Out with the Old and In with the New – Picking Your Path (3 of 4)

old_techThis is the third posting in our series to help you assess the resources, methods, and timing to move from a legacy system to process enablement using a new system.

In our first post, we stressed the importance of clearly defining what processes the new system should enable and what steps should be automated.  In our second post we discussed selecting the correct technology for your new system.  Once you have a very well defined idea of what the new system should accomplish and the level of automation that is needed, and you have made the next critical decision – the technology to be used – you can now determine the best way to proceed to the new system.

In this phase of the assessment your focus will shift from “what” to “how” and “when”.  Just as in the first 2 phases of the assessment, you will have some choices to make in this phase of the assessment as well.  To gather the information that you need to make the correct choices you should poll your user and executive communities to find the following information:

  1. Is there a new product initiative and when is the anticipated launch?
  2. Is there a new law that impacts your business and when will it take effect?
  3. Is there a compelling business event on the horizon, how will it impact your processes?
  4. Has the competitive landscape changed and how is that impacting your business?
  5. Has there been a change in senior management and how is there direction changing your business processes?
  6. Is there a budget process and how many resources have been allocated to system and process change?
  7. Is there a large problem with the current system that can’t be or is too expensive to fix?

There may be other questions particular to your business (information privacy, system security, and merger and acquisition come to mind) but be sure to at least explore and answer the 7 questions above.

New systems are disruptive to the company culture, now is the time to assess how much disruption your organization can withstand.  Is a rip the bandage off approach the best one or would a less disruptive approach be better.   In other words, is it logical to deploy the new system to all potential users, or would a phased in approach to select user groups work better?  Should you wait to release until all of the envisioned processes are enabled or is it a better choice to release when key processes are enabled and then schedule subsequent small releases when additional development is completed?  Your assessment should explore and explain your options on “how” and “when”.  It should include compelling reasons for each possible path and pitfalls to avoid on each path.  The first draft should not seek to recommend a single path but rather, expose and explore several viable alternate design, development, and deployment options that fit your needs and circumstances.  Your goal is to weed out any recommendations that don’t fit with your needs and circumstances and you should have enough information at this point to do that.

Eventually, the final document will have a “best” glide path in it, along with the other paths that were explored and rejected.  Getting to that best path is the subject of our next posting in this series.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.

 

Oracle Service Cloud: November 2016 Release

It’s been a few weeks since November was released and I am finally getting a chance to sit down and reflect on the new things I have seen! It is the final release of 2016 but it is not devoid of promising new features. As with any new release that comes there is a new tutorial that goes over the release highlights; you may want to review it as I will not go over every new feature: http://docs.oracle.com/cloud/latest/servicecs_gs/servicecs_videos.htm. Lots of things are changing with service cloud even the format of the documentation and where it is stored has changed. Slowly but surely all the old rightnow.com artifacts are migrating to docs.oracle.com with the rest of the other Oracle Cloud product documents. The end of an era is coming it seems.

Dec1

Dec2

Full release readiness document: http://www.oracle.com/webfolder/technetwork/tutorials/tutorial/cloud/service/nov16-service-wn.htm

Live Chat

This is a feature that I have been hearing about for 6 months or more and it is quite fun not to mention helpful. Sneak preview allows agents to see what a customer is typing before they hit submit. It is designed to enhance agent productivity and bring value to the contact center by decreasing handle times. Allowing the agent to see what the customer is typing ahead of time gives them the opportunity to formulate an answer faster, resulting in faster responses, and faster conversations.

Agent Browser UI (BUI)

The November 2016 release is a huge release for the Agent BUI. You will still need to request it to be enabled and your Oracle account manager can assist.

What’s under the Hood?

The engine has gone through an overhaul. Significant performance enhancements have been made to support high interactivity. In order to achieve this it has gone through an architectural change which now makes it one version that is compatible with versions of Oracle Service Cloud back to May 2015.

Data! Data! Data!

No this is not a bad episode of Seinfeld. The Agent BUI now comes with a broader range of analytics bells and whistles, including rollups, slicing, formatting options, calculations, sorting, hiding and new charts.

Fashion fades, only style remains the same

The UI theme has been updated for consistency across all Oracle Cloud portfolio applications like Sales Cloud. Now you can use the BUI extension framework through the Add-in manager and do not have to host customizations any longer.

Dec3

Pass the Remote Control or change the channel

Live Chat is now a fully viable channel; contacts are automatically matched and the contact and chat workspaces are integrated.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

This is one of the most exciting because it grows the user roles that can now start taking advantage of the Agent BUI and is that much closer to complete parity with the .Net client. Knowledge authors can now author and edit knowledge articles with a new HTML editor with HTML5 support.

Integration and IoT

Oracle Integration Cloud Service (ICS) is becoming the gold standard for integrations in and outside the Oracle Cloud. It has two new connectors between Oracle Service cloud and Oracle Marketing Cloud (Responsys & Eloqua). These pre-built and certified integrations provide a two-way synchronization that ensures data consistency. The configurable framework allows extension to other objects such as incidents. https://cloud.oracle.com/en_US/integration/features

A new Internet of Things (IoT) Accelerator which provides a bi-directional integration with Oracle IoT in now available. This Accelerator allows customers to enhance CX to interface with Internet of Things (IoT) so that events and alerts received from smart devices can be consumed and appropriate remedial action taken by agents within the Oracle Service Cloud desktop. The integration is using the ICS framework, thereby ensuring configurability, reliability and fault tolerance. Several initiatives leveraging ICS and IoT are being developed in the eVerge labs so stay tuned.

Oracle product webinars provide even more detailed information regarding this release and others. You can sign up here: http://bit.ly/OSVCexperts

SAVE THE DATE: Oracle Modern Service in Vegas!

