Effective project execution begins with a plan.
When transmission or distribution work management system implementations go awry, common practice is to look for unexpected or unforeseen events along the way that triggered the problem.
In reality, the ‘problem’ was likely enabled by poor or limited planning long before groundbreaking. Driven by pressure (or excitement) to move forward, many organizations often skip the critical planning steps that should foreshadow project go-ahead, bidding or partner selection.
After spending 21 years serving the transmission and distribution industry with enterprise asset management (EAM) system implementations, we’ve found that clients often overlook the importance of a pre-project planning and analysis phase, or what we call Phase Zero. Too many rely on the Ready, Aim, Fire approach to initiate RFPs for these work management programs, which can lead to cross-organizational misunderstandings and a lack of clarity about a project’s mission and objectives.
The First Step in a Transmission and Distribution Work Management Implementation - Phase Zero
Phase Zero is the systematic approach to setting goals and successfully meeting expectations. It requires answers to questions like “Where are we now?”, “Where do we want to go?” and “How are we going to get there?”
The idea is to understand what you want to do long before you select a partner to help you build it. A comprehensive pre-project planning and analysis effort minimizes the chance of budget overruns, missed timelines, unexpected/unforeseen events and, most importantly, better ensures the delivery of a solution that meets expectations.
Steps in Pre-Planning for Work Management Implementation
Step One: From a Vision
In its simplest form, a vision is “the end state” of which a project expects to achieve. A project vision is more than a general technology implementation or process improvement definition. These often vague descriptions might be okay for a small project with a narrow scope, but not helpful for a major modernization effort with significant scope and business impact.
The purpose of a vision is to provide clear endpoint goals so that everyone participating in the effort is driving towards the same outcome. In essence, your vision defines the upfront scope and the controlling scope during execution—essentially it is the yardstick by which you measure success.
Here are the key components of a clear, concise vision statement:
- Establish Project Purpose – Project success statements outline the ‘why’ of a project. These statements are defined by working with key stakeholders (e.g., sponsor, champion, and business leaders). A clearly understood purpose enables organizations to ask better questions in order to solve important business issues more effectively. It also provides inspiration and resolve that extends beyond the day-to-day project-based activities and actions. Missing this step often results in wasted resources and missed opportunities for improvement. When project teams have goals and objectives based in ‘why’, the project becomes a magnet for strong, innovative team members—instead of places where only B or C players are interested in joining the project team.
- Define Expected Benefits – Be clear on the value add to your company, group, people and product. If an effort does not have clear expected benefits to an organization, then it will be impossible to objectively evaluate and measure business results.
- Define Goals and Objectives – Purposeful and clearly articulated goals and objectives are critical especially as the scope of large efforts are defined and the need for teams, sub groups and leads, as well as multi-phase and dependent deployments, become apparent. These goals and objectives become the outline of a good work breakdown structure (WBS).
- Define Success Factors – Take a moment and define the factors that will help your organization succeed. These factors are the strengths and leverageable opportunities available to the project team.
- Define early and strategic actions that will accelerate later efforts.
- Identify partners who have experienced similar projects to help guide the team with lessons learned.
- Recognize organizationally-specific failure modes. Acknowledging areas of weakness is key to mitigating failure.
All too often organizations miss or fail to step through the four key areas outlined above, which ultimately results in a lack of purpose and confusion during the project design and construction lifecycle.
The consequences of skipping the step are clearly evident in the industry. In one case, a large regional energy provider with approximately 900,000 gas and electric customers looked to implement an EAM. The team identified expectations of the system integrator and sought proposals for software implementation. Although the project would affect multiple business units the group only focused only a single business unit. There was no prior to establishing a vision, anticipated benefits, goals/objectives and success factors. As a result, the entire project was delayed.
With the building blocks of your project vision in place, the next step is to assess where your organization is now.
Step Two: Assess Current State
Winston Churchill once offered the wise words: “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
His words apply well to the transmission and distribution work management space. Not knowing the starting point is a surefire way of underestimating the level of effort that will be required. Assess the current state of the process(es), system(s) and people potentially impacted by a planned effort, which will allow your organization to realistically plan for improvement and enable effective change.
Here are some key areas to consider when assessing the current state of your organization:
Existing Resources – When looking to modify processes, systems, and organizational flow, champions and project leads must understand how all the groups that will be impacted are functioning today. Identifying opportunities for improvements and recognizing how resources will be directly impacted, provides understanding and addresses the oft-asked question: “What’s in it for me?” when trying to tap into business knowledge throughout the course of the project.
