Getting Prepared for Your New PPM Tool – 6 Expert Tips To Accelerate Your Implementation Time

Getting Prepared for Your New PPM Tool

We need a tool! 

We need a system that will make sense of this for us 

We need help figuring this out 

How do we track this? 

How many times have you said or thought the thoughts above? I’ve heard these comments countless times from many customers over the years but when asked what the expected outcome is from said tool or system, the response is usually unclear at best

The right PPM tool can help address all these statements and more but, the question then becomes, how do you go about setting it up correctly for your organization?  Well, read on for 5 excellent tips to help you achieve that!

Here’s a list of expert tips to consider while you prepare for your PPM implementation:  

  • Outline Your Main Goals for Implementation

    • What are gaps or pain points that you have now that you’d like to address?   
    • Decide on the expected outputs.  What do you want from a PPM tool?  Even more importantly, what do you need from a tool?   
    • What will a successful implementation look like? Set these goals and consult them to ensure that you stay on track and aligned to the original vision. 
  • Create a list of criteria to consider & prioritize for your implementation.

    • This prioritized list of Must Haves and Nice to Haves will help drive the phases of the implementation. 
    • Will project initiation & prioritization/selection be part of the implementation?  How will priority be determined?  How will budget, scope and capacity/resource utilization be evaluated?  What metrics are required to guide those decisions?  Are there approval steps and permissions that I need to consider?  What are the KPIs to be tracked?  Most PPM systems include reporting capabilities so it’s important to ensure that the right data points are part of the inputs so that they can be measured and reported on. 
    • Do I want my PPM software to be cloud-based or locally hosted?  There are management considerations to make here. 
    • How many users will be using the platform?  Will they be internal employees only or external clients or both? 
    • Do I care about how the user interface looks?   
    • Cost of the PPM tool as well as any licensing, customization or integration costs 
    • Consider on-going management, updates and changes to the platform post implementation.  Will this require professional services hours or can this be managed internally 
    • Envision the training needs of your teams.  Factor this into the phases 
    • Start small and work in phases.  A Big Bang approach is seldom suggested and will take much longer to roll-out.  The change impact to the organization will be greater as will the training effort and adoption curve.  Implementing and releasing smaller pieces of the overall solution as part of a phased approach is usually more effective and more positively received.  This approach will also allow the implementation team to gather feedback and learnings and apply to future phases going forward as well as make adjustments to the criteria or priority, if necessary 
  • Gather Processes

    • Know your current processes.  Are the processes documented or formalized?   
    • Pull together the current processes, understanding who is using them as well as the inputs and outputs of each of them.   
    • Are they being followed today?  Understanding existing processes or establishing new ones will help guide the implementation.  Current, lean processes are an important input of a successful workflow within the PPM.  It’s a good use of time to see if they are as efficient as they can be. 
  • Gather User Input and Feedback

    • Involvement of user champions should be leveraged to represent their voice when implementing a PPM.  Simplestraightforward steps, views and even labels make a big difference to the end user and adoption of a new system 
  • Create A List Of Your Integration Needs

    • Is there information in other systems that you’d like to include?  Is the new platform replacing legacy tools?  If so, review and decide on what data, if any, will be migrated to over.  It’s important to ensure that any data that will be migrated is accurate and robust – you’ve heard the term garbage in, garbage out – either take the time to cleanse the old data or leave it out altogether.  Integration of data will also help to minimize the need for users to consult multiple systems to complete steps in a process.   
    • Single source of truth.  Many organizations have different versions of the same information in multiple places which can lead to duplicative efforts and confusion.  Integration of this data will help to leverage the required information while maintaining a single source of truth. 
  • Create Your Change Management Plan

    • This is also referred to the people side of change.  The importance of change management and planning it into your implementation plan cannot be underestimated.   
    • Pull together a team of user champions to provide input and feedback.  The champions will facilitate user views, needs and feedback throughout the implementation.    
    • These champions will be part of the communication plans, internal marketing campaign and even training of the new system.  This will positive affect user adoption and support of the platform 
    • Learn more about Change Management from Prosci
    • Learn how Kolme Group can help support your business with change here

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of your PPM Tool. Join Kim Essendrup for a Free, 15-minute consultancy to discuss your
PPM Tool implementation needs and best steps forward


How to Lead People Through Change – ADKAR® Series Part 5: Reinforcement

ADKAR®: Reinforcement

Finally, we’ve reached our final milestone – Reinforcement. In our last blog we covered the third and fourth element of ADKAR – Knowledge and Ability and mentioned that people need to have both the information on how to change and the ability to make the change.