April 25 – 27th, 2017 http://modernserviceexperience.oracle.com/

For more information on the November 2016 version including release notes, manuals, webcasts, tutorials and community posts. Please review at the official RightNow documentation overview page.

eVerge Group is an Oracle Platinum Partner with extensive experience. For more information about Oracle Service Cloud and our other business solutions, contact us through at: cx@evergegroup.com.

newheadshotAbout the author: Rhianna Albert (Just Rhianna) Director of CX Solutions @ eVerge Group has a proven track record helping business improve customer experience, subscribes to the Roadmap to Modern, is an active member of the CX and Service Community. Follow on twitter: @just_rhianna

 

 

 

Out with the Old and In with the New – Choose Your Technology (2of 4)

old_techThis is the second posting in our series to help you assess the resources, methods, and timing to move from a legacy system to enablement using a new system.

In our first post, we stressed the importance of clearly defining what processes the new system should enable and what steps should be automated.  Once you have a very well defined idea of what the new system should accomplish and the level of automation that is needed, you can start to make the next critical decision – the technology to be used!  Even though it seems that the world is moving to cloud computing, you still have the choice to build it yourself, use on premise commercial software, use hosted commercial software, or migrate to a cloud solution.

If you decide, based on the goals for your system and the resources you have available to build the system from scratch, you have a solid start on gathering the information you need to design, build, test, and deploy your homegrown system.

However, it is probably a safe bet that most of you are not thinking about developing a custom system, or even installing an on premise solution, but rather you are contemplating a move to a cloud based solution.  Now that you are armed with a clear definition of the processes you should be enabling with the system and the level of automation you are trying to achieve, this will be a much easier process.  Without the system limits from the first phase of the assessment, the tendency for most companies is to license more functionality than they will initially, and possibly, ever need.  This can add up to a great deal of additional annual investment in the licenses, increase the cost of implementation, and add to the complexity of the system. Increased complexity will increase your training time and costs and decrease the overall adoption of the system.  In short, licensing more functionality than you need is the fastest way to reduce your return on investment in any system.

The next logical step in creating a road map or glide path from your current system to the new system should not be to show how the new system will be a one for one replacement of your current system.  Instead, your assessment should now focus on how your selected technology should be licensed and configured.  In other words, what are the gaps between the base functionality of the system that will have to be filled with additional licenses and/or configuration.  If you find that there are many gaps requiring many additional licenses and configuration, you should take a step back and ask 2 questions:

  1. Have we carefully determined the processes and automation?  Most off-the-shelf and cloud solutions have a great deal of built in knowledge, if your needs don’t match the off-the-shelf or cloud solution closely, this may have been caused by expressing some needs during discovery that would not truly add benefit to your company if implemented.
  2. Have you selected the correct technology? If you are sure that you have correctly discovered your needs, it may be that you have selected the wrong technology.  Be honest with yourself at this point, it is unlikely that you will be happy with your new system if it is a poor match and you have to extend the functionality with a number of additional licenses, or if you have to use non-standard configuration to approximate the functionality you need.

Generally, you will find that you have included functions and/or automation that you don’t need rather than having selected an incorrect technology.  We know it is difficult to cull that list of requirements and pare it down.  In fact you may need every bit of that functionality!  That’s why every assessment should include timing and phasing, and that’s the subject of our next posting.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

 

Out with the Old and In with the New (1 of 4)

The 2013 Meriam Webster dictionary notes, “In computing, a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.”  Based on the number of assessments being done by our various technology practices, there is no question that there is a growing trend to replace legacy systems.  It is a continuation of the evolution of enterprise computing; from ledgers, to mainframes, to distributed systems, to hosted web, to the cloud.  In many ways, moving to a new system can be even more challenging than moving from paper to the legacy system that is being replaced.  That is why any assessment of the effort and any map purported to show the path from the legacy system to a new system should be very carefully crafted and contain some critical elements that make it possible to accurately assess the effort to not only replace the legacy system, but also create enough benefit from the new system so that the investment being contemplated can be justified.  We hope that this and the next few posts in this series help you with your assessments.

Spend the first few days of any assessment asking and answering one question, “What should the new system do?”  This is, and should be, different from “What does the current system do?”  You will have plenty of time to ask that question later.  It is also very different from “What reports or metrics should I get out of the new system?”  Again, assessing the health of the processes and the effectiveness of the users is important, but you will have plenty of time to get those answers later in the assessment.  It seems obvious to even the casual reader that an assessment and the development of a glide path from a legacy system to a new system can only be performed if you have a clear target for what the new system must accomplish, but many customers struggle with that concept.  There are some tools that can be very helpful when answering the question, “What should the new system do?”

  • First, survey 5 distinct groups in the organization:  legacy system users who are individual contributors, legacy system users who are managers and executives, members of your legal team, members of your finance team, and members of your IT team that support the legacy system.  This ensures that you have a 360 degree view of the system from within your organization.  You have wide latitude in the questions to include on the survey, but be sure to include:
  • What will be the most important process(es) the system enables?
  • What routine processes should be automated?

Be sure to include your “far out” fringe users in the survey process.  The most innovative ideas in every organization are found in the fringe.

This first critical step in the process is vital to the success of the transition project.  If your current system is successfully enabling and automating all of the processes that it does or should touch, you will find that the answers to the survey confirm that.  The responders will simply parrot back to you what they like about the current system and little in the way of new functionality or automation will be included.  If on the other hand, the system being replaced does not meet user needs and expectations; you will receive a mixture of what they currently like and what they would like to see in the new system in terms of functionality and automation.  NOTE:  Be sure that the goals of your initial survey are clear (process enablement and efficiency) and that you are NOT asking the responders to describe the current system, but instead ensure that they are focused on and describing a future system.

  • Second, schedule over the shoulder sessions with individual contributors and managers who are using the current system. The assessor should be someone who is not familiar with your current system, but is familiar with your business and markets.  Your goal is to document what processes are being enabled and how efficiently they are being enabled.  Don’t focus on “how”, focus instead on “what.”
    1. What is the goal of the process?
    2. What input does the system need?
    3. What processing does the system do?
    4. What is the output of the process?
    5. What indicates that the process was successful?

