Be a nut, be a leader!


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;

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

I thought you were doing that!

If you haven't got accountability right, you could look pretty stupid.

If you haven’t got accountability right, you could look pretty stupid.

Whenever I am called into a conversation on who’s accountable for this or responsible for that, things soon get out of hand as everyone starts to argue what “RACI” means and forgets about why they are there. By the way, it should be “ARCI”, but that doesn’t sound very nice.

Putting that aside, let’s look at this from a different angle, which looks at mind-set and behaviour. I came across this approach from a New Jersey company called London Peret Roche.

Accountable: what a person is accountable for; it includes WHO they are accountable to. If they aren’t accountable to anyone, they won’t be held to account and no-one will be counting on them.

Responsible: As a “grown-up”, I act responsibly. If I see a banana skin on the floor, I pick it up and put it in the bin, so no-one slips and breaks their neck. I wasn’t “accountable” for the banana skin; I merely acted responsibly i.e. as if I was the cause.

We all need to work together in programme and project teams and often are “counting on each other” to deliver or do certain things. If I spot something wrong in someone else’s area, I shouldn’t just ignore it, just because I’m not accountable. I should let the “accountable person” know and even offer to help them solve it, if I have the knowledge and skills needed. In programme and project teams we all succeed or fail together.

So let’s look at this in the context of a programme or project and see how this works.

The person who is accountable is not necessarily the person who does the work, but the one who sees that it is done. This is useful in planning projects. You should be familiar with the accountabilities of the project sponsor and project manager. The project manager is accountable to the project sponsor for managing the work on a day-to-day basis, ensuring the deliverables are in place at the required time, quality and cost. He or she cannot do it all, or in many cases manage it all. We all should also know how a project should deconstructed into life cycle stages. This decomposition can be followed through with major packages of work being made the accountability of a particular, named, team manager. These work packages may be divided into smaller work packages and ultimately into individual activities and tasks. This deconstruction is called a work breakdown structure. It is fundamental to good governance and planning and also forms the basis of reporting and escalations. So you see, accountability starts at the top and trckles down. If you aren’t clear on accountability, you have no governance in place.

In practice, single point accountability means every task, activity and work package at any level in the work breakdown structure has a person named as accountable for it. This has four advantages:
– It is clear what is expected of each person.
– Overlaps should be eliminated as no deliverable can be created within two different work packages.
– If a gap in accountability appears (due to loss of a team member, for example or a plain error), the next person up the tree is accountable to fix it.
– If scope, cost or time proves to be inadequate to create the deliverables, it is clear who is accountable for raising these issues.

In practice, accountability is shown in the way that project plans (bar charts) are designed. The examples given in the planning chapter (21) in the Project Workout, clearly show accountability.

In programmes and projects it is essential that accountabilities are clearly stated and are unambiguous so everyone knows who is called to account and who they are accountable to. Similarly, team commitment should be fostered, which promotes responsible and open behaviour by all team members. Knowing who is accountable is not about placing blame (blame games seldom achieve anything but angst), it should be about clarity over who is doing what and knowing who to talk to.

For more on accountability in The Project Workout 5th edition, Chapter 15.

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 more about this topic in the Project Workout website, articles section or in The Programme and Portfolio Workout, Chapter 25.

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.

Sponsors – ignore your stakeholders at your peril

Keeping stakeholders engaged can be challenging

As a programme or project sponsor, the formal and informal interactions with your project manager will probably form your primary linkage for directing a project. You should not, however, rely solely on this route for information gathering. Remember, benefits do not come from the project itself, but from using the deliverables and outputs the project produces – those who use the outputs are called stakeholders! Engage them and keep engaging them. Listen to what they are saying, how they say it, what they are not saying and observe what they are doing.

  • Are they walking the talk?
  • Are they saying one thing but doing the opposite?

Even a good project manager will not pick up all the ‘messages’ from stakeholders, so do not think you are undermining him or her by checking behind the scenes, especially with those all important, senior stakeholders.

Be particularly sensitive if people start withdrawing resources:

  •   for their “other” really important project’;
  •   because they have lost confidence in you;
  •   because another sponsor has leant on them.

Is this their way of blocking your project? Are their people really engaged and signed up to the solution, or merely paying lip service? Never underestimate stakeholders’ ability to ruin your best laid plans, especially in a “weak matrix” organisation! It is the project manager’s and project sponsor’s role to ensure all stakeholders are adequately briefed and engaged. Too much communication will drown them – they won’t bother with it. Not enough will mean your project will be lower down their priority list than you want it to be. Agree with your project manager which stakeholders each of you will target.

There is also a series of articles from Project Manager Today, on sponsorship, in the Project Workout website.

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.

Business cases, lies and gambles

Earlier in the year, I was at an Isochron forum at which Simon Harris gave his personal perspective on “business cases”. His presentation didn’t pull any punches; he described most business cases as lies on the basis that most of them are constructed to “clear a hurdle”. A little bit of “optimism” or a smattering of “delusional thinking” was all it needed to create a great case and get a pat on the back . . . . and the funding. His recent article in Project Manager Today takes on the same topic but with slightly less colourful language. Basically, he is challenging organisations’ attitudes and values around deciding their futures. Looking at Simon’s list of “headlines”, it becomes apparent that a portfolio, programme and projects approach is a great vehicle for managing investments. Not only can they deal with capital efficiency, but also cash, risk, resourcing, cross-company working, capital efficency to name a few.
Here is my “listening” on Simon’s points. Do you agree? Do you take a different view?

