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 Part 3 of The Project 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 labeled 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 product development process.  Like my own work on project management, he talks about “gates” and “stages” as being different but related.

Depicting frameworks
In the Project 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 latest British Standard (BS6079 Part 1). If you haven’t seen it, 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 lifecycle 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 may have to pay royalties!) and make sure your depiction of the lifecycle is clear and unambiguous.

More help?

  • Book: Chapter 3 of the Project Workout tells you all about project lifecycles, helping you to design one that works for your situation. Chapters 5 to 11 describe the detail for each stage and then in Chapter 12 it tells you how you can tailor it.
  • Articles: You’ll also find some articles you can download from the community pages of my projectworkout.com site.
  • 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 community pages 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 portfolo, as whole is still balance if you take this on
  5. The organisation can absorb the change.

So, the decision makers need to bbe 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’ll find a lot more about this in The Project Workout, section 3. Many organisations are only just starting to “get it”; it’s all applied common sense.

 

Lessons from history

Korean fortressIf you read about the history of “project management” you will usually be told how it emerged in the early twentieth century in response to particular needs (blah blah blah).

However, at an ISO meeting last week, in Sweden, the South Korean delegate, Young Min Park,  brought us all to heel by showing a video. Basically, he took ISO 21500 (Guidance on project management) and mapped it against the historical records of the construction of Hwaseong Fortress in Korea . . . and he found that most of the processes described in ISO21500 were practiced all those years ago . . and there is documentary evidence to support this (have you done your post-project review yet?).

His video is a delight and shows that it is the practices that matter, not what we call them (although as you all know, having consistent words does help communication!). So sit back and enjoy the video; it’s only four minutes long, but is derived from the detailed project management records still held in the Royal archives in Korea.

Video: Historical project tells about project management

My thoughts:

Is a functional hierarchy fit for modern day businesses?

 

The functional hierarchy is not the only way to run a business.

The functional hierarchy is not the only way to run a business.

If what people do counts more than the function or department they belong to and if, for reasons of efficiency, you want to use people to best effect anywhere in your organisation, what is the role of the functions? You know that no change, which is significant to a whole business, can be made within a single function in an organisation. You generally require people from a number of areas contributing to the processes, activities and projects you are undertaking.

In the traditional hierarchy, each head of function decides not only the strategic direction of their function, but also what each and every one of his/her  employees will do and how it will be done. The danger, if functions are too dominant, is that they will drive the business as they see fit from their own perspective. This may not be in line with the drivers that the organisation’s leadership wants to effect. The outcome is that the organisation becomes out of balance.

For example, efficiency is often seen as a good goal. So is responsiveness to customer needs. However, the latter may require you to carry excess capacity in order to meet customer needs at short notice. If one function is driving ‘efficiency’ up by reducing capacity while another is creating a proposition around responsiveness there is likely to be a mismatch and dissatisfied customers.

The projects approach, like the trend towards cross-business processes, aligns all the required skills and capabilities around the attainment of a business objective. In the case of a process, the objective is better operations. In the case of a project, the objective is change for the better. Thus, the functions are not leaders in driving the business, but rather suppliers of people and expertise to projects and processes. The accountability of a head of function is to ensure that the right people are available in the right numbers to service the business needs. They will be accountable for pay, employee satisfaction and personal development. Other key roles will start to become apparent. There will need to be those, expert at particular disciplines, who will create strategy, develop and maintain technical architecture, manage projects, or manage people. However, they will not do this just in the context of a single function, but rather in the context of the complete organisation, working wherever needed across functional boundaries to achieve the business objectives . . . . and that is where project portfolio management (or what Project Workout calls “business programmes”) comes in.

 For more on resource management see The Project Workout chapter 16.

