Cloud-Based Project Management

BBN has taken project management and collaboration to a new level: into the cloud. With all of the disparate locations around the globe, they had incredible inefficiencies in simply managing projects due to files being saved locally, getting lost, not being shared, etc. Additionally, they had to respond to FCC re-licensing initiatives manually and in paper form, which was “burying” them in paper.

In response, they shifted to online management of projects, including their IT department. Now, when a change is made to a project timeline, all necessary parties are automatically notified, which is incredibly powerful. However, there is a potential downside to this – if you want to manage the messaging to more senior members of the organization, this would need to be done before the change is made in the system so that they do not feel like they are getting any “nasty surprises” in their inbox.

Another piece that is interesting, is that they are not only managing the project, but the project documents in the cloud. This can be one of the hardest pieces to change within an organization. Individuals are used to their own naming convention on their own hard drives, and it is incredibly challenging to get everyone to “speak the same language” when truly collaborating on files in the cloud.

Collaboration, while not a specific “line” in classic project management, is critical. Since so many documents are created and shared with the proliferation of technology, the need to manage versions and share information quickly is becoming essential. With the processes and software that BBN has put in-place, they seem to have done this successfully.

Another aspect of this is that the sizes of inboxes are not getting any smaller, but files are getting bigger. This is making collaboration even more essential as people more frequently end up in “email jail”. If collaboration software is used successfully, this happens much less frequently since the sizes of emails shrink exponentially when links to files are used versus attachments.

Project managers and teams are facing: wider range of locations for team members, larger file sizes, greater regulations, increasing cost and efficiency pressures, and tighter timelines. Its the trifecta of “do more with less”, and to do more with less, we need to do things differently – which is what BBN has done.

What did not come through explicitly in the article (but is likely a key success factor for them): tools do not do our jobs for us, but they help us do them better. BBN is a smaller company, so were likely able to deal with the change management issues easier – but they were able to overcome them.


Applying Private Efficiencies to Public Money

It is at least a starting point that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is starting to assess different government agencies against project management best practices (as defined by the Project Management Institute, or PMI). It is interesting that they are starting with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). On one hand, it makes sense since they deal with physical properties and construction, which lend itself better to traditional project management. On the other hand, it may not be the most effective place to start in the government (healthcare would have a bigger impact, for instance).

The six categories HUD was assessed within were: (1) project charter, (2) work breakdown structure, (3) project management plan, (4) requirements management plan, (5) requirements traceability matrix, and (6) acquisition strategy.

Interestingly, most projects had charters, but not clear accountability (insert joke about government (in)efficiencies here). Potentially more concerning, is at least two projects under major initiatives lacked “development” in four of the six categories, which implies minimal/insufficient project management over the project.

With the increasing pressure on the government (like the private industry) to do more with less, the historical inefficiencies will no longer be acceptable. One key way to deal with this is not to actually do less, but to be efficient by reducing overhead (i.e., project management). The fundamental advantage to project management (besides success) is planning ahead – which the government needs to do more of.

Hopefully, the GAO will continue to assess various government agencies (AND follow-up to confirm changes are made) so that the use of taxpayer’s money is as efficient as the use of money within the private sector.

Source: “HUD falters at project management”, June 14, 2013 (

FCPA: Only as Good as a Company’s Internal Controls

Many of us now have to take annual FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) training to validate/confirm that we are in compliance with the requirements of the act. Essentially, the FCPA prohibits bribes (which may be acceptable in other cultures) from being paid by US-based companies while conducting business outside of the US. Companies that are well-prepared for this have policies and processes in-place to ensure that not only bribes are not paid, but also that the appearance of a bribe is not paid.

Walmart is not one of those companies.

For months, rumors have been in and out of the news regarding the bribes paid by their Mexican subsidiary in the course of conducting business; primarily around obtaining permits and zoning for new stores. Their shares are down further after NYT published their investigation into the issue. The worst part: it appears as though Walmart shut down the internal investigation as soon as it started to “look bad” so that they would not be obligated to report any wrong-doing.

Was the price worth it?