Facts, not justification
Most business cases are written by the advocate to “justify” an already fixed view , rather than presenting an unbiased appraisal of the actors influencing the investment decision.

Investment, not gamble
When betting, you place a known amount of money with the bookie, for a known return, should you win. In business cases, you spend an unknown amount of money (it keeps changing!) for an uncertain return. It makes the business case sound worse than a gamble, doesn’t it? This is where good project governance comes in. In a gamble you spend all the money NOW.  A wise buiness leader (project sponsor), manages the risk by taking a staged approach and makes incremental decisions as he or she gains more information. That is what project lifecycles are for!

The place of portfolio management
The responsibility of those appraising business cases is to compare the return on this one, against everything else we are doing and could do. This requires a “portfolio management” approach. Without a portfolio approach, you have no context for the decisions – it is merely a “one at a time” game.

Sunk costs are really sunk
As a project progresses, the amount being spent decreases (unless you really have a disaster on your hands!). The money spent is “sunk”. What is important is the return on the “still to spend” amount and how it compares with other options. Of course, if you do not have a portfolio approach, you can’t do this. If the return is poorer than other options, then terminate the investment. Of course, the sunk costs will have to be written off (if they are capital) but risk provisions should take account of that.

Money is easier to deal with than people

Oddly, money is usually the easiest thing to deal with, if you have sufficient cash. You can store it and it is very simply what it says it is – money. Naturally, accountants like to treat some as “capital” and some as “opex” but that is another game. If money is all that is looked at when appraising business cases, then an organisation is in big trouble. Unless there is the right number of skilled people to work on the investment and operate/use its outputs, there will be no benefit, just a cost. It’s why the government business cases look at “achievability”.

Be sensitive to sensitivity
One thing is certain, the forecast of both costs and benefits will be wrong. This why it is better to think in terms of ranges and envelopes, within which an investment is still viable. This is where sensitivity and scenario analyses come in. As time progress, the future should become clearer and the return on the “still to spend” amount stabilising. It’s all about risk management.

Of course, you also need to keep track of costs on “project investments”, wherever they are spent. That is what modern matrix accounting is for.

Leadersip by command or intent?

I was at the Regents College (European Business School) earlier this year at a Business forum I am a member of. That evening’s speaker was Duncan Christie Miller and his theme was “The History and Reality of Modern Day Leadership”.  Being a military man, he used a number of military examples, showing how different styles can affect outcomes.

I’ll simplify his talk. First he showed a clip of a film where the general was on the high ground and the troops all lined up in the centre, with cavalry on the wings. All good stuff. The general gave “commands” and won the battle.

However, a later example had the same scenario but guns and cannons had been invented and very soon, the smoke obscured the battle field and the general was unable to give effective directions. The “line of command” approach had broken down. . . . and yes, he lost.

The Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz came up with an answer. Rather than the general giving direct commands which MUST be obeyed, the general gives his “intent” to his commanders, and they had to make decisions on the ground, based on their own judgement, concerning what to do to ensure the general’s intent was achieved. It worked rather well. In fact a commander could be disciplined for “blindly obeying” an order. This was totally unknown in the British army at the time, where “command”  was so strong, that people knowingly did stupid things, when ordered – do you remember the charge of the light brigade? Duncan said perhaps this “command” approach is still too strong,  as witnessed by a British warship standing by doing nothing while Somali pirates recently took over a merchant ship under their noses while they waited for instructions from London.

The shift from line of command to line of intent in the Prussian army happened in order to react to a different and more complex (and smoky) environment. The old way of fighting was dead and the new ways required a different approach.

Duncan concluded by asking the attendees how relevant this story is in the modern, complex business world, where, like a general, the CEO or VP up a chain of command cannot see it all and know it all. He said, there is still a place for “commands” but perhaps, “intent” is more powerful for much of what we do.

Here is an example from my early civil engineering days. In 1979, I was in Yemen, on a team of five, supervising a harbour construction (at today’s costs about £100m). We had no phones and no internet. There were two telex machines in the local post office with limited access, some 2 miles from the site.  Most communication was via the weeklyAir France flight which took the post – turn-round time alomost 3 weeks. The “intent” was communicated to us by means of the drawings and specifications and we had to make week by week and day by day decisions, based on what happened on the ground. It worked. We made a lot of decisions with no reference to “head office” and the harbour complex was completed on time and underbudget. Yasar Arrafat opend it!   I rather think that in these more modern days of instant 24/7 communications, we  would never be allowed that freedom. In fact cofusion would have increased as head office could have “interfered” from a distance with no direct view of what was actually happening on the ground. Insttead the focussed on the really big issues, uncluttered by th minutiae of day to day construction.

So in that situation, line of intent was probably more effective than direct commands. Only “big” commands were needed and these were never urgent.

What’s your view on this? have you anyreal-life  stories and experience to share on the pros and cons of the two approaches? Join in the discussion.