Transparency is your Friend in Strategic Planning

The more I speak throughout the world, it is becoming more clear that there is a growing fear when it comes to strategic planning.  There is a general fear in transparency.  Why is that?  I meet with many project managers across the globe that emote a general apathy.  Frustration is the most common emotion due to what they feel is a series of mandated dates, misunderstood requirements, and most of all, over-utilized staff.  Executives that I meet with are most frustrated because they are constantly hearing that projects are on track until the last minute or by the time they hear of an issue, the project is too far down a path for a course correction.  They all state that they want a solution.  The solution is simple:  transparency.
 
First, let’s analyze the myth of the mandated date.  Most project managers feel that almost every project that is received comes with a due date attached.  This creates panic, frustration, and many times poor quality as corners get cut to meet the mandated date.  Most Executives that I meet with tell me that while a date is attached, it is only done in order to provide a guideline.  It is not mandated and can be changed if proper data is supplied as to why the dates need to be altered.  They would be shocked to hear the measures that their staff is going through to meet the dates that many times are arbitrary.  Why is there such a disconnect and frustration all around when seemingly everyone wants the same thing?  The answer is the filtration process.  There is a huge filter between the Executives and the workers called Middle Management.  This layer is often needed, however, it can be the most damaging layer to the timeline, data, productivity, and ultimately the bottom line.
 
There are a few examples of this layer.  There was a company trying to change their core product to a newer generation product where this type of filter was on display.  This organization’s number one initiative continually failed to even come close to its production date or budget.  It missed its target by years and millions of dollars and the production date was reset multiple times.  The organization wanted to focus on improving its project management practices and hired an outside firm.  It was clear early in the consulting engagement that transparency in the reporting process was needed.  It was evident that the prioritization, resource management, and project reporting processes were all lacking and continue to be filtered by the middle managers.  The organization that was hired to change these processes brought in software to bring transparency to these processes, sell the executives on the need to do it, signed project scope statements, and even held town hall meetings to sell the entire organization on why it was necessary.  There were two key departments that were responsible for most of the resource constraints and missed dates.  Many of the other department leaders commented and wondered how these departments would react to the views and direction that was being shared in the meetings.  When it came time for the controversial meeting, one of the key stakeholders who had attended all of the meetings gave conflicting directions and made it seem as if the project team did not have a clear plan of implementation.  The manager even gave conflicting timelines and completion dates.  This left the impression that the agreements made by senior management and other levels earlier in the project were not set and the momentum of the project was quickly halted.  After that meeting, questions about scope and direction of the project were raised even though a signed scope statement and agreed project plan had been clearly laid out.  It was clear that the stakeholder did not want the software, or better yet, the transparency the software would bring to the organization. Perhaps that middle manager was looking for some job security but instead, it was obvious that the man in the middle was part of the problem.
 
Another example is when CA debuted the new CA Clarity Playbook.  It gives the Executives the ability to drill directly from their strategic plans to the project performance easily from their iPad®.  It is truly amazing and transparent.  The early feedback is fantastic from all the Executives and project managers that I have met with.  There is one group that I could see getting a bit nervous and it is the same group that everyone already knows.  It is the group that I identify as the “spinners” or Middle Management.  The ones who do not want the transparency.  The teams that like to massage the data or change all of the reds to greens.  These are the ones that may be afraid of this technology.  I can tell you this, transparency is your friend.  Time and time again, it is 3% of the organization that is causing 90% of the issues.  We all know who they are.  We all know where it is coming from.  If I asked you, the reader, which department is most responsible for delaying projects and then polled the rest of your company, it would be no surprise to you. It is the same people who complain about how busy they are, however, never seem to produce any results!  What I do not understand is why we consistently cater to this group.  Why business continues to punish the 97% of the organization that does work extremely hard and does do the right thing only to allow the 3% to continue to not be transparent?
 
This is part 1 of a 5 part series where I will be exploring why transparency is your friend in strategic planning.   I will be walking through all phases of strategic planning including what Executives do with their plans, how often should plans be revised, as well as accountability, and whether or not organizations should be measured against it. Any thoughts or comments or items that you want me to address, please leave them here or on twitter @rickamorris.
 