Here is a quick recap of what ADKAR stands for:

  • Awareness

  • Desire

  • Knowledge

  • Ability

  • Reinforcement


Reinforcement is the person continuing and sustaining the change. During this phase you continue to manage resistance, implement corrective actions, and celebrate success.

It is also important to collect and analyze feedback because creating a good feedback loop, where people have a voice on what is working well and can provide areas of improvement, will help them feel empowered to continue to support the change.

I’ve seen some great success with this when companies have communication channels where employees can recognize other team members that are doing well with the change. Managers have different options to honor them with some type of formal reward including becoming certified or even gaining a promotion. At one company I was at, they called this acknowledgement “Find the Good and Praise It” (FTFAPI) and at another it was known as giving someone a “High-Five.” Both were easy actions for a person to submit a praise and that praise to be shared company-wide.

Unfortunately, try as we might to get people through their ADKAR journeys, some changes may result in employee turnover. Monitoring this effectively can help shape how the organization approaches change and strengthen the culture (or weaken if it is not properly dealt with). This goes back to the Desire blog where we mentioned the organizational or environmental context factors can affect the desire ADKAR milestone based on the success (or non-successes) of past changes, other changes that may be also occurring in the organization, and the organization’s culture of change.

Yes, change is a cyclical journey, and everyone will go through each milestone with each change they encounter. It’s up to us as change practitioners (or project managers with our change management hat on) to help educate our Sponsors, Mid-Line managers, and Team Members on how to effectively manage through each milestone by educating them that this is a process, but we have the resources available to help them through it.

Want to learn more about how Kolme Group can help with your Change Initiatives? Schedule a free 30-min consult with Drew or Kim here.

How to Lead People Through Change – ADKAR® Series Part 4: Knowledge and Ability

ADKAR: Knowledge and Ability

Today, our focus is on the third and fourth ADKAR® milestone – Knowledge and Ability. They are related to each other, so I like to cover them together. In our last blog we covered the second element of Desire and mentioned that people need to have the desire to participate and support the change.

Here is a quick recap of what ADKAR stands for:

  • Awareness

  • Desire

  • Knowledge

  • Ability

  • Reinforcement


Knowledge is about each person understanding how to change. This would be the education and training on the new tool, their processes, and them understanding any new expectations – whether it be a new role or new responsibility. Depending on your change initiative this could be as simple as providing a new URL link or as complex as an entirely new office location, reporting structure, and office procedures. But, even with the range of complexity, this ADKAR milestone is where I think, as Project Managers, we are the most familiar and comfortable with as we typically cover aspects of this during our UAT (User Acceptance Testing) and Training sessions.

I have seen some really cool examples when it comes to how to deliver knowledge. Gamification techniques can be used to tap into the reward center of our brains and provide positive reinforcement as a fun and interactive way to help people gain the new knowledge.

I’ve written a blog about using game theory for time-tracking that goes into detail about each game mechanic if you want to learn more about gamification.

There are a lot of additional resources available to help deliver knowledge including creating interactive quizzes, live train-the-trainer sessions, on-demand training videos, and even using a pilot group to help create early adopters or help discover power-users and champions.

Keep in mind, we do not want to take any previous knowledge for granted or make assumptions on their current knowledge level. Sometimes offering a “foundation” class to make sure everyone is on the same baseline of understanding can help before delivering new information.


Ability is the fourth ADKAR milestone. This is the person’s skills as they relate to the future state. They may have the awareness, they are on board about the change, they have been trained – but do they have the ability? Meaning, do they have the intellectual capability, the physical ability, an SME (Subject Matter Experts) or mentor support, and the time to learn what is needed for the successful change?

One example that helps describe this ADKAR milestone is if there was a change for a company to shift from an hour lunch to a half hour lunch. This may seem like a simple change, but what if the person takes public transport or drops their kids off at school — getting off a half hour earlier or coming in a half hour later is not an option for them.

