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Many IT managed services providers see opportunities with their clients that aren’t related to the existing infrastructure. Clients are instead looking for help deciding which CRM they should use; how they should migrate their many Excel spreadsheets to a Process Management application or with something else that needs IT management expertise. You want to help them, of course; you are the trusted advisor, even a dedicated vCIO. The main question is: how do you start a project AND start charging for your project management duties from day one?

The short answer is that you can start planning a solution, if you have the right scope for the project. However the process of scoping the project takes time, research and meetings. Clients are reticent to pay for this because it takes place before the sales cycle. To overcome this challenge, you have to make a deliverable product out of this process.

For that you need to apply a Project Best Practice called "Visualization" to be able to get from vague ideas, concepts and needs, to a written document that consists of everything needed to start planning the project. Without this Best Practice, the process is not tangible to your client and thus not a billable item.

For example, you may be approached to give suggestions for productivity suites, where some basic collaboration tool can be considered as a small-scope project. Medium-scope projects are a review of the current accounting system and giving some suggestions, or being asked to help them fix one process of their teamwork with some project management tool.

Anything bigger like Document Management and Sharepoint-type projects are large or custom projects.

Still, in the end your product will be: enabling your clients to make decisions, and finding the right solutions for their business problems. We can can design some project planning and strategic implementation, but we have to create a separate service for that!

The result of not having proper visualization up front: showing up to the client with no value for necessary visualization phase.

What is Visualization?

Visualization means clearly picturing the desired results before embarking on the project. It answers the questions of what we want to achieve and why. For a small project, it is enough to have an informal call with every stakeholder to find out what they need at the end of the project. For a more complex project, this needs to be in a written format so priorities among the different issues can be set. The more people involved the more sense it makes sense to communicate the priorities in one statement that includes all of the stakeholders. This creates more alignment upfront; however, it takes more time to complete. For larger initiatives, serious kickoff meetings need to be facilitated to talk through the problems and discover opportunities, threats, and different opinions.

Our objective at this point is just to create a Visualization of the project. It has a defined deliverable, the process to achieve it and a price tag to sell it.

We have developed a Use Case showing how to start vCIO services with activities like visualization to bring more value to the client here:



Goals of Visualization:

1. Starting with the end in mind; defining the "why": Visualization is going to create a picture of the end we have in mind to remind us why we want the solution. What is the original problem we want to solve? What would be needed for success? What does success mean anyway? If we are putting together a cloud strategy for the client, what is the overall need or business case?

2. Defining the required outcomes: To properly evaluate the project’s progress, the desired outcomes must be drawn from the client - not always easy to do. We need to have more than a ‘feeling’ of what needs to be done, or we can easily fail. The required outcomes are statements of what the client needs.

3. Feasibility check: Dreaming big is easy, but executing the project with a positive ROI is critical. There is a chance that the solution is will not produce a minimum required return. We need more time and money to invest where we can see results. In most of these cases we figure out a compromise to get the required outcomes - such as scaling back some features.

4. Broad Alignment: Alignment on what we need to achieve and what are the factors of success is needed among the client and vendor teams. As virtual CIOs, we are not going to manage only our team’s infrastructure projects, but projects involving different vendors as well. We have to create the necessary baselines for working together.

5. Assign the potential resources: Before we plan, we have to understand what capacities the client has and what is needed from outside. This is of course a project design input but will also determine the potential budget of the project. The more resources they need from outside, the higher the budget will be. We must also understand required amount of project management to determine the proper amount of support.

6. Create the inputs for the planning phase: We have to put all of this together to make sure we can proceed to the planning phase. Set clear goals, keep the end in mind and focus on required outcomes for a quick plan. Anticipate unforeseen questions will arise in the planning phase...this just means some more meetings, more changes and more work for everybody.

Process of Visualization:

1. Key Stakeholder Interviews: Key Stakeholder interviews are necessary to learn all that is needed from key people. A stakeholder can be the CEO, the owner, the manager of the department or even an employee who will benefit from the project. Our goal is to discover their need, the outcome they are looking for and their priorities.

We sit down in a 1-1 setting with the stakeholder and conduct the interview. It should be a formal meeting, but it can be done over the phone if needed. We highly recommend using a template like the vCIO-Project-Stakeholder-Sheet in our vCIO Quickstarter Workbook. It helps you stay organized and keep track of every detail for later. It is a fairly simple process to follow.

For a small project, it usually takes 1-2 interviews, for a medium at least 3-4 to find out the needed deliverables. You can count on 30-45 minutes each.

2. 10 Point Exercises: We have been using the 10 Point Exercises in many ways: during sales, to find opportunities, for vCIO activities and so on. In most cases, we sell a 10 Point Exercise that raises the questions that come with “we need a project.” It can be sold in a Quarterly Business Review, or it can be sold during the vCIO process, and will function here to support the goals of visualization.

The exercise itself is a group session in which you facilitate the people involved in the project to make decisions. They need to prioritize the various aspects of the project and understand each other's individual perspective. It is a very powerful exercise!

The end of the exercise is a prioritized list about the needed deliverables of the project.

For a small project, you need 1-2 exercises; for medium projects it usually takes 4-6 sessions. One session takes about 25-30 minutes to do. If you put together 2-3 sessions in one, you can save time.

3. Project Initiation: If we have agreement on the project definition and a vision of the requirements for success in mind, we can proceed with planning. This means putting some integration and making some decisions. For a quick overview, you can use the vCIO Project Management Workspace.

We can put together the Start/End date, the roles, the project manager, vendors if any, and so on. That means, if the team agrees on the priorities, we can move forward and start the plan of the project.

Putting together all the things needed for a small project with little research takes 1-2 hours. For medium projects, it can consume 4-8 hours to put together your thoughts.

Check this video for further information about visualization.



Without having the process to get together all the preliminaries of starting a project, we would be in trouble. Either we have to pay forward a lot of hours to make it happen for free, or we start project planning without knowing the priorities.

A small visualization with 1-2 interviews and 1-2 10 Point Exercises takes about 3-5 consultation hours to conduct. It is somewhere in the $500 - $1000 range. It is great for choosing SaaS applications for productivity and process management for even smaller team collaboration tools.

A medium visualization with 3-4 interviews and 3-4 10 Point Exercises takes about 4-7 consultation hours to conduct and is in the $1500 - $2000 range. It is great for choosing a CRM, or for a basic accounting review and evaluation package, project management tools and advanced collaboration tools.


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