Don’t be tempted by the trap to begin gathering additional minute, non-functional details such as user interface preferences, timing, problems with the current process enablement, etc.  You will have plenty of time in the next phase of the assessment.  Remember, our goal here is to define a target – what system configuration will meet the goals for process enablement and efficiency.

Assessments that start well usually end well.  There are detours to avoid to ensure they don’t stray from the path, and we will cover these in future installments.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

CRM – The Customer Voice #2 – When Should You Listen and Respond?

faces2

In our blog CRM -The Customer Voice #1 we quoted an excellent article on why it is important to gather customer feedback, and many suggestions on how you can gather that feedback.  In this short blog we are expanding on the article to explore who should be listening and when should they take action.

Many of you may have been taught that the customer is always right and nothing we are about to say contradicts that, however,we are suggesting that, although you should always listen, sometimes when the customer provides you feedback, it is better for your organization to ignore it! What?!?  In the past, it was much more difficult and costly to gather customer feedback (customers spoke to your sales channel, called your support group, or wrote to a corporate officer (yes, using the U.S. Post Office!).  Today’s technology has significantly lowered the barrier, which has in turn lowered the value of any one bit of customer feedback.  So how do you know what is valuable and what isn’t, when to act and when to stand pat?

It starts with who actually will review and evaluate the feedback.  In the olden days it was probably the sales rep, the support rep, or the corporate officer.  In all three cases, those individuals could be counted on to act in their own self-interest (e.g. make more sales, close the support case) and move on the feedback appropriately.  Today, feedback comes to virtually everyone in your organization from Web Designer to Shipping Clerk.  That means that there could be too many people in the loop to make coherent decisions and take decisive action unless you devise a strategy to evaluate and prioritize the feedback.  Here is what we suggest.

  1. Make certain that everyone in your company has an iron-clad understanding of your corporate vision and goals, especially your product and support organizations.  This is vital in understanding and prioritizing customer feedback.
  2. Establish a central repository for customer feedback and have your support organization review all of it
  3. Establish ‘hot stove’ criteria and recommended action. That is, anytime you receive customer feedback that is preventing them from doing business with you (e.g. crashed web site, non-operating toll-free number, incorrect operating instructions) have a plan and act on it.  There is no substitute for fixing the issue and performing service recovery.
  4. Empower your well informed support team to evaluate the rest of the feedback. We believe that your focus on the customer, your clearly communicated vision and goals, and your trust in your employees will lead them to making the appropriate decision on how to respond to the feedback.  We believe that they will:
    1. Share valuable information with the appropriate internal teams (such as product development)
    2. Evaluate all feedback against your vision and goals and whether or not the feedback is
      1. From a customer that supports the vision and goals
      2. Contains information valuable to reaching those goals
    3. Keep emotions in check – remember that unless this is a hot stove issue, they are free to determine its importance and urgency and not become panicked or flustered
    4. Understand the sentiment behind the feedback and look for trends not just a quick fix
    5. Keep close to the internal teams, even when the root cause is proving difficult to identify or fix

Customer feedback, even when it is highly negative, is valuable.  However, if you attempt to categorize it and deal with each bit as though you are in a fire drill each time, it will quickly become viewed as drudgery and not as treasure.   Celebrate positive feedback, even when it is minor, and aggregate negative feedback into achievable goals.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

 

CRM – The Voice of the Customer #1

faces2To deliver a great customer experience that builds loyal, repeat customers, you must gather, evaluate, and act on customer feedback. Your customers can provide a wealth of information about your company and your competitors. They can help you develop a better product, help you provide a better service, and help you offer more value.

jobs

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates

 

An excellent article from Client Heartbeat outlines some very good reasons to gather customer feedback.

  • Actionable feedback guides better business decisions. Whether it is decisions about your product or the way you deliver a service, your customers will give you the best advice. They’ll tell you if what you’re doing sucks, and praise you if you’re doing it right.
  • Identify ‘at risk’ customers. By gathering customer feedback you can identify your customers that are not 100% happy. These customers will tell you how they really feel about your company. It is this feedback that is so valuable.
  • Stop re-occurring problems. Customers will tell you like it is. You can use their feedback to quickly and proactively solve the problems that are causing an unhappy customer. Use this feedback to implement systems to stop the problems occurring again and potentially affecting other customers.
  • Increase customer satisfaction and reduce churn. Listening to your customers is one of nine customer retention strategies that are proven to increase customer satisfaction. It shows that you care, and goes a long way to building a healthy business relationship. People do business with people they like, know and trust – by keeping the two-way conversation open, your business can create strong, long-term relationships that provide lifetime revenue.
  • Discover potential advocates. Customer satisfaction is a key indicator as to how happy a customer is with your company. By gathering customer feedback, you can identify who you’re happiest customers are, and look to nurture them into raving advocates. Customer advocates are people who will rave about your product or service and recommend it to friends and colleagues. Imagine a world where all your new customers came from business referrals? That world is a reality, providing you know who your advocates are.

The article goes on to suggest 19 successful ways to gather customer feedback which are excerpted below:

  1. Customer Surveys

Customer Surveys are a great way to start the customer feedback process. They offer a medium that your customer is familiar with, and they give you the chance to ask specific questions that you want answers to.

  1. Behavioral Insight Surveys

Behavioral insight surveys offer businesses the ability to conduct customer feedback on a personal, behavior-driven basis.

  1. Telephone Surveys

Surveys conducted via the phone tend to give you higher survey response rates because they are more personalized and give you better reach to your customers. The challenge with telephone surveys is they are expensive. Conducting a telephone survey to gather customer feedback tends to cost a lot more than if you used an online survey tool.

