Project Turn-Around [Back to top]
When I was asked to lead the Technical Implementation and Change Management teams for Harvard's Project ADAPT, a university-wide initiative to revamp financial systems, the project had already been delayed twice by six months each time. Two nationally-recognized consulting organizations had been engaged and subsequently dismissed, and a third company was being hired. Project credibility was low and staff were dispirited. Virtually no one believed that the Oracle Financial Suite for general ledger, procurement, and accounts payable would go live in nine months -- at the start of the new fiscal year -- let alone the four other central systems for web-based purchase orders, check disbursement, 1042S tax reporting, and travel expense reimbursement.
I identified five critical obstacles to success:
- Responsibility for ongoing maintenance of the new software and package configurations had not been clearly lodged.
- Previous consultants had imposed an open-ended implementation methodology that called for detailed specifications of all package customizations. In effect, business managers were supposed to specify how they wanted software changed before they knew how the software was designed to work.
- Many talented and valuable people had been hired onto the project team, but no thought had been given to what their roles would be once the new systems went live. Not only did they feel no personal stake in the ongoing success of the new systems, but their attention would increasingly be diverted to finding other employment as the project neared completion.
- From the perspective of the nine schools and the dozen major administrative units, the project team did not share their concerns about the hazards of switching over from the old systems to the new.
- Clear test and acceptance criteria had never been defined for the new systems.
Here's how I approached those obstacles:
- We established that the Financial Administration would be the owner and custodian of the new systems on behalf of the university. The application development group that had maintained the previous generation of university systems was retrained to support the new Oracle-based systems.
- We took full advantage of the ability to configure the Oracle Financial Suite to Harvard's needs but avoided insofar as possible modifying its underlying software. At the same time, we gave business managers training in how the package was designed to be used and helped them adapt their business practices accordingly.
- I initiated a discussion within the Financial Administration about restructuring operations to better use and support the new systems. As part of that discussion, we identified roles and positions for most permanent employees hired into Project ADAPT; many others were absorbed into the schools and administrative units.
- I made myself personally responsible for switching over the Financial Administration's systems for personnel, benefits, payroll, student loans and billing, research administration, pension contribution and payroll, and faculty loans to interface with the new Oracle-based systems. Doing so placed me in exactly the same position as the schools and other administrative units for their internal systems. I committed to going live with all those systems on schedule, which gave the schools and administrative units confidence that they, too, could go live on schedule.
- I requested and received support from Internal Audit to define acceptance criteria and to monitor integration and acceptance testing. Internal Audit lent their managing auditor for information technology to the project and oversaw integration and acceptance testing.
Results: All systems went live 5 days early and experienced no production problems.
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Team Turn-Around [Back to top]
Development was lagging far behind schedule at deNovis, developer of an integrated system for healthcare administration. The CTO decided to reorganize into product feature teams. I was asked to be Program Manager for the claims feature team, the core of product functionality.
Several obstacles had slowed progress:
- All product specialists, knowledge experts, and business analysts were working as a single team, on a single topic at any one time.
- User interface standards had not yet been defined.
- Standards for all functional requirements and design artifacts had not yet been defined.
- Many product staff had little or no previous experience with software development and were trying to design and develop an entire, and highly complex, system in a single pass.
Here's what I did to overcome those obstacles:
- After consulting with product specialists and knowledge experts assigned to my team, I broke down our target feature set into five distinct groupings: validations, referrals & authorizations, matching, adjudication, and medical management. I assigned a product specialist to each group of features.
- Working with the other Program Managers, I wrote a script that would demonstrate all key features of the integrated product. We used that script as the target deliverables for the first internal release of software.
- I elicited from our team's technical lead his preferred set of design artifacts and trained the product specialists and knowledge experts to understand and create those artifacts. We then initiated five parallel design efforts, all targeted at the same set of features and all using the same design methodology.
- I volunteered our team to work with the User Experience staff to define interface standards, using my own sub-team, Referrals & Authorizations, as the guinea pig.
Results: Within three weeks our team was functioning at a dramatically higher level, and within four months we delivered a working demonstration system.
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Organization Turn-Around [Back to top]
The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) is a national not-for-profit with 100+ affiliated synagogues and two dozen staff. The organization was in crisis, having recently terminated its executive director, as they had the previous executive, and having run substantial operating deficits in three of the last four years, with cumulative results of -$400,000. The Executive Committee of the Board asked me to step in, stabilize the organization, and do what was necessary to reverse their financial performance. From the outset, I stipulated that I would not be a candidate for the permanent executive director position, since it required relocating.
I identified the following issues:
- Previous executives had exercised insufficient fiscal restraint. Budgets were optimistic on the revenue side, did not identify potential economies on the expense side, and did not budget even a modest operating surplus.
- Staff functioned without clear long-term goals and success metrics, and consequently a divergence always existed between Board expectations and staff delivery.
- Staff were charged with developing and offering programs and services across too broad a spectrum, given the size of the staff. As a result, every programmatic area suffered from insufficient resources, both time and money, and less than desired quality.
- JRF was for the first time responsible for its own development activity, that effort previously having been provided by a sister organization, and JRF lacked business processes to manage fund-raising activities.
- The organization was mis-structured; in particular, too many people reported directly to the executive, and staff members worked in isolated groups of one.
Here are a few of the steps I took to address those issues:
- I met with each staff member individually to introduce myself. In my first full staff meeting, I reviewed JRF's financial statements in detail, explaining the ramifications of the previous four years' poor financial performance and indicating why JRF might be close to insolvency.
- I imposed an immediate hiring freeze, leaving three positions open (director of the Reconstructionist Press, director for one of our affiliate regions, and an intern). I also contacted affiliates with whom I had a personal relationship and asked them to accelerate their dues payments.
- With the development staff, we reconfigured our fund-raising software to eliminate extraneous elements and to use the system the way it was intended. We developed detailed workflows for transacting pledges, contributions, and acknowledgments and created a standard report showing performance against plan.
- I engaged the senior staff with the board of directors to draft long-term objectives and measurements of success. I then constituted a Program Steering Committee charged with evaluating all current and prospective programs against the objectives thus set.
- I defined a rigorous budgeting process (viz., agree on first principles, then forecast revenue, then allocate expenses with a built-in budget surplus) and worked with the Budget & Finance Committee to write a fiscally conservative budget for the coming year.
- I eliminated two program areas whose funding was grossly inadequate and outsourced desktop and network support, saving a further half salary. To reduce technology maintenance costs, I replaced obsolete desktop computers and upgraded the main server and email to current release.
Results: We ended the fiscal year with a surplus of $110,000 and a planned surplus of $30,000 for the next year. Without increasing development staff, we established operating procedures that enabled a 45% increase in fund-raising.
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