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Friday, July 21, 2017

The Cookie Cutter Project

We all come across these straight forward projects, right? The project that was done half a dozen times before, that it almost feels like an operation to the project team. Deploying a new infrastructure at the fifth location of the company, or extending an automated software application service to a new region after three successful deployments elsewhere. Sounds familiar?

Many project teams come across these cookie cutter projects each year, and also many of them end up having a hiccup. NASA shuttle program is one well publicized example. It was not the first few times a mission was launched when it blew up into flames. The program has been very successful for years with dozens of missions. Smaller projects experience the same. Several things project teams need to keep in mind with cookie cutter projects are:

Projects are Projects
A project is still a project, even if done before in a similar context. the fact that a scope of work has been identified by someone as a project means it inherently has some risk, and is deemed by the some in the organization to require closer baby-sitting than a typical operation. On a recent project I was leading for a high tech materials company supply chain, the team viewed the project as a cookie cutter and saw no need for tight toll gates, reviews and checks and balances. After all it was their fifth time to deploy this service for ordering the end product by their business customers. It took extensive coaching and education to explain to the team that if the project came to us, it means that the supply chain service line, as well as the IT PMO have determined it unique enough to be staffed as a project, rather than an operation.

Identical is not Similar
Studying geometry in eight grade was not a total waste for those who did not end up studying engineering. Similar and identical triangles are not the same. Unless a project is identical, to a previous project it should be considered unique and requires progressive analysis. Similar projects will have one-off requirements, or some special handling, or a change that occurred since the latest iteration of the similar project. This is exactly what happened with my project, during the time between the latest deployment at location A and the deployment at location B was five months. A couple of key processes changed across the the supply chain on the other side of the ocean. This change added risk and requirements that location A did not need to deal with. the project team for location B was not aware of this enterprise level change. Similar is not identical.

Humility Pays Back
We all are well aware of Titanic, the vessel that supposedly would survive a crisis in the middle of the water. Watching reconstruction videos of airplane mishaps occurring 40,000 feet high over a vast ocean, and how these failures were resolved has been not only intriguing for me as an engineer and project manager, but also an eye opener. No matter how advanced we human beings become, no matter how many sensors we have on an aircraft, or an Internet of Things (IoT), we will never beat the power of unknowns and unseen, nature and the Creator's will. Humility in dealing with projects' technical scope, technology, science, external factors, human behavior and automated electronic processes that usually run in the background undocumented properly is just good business sense at minimum.

So a cookie cutter project is more than a cookie, its a cake with some custom toppings that could mess up the whole cake if not properly placed.

Enjoy the cake !

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Risk Management and Normalization of Risk

Once in a while we come across a failed project, poor decision or worse a catastrophe. The individual or team behind the decision might be very well experienced. When teams take on risks and plan well ahead for the impacts of these potential scenarios, they build competence and are well equipped to handle these risks. However is many situations the risks are mitigated and no negative impact is ever realized, causing teams to be more aggressive in risk taking, and hence the normalization.

In other words, successes and error-free delivery could lead us to gradually accepting higher levels of risks simply because the subsequent effect from a previous risk never occurred. When this normalization occurs we start to operate outside of acceptable parameters without realizing, potentially falling into trouble.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

SAP Planning Areas Considerations

In some occasions disputes between a cloud provider and end users arise related to performance issues. This post shares some recommendations that could fine tune an SAP planning view performance.

Verify sizing post implementation is accurate after data is loaded as part of go-live activities. Sizing includes data storage, processing memory, data density (number of relevant data output per time period), ex: 1 sale per month, will not be caught in the weekly runs), and safety factors. Processing data on a more frequent basis and keeping the results on the planning view affects the remaining free resources (memory and storage). Sizing should be done during the cloud service acquisition, at end of blueprint, as part of performance testing and after go-live.

Configuration Complexity
Master data types and overall attributes should be kept as minimally as required. Usually clients use 20%-40% of the attributes they have defined in their implementations impacting performance with no true business value realization. Using non-key figure attributes of master data types as root attribute in a planning level is another approach to improve performance. Minimizing the number of calculations that include input levels is another way to improve performance, however care should be taken to avoid the need to increase the number of key figure values needed to store data. On the fly transformations should also be avoided to avoid performance bottlenecks.

The approach used to perform calculations can significantly impact performance. Examples are the selection of key figures for a calculation, the calculation chain, stored key figures inputs, key figures base planning levels, placement and configuration of filters among other factors.

