#QuPlan - A Quantum of Planning - Episode 2015/2 - Background - Monitor Process

Page 1

UPDATE 2015-07-05

#QuPlan #QuPlan discusses the current status of planning and project management, and then builds up on “unconnected” dots to derive a potential evolution of planning concepts

#QuPlan is part of the “Connecting the dots” series, short pragmatic books (generally, up to 60 pages), based on experience and aiming to inspire re-thinking your business ways #QuPlan Episodes Expanding on the #QuPlan book, this (free. online) series of booklets (“episodes”) is a walkthrough within the lifecycle of a fictional business case concerning a regulatory programme

This third “episode” is focused on “reality check” and “feedback management” activities required to ensure coherence with both corporate guidelines and the mandate received

See the back cover for the full list of the planned 2015 episodes

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I have been first using then "augmenting" methodologies since the 1980s, eventually starting to actually design them from scratch in the 1990s, and I still remember the side-effects of a time when methodologies (notably in IT) were designed to cope with specific, technology- or process-related issues, i.e. a collection of methods.

It might make sense in industries where there is a smoother transition in processes and technologies (e.g. manufacturing, construction, critical national infrastructure), but in cases such as the one described in this business case a methodology is often a straightjacket designed for yesterday's purposes and constraining everything and everybody into an hopeless quest to repeat what worked before.

Any programme delivers a modicum of change, along with its siblings- positive and negative externalities; while traditional books identify negative externalities as a "collateral damage", sometimes they are actually part of the intended yet unannounced consequences of a change programme- a catalyst for change.

This section, along with some other material, is shared between two episodes, as in my experience effective monitoring and support are to be considered two sides of the same coin, the Yin and the Yang of business continuity.

I will let your choose which side is “Yin” and which one is “Yang”- frankly, it depends on your corporate culture,

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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I will let your choose which side is “Yin” and which one is “Yang”- frankly, it depends on your corporate culture- and in my business experience I really didn’t find “typically male” or “typically female” roles.

In this business case, you will see a quite unusual arrangement, but one that, at least in programme initiatives that were "bestowed" on customers I worked with, was a more pragmatic approach, ensuring that whatever was delivered didn't negatively affect the business continuity of the organization.

If you can choose time, content, budget, and benefits (or deliverables, in the case of a project) to be realized, then you can expect support to have a mostly handsoff or on-demand role, and monitoring to focus on compliance with internal rulesranging from quality to knowledge management.

But often, even under the best conditions, your plans cannot consider all the potential evolutions of your business environment- including the motivation and willingness to cooperate of your stakeholders, e.g. the public or political representatives that will be affected (or competitors’ countermeasures adopted by them once your programme started becoming visible).

Support and monitoring staff are here considered as the ones fulfilling "ex-ante" roles, i.e. they are part of the lifecycle of your programme.

Obviously, if you properly deliver your activities, any "ex-post" audit should be a mere formality: whenever it is not, either something didn't work as it should have done, or the "rules of engagement" weren't properly defined and communicated.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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As discussed in the previous episode, there are two elements to "backstage" activities (from inception to end of the activities):


•helping those charged with delivery to carry out their own activities without re-inventing wheels that are already available "in house" (unless. of course, the aim of their activities is to re-invent the wheel)


•what usually is meant to be a form of control of internal compliance (but, in this business case, it will be something more than that, supporting business continuity)

This "episode" is on the "monitoring" process, identified as a set of roles and processes focused not just on controlling, but also on ensuring the continuous “fitting” of whatever is the outcome of the activities with the long-term corporate guidelines for business continuity, i.e. to give perspective.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Project and programme teams easily develop a "tunnel vision" focused just on what is within their existing scope or business blueprint, despite all the hype about "stakeholders".

As I discussed in the previous episode, support staff often becomes “embedded”, exactly as journalists became “embedded” in recent wars: they end up behaving as part of the team that they are supporting, and start taking shortcuts on their own roles.

This perspective (or “distance”) is what monitoring staff delivers, albeit, again, it doesn’t make sense to see a dichotomy: it is more a case of support and monitoring staff taking on one of the two roles, than somebody specializing into just one.

While support roles are usually delivered in similar ways across different corporate cultures (with slight variations), monitoring is really where corporate cultures generate wildly different behaviours.

