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.

More on meetings

Are your meetings a bit like this?

Are your meetings a bit like this?

I did a blog on meetings last year, called I hate (some) meetings and one of the comments asked for some advice on conducting meetings. I suppose meetings are so common place that few people give any thought to making them run effectively. As a consequence, we find far too many meetings are an inedible waste of time. So, here we is some advice to take us back to the basics.

Firstly, do not hold a meeting at all if there is a better way of achieving the objective. The time taken during the meeting should typically represent only 10% to 20% of the total time needed to prepare for and follow up the meeting; use your time appropriately.

Before the meeting, the person calling the meeting should:

  • fix the objective, venue, date, time and attendance well in advance; keep numbers to a minimum
  • ensure all required parties are invited and have authority/knowledge to take decisions and/or make a valid contribution
  • set accountability and time limits for each agenda item, taking into account the participants’ different interest levels for each item
  • send out agenda and written submissions in time to allow participants to prepare.
    Those invited should accept the invitation, decline or provide a substitute attendee, as appropriate.

At the meeting:
The Chair should:

  • confirm who the note taker is
  • confirm the objective of the meeting
  • start and finish the meeting on time: censure late arrivals.
  • stick to the agenda and timetable.
  • ensure there is an agreed approach for undertaking each agenda item.
  • keep the meeting focused.
  • ensure full, participative discussion takes place.
  • guillotine “knotty” issues for resolution outside the meeting.
  • summarise each agenda item at the end and ensure agreements and actions are recorded .
  • agree and fix date for next meeting, if needed.
  • seek meeting participants’ feedback on the effectiveness of the meeting.

The Note taker should:

  •   act as the Chair’s right hand person.
  •   ensure all decisions and agreements are noted.
  •   take brief, relevant, action oriented notes.

Meeting participants should:

  • keep to the point and be brief.
  • listen to others and should not hold private meetings.
  • be constructive, adopting a “can do” approach
  • agree realistic plans/actions.
  • make a note of their own actions (including recipient and date).

After the meeting:
The Chair should:

  • review the effectiveness of the meeting and note improvement points for the next meeting.

The Note taker should:

  • publish the notes or minutes to the participants and those who need them within 1 day. What is the point of “old minutes”, they are no good to anyone. It takes the same time to do them straight away as to do them a month later – it’s just a matter of you organizing yourself.

Participants should:

  • assess their own effectiveness at the meeting and note areas for improvement; make suggestions to the Chair if appropriate.
  • read the minutes and address all actions and note those actions where they are the “recipient”.

HINTS
If you use a collaboration tool such as SharePoint or Livelink, use a task list to record the meeting’s actions. In this way, no actions are lost and those accountable for each action can readily find them.

Place “Review of Previous Minutes” towards the end of the meeting agenda, rather than at the beginning. This will encourage the meeting to go forward rather than starting by dwelling on what happened last time. If important, many of these items will be dealt with in the main agenda items.

If the notes are not for a formal meeting then consider the use of hand-written notes or as a photocopied page in your work book:

  •  record actions, in hand-writing at the meeting,
  • photocopy the sheet(s) just before the end of the meeting,
  • distribute to participants before they leave.
  • scan and file the handwritten note if you need a record.

. . . and make sure you all behave well at the meeting:

  • Start on time
  • Switch off or silence mobile devices
  • Keep to the agenda – Stick to the point
  • No private meetings
  • No interruptions or walk-outs
  • Be constructive
  • Speak out during the meeting – not afterwards
  • Be polite
  • LISTEN!
  • Agree conclusions and actions
  • FINISH ON TIME

Be a nut, be a leader!

Leadership

A leaders on his or her own is useless. There must be followers and the “first follower” is the most important, if change is to happen.

Do you think leadership is glorious? Is change totally dependent on the
leader? Do you think if a person looks ridiculous, they aren’t a leader?
Have a look at this video from Derek Sivers, I think you’ll enjoy it . . . and you might change your views on leadership:

See the Dancing Guy video.

So what’s the bottom line?

  1. If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.
  2. Be public. Be easy to follow!
  3. But the biggest lesson here – did you catch it? – Leadership is over-glorified
  4. It started with the shirtless nut, and he’ll get all the credit, but it was the first follower who transformed a lone nut into a leader.
  5. There is no movement without the first follower.

We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. So, when you find a lone nut doing something great . . . .

