Archives from month » April, 2010

Guest blogger on Project Management – Part 2

Guest Blogger – Rick Wyatt

This is the second part of an 8-part series which looks at how IT and Business Leaders and Stakeholders can avoid common project pitfalls.

Be careful what you ask for!

You’ve probably seen the cartoon circulating over the years that illustrates the importance of requirements in delivering what’s needed.  It’s about a tree swing and the disparate interpretations of the deliverable when requirements are misunderstood.  Just search the Internet for “requirements cartoon” and you’ll find several versions.

It’s good for a chuckle, but the sad part is that it’s absolutely true!  The single most important piece of any project is requirements – clear, documented, validated, approved, understood and executed.  Here’s how to avoid requirements pitfalls in your projects:

  • Clear – Be specific and don’t assume people will just intuitively know what the customer needs.  If requirements are not spelled out in basic terms, they will be misunderstood.  As much as possible, requirements should be written to transfer the mental images and meaning from the mind of the customer to the reader’s mind.   This is not the time to show off vocabulary or writing style – keep it simple, crisp, to the point, descriptive and non-artistic.  Diagrams and screen shots are extremely helpful in conveying the desired information, but stop short of designing the solution – that comes later.
  • Documented – An artifact is needed that can be shared with your customer and the team, one that can be referred to repeatedly during the project lifecycle and that can be retained for audit purposes.  It doesn’t matter so much what format it’s in, so long as the format captures the specifics of the customer’s need.  There are lots of templates out there to choose from – Use Case, Business Requirements Document, etc.  Pick one that covers all the aspects of capturing the customer’s need and that can effectively convey that need to the team, then use it consistently in all your projects.
  • Validated – Once the requirements have been clearly documented, circle back with the customer to validate that what has been captured is complete and correct.  This reality check is essential to make sure nothing was missed and to edit the document where needed to clear up any fuzzy terms or concepts so that the customer’s need is clearly stated.
  • Approved – After validation, formal approval of the requirements document by the customer is needed with the understanding that the validated and approved requirements define what is in scope (and not in scope), they provide a definition of project success and they are now frozen.  This will provide a control for managing project scope and preventing scope creep.  Any subsequent changes to requirements should require formal approval by the project Sponsor and could impact project duration and cost.
  • Understood – Requirements define the customer’s need (the “What”) and the project team uses them as the basis to create the solution design (the “How”) that will meet that need.  To be successful in this process, it’s essential that requirements are completely understood by the project team.  The best way to ensure complete understanding is to conduct a Requirements Review meeting for the customer and the team to jointly walk through the document, discuss each requirement in detail and get all questions answered.  At the end of the session, everyone should have the same understanding of what is needed.
  • Executed – Requirements drive all subsequent activities in the project.  Technical Specifications and Design combine requirements with technology to form the solution.  The Test Plan and Test Cases are created to confirm the solution works as intended and all requirements are met.  User Acceptance Testing (UAT) provides the customer an opportunity to confirm what they asked for has been correctly and completely delivered.  In the end, each requirement should be traceable through the entire project life cycle to ensure all have been appropriately addressed in design, development, testing and deployment.

The time spent up front in the project process on requirements will have a huge return on that investment when you successfully breeze through UAT and deploy your project.  On the other hand, skimp on requirements and you could find yourself bogged down in rework, or worse.  It truly pays to be careful what you ask for!

Copyright 2010, Rick Wyatt, IPT Concepts, LLC

The “Cloud” – Hype vs. Reality

Deciding if and when to leverage "the cloud" is a critical decision for most businesses. This post examines the pros and cons of "the cloud" and when it might be a good solution for your business.

Everywhere you look people are talking about “the cloud”.  The term is used so generally that whenever someone mentions the cloud, the first question to be asked is: “How do you define “the cloud”?”.  The term “cloud” is used to mean anything from application hosting services provided by companies like RackSpace, Amazon, and Google, to software-as-a-service offerings such as SalesForce.Com.  We won’t even get into the entire discussion of public and private clouds!

The difficult part of the entire cloud discussion is figuring out whether or not is it a good solution for your company.  Although the cloud has some advantages for consumers, there are quite a few more complexities to determining whether the cloud is ready for use by an enterprise/company.

Pros of the cloud

  • Most cloud offerings use the latest technology – if your company cannot afford to upgrade technology, then under the right circumstances, the cloud could provide an alternative.
  • Rapid scalability – since cloud offerings are architected to be a standard, shared environment, it is easy to add and remove capacity when needed.
  • Shared or restricted option – most providers allow their customers to choose between shared services (where multiple customers share the same physical devices) and restricted services (where a customer has dedicated devices for their use only).

Cons of the cloud

  • Privacy and Security – very careful consideration must be given to any usage of the cloud for data or processes that interact with private or company sensitive information.  Any organization covered by regulations such as PCI, HIPPA, or SOX should utilize the cloud with caution.
  • Monitoring/transparency – many organizations today are striving for increased monitoring and transparency in their operations.  By using the cloud the IT organization is one step removed from the actual operations of their systems.
  • Performance – many cloud service providers will site statistics of their availability, but performance is just as important.  If a service is available but running slow it will not support your business requirements.

Leveraging the potential benefit of the cloud can be a strategic investment for your company.  There are a few things an enterprise could easily host in the cloud:

1)   Publicly available information – most information that is for use by the general public would be a good choice.  An example is a customer support site containing a searchable knowledgebase or list of frequently asked questions.

2)   Properly secured development and testing environments – by hosting these environments in the cloud a company can avoid having to invest in infrastructure for new projects.  If appropriately cleaned test data can be utilized, then the cloud could be a way to develop new systems without disrupting the current production environment or support processes.

3)  Peak processing power – companies can use the cloud to provide additional processing power during peak loads.  This could be a nightly process or a seasonal processing need.  By acquiring the additional processing power with the “as needed” capability the cloud allows, companies can avoid a capital investment.

If you decide to proceed with using the cloud for your company remember to manage them as you would any third party service provider or outsourcer.  There is no magic to the cloud and it must be managed and controlled to benefit your company.