Planning Views
Keeping planning views to a reasonable number of rows is a generally recommended practice. Usually setting the rows to 2000 - 5000 does not impact performance negatively. Utilizing VBA-based templates instead of formula-based templates is another approach to improve performance as recommended by SAP. Using filters in templates when saving and opening templates is highly recommended to ensure reasonable load times. In SAP 1708 users will receive a warning message if no filters are defined in a planning view.

Running Operators as User-Defined Scenarios
Algorithms such as multi-stage inventory optimization affect the whole supply chain network. This large run-time can cause time-outs when run in simulation mode. A recommendation is to run these simulations as user-defined scenarios for improved performance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Minimal Attributes for a Good Story

Authoring good stories for a developer is an art and science. The business analyst needs to be able to articulate the pain the customer is facing and translate that into a meaningful requirement for the developer to implement. 

Equally important is the need to ensure that the requirement meets the objectives of the business. Below are some attributes of good requirements or stories to ensure the delivered implementation is what was expected by the customer.

Mandatory Attributes

  • Requirement ID: Unique Number with a dot followed by digits for sub requirements
  • Requirements Title: Free Text
  • Description: Includes a function, actor/role, input and output
  • Requirement Origin: Could be the User, sponsor, BA, developer
  • Requirement Specification: Originated (base requirement due to a business need), derived (from another requirement), implied (assumed by default), emergent (new due to a change)
  • Requirement Acceptance Criteria: Free text explaining how to verify a requirement has been developed
  • Priority: 1, 2, 3 (1 = high, 3= low)

Optional Attributes

  • BA Comments: Free text explanation or notes from BA to clarify points, provide examples
  • Requirement Validated: Yes, No (has it been validated by the business)
  • Business Value: The purpose of this requirement, the pain its solving or gain its providing to the business
  • Verification Method: Demo, Testing, Inspection

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Basic Design Document Components

1.       Systems Context Diagram

This illustrates a high level concept of the WMS system for each release and provides a black box perspective showing interfacing systems, release boundaries and high level view of the system main blocks.

2.       Functional Concept

Provides details of the functions of the WMS release and the design details of each function. It includes functional diagrams to show locations of where functions are implemented and an inventory list of details of each function. It includes coding and implementation details for each function.

3.       Entity Relationship Diagram

Offers a detailed view of the relationship across the various SFDC objects including dependencies

4.       Operational Concept

Provides details of the operational design of each function of the system, including triggers rules, workflows, and thresholds. It also includes data flow diagrams, process flows, field dependencies, formulas, and report / dashboards designs. The design has details of the all the coding and implementation decisions related to the operational aspect of the system.

5.       Design Constraints

Provides an understanding of any limitations imposed by SFDC environment, business rules, scalability or other non-functional requirements, cost and budgets, operational procedures and development tools.

6.       Interface Details

Includes definitions of interfaces, fields and data details across interfaces, data transmission attributes (frequency, source / destination formats, security, , interface controls and rules.

7.       Integration Design Spec

Includes details about interfacing systems, configuration needs, web services, APIs, XSDs and other integration styles used in the design such as messaging gateways, mappers, dispatchers, control buses and service layer details.

8.       Non-Functional Design Spec

Includes all non-functional design decisions and configurations for security, scalability, accessibility and interoperability.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Estimating Project Efforts

Project effort estimation involves both science and art. There are well known approaches and techniques for estimating project sizes and effort, these approaches and techniques however do not work well with all project sizes. For example, small projects (less than 5 team members) are severely impacted by team instability, and models used for large projects (teams larger than 25 people) are not applicable to small projects. The best approach for small projects is a bottom-up estimate using analogous techniques to speed up the estimation exercise.

In estimating a common approach is to count, compute and assess. Counting involves counting the number of elements in the projects, such as features, capabilities, web pages, use cases, stories, reports, requirements or similar components. Computing involves calculating an estimate for a per unit count, counts could come in different T-shirt sizes (small, medium and large). The computation should always take into consideration a range and not a fixed value. For example to compute the average time for developing a use case, we should consider the worse case situation, the best case and the most probable. Using a formula like the PERT formula we can then estimate the duration, cost and effort for the average use case development. The same exercise can be repeated with different stages of the project, for example the use case definition, design, development, testing, documentation and training. Assessments are the art part of the estimation and are based mostly on expert opinions and "gut feeling". There is no hard rule on when to use expert opinions, it depends on the project, the experts weighing in, the complexity and novelty of the problem being addressed by the project. In many cases experts opinions have been found to be very reasonable and a great quick estimate approach, however in many more cases it has failed its originators due to factors not considered or accounted for when the expert judgments were rendered, bottom line, use with caution. Some good resources on estimation are Steve McConnell's book software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Aspiring World-Class Universities: A Snippet On Clemson

As it becomes more challenging to compete in a global village, institutions of higher education look into their back pockets for ideas to differentiate and grow. These aspiring institutions do not need to replicate what top universities are doing, on the contrary their innovation in distinct new ways can unleash value and competitiveness.