Sadly, for Walmart: maybe. They have become one of the largest corporations in the world based on volume and cost, often at the expense of the communities around them, their employees, and now, apparently, ethical business practices. The general motto seems to be to move forward with “the plan” (employee benefits, cost of goods, location of stores, etc.) regardless of the cost.

In the short term, this seems to be working. Walmart also has a favorable economy for their business model as low-cost and convenient are two of the most important things to many of today’s consumers. Many households are on such tight budgets that they cannot “make a statement” with their purchases (or lack of purchases): they need to buy their groceries and other goods at the lowest cost possible. So they continue to shop at Walmart despite the less than stellar business practices.

So, the $1MM question: will it continue to work for Walmart?

Maybe, maybe not. I would like to believe not as the price the communities and individuals are paying to the benefit of Walmart cannot be worth it in the long-run. But, commercialism is powerful. If enough people either: (1) read the news and do not care or (2) do not read the news, then Walmart will continue to have customers and sales despite the business practices.

The other unknown is whether Walmart will face fines and/or it’s employees will face jail time. If this happens, then the equation likely changes for Walmart and the need for internal controls and policies will be greater. (Which is the entire point of the legislation: to make it more painful to not comply than to comply.)



“Worst Corporate Deal Ever” – How Did It Happen Again?

Last year, Hewlett-Packard bought Autonomy, a software company focused on data analysis and intelligent searching, for $11.1BN, or 12.6 times their 2010 revenue. Last week, HP announced an $8.8BN write-off related to the acquisition, effectively admitting that they overpaid for Autonomy by 79% (HP had a lost of $6.9BN this quarter, in large part due to this write-down). HP is now claiming that fraud was potentially committed by Autonomy during the acquisition process. However, HP was not the first company to look at Autonomy, and potential fraud aside, the deal was overpriced according to the earlier “courters” of Autonomy (like Oracle).

The AOL-Time Warner deal in 2000 is largely considered the worst acquistion in history, but there is now speculation that this deal is worse. For example, the AOL-Time Warner deal resulted in a 50% decrease in value, while HP-Autonomy is approaching 60%, and the fallout is still unfolding.

So, how did it happen? There is quite a bit of “he said, she said” going on in the public eye, and likely more of it privately.

In both of these acquisitions, the acquiring company was a “has been” in the industry looking for a way to transform. HP bought Autonomy to transform their software division for the 21st century. If we speculate a bit, it is not hard to draw the conclusion that instead of trying to transform what HP currently had, they chose to buy a transformation, and thus overpaid for it – either out of optimisim for the deal, desparation for a solution, or both.

If we read a bit into the “he said, she said” that is public, it appears as though a couple of things are going on:

(1) HP overpaid for Autonomy, regardless of potential fraud (based on earlier companies that passed on Autonomy, and former Autonomy executives admitting publicly that HP “paid a full price”);

(2) No one besides HP’s board or CEO thought the acquisition was a good idea for HP;

(3) There were power struggles within HP that caused speculation and indecision on whether they would be a hardware company, software company, or both; and

(4) The cultures of the two companies were not taken into consideration.

This last point is potentially the most important from a longer-term strategy perspective. HP, a larger, mature company that has not kept up with industry changes, was likely “stuck in its ways” in terms of how the company operated – from R&D all of the way through sales and support. Autonomy, a smaller, “trendier” company was likely more nimble and able to respond to market demands, which was one of the reasons they were more relevant in the market. Based on some of the public comments, it seems as though Autonomy was bought, and then forced to change it’s ways to the “HP way”, instead of integrating the two sets of cultures and processes to get the best of both worlds. If you take a successful company and force it into the processes for a struggling company, it will not reach the revenue potential that was the basis for the price paid – hence the current situation.

It will be interesting in the coming months to watch the fallout of this situation. There will most certainly be litigation that comes out of this as a result of the write-down and potentially the accusations of fraud. There is already speculation that HP could become a takeover target. And, most importantly, this is likely a “make or break” situation for HP – they could either become yesterday’s news, or if the embrace the need for change, transform the company.