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Challenges of Project Financial Audits

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 15 Oct 2014

I recently had a conversation with a colleague regarding an article she read about an accounting firm that ran into difficulties while investigating a project-based organization and a few thoughts came from that conversation… Sometimes, even when all the right things are done with regards to accounting for project financials at the organizational level (for example Project Managers regularly reporting on cash flow in accordance to the organization’s accounting system), projects can still spin out of control. Why does this happen? 

One common issue is that the accounting systems are often not based on project deliverables; then you also have projects that are being fast tracked and low bid wins… and if any of these issues occur in conjunction with each other, it can be a perfect storm.  

The project manager has little control over these issues since they are decisions that are made by the executive level and tied to poor governance. These types of situations require analysis from two perspectives: an accounting audit with a top-down perspective and a Project Management type organization, with a bottom up perspective. The blame for projects failing in these situations cannot simply be placed on the last person standing (the Project Manager that can be called “the executioner”). Placing the blame there is too simple of a solution and will perpetuate a cycle of hiring poorly-performing Project Managers; good Project Managers will not want to work for an organization with a reputation for this practice.

Think about a situation where the blame is placed on the Project Manager… they will begin managing projects by following all the “rules” in the best interest of their job security as opposed to what is in the best interest of the project; a rippling effect of this will then be Project Managers hiding bad news from leadership until it’s too late.

One wise executive of a very successful multi-national construction company once told my colleague that they do not fire Project Managers for poorly performing projects, they fire Project Mangers for not escalating problems and issues soon enough to try and solve the project problems… How does your organization handle these situations?

Who Owns Requirements: the Project Manager or Business Analyst?

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 07 Oct 2014

The quality of the requirements elicited can make or break any project.  Once thought to be the sole responsibility of the business analyst, requirements are now of great importance to the project manager as well.

With the continued expansion of the Collect Requirements section in the PMBOK Guide®– 5th edition, project managers are becoming more involved in and placing greater importance on the elicitation and quality of requirements.

There has been ongoing discussion in both the business analyst and project management communities regarding who should be responsible for the collection of requirements; I came across this table at http://www.batimes.com/articles/the-project-manager-vs.-the-business-analyst.html that does a great job at comparing the PMBOK tasks to the BABOK tasks and shows how the project managers role and the business analysts role, align with and compliment each other.

PMBOK® Task BABOK® Task
4.2 Develop Project Management Plan 2.3 Plan Business Analysis Activities
2.5 Plan Requirements Management
2.6 Manage Business Analysis Performance
4.4 Monitor and Control Project Work 2.6 Manage Business Analysis Performance
5.1 Plan Scope Management
5.2 Collect Requirements
2.5 Plan Requirements Management Process
3.1-4 Elicitation: Prepare, Conduct, Document, Confirm
4.2 Manage Requirements Traceability
4.4.5.1 Requirements Documentation
5.3 Define Scope 5.4 Define Solution Scope
5.4 Create WBS
5.6 Control Scope
4.1 Manage Solution Scope
5.4 Define Solution Scope
5.5 Validate Scope 7.5 Validate Solution
8.3 Quality Control (Testing-monitoring and recording results) 7.6 Evaluate Solution Performance(Results analysis and recommendation)
13.1 Identify Stakeholders 2.2 Conduct Stakeholder Analysis
10.1 Plan Communications Management 2.4 Plan Business Analysis Communication
10.2 Manage Communications
10.3 Control Communications
4.5 Communicate Requirements
2.6 Manage Business Analysis Performance

When you first read in the PMBOK that project managers have the task of collecting requirements, it sounds as if they should now be responsible for collecting the requirements; upon further review it becomes apparent that the Project Manager is rather responsible to ensure the activities for collecting requirements are covered in the project management activities and monitored as part of the project, with business analyst maintaining responsibility to execute the task of collecting or eliciting requirements and keeping the project manager apprised of the progress and any roadblocks encountered.

In summary, the business analyst and the project manager both play important roles on projects for a lot of the same activities; the combination of a strong project manager and a strong business analyst who can collaborate and work well together will be the foundation for success in any project.

Using Project Management Superpowers for Super Good

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 01 Oct 2014

Earlier this week I came across the Project Management Institutes Educational Foundation page that had a link to inspiring stories about people using project management education for social good.  If you’ve never visited this page, I would strongly encourage you to check it out http://pmief.org/get-inspired/stories-collection.

The first story I read was that of Reggie Brown, a PMP who moved to South Africa several years ago and began teaching project management skills as life skills to youth in some of the poorest towns.  He found that teaching project planning as a life skill helped students to achieve better outcomes from their decisions and increased their self-esteem; this enabled the students to be empowered to rise to the challenges of their circumstances.