A shining example is Clemson University in South Carolina. Clemson has been the traditional southern unviersity focused mostly on agriculture and mechanical engineering. Clemson has been able to transform its positioning and value proposition through a well articulated study of the regional economy. South Carolina had embarked on an economic development and conversion process to make the state one of the leading automotive regions in the US. Clemson formed a strategic alliance partnership with BMW [1] to recreate itself as the premier motor sports and automotive research and education university.

This transformation effort at Clemson was adopted and supported at all levels of the university - a key requirement for success - as was reflected in Clemson's vision statement [2], to be from among the top 20 public US universities. Clemson was 23rd in 2010 [3] up from 33rd in 2005 [4] and 74th when Clemson's President James Barker took office in 1999 [5]. Within a decade Clemson has been able to transform itself and achieve a new position through leveraging regional changes and collaboration with others outside higher education.

Each University will have a different catalyst for transformation and very different root-causes that challenges its aspirations. Leading universities are those who can carefully articulate their business challenges, understand the complexities of the societies and constituencies they serve, and apply the best strategies, approaches and frameworks to design an architecture that makes a lasting change.


[1] BWM, Clemson and the State Begin Historic Partnership, Clemson World, Fall 2002, available at

[2] Clemson's Vision Statement,

[3] Clemson Ranks 23rd Among Public Universities,

[4] Virginia Tech Undergraduate Engineering Ranked 14th in US,

[5] Clemson Civil Engineering in Top 20,

[6] Picture, courtesy of Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR),

To Read Further:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Responsibilities for Higher Education

In most nations across the globe, in particular the progressive ones, higher education has been driven by the societal needs and challenges. Both public and private institutions of higher education play a paramount role in the readiness of a nation to address its needs at a strategic level. While public policy play a major role in the direction of these institutes, many institutes also are on the forefront playing major roles in shaping the progression of technology, social sciences, life sciences and other major domains of knowledge, and in some cases even influencing public policy.

Today's challenges facing societies across the globe are of a new nature. They are complex, complicated and require in many cases a complete new paradigm of thinking and problem solving. Approaches to solve the economic crisis, unemployment, social ills, resource sustainability and many other new types of challenges require a new way of thinking and responsiveness. The transformation of many societies from product development to service development has introduced a major shift and position of higher education. It is no longer an option for many. As less manufacturing jobs become available more emphasis on knowledge-based economies becomes a key success element.

Optimized learning is a new responsibility on the shoulders of higher education [1]. Learning and knowledge delivery can no longer be one-size-fits all, nor can it be at an abstract level. Optimized learning allows students to become effective learners capable of meeting new challenges they encounter and allowing them to be effective workers and members of the society. Optimized learning allows for the achievement of learning outcomes that meets not only educational standards, but also the growing needs of society.

Optimized learning means that institutes take on the responsibility for :
  • improving learning abilities
  • increasing the number of students who persist and succeed in programs
  • closing the gaps in achievement while raising the bar.
  • developing curriculum and courses that directly reflect societal needs
  • engaging and leading partnerships with K-12, private sector, non-profits, government and other institutes
  • setting and developing standards that reflect how well an institution addresses societal needs and challenges
  • creating learning-centered environments

In addition to optimized learning, another demanding responsibility on institutes of higher education is their public accountability and its increasing scope. For example community colleges spending has increased more than 25% between 2003 and 2009 just to keep up with state and federal mandates and reporting requirements [2]. Most of this spending is reflected in information systems expenditures and satisfying legal liability.

Despite the fact that many of the challenges facing institutes of higher education are a result of decades of poor public policy and miscalculated strategic initiatives out of their control, they realize the need and responsibility to streamline business processes and offer learning centered capabilities to maintain their position as a driving force in shaping and developing local economies.

What other challenges do you believe higher education needs to deal with? How have you seen others address these challenges?

