Standardizing Project Management Practices Across Functions and Geographies

Within any business, maintaining standardized processes and procedures across organizational groups takes robust governance, diligent communication, and consistent evaluation. An additional challenge for utility companies is that there are a variety of organizational groups with different types of projects and siloed priorities. This in turn leads to missed opportunities to integrate information and gather larger scale insights. By standardizing practices, data becomes cohesive, employees appreciate the transparency and consistency, and in turn develop trust in processes and procedures. As consistency grows and project outcomes become more predictable due to aligned data and early identified risk resolutions, trust grows between execution staff and senior leaders. The utility industry is currently going through one of its most significant inflections. The centralized model for electricity generation and transmission is not flexible enough to accommodate the growing percentage of renewable energy sources. To facilitate a low to zero carbon future, a decentralized grid is required. Furthermore, extreme weather across the US, from hurricanes in the South-East, wildfires in the West and floods in the Mid-West, utility assets need to be reinforced to ensure safe and reliable service can be provided to customers. And if this wasn’t sufficient reason, there is also emerging momentum behind proposals to reform the established cost-of-service regulation model that would tie utility revenues to performance in place of capital investment. Successfully addressing these issues will be a considerable challenge to the business, operations, and project teams within utilities. To mitigate these challenges, change begins at the project level because delivering more consistently at an improved maturity builds the above-mentioned trust in processes and procedures and between all employee levels. Further, the better at delivering projects, the better at maintaining predictable forecasts and deliverables. This reliability, transparency, and trust then supports an organization’s ability to effectively plan and implement change across multiple organizational groups without significant resistance. This article discusses strategies for growing the maturity of project delivery within utilities in order to improve the overall response to organizational changes of any scale. To improve project delivery maturity, the first step is to use maturity models to measure current performance against a standardized framework. Performance can then be ‘benchmarked’ against prior assessments, competitors, or standards in other industries. Having a detailed and quantifiable understanding of current capabilities is a foundational element to growing the maturity of an organization and achieving continuous improvement. Then, utilities can build off this foundation by establishing a realistic roadmap to achieve standardization goals and utilize change adoption practices to gain staff buy-in. Increasing standardization also increases the flexibility of staff within a project organization. Utilities are such complex organizations that staff will at times be rotated to diversify their experience and prepare them for increasingly senior leadership positions. While beneficial for the organization in the long term, this approach introduces short term challenges of a rotating cast of staff delivering critical projects. Standardizing project delivery processes and procedures will allow for quicker transition between roles for new staff and minimize the short-term impacts on projects. We also advocate for utilities to ensure there are clear career paths within project delivery groups, so that staff who find a passion for projects have the opportunity to build a rewarding career. By developing a path for someone to improve skillsets within their own group and discipline, you can maintain and improve talent and best practices. No matter the determined priorities of the business, throughout this entire standardization process be sure to avoid the common pitfall of improperly resourcing the improvement efforts. The value will outweigh the cost and time required if done correctly. Benefits of Improved Data for Forecasting Diving deeper, the benefits of standardization cross many aspects of a business and will positively impact project success. Standardizing the way projects are planned, measured, and delivered will improve cost and schedule certainty. Projects will create more consistent data that can be used across the portfolio to inform more realistic forecasts and permit more granular variance analysis. In turn, these variance analyses will continue to build a repository of data that can be used to continuously improve forecasts. Further, standardizing data and achieving reliable, consistent planning will provide schedule certainty and allow timely risk mitigations. This will reduce project schedule delays, which in turn will allow the business to capture more assets within the regulatory window and incorporate them into the rate base for the coming year. Improving the reliability of project forecasts, risk assessments, and schedules all flows up to improve the reliability of earnings and reporting communicated to investors and build trust with lenders. A further benefit relates to improved safety. Projects are undertaken by utilities to improve the safety and reliability of services provided to their customers. If a portfolio of projects is not executed in full, on time and on budget, customers suffer. While impacts may […]

