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
Justifiable case
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.

PowerPoint kills businesses – discuss.

If Romans had PowerPoint, would they have used it?

If Romans had PowerPoint, would they have used it?

This is a story about the evils of PowerPoint. It was first told by Edward Tufte, who some people consider as the most brilliant mind alive on information design. Tufte wrote the book on graphics theory, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information — and in one of his most intriguing  diversions has lambasted PowerPoint for being “a boil on human communication”.

Tufte explained how one horrible PowerPoint slide led to the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion — or more accurately, the horrible bullet structure PowerPoint gives us (and too many people use) caused the disaster. The problem is PowerPoint encourages writers to use clipped jargon that is hard to understand — and if the point fails, bad decisions get made. This is compounded by the fact that people often write grammatically incomplete sentences so that the meaning is actually impossible to determine . . . . all because someone wants it to fit on a bullet point line in a really big font.

As you likely recall, Columbia blew up on re-entry, after a large piece of foam broke off during launch and damaged the edge of a wing. Before the Columbia accident, foam had become detached during many other shuttle launches, so an internal report was crucial in determining how much risk the foam presented. Would a lot of foam detach? And could it hit the shuttle elsewhere with a lot of force?

In our businesses, this is what seems to happen:
1) People do a thorough analysis and write good reports.
2) The good report is then summarised into PowerPoint slides as that is “what senior management demand”
3) People find out that no-one actually reads their thorough reports and so stop doing them . . . perhaps also, even weakening their analyses.
4) Instead, they jump straight to creating a PowerPoint deck “summarising” something that doesn’t exist. (No one will find out anyway!)

Did you know that you can put far more good quality detail in a traditional two page “MS Word” report than on a 10 page set of PowerPoint slides? So why do we insist on using these as the primary way of communicating and as a foundation for decisions? Why don’t we simply use PowerPoint where it actually adds some value, rather than detract from it?

What’s your view?

  1. Do you LOVE PowerPoint and insist it is used?
  2. Is your organisation fixated on PowerPoint?
  3. Do you hate it but comply with our organisation’s flow?
  4. Do you have other ideas?

One theory I have is that strategy consultants traditionally use landscape style, slide decks for their “reports” and their clients follow suit, after all people like Bain  and McKinsey can’t be wrong, can they?

You can look at a whole range of articles on the shuttle disaster here.

Or if you just have time to look at one, then read this one.

Sources of complexity

• Is your programme, project or work package complex? How do you know?
• Is your “complex” project as complex as mine?
• What aspects are complex? What does that mean in terms of the management and selection of people?

The fundamental reason for undertaking any work is to realise benefits for an organisation and its customers. To do this, an organisation needs to apply the right solutions, processes, methods and people. Yet, as no two pieces of work are the same, how do we understand the nature of complexity and select the right people for the job?

On the flip side, the cost of NOT understanding complexity can be serious, leading to over optimism, broken promises and disappointed stakeholders.

The primary use for a complexity decision support tool is to help managers to match the level of experience and skills of assigned manager to the demands of the work required, by understanding:

the type of work and how it is best managed (as a work package? A project? A programme phase? A programme?)

the sources of complexity from which risks may be derived which threaten  business success in relation to the work

Such a tool should not make decisions for you but rather, helpmanagers make the right choices by highlighting key aspects which lead to complexity.

Sources of complexity include:

Business criticality: This factor addresses the alignment to strategy and the importance to the business of completing the work. The more critical the work is to the organisation, the greater the management attention should be.

Reputation exposure: Even the cheapest, smallest work can have a catastrophic or beneficial impact on an organisation’s reputation which, in turn, can impact sales and business survival (the Ratner case is a prime example).

Business transformation: This factor addresses the transformational change challenge required in the work in terms of culture, people and processes. The greater the transformation needed, the greater the challenge and complexity.

Legal, contractual and regulatory exposure: This factor addresses the potential legal, contractual and regulatory impact on the work. Work undertaken in a highly legalistic or regulatory environment has a greater number of constraints which need careful management. Breaching these constraints may lead to damages or penalties.

Schedule flexibility: This factor addresses the criticality and flexibility relating to the schedule. Some work schedules may be negotiated or have significant float within the context of higher level work. Others are constrained by contracts, which may be negotiable, whilst in the extreme, some are constrained by immoveable events.

Requirements and scope: This factor addresses the degree to which the vision, requirements and scope are defined at the outset. The less well defined these are, the greater the potential for scope creep, misunderstandings and disputes. Specific management techniques need to be used and agreed for such risky situations.

Output Innovation: This factor looks at how standard or novel the output from the work is. The development of completely new outputs requires a higher level of expertise and management than ones where standard approaches are used.

Delivery processes: Most programmes and projects require more than one management or delivery process or method. This factor addresses the maturity of the ones being used. If the processes and methods are well tried and tested, then the work is less risky. If new processes and methods have to be developed for the work, that makes the undertaking more complex.

Financial exposure: This factor addresses the extent to which an organisation will benefit or suffer from the work. Some work is “within the noise” of the overall budget, whilst other work is highly visible in the formal accounts.

Inter-dependencies: This factor addresses the number of interdependencies into and out of the work. The greater the number of dependencies, the more constraints there are and the more risky the work becomes as such dependencies cross managerial boundaries.

Team dynamics and size: This factor addresses core team size and dynamics. The smaller and less dispersed the team is, the easier it is to manage and have effective communication. The larger and more distributed the core team, the greater the effort needed to keep the members aligned.

Supplier involvement: This factor addresses the degree of reliance on suppliers and includes such aspects as number of suppliers, reliability of supplier and experience with those suppliers to date. In these terms, “suppliers” can also include separately directed lines of Business or divisions.

For more information see The Programme and Portfolio Workout, Chapter 4, page 72 and Workout 4.3