  1. Mobile Surveys

With 47% of your customers now opening emails via their mobile device (24% change from last year), combined with studies that have showed people look at their phones an average of 150 times a day, mobile surveys need to be a part of your customer feedback process.

  1. Feedback Forms

Hard copy customer feedback forms that can sit around the office or be used during business meetings, offer a great means to gather feedback from customers. This is one of my favorite ways to get actionable feedback because it brings back the human element. Too many times we are expected to fill out surveys online.

  1. Focus Groups

A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service or company. These are an important tool when it comes to collecting customer feedback. They are commonly used in marketing during the early stages of product or concept development, when a company is trying to determine who their target market is, and where the product-market fit is good.

  1. Usability Testing

Usability testing is a customer feedback strategy that is used by a lot of web-based businesses. Software companies and e-Commerce sites can benefit a lot from doing usability testing. Think about it, imagine if you could watch your customers use your online product or browse through your website? You’re able to see exactly what your customers are doing and see trends in what pages they spend the most time on and the least time.

  1. Monitor Social Media

Social media is the ultimate medium to listen to your customers. Customer feedback is a plenty when it comes to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The challenge is how to monitor it effectively and use it meaningfully.

  1. Quarterly Business Reviews

Quarterly business reviews give you an opportunity to sit down with your clients, discuss what’s happened in the previous three months and discover ways you can deliver an even better service to them.

  1. Website Activity

Do your customers actually use your website or are they getting stuck somewhere?

  1. Community Groups and Discussion Boards

Customers love being a part of a community. Online community groups and discussion boards provide a great platform to engage customers for feedback.

  1. Customer Feedback Portals

Customer feedback portals are 24/7 feedback machines that make gathering feedback from customers super easy.

  1. Personal Emails

Taking a personalized approach to customer feedback by sending emails can help you get more responses. This is a strategy I recommend if you are looking for more detailed feedback from customers, that goes beyond the basic survey questions or feedback forms.

  1. Suggestion Boxes

Suggestion boxes are used more when it comes to getting customer feedback in offline environments like restaurants, B2C services, and B2B services in the financial and insurance sectors. This form of customer feedback gathering has been around for decades and still provides a great medium to engage and listen to customers.

  1. Customer Feedback Widgets

Tools like UserVoice and Get Satisfaction give you embeddable widgets that you can place on all your pages, so customers can easily provide you feedback.

  1. Customer Reviews

A 2014 study by BrightLocal found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations. Customer reviews are a form of customer feedback and provide you with great insight into what your customers really think about your business.

  1. Live Chat

Forrester Research completed a study called, “Making Proactive Chat Work”, which found that man online consumers want help from a live person while there are shopping online.

  1. In-app feedback

In-app customer feedback gives you insight into how your customers actually use your product. Intercom.io offers a great solution to help you reach out to the right users for feedback. It works by letting you identify certain segments of users, like “users last visit more than seven days”, and then enables you to push messages and engage in conversation with them.

  1. Email and Ticket Closing Surveys

The 19th customer feedback strategy is the use of email ticket closing surveys.  They have a low response rate but they are still recommended for gathering customer feedback in certain situations.

In the full article author Ross Beard describes the tools that are used to technologically enable most of the above strategies for gathering customer feedback.  Regular readers of our blogs know that we are passionate about putting the customer in the center of your business and ensuring that all of your decisions are guided by a focus on your customers.  Companies that are focused on their customer are implementing the above strategies and integrating them into their customer experience systems.  But BEWARE – not all customer feedback can help your business!  In our next blog, we will discuss how to evaluate the feedback and determine which is the most valuable and how to act on it.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Hack Your CRM – Learning to Love User Problems

CRM_hacks_graphicYou’re the Business Analyst for a large distributor and you work closely with the Vice President of Sales and her sales team.  You’ve just learned that your company is going to invest in a CRM system, in fact, the very system that you recommended and with which you are very comfortable.  Can you avoid one of the most common pitfalls that await you on this project?

A Business System Analyst (BSA) or Business Analyst (BA) is a key member of any CRM Project Team.  It is important that you don’t let your familiarity with the system that has been chosen keep you from doing what you should be doing on the project.  Rather than listing functional and non-functional requirements, what you should be doing is cataloging the business processes and goals, and then working with the system architect to determine the best way to configure the system to achieve the goal for each process.  However, when you talk to the potential users of the system, you discover what all BA’s have discovered before you.  Users have at least 2 problems when it comes to expressing their functional and non-functional requirements: 1.) The “needs” expressed are too specific or 2.)  The “needs” are too general.  For example, a user might say, “All of the required fields should be highlighted in red.”  That sure sounds like a requirement, but it is really too specific to be valuable at this point, it is really a design element.  Possibly you’ve heard a user say, “It has to be really easy to use.”  Again, that may sound like a requirement, but it is too general to be valuable at this point as well since it deals with usability and not what the system will do.

You may have also discovered that users almost always have no hesitancy at all in talking about their problems.  You should be delighted whenever you find a user who can clearly express the problem he or she is having.  Those ‘problems’ will lead you to the real ‘needs’ of the user community.  Your job is to help them see that each resolution to a problem is really an achievable goal for the project.  Users are almost always focused on their problems.   Ask yourself, why is it a problem for them?  Better yet, ask them!  For example, Joe User states, “I never know whether or not one of my sales will be accepted”  Now that certainly sounds like a problem, but why is it a problem, and what is the cause?  Your questions should clarify the issue.  “Why is that a problem for you?”   “What do you think is causing it?”  In our hypothetical case, Joe User answers both:  “I am wasting my time if the sale isn’t accepted.”   “The customer is turned down for bad credit.”  In our simple example, you as the BA can now turn this into an achievable goal.  “So, the system should have a quick way to qualify the credit of a potential customer before you take the time to create and submit an order?”    Notice, this is a question back to Joe User.  Wait for the confirmation, you don’t want to insert your assumptions and your familiarity with the system and miss the real need.  In this case, Joe User says “Yeah, if we could do that, it would be a big help!”