While reading this, I began to think about how we as project managers can use our skills and knowledge to help others and what those skills could be. While this is a dramatic example of someone who moved to the other side of the world to help others, there are many ways we can help to teach and empower others with project management skills at home in our own communities.

In my opinion, the top 5 project management skills to teach others for empower would be:

  1. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of the project team and stakeholders – when making a decision or change, learning how to identify who impacted, determining what their role is and what their impact will be.
  2. Identifying project risks and impacts – learning how to identify the risks of making a decision or not making a decision, the magnitude of the risk and what the probability is of it occurring.
  3. Project planning, dependencies and scheduling – learning how to plan for a change, project or decision while taking in consideration for how it will be implemented, in what order tasks must be completed, how must complete them and when can they be completed.
  4. Project communication – learning to identify who needs to be communicated with, what means to use to communicate with them, how often to communicate and what information should be communicated.
  5. Project quality – understanding how to determine quality, what quality level is optimal and how to measure quality.

 

Some of the many community organizations that could benefit from learning project management skills or having access to a project management professional such as yourself are:

  • Local SPCA
  • Local food banks
  • Community health boards
  • 4-H Chapter
  • Shelters
  • Junior Achievement groups
  • Youth groups

 

Have you used your project management skills for social good or know someone who has? I’d love to hear your stories.

What the Heck is a Business Analyst?

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 24 Sep 2014

You’re meeting someone new for the first time and they ask “What do you do for work”?  You reply “I’m a Business Analyst”, most people will instantly have their look of curiosity replaced with a blank stare and you can already anticipate the next question…”What the heck is a Business Analyst”?

Over the years I’ve tried many explanations from text book definitions of business analysis to analogies to examples and one thing remains the same – it’s never a simple answer and it changes depending on where I’m working as a Business Analyst and what the scope of my work is at that time.

The IIBA categorizes business analysis work into 7 knowledge areas; Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring, Requirements Management and Communication, Elicitation, Requirements Analysis, Solution Assessment and Validation, Enterprise Analysis and Underlying Competencies.

Regardless of what work a Business Analyst is doing, they will typically act as a liaison between the business units in an organization and the technology specialists and/or technology functions; because of this, the Business Analyst role is often aligned with either the business unit (e.g. Customer Service, Manufacturing, Logistics), IT where they focus on both business and system aspects of a project or in a business analysis center of excellence where Business Analysts are grouped together with their peers to maintain consistency and continuous improvement.

Ultimately the goal of business analysis is to:

  • Create solutions
  • Give enough tools for robust project management
  • Improve efficiency and reduce waste
  • Provide essential documentation, like requirements document, project initiation documents and others

There are a variety of tools and techniques a Business Analyst will employ to achieve these goals but that’s a discussion for another day…

How do you answer the question of what is a Business Analyst?

Certifications for Business Anlaysts

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 10 Sep 2014

September is the month in many organizations when training opportunities are readily available with summer vacations concluding and the need to use up remaining training dollars before year end. I thought this week I would share an overview of common certifications held by tenured business analysts, that I usually share with business analysts who are new to the profession.

Questions regarding certifications are common from new business analysts, such as do I need to be certified or should I be? Which one is best for me? Which one provides the most value in terms of career growth?

There is no cookie cutter answer to any of these questions, the answers can vary significantly depending on the individuals career goals, how much time they are willing to invest and what the focus of their work primarily is or what they would rather it be. This is when it’s often helpful to learn about the various certifications available.

Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)

The CBAP designation is a professional certification from the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) for individuals with extensive business analysis experience. Given the number of topics covered by the CBAP exam, it is only open to experienced business analysts, who have verifiable 7500 hours of business analysis hands-on experience recorded against individual projects and specific BA activities. More in depth details can be viewed at: http://www.iiba.org/Certification-Recognition/CBAP-Designation.aspx

Certification of Competency on Business Analysis (CCBA)

The CCBA designation is a professional certification from the IIBA for individuals who have developed the essential business analysis skills with at least 3750 hours of verifiable business analyst experience. The CCBA exam is based on the same material as the CBAP exam but with different questions that are more appropriate to the candidate’s level of experience. More in depth details can be viewed at http://www.iiba.org/Certification-Recognition/CCBA-Certification.aspx

Project Management Institute – Project Business Analyst

This is a newer designation recently launched by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the same organization that provides the PMP designation. The PMI has recognized the role that business analysts play in projects and that it is a growing profession. The PMI-PBA highlights the candidate’s expertise in business analysis by highlighting their ability to work effectively with stakeholders to define their business requirements, shape the output of projects and drive successful business outcomes. More in depth details can be viewed at http://www.pmi.org/Certification/PMI-Professional-in-Business-Analysis-PMI-PBA.aspx

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

 ITIL is a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business. ITIL describes processes, procedures, tasks, and checklists which are not organization-specific, but can be applied by an organization for establishing integration with the organization’s strategy, delivering value, and maintaining a minimum level of competency. It allows the organization to establish a baseline from which it can plan, implement, and measure. It is used to demonstrate compliance and to measure improvement.