I think we have all had some personal experience with this when it comes to COVID and having to work remotely. I may be on board to work remote because I understand why (we have a pandemic) I have the desire (I don’t want to get COVID or infect others), I have the knowledge (I have been trained on how to login remote) but do I have good internet and a place to set up my workstation at home?

Also, sometimes it may take people different amounts of time to learn something new. We all know the type of person (I’m one of them) that needs a little bit of time to process and try it on their own to help settle their new understanding of the process. They have gone through training, so they have the knowledge of how to do it, but they may need a few weeks of using the new tool in order to develop their competency and ability to actually use it.

Projects that have a quick go-live and do not account for this may can put a person’s Ability milestone at risk so it’s something to keep an eye on while building out your project plans and working with managers.

Join me next time, in our last session Part 5 – Reinforcement.

How to Lead People Through Change – ADKAR® Series Part 3: Desire

ADKAR: Desire

In our last blog we started with the first element of ADKAR®, Awareness, and mentioned that people need to know why the change is happening. Today, our focus is on the second milestone – Desire in the ADKAR acronymAs you just read in our last blog ADKAR stands for

  • Awareness

  • Desire

  • Knowledge

  • Ability

  • Reinforcement


A person needs to have the desire to participate and support the change. This is a biggie. Without this you may have delays, productivity may decline, and people may even leave the organization. It is also a very personal thing, (as much as we wish we could!) we do not control other people’s choices.

Hiatt mentions there are Four Factors that contribute to an individual’s desire to change:

  • The Nature of the Change

    Is this change an opportunity or threat and what is their WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)

  • The organizational or environmental context

    The Success (or non-successes) of past changes, other changes that may be also occurring in the organization, and the organization’s culture of change.

  • An Individual’s Personal Situation

    Our career aspirations, financial security, age/healthy, personal relationships in and out of work

  • Intrinsic Motivation

    What we value, our internal voice or internal compass.

We talked about Awareness in our last post and desire tends to immediately follow that. We’ve all been there – your sponsor announces, “A Change is Coming!!” and as soon as we log-off the meeting invite, most of us are sending a ping to our manager, “Hey, just heard the news does this mean I have to (insert how I perceived the change will affect me here).”

Because of this common reflex Prosci recommends that the desire messaging is best communicated by the Direct Manager. They are closer to their staff and their everyday duties, so they can help them understand the specific WIIFM.

“As you have heard, we are getting a new PPM tool, this is really going to help you save time when you submit your project status reports because it has a one-click button that aggregates all the data. No more late Friday emails asking where your status reports are! We’ll all be able to log-off in time to attend the company Happy Hour.”

Of course, it is worth noting that the manager needs to have gone through their own ADKAR journey before they can properly help their staff consume the information. If they are just finding out about the change at the same time as their staff, then this is a recipe for disaster.

As change practitioners, we need to help the manager by first getting them through their own ADKAR journey and then preparing them, and giving room for them, to lead their staff through the change. They will need our support to identify and manage resistance and how to provide clear communications on the benefits of the change initiative.

Join me next time, where we talk about Part 4 – Knowledge and Ability

How to Lead People Through Change – Part 1: Intro to the ADKAR® Series

Ah yes, another elusive acronym for us to add to our business vernacular. If you stay with me on the following ADKAR blog series, I promise this acronym will become one of your favorites. Why? Because it is simple to understand and can make a big impact to helping achieve project success.

Before we get into the details of ADKAR, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of Organizational Change Management (OCM) and introduce you to the global leader in change management solutions, Prosci ®.

What is Change Management

Prosci® defines change management as the process, tools and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome. Change management incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realization of change.

That statement of a personal transition is a key part to understanding the methodology of change management. If you think about a project, there may be a significant percentage of the project’s success relying on a person changing how they work. For example, when implementing a new PPM tool, a project manager may need to be change how they track and report their project plan, financials, risk & issues log, etc. If they have been doing the same process in Excel or Microsoft Project, they probably have some sort of an autopilot and learning how to use a new system will be a disturbance to this autopilot. Some people may have a little blip when they come across change, others will have a colossal reaction to this adjustment.

Not to throw another acronym at you, but OCEAN or The Big Five Theory is one that I’ve been interested in lately as it relates to how people emotionally react to and process change, based on their personality. The range where someone falls on each of the Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism spectrum could be an important tell of how they react to change.

