you still using them now? Gadgets like tablets and smartphones and the apps that go with them can help you work more efficiently.
You might have noticed the increasing trend towards Bring Your Own Device, and your company might already have policies in place about allowing you to access work data like information about your project on your personal devices. This trend shows no sign of stopping and this year we’ll probably see more and more companies adopt security policies that let employees use their own smartphones for work purposes. It helps them keep costs down but it does increase the admin and management and open up risks for sharing confidential data so if you are going to BYOD, make sure you do it within the official guidelines of your company – if in doubt, talk to your IT team about what you need to do to secure your device.
So, enough about policies and security, on to the apps. Well, actually I’m not going to focus on specific apps that will help you manage your projects because what’s available changes all the time. Instead, here are some things to look out for when you select what apps you want on your device for work:
1. Apps that allow access to your project management online tool
Many project management tools that are available as hosted solutions now come with mobile interfaces for Android and iOS that enable you to use them on your tablets and smartphones. This is a good place to start because if you already use an online project management tool the chances are you’ll want to access it on the go.
Check the company’s website to see if they offer a mobile app version of their product and then download it to your device. You’ll probably need to use the same login and password to access the site and then you should be able to see all your project management data from your phone. Some apps have limited functionality or views, so check out what you can see and do before you expect to need to use it while travelling so you aren’t surprised!
2. Apps that integrate with your online project management tool
Another place to look for apps is those that integrate with your online project management software. Again, check the website or blog from the company that provides your software as it is there that you’ll be most likely to find information about what social networks or apps have full integration with their products.
The most useful integrations will be things you already use regularly or could make use of, such as Google Docs or email tools but it could also be useful to look at what you could do differently and how you could update your plan. For example, some tools allow integration with social networks like Twitter and Yammer and these can be used to provide real time status updates for your project – useful if your project team want to update their progress on the go.
3. Apps that help you work
You can also download standalone apps that help you work more productively. Many are free but there are some you’ll have to pay for if you think you’ll get the value from them. My current favourites are Pages (the word processing app for my iPad) and Dragon, which is a voice recognition tool that means I can dictate text and don’t need to use the keyboard to record my thoughts. It only works when I have an internet connection, but I can cope with that.
There are so many tools available to you for tracking time, managing meetings, storing tasks and so on – you’ll have to try a few to see what works for you but try to mirror how you work offline so the change to your working practice isn’t too big and is sustainable. Otherwise you’ll find that the app creates more work for you and really doesn’t boost your productivity.
4. Apps that help you keep in touch with project teams
Finally, look for apps that will help you keep in touch with your project team members. Things like Skype fall into this category, along with other apps that allow you to do instant messaging, set up group chats or collaborate somehow. This normally only work if the other team members have the same apps on their devices, so you’ll need to collectively agree what to use and how to use it, otherwise you won’t get any value from it!
What if team members don’t have a gadget with apps on? Don’t let them feel left out. You’ll have to build other communication channels into your project or take the discussion off your device completely so that you can successfully integrate everyone in the team.
When you search for apps, look for ones that are up to date and with good user reviews. Don’t be afraid to stop using it if it doesn’t work for you or your team. And of course, use your gadgets considerately, following good gadget etiquette when at work!
What are your favourite apps at the moment? Let us know in the comments.