Friday, 4 December 2009

A Change Implementation Timeline

Sadly, this is all too often what happens...

The project gets going to deliver a new system.

In month 6 after a procurement/development phase, users start to use the new system.

By month 14, users have gotten used to the system, some amendments have been made in line with user comments and use of the system now becomes effective to full potential.

At some point probably after several months' or years' use of the system at full potential, the benefits - which were the reason for the project in the first place - become measurable.

However no one does this, as the project closed down in month 8 as it was deemed to have successfully delivered a new system. The company can't understand why they are never sure whether benefits have been delivered or not...


Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Social Networking Sites Evaluation

I've had my attention drawn to an evaluation of social networking sites for online students on the blog of Online School, an American site devoted to students studying online as distance learners.

Regardless of whether you're a distance learner, there's a good list of social networking sites with a quick two-line evaluation of the sort of site and what you can use it for.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Biassed by Risk and Ignoring Opportunities

The other week I was at an event where an IT Manager from an educational institution announced he wanted to find 'better ways of saying "No"'... As the room was full of IT Managers, I was a little saddened to hear a murmer of agreement.

I used to be an IT Manager myself and I know something of the pressures they face. There's an explosion of both new technology and student expectation that hardly looks likely to disappear. Some of the new technology carries with it some risk to the organisation.

However I suspect that the risk to the organisation is not always fully or realistically assessed and sometimes the risk to the IT Department takes precedence - or even is the only risk assessment before the use of a technology is denied or blocked.

Worse, I have heard too many examples of institutions blocking access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo because students have been criticising lecturing staff or facilities. The response doesn't stop students from making those criticisms - because they will do it from their homes or laptops when they get a chance. All the blocking of such sites achieves is to fuel the reasons for criticism and takes away the organisation's ability to monitor and police it.

Would you confiscate the pen of a student who wrote a critical letter to the local paper? Would it not be better to search out comments and investigate them? The onus would then, of course, be on teaching staff and senior management to act... because the real issue here is one of quality assurance more so than abuse of college IT facilities, but where there is abuse it should be the responsibility of teaching staff and senior management to invoke disciplinary procedings. The IT Team are not there to be used as either a police force nor a sentencing judge and most certainly not to appoint themselves to such roles.

What gets lost in this one-sided use of Risk Management techniques, is any assessment of opportunity and benefits to be gained from institutional use of Web2 sites. What mechanisms exist for the enthusiasts amongst the teaching staff to try out, experiment and then disseminate good practice? What lines of communication exist between teaching staff and IT, so that Web2 use is not just something asked for by a (string of) lone lecturer(s) that get(s) an automatic 'no' - regardless of how well the refusal is given?

One university recently told me they had considered whether to have a formal presence on Facebook at institution level and decided against it, fearing that such a presence might be looked at by students in the same light as 'a dancing dad'... However they went on to say that where students were looking to use such facilities to set up course or lesson-related resources and wanted staff involved in those, then that involvement was encouraged.

The fact that they had had those discussions at a high level helped to promote such use and gave a steer to the IT Department.

Has your university or college had the conversation; made any decisions, identified both risks and opportunities and consequently given any steer to the IT Department?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

To Prince2 or Not To Prince2?

Interesting debate with the above title at Aston University's Centre for Project Management Practice in Birmingham yesterday.

Speaking in favour of Prince2 was the lead author for the 2009 revision, Andy Murray, who pointed to the widespread acceptance of Prince2 by not only public sector organisations but private sector organisations also.

He argued that Prince2 was not overly bureacratic but designed to cope with the most complex situations whilst allowing for flexibility where smaller projects did not require the full-on approach.

Speaking against Prince2, Harvey Maylor, Director of the International Centre for Programme Management at Cranfield School University gave four key issues:
  1. The prime reason for Prince2 is more to do with the needs of training companies

  2. Where is the evidence for its efficacy?

  3. Prince2 does not address the reasons for the widespread failure of projects

  4. Prince2 does not give any competitive advantage
"If 300,000+ people have been trained in it at an average cost of £2k per course, then has the use of Prince2 led to £6M worth of increased efficiency or achievement?" he asked. "Whether it has or not is not backed by evidence.

"Prince2 today is like ISO9000 fifteen years ago. It was possible, as long as the paperwork was right, to get a kitemark for a perfectly designed and manufactured concrete lifejacket!"

Ha! Good comment! But where do I stand on this? Well let's try to be dispassionate about it. Most people learn about projects through experience. That can be good or bad because, as with driving, you pick up bad habits. So having a methodology to follow - whether that was Prince2 or some other methodology, such as the Project Management methodology promoted by my organsation, JISC infoNet can only be useful, as methodologies provide a framework for best practice.

However they do not guarantee best practice. They can provide prompts to think about things, templates to help, a step by step approach. They don't provide skills or competence or attitude or commitment. You have to provide those. And it's not just the skills, attitude and competence of the project manager that's needed either.

Far more projects fail because of lack of interest or support or involvement of senior managers than do because of a crap project manager.