The ITIL Qualifications scheme provides a modular approach to the ITIL framework, and is comprised of a series of qualifications focused on different aspects of ITIL Best Practice, to various degrees of depth and detail. These are the levels of qualifications within the scheme:

  • ITIL Foundation
  • ITIL Intermediate Level
  • ITIL Managing Across the Lifecycle
  • ITIL Expert Level
  • ITIL Master Qualification

More indepth details can be viewed at http://www.itil-officialsite.com/AboutITIL/WhatisITIL.aspx

Checklists, Project Management, and Back to School

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 03 Sep 2014

This week children everywhere are heading back to school; this is a time many parents face with both anticipation and apprehension.  The malls and big box stores are flooded with parents frantically trying to find the last of the items needed for the first day of school, items often so specific they become near impossible to find at the last minute…

I was once that parent and then I thought, why wouldn’t I approach back to school preparation with the same planning that I would for a project?

Once I stopped and thought about it, I broke down back to school preparation in the same way I would a small project in the workplace and here is what I came up with:

Step 1 – Identify what items I need to purchase; that one is easy, the school provides a very detailed list of everything needed (often in great specificity) and the quantities required.  This becomes the checklist that will be used to identify what is needed and allows me to determine when everything has been purchased.

Step 2 – Identify a vendor/retailer to purchase the items from? This requires a bit more thought; such as are you the parent who prefers to bargain hunt for the best deals as competition is often fierce among retailers this time of year, or the time conscious parent who wants to be able to buy everything is one place or a combination of the two? The answer to this question will determine when and where you will purchase the items. For me, I prefer to be able to purchase all the items in one place, for a reasonable price.

Step 3 – Now that I’ve determined my requirements and priority of each, I need to start researching vendors/retailers to determine who can provide all the items needed for what I deem to be a reasonable price. A second checklist can come in handy here to compare various retailers and their pricing and availability for items (I’ll admit, I created a spreadsheet for this).

Step 4 – Next is the sourcing of the items; normally I prefer to do this solo and not on a weekend but this year I had my little helpers in tow. While this can be more stressful, it can be made easier by using delegation skills to delegate tasks to each of your little helpers.

Step 5 – Once all items have been purchased, the project isn’t over… there is still the close out activities such as labeling, organizing and packing the items for the first day of school.

While this is a very simplistic example, it highlights the importance of careful planning and preparation before embarking on any project, both in our professional and personal lives. We often overlook how we can utilize our skills outside of the workplace however upfront planning and preparation can make tasks in our personal lives as efficient and effective (and less stressful) as in our work lives.

Article Review – “Manager: Superhero or Pilot?”

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 27 Aug 2014

I recently received an article to review that resonated with me, it was called “Manager: Superhero or Pilot?”. This article was written by Stephen Carver and is available to read on the page for Cranfield Universities School of Management

What do you think of when you hear the terms “Superhero” or “Pilot” in regards to management? I think of the Superhero as being the person who swoops in and saves the day when crisis hits but does not play a part in planning to prevent the crisis nor do they do anything to prevent it from happening again. When I think of the Pilot, I think of someone who is a careful, contentious planner whose objective is to make sure their task at hand is successful without experiencing a crisis.

I think most of us would rather fly on a plane chartered by the Pilot rather than the Superhero but think about your own organization… do the managers act more like Superheros or Pilots? Now think about your role in the organization… are you a Superhero or a Pilot?

A crisis attracts attention, its inevitable so when the Superhero saves the day there is usually a lot of attention paid, particularly by leadership; who doesn’t want to be seen as a hero, especially by their peers and leaders? In contrast when things are going smoothly and uneventful, the same attention is not given but rather its just business as usual and people doing what is expected of them. In my opinion, these Pilot managers are the true heroes because they are doing their job so well that a Superhero is not needed.

The final reflections of the author question if we should extend pilot thinking globally. It is arguable that if we had had better planning and people were thinking about how we were flying and where we were heading, we would not be experiencing the global predicaments that we currently are. Of course, this suggested change in approach represents a significant and widespread culture shift; the author believes that the time is right, people are ready to manage in a more considered way and I would have to agree…

Do you agree? Have you or your organization already began to manage in a more considered way?  If not, why?

Top 5 Tips for PMP and CBAP Recertification

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 20 Aug 2014

As someone who is currently preparing to write the CBAP exam and then the PMP exam next year, I was curious what the re-certification requirements would be once I obtained each certification.