Therefore, in this episode I will adopt an approach that might not match what your own organizational culture considers acceptable: a first step before any change initiative is always to understand where you are.

In my view and experience, monitoring staff (i.e. those whose purpose is to implement the “monitor” process) should focus on the “continuity” (“big picture”) side, i.e. they should have a purpose complementary to that of support staff.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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No matter how many sets of rules your organization adopts, standards adheres to, or regulations has to comply with, usually your compliance is based on one of various forms of “contract” between you and the regulating or certification entity.

So, it is never a surprise- and there are always “integrations”, “adaptations”, and minor adjustments to make compliance possible.

In many organizations, monitoring is focused just on formal compliance- but that is a short-sighted approach, as it just adds overheads.

Beside internal rules, probably your organization has some certifications it has to comply with, ranging from industry-specific (e.g. Basel or AML in banking), to crossindustry compliance frameworks (e.g. SOX), technology- or process-specific (e.g. one of the various ISO standards), and the obvious tax regulations.

Anyway, business management isn’t just crossing the Ts and dotting the Is: your monitoring staff- shouldn’t turn into a clique of compliance bureaucrats.

Monitoring activities should be part of a continuous process: proper compliance is a side-effect of ordinary activities, not an afterthought after you carry out your daily business routine.

As I wrote in the previous episode, you have to think of your monitoring staff as a channel providing feed-back communication.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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What compliance should really deliver within any organization

Have a look at what “monitoring” means now within your organization. Unless you work already within a “learning organization”, and are used to “balanced scorecards” and other tools that look beyond the mere quantitative, usually you will find that your organization is focused on collecting data, measuring vs. “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs), and… crossing the Ts and dotting the Is.

Maybe even by adding some specialist software tools, paper or electronic forms, scheduled meetings, and other paraphernalia that has to be managed as if it were a sacred fire that needs to be continuously fed.

The “business case” chapter will provide few examples, but there are ways to use what you have already in place to give compliance a new lease of life and convert monitoring into part of a proactive organizational culture that focuses on preventing issues, instead of just playing “gotcha”.

Think of monitoring as if it were a kind of “reality check”, delivered through staff and tools, and act accordingly.

Again: monitoring has to be a two-way communication channel, to ensure the continuous improvement of rules, regulations, and also… KPIs.

And how is this improvement deployed? Through thesaurisation of lessons learned, and the associated information collected through experience.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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In the previous episode, this was a section within the ”thinking” chapter, but when you move from “support” to “monitoring”, it is appropriate to switch gear- and consider this activity as a founding element of your role- part of your method.

Thesaurisation requires skills, timing, knowledge: if one of the elements is missing, you risk to discover much later (it happened) that your nice, structured, goodlooking documentation was nothing more than mumbo-jumbo, sometimes hundreds of pages of it, due to few tiny and apparently meaningless missing elements (e.g. because those doing the business interviews did not understand the business enough to ask the right questions).

Loyal readers of this series probably remember that a version of the previous paragraph was the closing statement of the above mentioned section: it is worth remembering that just piling up whatever can be documented isn’t thesaurisation.

Thesaurisation is a decision-making activity, and whenever you decide you make choices- and leave something behind.

Making thesaurisation something that involves three parties with different aims (support, monitoring, programme/project teams) ensures that there is a constant tension on “why”, and not just “what” ends up within your knowledgebase.

I think that now would be the best time to re-read the “support” episode, 2015/1.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Thesaurisation isn’t garbage collection

Yes, thesaurisation has to be highly selective, and having three different perspectives helps to reduce the risk that “adding more documentation” becomes a target replacing the more appropriate “adding meaningful, traceable documentation”.

Traceability is compulsory in some compliance frameworks (e.g. ISO9000, SOX), but should be actually become second nature, and embedded in whatever processes you use to move from point A to point B, as only when you can “trace back” to the source of a decision and the associated information, you can properly revise your choices.

It is useful to consider these three perspective across the lifecycle, by adding “documentation milestones” when you consolidate what is in and decide what should go or stay out, and why each information added since the last “milestone” is either kept in or moved out.

