A really expensive experiment

I was speaking at a PMI conference in Sweden and took the opportunity to listen to some of the other speakers, one of whom was Henrik Kniberg. Henrik is a guru on agile and lean and he told the story of a rather large public sector project in Sweden. The inadvertent experiment was that they did the same project TWICE!
To start with, Henrik discussed what “success” is and he defined it as being happy customers, happy users and happy development team. With apologies to PMI’s “triple constraint” he said to forget about time, cost and scope . . . actually this bit of the talk mirrored the start of my own talk at that conference, so “Mr Classic PM” and “Mr Agile” are on the same page. Why you undertake work is more important than what or how you deliver.

Henrik's different perspectives on success, over and above the "triple constraint". This thinking matches my thinking in Project Workout.

Henrik’s different perspectives on success, over and above the “triple constraint”. This thinking matches my thinking in Project Workout.

Henrik’s case study was all about improving society by helping the Swedish police force work more effectively. You’ve all read those dark, gloomy Scandinavian crime thrillers, so you get the idea. As we were in Sweden in “Wallender” country, it all seemed appropriate.
So, the first project was like this:

  • Mission Improve society
  • Requirements Unclear
  • Delivery Agile (= Iterative/incremental)
  • User involvement Continuous
  • Team’s influence over technology choices High
  • Technical platform Java

It took two years and comprised a series of releases, starting with the first one after 6 months, which the police hated, then after 18 months a nation-wide release and ending up with something they all really liked. SUCCESS!

Then “someone” had a bright idea to rebuild the whole thing in Oracle Siebel as Oracle said it would be better and cheaper. And as they were in a hurry to save money, they would go “big bang”. After all, they knew the requirements as the project had already been completed. So this is project 2:

  • Mission Reduce maintenance cost
  • Requirements Clear
  • Delivery Big bang
  • User involvement None
  • Team’s influence over technology None
  • Technical platform Oracle Siebel

This turned out to be a train wreck in slow motion:

Stakeholder response: outrage
Cost 200m KR (double that of project 1)
Time 24 months (as opposed to 18 months for project 1
Measured impact: Police blocked from using it several hours a day; error rate increased.

Lesson to be learned

So, the lessons are:

  • Focus on solving user needs not just cost: effective nearly always out-strips efficient;
  • Deliver iteratively and incrementally if you don’t know what you really need;
  • Involve real users.

Beware of standard platforms:

  • They might not be as standard as you think;
  • Listen to your technical people not just to a vendor selling stuff.

How many of you are building major capabilities on the promise of using a “standard” platform? I can certainly think of one I was involved with recently!

How do you think the re-platforming should be handled? . . or even should it be done at all, if what is there isn’t broken?

What about migrating from one to the other? Should we always design this in from the start? Or is it like turkeys voting for Christmas?

So agile is always better, is it?

Oh, and the stuff about ‘agile’ and ‘big bang’? That is just a red herring. You should use whatever delivery approaches are appropriate and proportionate to what you are doing. I expect some people reading this have had senior executives issue an edict: “do all projects agile!” This approach is just as mistaken as not trying agile at all – it underlines the classic IT confusion between a development approach and a project method. It’s not a case of ‘agile’ versus ‘project management’. Nor of thinking ‘waterfall = project management’. ‘Agile’ and ‘waterfall’ are delivery methods. Project management is a wrapper, which can contain any number of delivery methods, depending on the type of deliverables being produced.

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.

Whose success is it?

In my “enemies within” blog, we looked at how management get the project performance they deserve. In that blog we explored the important role of the programme and project sponsor in making sure that an organisation’s programmes and projects succeed. But what does “success” mean? Success is too often interpreted through the differing eyes of stakeholders.

Successful project management ensures the delivery of a specified scope, on time and to budget (PMI’s triple constraint). It is related to how efficiently a project is managed. This should be assessed during the project closure review, documented in a project closure report and measured by timeliness of delivery milestones, adherence to budgets and quality. This is commonly associated with the role of the project manager.

A successful project realises the business benefits it was set up to achieve as stated in a business case. It is related to the effectiveness of the project in meeting the objectives set. The post implementation review (post-project review) assesses this. Measures of success here must be indicative of the business objectives being achieved. This review therefore has to happen some time after the output of the project has been put into use. It is associated with the role of the project sponsor.

A successful organisation drives towards its strategic objectives while fulfilling expectations of shareholders, managers, employees and other stakeholders. Measures for this are at a corporate level and should be financial and non-financial, such as a balanced score card. This is associated with the role of the chief executive.

A project which has been successfully ‘project managed’, however, may actually deliver little of value to the organisation. Further, a ‘successful project’ may not further the strategic objectives of the organisation, as its objectives may be out of alignment organisations seeking to optimise their total portfolio of projects through the effective combination of project management, sponsorship and portfolio management. A failing company can be full of ‘successful project management’ and ‘successful projects’ all driving in different directions.

The PMI’s recent report, Pulse of the Profession 2013, has actually picked up the above themes, so may this will help senior business leaders realise the potential that effective and efficient project management has to drive their organisations.

Gartner goes one step further and state that organisations which grasp this first will have a enhanced competitive advantage over the others.

Whatever you do must help you move towards your strategic objective. Otherwise there's no point.

Whatever you do must help you move towards your strategic objective. Otherwise there’s no point.

References:

Leaders influence success. What a surprise!

In PMI’s latest annual survey on trends in programme and project management there are a number of messages but I’ll draw out just one, which they describe as “interesting” and which they say has the greatest correlation to project success.

In programmes and projects, sponsorship is not like sponsoring Tom to run a Marathon.

Those organisations which have active project/programme sponsors on at least 80% of their projects have a success rate of 75%, eleven percentage points higher than the average.

Their survey sample included over 1000 PPM professionals with a wide range of experience and from many industries. This mirrors work by McKinsey & Co, who also point out that sponsors have an extraordinary influence on success.

So, the PMI is saying is that if we have programme and project sponsors, who do their role properly, the business is much more likely to succeed! Calling that “interesting” is rather understating it importance. This is a finding which we should be making “loud and clear” . . . . too many organisations are so tied to their functional hierarchies, that this “end to end”, leadership role is under-valued or even forgotten.

This finding mirrors my work in The Project Workout since 1997 and more recent findings from the UK’s Cabinet Office and National Audit Office. It does make you wonder that if this role is so vital, why it is outside the scope of PMBok and the latest ISO21500? However, it is very much integrated within BS6079 Part 1, MSP (equivalent to SRO) and PRINCE2 (equivalent to Executive), so we have some good foundations to build on. By the way, don’t get confused with sponsoring in the form of “sponsoring Tom to run a marathon”; that is an entirely different use of the word.

To find out more on leadership and sponsorship, look at Chapter 4 of The Project Workout; you’ll also find some articles in the Community section of my web site.

What is your experience? Let me know.