Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Keep it simple - Standarised Template Use

Project Management Standards - Needed if not wanted...

In today's blog post I'd like to explore the concept and relative importance of "template standards" within an organisation, and why it is important for flexibility in some aspects, while maintaining a more rigid structure in others. For example, each organisation has their own templates and supporting process for writing and managing project documents, and managing project financials. These processes vary greatly in terms of the approach taken, as well as the maturity of each organisation. One of the biggest challenges faced when starting a new job is finding the tools you need, and understanding the processes that are in place.

On the document side, the tool-kit may include business cases, project management plans, test plans and strategy documents, right through to post implementation review and close-down reports. One needs to understand when to produce which document, where the template is stored, what the review process consists of, and even where to save the documents.

Screen shot example of a document created in UniPhi using
 a personalised template

The financial management processes may also apply to the handling of information such as proposal documents, tender submissions, progress claims, and invoices. Similarly, each person with responsibility for managing a budget within the organisation  will  need to understand how the budget was created, what are the delegations of authority, how it will be tracked, and which system (or systems) are required to stay on top of the whole financial management process.

In supporting these processes, most organisations set up document standards, often designed by, or in collaboration with the Project Management Office. A lot of time, effort, and consultation is involved in establishing and maintaining this suite of templates and processes.

The argument for having this standardisation, is that when executive stakeholders review a particular document meant for their approval, they are in fact comparing apples with apples, not apples with oranges. But the world of organisational change is complex, and businesses evolve over time either due to changes in maturity levels, technology, or political change.

What not to standardise

If the fundamental message that needs to be conveyed when producing a document such as a business case is "what are the key concepts and benefits" that the author is proposing, then it is essential that the author can achieve this without being constrained by a rigid template format where variations or modifications are not possible or not allowed.

In constrictive environments such as this, producing an important document such as a business case, becomes little more that a form filling exercise, or worse, the author may find ways to circumvent the process, which can lead to "invisible" or secret projects.

Flexibility in a way that supports a complex adaptive environment, without diminishing the value of the key messages that are being articulated, is therefore important when dealing with the contents of each document. When we think about the actual storage of that information, any flexibility will be a terrible prospect, as it is for organisations where ineffective network folder structures, and reliance on emails is a tremendous drain on time and efficiency.

What to standardise

On the other hand, when dealing with the financial aspects of your business, or of your project, a level of consistency is required both from a management perspective, and in order to present a consistent and professional image to your external stakeholders (suppliers, or clients).

The standards that must be maintained within the financial sphere include a defined Chart of Account (or charts of account), whereby the person or persons responsible for establishing a project budget can allocate costs to a standard set of codes. Firm standards must also exist when completing financial transactions, such as raising an invoice, or a purchase order, and then subsequently paying for the goods, or receipting payment of goods/services.

Flexibility in the financial sphere is an important factor when it comes to how this information is elaborated on, as the project evolves and more information becomes known, e.g. as a project progresses from  budget estimate to an approved and more granular format. In this case you need the ability to capture and track your costs to the level of detail that you have at hand. Over time, your finance department may identify the need to change or expand on the details used within your organisation's Chart of Accounts. Without sufficient flexibility here, your organisation will face significant change costs, as per the blog I posted here. And finally, having some flexibility around the way that your financial documents (reports, invoices, contracts, etc) are presented is important, especially when changes such as corporate logos, addresses, or the need to include a reference number are required.

Screenshot example of UniPhi's Template design tool.

This understanding about the need to balance standards with flexibility has been at the core of the UniPhi product since its inception almost 10 years ago. UniPhi's managing director, Mark Heath, having worked in several Portfolio Management Offices (PMO) recognised the dangers and implications which arise from organisations being too prescriptive and controlling in some regards, and lacking an effective technical solution for areas where standards mattered the most (e.g. finding documents, or retrieving stored information). Mark's own experience, and foresight, means UniPhi has been built with sufficient flexibility in mind.

UniPhi's software solution to standards

So how does UniPhi achieve this balance? Quite simply we provide you with training and/or reference materials to enable you to perform any configuration changes required to the aspects where flexibility matters.

