Monday, July 29, 2013

Portal Options for Microsoft Grants Manager

Microsoft Grants Manager provides a comprehensive solution for grantor organizations to track the full lifecycle of a grant.  Most grantees publish grant opportunities on a website and accept online grant applications. The website or portal may be used to report application status, payment requests, and post-award reporting.  Because you cannot control which browser is used by grant applicants, it is desirable to choose tools which are browser neutral, and avoid requiring software downloads.

In a Grants Manager implementation, you have several options for a public facing portal:

1. The most common scenario is to add pages to your existing website, using your content management system such as SharePoint.  These pages connect to Dynamics CRM with web services.   The web page developer codes in the integration between the web pages and the Dynamics CRM used by Grants Manager.

2.  If you need to allow for offline users, you could accept applications using document formats such as Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF.  Fillable PDF files may be processed to extract the information entered by users and create record in Dynamics CRM.  InfoStrat has developed a utility to help with this integration. You could allow the application forms to be uploaded to the website or emailed to an alias which would trigger the processing of the files. 

3.  Microsoft Azure offers a flexible cloud environment which may be used to host the grants portal.  It offers excellent scalability and performance which exceeds that of most websites hosted on premise at grantor offices.

4.  Third party companies offer portals geared specifically toward Dynamics CRM, such as InfoStrat PortVue.

Here are some of the features you may want to include in your grants portal:
  • Show the impact of grants with articles, graphs, photos and maps
  • Publish grant opportunities to the public
  • Allow registration through self-service forms
  • Provide grant application forms
  • Show status of grant applications and grants
  • Review grant applications (particularly for outside reviewers)
  • Accept post-award status reports
  • Enter grantee payment requests
The sample Grants Manager portal includes most of these features and is a good starting point for exploring your requirements.



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Constraints are Killers for IT Projects

After working on information technology projects for many years, I'm here to declare what may be obvious -- it's not the technology that's the problem, it's the constraints.

Software and hardware technology keeps improving, and offers many innovations that can dramatically change how government and business work.  But the constraints remain intractable.

Project management literature is rich in discussions on working with constraints, such as the tradeoffs between schedule, cost, and scope.  The implicit assumption is that all the parties working on a project are rational players and motivated to achieve the stated project goal.  I have experienced other constraints that are not usually discussed and which are even more hazardous to the health of a project:

1. Communications constraints.  A great way to make a project fail is to isolate the project team from stakeholders and prevent communication with people who are most knowledgeable about system requirements.

2. Political constraints.  This is a huge category, but encompasses the extra time and grief of dealing with competing groups within an organization who assert power over a project.  The project team cannot tell whose decisions are final or whose priorities really are most important.

3. Hostile players.  Surprising often, some project participants openly or secretly want your project to fail.  Deflecting their sabotage or co-opting them into the success of the project is time consuming and emotionally draining.

4. Pennywise pound-foolishness.  Sometimes artificial constraints compel projects to spend much more than necessary to solve simple problems.   I have witnessed organizations that spend $1000,000 on costly software optimizations rather than spend $1,000 on a memory upgrade to achieve the same performance improvement more quickly and with less risk. This can happen when different groups manage infrastructure and cannot work together, or when government standards prevent software or hardware upgrades.

5. Project management navel gazing. Ironically, project management itself can create problems which project management activities become a distraction from the real project goals.  Obsession with documentation artifacts at the expense of project progress doesn't usually turn out well.  Many failed projects are well documented.

6. Fragmented, competing project teams.  A final, avoidable constraint is to divide a project team and encourage fighting among the members.  The classic approach in government contracts is to carve the project into pieces and hand each piece to a different contractor.  Without a stake in the overall success of a project, these sub-teams are tempted to avoid responsibility and quick to assign blame to competing contractors.

I recently met with some of our consultants to discuss their career goals and how we can seek opportunities for growth.  One of them said he was tired of working on projects that were constrained in terms of time, technology, cost or resources. Ah, the nirvana of the project without constraints.

Constraints play positive effects as well by sharpening priorities and helping the project team work together to achieve a challenging goals.  It's hard for me to imagine a successful project without a schedule constraint, for instance.  

Sadly, there is no such thing as a project without constraints.  If you can reduce the unnecessary constraints and work as a team to manage the unavoidable constraints, you are more likely to succeed.