Episode 4: Plotting a course

At the beginning of my second month, I had clarity on my immediate expectations from my manager.  Additionally, all of the team’s emergent work was being managed through a Service Level Agreement with assigned deadlines for all incoming requests.  With clarity provided, my focus turned to our tri-annual project planning process.
To begin my preparations for the tri-annual project planning, I started by organizing all the team projects into a central location in OneNote.  Active projects where pulled from other places in OneNote, TFS, and people’s heads.  When everything was collected there were a total of 51 active projects.  Fifty-one active efforts for seven team members, that’s more than seven per employee!  How on earth could anyone function with seven active projects?  As I dug deeper, I began to discover that there was some serious house cleaning that needed to happen.  Many of the projects were in fact completed, some years ago.  Some projects were so small that they really were not worth the effort it would take to plan them out, so we started working on them through the Service Level Agreement.  Finally some of these projects were still only ideas and in a planning phase.  After cleaning up everything, I was left with about 30 projects to plan out for a team of 6 for 2016.   With all the active and anticipated projects defined in a central location, my next effort was to standardize the way that  our project work was tracked and documented.  This was not a difficult as you may thing because many people were already using OneNote and the tool for documenting their project work.  Each project had a documentation hub created (a section in OneNote,) and each project was given a project work item in TFS (for work tracking.)  With this base established I could now have an intelligent conversation with my business partners about what projects we should be undertaking for them in 2016.
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The Tri-Annual update has its roots with our former CIO.  This originally started as a quarterly update the Information Services gave to each of the other 6 divisions at Associated Electric to update them on the various projects that IS was undertaking on their behalf.  This started as a communication tool that our CEO implemented to improve communication and collaboration between IS and the other divisions.  Today, under the leadership of our current CIO, it is an open forum to present Information Services’ KPI and gain alignment on our project plan.  To create an initial project plan for the different divisions we estimate the size of each project using “Project Points.”  There’s a complicated formula that determined the definition of a Project Point but the simple explanation is that one point is about 100 man hours of effort.  Each business division is assigned a budget of project points based on their needs and the amount of time that the team was able to on projects in the last 4 months.  With size estimates and budgets, we simply let our business partners elect how to spend their points, see below.  The output of this exercise is the proposed project plan for the next 12 months.
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At the end of the planning session a project plan document is produced and that is then distributed to the managers of the business unit for their review.  Immediately before the start of the new trimester (December 1st) the CIO and the IS management team meet with the director and managers of the business unit in the “Tri-Annual Update Meeting.”  Two of the business units that I support are fairly small and they do not have many projects to discuss so the updates to those two groups focused on the IT group and my team and how well we were resolving their support requests.  The Accounting and Finance division is the largest business unit that I support and, as such, they have the most needs from my development staff.  In addition, I had just lost a member of the development staff that historically supported accounting to Michael’s team as back fill for me leaving.  This meeting was fairly tense.  I was leading the conversation on the project plan and there was two points of contention, first a single project on the plan was taking over half of their available project points for 2016 and second, they didn’t feel they were given enough project capacity.  I directed the latter part of the conversation around the fact that capacity was governed by team members and now the aggregate team was down two team members (one for the back fill and one vacancy that was dedicated to SharePoint.)  The conversation lasted over an hour and a half and led to some very good discussions about how accounting should best spend their project points.  At the end, my liaison and I left needing to do a little of revision to our project plan but all the managers were agreeable to that plan.
I have two lessons to share from this part of my experience, first the importance of preparation.  I spend many days reviewing, pruning and cleaning up the documentation related to all of the team’s projects.  This was time well spent and it made the planning sessions and the actual updates fairly easy and empowered me to speak knowledgeably on all areas of my new team.  Second, in difficult conversations, stay focused on the facts.  The accounting team was, understandably, unhappy with the loss of capacity from my team, but keeping them focused on the facts and the why helped smooth that conversation over and kept us focused on the important parts of the conversation.