Project management of information technology organizational transformation
a real-world case study
Donna Richey Winkelman
State of Missouri, Office of Administration, Information Services Technology Division
Project management enables an organization's staff to evolve to meet future needs.
This paper engages the readers to:
- Celebrate the success and necessity of project management for organizational agility,
- Gain insight into real-world examples of what works (and what doesn't work),
- Understand and put to use a proven approach for requesting resources, and
- Better appreciate the criticality of non-textual presentation of information.
It briefly explains the project context and explores the project manager role. Real-world examples of the project's tools and techniques are followed by a summary of the main points.
Although the story told in this case study is still being written, the organization involved, enabled by hybrid-agile project management, has:
- Defined and assigned new roles,
- Created local training environments,
- Developed training roadmaps,
- Gained approval from business and oversight stakeholders, and most important,
- Seen the staff of today transforming into the staff of tomorrow.
Welcome to “Project Management of Information Technology Organizational Transformation—A Real-World Case Study,” or as I like to call it, “They Need Us Project Managers!” I'd like to share with you some of the lessons learned on my continuing journey being the project manager for an IT organization moving from a 40-year old COBOL, mainframe, VSAM world into a web-based, Java, and DB2 new world.
This paper is presented from the perspective of a project manager who uses a hybrid-agile project management approach. Rather than being a scholarly treatise, the paper tells selected highlights of the case study's project story to showcase approaches, lessons learned, tools, and techniques used in providing project management for the transition of a 50-plus-member group.
Nature of the Project and Stakeholders
Modernization efforts are under way to replace a legacy state computer application. That three-plus-year project goes live in 2016. The modernization project is high profile in the government at the executive level and therefore this companion project will inherit that visibility. In order to transform its labor force to support the modernized application, the organization needed to define new roles and organizational structure and retool the skill sets of the majority of the staff.
The project needs to engage multiple stakeholders—IT, business, vendors, and outside agencies. It is important to note that the business stakeholders are doing their own organizational change management and transition project separate from the IT support.
The transition project was started as an effort to treat the transformation efforts as a project to ensure that the tasks that needed to be done were scheduled, tracked, and most important, completed in a timely manner.
Invitation from Management for Project Management
I was asked by our customer service manager (director) to be the project manager for the organization's transformation effort. She had seen my success on other multi-agency projects, knew I had a background in training, and knew that I could keep a complex project on track.
The project core team consisted of the customer service manager (director), the three managers, the new training coordinator, and the project manager. We started the project by scoping, defining roles, identifying major deliverables, and charting the high-level timeline. Let's explore the project manager role in more depth.
Project Manager Role
The project manager role continues to evolve to meet needs and priorities. Because we are a smaller group, most people fulfill multiple roles and perform many functions. The same is true for the project manager. I will speak to my primary tasks as project manager, which include facilitating and mentoring, introducing best practices, obtaining training, developing the project schedule, reporting progress, and raising risks and issues.
Facilitating and Mentoring
A subtle part of the project manager role is facilitating and mentoring. This includes scheduling meetings/working sessions, taking notes, and preparing meeting materials. One of the pleasures of project management is sharing knowledge and gaining knowledge through mentoring.
Introducing Best Practices
Another project management responsibility is helping to introduce best practices. My approach includes drawing out best practices known by others as well as introducing things that I have been exposed to elsewhere. We have found that explaining the reason for using a practice and its benefits increases adoption. Managers frequently talk with their staff to find ways to incorporate those best practices and then follow up to ensure that they are being used.
Most of the best practices I help introduce affect primarily the immediate project team—the managers and the training coordinator.
We set up a restricted access SharePoint site so that managers could have their documents in one location. We used a graphical interface approach (shown in Exhibit 1) so that they could click on a category rather than looking through a long list of documents. This is a subtle change, but an important one—our managers were transforming how they went about their daily business in parallel with the staff transformations. We found that the work in progress category needed to be broken down into subcategories: challenges, time charging, working notes, and instructor-led training,
Exhibit 1. SharePoint graphical categories.
Training is an important part of a project of this nature. Because I had past experience with training, I received a “doing” task as well as a management task in this area: obtaining training for the people who are transitioning. The training approach emphasized adult learning principles and addressed all learning styles—hearing, seeing, and doing. The approach has received favorable comments at the enterprise level and from an oversight group. Other state groups have expressed interest in using what we have developed.