Don’t stop there, are there other problems you can uncover and convert to achievable goals.  In fact, you may even want to do away with the traditional listing of ‘requirements’ and replace it with system goals and the design elements to meet them.  Remember, just because you know what a system can do, don’t assume that this is what the system should do.  That is the pitfall that you must avoid on this project.  Instead, listen to the users, find their problems, and convert them to achievable goals.  Sometimes the best hack is not taking a shortcut.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist

Project Killers: The Resourceful PM (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

projectManger_lorax

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the building, where the CIO goes

And the air smells of ozone when the AC vent blows

And no music is playing, except the Black Crows

Is the cube of the gifted PM.

 

And way down the hallway, some people say

If you look far and hard you can still see today

Where the PM once stood, just as long as he could

Before somebody carried the PM away

 

Who was the PM, and what did he do?

And why was he carried to some place so new?

Far from the building and the projects long ago

The old BA still lives here.  Ask him.  He’ll know!

 

You won’t see the BA, don’t darken his hall

He stares at his laptop and waits for the call

He lurks in his cubicle, cool, calm and aloof

Where he makes up reports out of miff-muffered moof

And on special release days in April he peeks

Out past the window blinds and sometimes he speaks

And tells how the PM was carried away

He’ll tell you, perhaps…if you’re willing to pay.

 

He leans back in his chair, his shoulders a-hunch

And taps on his watch and says it’s time for lunch.

You have to be clever and take up the clue

And invite the BA to come dine with you.

 

As you settle to eat, he looks anxiously ‘bout,

and begs you be certain that you never shout.

He orders the priciest dish he can find,

and follows that up with a bottle of wine.

 

Then he grunts, “I’ll call you tonight, I’ll use secure phone,

For the secrets I’ll tell you are for your ears alone.”

BUZZ!

He’s good as his word; you move the phone to your ear

And the old BA’s words come through, though not very clear

Since he’s speaking to you through a cloth by choice

In the hopes that it will somehow help disguise his voice

“Now I’ll tell you,” he says, with his teeth sounding gray,

“How the PM came to be carried away…

 

Way back in the days when the science was new

And the people were eager, but knew not what to do

And the business thought all projects were as easy as pie

I was hired by this place to give it a try.

Then I first saw the list, the Requirements List!

The long standing reckoning of what had been missed

Sorted ‘what would be nice’ and ‘what would be bliss’

 

And promoting the list were requestors galore

Dancing and happy to see what was in store

Certain their system would soon do much more

 

But that list! That list! That Requirements List!

All of my life I’d been searching for a project like this.

A litany of needs more urgent than eating

And requestors with funding all plaintively bleating

I felt a great leaping of joy in my heart

And set up my laptop galumphing to start

 

In no time at all, I had devised a new plan

To knock off each listing as fast as I can

So with great skillful skill and with great speedy speed

I took the first entry.  And I sized up the need.

 

The instant I’d finished, I heard a ga-Roar!

I looked.  I turned to see something framed in the door

of the office.  My eyes said it was sort of a man.

Describe him?…That’s hard.  I don’t know if I can.

 

He was tallish, and youngish, but sharp dressed and preppy

And he spoke with a voice that was controlled but peppy.

“Mister!” he said in a sibilant hiss

“I am the PM.  I speak for the list.

I speak for the list, to give the words meaning

And I don’t like the way that this project is leaning”

He was upset now; I could see his hands tremble

“Isn’t the right starting your team to assemble?”

 

“Look PM,” I said.  “There’s no cause for alarm.

I took the first entry.  I am doing no harm.

In fact it’s quite useful to jump in the lead

And convert the entry to a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need.

 

The PM said, “Sir! Your actions are hasteful.

If no one can work with you, you’ll find they are wasteful!”

But the very next minute I proved he was wrong,

For just at that minute a user came along

And she thought that the entry on line one of the list

Was understood well, I had gotten the gist.

 

I laughed at the PM, “You poor stupid man!

You have to get to it as fast as you can!

“I repeat,” cried the PM, “I speak for the list!”

“I’m busy,” I told him.  I showed him my fist.

 

Then I looked back at the screen and in no time at all

Had blown the doc up to hang on the wall

And I reached out to requestors with meetings galore

And promised them results betterer than before

 

Soon I found I was working full tilt.  I was sizing up needs.

IT and the business were as busy as bees

tackling list entries and gathering more.

Soon the requirements list rolled clear to the floor.

Then…  Oh! Baby! Oh! How that requirements list continued to grow.

Now taking one entry at a time, or even tackling two

I found that the task was more than I could do.

 

So I quickly invented a new requirements tracker,

which allowed me to whack out four lines with one whacker.

I was writing down needs four times as fast as before!

And that PM? … He didn’t show up any more.

But the next week he again darkened the door.

 

He stated, “I’m the PM who speaks for the list and the listers

It seems you’ve forgotten those missuses and misters

They’ve asked me to speak in hopes that you’d heed.

You don’t have a plan to solve the first need

And my poor users are all feeling fright-full

that you will not produce something delightful.

They loved making the list.  But they didn’t realize

that with everyone asking it would grow so in size.

So they’ve taken a vote and they found with dismay

that they don’t have a need worth the price they must pay.”

 

I, the BA, felt sad as I deleted their asks.

BUT… business is business!  There were still lots of tasks.

And the project continued despite their sad masks.

 

I meant no harm, I most truly did not.

But I had to get going, so going I got

I biggered my tracker, I biggered the poster,

I biggered a chart to resemble a coaster

with buckets of needs that I got from the list

and circulated to all so that no one was missed.

I went right on working, finding more needs

And I biggered my bonus, which everyone needs!

 

Then the PM came back, I was just starting to type

when that old-nuisance PM came back with a gripe.

