In my last post, Guiding Community Change, we looked at how a community based initiative went from being a source of distrust and discord to a shining example of collective and collaborative community action. That fundamental change in direction delivered a community asset that will be enjoyed by present and future generations for years to come.
I just read an article written by a consultant for PMs about avoiding project mishaps. How interesting and typical that a project management consultant would suggest the answer is to bring in more consultants and project managers to save the day. Yet, some of the concepts were right on track – too few resources, lack of skills, lack of focus and of course everything is high priority.
Projects don’t fail because teams lack the skill or the will to succeed. They fail because they fall into the Void – the space where the org chart fails to establish clear owners and aligned incentives. In the Void, things slip through the cracks, conflicts don’t get resolved and progress screeches to a halt.
Who doesn't want to perform optimally?
Performance is action to accomplish a project, task or function. It may relate to painting, dance, software development, accounting, cooking, or living effectively in a relationship. High functioning people want to optimize their performance to make sure they sustainably meet ever-changing success criteria, like satisfying customers, staying on budget, etc., while adjusting for current conditions and balancing thoroughness and efficiency so as to not overtax the resources at hand.
Kicking off a new project can be an interesting and rewarding experience. It can also be a nightmare. The difference between the two is often determined by just a little proper forethought and planning in advance of the initial customer contact and kickoff preparation process. The kickoff process is never simple and easy – it does require a fair amount of planning and effort. However, a project that is kicked off well will properly set customer expectations, possibly even senior management expectations, and get the critical project planning process that happens next off to the best start possible. All of these are key ingredients of success on any project.
Judging by its use in the popular media, the term "narrative" explains, well, just about everything. Google “narrative” and among the 21,900,000 results are references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mitt Romney’s lackluster presidential campaign, the doping scandal in Major League Baseball, and the impact of Lindsay Lohan's personal life on her most recent movie. Buried among these results are a significant number of hits that link project management and narrativity. For the most part, they propose using narrative as a tool to structure progress reporting or to shape change management processes. What they don’t do - and what is the focus of this discussion - is to compare this new concept of narrative with its more traditional definition, involving concepts like plot, character, and author, in order to suggest how it might be fruitfully applied to project management and the role of the project manager.
Each year we like to reflect on what’s happened in the business analysis, project management, and Agile professions and make our predictions for the upcoming year.
To summarize the trends we saw in 2014:
- Continued excitement about Agile projects with more informal communications and documentation and use of modeling tools to get from high-level user stories to detail needed to estimate and build them
- Focus on Design
- Cloud computing
- Greater interest in business analysis by project managers.
Below are the seven new trends we see in the Project Management and Business Analysis fields for 2015.
Your career goal wasn’t to be a Project Manager (PM). You haven’t read the 589-page tome, Project Management Body of Knowledge, and you don’t include “PMP” among your professional credentials. Yet you find yourself making schedules, dealing with budgets, and reporting success metrics to stakeholders. What’s going on?
You’re not the first person to have fallen into the role of “accidental project manager.” As hierarchy is becoming more horizontal and org charts have more dotted lines than solid lines, the administration of work is no longer reserved for trained specialists. For all intents and purposes, work is comprised of projects, and projects need to be managed—by someone.
In the IT world especially, accidental project managers fall into two groups: those who are managing projects but don’t think of themselves as PMs (i.e., pretty much everyone), and those who have fallen into a more official PM role because of their natural aptitude or inclinations.
With ever new year comes well intentioned change resolutions so perhaps your company has agile transformation as a key resolution. While agile is no longer a fad, there continue to be organizations which struggle with transitioning from traditional project management approaches. This can unfortunately result in a “been there, done that, never again!” outcome.
I’m neither an agile fanatic nor a Luddite.
I’ve always encouraged using or adapting the most appropriate approach, practices and tools given the context of a project and the culture within the organization and team. Having witnessed the tangible benefits which can be realized when an organization effectively embraces agile approaches, I am an advocate who would like to see fewer failures.
As we think about the New Year, we should review our projects. Since projects are the lifeblood of most organizations (as their success or failure impacts customers, profit/ loss and or cash flow in almost every client), why wouldn’t we take this opportunity to make sure we are focusing on the “right” projects to move our organizations forward rapidly? In essence, take stock of projects.
One area that all of my clients have in common is that they have too many projects going at the same time – without exception. Since the marketplace is changing rapidly, it feels as though everyone is playing catch-up while simultaneously trying to grow the business and manage costs. Thus, to be successful, focus is required. How should we prioritize projects? I’ve found a few simple guidelines to work: 1) Fit with strategy. 2) Impact 3) Urgency 4) Change
I’m wondering if you think this post will be about the Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe? Well, it’s not. Before there was SAFe, there was good old-fashioned “safety” from an agile team perspective. And that’s where I want to go in this piece. So just a warning that no scaling will be discussed.
I often advise teams and organizations that are contemplating “going Agile” to consider safety as a factor when running their retrospectives. I share the “Galen-rule” around not inviting or having “managers” in the teams’ retrospective.
This usually gets the attention of the managers in the room and we have a lively debate around why I’m recommending this. They normally get quite defensive and start explaining how effective they’ve been in driving results from the retrospectives. How the team produces plans and action logs from each retrospective and how they hold each other accountable to those results.
