Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Programme / Systems Readiness Heat Maps

In the past I've written about the make up of the Digital TV (DTV) ecosystem or "value chain" making it quite clear that the system in itself is a complicated mix of different systems, often provided by more than one vendor. To recap, you can follow-up on these posts:
It is not very common for DTV projects to impact the end-to-end value chain, where implementing a new feature or major product launch touches upon just about every element of the system, but it does happen. It is complicated, but it can be managed. It takes an investment in effort, diligence, rigour, sense-of-strong-will, and patience to work with the different teams, to coherently come together in delivering the overall plan.

In this post, I share what I've come to find quite a useful tool: the Programme/Systems Readiness Heat Map.

It is well-known that human beings think best in pictures. As the well known works of Edward Tufte teach us, that visualisations are a powerful way of communication. A visualisation, if done correctly or smartly, can accurately reflect or communicate the state of "things" or "tells a story" so that almost anyone can just, from looking at the picture, get the message.

So, as a Programme or Systems Projects Manager, dealing with complicated technology components, and time lines are highly parallelled and intertwined, when it comes close to the final delivery stages of the project, what is the best way for you to communicate the overall status of readiness of the system?

Sure, one can use a series of PowerPoint slides, representing the status of each Work Package, focusing on the key delivery criteria for each component - this is usually what most PMs do anyway in reporting overall Project Progress via status reports. Your SteerCo have very little patience to wade through 30 slides of PowerPoint tables...

So, what the Heat Map does is simple: On a single piece of paper (okay, maybe the size is A3!), the heat map shows the state of the entire System / Program, focusing on the key criteria for each component that determines the fit-for-purpose state that your SteerCo & Executive can use as input into making the decisions for approving final deployment: Go Live. Essentially the Heat Map is represented as an n x m matrix, with n number of components to track, m the number of metrics/criteria that must be met to guarantee successful implementation to deploy. Each entry is given a value or an associated Heat Colour (Red, Amber, Green), that when all entries are filled in, the reader can quickly ascertain the state of readiness (are we hot or cool or in between?)

I will talk you through a generic template that I've used in my own programs...
Rightly or wrongly, the RAG status is something that should come naturally to any Program Manager. These days, big yellow/green smiley faces are all the rage in project status reports, but I've not yet fully settled on that yet. Call me old fashioned, and an Excel crony who just goes with Excel's default conditional formatting, this is how my Heat Map is communicated:

  • Red = Bad = Potential area for concern
    • If not resolved immediately, or, if the risks are not managed effectively (this could mean either mitigation or acceptance), this area could potentially delay the system's Go-Live deployment.
  • Amber = Neutral = 50/50
    • The information at hand does not clearly indicate an area for concern (bad), neither does it reflect a clean bill of health (green). There is work still to do, but this work can be added to the backlog or parked for later, and therefore the Go-Live is not at risk - considered "Fit-For-Purpose" with some post-launch work required.
  • Green = Good = Fit-for-Purpose
    • Criteria have been met, no indications of any issues - confident the area is ready for deployment.
Take a look at the example Heat Map: Clearly, we have some work to do before going live. When this Heat Map is baselined, it becomes quite a powerful tool for tracking progress. Essentially you start off with everything in the Red, then overtime through assigning owners that commit to delivering on the various criteria, the Reds will change to Amber, then to Green. Somewhere along the timeline of the project, someone with overall accountability will make a judgement call based on this map, and in the broadcast projects, not everything needs turn to green (as I describe later in the section on Sentiments).
Generic Heat Map Sample of End-to-End Systems Readiness

Sentiments versus Scientific & Quantifiable Data
If you look at the criteria or metrics system components are being measured or reported against via the RAG, in an ideal world, all of the assessments should be followed up by quantifiable, scientific evidence - based on test results, analysis, measurements, fault report incidents, etc.  In an ideal world, where Systems Engineering Best Practices are the norm and not the exception, I fully expect to have technical reports to back up the sentiments presented in the Heat Map.

In reality however, I have worked with a few PayTV Operators to learn from experience, that Systems Engineering is not necessarily their core strength or key areas of focus. The engineering folks do an incredible job keeping the systems alive, protecting the core services that generate the revenue, and thus adopt quite flexible, often mistaken for maverick, attitudes in managing the system.

Yet, as an Enterprise-wide Program Manager, if the projects did not start off with clear definitions of acceptance criteria, and when you have quite an experienced technical team owning the systems, one can't insist on dogmatic adoption to processes & reporting: People's opinion, their sentiments count. If the team provide input into the Systems Readiness Heat Map which is based on experience and just sentiment alone, you have to bite the bullet and go with it. Of course, that's no excuse for not attempting to promote best practices, just add it to your backlog as a target for measuring readiness for the next major release deployment!

Generate more work for the Future
What is interesting about the results of the Heat Map, and what is immediately apparent, apart from all the Red/Bad items to be resolved immediately, it's the amount of work "left-over" for future development. All the Amber/Neutral items are prime candidates to add to the "post-launch" backlog, and can provide immediate value in generating the future roadmap and project budgeting forecasts. Of course, your team or business might make the decision not to pursue any of this additional work/cost at risk, but at least you will have a starting point for your next project plan...


  1. Quite interesting that such a simple tool can be so powerful in highlighting the core messages....thanks for sharing! Keep up the knowledge sharing, you're bound to help people!

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