Change management is getting out in front of this disturbance – anticipating it – and planning to help people successfully journey through their current state to their future state.

Importance of Change Management

Prosci has 20 years of research into Change Management and their surveys have consistently shown that you are 6x  more likely to meet or exceed your objectives when you implement change management. You are also more likely to stay on budget and achieve the results ahead of schedule.

You can learn more about the details and benefits of OCM in Kelly’s blog: Managing Change: Absent Processes Hurting Your Projects Future or check out the recap of our OCM webinar: Change Management Fundamentals.

ADKAR – An Introduction

As mentioned, Prosci is the global leader of management solutions and there are a lot of tools that Prosci has, but the one that I think complements project management the most is ADKAR since it focusses on an individual’s journey.

ADKAR stands for

  • Awareness

  • Desire

  • Knowledge

  • Ability

  • Reinforcement

It represents the five elements of change that must be achieved for that change to be a success. There are a lot of ADKAR resources available outside of attending a Prosci training. Jeffrey M. Hiatt wrote ADKAR: A model for change in business, government, and our community. It’s a short, easy read that can be purchased online.

Lien, wrote a great article that describes how to coach individuals through each section of ADKAR in her blog – Coaching Through Change

Over the next few blogs, we’ll take a deeper look into each one of the ADKAR milestones, starting with Part 1 – Awareness

How to Lead People Through Change – ADKAR® Series Part 2: Awareness

Today, our focus is on the first milestone – Awareness in the ADKAR acronym. As you just read in our last blog we introduced ADKAR, which stands for

  • Awareness

  • Desire

  • Knowledge

  • Ability

  • Reinforcement


In order to get people’s buy-in on the change they must first understand the why. Awareness is all about helping people understanding the “Why” of the change.

Simon Sinek has a book and TED Talk called “Start with the Why” – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He bolds the fact that when you communicate the why (the purpose, the  ADKAR: Awarenessreason) rather than starting with the what (benefits/features) then we are focusing on the part of the brain that controls decision making. Nearing in on the “gut-feeling” part that we tend to draw on when we are making a decision, and our emotional reaction to it.

According to Prosci, this message is best communicated by a trusted, visible, and active Sponsor within the organization and this makes perfect sense. As Project Managers, we are often leading the team on some pretty cool initiatives, but it’s when the CEO takes center stage at a town-hall and speaks to the heart about Why they are going in that direction, that people take notice and listen.

I’ve seen some great examples of how to generate buzz around a new application that was being rolled out. It started with a very friendly message “have you heard the word” that started to gain everyone’s interest and excitement for what may be coming. One company I worked with, had a great idea for a Sponsor Roadshow where the team got a little cart and went around the office handing out ice-cream as the Project Sponsor walked around and started planting the seed about a new department the organization was developing and the benefits it could offer to the organization.

When we do not communicate the why, people will fill in the knowledge gaps themselves. The rumor-mill can be strong, so we want to own the message from the beginning by communicating the Why early on.

Join me next time, where we talk about Part 3 – Desire.

To learn more about how Kolme Group can help you with your Organizational Change Management needs, click here!


Taking the Best Parts of Agile: Part 4 – Continual Learning

In the first three parts of this series, we started with sharing the secret sauce of Agile is understanding that Agile is a framework built on strong principles you adjust to fit your organization. The goal is to make the right adjustments while not losing the underlying strengths that Agile brings.

The four key Agile principles we have identified are:

  • Breaking projects into smaller bites

  • Connecting with customers

  • Leveraging the power of teams

  • Building in continual learning

If you haven’t had a chance to review our previous blogs on the first three principles, check it them out here: Breaking projects into smaller bites, Connecting with Customers, and the Power of Teams

Continual Learning

It’s cliché that the world is moving quickly. A key element of this change is companies, many whom are your competitors, continually looking for better ways to serve customers. Just ask Sears, Kmart, or Toys R Us and they’ll tell you – If you’re not finding a better way, someone will.

The problem is our current structures are not built for learning – they are built for control. Hierarchies are built to increase efficiency and stability in the organization, not leverage great ideas. We need to change this. We need to build companies of entrepreneurs, where experimentation and innovation are an integral part of what we do. We want good ideas to get the same attention, no matter where they originate.