No Day but Today,
 
Rick
 

Clarity 13.2 Brings Added Value to an Already Fabulous Product plus New CA Clarity Agile Integrations!

As many of you know I am a huge fan of the latest release of Clarity 13.  Recently, I received a sneak peak of the new 13.2 release of Clarity and the new features of CA Clarity Agile.  These promise to be extremely exciting releases!  Here are some of the features that we can all look forward to:

Clarity 13.2

I felt that the 13 release of Clarity was a game changer.  Clarity has always been more than a project and portfolio tool to me, it is also a platform.  Since we can create objects, attributes, and configure the tool, we are really only limited by our imagination.  We have been able to create resourcing solutions for professional services, solve complex algorithms for the pharmaceutical industry, and revolutionize oil and gas by taking the base of Clarity and extending the platform through configurations not customizations.  What I saw in version 13 finally solved many of the UI challenges that the tool lacked.  Version 13.2 continues to build on the momentum with some continued usability enhancements, mobile timesheets, and some exciting changes to portfolios and Open Workbench.

Portfolios

Portfolios has been a difficult feature for Clarity for quite some time.  There are some usability issues within the current version, however, procedurally many clients want to start with portfolios without having good data to support the proper use.  Once the data is ready, several clients have complained that the scenario functionality can be difficult to use.  The main reason for this is navigation and understanding of how it really works.  This has been addressed in a major way in 13.2.  In fact, scenarios in the traditional was is completely gone in this release.  Scenarios is now replaced with an object called “Plan” that is a configurable object that is less constrained to reality giving the user more options to play with the project schedule and more options to work within the live investments.  This brings the data within the plan object so that it exists and is contained within that object making it more user friendly and less clicks from a navigation stand point.  This is a huge shift in thinking as well as multiple plans can be created within the portfolio in a more rapid fashion making it easier to delineate and compare the plans than it was in the previous scenario model.

Even more exciting was when the “Waterline” functionality was shown which was extremely elegant and visually pleasing in the demonstration.  This functionality allows a configurable set of parameters (just like constraints works today) to be adjusted real time.  However, unlike the past where this information had to be generated and then the user looked at the results, this information is presented in a very slick interface with a clear “Waterline” that shows investments that are above and below the line of inclusion based on the parameters.  Additionally, the individual constraints are shown with red, yellow, and green explanations in segmented boxes as well giving directed feedback on the selected parameters.  A very clear shift in reporting and a huge improvement in portfolio functionality.

Another exciting feature was the drag and drop interactive Gantt charts on the portfolio.  For instance, if the user is looking at the same investments from the waterline report above and switched to the Gantt chart view to see the durations of the investments, the user then could decide to move one investment from 2013 to 2014 by sliding the bar on the Gantt chart.  The user also could extend another investment from one year to 18 months as part of his or her analysis.  Immediately, Clarity would provide instant feedback with visual components of the impacts of those changes including the shift of the waterline up or down respectively.  A very cool new function. Version 13.2 has had a very large focus on the Portfolio functionality and I know of several clients that simply can’t wait to get their hands on it!

Mobile Timesheets

Another highly anticipated feature is the addition of mobile timesheets.  To be clear, this isn’t simply timesheets that have been added for the Safari browser.  These are timesheets that have been optimized to work with mobile applications.  Multi-gesture enabled timesheets that will allow the very busy user to bill their time on the go.  This includes pinch, zoom, and full synchronization with Clarity.  This is a feature that many people have been asking for and it is ready to go for 13.2.

Keyboard Shortcuts

I love the continued advances that Clarity continues to bring and the ease of use that it continues to bring.  Clarity was one of the first tools that I can remember that had the “Edit Mode” functionality where I could configure my screen, drop in to edit mode and then edit the web page like a spreadsheet.  Then finally in 13.0, we did not have to go in to edit mode and had just the in line editing.  Then one of the chief complaints, especially when using the time scaled values from a usability standpoint is that when working with a tremendous amount of data, many of the standard keyboard shortcuts (like you would use in Microsoft Excel) did not work.  The standard response to that complaint usually was, “This is a web application.”  Now in 13.2, the keyboard shortcuts will work in 13.2.  Many of the quick shortcuts that most people are accustomed to will now function in the TSV (CTRL+C, CTRL+X, CTRL+A, etc.)  This is quite exciting!

