What’s So Bad About Spreadsheets?

Daptiv’s Dave Blumhorst Divulges their Hidden Downsides on Wired.com 

One of the most widely used tools for project management in software teams today is the spreadsheet. They are ubiquitous and heavily relied on by many organizations to manage data and make critical business decisions. Because spreadsheets are easy to use they may appear, at first glance, to be an excellent tool for independent analysis. However, the perception of the ease-of-use of spreadsheets is to some extent an illusion. As any project manager will tell you, they are often stretched far beyond the boundaries of their functionality. With limited scalability and reliability, they are also constrained by an organization’s ability to invest in additional technology capabilities to improve their trustworthiness.

Although fairly cheap and easy to use, spreadsheets can’t often be trusted as they are extremely vulnerable to errors. Recent research found most of the spreadsheets used by organizations contain errors—and that a considerable number of those errors are serious. It may be easy to get an answer from a spreadsheet; however, it is not necessarily easy to get the right answer. Particularly if you factor in potential human data entry errors, spreadsheets can often do more harm than good. These hidden problems can hinder the success of a project and create more costs than were initially budgeted.

Daptiv’s Dave Blumhorst recently discussed the nine inherent flaws of spreadsheets, and how they’re hampering the success of PPM professionals today on Wired’s Innovation Insights. To get a better understanding of how businesses can embrace alternative technologies to avoid spreadsheet limitations, you can read Dave’s entire piece on Wired.com.

We would also like to hear about your experiences using spreadsheets. Have you run into issues using spreadsheets to manage projects in your workplace? If so, what types of problems have you faced and what solutions have you found to alleviate them? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to us on Twitter at @Daptiv with the hashtag #SpreadSheetFailure

Daptiv Named as Finalist in 2014 Golden Bridge Awards

Winners will be Announced at the 6th Annual Awards Gala in San Francisco on September 8

We’re delighted to reveal that this week Daptiv was named as a finalist in the 2014 Golden Bridge Awards in the Innovations – Enterprise Management category. These coveted annual honors go to the world’s best from every major industry in the world. Daptiv was selected specifically for our new Organizational Change Management (OCM) services practice, which supplements our leading PPM solution.

The need for OCM inclusion in PPM practices signals a shift in the responsibilities demanded of today’s PMO. Gartner predicts that by 2016, successful transformation program leaders will direct 60 percent of the budget to organizational/business process change activities. Much of this responsibility is already falling within the confines of the PMO, requiring even greater alignment and the ability to work collaboratively and synergistically. We recognize securing sufficient organizational change management resources is top of mind for PPM professionals.

Backed by Daptiv’s 17 years of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) expertise, our OCM practice focuses primarily on the critical aspects of change management, which helps our customers better prepare their employees for project implementation. Organizational Change Management (OCM) allows them to more successfully identify, plan, and manage the changes associated with their new technology implementations and deployments. By offering PPM professionals the experienced and dedicated change management support they need, Daptiv’s OCM provides the tools necessary to diminish project risk associated with lack of adoption; the number one cause of new technology project failure.

We will promptly alert you from our Twitter handle @Daptiv if we are an official winner when they are announced at the 6th Annual Awards gala in San Francisco on September 8. Meanwhile, to learn more about Daptiv’s OCM practice take a look at our full press release. You can also find a full list of 2014 Golden Bridge Awards finalists at GoldenBridgeAwards.com

PPM: Everyone Gets To Play (Part 2)

In continuation to my previous blog post, this one will explain how the PPM needs of organizations drive the overall implementation process. At the enterprise level, we all recognize that different types of businesses execute different types of projects. The project portfolio for an investment bank is going to look a lot different from the portfolio at a company that designs and builds computer products, or a hospital, or a university. Even when we look at similar enterprises, we find differences in strategy, culture, and approach. Since many of these differences are the fuel for competitive advantage and operational excellence they require processes and practices which support those unique attributes.

Likewise, we need to recognize significant differences between functional areas  within the same enterprise due to the nature of the work being executed and the varying ways in which that work is done. The PPM needs for the product engineering groups are not exactly the same as those in HR.