“I am the PM,” he paused for effect,

“and I speak for the list which now is a wreck.”

“BA!” he cried with a cruffulous croak.

“BA! You’re making this project a joke!

“My poor IT team, how they all like to wail

they can’t seem to make out the head or the tail.

“And so,” said the PM, while pushing a sigh

“They’re all lining up and saying goodbye.

“What’s more,” snapped the PM his patience had failed

“Let me say a few words about your E-mail!

“You churn out new memos day and night without stop

Most filled with Glupp and Schloppity-Schlopp

“And who reads the letters that they get from you?

“I’ve asked everybody and I’ve found that it’s few!

 

And then I got mad, I turned terribly blue!

I yelled at the PM, “Now listen here, you!

All you do is yap-yap and say what you would do.

Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you

I intend to go on doing just what I do.

And for your information, I’m just about through!

 

And at that very moment, out in the hall

We heard the soft rustle as the poster did fall

on the floor ‘neath the feet of the oncoming CIO

accompanied by shouts that the project must go.

He held out his arm and opened his fist

He flatly demanded, “Hand me the list.”

 

No more list.  No more needs.  No more work to be done.

All my hopes had been smashed and dashed, every one.

Now all that was left to be seen with my eye

Was a big empty office, the PM, and I

The PM said nothing just gave me a look

When the walls of my cubicle suddenly shook

with the pounding of feet from the people outside.

They picked up the PM.  They gave him a ride.

And I’ll never forget the look on his face

As they carried him off to a much better place

That was long, long ago

But each day since that day

I’ve sat here and relived what the PM had to say

Get the resources first, get the team to assemble.

He’d told me that with his hands all a-tremble.

Once the resources are certain I have now realized

Lists are much more easily prioritized.

And the users and listers, once they know the cost,

can easily understand the gain and the loss.

Once the plan is created, and each knows his task

Reading an e-mail about the project is the least we can ask

 

Each project has potential just like some seeds

Give them clean water, clean air, and meet all their needs

And each of them will become a healthy plant.

But if you rush them or starve them you’ll find that they can’t.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist.

 

Project Killers: Does X Mark the Spot?

X Marks the SpotProject Killers are waiting to pounce on every project – from inception to transition.  In this series we are looking at the most common assassins and exploring the ways to preserve the health and well-being of your projects.  The most heinous killers are:

 

  1. Dead on Arrival (a.k.a. DOA) – A project without the proper estimations for time and resources somehow is initiated. (The Path to On Time, On Budget and In Scope : http://blog.evergegroup.com/?p=1385)
  2. Death by Documentation (a.k.a. Strangled in Red Tape) – A great deal of time and effort goes into plans, requirement documents, and design documents with no real benefit to the project. (Project Killers: An Ode to Death by Documentation: http://blog.evergegroup.com/?p=1389)
  3. Death by Indecision (a.k.a. Analysis Paralysis in its milder forms) – Key project decisions are delayed or avoided altogether. (Project Killers – PSI – Project Scene Investigation “A Case of Slow Death” http://blog.evergegroup.com/?p=1400)
  4. Death in Unchartered Lands (a.k.a. Scope Creep) – The participants, stakeholders, scope, and methods, are never agreed to formally when the project starts. If you don’t know where you’re going, most any road will take you there – but it may take a lot longer and cost a lot more!
  5. Sudden Unplanned Death (a.k.a. Running into a dead end) – risks are not properly identified and mitigated
  6. Death by Starvation (a.k.a. Bottlenecks) – resources are not properly identified and allocated.

We have already dealt with DOA, Strangulation by Red Tape, and Analysis Paralysis in previous blogs.  This blog deals with Scope Creep, enemy number One and the most hated project killer of all time.

Imagine that you make your living by looking for and recovering treasure.  It shouldn’t take much imagination, because that is exactly what you are doing as a project manager, but let’s carry out the analogy to show the congruence.  First, as a professional you wouldn’t chase a treasure that was known to be too small or too costly to obtain.  Second, you would have a ‘map’, literal or figurative, that has a definitive ‘X’ that marks the spot where the treasure can be found.  Third, you would obtain the permissions and licenses needed to hunt for the treasure.  Fourth you gather your investors to fund the trip.  Fifth, you would assemble your treasure hunting team.  Sixth, you would plan your treasure hunting trip.  Finally, you would hunt for and recover the treasure.

It is easy to see the analogy, an IT project is a lot like a treasure hunt.  You initiate the project to benefit (the treasure) your organization.  You have an estimate and a statement of work (the map).  You license the software.  You identify the business stakeholders and obtain the funding.  You put together the project team.  You write up a plan to obtain your objectives.  Finally, you carry out the project and obtain the desired result.  Or do you??

Do you instead ‘get greedy’?  A new map has been found, lying close to your original treasure is another one.  It is temptingly close by and by extending your trip, and pushing your resources to the limit, that treasure can be had!  X no longer marks the spot.  Your careful plans and preparation are no longer going to assure you of finding the treasure you seek, because you now seek more than you had originally planned to.  You have literally released the ‘bird in your hand’ to seek ‘two in the bush’.

When this happens to your IT project, when you reach out for that nearby benefit, you have exposed the heart of your project to the most deadly and feared project killer, Scope Creep.  Yes, there may be more benefit to be had, and yes, it may be reachable by running the project longer and pushing the team to the limits.  However, you must realize your carefully created plans and preparation are no longer going to assure you of a successful project.  Prior to giving up on your original ‘treasure’ in favor of a new, expanded one, you should think of the professional treasure hunters.  What would they do?

The truly successful, professional treasure hunters stay focused on the prize to the exclusion of all potential distractions, they also draw up a charter and make every member of the team commit to that charter, and finally they set up the reward system for the team members in such a way that they are only rewarded for the treasure they are chartered to find.  Do the same for your projects and you will find that X indeed marks the spot much more often than not!

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist.