And the danger is these days that HR people are forever on the lookout for "evidence" that someone can meet their criteria without them having to make a subjective decision which might mean they are blamed if they take on someone whose performance fails to meet requirements. So they look for and place a totally ridiculous importance on a qualification gained after a 3-day course. And worse - think that the lack of it is justifiable evidence for putting all other applications on the "rejected" list without further consideration.

I think personally that Prince2 ignores lots of things that make projects go wrong, particularly in the sector I work within. It ignores people. It says (in section 2.2 of the 2007 manual) that it excludes "People management techniques such as motivation, delegation and team leadership".

Let's be blunt though - it's people that cock things up...!

Prince2 is undoubtedly a useful methodology. But any decent methodology needs tailoring towards your own circumstances and it needs supplementing with other processes, particularly Change Management to ensure that the people aspects don't cause problems. It also needs following. You can't just ignore some of the bits because someone doesn't want to do them. Ignore them because the complexity of your project is such that they are unneccesary. Don't make the decision yourself.

Which brings me to the absolute nub of the matter. A methodology alone will not help you run a successful project. It's having a shared agreement and commitment that the organisation and any external partners will follow the methodology that will have the greatest beneficial effect. And some way of censuring any non-compliance. If someone comes to a meeting thinking it's ok to say "I haven't had time" then your culture needs a shake up.

Before I get loads of comment about that, let me clarify what I've just said. If you know you are not going to have time to do something that you had previously agreed to, first of all flag up the possibility straight away and then try to think of ways to make sure it gets done, by working harder, more hours, using more people, asking for help. Don't leave it until the meeting to just say "I haven't had time" and let it come as a surprise to others who may have been relying on your bit being completed before they can start their already planned and scheduled part.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Project Managers: Who Needs 'Em?

Interesting article with the above title written by Rebecca Waters and published at Exec Digital.

Rebecca gives a short history of project management and discusses what it is that a project manager can bring to a project in terms of skills and a dedicated approach - by which she means that they don't have to dedicate any time to 'the day job'.

Lots of people managing projects in colleges and universities are not so lucky as to be dedicated to just the project. If you are in that situation, then having a structured methodology can help you in terms of giving you a framework to remind you to consider various aspects that can be missed.

A framework prods you to think about 'x' or to consider 'y'. It doesn't demand that you laboriously write down in triplicate, or fill out template documents for every little thing. What it does do is ask you to consider whether you need to write something down, depending on whether you are likely to forget because the project is a long one (over ten minutes means I should write stuff down!); whether anyone else will need to know it, given the likelihood of you not being there, or whether they will need the information more quickly than finding you and asking you would take.

If such a framework would benefit you, JISC infoNet have one available for free within their P3M infoKit.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

What Is The Real Risk?

I've had a new experience today - using Dimdim to deliver a presentation to an online web conference. The session I was delivering was a one-hour session on Risk Management for JISC Regional Support Centre (RSC) in the West Midlands.

And whilst the delegates were dispersed all over the West Midlands, I could see a list of who was logged in at any point and we could communicate via a chat window, so I could pose simple questions and I had an audio link so delegates could hear me speaking to the PowerPoint slides.

A quick look at the chat window shows that there was a mix of comments and questions, some of which I answered verbally and some examples of delegates giving examples for points I had made. Anne D's "Like snow in May in the UK" was in response to me saying, "no matter how small the probability, a risk might still happen." I wonder what the risk of Anne D having an interesting weather day was this morning...!

The RSC backed up the session in their Moodle Virtual Learning Environment and I stayed online for an hour afterwards to pick up questions and answer them, or pose further questions and counter viewpoints.

There were even a few tweets on Twitter (You can find me there as JohnBurke1).

Alison from the RSC posed an interesting question after the session in the Moodle discussion: "I have encountered a problem with Learning Providers who are slow to respond to the Disability Equality Duty. This is now more about making the Learning Provider Proactive and reducing the risk to them and producing a more resilient environment. However it's getting over the importance of this as AI issues isn’t at the top of everyone’s agenda. Any ideas?"

My answer was, "This is I suspect, a case of organisations only looking at the obvious risks and not all of them. The obvious risk is that of being sued against the Act if they don't comply and someone takes issue. Probability very small indeed and impact is an easily affordable fine.

However, you may need to help them identify other associated risks - loss to reputation from someone who has enrolled but had continued problems who might go to the press, affecting reputation, people with disabilities becoming aware of the approach and avoiding the organisation en masse.

Either of these are affected by other external factors. For instance if your local MP had fiddled his expenses to the tune of £100 would you have cared ordinarily? But at the moment, given all the national publicity...

Also if they didn't sue under the act but claimed compensation for having failed their course due to lack of accessibility - could be a huge case!

So if disability was to become topical then news of this type of shortcoming would suddenly be much more in the Public Interest and likely to do more damage to reputation.