Let’s take scope management as an example. For a company that is building something under a contract for another company, control over the scope of the project may be critical to assuring company profitability and in the most extreme cases the financial viability of the supplier organization. In this case, one would expect a much more structured, formalized set of processes for reviewing and approving scope changes and making changes to supporting contracts, payment schedules, etc. By contrast, when a department in one organization needs to communicate and manage expectations around delivery dates and costs for a sponsoring department within the same company – especially when the sponsoring department has requested the change — they may adopt a less formalized, lighter weight scope change process. In both situations changes the “what” of scope management is the same – scope changes need to be recognized, communicated and approved – but the “how” may be radically different.

We must also take into account that the approaches, tools and techniques used, even within a discipline may change over time. For many years, the construction industry used the Design/Bid/Build phases in their projects where each successive phase was substantially completed prior to the commencement of the next and each phase was executed by different organizations. Unfortunately, as a consequence of this approach many projects were plagued by a fourth phase, “litigation”, with finger-pointing and lawsuits between the parties to establish whether something was a defect in design or a defect in construction. Now many construction projects are using an approach called “Design/Build” where the work is performed and managed as a single, integrated effort. Similar changes have occurred in information technology, where new development tools and approaches have facilitated iterative and agile development of applications and business systems outside of the lockstep waterfall techniques of the past. Each of these has required new techniques for how the projects using them are planned and managed without losing the visibility needed for oversight and control of the outcome.

The most successful PMO’s and ePMO’s are those that understand the underlying goals and objectives of PPM while implementing supporting processes that are adapted  to the unique, changing needs of the enterprise, and the functional groups and disciplines within that enterprise. While this requires open-mindedness and creativity the adoption of PPM across multiple disciplines in thousands of companies is proof positive of the feasibility and be benefit to be derived from the effort. In short, despite the declaration of that gentleman at my first PMI meeting – PPM is relevant to Information Technology. And  to Finance, Marketing,  Professional Services,  New Product Development, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management, Education and any other discipline or organization that invests in and executes projects. It also still applies to Construction and Engineering…

As a post-script I would add that since that first meeting I have belonged to PMI for many years and attended numerous meetings in a variety of other locations and chapters which were well attended by individuals from a wide variety of organizations and disciplines.

Insights and Trends: Current Project Portfolio Management Adoption Practices

In order to stay competitive, today’s top management is confronted with the critical task of analyzing and improving the ability of an organization to change, survive, and grow in this complex and changing global economy.

Organizations have thus been moving from operations and business as usual, to implementing change through project management as part of their competitive strategy. The ability to successfully execute projects is what drives the realization of intended benefits and the achievement of business objectives.

Organizations that execute projects successfully employ effective Project Portfolio Management (PPM) practices as a tool to manage and drive change. Given the strategic impact that projects have on business, organizations must follow effective PPM processes that capitalize on innovation; measure progress, value, and risks; and confirm that the right projects can be delivered in alignment with organizational strategy

We at Daptiv conducted a survey to examine the challenges faced by today’s businesses now that increased scrutiny over budgets (aka “doing more with less”), efficiency and effectiveness are key factors of successful organizations. The survey’s main objective was to identify current trends in PPM, and pinpoint the characteristics of PPM that are applied in higher-performing organizations. This survey was conducted among 300 project managers and senior executives attending the PMXPO Conference. Some of the key inferences from the survey were:

Why do product managers and senior executives take on PPM and implement software to support it? According to our survey, their top reasons (in order) are prioritizing projects, gaining visibility into live projects, planning and preparing for future projects, and managing cost and resources. A whopping 62% answered “all of the above”. This makes obvious that PPM is providing a lot more value than simply improving project execution.

Assessing the current adoption of Project Portfolio Management across sectors, the survey revealed that 64 percent of the respondents use PPM tools to manage their general IT projects while the remaining respondents deployed PPM solutions for compliance, product development, training and mobile related projects.

While establishing and communicating projects goals to the project management team can assist in the identification of project risks and constraints that may impede the achievement of those departmental goals, limiting the scope of project portfolio management tools within an organization can have rippling side-effects in the overall achievement of organizational goals.  According to PMI’s 2012 Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report: Portfolio Management Report, the majority of portfolio managers in highly effective organizations spend 75 percent or more of their time on portfolio management. The report further indicates that in organizations where managers focus on strategic as well as departmental goals, 70 percent of projects meet or exceed their forecasted ROI, compared to 50 percent at organizations where managers rarely focus on strategic goals.