 

Project Killers: PSI -Project Scene Investigation “A Case of Slow Death”

project-killer3

It’s late in the evening in Los Empresas, TX. Even the most dedicated employees at Pastells, Inc. have abandoned their desks, secured their laptops, and joined the sinuous stream of cars on I-47 headed for anywhere but work. Only five grim faced men and women remain around a table in a conference room; the executive steering committee for Project Uplift.   Project Uplift is the CRM project that will propel Pastells into market dominance.   A silver-haired gentleman, Oliver Pastell, jumps from his chair, obviously agitated, pointing excitedly at the screen where the final slide of the executive review still glows. “What this slide tells me,” He shouts “is that Project Uplift is dead!” In the silence that ensues, no one can disagree.

Dead projects are common in Los Empresas. It’s our job to investigate them and bring the killer to justice. Call me Mike, an engagement manager with PSI, Inc.; it’s my pleasure to head up the investigation team. Morgan is my project manager, she’s best at organizing the facts and keeping the team on task. She won’t quit as long as the killer remains at large. Ajay is my architect; he can follow any thread in the investigation and flesh out the facts, determine the probabilities, and plot the next steps. My developers, Harish and Jason, are equipped with the latest tools and training to analyze the evidence and synthesize the facts that either support or disprove our theories on the killer’s identity.

The Project Uplift case came to us the next morning. Ajay, Morgan, and I met to discuss the case over a box of Krispy Kremes and a ½ gallon of hot coffee. “Mike, what do we know about the project?” Ajay managed between bites. I shook my head, “Based on what I have seen so far, this one is a bit baffling. The project had a clear charter, it had good support from the Pastells executives, the plan was pretty well developed and clear, and the objective and scope were understood and well communicated.” Morgan chimed in, “That sounds like a healthy project, what about the people working on it?” I quickly reviewed the list forwarded from Pastells, “It appears that the project team included consultants from the Nopuedes Group, the Pastells Project Manager, Maria Ansiosos, some Business Analysts, some Subject Matter Experts from the business, and the CIO, Raul Espere.” Ajay spoke first, “I know some folks at Nopuedes, and I’ll talk to the project PM.” “Morgan, see if you can speak with Maria,” I directed “and I will send the project documentation to Harish and Jason to see if they can find anything we’ve missed.” I reviewed the list again, “I’m not sure how much the CIO Raul will want to talk to me, it looks like this project was his brain child and he might be like a father in mourning, but I’ll do my best.”

My appointment with Raul is set for later this afternoon; I decide to stop by the developer’s bullpen on my way out. I settle into an office chair next to Jason, grab an Old Dutch pretzel from the open tub and ask, “Anything suspicious, yet?” Jason turns to the keyboard, after a few strokes he turns the monitor towards me. “All of the documents that we have are in order. “ He shows me the original Statement of Work from Nopuedes, the project charter, the budget, the project plan, the requirements, the design, the testing plans, and the resource list before I stop him. “Are you saying that there is nothing wrong?” Harish chimes in, “What we are saying is that there is nothing wrong with what we have been sent, but there is something very import missing – the RAID!” “You mean the Risks, Action Items, Issues, and Decisions log?” I clarify. Harish beams, “Correct! Why did they provide all of the other project artifacts, but leave out the RAID log for Project Uplift?” I look at my watch, time to leave to meet with CIO Raul, and that will be one of the first questions I ask.

“Thanks for meeting me on such short notice.” Ajay says as he shakes hands with Jorge, the Nopuedes PM. Jorge laughs ruefully, “With Project Uplift dead, my calendar was suddenly clear!” “I am just as interested in finding the killer as you are, Ajay, Project Uplift seemed to be a real winner and so important for Pastells.” Ajay continues to keep Jorge talking, “So the demise of the project came as a complete surprise?” Jorge scratches his chin and screws his mouth into a wry smile, “No, Ajay, not a complete surprise, there were rumblings and grumblings but nothing definite.”   Ajay pounces, “Grumblings about what?” Jorge considers his answer carefully. “I can only say what I heard from Maria, the Pastells PM. She told me that the subject matter experts and business analysts thought ‘things’ were taking too long. When I asked her what ‘things’ she was vague. I got the vibe that she was protecting someone. Find that someone and you will find the killer.” Ajay saw no reason to pull his punch, “So you’re saying I could look at your internal project documents and you would have nothing to hide?” Jorge pauses, turns his laptop towards Ajay, “I was just about to do that review myself, you’re welcomed to help.” Ajay starts the review and hopes that Morgan can get some answers from Maria. He jerks the iPhone 6 from his pocket and dials…

“I don’t know what more I can provide than we provided by email this morning”, Maria Ansiosos stated tersely. “I hope you can appreciate that we are busy at Pastells trying to pick up the pieces.” Morgan knows that this is a sensitive subject for the Pastells PM, but she also knows that Maria has important information. “I just want to hear from you why you think Project Uplift died; we’ll be talking to everyone involved.” “I don’t deal in speculation,” Maria replies in clipped, frosty tones. Morgan decides a direct approach will work best, “I just spoke to my teammate Ajay, he heard from Jorge at Nopuedes that you had a conversation with Jorge and that the Pastells team believed ‘things’ were moving too slowly. Were you implying that Nopuedes was to blame?” Maria’s face turns ashen, “No, Jorge and his team did the best they could under the circumstances.”  Morgan moves closer to Maria, “What were the circumstances?” Maria’s shoulders slump, she starts in a low whisper, “I expect every project to have different circumstances, but we’ve been through many projects at Pastells successfully despite that.” Maria stands, turns her head, and with her voice rising declares, “I love my job, I need this job, and I am good at what I do.  I didn’t kill Project Uplift and I don’t know who did!” Morgan follows Maria’s eyes and sees that they are firmly fixed on a nameplate on the corner office door. She slides the Galaxy S6 edge from her pocket, dials and speaks quietly when the phone is answered.

