02 September 2008

Building the IT Process Framework – Part 2 – Translating Alphabet Soup into Satisfying Results

Neal Leininger

Neal Leininger
Project Management Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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In Part 1 of "Building the IT Process Framework," we covered some of the common PMO Pitfalls, and a few suggestions on how to improve “Everyone’s PMO.”

In this article we’ll discuss some common “Alphabet Soup” methodologies seen in Project Management Offices (PMO) today; how to best leverage their advantages, and explore some of their weaknesses. This article provides information about:

· Six Sigma

Vegetable Soup?

As I was planning my garden this year, I was contemplating some of the “Companion Plants” to compliment my tomatoes and peppers.

For those un-familiar with the term, Companion Plants are combinations of different vegetable, herbs, and spices. They benefit from each other’s flavors, but also provide other benefits of their natural characteristics, such as:

· Attracting Butterflies and Bees for pollination
· Repelling pests and other detrimental insects
· Enhancing the flavor and aroma of surrounding vegetation
· Providing nutritional and structural support.

I use this analogy to illustrate an approach that I’ve used numerous times with PMO implementations, as well as multiple process improvement efforts. By combining different methodologies, the overall process becomes stronger and more vibrant than any single framework could ever possibly attain.

For those unfamiliar with the alphabet soup of IT acronyms, I’ve summarized a few of the methodologies which have strategic relevance in today’s information technology industry.

ITIL – Information Technology Infrastructure Library

A framework which defines how IT delivers services to the business. It is often the basis on which the organization begins to define IT’s role to the business as a set of services delivered to customers (the end users). ITIL’s strength identifies “what” should be delivered, but it is not prescriptive about “how” it should be delivered. Often cited as a deficiency, ITIL best delivers a customized solution based on the business’ initiatives. There are no “out of the box” process improvement frameworks that effectively deliver services congruent to the business. By defining the “what,” companies can align their solution to business needs. Technology is fitted to the business, not the other way around.

SDLC – Software (or Systems) Development Life Cycle

A framework designed for managing the development and deployment of applications or systems, typically using a Waterfall, Spiral, Rapid Deployment or “Tinker Till It Works” methodology. As disparate programming languages and the methods in which they were developed matured, this methodology adapted accordingly.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma, originating from the manufacturing industry, focuses on removing defects or errors in manufacturing or business processes using the DMAIC methodology cycle - Design, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

COBIT - Control Objectives for Information and related Technology

COBIT, a control framework, concentrates on definition, implementation, auditing, measurement, and improvements of controls across a specific process. As you can tell, it is very pertinent to the auditing and compliance world. In fact, auditors created it to place measureable controls on processes. A control measures the performance of a process or method against its defined objective or goal. For many, it means, “It makes sure your garbage is certified garbage, it doesn’t necessarily mean your garbage is good.”

Q: So what makes the best methodology?

Good question, however the answer requires some due diligence, research and dare I say, soul searching.

A: No super seedlings here. The methodology of choice varies with the maturity of the organization, the level of IT governance, the integration of matrix organizations, the complexity of the IT solutions deployed, and the Regulatory restrictions of the business – Just as the soil pH balance and water sources must be carefully accounted for in planning a garden, all of these aspects will help you determine the appropriate size and complexity of your “Process Garden.”

Here is what I’ve learned:

ITIL is a process oriented framework. Seriously consider it if you’re deploying SDLC or Six Sigma methodology. Both require massive amounts of data. Without a firm process framework, you will quickly outpace your staff’s availability and willingness to change. The scalable ITIL process framework allows you to tackle the age old question of “How do I eat an elephant;” and the answer is “One bite at a time.” Its scalability makes it a perfect choice for organizations that are planting their first “Process Garden.”

Q: Which comes first, the process or the controls?

A: Should I plant the garden, then put up the fence, or vice versa? As silly as these questions appear at first glance, it’s a discussion that warrants attention. Controls are typically seen as detrimental knee jerk managerial decisions. They seem to only benefit the receiving end of the control, and not the user. At first glance, that is.

By utilizing a process-based approach, we can see the critical path, and thereby determine the best place to “put up fences.” Without a comprehensive process plan framework, we have increasing difficulty illustrating the overall picture to our neighbors, not to mention the tangible benefits of putting controls in place.

Process engineering can leverage any methodology you throw at it, whether it’s SDLC, Six Sigma, or COBIT for that matter. So long as the process comes first, you will always win.

Control methodologies, like COBIT, use metrics and measurements to ensure control. Without a process methodology first, where these data points are identified as viable, and then collected and evaluated, the control points are empty. You may build the perfect fence, but to the determiment of your garden’s health and prosperity.

Q: How does a methodology differ from a framework?

A: Quite simply, a methodology systematically approaches the measurement of quality against a framework. A framework provides governance and overall accountability to a process. Without a framework, measurements typically fall out of focus and lose their context. Without a methodology, a framework is simply a picture on the wall, without the context of “how does this help me?” A framework keeps you on track, and helps explain why you are tilling the ground and researching fertilizer, instead of just throwing seeds on the grass; and hoping for the best.

Q: Which combination do you prefer?

A: As my career has evolved, I’ve found a correlation between the number of methodologies available and my propensity to utilize less of the “whole” and more of the “pieces.” I think that without a PMO, process improvement frameworks become almost useless. Without project prioritizations and clear connections between the business and IT, executive support withers faster than a garden fed by saltwater. Define your “water supply” and irrigate accordingly.

Secondly, depending on the maturity of the PMO, some methodologies must first be introduced to facilitate that preliminary PMO framework, such as SDLC or Project Management. These methodologies typically help the PMO, and IT as a whole, simply because they help everyone “DO” a lot better.

Thirdly, at a critical threshold, as the PMO’s portfolio has started to take root and the framework you have chosen has reached it’s breaking point; it is best to re-invest through an overall process improvement framework such as ITIL. It helps build the continual improvement plan across all disciplines, regardless of the methodology. It’s best to realize the weakness of the organization and the frameworks or methodologies early. Without organizational self-awareness, the propensity for day-to-day interruptions will turn a tool into a self-destructive force of its own.

Lastly, a governance model is an important piece to the puzzle. Without a fence, varmints and well wishers alike, will trample your garden.

So to recap:

· Keep it simplePick framework and methodology “companions” that compliment your organization
· Be self-awareUtilize a process based approach, so your controls don’t starve or saturate your organization
· Just start doing it, within your meansCareful planning will foster a bountiful harvest of efficiencies and profits
· Don’t forget to re-evaluate your executive “water sources” and lessons learned after the first “harvest.” What may work one season, could ruin your “soil” the next.

I look forward to hearing about how these strategies affected your organizations, please give me feedback by way of the comments section on this blog.

In the next article of this series, we will address how to blend methodologies, and more importantly, how to do it without being tarred-and-feathered. Until next time, choose your companion plants carefully!

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