Another interesting fact that came from the survey was that 76 percent of the respondents still use homegrown spreadsheets internally to manage projects in some capacity. Since 55 percent of respondents have more than 1,000 employees, this can easily lead to PPM data integrity issues and ponderously slow feedback loops. Definitely not a path that enables firms to pivot with rapidly changing business conditions. Moreover, from our experience this manual approach significantly impacts project performance. Today’s organizations need to see and trust information as it develops to make decisions that will help them outpace their competition.

While the BYOD movement is taking corporations by storm, our survey found that nearly 75 percent of respondents are not applying PPM techniques or software to their rollouts of smartphones and tablets.  IDC  recently forecasted that by 2017, total PCs are expected to drop to 13 percent, while tablets and smartphones will contribute 16.5 percent and 70.5 percent respectively. Considering the BYOD trend is only going to gain momentum in the near future, IT needs to get on the bandwagon and start actively managing this effort. Such forward-thinking strategic project planning transforms organizations from defensive and reactive to proactive and dynamic.

One of the key qualifications of a project is that it has a definite start and a definite end, though “ending” a project with a proper close-out process would appear to be an after-thought. Our survey revealed that 24 percent of the respondents do not conduct project reviews at all. That is a big number considering that of those who do, only 15 percent find they are meeting their project targets. The very last part of the project life-cycle it is often ignored even by large organizations, especially when they operate in multi-project environments. When the project is delivered, the closeout phase must be executed as planned. It plays a crucial role in sponsor satisfaction since it can create a lasting impression.

These findings are consistent with what we’ve experienced in our PPM consulting engagements. For many businesses, elements of PPM may already exist, but in non-linear and disjointed fragments. The most important factor in the success of PPM is aligning the portfolio with organizational strategy. The positive effects of strategic alignment lead to higher levels of project and portfolio performance, and increases stakeholder satisfaction with their organization’s project portfolio management practices at all levels of portfolio scale and complexity.

To know about the survey results, click here.

Project Management Process and Tools Can’t Be Too “Big” for Small Projects

While browsing through the latest edition of PM Insider*, a newsletter from ProjectManagement.com, the following question and correspondence caught my eye.


I have a short project coming up that seems too simple to need to go through all the usual processes. Is there a quick way to ensure that the project plans are baselined and tracked in my automated software? My boss will still want(s) effort, schedule and cost captured and reported and the usual PMI processes honored?

 Provided Answer:

A. Collect cost receipts in a manila folder and ask team members to write down the time they spend on each task. You can figure out a report at the end.
B. Go through all of the steps, including your automated software files, just as you usually do. Short projects should be planned, documented and archived exactly as longer ones.
C. Use a quick plan with lighter documentation, but involve your team in close communication on a daily basis.
D. Pull a similar electronic project file from your archives and change its name to the name of this project. Submit this disguised project at the end.

This is a great question and evidence of an endemic issue for many project management professionals, which is really – my project management process and “automated software,” be it PPM or something lighter, is clunky or actually “not automated enough” so it’s a hassle and feels like a waste of time to go through and use for “minor projects.”

I concur with the sentiment of the answer provided that if the project – major or minor – is worth doing, then it’s worth tracking, which means the investments you’ve made in project management processes and tools should be leveraged to do so. And if those tools and/or processes make it overly cumbersome or time-consuming to do this for minor projects, then the process and/or tool(s) should be adapted to accommodate managing smaller projects easier.

A 200 hour departmental project should be easier to manage than a 20,000 hour enterprise project. That’s intuitive enough, but not always the case when processes and tools have been designed and implemented to manage, track and measure high investment projects. If employing the same processes and tools to manage and track smaller projects makes it unnecessarily complex and time consuming, is it really worth it?

Hello rogue projects.

Hello bad habits.

Hello failed investments in project management process and tools.

Processes and tools should be flexible to accommodate this delineation without sacrificing management capabilities or tracking requirements. If it’s too much work, it probably won’t be done if the perceived value/return of using the process/tools doesn’t correlate with the scope of work or time required to manage a seemingly minor project.


*ProjectManagement.com Newsletter 12/4/2013