ISO 21502:2020 launched – update to The Project Workout

The latest international standard on project management, ISO 21502:2020, was launched at the end of December, four months ahead of schedule. Who would expect anything less for a project management standard! I was pleased to be a member of TC 258, Working Group 9, which created this new standard. ISO 21502 is a significant progression from ISO 21500:20102 which it supersedes. The new standard covers, not just the ‘project manager’ role but all those other roles needed to ensure a project succeeds, including the sponsoring organization, project sponsor, work package leader and others. It written in a narrative style enabling you to design your own compliant processes and includes new practices including the management of business and societal change and issues management as well as making a distinction between ‘reporting’ and ‘communications’. If you’ve read The Project Workout, you’ll know what I mean!

However, the launching of this new standard means that Appendix C1 of The Project Workout needs an update, which is inevitable when referring to ‘live’ external documents. I have therefore released this update as an article, ‘An overview of the current standards‘.  Even if you haven’t got The Project Workout, you should find this article of interest as it compares the new ISO 21502 with its predecessor, ISO 21500:2012, BS6079:2019 and the UK government’s project delivery standard, GovS002 . . . . all of which I was involved in!

The Workout Companion Site

Nowadays, processes and methods are becoming a way of life in many organizations, particularly those moving up the maturity level and adopting models such as SEI’s CMMI for Development. This companion site is based on the Workout books and uses BusinessOptix as its platform. If you have copies of the Workout books this interactive site points you at the chapters and workouts relevant to the part of the method you are looking at. If you don’t have the books yet, this site still provides you with a simplified example portfolio, programme and project management method website, with lots of usable information.


BusinessOptix is designed for ‘corporates’, and needs to know who you are in order to display the right content. Click on the cartoon to get to the BusinessOptix screen; then at bottom choose ‘Register’, enter your email address and you should receive your username and password in separate emails. You’ll be asked to change your password. Notifications are turned off by default. There is a video, below, to give you a preview of what to expect.

To access Companion site’s login and registration page:

On the right track yet?

I wrote an article in 2015 in which I talked about the eternal causes of project failure (do I hear your groan!) and related them to how we could improve project delivery for infrastructure. I read it again this week and thought that some things in the world of project management don’t seem to change and the integration of ‘project management’ and each of the engineering disciplines is a case in point. Or have I got that wrong? I have updated the article very slightly as some words are in vogue, like ‘digital’ instead of ‘IT’, but essentially it is the same as 5 years ago.

Have a read of the article and share your experience is: On the right track

Getting the team to work as one can be a challenge . . .

The Programme and Portfolio Workout is launched

PP workout 1e pngThe Programme and Portfolio Workout has been launched. Together with its companion, The Project Workout, this book aims to help you run your organization in a structured, yet agile way so you can meet your strategic goals and make sure all parts of your organization are aligned.

I have made three short videos introducing the books:

  1. The first video shows how these books have grown out of the original ‘Project Workout’, first published in 1997 and how they now give you the knowledge and thinking to make your organization succeed.
  2. The second video describes The Project Workout and how you can direct and manage one project at a time.
  3. The third video describes The Programme and Portfolio Workout, and how you can direct the tens, hundreds or even thousands of piece of work in your organization.

You can see these videos on Robert’s web site

Top down failure and other things . . .

I was recently interviewed by journalist, Yu Yanjuan, Project Management Review: PMR (China) and International Correspondent, PM World Journal.Caesars vision in Gaul

In this interview, titled “Project failure is top down”, Robert describes how he started working in project management,  where his books originated from and what influenced them. He then goes on to discuss failure (and success!), the importance of excellent sponsorship, the balance between people and process and about his work with the UK government on their project delivery functional standard.  It also includes a few new cartoons!

 

Read the full interview 

The 5th edition of The Project Workout is now available

I am delighted to tell you the 5th edition of The Project Workout has been published by Routledge.

The world of project management has moved on a lot since the 1st edition was published by Pearson in 1997, not least a growing consensus on what a ‘programme’ and a ‘portfolio is. I have therefore updated the terminology to reflect this. I also found that the book was getting rather large and so decided to split it into two volumes, aimed at two different, but related, readers:

  • The Project Workout, aimed at project sponsors, managers and their teams.
  • The Programme and Portfolio Workout, aimed at business leaders and, programme and portfolio directors and managers.

The revised edition of The Project Workout maintains its ‘business-led’ approach and contains a wealth of new material on governance, monitoring and control, resource and information management and working with standards, such as ISO 21500, BS6079, PRINCE2®, APM Body of Knowledge and PMBOK® Guide.

Its companion, The Programme and Portfolio Workout, is due out in 2019. It draws on the same principles and approaches as The Project Workout, but looks at them from the viewpoint of senior executives who have either a programme to manage or an organization with many programmes, projects and other work going on, all competing for scarce resources and funding.

Together these books will give you what you need to ensure all your projects succeed.

As they say, available in paperback, hardback and eBook from the publisher, Routledge, as well as Amazon, Blackwell’s, Waterstones and all good book shops!

