A case for Sure Step: how Sure Step brings project success

Methodology is a tough topic. There are good methodologies, there are bad methodologies, there are good methodologies gone bad. Methodology is not a silver bullet, it won’t just make any problems disappear, and is hardly ever the single source of success or failure. But a methodology can be a major contributor to success. I could put it this way: you stand much better chances of success if you apply a methodology, then if you don’t. With something as critical as an implementation of business software, methodology is a key success factor. According to Jim Johnson of Standish Group, it’s number nine on their ten identified most important success factors.

These are all the success factors, according to Standish Group:

  1. User Involvement
  2. Executive Management Support
  3. Clear Business Objectives
  4. Optimizing Scope
  5. Agile Process
  6. Project Manager Expertise
  7. Financial Management
  8. Skilled Resources
  9. Formal Methodology
  10. Standard Tools and Infrastructure

There are two topics that have been tickling my imagination recently: Sure Step (especially what’s unofficially known as Sure Step 2.0) and its value, and achieving capability maturity (as in CMM) within a Microsoft Dynamics NAV consultancy. What is my top concern at this point is how to achieve higher CMM levels with Sure Step. I am currently attending a Sure Step training, and the more I am getting into it, the more I am sure that significant improvement to implementation processes can be done with Sure Step as-is, and that Sure Step can also be used as a tool which can lift the consultancy organization’s maturity at least a level or two (with majority of consultancies I’ve seen still firmly on the ground level 1, or struggling to get to level 2).

Why do I think that Sure Step can be used to achieve this? Well, a major premise of the whole concept of CMM and CMMI are that they will increase the productivity, quality and customer satisfaction. Ok, so far we are aligned with the Sure Step – you can use Sure Step to achieve these as well: productivity because you don’t have to start from scratch—tools and templates are in place already, you just need to reach for them; quality because Sure Step helps you achieve higher repeatability (this alone will get you to CMM level 2), and repeatability can drive quality through insight which leads to continuous improvement; and customer satisfaction, because with applying Sure Step you dramatically increase chances of project success (not of project closure – a project to be a success you need to do more than merely close it).

If we take a look at top ten success factors, according to Standish Group, this is how I see Sure Step fits into that picture:

User Involvement and Executive Management Support

Methodology alone won’t bring these two in, because it’s mostly up to the customer to provide them. However, Sure Step provides clear guidance about user involvement and the roles the customer’s people need to play in the process. Furthermore, it makes these things clear up front, before the project starts, which makes for a much better resource planning from the customer side. In my experience, when user involvement was missing in the project, it was not because they couldn’t be made available, but because their involvement wasn’t planned. Consultancy plans their own resources: consultants, developers, architects, etc. but customer is left to their own, and their involvement is usually ad-hoc on an as-needed basis: when we need to involve you, we’ll let you know. Sure Step addresses this issue by exactly specifying who needs to be involved and when: this allows for a precise resource planning, and if customers are made ready in advance enough, it will be more easier for them to dedicate the necessary people to participate in project activities.

Another problem of poor user involvement is having wrong people in wrong places. Without clear resource plans, people are assigned based on their ad-hoc availability, not based on their skill sets or experience. I don’t need to explain what effect this has on motivation, and contribution to project. Sure Step goes as far as defining the exact kinds of skills, preferable experience and knowledge levels of all project participants, which makes it much easier to see whether it makes sense or not to send a certain person, and not the other one, to participate in a requirements gathering workshop, a testing activity or a training.

Regarding executive support, Sure Step doesn’t (and can’t) help too much to get the executives involved if they don’t want to. However, with properly conducted Diagnostics phase or Sure Step, the project costs and benefits will be much more specific, and ROI better articulated—with proper project status communication towards project sponsors, which is covered by Sure Step, executives are better informed and more involved, the project has higher executive visibility, which gives you much better chances at getting more executive support as well.

Clear Business Objectives

Sure Step directly addresses it within Diagnostic phase with Scoping Assessment and Business Case decision accelerators. By preparing a good scope statement and a business case and a project charter, business objectives will be clearly defined, and it will be much easier to validate alignment of specific requirements and change requests against these objectives.

Optimizing Scope

Among major reasons why scope creeps happen is low or no insight in the costs the changes bring. Changes are inevitable, and changes are good, but unmanaged changes are disastrous. Sure Step addresses scope management since early diagnostic phases, throughout the Analysis phase, through Requirements and Configuration cross-phase process, and through Scope Management project management discipline.