How to do we foster continual learning into our organizations

Before you even start, one of the first things to consider is understanding what is the clear goal of what you want when you are finished. Do you want more efficiency, do you want more customer value, do you want more sales, do you want more revenue, more profits? As we discussed in Part 3 – Teams are amazing idea engines – set them loose on a problem and they will come up with incredible results, but you have to start with pointing them towards the right problem. As a leadership team – it’s your responsibility to understand where you want innovation in your organization and what is going to make a difference, so your teams can focus on how to get you there.

The next thing you need is the right environment. Looking back again at Part 3 the Power of Teams, we mentioned psychological safety is important. But, that isn’t just safety within the team. Ironically, for the team to succeed they also need to be able to fail. With innovation, people need to feel safe in the organization as a whole, knowing that ideas may not work every time, but when they do, it will be worth it.

You also need an idea meritocracy. Often when you start a new team, members come in wanting to know what their tasks are and when they are due. They know they are usually asked to leave their brain at the door and just do the tasks as asked. What a waste of good people! Teams need to know that great ideas can come from anywhere or anyone. It shouldn’t matter if you are in accounting, you might have a great idea for operations. Operations might have a great idea for sales. You may see great ideas come from facilities, customer service, or accounting. We need to be able to judge ideas on merit, not rank or role.

This next part is a little more controversial since it has to do with money. To entice entrepreneurs, you need to be able to share rewards for great ideas. To find the best way to serve customers, you need to measure the value the team is delivering to them. Taking that one step further – as teams deliver great value, there should be some direct rewards, sharing the value of those ideas that made it possible.

It’s rewarding to see the value customers are getting but if organizations don’t share a portion of the benefits, team members may end up feeling cynical that they’re doing a great job, but the owners are the only ones seeing rewards. Nucor Steal pays employees 75% of market wages, but with bonuses they can make 125%.  At Google, employees can make as much as 300% more than someone in the same role, based on the value of their contributions.  Haier, a Chinese appliance company, has broken departments into small mini companies where employees are encouraged to think of new revenue streams and there can be significant rewards when those ideas payoff.

Continual Learning

Beyond the right environment, the last element is room to process and digest thoughts. Agile is the only methodology I’ve seen that does continual improvement effectively. The reason is that there is time built into every iteration to take a step back, discuss where to improve, and build those tasks into the next iteration.  We all know that improvement is important, but we’re not scheduling time to do it.

In one of the departments I managed, I thought I was doing a great job delegating and communicating with my team till we had our first retro. I was surprised to learn that wasn’t the case. Over the course of a year, we were able to eliminate, automate, and delegate my administrative overhead from 20 hours a week to 4. It left me a lot more time to focus on strategic value and the team was much happier with the growth they were seeing. You have opportunities, but you won’t know where those opportunities to grow are, or what is possible, until you take time to ask.

Benefits of Continual Learning

People talk about an Agile transformation like it is a destination that you get to.  However, Agile is a journey. It’s about building an organization that is continually changing and adapting to better fit the world around it. Continual learning is really one of the key principles to Agile because it builds a truly flexible organization.  That means:

As an organization – you don’t have to worry about driving results. A key job today for leadership is to drive the organization to be more effective. Agile puts in a structure where everyone is focused on being more effective. That means leadership has more time to focus on strategic direction.

As a customer – the company is always growing and adjusting to better fit your needs. Every iteration, they are asking how they can serve you better.

As a team – you get growth. Too many times we think people aren’t satisfied because of money or benefits. But a key reason employees leave a job is because they don’t have an opportunity to grow. Continual learning gives you the opportunity to not just do more, but to be more, increasing the value you add. If you’re with a good company, it also means you get to take the results of some of those ideas home as a well-deserved thank you.

The idea of continual improvement isn’t new. Toyota started quality circles after WWII leading to its popularity in the 1950’s. But, 70 years later, it seems we’re still not doing it well. Most teams meet regularly to discuss status. It’s not hard to add some reflection time to those meetings. You can google fun retrospectives to get some ideas of how to get people thinking more creatively. Whether you borrow the approach from Lean or Agile, building continual improvement will help your company grow.