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Agile Project Controls

Agile Project Controls This article will likely stir up incredulity and ire among the most deeply devoted practitioners of waterfall (predictive per PMI nomenclature) and Agile management methodologies, respectively. Agile enthusiasts will balk at waterfall phrases like “Controls,” and ardent supporters of the Critical Path Method will wonder at how an approach that emphasizes flexible scope and deferred decision-making can possibly be applied in a Capital Projects environment. However, each side has something to learn from the other and, if you read on, you will learn how Agile management can help Project Controls efforts. Let us examine why and how these two disciplines are compatible. Project Controls is Knowledge Work Project Controls Analysts do not lay bricks, dig trenches, or install equipment. They don’t even use power tools. Their tools are equations, scheduling practices, dashboards, queries, and ERP software. Rather than turning raw materials into a tangible object more useful than its constituent parts, Project Controllers turn data into information. Project Controls Produces a Product Reports, dashboards, and metrics are the solutions delivered by a Project Controls division or analyst. They synthesize data points into a pattern of information. Their worth is not measured by the hum of a Step-up Transformer, but by the business value of the questions they answer. The best Project Controllers build and tune systems and processes that facilitate and—dare we say—automate the distillation of project data into insights that help make decisions, reduce costs, and keep projects on track. Products Have Customers The systems and insights that Project Controllers deliver are used by The People Who Ask the Questions. Project Managers and Senior Management alike consume these insights: they are the customer. They are the ones buying what PCA’s are selling. Sometimes customers need some help figuring out what they want and need. Sometimes they need help figuring out what they do not want. Either way, the relationship between those who develop products—especially information products—and those who consume them is notoriously fraught with fuzzy requirements, critique, revision, and iteration. Agile is for Product Development and Knowledge Work Agile methods are suited to knowledge work because of the qualitative nature of that work’s product. It reduces waste by measuring against customer value rather than against a preordained plan and gives customers more than one opportunity to determine and express what they want. It also assumes that no one is going to “get it right” the first time: it has expectation management built right into its iterative, customer-engaging cycles. It is ideal for product development because it checks in with the customer frequently and adjusts the solution to changes and refinements in understanding of needs. Perhaps most importantly, it emphasizes the needs of the customer over formal, up-front requirements. If you work in project controls, you have probably created an amazing dashboard or a report that you thought was exactly what was needed and that no one ever looked at. If you are a consumer of dashboards and reports, you have probably asked for some metrics and report widgets that didn’t ultimately drive business value the way you thought they would. If you made that request from a position of power, somebody probably spent time and resources to build that thing for you. Agile methods aim at maximizing the value delivered for time spent. Iteration and Rapid Delivery “I don’t need it perfect, I just need it Wednesday.” Projects stakeholders need to understand what is going on with their projects, like, yesterday. Agile’s focus on rapid delivery is ideal for delivering something. It does this by emphasizing the Minimum Viable Product. What is the smallest, most valuable thing we can release with a high degree of quality? From that starting point, the team adds or refine functionality and deliver it at regular, rapid intervals. The key is that the developers (or in this case the project controls personnel) get valuable feedback at each iteration and their customers get a chance to learn more about what actually helps them instead of trying to solve the problem in their heads or rely on what worked in the past. Exciters and Delighters One tool commonly used in Agile and product development is the Kano model. Kano grouped product features into Basic Needs, Performance Needs, and Delighters (or Exciters). Delighters are the features that are better than anything the customer could have asked for. Think in terms of the touch screen on the first iPhone. I’ll repeat that for the Critical Path folks in the back. Better. Than. The. Customer. Could. Have. Asked. For. This is, by definition, something that up-front requirements vetting cannot provide and which is even less likely to be achieved through ad hoc reporting requests. The Agile User Story turns a functional requirement into a problem statement that leaves room for stakeholders to be pleasantly surprised by […]