Resource management: everyone is suffering

I was speaking at a PMI conference in Sweden, last March, which gave me the opportunity to sit in on a number of other sessions. This one is all about resource management, given by Peter Kestenholz.

If you are to be successful, you must have the right number of skilled people.

If you are to be successful, you must have the right number of skilled people.

A straw poll of attendees at the presentation found:

  • all work in a matrix organsiation;
  • 30% have clear resource management process;
  • 20% have tools to support resource management;
  • only 2% have been trained on the process and tools.

All of them had BIG issues with how resource management worked (or more accurately, didn’t work)  in their organisations. Some ignored it and others had enormous spreadsheets to try and get a grip on the issue of making sure the organisation has the resources to do the work that needs doing. By enormous, I mean at the limit of Excel as a tool. Yes, most use spreadsheets. It sounds dreadful!

Way back in 2010, Forrester said that there was a significant increase in investment of PPM tools specifically to:

  • Obtain an accurate view of resource usage;
  • Manage investment aligned to strategy.

Today, Gartner says the need for resource management is still one of the top three reasons companies invest in PPM tools. Not a lot has changed. The vision of many senior managers is that they should be able to “drill down” to get any information they need at the level they need it. . . . but few can do this.

Peter has been involved in helping a lot of organisations tackle the “resource issue” and went through a number of things to consider, namely:

  1. Have an executive sponsor define the business requirements for resource planning and transparency. Understand the rationale. Without this, don’t bother any further as this drives everything else.
  2. Be clear on what you mean by resource capacity. Net? Gross? Overtime? What is a FTE? What formula will you use for any calculation of resource capacity?
  3. Ensure, a person can have many skills associated with him/her.
  4. HR should own the Organisation Breakdown Structure; hold them to account for keeping it up to date. An out of date structure will break your process. Ensure any tooling can cope with the continuous churn of organisation structures and people allocations.
  5. Decide how many different jobs a person can be forecasted to work on. Be clear if people can be asked for by name? by role or by skill (or  any of these).
  6. Get rid of your spreadsheets! However, people are used to using these, so consider tools with a similar (and hence familiar) look and feel.
  7. Ensure your approach deals with leavers and joiners. For example, be able to forecast a person’s assignment even though they haven’t joined the organisation yet.

You can read more about enterprise wide resource management and tooling in Chapter 14 of The Programme and Portfolio Workout.

What is a “stage-gate”?

More management jargon?

Do you come across people using the term “stage-gate”? If so, are you sure they really understand what they are talking about? Do they understand what this term means and where it comes from? All too often, I find people use as the term as yet another piece of management jargon and don’t really understand it (just like “workstream”!)

This is the type of muddle people come up with:

Example A starts well, in that there are a number of stages depicted. Unfortunately we know nothing about where the decision points are. Where does the project start or end? Also, the stages are called “stage-gates”, further confusing things.

Bad practice A

 

Example B has the same issues as example A except that a number of decision points have been added. This, however, doesn’t clarify matters much, for example, is stage gate 1, the first stage of the project or the activity before the project starts?

Bad practice B

 

Example C has all the issues raised in examples A and B, except in this case it seems the decision points (gates) are labelled as “stage-gates”.  I wonder what the stages are called – gate-stages? Notice the numbering, which infers that the “gates” are decisions at the end of a stage, rather than decisions to start a new stage.

Bad practice C

Where it came from.

“Stage-gate” is actually a registered trademark devised by Robert Cooper, to describe his stage-gate process for new product development. If you do a web search for R G Cooper or “stage-gate” you’ll find lots of good articles. If you read them, you’ll see that there is no such thing as a “stage-gate”; it is simply the name he gave to his new process.  Like my own work on project management, he talks about “gates” and “stages” as being different but related.

Depicting project life cycles
In the Workout I use circle, arrow and diamond icons to ensure that the above mistakes do not happen. This form of iconography is now enshrined in the British Standard (BS6079), international standard (ISO 21502:2020) and UK government standard (GovS 002). If you haven’t seen them, then you really should get a copy.

  • A circle depicts activities which happen before a project starts or after it is completed.
  • A diamond represents a gate.
  • An arrow represents a stage.

Like this extract from a figure in the Project Workout:

Extract from the Project Workout.

 

Summary

So, if you are designing a project life cycle for your project, don’t fall into the real-life traps highlighted in the bad examples above above; make sure you understand the difference between a gate and a stage; avoid “stage-gate” (you might have to pay royalties!) and make sure your depiction of the life cycle is clear and unambiguous.

More help?

  • Books: Chapter 4 of the Project Workout tells you all about project life cycles, helping you to design one that works for your situation. Chapters 6 to 12 describe the detail for each stage and then in Chapter 13 it tells you how you can tailor it. The Programme and Portfolio Workout covers this in Chapters 8 and 9
  • Articles: You’ll also find some articles you can download from the community pages of my projectworkout.com site, including one I did for AXELOS on PRINCE2 life cycles.
  • Video: Here is a video taking you through the project lifecycle in the Project Workout
  • Click for yourself: you can investigate the model in the video above yourself. Go to the Companion site page in my projectwout.com site.
  • Another blog on the topic: Lifecycles and fuzzy back-ends.