Culture and Group Interaction – Mapping the dynamics of how an organization works today can be both fascinating and enlightening. More often than expected, an evaluation of process or system inefficiencies will uncover outside demands, cloudy requirements and legacy beliefs which drive behaviors and attitudes, especially as people interact across knowledge domains. Early identification of existing communication gaps enables organizational decision making such that irrelevant paths can be avoided while project-related gaps can be addressed. The identification of early warning signs can indicate possible conflict zones later in the project.
Acknowledging these interactions and expected challenges prior to project estimating, feeds requirements for organizational change management (OCM) and becomes part of the project risk mitigation plan.
Leverage What Works – Surprisingly, many organizations embark on large scale modernization projects without an appreciation for what the organization currently does well. When this happens, at best, effort is wasted reinventing a functioning process, and at worst, negatively impacts well-functioning processes.
It may seem simple to say, “keep what’s working” but this must also include recognition of any grassroots successes the business has had, and leverage existing successes as a cornerstone for any larger efforts. The assessment directly supports your OCM planning.
Define What’s Missing – Assuming processes, systems or resources are in place only to later discover missing elements is a sure way to put a project at risk, cause scope creep and explode budgets/timelines. Early recognition of where an organization is today, relative to the vision of an effort, is the only way to have a realistic conversation around the scope of a potential project.
With a clear understanding of people, processes and systems, you’re ready to define a meaningful scope of work. When forming your vision, you may have outlined goals and a high-level structure of the project scope. However, scope can only be clearly defined after a gap analysis between what exists today and the intended future state has been completed.
This is typically when we work with clients to form roadmaps for improvement, using subject matter experts (SMEs) with decades of experience implementing systems and conducting OCM to drive decisions around dependencies and order of attack to breakdown project scope into meaningful and achievable chunks. Making sure that timelines and resources are in balance will be key to understanding the level of effort long before the project starts. It is important to recognize early on that many successful projects are not “big bangs;” most effective projects make a meaningful change, then reassess their vision and move again.
Our EAM Maturity Assessment is a comprehensive review of your business processes, systems, and organizational performance, with a deeper analysis of specific and cross-functional processes based on your needs. Learn more about EAM Maturity Assessments.
Step Three: Outline Business Requirements
The goal of defining business requirements is not to delve into the weeds of detailed process/system design!
Rather the goal is to prepare a quality estimate on what the needs are and what a solution is going to look like so that you can properly staff and budget the project. This step requires a further definition of success factors that were outlined in the development of the vision.
Following the definition of project-based success factors, each particular process, subprocess or system must be defined, in relation to the vision of this effort, and overall success factors. While this may seem simple, and it usually is, it is important to focus on business process requirements and avoid diving down into specific roles, data or system needs.
Next establish minimum standards for the process/system owner, the business value add, and minimum dependencies to ensure it can function effectively once implemented. This is not a SIPOC process!
Just as you do for the overall project, for a given process/system to be implemented you need to define what success looks like before you start. The summation of these mini successes should add up to the overall Definition of Success you are looking for in your project and will help you avoid misaligned solutions and needs.
When evaluating a specific process or system relative to the overall project, it is important to look for change impacts as a feed into project-based OCM planning. If you know up front that the leadership will change or that significant training/skills development or new parties will be impacted either as supplies or customers, plan for it! Document each of these change impacts in an OCM plan so you can ultimately be successful and meet identified business needs.
Once project direction is clear, appreciation of business need is understood, and the team has clarity on where the project will involve either development of new functionalities or adjustment to existing processes, the order in which processes and systems will be improved should be included in a high-level roadmap. Following the high-level roadmap, each steppingstone or building block must be refined further.
Step Four: Project Work Scope/Milestone
In order to avoid misaligned bids and budgets, it’s important to define what is to be accomplished including small successes and milestones along the way.
Group efforts into workstreams (as needed)
- Document Dependencies, Prerequisites, and Impacts – What needs to happen first, and in what order to be successful
- Identify Teams and key roles and responsibilities – Who is going to be involved
- Articulate Assumptions and Reconcile as many as possible.
- High level Estimate – ROM/LOE, is this bigger than a breadbox? What is the Kentucky Windage on this?
Step Five: Define an Implementation Methodology
Methodology is the fundamental approach to how an improvement project is implemented. This is project governance, issue/conflict resolution, change management strategy and incorporating lessons learned that will help the entire team avoid frustration.
An implementation methodology differs from typical project management methodologies in that the Project Management is but a subset of the implementation. For example, Cohesive’s MomenteumMethdologyTM is a phase based approach that covers planning, analysis, design, build, testing, and deployment. As well, awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement (ADKAR) based OCM integrated into each phase and project management approaches such as Waterfall and Agile should be utilized as needed to fit client and unique implementation scope.
Whatever your implementation methodology, it’s important that you have an internal process/feedback loop for improvement. The best reference you have for what is effective within your organization is lessons learned from past efforts.