[1] "Partnerships for Public Purposes: Engaging Higher Education in Societal Challenges of the 21st Century", National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, April 2008.

[2] "Industry Profile, Community Colleges", First Research, May 16, 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011

High Performance Teams: Got What it Takes?

Effective teams exhibit and embed in their daily activities several key elements of:
  • Trust and openness
  • Common purpose
  • Clear roles
  • Effective processes
  • Clear expectations
  • Leadership acceptance

Does your teams have these? Share with me your experiences in inculcating these elements into your team. What worked and what did not?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Achieving Team Excellence: Is an A Good Enough?

All it takes for a team to malfunction is for each of its members to score an average A in the team member's task. A grade of A is 90% or higher, so if we have a team of two people each scoring 90%, then out of 10 tasks they are working on, up to two could potentially have faults or defects in them. Pretty outstanding is in it! In reality if they are working on the same tasks and each team member had a defect in a task that is different from the one his peer reported a defect, we have an overall score of a B, and not an A.

Now imagine a team of five people working on a project, and each one of them has a set of tasks to accomplish, these tasks are intertwined and interdependent. With each one of the team members experiencing just one defect out of 10 activities means we have a total of 5 or less defects out of 50. If these activities are coupled and some could be common the actual impact is equivalent to more than just 5 defects out of 50, worse case is 5 defects out of 10 if all tasks are common across the team, which equates to an F.

Teams members need to not just achieve grade A quality, but reach above and beyond an A, to allow the team to strive for an A grade satisfaction and excellence.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Effective Listening and 139 Other Tips

My colleague John Estrella just published a book titled "Lessons Learned in Project Management: 140 Tips in 140 Words or Less". I contributed one of those tips in his book related to listening which I share below.

Effective listening is crucial, it avoids incorrect perceptions and ensures proper understanding. As I write this blog entry, I am part of mediating a large community fracture, the disagreements and conflicts started only because of poor listening skills by those leading this community, and that quickly developed in suspicion.

Tip 61: Listen more than you talk
Project managers are inherent leaders. You need to inspire your team to work harder to accomplish more work for less cost and
better quality. Listen to the team’s concerns, their understanding of
the value of the project, its significance and their role in the bigger
picture. Make sure your team is immersed in the mission of the

Listening skills for a project manager are crucial for effective
communication across the project. Make sure messages relayed to
the team by self or others are (1) clear, (2) accurate, (3) relevant, (4)
concise, (5) at the correct level of detail and (6) transmitted using
the most effective medium.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Demand for Business Architecture

As the business world and the impact of technology on our lives increases, the demand for an architecture governing how business gets done is of paramount importance.

A couple of months ago I gave a talk at the International Institute of Business Analysis on Business Architecture and one of the interesting observations I gained from the audience is that we have all become accepting of the fact that we can introduce some chaos and uncertainty to our business operations. I have seen this trend across the business spectrum recently, regardless whether the business is a startup or a multinational conglomerate. We are more accepting of delayed projects, loose guidelines, higher risks, less than optimum quality, rework, compromised rights and invalid solutions simply because we can not deal with the complexities of new challenges and complications.

Take for example the recent outcry by the public regarding the use of full body scanners across the nation's airports [1, 2, 3], or the European debt crisis [4, 5], or other failed technology and business initiatives such as the recent Indian Space Program [6] setback. All of these could have been mitigated, minimized or avoided should a business architecture existed which integrated well with other enterprise architectures of the organization.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Invite the Energy: 7 Ways

It has been a while since I last wrote back in July. Between leading the leadership institute, my work, family and a long list of other things, I had to balance the energy across the various demands.

To keep this posting short and to the point here are seven different ways to being energy into your circles:

1. Setting a Realistic and Compelling Vision
A vision of what tomorrow will look like, or what the to-be will be, is a strong energy magnet. However it needs to be relevant to the audience and not overwhelming. I recall years ago, a colleague of mine who worked at Cisco Systems, once described John Chambers' motivational drive as magic. He mentioned that whatever John envisions turns into a reality rally. Managers appreciate employees who not only identify problems, but also view problems as opportunities. Employees or team members who are constantly overly critical and non-generative are energy drainers. Creating an environment that allows team members to visualize solutions, predict needs, forecast demands and articulate the future will bring exponential energy into the team's environment. Cisco's technology is not necessarily the greatest or most advanced, however the clear vision that Chamber has set for Cisco has made it a leader in its industry.