As we have gone through the four key Agile principles, you’re probably thinking they aren’t new. You’re right, they’re not. Agile is really just a collection of good business practices, and rather than a detailed practice, it’s a combination of good principles that companies should leverage to improve what they do.

As you look at Agile, rather than thinking that’s not for me, or that would never work here, do what Agile did —  Take a bunch of great ideas and make them your own.

Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn to keep up to date with more agile transformation learning!

Taking the Best Parts of Agile: Part 3 – The Power of Teams

In the first two parts of this series, we described the secret sauce of Agile is understanding that Agile is a framework built on strong principles you adjust to fit your organization. The goal is to make the right adjustments while not losing the underlying strengths that Agile brings.

The four key Agile principles we have identified are:

  • Breaking projects into smaller bites

  • Connecting with customers

  • Leveraging the power of teams

  • Building in continual learning

If you haven’t had a chance to review our previous blogs on the first two principles, check it them out here: Breaking projects into smaller bites and Connecting with Customers

The Power of Teams

As kids, I think everyone of us wanted to be superheroes. Teams give us that ability – they turn ordinary people into top performers. In his book Scrum Twice the Work in Half the Time – Sutherland explains the difference between your best and worst individual performers is 10 times. That means the best performers get 10 times more done than the worst. That sounds impressive, until you hear the difference between the worst and best teams is 2,000 times (2,000 times better starts to sound and feel a lot like a superhero).

Part of the difference might be in existing team structure. Most of the time, we think about teams as individuals working on similar items with a manager directing traffic. That’s not a team. And, it won’t provide the advantage of leveraging the intelligence of the group. In his book Turn the Ship Around, Marquette talks about how, traditionally in a submarine, you have one captain thinking for the 140 crew. Marquette discusses how he got each individual to think for themselves. By doing that, he outperformed every other submarine in the US fleet. It was easy for him to see that no other captain, however smart they may be, is going to be as smart as 140 people.

How to harness the Power of Teams

 Best Parts of Agile

For those who have worked in a solid team, it’s a great experience.  However, teams need the right elements to be successful. An example I like to share is a research project called Aristotle looking at successful teams that Google conducted. They started with an assumption that great teams would be made of great individuals, but couldn’t find any correlation. What they did find were five key elements that did correlate with team performance:

  • Psychological Safety

    Can we take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

  • Dependability

    Can we count on each other to do high quality work and meet commitments?

  • Structure and Clarity

    Are the goals, roles, and plans on the team clear?

  • Work Meaning

    Does our work provide us with an individual sense of purpose?

  • Work Impact

    Do we believe the work we’re doing matters?

If you’re looking for structure, Scrum, the most popular Agile framework, provides teams a simple approach on how to plan, touch base regularly, review work against plans, and implement regular retrospectives to identify and make needed adjustments.

Benefits of Teams

There are so many benefits to high functioning teams, but one of the most valuable is innovation. New ideas often come from leveraging existing ideas in a new way. When you present a problem to a group, each person comes with a different perspective, a lifetime of different experiences, and the more diverse your team is, the more diverse those experiences will be. Great ideas come from one person seeing the problem in a different way, and then others in the group building on those ideas till at the end you have a completely new solution.  This means:

As an organization – innovation is the lifeblood of any good company. It is the ultimate source of competitive advantage. It is why companies like Google and Amazon are so hard to compete with.

As a customer – it gives you the best product at the best price. Customers are so tired of hearing the word “or.” Would you like quality or would you like a price you can afford?  Innovation gives you the ability to give customers “and.” Toyota did this in the 50’s, providing the quality of a Mercedes for the cost of a Ford, gaining a decade of competitive advantage.

As a team – we talked about a key part of successful teams is meaning and impact. There is a joy of going home (or logging off our computer in our home office) at the end of the day knowing that, as a team, you did the impossible and the world is better because of it. Innovation makes the impossible possible, and it’s fun getting to do it.

You don’t have to be Agile to improve what your teams are doing today.  Look at the Google Aristotle aspects of a team and think about how you make groups more like teams.  Wherever you are today, leveraging the genius of the entire organization will help you be far more effective, with a side effect of much happier employees.

In the last part of our Agile Series, we’ll take a look at Continual Learning.