We wanted to build on what people already knew—many of the people have over 20 years of experience in the information technology field. They have a wealth of knowledge that can be the hooks for new learning. Emphasizing that they had skills that would transfer forward helps increase people's feelings of competency at a time when having to learn new programming languages, platforms, and databases can be daunting. We also tried to address all learning styles and media preferences to increase people's chances for successful learning. Before we could obtain training, we had to determine prerequisites, develop roadmaps, and challenges.
The modernization implementation vendor provided prerequisites for their training of the state staff prior to going live. That vendor designed a role-based crosswalk of prerequisites to roles. Individuals did a self-evaluation so that their supervisors/managers could begin to formulate organization and individual training plans.
That prerequisites crosswalk provided the foundation for role- and skill-level-based learning roadmaps. The roadmaps loosely followed Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains to outline the reading, videos, and free online training recommended for that skill level. We set up a SharePoint linked list to contain either the actual material or a link to the material so that we had the information in one spot that could continue to be updated over time.
We presented the roadmaps in a graphical format (shown in Exhibit 2). Managers found this easier to use than a text-only document. A guide to using the roadmap helped people get started. In addition to being used as part of the current project, these roadmaps can be used in the future to develop training plans for new hires and people changing roles. To emphasize key knowledge and skills and allow the learning to be evaluated, the roadmaps contained challenges where the learner answered questions and/or wrote actual code.
Exhibit 2. Novice Java developer training roadmap.
To develop the challenges, we first created a template for presenting the challenge to the learner, which included the following sections: objectives, specifications and instructions, standards and guidelines, submit for evaluation, quick reference, and challenge feedback. Then, we created a template for evaluating the results, which included the following sections: objectives, method of evaluation, evaluation checklist, expected results, solution example code, and how to report evaluation outcomes. Next, the training coordinator, with the help of others, developed each challenge. The training coordinator had a person test each challenge, made revisions and released it for general use. Using an iterative approach to developing the roadmap and challenges allowed people to begin learning more quickly than if they had to wait until all the roadmaps and challenges were complete. This approach also allowed us to make mid-course corrections and incorporate suggestions from the learners.
Managers used the roadmaps and challenges to create individualized training plans for each employee based on their future role and set due dates for completing the training. Because of limited staff time to assess challenges in a formal manner, the managers opted to have people do self-evaluations for all challenges except the final (capstone) challenge in the roadmap and report results to their supervisor. The capstone challenge received a code review with recommendations for improvements from a senior-level developer. And we set up a SharePoint list where learners could post questions and receive answers that could be used by other learners.
The challenges can also be used to objectively assess the skill level of new hires in the future.
Two major lessons were learned. First, when people are learning new materials, the self-evaluation needs cursory oversight to ensure that the learners are on the right path. The second lesson was that the question and answer list was not being used. People preferred to talk with others rather than posting questions. So, we are going to try holding weekly training tag-ups where learners can come together to ask questions and hear answers from others who have already completed the challenges or from more experienced staff.
Now let's move on to the project schedule.
Developing and Managing the Project Schedule
Our project schedule and scope evolved over time. The management team articulated the training goal, “Be prepared to adequately support the new solution,” that directs the schedule. Three objectives support that: (1) to provide role-specific training roadmaps, (2) to ensure staff receives adequate training, and (3) to provide learning sandbox environment and real-world-based training opportunities.
You can learn more about the evolution of the project schedule in the Tools and Techniques section later in the paper.
Every Friday, the core team has a standing one-hour working session scheduled in a room with a SmartBoard™ and a whiteboard. The working session has a standard agenda: training coordinator report, schedule update, organizational change management, and discussion topics. Progress reporting began as a discussion of what had been accomplished over the past week, what was planned for the next week, and any issues or roadblocks.
We began updating percent complete during working sessions once the MS Project schedule was in place. We use the SmartBoard™ to display the schedule and make updates in real time.
Recently, we have added the project to the enterprise portfolio and project management tool. This provides visibility to upper management and is helpful when requesting support. At the same time, we began using the enterprise standard project status reporting template to provide a snapshot of the project from resources to schedule milestones, risks, accomplishments for the past week, and work planned for the next week. The core team continues to define metrics that help them manage progress and report out on the formal status report.
The core team uses the weekly working session to brainstorm solutions and make decisions after discussing reasons why tasks are not progressing as well as issues and risks.
Raising Issues and Risks for Resolution
Part of our weekly working session time is focused on risks and issues. The project manager is responsible for gathering those risks and issues and ensuring that they are on the agenda. Then the remainder of the core team can prioritize and address the risks and issues. Working notes from the session and action items posted to the project SharePoint site help ensure resolution.