2. Making a Difference
Being part of a team is one thing, and delivering part of the vision as part of the team is a totally different thing. Contributing and producing work that directly impacts the vision is a contagious act, the more work gets developed the higher the energy levels. People like to feel that their work is of utility and is making a positive impact on the final outcome. This is one of the reasons it is advisable to do consistently little than doing much in chunks, to keep that energy level above a level where it dies out. Energized team members are those who are active on conference calls and meetings, they listen, share and speak. They provide opportunities for others to get involved in discussions, they facilitate problem solving, and take on initiatives, they are humble and respect other people's opinions and are not blinded by their own sights and perspectives. It is not necessarily the smartest in the group that energizes the group, but rather the most consistent and committed. I have always found committed people to be people who have a sense of ownership, and really care about the cause. Even when they are extremely busy, they will be able to find a few moments to keep the momentum going.

3. Separation of Ideas from Sources
Energizers are focused on accomplishing and progressing. An energizer is someone who has a passion in solving the problem at hand. We usually notice that in discussing conflicting ideas energizers focus on the idea being discussed, and not the person who suggested the idea. This separation keeps the energy level high by decoupling the value statement from the contributor, so rather than mentioning to a team member "you said this, which will not work ..", an energizer would state something like "given our goals and the proposals on the table, here is another alternative which we also might wish to consider due to it advantages .."

4. Small Steps Lead to Huge Leaps
Starting somewhere early is better than starting later, or not starting at all. In many cases small steps might seem as if they are random pieces of a puzzle in the vacuum. They really are not, they are small components of a larger foundation that has just not been complete yet. Encourage small steps and ideas, as long as they tie back to the mission of the team, even if when these steps are isolated and seem to be random or ad-hoc. These accomplishments will fortify your sense of accomplishment and keep the energy growing.

5. Passion, Compassion and Love
We are humans,  not machines. Spreading passion about the cause and mission will only invite others to share the values and goodness resulting from the mission. We need to not only talk about team's progress and the difference its work has been making, but we have to explain it with passion, love and sincerity. Good people - those that you want around you after all - strive to compete in goodness. Everyone on the team will want piece of the rewards, and will not want to miss out on helping the next underprivileged group or great cause. Be the compassionate leader, clearly showing your empathy for others and appreciating the efforts and sacrifices everyone is contributing.

6. Lead with Integrity and Build Trust
Our behavior is a catalyst of how our social interactions are energized. Others are influenced by our characteristics and behavior, and integrity is on the top of the list. We are not talking about thugs that we are trying to energize, we are talking about the majority of the world out there. They will have a high appreciation of others' integrity and that will drive energy and motivation.

Energizing interactions are not only influenced by our behaviors, but also our interactions with others. Building trust is as simple as keeping a word, showing up to a meeting one is expected to be at, delivering what is expected, acting as promised and being the character we portray to others we are. Trust is making sure surprises do not happen, and others who depend on us are not left in the dark. Trustworthy people always get back to others even if the news is grim.

7. Sleep Well, Eat Good and Get Up Early
Nothing beats an early bird who gets up before the sunrise to reflect on the creation, remember the Lord of the Universe, thank the Creator, and appreciate a new day in one's life that will come only for once and never return after its sun sets.

Have other ways to invite the energy? Please share it with all of us in the comments here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Creating Energy

Creating energy within a group is a responsibility of each member of the group. The leader of the group is in the best position to facilitate the proper environment and group dynamics for the team members to bring energy. "Am I an energizer or a demotivator?" is a question each one of us should be asking each day.

Team members who walk away on the group, disappear, set the wrong priorities, can not keep up promises are big energy drains. They demotivate their entire team bringing performance and capabilities down to the bottom. Moreover, demotivators are contagious. I have witnessed entire organizations brought down to their knees because of a first demotivator, he starts to whine and complain rather than propose and solve, or she misses a deadline followed by another and another and eventually those dependent on her miss their deadlines. De-energizers are easy to spot and they suck the energy out of the whole team.

This morning a colleague sent me an email asking for advice regarding a board meeting she chairs that gradually its members started dropping off like birds on a utility pole being shot one after the other. In her latest meeting no one showed up at all.

In my next post I will share seven ways that one can bring energy into their circle. Until then enjoy the TED presentation below on first followers and the energy they bring into their domain, a demonstration that energy is created and the responsibility of the whole team and not just the leader. Just like first followers play a role in energizing a group, they also play a role in draining a group and leaving it as a dead corpse.