We do this for two reasons, firstly, we are opposed to the practice adopted by some software vendors whereby the client is forced to pay exorbitant rates when minor system configuration changes are required. Secondly, each client is subtly different. You will know how your business operates, and as a result we allow you to "tweak" your deployment to best meet those requirements. At the same time, UniPhi has been designed with rigid design rules where they matter. An example of this being that each unique project in UniPhi is the reference point for all information relating to that project. This mitigates the risk of "losing" a document, a risk, or an issue through user error resulting in information being saved in the wrong location.

It's no surprise that UniPhi is generating a lot of interest, and winning awards for the innovative way we approach Portfolio, Program, and Project Management. If you'd like to find out more about how UniPhi can improve your business, why not contact the team, or sign up for a free trial. Efficiency awaits!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Keep it simple- Have an empty inbox

So 1990s

As you may have gathered from my previous blog on the subject of lost emails, I am not a huge fan of emails. I was, years ago I had something of a love affair with emails. I'd code them, and save them and sort them. I'd search through my sent items, and even my deleted items to support an issue, or just to refresh my memory on a particular incident or solution.

A hip new world

But that was years ago. I've since fallen out of love with emails, and moved in. I am now most proud of the fact that I have very few emails stored anywhere! And I'm not alone. All of the staff at UniPhi Australia, including Mark Heath our Managing Director, have managed to wean themselves off the use of emails. Our clients too are rejoicing in the lack of reliance on email, and the ability to collaborate on important issues via the UniPhi Issues module.

UniPhi has always enabled project teams to share information in an open and transparent way, which is  the most efficient way to collaborating.

The UniPhi Issues module is the centralised hub of collaboration. Each team member can see what actions are required to resolve an issue, who has been assigned, and what discussions have occurred to date. Team members can also add their own comments and even save file attachments to the issue.

When we sought feedback from our clients though, it became obvious that the remaining reliance on email came from the correspondence they sent and received to external parties (such as suppliers, regulators, or clients). So a few years ago, we developed the UniPhi 'Save as Issue' plug in. This plug in installs to your MS Outlook application, and allows you to save an email into an issue within UniPhi, attachments and all. Not only that, but the plug in also enables you to create new issues into UniPhi, with all of the information that has arrived via email. It's powerful stuff, and offers immense time savings to our clients that have embraced this feature.

Thankfully, not all correspondence relates to problems or opportunities so we have now added to the save as issue with our just released 'Save as Documentplug in feature. This feature  allows you to save any of your emails into a UniPhi document. Again, you can also include email attachments. An example scenario of how the 'Save as Documentfeature can be used to save time and eliminate frustration would be:

You are working on a design aspect of a project. The architect sends you version one of a drawing. You can save that drawing into a UniPhi document (eg Design Drawing) within your project.

You and your entire project team now have access to version one of the Design Drawing document. At a later date, the architect may submit a revised version of the drawing. It is now very easy for you to save the revised drawing into the Design Drawing document, from your inbox, at the press of a button. The document revises to version two and your team is always able to access the correct version. As UniPhi features a fully functional Document Management System, issues such as version control, document identification/location, and correct template usage are all taken care of.

Now that you have broken up the complicated love affair with email, your biggest issue now, is all the free time you will have. So put your feed up, relax and read a book.

Monday, March 16, 2015

UniPhi 11 is here!

UniPhi's Design Philosophy
It's often cited that the majority of projects fail. Statistics and indeed metrics vary, but it is common to hear of project failure rates when either delivering to scope, or delivering the promised benefits.

I read an article in the Business Journal on titled "The Cost Of Bad Project Management" In it the article states that only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects. This probably means that 97.5% or companies have no visibility of the projects that are currently undertaking, or that they have no ability to assess those "good ideas" and prioritize accordingly. Failure ensues.

Of course, the reasons that projects fail are also many and varied. Projects are by their very nature, complex beasts which require business and project teams to adapt and to be flexible. It's hard work, but that's part of the fun.. right?

At UniPhi we have observed and assessed hundreds of projects, and concluded that the common theme in the majority of project failures is a lack of transparency and poor collaboration among project teams. Which is why we place these two aspects at the heart of our UniPhi project management software platform.