Have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Source: Derek Sivers; www.sivers.org

PPM but not as we know it – learn from the Romans

Emperor Sponsus - visionary and leaderI am sure you’ll want to go home, put your feet up and forget about your programmes and projects for a while . . . but what if withdrawal symptoms set in and you have that urge to peek at your Blackberry or just take a look at that last report . . . help is at hand with a book extolling the virtues of programme and project management on the scale of the Roman Empire. Follow Emperor Sponsus on his path to glory and the trials and tribulations of general Marcus Projex Magna as he struggles to turn Sponsus’ vision into a reality.

This is programme management that you won’t learn about at Saeed Business School’s BT Centre for Major Programme Management in Oxford, nor from PMI or APM or MSP, nor anywhere else, for that matter.

Click here to download your cartoon book: How Rome was lost

Business change through effective sponsorship

Is leading from the front always right?

All organisations have to change at some time, some more frequently than others. Something, somewhere always needs to be created or improved. Many leading organisations are now directing and managing change by using business-led, programme and project management techniques. As organisations have become more integrated through the use of complex systems and processes, the effectiveness of managing change through the traditional functional hierarchy has diminished. Programmes and projects, in the modern sense, are now strategic management tools, ideally suited to the complex organisations of today. Business leaders ignore the newly reborn discipline of enterprise-wide programme and project management at their peril. It is no longer the preserve of specialists in the engineering or IT sectors, but something every director and manager should have in their ‘tool box’. Well directed and managed programmes and projects enable an organisation to react and adapt speedily to meet the challenges of the competitive environment, ensuring the organisation drives towards attainable and visible corporate goals. Effective business-led programme and project management will increase the likelihood of business success by ensuring visibility, accountability and control over business change activities. In particular by:

  • linking business needs directly to visible actions plans;
  • enabling you to manage across every department in your organisation;
  • ensuring accountability can be assigned, safe in the knowledge any gaps are covered;
  • providing a flexible and responsive method to respond to changing needs;
  • focusing on priorities;
  • enabling you to track progress toward your business objectives.

It is not just the “project geeks” saying this now, but also strategy consultants, like McKinsey & Co. All senior executives should be leaders of change within the organisation. For some this may be a new experience. They will be in the position of advocating a new order, acting in the interest of the wider company needs rather than those of the department or line director they serve. For the first time, they may be operating outside their own departmental or functional structure. They will have to work with people they don’t have direct authority over and this may require all their influencing and leadership skills if they are to achieve their aims.

To summarise, the sponsor is the business advocate accountable for directing a programme or project to ensure the business objectives are met and benefits realised. In simple terms the sponsor role can be referred, exactly as that:

  • Programme sponsor
  • Project sponsor.

The UK public sector calls the roles “Project Executive”, for a project and “Senior Responsible Owner” for a programme. These are derived from the MSP and PRINCE2 methodologies respectively.

If I am a programme or project manager, what can I expect of my sponsor?  And what can I do if he or she doesn’t meet those expectations? You should expect your sponsor to:

  • Take an interest – their interest! It’s their programme or project!
  • Communicate their vision;
  • Be clear on what outcomes they need;
  • Agree the governance;
  • Keep you informed of the business context;
  • Challenge you;
  • Be realistic;
  • Make decisions and give you direction; and
  • Accept that all risks are their risks!

If you don’t get what you need, try acting as if they are the perfect sponsor:

Remember it’s “their project”, not yours;

  • Make your “personal contract” with them;
  • Assume they want to undertake their role;
  • Make requests for direction and decisions;
  • Look at the world through their eyes – outcomes and benefits;
  • Make the risks plain – their risks;
  • Report the world through their eyes;
  • Don’t assume or expect them to understand your “jargon”; and
  • Don’t try to take over their role.

You can read the full article from the Project Workout Community, articles section. In the meantime, who do you think is accountable for “making change happen”? Is there a simple answer? Is a project manager a change manager? Is a change manager a project manager? I suspect it all depends on how you views those words.

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.

I hate (some) meetings

I wonder how many people agree with the title of this article? In fact, I have not been fully honest; I hate badly run meetings. You’ve probably been there:

You turn up on time and hang around while others drift in. Someone spends the next 10 minutes looking for a chairman’s code so the “dial-in” attendees can participate. Then someone says, “Let’s start”. . . . . and everyone ignores him or her. Finally someone says, “Shall I chair this?”. “Oooo yes please”, comes the reply.
“Okay, what’s this about?”


SILENCE.