Thoughts from the Gartner PPM Summit – risk

One of the key note speakers at the Gartner PPM Summit in London this year was Professor Bent Flyvberg of Oxford University. His talk was about “Why your IT project might be risker than you think”.  In this he summarised the outcomes of some research covering over 4000 projects, from a range of industries, with differing durations and sizes.  The first stunning finding was that, contrary to common belief, IT projects were no more risky that engineering projects – the median for cost overrun is about the same. “Good”, you might think. However that may be a premature conclusion to jump to. What they also found was that if an IT project goes out of control, then it really goes awry – big time. Further, IT projects were 100 times more likely to go out of control. It’s all to do the statistical distribution and “outliers”. Now this sounds more like the story our guts were telling us . . . . but worse.  These outliers are termed “black swans”, on the basis that you rarely see black swans (except if you live in New Zealand, of course).

Now all sectors have “black swan” projects, but the IT sector really seems to have some issues. Despite the projects being far shorter in duration, the IT “black swan projects” have significantly higher costs over runs.  This led the research team to look at a few more hypotheses:

Bigger projects are riskier than smaller ones – WRONG, they found that the risk of “cost” black swans decreased with project size.

Longer projects are riskier than shorter ones – TRUE, longer projects are riskier, especially after 3 years

Lack of benefits management is the single most important deficit in IT project performance management – TRUE, benefits management significantly reduces risk.

Using Agile methods lower project risks – TRUE .  . . but only for schedule risks, not for costs or benefit. (A bit obvious that one, as agile is predicated on a fixed timescale!).

The problem with the above is that the challenge is how to deal with the Black Swans, bearing in mind the significant impact they have. One approach is spot them early, but when is that? When is a “black swan” hatched.  Their research should four situations:

  1. As soon as a vendor has been contracted – watch those contract claims go through the roof! About a fifth are like this.
  2. When the system is being specified, after which the costs stabilise. This covers about a half of the black swan projects.
  3. Just under 10% look great right up until actual development starts and then the escalations come in.
  4. That leaves just under a fifth, which are actually starved to death.

The best early warning indicator is people insisting a project is really unique. “Unique” and “Black Swann” go together very well. Further the research indicates that the best time to look at a project is 15% of the way through; they believe that by this time the die is cast and a review may catch the renegade project before it does too much damage to the organisation.

Here is some advice and references if you want to take this further:

  • Benchmark against your previous projects, your perer industry and best practice.
  • Know your own uncertainty and risks
  • Improve resource allocation and eliminate knck on effects.
  • Scrutinize your plans.
  • Know how likely estimated costs, benefits and schedules are to actually materialise
  • Quantify project viability under different scenarios
  • Reduce the front end bias of your projects.
  • Identify and eliminate delusion, deception and black swan blindness
  • Quantify unknown unknowns
  • Think carefully about reducing scale
  • Reduce technical and social complexity
  • Learn from “master builders” who have a proven track record.

References:

  1. From Nobel Prize to Project management getting risks right. PMJ, 37(3) pp 5-15
  2. “Why your IT project might be riskier than you think” HBR, 89 (9) pp 23-25

Project management excellence is not enough

Beware of doing too many projects, even if they do fit your strategy and have a good business case.

Beware of doing too many projects, even if they do fit your strategy and have a good business case.

The opening plenary sessions of the 2013 Gartner PPM and IT Summit in London, set the tone for a mind-set shift in how Gartner looks at “IT management”.  To date they have focussed in on “IT” and the “CIO”, and, in my view, perpetuating the gap between what they term “IT” and the “Business” . This year, to my delight, they were starting to talk about “the business” and IT’s part in it. It’s a brave thing to do, but the right thing to do. Most organisations still have their IT split off as separate organisational units ,with a separate strategy and loads of money, which tries to work out what “the business” wants and then all too often fails to meet those expectations. What is guaranteed though, is if you give an IT department money, they will spend it all, even if the business need is unclear. . . . that’s the “business’” fault!

Mike Langley from PMI was a key note speaker and gave his view on the all important question of “how do we ensure our (IT) projects fit our strategy?”  Notice I put “IT” in brackets – the department is irrelevant as we want all our projects to align with strategy . . . don’t we?

Mike based his talk on PMI’s recent “Pulse of the profession” survey.