Tools and Techniques
From the project management perspective, my focus is on what the managers, staff, and other stakeholders need. The servant leader approach fits well; however, like many project managers, I find myself having to remember to let the managers manage and supervise and that my role is to support. Being flexible and adaptive is another important characteristic of the servant leader project manager. I have found that I need to encourage the team to celebrate successes. As we go through this challenging project, we tend to lose sight of the accomplishments as we focus on what needs to be done next in the schedule.
Iterative Development of the Project Schedule
Using an iterative approach to developing the project schedule worked best for our team. We began with a big-picture mentality, added formality as the project matured, and added subtask detail near the start of the task. Many of the subtasks represented short-term deliverables that were prioritized by the core team. The schedule started as a whiteboard drawing of a basic timeline that we took a picture of and posted to our SharePoint site in the work in progress area (remember Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 3. Extract from schedule in MS Excel spreadsheet.
It evolved into an MS Excel spreadsheet format using months for the time scale and bars to show approximate durations (see Exhibit 3). This approach was particularly helpful early on in the project when many details were not known. It also was very effective when briefing executives and business managers because they could quickly see time frames and the tasks that were being addressed. It was also helpful when obtaining instructor-led training—we were able to brief the vendors about the project, training needs, and proposed months for training delivery in less than an hour.
The schedule evolved again into a MS Project using the task Gantt chart view (see Exhibit 4). The goals and objectives provided basis for the high-level tasks on our WBS-based project schedule (WBS stands for work breakdown structure). The rollup tasks in the spreadsheet schedule continued over into the new format.
Exhibit 4. High-level MS Project schedule.
Because I need to report an overall project percent complete, I make the project 1.0 in the WBS. Other things I do to enhance the usefulness of the schedule is to gray out the tasks that are 100% complete. I also use color coding in the cell background. Yellow means that the cell has been updated since the last status session. Fuchsia means that we need to talk about the task in the next status session. The first column is coded as a green/yellow/red dashboard for active tasks.
How to Get Needed Resources
Besides keeping the project schedule up to date, project managers frequently face the need for more resources. These lessons learned will increase the likelihood that you will get those additional people you need; however, they won't guarantee it. I am presenting examples of needing additional people, but many of these concepts will work when requesting other needed resources.
We have been fine-tuning the approach throughout the project. It is important to understand the constraints, priorities, and concurrent projects. On this project, we found that people and their availability were the resource category that we struggled with the most. Reasons we have for needing additional people include: the current person assigned to a task is over-allocated, a new task has been added to the schedule, a task is more complex than anticipated, or a different skill set is needed.
Points to Include in Your Request for Resources
Find out from your managers what information they need to make decisions and request additional support. We found that our managers needed the following information:
- A description of the task,
- An estimated level of effort (Is the person needed full time?) - factor in ramp-up time for the person and impacts on team dynamics,
- Begin and end dates for the task along with any hard deadlines and the reason for the deadline,
- A suggested person in case the managers ask,
- Benefit of completing the task,
- Cost/impact of not doing the task, and
- Outside-the-box options to meet the need.
Over-Allocated Resource Examples
Let's start with an example of an over-allocated resource: the training coordinator. He was tasked with maintaining a production application, reviewing materials from the modernization project, creating the developer roadmaps, helping to install the training environment, creating challenges, and reviewing completed challenges. However, multiple managers added these tasks incrementally over time. This is a common situation in most organizations.
When we list them out, it's easy to see that this person's time is seriously over-allocated. However, until we presented that list to the managers on the core project team, not everyone was aware of the situation. As soon as they heard the full list, they immediately began brainstorming, revising priorities, and making assignment changes.
Exhibit 5: Extract from level of effort (LOE) spreadsheet.
The assignment of creating the challenges remained. The training coordinator again found that he was over-allocated. We used the spreadsheet shown in Exhibit 5 to brief the core team managers about the remaining work on the challenges. They responded by assigning some of the training coordinator's tasks to other people, revising some priorities, and adding another person to help write challenges. That helped for a while, but the additional person took another job and some of the removed tasks have returned. The training coordinator's manager is working with him to assign a set number of hours daily to the major tasks. We will also bring up the level of effort (LOE) spreadsheet at our weekly status meeting to explore other possible solutions.
Different Skill Set Needed Example
This need is usually the easiest case to present—describe the skill needed for the task and explain that no one on the current team has that skill set. On this project, we needed a SharePoint expert to set up the SharePoint site, set up the lists for training, and propose other uses and design layouts for SharePoint. The managers were aware that we only had one person who had that skill set, so they assigned her to the task. However, she later received additional assignments and changed to a new role, which put us back in the over-allocated resource situation.