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Commercialization

Commercialization Commercialization is the process of bringing new products or services to customers. In Health & Life Sciences, R&D, or research and development, is a large part of the commercialization process. R&D costs required to successfully bring a new drug to market can easily reach billions of dollars. These costs result from multiple years of highly regulated processes involving dozens of different stakeholder groups, and often do not result in a successful Clinical Trial.  Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are then understandably under extreme pressure to ensure those products that do receive FDA approval are marketed and profitable as soon as possible. It is during these initial years of entry into the market without potential competition that a company can generate massive profits to be able to recoup the costs of other failed R&D efforts and be able to fund future R&D projects.  That is why a focus on Project & Program Management, as well as Change Management, during the Commercialization process is critical. To minimize costly delays and to better ensure all stakeholders are aware and aligned with objectives, specific activities should be considered throughout the process of delivering products to market.  Project & Program Management:    The sheer number of separate activities that have cross-functional dependencies and disparate completion timelines require an integrated schedule to be managed. Project and Program Managers should develop and manage this integrated schedule with inputs from the different stakeholder groups, highlighting the need for constant communication throughout.  This integrated schedule should be resource loaded to understand who from each stakeholder group is available to complete required tasks, for example: This resource loaded schedule will showcase the need for collaboration across these groups reducing the likelihood of information silos that cause issues with hitting deadlines and inconsistent knowledge across the program. Additionally, it will highlight gaps to the intended resource plan and provide the maximum amount of time to identify and obtain external contracted talent as necessary.   For Commercialization within pharmaceuticals, typical activities need to focus on a range of outcomes, including how patients will be prescribed the drug, whether additional services should be provided based on expected disease stages, competition research that will lead to price point decisions, and more. Stakeholders can provide updates on their individual required tasks to meet the defined deliverables and outcomes.  Risk management will also play an important role in any holistic Project & Program Management undertaking for improved Commercialization. An evaluation of what potential issues could delay schedules or cause additional budget expenditures should be evaluated as early in the effort as possible and then reviewed weekly. Some examples of categories to be evaluated for potential risks that will need to be mitigated are below.  Identifying with stakeholders what specific risks could affect each activity, what the financial and timeline impacts would be, and what actions the team will take once the risk triggers. By taking the time beforehand to discuss the plan of attack, more options are available to reduce those impacts. Companies can create a standardized, repeatable process flow that contains all necessary forms, documentation, and guidance within each process step. This standardization of a commercialization process will reduce delays based on utilizing out of date forms, as well as ensure that decisions are made at the lowest level authorized (RACI).   Motive Power has assisted companies to visualize and operationalize standardized processes through their Process Optimization Platform (PoP) capability. Change Management:  Commercialization of a product introduces change within both the internal team and external stakeholder groups to include patients, payers, supply chain companies, etc. This change will affect individuals & organizations differently and each individual will transition from the current state to the desired future state at different times, if ever.     Focusing time and resources to ensure this transition from current to future states occur as quickly as possible will reduce the risk that speed to market profitability isn’t delayed. Even the best project management plan could be implemented but will have no effect if the individual stakeholders expected to change behaviors to make the commercialization effort successful, don’t change.  Furthermore, efforts to analyze the impact of the new product on each stakeholder organization will help to assess the level of change management required. If the new product radically shifts how a physician needs to prescribe a product, then additional training, targeted messaging, and follow-up should be planned and implemented. Change adoption metrics should be developed and implemented to gain insights as early as possible when individual stakeholders are resistant to the requested change. Effective change management is paramount to any project’s success. For more information on how Motive Power can assist your Commercialization effort, please contact us at sales@motive-power.com. Author: Nick Bruno

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data science, motive power, project management

What is Data Science?

 “Data science is an interdisciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms, and systems to extract knowledge and insights from many structural and unstructured data”. – Wikipedia To elaborate, Data Science is the ability to take a deeper look at the data and its indicators to develop a strong understanding of what it is that the data is telling us. The true expertise lies in recognizing what the valuable and actionable insights are and then applying those to help everyone from small business owners to large corporations in making those strategic decisions. A real-world example most can relate to deals with Facebook. After a few scrolls, you notice the “Sponsored Ads” column reflecting products that you would be interested in potentially purchasing or content you would be interested in viewing. This could include various products that either you might have been looking at online or even a match made based on your taste or preference which could have been gathered from your previous social media engagement. How is it that Facebook can identify these patterns and so accurately and curate the things we like or want to see? The answer lies in Big Data and Data Science technologies. These technologies are analyzing and predicting our taste and preferences in such great depth that it is no longer much of a mystery. Facebook’s advertisement platform is so accurate that it can gather and display highly accurate content based on Behavior, Demographics, Location, Interests, and Connections. According to CNBC, Facebook made $40 billion in advertising revenue last year, second only to Google. Today, Data Science has many benefits for businesses, especially when considering the increasingly educated consumer market. With the whole concept of, “the customer is king” and having to appeal to customers to get their business, companies must be able to go the extra mile just to meet the minimum requirement. This is where implementing Data Science and utilizing data techniques becomes integral to a company’s success, allowing that organization to stand out from the rest. How does Data Science help? Several key methods in which Data Science is currently paving the road for success: Understanding the Consumer: Using Data Science in predictive analysis techniques allow companies to help tailor a customized service and allow for the ability to continuously track the customer’s preferences. This helps with drawing in new potential customers in addition to helping them retain the existing ones at a lower cost.   Competitive Edge: With the majority of companies rushing to achieve larger market share and lead in their respective areas, Data Science has proven to be the key. Data Science helps an individual company to surpass others by providing strategic insights to channel company resources, thus giving a competitive edge over rivals.   Targeted Advertisement: With such a vast amount of data flowing in from such a wide variety of sources and at an incredibly fast rate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. Companies are beginning to struggle to track and analyze said data with conventional technologies. By using modern data tools such as SQL and Python, data scientists can deal with heterogeneous and asymmetrical data to maintain and keep up with the data flow. This allows them to provide the necessary insights for targeted advertisements to various niche segments.    Supply Chain: Data Science has proven to be an invaluable technological asset within supply chain management. What was once done by manual calculations and modeling is now completed faster and more accurately than ever before in history. The ability to predict demand and manage inventory levels, assess picking and delivery, and determining the shortest delivery routes, are just some of the many areas where Data Science has made waves and has become a dependency for many new companies.   As new Data Science techniques and algorithms continue to emerge, they will pave the way for new business avenues in formulating strategies and subsequently allow such companies to capitalize on them. The future of Data Science looks to be an exciting and promising one.   Author: Alvin Galesic