Do poor project sponsors drive failure?

I was speaking at a PMI conference early in Sweden in March, which gave me the opportunity to sit in on a number of other sessions. This one is all about programme and project sponsorship. It is a topic close to my heart and one I have blogged on before and no doubt will again . . . but is is a topic that business leaders actually care about?

In programmes and projects, sponsorship is not like sponsoring Tom to run a Marathon. Do too many business leaders believe it is someone else's job?

In programmes and projects, sponsorship is not like sponsoring Tom to run a Marathon. Do too many business leaders believe it is someone else’s job?

On the point of sponsorship, here are the key messages Peter Taylor gave out at his presentation on sposorship:

  • 85% of organisations had sponsors in place
  • 83% of organisations don’t train/support/guide sponsors
  • 100% of respondents believed that having a good sponsor was key to project success.

PMI’s recent Pulse of the profession showed that those organisations with active sponsors are more likely to have better project outcomes. This is supported by Colin Price’s research (McKinsey). Standish believes ‘The most important person in the project is the executive sponsor. The executive sponsor is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the project’. I agree.
BUT most spend business leaders spend less than 5% of their time on sponsor related activity, yet this is all about making change happen – leading change. . . . and mismanaging change is the commonest reason CEOs get fired.
If you look at project failure, six reasons are cited and the top FOUR of those come under the accountability of the sponsor.

  • 40% Unrealistic goals
  • 38% Poor alignment of project and organisation objectives
  • 34% Inadequate human resources
  • 32% Lack of strong leadership
  • 21% Unwillingness of team members to identify Issues
  • 19% Ineffective risk management

So despite all this wealth of research and learning, many business leaders continue to ignore the issue or treat it informally. Everyone says they believe it is critical to project success and yet:

  • Sponsors are not ‘trained’ to be effective
  • Sponsors do not have the ‘time’ to be effective
  • Sponsors are just expected to ‘know’ how to do the job.

Is that right?
Is it even worth bothering about?

Peter then showed some broad-brush estimates of the value of good sponsorship:

  1. Meeting Project Goals +29% variance with good sponsorship in place
  2. Project Failure -13% variance without good project sponsorship in place

So if you have a £1bn portfolio, the range of benefits and costs is:
+ £290m
– £130m
Peter argues that those figures are certainly worth thinking about.I certainly agree. I also wonder that if senior leaders are only spending 5% of their time on sponsorship, what are they actually doing and who do they think is looking after the future of the business?

You can see Peter’s paper here – Project managers are from Mars, project sponsors from Venus

Portfolio management – the next frontier?

Earlier this month I was speaking at the “Passion for Projects” conference in Sweden. I must say it was a really well organised event and I was delighted to have been invited to speak there. The topic I chose to talk about covered portfolios, project, projects, matrices and maturity. I’ll go into it more in some later blogs. I’ll assume you know a little about portfolio management. Just to recap, portfolio management is all about making sure you pick the right projects to do.  In “The Project Workout” i call them “business programmes” as at the time I wrote the book, the term “portfolio” hadn’t really settled down in the way it has now.  So, in portfolio management you have to make decisions on what to do and which meet the following criteria:

  1. It is aligned to your strategy
  2. You have the resources to undertake it and operate its outcome
  3. The risks are acceptable  (i.e. robust business case)
  4. The portfolio, as whole is still balance if you take this on
  5. The organisation can absorb the change.

So, the decision makers need to be able to make those decisions and have the data available to verify the criteria.

I was asked a question about this: “If a programme has been approved as part of a portfolio, has the programme sponsor the authority to authorise the project within the programme, or do they all have to be referred to the decision maker at portfolio level?”

My instincts were that if the programme as a whole has been approved, then the programme sponsor should be able to make the decisions . . . however it is not that simple. It all comes down to shared impact. For example, if the programme team has all their own “ring-fenced” resources, then they can make decisions relating to criteria 2. If they share resources with other programmes or components of the portfolio, then they can’t. Similarly, if they are the only ones impacting a “target user group” (change absorbtion) then they can verify criteria 5. If niot, then the decision has been elevated.

Further, the degree of to which there is knowledge of the programme, its resources and impacts at the time it was approved also matters. It may be that the first chunks of work are pretty weel known and as long as these stay in the bounds expected, decision making can be at programme level.

As you see, what appears to be a simple question is actually very complex. The more you ring-fence resources, the greater you can delegate decisions to programme sponsors but, you lose potential efficiencies for using those resources on other work. It’s a balance. Whatever you choose, remember:

  1. What ever you do must align with your strategy
  2. There is little point in authorising work that cannot be undertaken – in fact it is really damaging
  3. You need to ensure the risks of adding this to your work-stack are acceptable
  4. You nee to ensure your portfolio remains balanced, when you add the new work in
  5. There is little point in doing work, which the operational teams, customer etc cannot accommodate in terms of change.

You can read a lot more about this in The Programme and Portfolio Workout. Many organisations are only just starting to “get it”; it’s all applied common sense.