Key areas to address when successfully delivering a project

After finishing reading an excellent book by Peter Taylor "The Lazy Project Manager", I was trying to explain its core concepts to a colleague and how Cooper Software's own project management methodology lends itself to some of the principles mentioned by Peter.

Namely that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and exercise our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities. Now this might seem like common sense and 101 in project management however in my experience of working on large delivery projects, I am constantly amazed how people fall into the trap of producing lots of material and co-ordinating lots of meetings whilst losing sight of the important end goal; successful project completion.

At Cooper Software we have recognised this and that a number of companies currently looking at implementing ERP systems or managing an upgrade could benefit from a more streamlined approach; that still allows project controls to be adhered to whilst allowing the project manager to focus their efforts on other important issues. From this, our 'Project in a Box' methodology came into fruition. Taking inspiration from http://www.projectinabox.org.uk/ which provides PRINCE2 templates for any project, we have created a suite of controls and documents that can be used to manage and control an ERP implementation.

Outline

The typical implementation streams and disciplines are outlined in Figure 1 and our Project in a Box provides templates and guidance for each of these stages. However in keeping with the Lazy Project Manager theme of exercising our efforts where it really matters, I will focus on getting the correct project controls and communications in place alongside strong release and technical management which will help any project successfully deliver.

Project Controls

There is always a fine line with project control documents and project communication to ensure that the right people see the right information and most importantly at the right time. To help with this I find using four key documents alongside a robust project plan helps immensely. These are:

Figure 2: One Page Project Manager

1) One Page Project Manager™; An excellent tool by https://oppmi.com  allows an entire project to be condensed into a simple, one page document (Figure 2) that can be used to communicate the essential details to all stakeholders (Project Board, Team Members and Customers).

2) Daily Log; My project diary can be used to log all project activities, questions and tasks that can then be reviewed as a project team on a regular basis. This is a document that is basically open the whole day and can be used to control who I need to speak to and meetings that need to be scheduled etc. It is a massively useful tool for recording those crucial decisions that we agreed to 3 months ago, but no one can remember why!

3) Issues Log; My formal Issue Log allows all project issues to be logged, managed and more importantly communicated to the correct audience to allow escalations to take place.

4) Risk Register; My formal Risk Register allows project risks to be detailed, the impact understood and the required mitigation steps to be followed. Again this is an absolutely key document that should be reviewed frequently by the Project Manager and used to drive risk reviews with the project board.

Release & Technical Management

One of the common areas that I find companies struggle with during an implementation is correct release management and technical management. For a wide variety of issues, three main factors seem to be overlooked or misunderstood during project delivery. However getting these disciplines correct and in place early in a project will ensure documents don't go missing, code is always traceable, team members task times are accurately recorded and environments can be patched and refreshed easily without loss of data. The three factors include Change Control & Document Control, Time Control & Recording and Release & Environment Controls.

Change Control & Document Control

There are a number of tools and products out in the market that offers this functionality, however my typical advice for any customers is to use what the project team feel most comfortable with for document control if there is any available. If not then Microsoft SharePoint is an excellent choice as a document control system. Whatever is chosen the PM and Project Management Office should rigorously enforce the use of this system and if the document isn't in the document management system then it doesn't exist in terms of the project!

With regards to change control I would recommend Subversion and VisualSVN (for Windows) http://www.visualsvn.com/ (Figure 3). This allows strong Version Control allowing Cooper Software to track all revisions of various files (Reports, Custom Events, Data Migration scripts), compare changes between revisions and labelling any important revisions (i.e PILOT 1, UAT) so we can build an accurate change set picture allowing us to recreate an environment to a given point in time with reports, custom events etc. that may have advanced since original development.

Time Control and Reporting

It is absolutely key during project delivery to accurately record time spent on the projects including external contractors/vendors, the internal project team and business users. This helps ensure tasks are on track, supplier/contractor time can be easily tracked and that business users are given time to complete tasks. There are a number of tools that can be used to achieve this, however at Cooper Software we prefer to use AceProjects (Figure 4). This is a cloud based project management and time recording tool that will allow all project stakeholders access to log time against tasks. This is an invaluable tool for a PM to be able to monitor time spent on tasks and task completion rates.

Release and Environment Controls

The final piece of the jigsaw in strong technical and change management is the Release and Environment control. So often we see in an ERP implementation, is multiple environments that are loosely controlled and for a number of purposes. This means that moving from a development environment to a production environment is exceedingly difficult to do in a controlled, repeatable way which will lead invariably to a 'failed' deployment in production and subsequent downtime until the root cause is fixed. At Cooper Software we believe that by implementing a robust environment control process this risk can be mitigated. There are typically two 'tools' in the IFS Project in a Box that we will use to control this.

1) Defined Release process/Responsibilities

At the start of the project's we help to deliver, we ensure that the process (Figure 5) is defined and adhered to. By enforcing this gated process through a number of environments we can ensure that any issues with release (i.e. new issues, bugs) can be caught early in the release process ensuring it is quicker to report and resolve whilst not affecting production environments.

2) Environment Map

A really simple but effective tool is our Environment Map, which builds a visual picture of all the required components (reports, custom events, chart of accounts, permission sets) and maps if they are within each environment and what version is currently within the environment. This coupled with a quick ‘latest’ patch check will provide an extremely visual picture for the project team and release team of how each environment is built up.

Summary

There are a number of areas within an ERP implementation/upgrade that are crucial in successfully delivering a project. However by exercising our efforts where it really matters, in this case Project Controls & communication, a strong Release and Technical Management will help guarantee that most projects will see an immediate benefit, allowing the Project Manager to then focus on other key areas. 

Article by Dean Gardner

Make it Work™