Whatever your project, programme or initiative, it will eventually end. If your thesaurisation process was executed correctly, it will be mainly a matter of “assembling” new documentation elements that could act as a roadmap through the decisions made and activities, representing what has been done, could have been done better, and other lessons learned.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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I don’t think that, in a programme such as this one, you need a Gantt for each project- at least, that’s my experience.

But you need at least three separate plans: for the programme, for its support and monitoring activities, and for communication/interaction with the environment.

Stakeholders? Yes, but not just those that you decided to involve, as you need also an “Adrian Wall” of communication with those that you excluded but might independently choose otherwise).

In this phase of our business case, the next sections describe how I would approach the delivery of monitoring activities if I were tasked to monitor a compliance programme such as the one described in "Episode 2015/0".

Yes, the previous paragraph was there in 2015/1- I just replaced “support” with “monitoring”: remember the “Yin/Yang” introduction?

In this and the following episodes of #QuPlan, this chapter contains a "storyline" adopting each time the perspective of a specific part of those involved- in this case, the monitoring part of the support and monitoring team.

Within this chapter, the left-hand page contains my commentary, while the righthand one presents excerpts of what you could get through the activities.

In some cases, part of this information will be expanded in future publications. © 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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From the audio recordings of the meeting of the support&monitoring staff after the initial decision making

Now that we discussed the “support” part, obviously we have to talk about the monitoring side, that in this case, as with support, will require to extend our role- into a kind of “pre-emptive audit”.

Obviously, compliance isn’t just a matter of checking at the end “how well did we fare”: it is an ongoing process whose evolution starts when you acknowledge that you have to comply with a set of regulations, as in this case.

It is worth repeating: this regulation is a WIP: so, monitoring will be, for the time being, more a matter of ensuring that “signposts” are reached, as within a relay race, while keeping track also of the steps taken to get where you are.

Let’s say that support is inward-looking within the programme teams, while monitoring is outward looking toward stakeholders- as if we were a “black box” mounted on a car by an insurance company to reduce the premium that you pay.

In this role, we should also help business owners to assess the need for tuning, to report information that could be used to “fix” (a.k.a. “renegotiate”) the current benefits realization approach, and to be used to improve the performance (in terms of efficiency and efficacy) of future activities.

We will have to spread our involvement across the whole lifecycle of this programme- from inception to way beyond the release of whatever is planned, to ensure that everything is compliant before auditors will start checking it.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Does the last phrase of the previous page sound too “bookish”, as some of the HBR business cases where everything seems too perfect to be real?

Probably- but, as in most of those cases, it is a side-effect of the “cutting the corners, making it simple to digest and focus on key issues” that is associated with any “model design” activity: if you were to introduce the real complexities associated with a compliance programme, instead of six episodes in about 250 pages, six 300 pages volumes would not be enough.

So, fill any gap, or share your disagreement and alternative choices based on your experience, but consider these pages just as a “catalyst” for discussion, not a cookbook.

It is true that, in my experience, you need project/programme managers that are willing to get their hands dirty with at least communication and charting progress, instead of delegating everything to everybody else, and then acting just as a puppet master: there are often various ways to alter your business to ensure compliance- a set of business choices, not just a matter of implementation.

In executing monitoring activities, you need to leverage on existing tool choices and communication channels, to organically keep those needed "into the loop"and not just those that have been converted: “preaching to the choir” isn’t an appropriate choice for programme/project managers, and certainly isn’t for those tasked with monitoring, as you are an interface with reality.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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A short “laundry list” of the type of activities carried out by monitoring staff while the programme is ongoing, i.e. after the initial activities 

 

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Identify communication channels and synchronization points (before it starts, and reassessed continuously- sometimes, phasing out specific communication items is the appropriate communication choice) Integrate with the programme communication plan and with the tools used to communicate with each internal or external stakeholder (e.g. added to the “dashboard” and EPM system KPIs relevant to this programme and its business and organizational impacts) Spot potential trouble areas by assessing not just the current status, but also trends and their direction Simulate the impact of proposed changes within the regulation, to issue warnings if and when needed, first to business (to identify alterations of the guidelines for the evolution of the activities) and support colleagues, so that they can, in their turn, identify potential points to keep under a closer watch, and “tune” changes before altering the programme plan Collect information relevant to internal (i.e. corporate rules and impacts on portfolio management) and external (i.e regulations) compliance, as well as its evolution (e.g. by tracking changes or regressions between scheduled and unscheduled “inspections”) Pre-empt auditing activities by doing “dry runs” at the end of each inspection, i.e. “as if it were a real audit”- coaching more than auditing Augment the knowledgebase, by integrating the information collected and additional operational information (including on “need to know basis” to assess organizational behavior) within the “programme thesaurus”

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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This is a phase that nobody really wants to be involved in, as often it contains plenty of unglamorous work.