We are all familiar with “strategy” and “execution” (sorry for using the “e” word, but when at an American conference, you can’t get away from it!).  The story is that the business leaders set the strategy and then the “business” implements it. If it goes wrong, it’s usually the fault of the business and their dreadful requirements and poor implementation!  What new research for Harvard Business Review is now talking about is that implementation is part of strategy and we should not separate them. (look out McKinsey and Bain!.) After all, if your strategy doesn’t include how to implement itself, then it’s a poor strategy.  The new buzz words for making this happen is “portfolio management”. This is a discipline of making sure that the programmes, projects and other activities that a business decides to do are the rights ones in terms of strategic direction, fit and balance in terms of risk and skills use. It’s all about selecting the right projects.

Mike says his research shows that organisations which are good at portfolio management are more agile, and have better project outcomes. Portfolio management is integral to how the top level leaders want to manage their business; it’s an integral part of business planning. Traditional business planning adds up costs of departmental budgets, checks against revenue and makes sure there is “interlock” if different departments need to work together.  Usually this is done a year or so in advance and is therefore totally pointless for organisations in fast moving environments. It is however a neat and simplistic way to blame people when things go wrong or costs to much. Hence, getting portfolio management working right is as much to do with mind-set as having the processes, systems and operating model.

Getting this right, means organisations can continuously tune their plans, not be tied to outdated annual budgets and use their people and money where the benefit is most attractive.  The money will follow the business need, not the department doing the work. Now that is what I call true organisational agility and if you have read the Project Workout, it will be very familiar to you.

This isn’t new as a concept, but it is something many organisations struggle with.  Have a look at this article: Excellence is not enough from the Project Workout “articles” web page.

Is your parrot (I mean project) dead?

A risk register is sometimes not enough.Dead Parrot

Projects are not simple things to manage, even when there is a book, like the the Project Workout, to help you.  So, how do you know if your project is “healthy” and likely to meet the business objectives it was set up to achieve? How do you know it’s not well and truly dead, like the proverbial Monty Python parrot?

Well, a quick look at the risk log may help, together with a view on the issues. The schedule plan updates should show you how you are doing against your baselined plan. (what do mean you don’t have a baseline?)

These are all good ways to gain a feel; they are your day to day instruments. Sometimes, though, it’s good to rise above all the detail of methods, tools, reports and logs and consider in an holistic way, “Will this project really do what we need?”.

The Project Health Check

This is where the project health check comes in. It asks five searching question on each of the following areas of project management:

Project plan
Resources
Ownership
Justifiable case
Expertise
Clear solution
Targeted control

If anyone of those is not adequately covered, then your parrot may indeed be dying.

Let’s have a look at the output from an example:

Example of an output from the Health Check

Example of an output from the Health Check

Overall the tool’s analysis suggests the project is medium risk. Well, you might say, that’s ok, isn’t it? However, if you look at the problem areas you can see they relate to:
Solution – we don’t know what we’re building
Resources – we haven’t got anyone to do whatever it is
Expertise – we don’t fully have the expertise we need.

Now this cluster makes sense. All the management stuff is okay, but if we haven’t got the expertise for the specialist work, then perhaps that’s why we don’t yet have a solution. Also, if there is no solution yet, you can’t really know what resources you need.

So is it okay? If you are in the investigative stages of the project then, yes, you could be okay, assuming you take action to fill the gaps. If however, you are in the development stages or later, then your parrot is probably going to die.

As with all these types of tools, they are there to help you think and self-delusion in answering the questions will reinforce any delusional opinions. For that reason, it’s often good to do this type of assessment in groups and gain a consensus; the value of the discussion will far out weight the paper result.

When would you use this?

I suggest that you use at as an input to every gate decision to provide the decision makers with a summary of the ares which need attention. You can also do it “ad-hoc” in response to any concerns which have been raised.

Is it worth it?

Yes. One company I work ed with employed some consultants to review 12 of their most critical projects. The consultants used their own, very extensive, tools and check lists. When they’d finished their work they took this tool and applied it to all twelve projects. The found a full correlation. In fact, they said if the company had applied this tool first, as a filter, they could have saved 60% of the consulting fee as most of the projects were fine.

You can find the tool in the CD which accompanies the Project Workout.