Agile process

Well, honestly, I think that agility is not the strongest point of Sure Step, because Sure Step exhibits more features of a waterfall process than of an agile process. But in my opinion, this is actually an advantage. When Standish Group identified Agile Process as a success driver, they have been analyzing all kinds of software projects. There is a huge difference between implementing Microsoft Dynamics NAV and developing a new product from scratch. Software development is (or at least it should always be) a smaller part of a Microsoft Dynamics implementation project (except probably for CRM projects which can include extensive developments). Microsoft Dynamics NAV is not a development platform, it is a finished product—approaching it as a development project can do a lot of harm. Why do I believe so? Primarily because of regression issues. When you develop something from scratch, early change requests have little impact on already developed features, causing little regression in the process. With NAV even small changes can cause terrible regression issues. Yes, you can change anything with NAV, but it doesn’t mean you have to. I see a phased approach such as Sure Step a much better fit for Microsoft Dynamics products implementation projects, than an agile approach. Again, CRM might be an exception, because it truly is a platform, but I am not blogging on CRM, so I rest my case about agile processes here.

Project Management Expertise

This is not a methodology issue, and no methodology can bring you expertise.

Financial Management

This is really part of standard project management tasks, mostly covered within Cost Management discipline of project management, and a part of Sure Step as such. However, Sure Step also has Proposal Management cross phase process which directly addresses management of the project’s finances.

Skilled Resources

Similar to Project Management Expertise, this is also something that doesn’t come packaged into any methodology out there. However, Sure Step does an excellent job explaining the project roles, and their preferred and expected skills. With this, you can do a much better job at matching right people with right responsibilities, thus increasing your chances of a project success.

Formal Methodology

Obviously, Sure Step is a formal methodology, so the point is made automatically.

Standard Tools and Infrastructure

Conveniently, this one comes right after the methodology. In fact, Sure Step is not only methodology, as in a-set-of-prescribed-methods kind of methodology. Sure Step includes much more than just the guidelines: it contains tools and complete document templates, most of which can be used out of the box. Sure Step also allows customization of these tools (even encourages it), to fit your specific needs, or to integrate it with your own experience, methods, tools and templates.

So, in my humble opinion, Sure Step does an outstanding job at introducing most of major success factors, or helping you introduce them. I tried to show how, but I’d also like to hear you voice out your opinion, or share the experience.


Vjeko has been writing code for living since 1995, and he has shared his knowledge and experience in presentations, articles, blogs, and elsewhere since 2002. Hopelessly curious, passionate about technology, avid language learner no matter human or computer.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Bruce

    Also have a look at e-LM.com – this is a suite of tools for programme and project professionals that helps your organisation from level 1 through to level 5 of CMMI.

  2. Sašo

    I suggest reading Karl E. Wiegers article “Read My Lips: No New Models” on how there’s not so much a need for any new formalisms in software development, but consistent and effective application of existing techniques and best practices.

    Every project manager must put together a set of techinques and processes to reach project’s goals and objectives. Template methodologies are fine, but they’re only templates.

  3. Vjeko


    Thanks for pointing out this article, I haven’t been aware of it–and I see I didn’t miss much, at least from perspective of the projects I am involved with.

    I liked the article, it conveys several strong and important points, but it simply doesn’t apply to case of Sure Step, nor implementation of Microsoft Dynamics NAV, which I believe you wanted to apply it to.

    First, implementing NAV is far far away from software development. Software development is a small part of implementation project. Most NAV projects I saw, that turned from implementation into software development, failed against most or all of Standish Group descriptions of a failed IT project. If you need to develop software, don’t use NAV. If you need to customize NAV, fine, you’re welcome, but if it turns out you are customizing it above, I’d say, 30-35%, you shoul’ve started with a blank .NET solution instead.

    Second, Sure Step doesn’t address anything about the process of designing or development, it doesn’t prescribe how you need to design, or how to develop, or how to test. It’s out of scope for Sure Step. Sure Step addresses the implementation process.

    Third, Sure Step doesn’t re-invent the wheel. It incorporates most of existing best-practices and applies them to a specific line of products which require a different approach than a typical software development approach. It draws on PMI experience, MSF experience, On Target experience (you probably didn’t hear about this project methodology, but in Microsoft Dynamics NAV it has been around for about 15 years), and it applies this knowledge, with what has been learned in the field in the past years. You see, PMI is generic, you can apply it to ship-building, construction, software development or research alike. You can’t tell me there is no room for specific methodologies applying general rules to specific situations.

    Fourth, and last, Karl E. Weigers is wrong when he says: “we don’t need… new frameworks for process improvement.” We do. He is right when he says: “We do need… practitioners to routinely and effectively apply the techniques…”. But to preclude any process improvement is short-sighted. I believe in continuous improvement. Even before you master your current tools, you are far better off if you are continually searching for new and better methods, than if you are simply hiding behind the fact that you are still not an expert enough to know for sure where to direct improvement. History has been showing us consistently that the guys who are willing to improve win. Start with Toyota for example. They didn’t wait until they mastered the ways of Ford *BEFORE* they learned that methods of Ford can be improved, so they improved them, and set standards for the whole automobile industry and many other industries.

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