In this fictional programme, in reality “transition” is something more than what is described within methodology frameworks, as it is not just “transfer ownership and knowledge”, but extends into “corporate sustainability calisthenics”, i.e. helping those on the receiving end of whatever the programme delivered to cope not with current or past reality, but with unforeseen evolutions.

At the same time, while support is phased out, monitoring turns into a “service”, by continuously supporting e.g. Internal Audit in ensuring that any future inspection by auditors will be a mere formality, and that evolution of the activities will not eventually “streamline” (a.k.a. “make it simpler”) by cutting corners and removing checks and balances.

An additional element that I saw worth the cost and effort was to “hand pick” from the teams delivering a programme, at least for a while, a cross-section of key elements of delivery teams to act as “2nd level transition support staff”, i.e. supporting those charged with… support and monitoring into the delivery of transition, to ensure that delivery teams really transferred all the knowledge needed to allow future evolutions.

Why not let them directly take care of transition? As they will have “implicit” (i.e. undocumented/unexplained) knowledge on what they delivered, the risk is that they will never transfer the knowledge required to make themselves redundant.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Partial example of the evolution of the monitoring role during a transition

Knowledge structuring

•Delivery teams train Support and Monitoring staff using only information contained within the "programme thesaurus" •Support and Monitoring staff integrate information from the expected perspective of each audience

Knowledge transfer

•Support and Monitoring staff train and then coach each audience during the transition into "business as usual" •Based upon feed-back during training and coaching, all those involved in knowledge structuring improve the "thesaurus"

Phasing out

•Training staff is phased out, and one or more "knowledge maintainers/living memory representatives" are designated •Monitoring staff starts delivering the "ongoing monitoring service"

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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There is a recurring element within this series: you must think ahead- always. In business, I heard often that management is akin to a chess game, but that, for most cross-divisional projects and programmes, would be an oversimplification.

If you factor in stakeholders and their potential multiple impacts on your carefully laid out plans, a more appropriate simile would be with either multiple chess games with multiple players, each game and player affecting the others (looking like a game of chess in Star Trek but with multiple players) or, to make it “simpler”, a variant of the game known as Go/Weiqi/Baduk, where territory, and not the pieces, is the key.

Moreover: while in those board games, unless you make mistakes, once you gain territory you hold onto it, in real life isn’t that simple- and I saw many business initiatives and negotiations derail simply out of hubris (i.e. when the leader makes everybody assume that it is a done deal, no matter what you do).

If you ignore reality, you could end up as stated within a recent report on the Red Cross efforts for the reconstruction of Haiti- just look at the overhead figures1.



© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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It is not a matter of binary victories, but of a continuous rearrangement of the “project territory”.

Personally, I consider “overhead” any activity that has no effect on what is delivered by the project or programme, but is added for external purposes- e.g. to allow the project/programme manager or sponsor(s) to do some posturing toward others just to increase their own visibility/eligibility for future activities.

The lesson is: do your work, and if you have suggestions about somebody else’s work, do not come up just with “potential issues”, but also with “potential solutions”- preferably first check with the activities owners, as otherwise there is the risk that you come up with something that looks “smart” but cannot be done (yes, it is based on the Japanese “ringisho” approach).

Even monitoring staff can show a specific kind of hubris, e.g. when they clearly spot a potential issue, cannot win the argument, but later intermediate results show that they were right, forcing a correction from those that disagreed with them.

Having been right once during the life of a project or programme does not necessarily imply that you will keep being right.

It is typical for “younger” (in terms of monitoring activity, i.e. not necessarily young or inexperienced), or “recycled” senior staff that is still looking for a second chance, to act as a “jack in the box”, pestering everybody with smart ideas about their job, as an alternative of doing her or his own.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Monitoring is a service, and also within a project or programme should be considered as a service, provided to somebody outside the scope of the activities (e.g. management, stakeholders, certification bodies), but to be considered as part of the activities whose schedule is partially under the control of the project or programme team.