So the day has provided me with a good experience of delivering a session using e-Learning and from the comments I received has stimulated a bit of interest fr a full one-day session on Risk Management in the West Midlands region, but most importantly of all, it has made the delegates think about risks and Risk Management in a way that may not have occurred to them before!

Thanks go to Jason Curtis and colleagues at the RSC West Midlands for the invite to speak, to Chrissie Turkington of RSC Northwest for technical support during the session and to the delegates for interacting with me over the Internet!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Public Sector Project Management 2009

Yesterday I attended the Public Sector Project Management 2009 conference at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Chaired by Tom Taylor, Vice President of the Association for Project Management (APM), the conference gave delegates a chance to hear the latest thinking in Portfolio, Programme and Project Management thinking and a chance to network and swap experiences and concerns with their peers and vendors of solutions and training.

Networking was a topic brought up by Eddie Borup, Director of the Best Practice User Group (BPUG). The BPUG holds three large events a year aimed at Project Managers which include plenty of time for face-to-face netowrking.
"I want to hear what experts have to say," he said, "but I want the opportunity to talk to them and ask them questions too."

Much of the conference focussed on new products from the Office of Government Commerce (OGC), in particular the resources on:
  • Portfolio Management (PfM).
    "We will hear a lot about portfolios," said Tom Taylor, commenting on the current economic climate. "You won't be seeing the huge projects we've been used to; there will be lots of small projects run as a portfolio."
  • Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O).
    "It is the last piece in the jigsaw," Lead Author of the OGC materials, Sue Vowler told delegates. The manual has been released and a Foundation qualification has been written. The Practitioner level qualification is in development with a likely curriculum release in the Summer.
  • The new revision of Prince2 is a refinement rather than a re-write.
    "Project Management has grown so quickly over the last 20-30 years that we no longer need to add to our knowledge, we need only to apply it and refine it," Tom Taylor noted.
The conference was sponsored by BPM and staged by Ten Alps Events.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Trialling of Collaborative Online Tools for BCE

I'm on the second day of a 2-day meeting in Birmingham, being a start-up meeting for JISC's Trialling of Collaborative Online Tools for BCE - 'BCE' being Business & Community Engagement. The project partners are from the Further Education Colleges and University sectors and there have been some excellent sessions introducing the partners to each other, from JISC Advisory Services introducing the partners to the types of support they can call upon or access online and some great hints and tips on a host of topics, from Project Management (myself and colleague, Clive Alderson) to a couple of top tips on the use of video cameras from Steve Hunt of JISC Digital Media.

The project is being led by another of my colleagues from JISC infoNet, Jacquie Kelly and other Advisory Services present have been JISC Legal, JISC Netskills and JISC TechDis.

The idea of the start-up meetings for JISC projects is to give project partners an opportunity to network with each other, to share ideas, make contacts and collectively solve gerneric problems.

As I write, delegates are involved in an exercise to identify both individual stakeholders and stakeholder groups, to then consider how best to engage with and communicate with them. This exercise is based on materials from JISC infoNet's Project Management and Change Management infoKits.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Records Management Building Bridges Conference

I've spent the first three days of this week in Newcastle and Gateshead.

Tuesday and Wednesday have been the Building Bridges conference for Records Managers held at the new conference centre at Gateshead College, from whose windows this view of the Millenium Bridge over the Tyne was taken.

The conference was organised by JISC infoNet and was the brainchild of my colleague Steve Bailey. Records Managers from universities, colleges, local authorities and elsewhere gathered to discuss the future direction of records management and the impact that the growing use of social networking sites such as blogs, wikis and networks such as Facebook have on an organisation's ability to control its data and information.

I gave a session on communications during the implementation of change and facilitated a group discussion session as well as running round with the roving microphone for question and feedback sessions.

It has been a most interesting two days with the benefits of a records management approach pushed to the fore over compliance issues. There was some discussion as to where, in an organisation, does the Records Management function logically sit and there was some disagreement amongst the delegates when HR was suggested (because of the staff development role they usually have) or in Finance (because of the strict controlled way that accountants like to work).

What did come out strongly was that wherever they sit, the Records Manager needs the support of a senior manager committed to driving the records management agenda forward across the organisation. Someone at middle manager level sitting within one team or area does not have the necessary influence over the other functions and structural areas that exist in large organisations such as universities and colleges.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A Plethora of Blogs?

It may be a while since I posted here but during the interval I've created another couple of blogs.

Based on a few conversations with people who were quite happy to admit they were less than confident with working with computers, spreadsheets and Word documents I've created a blog called Computer Basics for Free which is intended to do pretty much what it says on the tin.

It covers the basics of computing and gives some shortcuts and explains tools for formatting Word and Excel with a sprinkling of other bits and pieces like Internet and blogging etc. Content is a little limited at the moment but will grow - slowly...!

The other new blog is a project blog for the Embedding BCE through Business Process Improvement and Internal Engagement project that I mentioned in the last entry.

The blog is linked above and is hosted on the JISC Involve site which is openly available but where blogs are limited to those with an email in the academic community.

Blog Roll