Updated Portlet Code

Clarity’s presentation layer is one of the absolute best in the industry.  It is the most configurable on the market.  It allows each user to make their own decision about how they want to see the data while not effecting other users.  One of my favorite stories that I tell as an example is when I was working with a PMO director who hated pie charts.  He explained that when there are 10 issues or 100 issues, the pie chart is always the same size, so he prefers bar charts over pie charts.  While he was explaining this to me, I went in to his Clarity and changed his issue pie chart to a bar chart so it was a moot point!  I love Clarity for the things that it can make so easy.  One of the downfalls of the presentation layer had been the lack of a grouping level.  Sometimes when there was a complex report, the reporting layer would not present the data in a readable way.  Therefore, through code or a forced layer, we would have to modify a portlet to get it to report the way a client was wanting the data to be seen.  In 13.2, there is now an added option in the out of the box portlet code adding a “group by” category for easier charts and portlets to assist in this difficulty.  This is a feature that will bring many clients immediate benefit.

Open Workbench

At the last CA World, it was announced that Open Workbench would be maintained and that there would be some effort placed in updating the product.  This promise has been fulfilled.  There are many people in different camps.  Some favor Microsoft Project, others that think Open Workbench is a superior product.  I have enjoyed both products for various reasons.  I really like the delivery of the views of Open Workbench and how they can drive you through the workflow.  What has been frustrating in the past with Open Workbench is some of the basic features of the application.  Items such as resizing the columns, dependencies, and basic functionality like that has been severely lacking.  I am happy to report that these items are now addressed with the release in 13.2.  Significant enhancements to the user interface and overall usability is a very welcome enhancement.  Dependencies have been particularly frustrating because of how you had to create it.  This is now available with drag and drop functionality.  With this focus, I suspect many new users will shift officially to the Open Workbench camp.

CA Clarity Agile

As the Agile methodology continues to grow in its adoption and users continue to look for integration options to allow development and project teams to have seamless integration, CA Clarity Agile continues to be a market leader due to the power of Salesforce.Com and Clarity.  The 13.2 release continues this momentum.

Burn Down Charts

A feature that has been long overdue in this integration is a burn down chart that can be displayed in Clarity for project managers to display on their projects or for dashboards.  This is now available with the integration options in the new version of CA Clarity Agile.

Task Status Mapping

One of the most exciting items that I saw was a task mapping status to Clarity charge codes.  For each task type in CA Clarity Agile, these can be configured.  For most clients, they need to know whether a task is capital or expense for capitalization purposes.  This has been quite a headache for clients because we had to create a custom map or solution outside of the tool that did a mapping so that this could be tracked for financial purposes.  In the latest release, this has been fixed so that each task type can be tracked to a charge code within Clarity so that time can be charged to capital or expense and a secondary solution is not required.  A fantastic solution and one that has been needed for many clients!

Configurable User Story Popups

Within CA Clarity Agile, the User Story would popup.  However, if there were custom fields (which many clients do create) they were unable to add the custom fields to the popup.  This has been fixed so that their custom fields can be added to the popup.  This is a great addition for our clients!

Task Cloning

When you clone tasks, this was a great feature, however it would pull the actual hours and pull over completed tasks that would require some clean up.  While this would save some work for the user, it still required some clean up that was undesirable.  Now the user has the ability to just select the tasks that are not completed and it will not pull over the actual hours so that it is just the information that is needed which is the true need of task cloning.  This proves that the developers are listening to the feedback of the user community!