As all project managers know, obtaining needed resources is an ongoing challenge. Our team found that if we provided the needed information, we got one of three responses: additional people were assigned, deadlines were changed, or priorities were changed. Regardless of the outcome, we received a response and were able to move on based on those results.
The results of visually presenting information are the most dramatic of any of the techniques covered in this paper.
Visual Presentation of Information
Cartographers at the U.S. Geological Survey introduced me to a series of books by Edward R. Tufte explaining the power of the visual presentation of information that greatly influenced my professional work. I recommend these books by Tufte for all project managers wanting to improve their communication effectiveness: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; Envisioning Information; and Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative.
You have already seen this concept in action throughout this paper. Another prime example of the power of the graphical representation of information and data came when I was working with the modernization implementation vendor on the schedule to develop technical training modules. These modules form the basis for training the state information technology business analysts, developers, and data specialists about the framework solution developed by the implementation vendor.
Even though we are talking about visualizing information, it is still important to understand the concerns and needs of the stakeholders. The state staff wanted to see more detail and have the work divided into smaller chunks for ease of reviewing materials and monitoring the schedule. The implementation vendor wanted to manage the level of effort and duration of the rolled-up task.
Case Study Background
This example started as a single, 61-day task with four subtasks: create developer's guide, state review, revisions, and state approval/acceptance.
There are 10 training modules, and we wanted to have each one called out as a subtask in the schedule. We also wanted multiple deliverables rather than a Big Bang approach. The first module was to be a pathfinder to establish the template, basic content, use of graphics, exercise/quiz, and evaluation. Then the vendor would use that template for the remaining modules.
In order to update the schedule, we went through this evolution: creating a list of modules in a text document, developing a spreadsheet with the modules and four subtasks for each module, adding dates to the tasks in the spreadsheet, moving the tasks into MS Project, color coding the tasks, adding lag times, and adding the instructor-led training schedule. Let's use the evolution of the schedule to emphasize the importance of graphical representation of data.
We had a business requirement that the state would have no more than two concurrent reviews/approvals.
Look at the textual schedule presentation in Exhibit 6. Are there any times when there are more than two state reviews/approvals scheduled concurrently? If so, where are they?
It is very difficult to quickly answer that question, isn't it? Let's see what happens when we put some visual organization into the information.
Exhibit 6. Extract from textual schedule presentation.
Next the modernization implementation vendor put the information into a spreadsheet shown in Exhibit 7.
Is it this easier to parse than the text? Definitely it is—we can easily see the tasks with start and end dates. However, it is still not easy to quickly determine if there is concurrent state reviews/approvals scheduled.
Exhibit 7. Extract from spreadsheet schedule presentation.
Finally, let's look at the MS Project plan Gantt chart view (see Exhibit 8). I created the schedule by importing the spreadsheet into MS Project and adding dependencies and holidays. The pink bars (the second bars in the task groupings) are initial state reviews. The green bars (the fourth bars in the task groupings) are the state final review and acceptance. How quickly can you find the three concurrent state activities now?
Exhibit 8. Extract from graphical schedule presentation.
When I presented the first version of this view to one of the managers, he immediately pointed out that additional time was needed for the initial state review and explored the overlap with scheduled instructor-led training. I added the additional days and then used the revised graphical project schedule to negotiate changes with the modernization implementation vendor. He could quickly see that the requested changes would not increase the overall duration of the roll-up task and agreed to make the requested modifications.
Understanding the project manager's role is a critical element for ensuring the success of a project. It is also important for the project manager to adapt to the evolving needs, skill level, and style preferences of the team and other stakeholders—possibly by being a servant leader.
The successful project manager will use a wide range of tools and techniques to serve the team and organization. In the course of this paper, we have touched on the following:
- Facilitating, mentoring, and introducing best practices;
- Obtaining training;
- Scheduling, reporting progress, and raising risks and issues;
- Requesting resources; and
- Presenting information graphically.
Although this information technology organizational transformation project's story is still being written, by using a hybrid-agile approach, we have been able to accomplish the following in the past six months:
- Define and assign new roles,
- Create local training environments,
- Develop training roadmaps and challenges,
- Engage both business and oversight stakeholders and gain their approval, and
- See the staff of today begin to transform into the staff of tomorrow.
Truly, these are reasons to celebrate the success and necessity of project management for organizational agility.
© 2015, Donna Richey Winkelman
Originally published as a part of the 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Orlando, Florida, USA