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five tips for scrum project management

How to Get the Most out of Your Scrum Board?

What exactly is Scrum? Scrum project management provides autonomy to every member. The teams are self-directed, so they’re able to quickly deal with the unpredictable changes inherent in any project. The scrum team is made up of a product owner, development team and scrum master. The product owner manages the product backlog, and the scrum master is the expert who acts as a guide for the team. This flexible, self-directed team works in what’s known as sprints. As Project Manager writes: 5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Scrum Board The scrum board is a tool, but if you don’t know how to use it then it’s not going to be effective. When working in a scrum framework there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of it. Here are some tips. 1. Hold Effective Scrum Ceremonies No surprise here. Clear communication is the stepping stone to almost any successful venture. In scrum, the basic platform for communication is the daily scrum. That is, a meeting in which these three questions are answered: What did we do yesterday? What are we planning to do today? Is there anything holding us back? Scrum ceremonies are short and focused. They should have a clear scope and tight deadlines to make sure that progress is reflected on the scrum board. 2. Create Detailed Tasks Tasks are small jobs, which usually require only a single team member to complete. The work probably takes one day or less to complete. The task is breaking the user story down and should be clearly defined. The team should discuss the task and its parameters with the product owner, so they know the expected results. This is done during the sprint planning meeting. You want to give the team enough detail to get the task done and implement that part of the user story, without getting them bogged down in any unnecessary processes. That means having clear definitions of “ready” and “done”. 3. Properly Assign Resources This is where the scrum master shows their importance. They are the facilitator of all things scrum, being experts in the framework. They help the team optimize their transparency and delivery flow, but also schedule the resources, whether people or logistical. When the scrum master is assigning these resources properly, the sprint will proceed more efficiently and effectively. 4. Keep Everything Visible The scrum board is a tool that also has the goal of providing transparency into the process. The board gives everyone on the scrum team visibility into who is working on what, if there are any bottlenecks, how long a team member is working on something, if any part of the workflow is blocking the process, etc. This includes the key stakeholders, who have a vested interest in the progress of the project. Be sure to include everything that’s relevant to the sprint on the board, so it can be a single, trusted source of information. 5. Limit Items in Each Column That being said, you don’t want to overload the board with tasks. It defeats the purpose of keeping the team focused on what is ready to be worked on. A good criteria is to only add to the column where there is capacity to complete. On the flipside, you want to make sure the team has enough to work on. The trick is finding the balance between feast and famine. If you’re experiencing bottlenecks, you don’t have a balanced workflow and might want to stop work until it’s cleared up.

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Motive Power Assisting WAVS

On June 19th, Motive Power is holding a brainstorming session with the West African Vocational Schools (WAVS) team to help them hone their next steps in bringing skills training to the people of Guinea BISSAU. Motive Power is meeting with the WAVS staff to review their growth plans, challenge their assumptions and help them strategize their next steps. Since 2006, WAVS has partnered with community leaders in West Africa to run a vocational school that has equipped more than 1,000 young women and men with life-changing job skills. The school offers courses in welding, computer basics, English and French and trains 1,000 students each year. WAVS works hand-in-hand with local leaders in Guinea-Bissau to operate a vocational school that equips more than 200 students each year with life-changing job skills. The WAVS School, located in the town Canchungo, is run by an all-Guinean staff and offers classes in computer basics, auto mechanics, welding, English and French. These courses are designed to equip young women and men with marketable job skills so that they can transform their communities.

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