Conclusion

Beyond these named features, there are tremendous amount of performance improvements and enhancements that have been made to Clarity 13.2 and CA Clarity Agile.  Clarity continues to be the most configurable to on the market.  With release 13.2 shows that CA is unafraid to realize that certain architecture decisions may not have been the best (i.e. scenario vs. plan object) while continue to expand the usability decisions that have been fantastic (keyboard shortcuts in the TSV fields).  I am excited about the new release and am hearing about early features of 13.3 like printing the Gantt chart and improved communications of the Plan Object.  I will be playing with 13.2 at CA World, hope to see you there!

No Day but Today!

Rick

Let Go of Being Done!


Let go of being done.  This was the toughest lesson I had to learn.  I read a fantastic book lately called Positive Intelligence that I  was able to relate to on many levels.  As I read through it, I had one of my own revelations.  I place so much stress on myself on completion.  Being done.  Unfortunately, in life there is only one time that you are really done, and that is when you are done breathing.  Otherwise, there are always things to do.  New stress, projects, items that require your attention, and unexpected events.  I used to operated with the thought, "if I could just complete x, then I can relax."  Whenever x was almost complete, 20 new things would come up that would get in the way and add stress.  I would allow this to get in the way of my happiness or sense of accomplishment.  I would never feel done.  When I read the book Positive Intelligence, it talks about setting terms for your happiness.  It speaks to people saying, "once I get this promotion, or get that car, or get that house, then I will be happy."  The issue becomes is attaining the promotion, car, or house does not bring the promised happiness.  The key is being happy in the now.

I played volleyball in high school with a coach that had us scream, "Now!" After every team break to signify the last point and the future points do not matter, the point right now matters.  Live in the now.  The realization to revel the accomplishment of each check on my checklist has allowed me to accomplish so much more because I am not overwhelmed or worried.  It is a freeing feeling.

Last year, I was feeling overwhelmed as the business was growing, new opportunities were coming along, and responsibilities continued to mount.  I felt that I accomplished 10 things and 40 were added to the list on a daily business.  This put me into a vortex of self doubt that allowed me to feel sorry for myself.  When this occurs, it is easy to allow the world around to add pressure on a daily basis.  Eventually, the pressure can mount to a point where it is a sink or swim.  Through an incredible team of coworkers and more importantly and incredibly supportive family structure, I was able to take a step back and take stock of what is important in my life.  Instead of focusing on constructing the castle, we decided to focus on building the plan for the castle, then focus on each bricks placement and taking pride when every brick was placed appropriately. Then at the end of every day, we can stand back and see what was accomplished and attack it the next day.  The greatest shift in this strategy was not to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the castle, to know or would be built.  If bricks fell off, walls fell, enemies attacked, so be it.  We would just start the next day by placing bricks.  

The payoff of the shift has been enormous.  At the end of the first quarter of 2013, we have accomplished all of the internal 2013 projects, we wanted to accomplish for the year.  We are planning a new strategy session just to keep the momentum up instead of our regular annual one.  Relaxation and focus has been much easier to come by as well.  It truly is an easier way to accomplish done.  At least accomplish the illusion of being done.  In life, you are never done until the last beat of your heart!  Until then, we have to live to the fullest.  Get out there and live it.
 
No day but today!

My Olympic Connection – May 5th, 1988 – USA vs. Brazil @ Dr. Phillips High School