First, here are some basic facts about re-certification

  • Your CBAP and PMP status must be renewed every three years from the anniversary date of earning your initial certification
  • 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) are required every three years to re-certify your PMP.
  • 60 Continuing Development Units (CDUs) are required every three years to re-certify your CBAP.
  • PDUs and CDUs refer to the same thing, continued professional development; each organization uses different terminology
  • Each organization has multiple categories of development units and limitations around each, so it is important to ensure you have breadth in your professional development; for more details see the following:

Top 5 Tips

  1. As soon as you become certified, review the requirements to become re-certified at the end of your 3 year certification cycle.  Becoming familiar with the requirements early on will help you to choose which professional development activities to take part in to ensure you meet the requirements and are not scrambling at the last minute to get the development units you need.
  2. Now that you are familiar with the requirements, start a spreadsheet (or some means of documenting) to record your development activities, contacts and hours/units.  Update your spreadsheet every time you complete a development activity or monthly to ensure you capture all your activities, big and small.
  3. Be aware of the number of development units you can earn for the various activities; for example, by attending a training course such as those offered by Procept, you can accumulate a large number of development units quickly.  It’s always a good idea to obtain more than the minimum number of development units required in case your re-certification application is selected for a random audit.
  4. Another great way to earn development units is by volunteering.  By volunteering for the IIBA or PMI or another non-profit organization, not only will you obtain development units but it’s also a great way to network and give back at the same time.
  5. The last tip is often the easiest to obtain yet commonly overlooked… You can use hours spent working as a Project Manager or Business Analyst towards your development units.  Ensure you do this every year (and keep supporting documentation) and this will reduce the number additional development units you need to complete.

Do you have any tips that work for you? If so please share!

Is Project Management an Engineering or Humanities Discipline?

  • By: duma on 30 Jul 2014

Being an engineer, my answer is skewed to the engineering side. Engineering teaches us discipline and process, without which project management cannot be successful. I see humanities project managers who downplay the value of discipline and process and wonder why they struggle with their projects (or use process to make up for a lack of discipline). But engineers need to recognize the value of humanities to be truly successful project management professionals. Humanities are needed to add perspective. Some universities are starting to offer degrees that cross disciplines. A subject like history teaches us the value of lessons learned (or perhaps the mistake of not learning our lessons) and good governance, languages for communication, the arts for creativity, critical evaluation, identifying details, philosophy or theology for deeper understanding of cultures, empathy, value systems. The beauty of project management is that the environment pushes us to be constantly learning. It is not formulaic, especially in our global international marketplace. Our profession and standards like PMBOK, PRINCE2, ISO 21500, DIN, etc. provide us with the building blocks, the humanities provide us with the perspective to build the 3 dimensional pyramid.

Covering Your Bases with a Requirements Traceability Matrix

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 23 Jul 2014

In my early days of business analysis, I was often given the task of writing and executing test cases under the guidance of the more senior business analysts. I quickly learned that in order to gain their trust I needed to confidently and concisely show how my test cases verified the solution features meeting the requirements… That was the beginning of my passion for requirements traceability because really, what better way is there to ensure your final deliverables tie directly back to the original business need, avoid scope creep, minimize costs, increase quality and minimize the impact analysis effort and risk?

For those of you who haven’t already jumped on the requirements traceability bandwagon, you’re probably wondering what this is all about and how you can start using this now.

The BABOK defines Requirements Traceability as “The ability to identify and document the lineage of each requirement, including its derivation (backward traceability), its allocation (forward traceability), and its relationship to other requirements.”  

The benefits of using a requirements traceability matrix are:

Improved scope management
Allows for more effective management of change and helps prevent scope creep
Provides better test coverage, minimizes costs and increases quality
Test cases can be traced back to the requirements which can then traced back to the     business needs allowing for ease of validation that sufficient testing has occurred and the solution meets defined quality standards. This prevents inefficient or inadequate testing which decreases project costs as well as preventing an inferior quality product from being released
Minimize impact analysis effort and risk
If a requirement cannot be fulfilled, derivation will easily identify which business needs and stakeholders are impacted
Conversely if business needs change, allocation will identify which requirements and solution components are impacted
This allows for easier assessment of risks of potential changes

Every BA I’ve had a hand in training over the years has heard me preach the importance of requirements traceability and why it is necessary. Those who haven’t employed requirements traceability have at one time or another ran into a situation that became more complicated than it otherwise would have been… from spending hours trying to figure out the impact of a scope change and still not being confident in their recommendation, to realizing that a certain feature was not tested and did not meet quality standards after the solution had already been deployed.

If you don’t use requirements traceability matrices today, I challenge you to use this with your next project and see the benefits for yourself.

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