September 8, 2021

Distill What You See Into Action

Use this battle-tested Assessment Framework to eliminate the noise when you need to determine a project's health and risk.

Matthew D Edwards

On Monday morning, you receive a phone call from a Senior Partner in your company. A client of your company is preparing to go live with a new software system in sixty days. The Senior Partner, knowing you have extensive, successful experience delivering technology systems to the marketplace that meet or exceed functional expectations, are secure-by-design, delight customers, generate revenue, and increase brand value, wants confidence that everything will happen as planned and desired. You can name your price, but it doesn't change the fact that you have three weeks to learn, assess, refine, and present observations and recommendations. You have no idea how deep the rabbit hole may go. After some back and forth in the conversation, you accept.

You've done this before. You know what to do. You have a battle-tested framework for assessing large volumes of data in short periods of time to determine planned versus actual deltas and risk+probability remediation plans. This framework that you've developed over the years and myriads of assessment/salvage operations helps you not only identify what, why, and when, but also what not. In other words, while you've found success making observations and recommendations, the real magic has been identifying what doesn't matter, what doesn't need to be addressed, and/or what can safely be ignored for now, and perhaps forever.

Identifying what does not matter is often harder than identifying what does.

Assessment Framework Outcomes

The assessment framework you use for these types of engagements is structured to help you discover project health and corporate risk while eliminating noise. After all, folks pay you to figure out the state and health of their investment in short, thorough engagements. And what they expect is a concise list of observations and recommendations that guide immediate decisions leading to crystallized outcomes.

You know there will be one of three possible outcomes:

Outcome 1

This project is working well. You may recommend some changes here and there to fine tune the performance, but overall, the effort is heading in a good direction and should render the desired outcomes according to the expected parameters.

Outcome 2

This project is not working well, but is correctable. You recommend a number of changes that will bring the project back into expected performance. You additionally recommend some key areas (health indicators) of the project to keep an eye on from today through end of project so they minimize the possibility of ending up here again

Outcome 3

This project is not working well and is not recoverable in a manner that makes financial sense. Your recommendation will likely be to close the project down, perform a retrospective, and use the output to influence project structures and decisions in the future.

From experience, you also know that some projects classified as Outcome Two should really have been classified as Outcome Three. However, after reporting your results to the Senior Leadership team, they were not yet willing to accept the possibility of a sunk cost effort and instead chose to believe doubling down on the effort would pull it back into the green zone. (Where "doubling down" = "get more people, work harder, spend more money".)

Assessment Framework Categories

For each category below, research and understand what exists, what doesn't exist, in what state it exists, and what must, could, should, or will not be done accordingly.

01 Problem Statement

What problem does this organization need solved? Would you categorize this as a business, technical, security, compliance, team member efficacy, or client-driven problem? What is the known/perceived blast radius of this problem statement impact -- the industry, your target market, your enterprise, or localized within an enterprise?

02 Desired Outcomes

What change must be realized as a result of this effort (expenditure)? What will this/these change(s) look like to the affected parties? Will they care and why?

03 Definition of Done

How does this effort, team, project, or program know when it is done spending money?

04 Constraints/Attributes

Are there parameters, boundaries, and/or attributes to which this engagement must adhere, meet, or otherwise evidence compliance. Examples: Financial (SOC), Health (HIPAA), Security (NIST), Privacy (CCPA), System Availability (5NINES), budget, time, capacity, risk appetite, traceability, auditability, etc.

05 Dependencies

What dependencies exist that may complicate, inhibit, or otherwise preclude this effort from successful completion? For example, will this solution sell itself into an existing market or do we need to create market demand along with introducing a solution? Are we innovating on existing things or green-field inventing? Do we understand the target market? Are teams skilled correctly?

06 Team

What roles were initially requested to make this effort happen successfully? How has this changed through the course of the effort? What exists today? What should exist? Is the team being simple enough? Are they thinking big enough? How frequently, if at all, is the team being given opportunity to assert, test, learn, and change? Is this an adaptive or inflexible project environment?

07 Work

How is work (deliverable) discovered, defined, prioritized, and realized? Is there more than one backlog? Is there more than one priority? Who are the stakeholders? How are they involved? What is the definition of done? What implementation choices have been made and how will they impact long-term solution viability, cost of ownership, staffing availability, training, and competency?

08 Money

Did there exist an idea of how much money would need to be spent in order to realize the desired value? If there is money awareness, are there planned versus actual details? A known run-rate? Remaining spend projection?

09 Commitment

What was the original delivery commitment? What is currently delivered? Is there a delta? If yes, why? If there is a planned versus actual delta, will this effort require remediation activities now, later, or never?

10 Risks

What are the risks which may impact successful implementation, daily operations, and customer delight? What is the associative probability of each occurring? What is the associative impact of each occurring? Particularly, though not exclusively, what are the elimination, mitigation, and/or remediation options for each?

To be a healthy, useful, value-driven and value-realized investment, projects of any size, in any size organization, all require these above elements in some way, shape, and form.

At the end of this effort, you typically have what you need to ascertain investment to return potential and make your recommendations to the Senior Leadership team.