Article: Start with the simple things

7265201I’ve had a few wonderful opportunities lately to talk to high-tech CIOs about what costs them the most time.  I had thought I’d hear about project management and resource management issues.  ‘We need a better scheduling algorithm’ or ‘We need a better resource-leveling engine,’ I figured I’d hear.  Not so.  The CIOs I’ve met this month in my rather non-scientific survey talked about the simple things.

“I’d just like to know if my people are working on what we planned,” said the CIO of one of our federal departments here in Canada.  “We need to be able to track how much time our people are spending on productive vs. non-productive work,” said another CIO, this one from the IT department of a major engineering company in the UK.

When you look at this in retrospect, it’s not too surprising.  The 80/20 rule probably applies here as it does in so many things.  Twenty percent of the enterprise project functionality can deliver eighty percent of the value.  That’s certainly possible in organizations with a very new project management structure.

I get the chance to talk often to organizations about how they should proceed with their deployment of enterprise project management methodologies and I’ve always been a big fan of a graduated approach.  This allows the organization to ease-in to the change in culture while enjoying the first benefits of the project system.  These IT professionals have confirmed that this is the best plan. 

In the opinion of the CIOs I’ve just met, it seems that the most critical elements of a project system to implement are the abilities to a) inform workers what work they have been assigned and b) track where time was spent.  This being the case, many organizations are electing to look at implementing the timesheet aspect of their project system and a simple task allocation or information system to get things started.  For many organizations, just seeing where the hours are being spent is an eye-opener.  Executives are often shocked at the amount of productive time is being spent on actual project work.  I often hear expectations from management that over 80% of their employees time is being spent on project work.  Once the actual data is in, they are often amazed to find out that the number is closer to 50%.  That’s not to say that employees are shirking work.  It’s much more likely that the corporate infrastructure itself is at fault. 

“It seems silly, but the most important thing for us is to find out what work has actually been accomplished,” I was told by one CIO.  “Despite the fact that we’ve not implemented a complete enterprise project system yet, we do know what people should be working on.  Just tell me what we’re actually doing and I’ll be more effective.”

These sentiments don’t, of course, eliminate the desire for integrated project management.  That is almost universal.  Virtually all of the CIOs I talked to identified enterprise resource capacity planning as their most desirable, yet missing management function. 

So, for those of you who are still working on your enterprise project management implementations, take heart.  You can still make great strides forward by implementing the basics.