The relevant schedule is more predictable than “edicts” issued by a watchdog, but it still should be managed not as a routine event (e.g. by adding bottlenecks to “freeze” activities just before scheduled monitoring meetings), but as a “background noise” that you have to live with.

As I have been both on the project/programme side and on the support or monitoring (or even audit) side, I can appreciate the disagreement that some of my colleagues could have with the previous two paragraphs, but the point is: even interactions with stakeholders are, from the perspective of delivery teams, background noise that could impact on their own activities.

For monitoring staff, being perceived as a nuisance can be frustrating, unnerving, or even generate incentives to retaliatory activities (the “gotcha” approach)- but that shouldn’t be necessarily so, as shown in many cases I observed across Europe.

Think always in terms of a “feed-back cycle” supporting business continuity, and assume that, in the end, you can always agree to disagree- provided that the source of agreement and disagreement are properly documented, and not just a matter of personal taste.

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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How do you avoid being perceived as “the enemy” or involved in “subtracting time from productive activities”?

A pragmatic approach is to “layer” monitoring activities, as discussed within the “business case” chapter.

There are routine meetings (not just the “documentation milestones” that I discussed within the “method” chapter), and meetings that probably should be treated as events triggered by a specific status change within the activities, instead of being scheduled on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.

There should be “surprise” checks to ensure that the activities are carried out in compliance with the agreed processes, but there should also be communication to alert of potential issues, usually channelled through the support staff assigned to the specific project or programme.

In terms of forms of communication (ignoring the channels, discussed in episode 2015/0), there isn’t a single “format”: sometimes it is better to adopt a QA approach, in other cases it should be a brainstorming based on shared information (e.g. a preliminary report on the status, before it is sent out), and sometimes it could even become a workshop (e.g. when events during the previous phases altered what was expected, and it is time to regroup, assess, and identify a new way ahead).

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro

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Monitoring and support start before the beginning of a project or programme, and end after the delivery activities are completed, sometimes even supporting a smooth transition by absorbing project or programme staff into a “support” or “monitoring” role while “business as usual” staff takes over (cfr. “business case”).

In one of my first experiences on PMO, QA, and QC activities for complex projects I saw first-hand how useful could be to have somebody who was the “living operational memory” of the just completed activities seconded as a “behind the scene” (call it 2nd level of technical and functional) support to those that were tasked first with the transition, and then the first steps of “business as usual” activities (yes, I was the one- and I have a fairly decent “log-oriented memory”).

Let’s be frank: documentation is fine, but if you are activating a complex set of changes, few people will have the time to keep looking through documentation, and even fewer will have the “depth” on what each word or page means.

Almost never I saw documented the “why not” (i.e. why something was ruled out), and sometimes I saw “improvement” decisions made by taking at face value what really had been the result of a chain of choices, re-opening a can of worms, without having the time to get through the same decision-making process.

In some cases I was the “memory”, in other cases I asked for somebody who could cover that role- even when we were actually replacing an existing team.

It happens: in the end, project/programme management is made by humans. © 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro


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I worked on both the technical and the business side of IT since the late 1980s, after having done a brief stint in other activities where human relationships can make the difference (politics and sales).

More than once I ended up taking over activities not because those previously managing them had been incompetent, but because the “social dynamics” that had been built had “polluted” the relationship between those involved, and any decision was an opportunity to “score points”, as in the movie “War of Roses”2.

Also in a best case scenario, projects and programmes can affect business continuity (imagine a project delivering a new investment model that is done superficially, or a programme for a brand new type of nuclear power station that is mid-way through during the Fukushima incident, right at the time were major new investors are needed).

While this series is focused on just one fictional programme, it is obviously a programme that affect multiple areas within any business, and over the next few episodes you will see how changes due to external conditions could impact in different ways different business domains.

What matters is: you always need a prioritization based on business continuity considerations, i.e. “the forest”, not the “individual trees” (projects or programme).

Moreover: do not be afraid of asking for help or “escalating”- also if you are in monitoring and support, there might be others able to sort out priorities. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098621/

© 2015 Roberto Lofaro http:/www.linkedin.com/in/robertolofaro