AI Project Management – Define Phase

The first step for each process optimization project is the Define Phase. This phase is mostly overlooked and bears the biggest issues in the future, if not handled properly. Here, the problem you want to solve is clearly defined and drilled down until it can be expressed in numbers.

The Define Phase can roughly be broken down into two parts.

In the first step you select and define your project in a structured way. Furthermore you identify all stakeholders involved. All relevant questions here will be broken down into three documents:

  • the business case
  • the project charta
  • and the voice of the customer

The second step will look at a rough process exploration. It will end up with a high level process map which roughly identifies the process which creates the relevant process output (e.g. customer dissatisfaction) you want to fix. In later stages we will use this high-level process map and create second and third level process maps, drilling deeper and deeper in detailed processes. The high-level process might describe the processes flowing through the whole company, while the 2nd level process map describes a process part within an department while the 3rd level process map describes work on a more microscopic level really defining what a person or machine is really doing.

Step one: Project selection, Project Definition and Stakeholder Identification:

Business Case
Each business case statement always follows the same pattern and reads as this example:

During FY 2005, the 1st Time Call Resolution Efficiency for New Customer Hardware Setup was 89% .  This represents a gap of 8% from the industry standard of 93% that amounts to US $2,000,000 of annualized cost impact.

Try it yourself. Imagine a project you want to work on.

During ___________________________________ , the ____________________             for ________________________  was _________________ . 

  (Period of time for baseline performance)    (Primary business measure)  (A key business process)          (Baseline performance)                                                       

This gap of ____________________________  from ___________________ represents ____________________ of cost impact.

 (Business objective target vs. baseline)         (Business objective)                                  (Cost impact of gap)         

Could you already fill in the blanks below? Did you gather all business relevant data to comfortably fill out the blanks above? If not, you are not ready to truly see the business side of you’re A.I. project. So keep going 

Project Charta

After your business-case has been formalized, the project charta is being developed. It is a set of documents which bridge normal project management documents (e.g. Stakeholder analysis) with data-focused documents which drill down on defining and quantifying the broad statements from the business case.

For example, if you want to do anomaly detection, the project charta demands a clear definition of the word “anomaly”. What do you expect to be an anomaly? 10% less customer satisfaction? Or 20% less customer satisfaction or any deviation plus or minus from the average or even mean?

The process of creating the project charta also demands to focus more and more on very specific issues of your business case and help you to narrow down the scope of your problems. This focus on a rather reduced, focused, data-oriented and well defined projects is the first step to a successful project. Also, your business case is stated in a scientific mathematical hypothesis – easy to be convertible into “A.I. language”.

Once the project charter has been developed, many of our clients are amazed, how many people in their company will be involved in the project.

The second document is the Voice of Customer.

This is also often overlooked and often we jump into new A.I. technology without asking us, if our customer actually benefit from it. So, this document looks into what your customer really wants and needs. Have you really understood your customer? Did you talk to them? Have your team gathered enough information to answer the question, what item, function or service is being perceived critical by your customer? Content of this document will later be needed to make a thorough root-cause analysis. If you do not understand your customer, your A.I. outsourcing partner will definitely not be able to fill this gap for you – unless the project is called “understand my customer better with A.I.”.

Step Two: Process exploration

As in the last section already described, this step tries to model the underlying process in which your problem occurs. From a process management perspective, each problem is considered a process-output and all causes of a problem are process inputs. Lining up many inputs, you have yourself a process map. Mapping your daily work into processes needs a bit of practice and expertise. Not everybody is naturally born with the patience and detail-oriented mind-set to do this from day one. But with a bit of practice and training, you can learn to view your company with a process oriented mind-set. However, if you are facing a complex process, I would suggest to get outside help to not fail your A.I. project early on.

In the following section we will focus on the Measure Phase and will see, how to find causes and root causes for your problems.

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