The newly released version of UniPhi (UniPhi 11) features some powerful new features, as well as some enhancement to the existing product. With the efficiency of YOUR business, and with our focus on enabling a transparent and collaborative environment in mind, I'd invite you to consider how these features and functions will help to put you into that 2.5% of companies that successfully deliver on their portfolio of projects.


From the convenience of your Outlook inbox you can create a brand new document in UniPhi at the click of a button. Or, you can embed an email, along with its attachments straight into an existing document. Example applications of this functionality include; receiving a tender document via email. Using the Save as Document feature you can quickly and efficiently   save the email and any attachments into a project in UniPhi as a document.  The document that is produced will of course meet your corporate style guidelines, and align with your project management methodology. Tracking and monitoring the progress of your tender document is now possible for everyone on the project.

Harness the richness of data that comes form UniPhi's distributed data capture methodology. As each member of your project team enters data into specific projects (creates a document, updates a task, adds a comment, emails a document) you will be able to view the information that they have created/updated. Of course UniPhi has always made it easy to find information via the documents tab, or the issues tab, for example. But now with the communications tab, finding any piece of project related information is entirely possible. 

 - The new Communications tab brings together all interactions and events into one place

- The Communications tab presents you with an almost unlimited number of options to filter for the exact piece or pieces of information you require.

- As well as the existing core UniPhi filters, the communications tab has new filters which allow you to filter per specific role, per type of communication, and per category.

- A powerful extension to the existing set of filters in UniPhi.

- Presents each and every custom drop down list that has been created via your Methodology tab.

- Filters can be defined and easily modified by you, as they are often unique to your organisation.


- New and improved, seamlessly integrate your MYOB and Xero data with UniPhi.

- The MYOB integration feature in UniPhi updated following the changes that MYOB have made to their software.

- Synchronisation options are now configurable and administrative from within the Admin/Accounting Integration tab.

Enhancements:- Costs and Fees can be defined at the chart of accounts level, down to any level of detail you require. Just keep adding additional layers of cost/fees breakdown. Not only that, but you can specify numerous chart of accounts!

See screen shot above.

- Prompts you to enter your budget information at the level of detail specified via the Chart of Accounts- This effectively mitigates the risk that costs could all be grouped at the project level with no visibility or understanding of the assumptions that have been used to derive the budget amount.

- Use Excel to import and export project budget details.

- Determine which contract deliverables to display on your output document.

- Greater flexibility when generating claims, or invoices.

- Identify the status of all invoices.

- Materials on Site, Extension of Time, and Contract Adjustments available on Revenue contracts.

- See what timesheet deliverables relate to specific contract deliverables.

- Configurable presentation of information shown on Invoices or Progress Claims.

- Enter information at the Organisation level, and it will populate each of the Sites within the Organisation

- Portfolio Summary has two view options to display Financial or Portfolio information.

- Issue categories can be applied to specific criteria, such as Sector, Project Type, Service Line, and Location.

- And project lifecycle phases can be aligned with specific criteria, such as Sector, Project Type, Service Line, and Location

- Project custom fields phases can also be aligned with specific criteria, such as Sector, Project Type, Service Line, and Location.

- Define multiple project life cycles, and specify the type of project the life cycle relates to.

- Configurable password policy, logging capability for failed logins, and ability to change your own password.

- Issue details and issue summaries that appear in UniPhi documents include the category that the issue relates to.

- Use external MS Word files as UniPhi templates.

- Draft documents can have a watermark applied to them when they are rendered as a PDF document.

- Language translation can be applied across the entire system

- See the contracts Principal, and Supplier from the documents tab.

- Programme Contract Progress by Project report: contracts, deliverables, status, and claimed value.

- Improved Project Analysis Report allows you to filter per role or per resource.

- Improved Project Analysis Report now shows Profit in Period, and Profit Margin to Date.

- Project Cost Report Detail shows contract deliverables, and variations per chart of account code.

The Team at UniPhi hope you enjoy all of the exciting new features of UniPhi 11!