My first impression of Raul Espere is that he looks like a man who has just lost a son or perhaps a brain child. His eyes are bloodshot; his clothes have obviously been on his body for at least the last 36 hours.  The coffee mug in his left hand trembles as he reaches to shake mine.  “Mike, I know I look like hell, but Oliver Pastell wants answers about Project Uplift, and he wants them now. I’ve been up all night pulling together information for him.” From the tone of Raul’s voice, I can tell this isn’t the first all-nighter he’s pulled for Oliver; I decide to follow that line of questioning right after I clear up the number one question on my mind. “Raul, you sent us every other project document, why not the RAID log?” Raul looks over his mug at me, and then he slowly sets it down. “Can you excuse me for a minute?” I watch as Raul speaks quietly with his administrative assistant, he returns to the room and carefully closes the door. “Mike, the RAID was withheld because it contained sensitive Pastells information, I had originally included it in the packet, but after review a decision was made to keep it in house.” I hide my initial surprise, “Who did the review, Raul?” “The executive steering committee,” Raul immediately replies. “The whole committee?” I ask, “Or is there one very important member who might have made that decision?” Raul simply sips his coffee, though I can see he is about to explode. I continue, “What was on that log that could be so important? From what I heard from Ajay and Morgan, the PM’s had done a good job of identifying risks and issues and ways to avoid and mitigate them. Harish and Jason have verified that the plan was resource loaded and action items were included. Raul, that only leaves – Decisions!” Raul blurts out to stop me, “I made every decision asked of me, I weighed the facts, gathered opinions, brainstormed solutions, and delivered decisions!” I could tell he was telling the truth, but not all of it. “I believe you Raul, but without that RAID, there really is no evidence of that. I know that this project was your brain child, that you mourn the death of Project Uplift more than anyone else, but that’s no reason to let your career go to the grave with it.” His weary head with the blood shot eyes lifts towards me and then turns to the corner office. “Let me guess and see how close I come,” I continue “they key member of the executive steering committee that decided not to send us the RAID log was Oliver! I can only guess at how many late nights you’ve spent feeding him information waiting on a decision only to be asked for more time and information. I bet that when the RAID surfaces, and we will dig until we find it, it will be red with decisions waiting on Oliver.” Raul slowly pulls open a desk drawer and lifts out a thick Pendaflex folder, clearly marked Project Uplift. From the center of the folder he extracts a printout of an Excel spread sheet that looks like a RAID log. He hands it to me and begs quietly, “This is what you need, be careful how you use it.”

Oliver Pastell is gracious as he invites my team from PSI, Inc. to take a seat. Ajay and Morgan find conference chairs to my left while Harish and Jason choose the leather couch to be closer to the box of See’s chocolates. I can hear the candy wrappers rustling as Oliver starts to speak. “What have you uncovered with your investigation?” I decide ‘careful’ is the right approach, “Mr. Pastell, Oliver, we understand that this is your first major project as the CEO, is that correct?” Oliver is obviously discomforted by the question, “Yes it is.” I follow with, “In fact, you only recently returned to Los Empresas and took control of Pastells after your brother was killed in a private plane crash.” Oliver leans forward, hands on desk, “What does that have to do with Project Uplift?” Just then Jason blurts out, “Project Uplift died because you didn’t make the timely decisions on project direction when they were needed, a clear case of Death by Indecision.” So much for a ‘careful’ approach. Oliver looks at Jason, then Harish, Ajay, Morgan and finally me. It is clear to him that we all agree with Jason that he is suffering from severe Analysis Paralysis. Finally he speaks, “Ever since that night I learned Project Uplift had died, I had a nagging feeling it was my fault. How can I avoid this in the future?”   As always, we are prepared to help keep Project Killers at bay and I hand Oliver a reprint of a decision making article from David Ingram:

Identify Problems

The first step in the process is to recognize that there is a decision to be made. Decisions are not made arbitrarily; they result from an attempt to address a specific problem, need or opportunity.

Seek Information

Managers seek out a range of information to clarify their options once they have identified an issue that requires a decision. Managers may seek to determine potential causes of a problem, the people and processes involved in the issue and any constraints placed on the decision-making process.

Brainstorm Solutions

Having a more complete understanding of the issue at hand, managers move on to make a list of potential solutions. This step can involve anything from a few seconds of thought to a few months or more of formal collaborative planning, depending on the nature of the decision and the time allotted to make it.

Choose an Alternative

Managers weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, seek additional information if needed and select the option they feel has the best chance of success at the least cost. Consider seeking outside advice if you have gone through all the previous steps on your own; asking for a second opinion can provide a new perspective on the problem and your potential solutions.

Implement the Plan

There is no time to second guess yourself when you put your decision into action. Once you have committed to putting a specific solution in place, get all of your employees on board and put the decision into action with conviction. That is not to say that a managerial decision cannot change after it has been enacted; savvy managers put monitoring systems in place to evaluate the outcomes of their decisions.

Evaluate Outcomes

Even the most experienced business owners can learn from their mistakes. Always monitor the results of strategic decisions you make as a small business owner; be ready to adapt your plan as necessary, or to switch to another potential solution if your chosen solution does not work out the way you expected.

We stand to leave, and Oliver walks with us to the door. I turn to him with one last piece of advice, “The most valuable decisions are not only well informed, but are also timely as well.” As the door closes behind me, I smell the unmistakable scent of dark chocolate enrobed salted caramel from the stolen box of Sees. It is delicious!

This case is closed.

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

Jim Lindenfeld, Principal Consultant

This blog was written by Jim Lindenfeld, who has been actively involved in customer relationship management during his entire professional career.  He is a certified sales and sales management trainer.  He has been involved in the implementation of CRM systems since 1987 and is currently a principal consultant in our CRM practice.

Illustration created and provided by Jonathan Pike, eVerge Group IT Specialist.