From time to time I like to take a moment and reflect on my past.  As the London Olympics are upon us, like most families, my family and I watched the opening ceremonies and reminisced about Olympic memories.  I have a particular connection that led to many of my personal choices in life and many of my connections.  It started with a club at my high school.  Back in 1988, we did not have a men's volleyball team.  The swim coach at the time was Bruce Follensbee and he started a volleyball club for men.  I doubt he was even paid for it.  Interesting how his idea reshaped and molded so many of my decisions in life.  I joined the volleyball club.  It sounded fun.  I was playing around on the beach and a few of my friends let me know about it, so why not?  In 1988, an exhibition match between the world #1 and defending Olympic champion USA Men's Volleyball team was scheduled to play in Orlando vs. Brazil.  It was originally scheduled to play at the Orlando Arena, but it was behind schedule (probably a project manager's fault!)  The next biggest venue was the Orlando Civic Center, however, it too was booked up.  In 1988, a brand new high school had opened up off of Turkey Lake Road in Orlando which bordered the neighborhood of Orange Tree where I grew up.  Today, that high school, Dr. Phillips High School, is across the street from Universal Studios and is the high school of many stars such as entertainers Wayne Brady, Joey Fatone, DJ Khaled, Major League stars Johnny Damon, A.J. Pierzynski, Danny Miceli, movers and shakers in the industry like Joe Mulvihill and of course the project management author and speaker, me.  The high school was brand new and has a 2,200 seat gymnasium.  With little or no options left, the event coordinators moved the volleyball match to our gymnasium.  I remember getting called out of first period by Coach Follensbee and being asked if I minded missing a day of school to shag balls as the US team practiced.  We also were the ball boys for the actual match.  I was ecstatic!

The men had won gold in 1984 by beating the Brazilians, however, they only had four returning players from that team.  Of course it helps when the returning players are the likes of Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons, and Craig Buck.  As a sophomore in high school, I barely could comprehend what I was watching and the opportunity to watch world class athletes train.  In 1988, I still had the whole world in front of me.  I was dabbling in several sports.  I played football, soccer, baseball, and volleyball.  I was working, worried about girls, and all of the other normal things that young boys deal with.  During the practice when we were shagging balls for the US team, some really intense guy with a huge flat top hair cut asked me to talk to him.  I have to confess, I didn't know who the guy was.  It turns out, it was Steve Timmons.  Steve sat me down for five minutes and asked me what position I played in volleyball, how seriously I was taking the sport, and what my plans for the future were.  I had no answers for the guy.  We were a volleyball club.  I barely even knew the positions.  The next day was the actual match and the US destroyed Brazil winning in three straight games.  I found an article about the match here.  At the match, I really watched.  I watched Steve and Karch.  I watched Craig Buck and Eric Sato.  That enthusiasm carried over into the 1988 Olympics where the US team won gold again.  I have been hooked ever since.  At that moment, I was a volleyball fan.  I tried to play full time.  My senior year of high school, we had our first team.  We came in second in state and it was truly a fulfilling experience.  I played with great guys like Grant Turner and Barry Sands.  My best friend since 2nd grade Chris Crumpacker and of course the Famous one, Matt Amos, Joe Grindrod and James Lee rounded out the starting 6.  I went to school at the University of Tennessee and got to play there as well.  Even after college, volleyball was a connection that led to many friends and decisions.  When I moved to Birmingham, AL, one of the first things that I did was join an area volleyball association.  I met a few guys there and it turned in to one of the best summers of my life as we toured and played tournaments all over the southeast.  There has been so much happiness in my life because of volleyball and so many things came from Steve taking the time to sit with me in that gym.

I left college early due to my father's illness.  Right after he passed away, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next with my life.  I was bartending at Bennigan's on International Drive in Orlando.  One night, Steve Timmons walked in to the bar.  I went over and bought him a round and told him what he had done that May evening in 1988.  He had taken the time to spend with a kid and how many paths had converged because he had.  He thanked me for coming over to talk to him and for the beer.  The next night, Steve came back in.  This time he was carrying a box of stuff.  He had a bunch of Redsand gear.  Redsand was his volleyball apparel company.  He thanked me for taking the five minutes it took to let him know what a difference he had made to me.  He told me that after he left, he had thought quite a bit about what I shared with him.  It meant quite a bit to him and he wanted me to have some things from him.  Another really cool moment.

All of these thoughts and memories were flooding back to me as we watched the opening of the Olympics.  My daughter is getting old enough where I can share some of these stories with her.  It is  fascinating how some simple decisions can make profound impacts.  Mr. Follensbee deciding to have a club.  Me deciding to join it.  Steve Timmons deciding to take 5 minutes to spend with me.  Who knows how things turn out if these little things don't happen, but I am glad they did.  You can bet that for all of the matches, indoor and outdoor, I am one of Team USA's biggest volleyball fans!

Go Team USA!

Rick