Taking the Best Parts of Agile: Part 2 – Connecting with Customers

Last post, we reviewed – the secret sauce of Agile and shared this important idea: Agile is a framework built on strong principles you adjust to fit your organization. The goal is to make the right adjustments while not losing the underlying strengths that Agile brings.

The four key Agile principles we have identified are:

  • Breaking projects into smaller bites

  • Connecting with customers

  • Leveraging the power of teams

  • Building in continual learning

If you haven’t had a chance to review our post on the first principle, check it out here: Breaking projects into smaller bites

Connecting with Customers

I had this epiphany when I came to Agile. As a solution architect I had been spending a lot of time getting sign-offs from customers to make sure we had the right solution before we started the project.

The problem is solutions are like art. Often customers don’t know what they want till they see it. Further, they may not even know what the underlying problem is. What they do know, is what is they don’t like what they have today.

While customers are not experts at understanding how to take a problem apart and find an answer, your solution team is, but, your solution team may not know what is most important to the customer. Worse, they often think they know and move forward to test that theory by delivering a finished product – that’s an expensive experiment!

The epiphany I had was: Take the customers who understand where their pain points are and know a good solution when they see it; put them together with teams who are experts at root cause analysis and developing innovative ideas and you create the perfect environment for innovative solutions that meet customer needs.

How to Connect with Customers

Whether you are developing software solutions, creating marketing campaigns, developing education curriculums, or changing a business process, chances are you are trying to think of the right solution for your customers. However, if you have ever delivered a finished project and the customer says “Oh, now I know what I want,” – this is the strong an indication that there’s an opportunity to improve.

Here are some steps to make this actionable:

  • Move from documents to conversations.

    Most of what we say is nuanced in inflection and body language. Get a conversation going between teams and customers to better explain what is needed, why, and allow time for questions. It’s even better if teams can watch how people are working today.

  • Break up the time

    Instead of trying to get all the answers at the beginning, provide space to let customers provide an explanation, teams to create a prototype, and customers to provide feedback (made possible by breaking projects into smaller pieces as mentioned in our previous blog ).

  • Test ideas with real customers

    Agile teams often create something new and then don’t take the time to get feedback. They’re missing a huge part of the value. The best feedback will come from real customers and you won’t get much value from the opinion of a higher-up – you need to know if the solution makes sense to those who will actually use it in their day-to-day work.

Value of Connecting with Customers

Connecting with Customers

The biggest benefit to getting customers and teams connected is it allows teams to focus on the right problems and quickly test solutions. That means:

As an organization – teams that understand customer needs and spend more time developing customer value. They also waste less time creating low value items, which also means a cleaner product that is easier to support.

As a customer – you get the right solution, the first time, without having to wait for the mythical Phase II. When teams and customers work together, they often provide solutions customers didn’t realize were possible.

As a team – it’s a lot simpler to have a conversation with a customer than to try and guess on a document. It’s also satisfying to see when you hit the mark and have a chance to change it when you miss.

As a project team, it’s your responsibility to figure out where to focus your time. There are elements to any product that customers don’t see that make the end result possible. You don’t need customer feedback on those, but for anything that is customer facing, it’s better idea get feedback from the people who are using it. You may be surprised at what you find.

Next post, we’ll cover Part 3: The Power of Teams.


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Taking the Best Parts of Agile: Part 1 – Smaller Bites

Agile is getting a lot of great press lately as we see companies like Amazon thriving by leveraging the concepts. But we also see push back from other business leaders on why Agile won’t work for them, or companies that have tried going Agile but are not seeing the expected improvements. Instead of realizing Agile as an all or nothing idea, we should analyze each of the Agile principles, taking a pragmatic approach to leveraging Agile within our own organizations.

This focused segmentation on each Agile principle is key since no individual practice will provide a competitive advantage. If something is easy to replicate, everyone will do it. Also, what organizations do is not simple – each one is completing a complex combination of different tasks to create customer value.

That leads me to this – The secret sauce of Agile is: It’s a framework built on strong principles you adjust to fit your organization. The goal is to make the right adjustments while not losing the underlying strengths that Agile brings.

To do that successfully, you need to understand each of the principles in depth. The four key Agile principles we have identified are:

  • Breaking projects into smaller bites

  • Connecting with customers

  • Leveraging the power of teams

  • Building in continual learning

Join me over the next few posts, as we delve into each one of the principles throughout this Agile blog series. Today, we start with: Breaking Projects into Small Bites.

