One of the biggest challenges projects face is reaching a successful closure, one where everyone at the table agrees that together we’ve made it to the finish line with flying colors. At Navantis we rely on a powerful tool to keep us accountable and ensure our project dashboard concludes with a big green check-mark – our Traceability Matrix.
The traceability matrix helps the project team – and the customer – understand where we are in the project, the impact that risks or issues may have on achieving the business goals, and acts a guide that if adhered to will lead us to a successful closure.
According to recent research by McKinsey & Company: top-performing projects establish a clear view of the initiative’s strategic value—one that goes beyond the technical content. One of the key “make it or break it” criteria for projects is the aspect of managing project stakeholders and making sure IT projects align with the organization’s values and overarching business strategy.
Step One – Clearly Define the Goals
When taking on a new project our first step is to work with the stakeholders to categorize and determine the business goals and objectives of the project. In my experience there are three categories for taking on an IT initiative:
- Topline or bottom line impact: operational cost reduction or increasing the revenue for the organization are natural objectives for many organizations, and in many cases our clients initiate IT projects to successfully achieve that goal in a tangible manner.
- Solving a problem that impacts a company’s ability to achieve top or bottom line impact: operational efficiencies, customer satisfaction, delay in delivery, too much paper, operational silos and lack of visibility into information to make informed decisions are all common problems we’ve seen and resolved for our clients.
- Equity for the company: so naturally, if it’s not A or B, it’s C. Obvious examples are to empower the brand of the company by creating a powerful web portal, social networking presence, or driving more traffic by improving SEO. In some valuation models simply having a powerful ERP system is enough to increase the value of the company and the equity of the brand.
Step Two – Classify Objectives
Once we agree we are all on the same page of why we’re taking on a project, we classify our objectives into one of the three buckets and then drill down even further to determine the specific success metrics. Examples might include:
- reduce operational costs by 20%
- increase sales conversions by 15%
- improve time to invoice by X weeks
- reduce communication costs by 35%
- increase social collaboration measured through specific website metrics
Step Three – Project Governance
Subsequently, we implement two parallel streams of governance:
- Project Management
- Change Management (Our Navantis change management model is based on the ADKAR principles, which we will be discussing in a separate blog posting. In this instance, I will focus on our project management and process delivery artefacts and how they facilitate the traceability model)
Through the project management life cycle and implementation phases of the solution, we build the following artefacts:
- Business Goals
- Business Requirements (scenarios or use cases, story points – to the simplest form of definition for the business requirements)
- Technical Tasks (or also called work breakdown structure or WBS)
- Test Cases
Step Four – Discipline and Reporting
We use Team Foundation Server (TFS) at Navantis, to create, store and track these artefacts. Our own Navantis templates take into consideration these entities and create fantastic reports to aid the project managers, the team members, and the project stakeholders by providing the means to make informed decisions.
(I can hear my esteemed colleague, Jeremy Garner, our renowned Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) Consultant, and Associate Director of Delivery Excellence telling me how there is more to our process and tools than this simple diagram – and he is right, but for the purpose of this blog I will keep it simple.)
As you can see it all ties back together. At any point throughout the project every entity is designed to remind the project team why the project was initiated, and accordingly keep steering the ship in the right direction.
Step Five – Avoiding Saboteurs
In many projects, as risks and issues arise and stakeholders and team members work tirelessly to resolve them, we sometimes forget why a project was started to begin with. Disruptive influences and shiny objects – even well-intentioned ones – can intervene to set us down the wrong path.
Common saboteurs include:
- a passion to turn on every feature of a new technology;
- budget over-runs;
- becoming overwhelmed by user feedback;
- unanticipated business events;
- change of stakeholders or project team members;
- the list goes on …
These events can cloud the vision, and force a change of course – without realizing what the impact on the true goals and objectives of the particular project are. By going back to the tractability matrix, we are able to:
- Demonstrate the trade-offs and business impact on any change of course;
- Showcase the progress and value produced towards the business goals and objectives;
- Measure the success of the implementation.
Step Six – Achieving Spectacular Results
By working with our customers in accepting and completing the test cases associated with the functionality delivered, and tracing it all the way back to the business goals, the project team can deliver to the promised outcome; that’s where the traceability matrix, processes, and tools come in handy.
I have personally watched our TQM lead deliver spectacular solutions to our customers while our Associate Director of Business Excellence coach team members and stakeholders toward valuable and meaningful closure of projects by seeking that last “check” mark. The true measure of closure: “if it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and it makes sense to the business goal, then we’re golden”.
I am privileged to work with amazing and talented individuals in our delivery team that not only are the very best at what they do from a technology perspective, but also continually apply the concepts above to drive our projects successfully and champion the customers’ best interest through the journey. Check out some of our awesome work for more information.
Our sanity check traceability tool and processes are not new concepts, they are simply common sense! But, as Peter Drucker once said “common sense is so rare”.