“Err, ok, lets look at the minutes of last month’s meeting. We got these yesterday, didn’t we?”
They all then go through some cryptic meeting notes and argue about what was really said. In fact for this one hour meeting, half of it is spent going over the last meeting. . . . with no progress at all and all the “agreements” made at the last meeting were disputed as the wording in the minutes was rather ambiguous.
“Sorry, I need to go”, says one person, “I have to walk the dog, she’ll chew the table legs if I don’t go.”
In a vain attempt to gain control the Chair says, “Let’s look at the actions from the preceeding meetings”. He then goes through them and they argue as to what the action really was and who was meant to do it. One action is done however, but no one can remember why it was needed or who the output was meant to go to.
“Ah,” says the Chair, “we are out of time, but could everyone stay on for another half hour? We do have some really important things to discuss.” He looks daggers at one person who walks out . . . .
He then lists the topics on a flip chart. The remaining attendees then discuss what order to take the “important items” in.
“Wasn’t there an agenda?”, says a new joiner (Aren’t they naive when they are young!).
“Oh no, we don’t go in for that bureaucracy. It’s such a waste of time. We always have the same agenda”.
They actually get through one item and then the meeting fizzles to a close.
“Well, that was good – we had that item sorted.”
“Did we?”
“Yes”
“Who got the action?”
“I don’t know; it’s not me any way”.
“Who was taking notes?”
“I don’t know. See you next time.”
“Who was on the conference phone?”
“I don’t know, we never asked . . . . “

I’m not sure if the story above reflects your reality or just pieces of reality; only you can tell, from your experience. In the meantime, if you end up in the “meeting from hell“, perhaps you can do something about it. and not be a victim. If you want , I could publish some “best practice” notes on meetings. Let me know.

More on Workstreams!

Earlier, I wrote a blog about the word “Workstream” and I promised some more on this problem word. See “So, what is a workstream?” In that blog I recommended you don’t use it, as it could mean almost anything a person wanted it to. Further it isn’t defined anywhere. Do you notice Mr Gates’ wobbly red line reminding you it’s not a real word?

In that blog, I finished by saying that if you do use the term, then define what you actually mean in your Programme Management Plan. You can only use four management procedures, so which is the most appropriate for you?

  • Managing  a programme, if your workstream is a sub-programme, or a grouping (portfolio) of projects.
  • Managing a project, if your workstream is actually a proper project
  • Managing a department, if your workstream is discipline based, say “the testing workstream”, “the training workstream”.
  • Managing a work package, if your workstream is simply a chunk of work.

I wonder how many people paid any attention to that blog! Why should they? If we can use a word that is a meaningless fudge and then pin the future of an organisation on it, then why not?

Seriously, though, most large organisations nowadays, have lots of programmes stuffed full of lots of things called “workstreams” and people really love the word. So let’s go with the flow. I expect the drafters for MSP felt the same way because in their 2011 edition, they defined the term workstream for the first time!!! This is their defintion:

A workstream is a logical grouping of projects and activities that together enable effective management. Workstreams may delineate projects against a variety of criteria.

They have a “hint box” in their new manual, which goes on to provide some advice. They say this is particularly relevant where there are many projects in a programme or where management control would be enhanced by sub-grouping the projects. One of the key factors for defining a workstream is to concentrate the dependencies, as much as possible, within the workstream. This is good advice and a workable defintion.

As such, translating that definition to published methods, we can see that a workstream is usually directed and managed using methods like MSP, as in effect, a workstream, using the above definition, is a sub-programme. A workstream sits logically in the WBS between “programme” and “”project/department”.

I think that is quite a good use of the word but, here is a WARNING: in many organisations the term, “workstream” has in practice already been used in so many different ways in the past that you should always check what definition is being used locally. For example, sometimes people talk of “testing” workstreams, which is in effect all the activities in whatever project, being undertaken by the Test Department. Similarly the “training workstream” is the work done by the training people anywhere in the programme. This usage does not fall into the MSP definition – it is not like a “sub-programme”. This usage is also very common in organisations which are low on programme and project management maturity and are still mostly run down the siloes.

So, despite the best attempts of the MSP folk to try and pin this one down, I think people will continue to do what they have done in the past and use whatever definition suits them at the time. So, one plea – if you do use the term, then define what you mean in your Programme Management Plan and say which of the four management approaches you’d use to manage it.

If you have any advice to provide or think you are using the term in the RIGHT way or better way (even if it’s different to what MSP says!), then let’s hear from you. If you run an company or organisation’s enterprise method, what would you say about this?

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.

A COMPLEXITY TOOL
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
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.

WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS AND EXPERIENCES?
If you have any views, observations, experience or suggestions on complexity, feedback through this blog.