Best Parts of Agile

Smaller Bites

The first principle is breaking projects and initiatives into smaller bites, following the old adage that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. As we think about how to break up projects, we need to also answer:

  • How will this project deliver value to the customer?
  • How will it deliver value to the organization?
  • How do we do it, including how long will it take, or how much will it cost?

If you think about construction, where traditional project management comes from, these questions are fairly easy to answer. If you are looking at building a new bridge, for example, to see if there is value, it’s easy to see what those who would use the bridge are doing today, and if they are willing to pay for a replacement. This answers the first two questions, so then the real focus is on how we do it. Since this isn’t the first bridge that’s been built, we can get a reasonable idea and estimates from previous projects to help us answer the last question. If we found ourselves without previous information, we would need to experiment. That’s much harder on these types of projects since there may not be an easy way to break the project up into smaller bites. We could start with a rope bridge, but chances are it’s not going to add any value till we have a four-lane highway ready to use, thus failing the first question.

Construction projects are not the only ones that may provide this complication. IT infrastructure or software upgrade projects are often similar and are quite a bit different from software projects – which is where Agile came from. Software projects are far more unique and have their own conditions to be considered. You see similar issues in marketing, educational design, business process changes, or any project where we don’t have a good, previous solution to copy.

The problem with these types of projects is:

  • We may know what people are doing today, but we don’t necessarily know the best approach to solve their problems or how much value the customer will get.
  • Without knowing the customer value, we don’t know the organizational value.
  • Without knowing the solution, we don’t know if we can build it, and if we do, what it would take.

Even with this complexity, there is some good news. Unlike construction projects, these projects are easier to break up into experiments where we can test our assumptions and reduce the risk to the organization. The key is to focus on breaking the project up into the right pieces, that will help answer these questions as quickly as possible.

How to Break Projects Into Small Pieces

Let’s talk about how to break that elephant up with a real-life example. A company I worked with had a hypothesis that they were paying generous benefits but employees weren’t seeing that value since they didn’t know what those benefits cost. For the three questions, the hypothesis was:

  • How will this project deliver value to the customer?

    If employees knew the cost of their benefits, they would be more satisfied

  • How will it deliver value to the organization?

    Satisfied employees would provide more value to the organization (in this case reduced turnover)

  • How do we do it, including how long will it take, or how much will it cost?

    We have access to the benefit information and can present it in the right format to make it easy for employees to understand.

Looking at how to break this project up, we would want to:

  • Present employees an example of a current benefit to see if this increases satisfaction. If possible, we probably want to start with the biggest benefit.
  • We don’t have time to wait for turnover, but we still need to measure satisfaction, perhaps with a questionnaire, targeting a group of employees that have the most turnover.
  • We need to test if we can get access to the data and test different ways to show the information to make sure it is easy to understand

As you lay out what you want to learn, it gets easier to understand how to break the project into the right pieces.

Value of Breaking Projects into Smaller Pieces

So whether you’re agile or not, let’s talk about the benefits of this approach:

As an organization – testing the value of ideas early lets you focus on the good ones. It also helps to uncover big technical risks quickly so you get a picture of the real effort projects will take. Finally, delivering the projects quickly, and in small increments lets you deliver value faster, speeding return on investment.

As a customer – teams are already testing on real customers today; all of them when they release. Smaller testing means you get to see what approach a team is considering early, provide meaningful input on finding the best approach, and only a small group of customers is impacted.

As a team – testing early means you waste less time on bad ideas. It’s demoralizing to put your heart into a project and then not find out till the end it didn’t deliver the value you expected.

By taking this approach, Agile is pushing an empirical tactic, pressing you to think like a scientist, understand what ideas are really theories, and find ways to test the theories early.

As you look at getting this same value with your own projects, think about the three questions around organizational value, customer value, and the approach. If you have good evidence to support your ideas, it may be more similar to the construction project example, and focusing on how to efficiently put the project in place could be the best approach. But, if there are a lot of assumptions like we described above, it’s worth the time to set up a quick experiment and validate them.

On our next post, I’ll be reviewing the second principle, Connecting with Customers.


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