According to PMI, most organizations could do better when it comes to Project Portfolio Management. Only 9% of the organizations rate themselves as doing excellent PPM. Moreover, a mere 42% of all projects are aligned with the overall corporate strategy, and on average 89 cents of each dollar invested in projects is well spent.
Based on PMI’s report and our own research, we foresee four game-changing trends for Project Portfolio Management, to be effective by or before 2017:
1. PPM is a true competitive differentiator
In 2017, there will be much less room for mistakes. Organizations have little or no financial reserves left, so cannot risk a faulty project. Besides, the pace of innovation is still increasing and with ubiquitous social media the importance of ‘reputation’ – or rather: the avoidance of ‘loss of face’ - is more important than ever. This requires well-orchestrated PPM processes in order to make the right investment decisions and protect current assets.
Why do things the hard way? The hard way takes more time, requires more effort, is usually frustrating, is more prone to error and generally doesn't work as well. The hard way is more likely to involve rework and unnecessary conflict.
Does anyone of sound mind consciously decide to do things the hard way? It usually happens because they didn't plan effectively or they followed an approach without assessing its quality. Often doing things the hard way over and over again happens because no one takes the time to learn from experience or question the status quo. Sometimes, however, people take a harder way because it minimizes risk, making it the easy way under some circumstances. Sometimes the hard way is chosen for the challenge or as an experiment to see if it is better than some other way.
Effective planning means taking the time and effort to identify the optimal approach for doing what you want to do, laying out the tasks, roles and responsibilities and figuring out the time it will take and how much it will cost. It includes assessing and managing risk and establishing procedures. Planning, appropriately scaled, applies not only to big projects but to just about anything you want to do, from the simplest tasks to the largest programs. Identifying the optimal approach, the best way, implies looking at alternatives. Effective planning makes sure you don't do things the hard way.
In my company, we operate IT projects under Prince 2 . For some types of software delivery we find agile methods are appreciated our customers. In these cases we use the two approaches in a complimentary way - software products of the Prince 2 project are delivered using an agile method. We find the sweet spot for Agile methods is in-house development where requirements are uncertain, there are changing needs and the development team size is 2 to 6 relatively experienced people.
The 2013 State of Agile Survey results give an industry wide view of the perceived benefits of agile methods, while Rico’s paper on the business value of agile project management , gives an overview of quantitative studies of the benefits. In terms of agile methods my company typically uses Extreme Programming and Scrum .
The advantages of agile methods that we appreciate are:
- An agile development can effectively accommodate strict time constraints (by number of iterations) and budget constraints (the cost of the team for the number iterations) managing scope (which features from the backlog are scheduled) and maintaining required quality.
- The discipline of delivering user valued functionality in time bound iterations manages many risks. In a project where the customer has tested and accepted deliveries every two weeks it is difficult to find a sign-off block towards the end. Any deviation from planned velocity is visible from the first iterations.
- Detailed requirements analysis is done just in time so less time wasted in detailing requirements or features never built.
- Early iterative delivery sometimes allows return on investment earlier.
When we think about brand, we usually think of the companies which have left indelible marks on our psyche due to the either positive or negative outcomes we have experienced with their products and services. Apple provides a great example of the power of positive branding – just thinking about that organization and its products brings a smile to the faces of many people.
How does brand help?
It provides marketing support to enable companies to distance themselves from their competition, especially when the products or services they offer cannot be easily differentiated based solely on price or features.
While this is important during prosperous times, it is crucial during economic downturns. Southwest Airlines was one of the few North American air carriers to survive and even thrive through the crippling fallout which impacted most of its competitors after 9/11.
In my last post, Ten Steps to Lean Success, we looked at the approach new owners took with a successful, forty year old, formerly family owned manufacturing company to improve bottom line results. They used just the right blend of project and change management best practices and lean techniques to transform the organization and improve performance while retaining and growing their customer base.
In this post, we’ll see how a community based initiative went from being a source of distrust and discord to a shining example of collective and collaborative community action. That fundamental change in direction delivered a community asset that will be enjoyed by present and future generations for years to come.
Thanks to L.P. for the details on this case.
Community initiated projects can be as challenging as major business or technology changes. Local community groups with volunteer boards and volunteer members often tackle major new facilities or services, whether it’s a park, a playground, a swimming pool, community center or arena. However, there’s typically no one individual who has the final say (although some try and act the part), there are generally few specialists within the organization to address the unique needs of the project and there is often little money available to fund the planned venture. No final authority, limited skills and little money usually equals big risk.
“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Teams have the potential of exponentially empowering an organization as every member completes the other and in turn creates synergy. Creating and managing effective teams is a challenge worth taking on as the benefits of synergy are a great reward.
This article offers some thoughts on transforming and managing effective teams in the workplace.
Forget good to great. Here's what makes a great team member remarkable.
Great colleagues are dependable, diligent, proactive, reliable, great leaders and great followers... they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but hard to find—qualities.
Christmas is special, in part, because it only happens once a year. Building on that concept, Mark Horstman, co-founder of Manager Tools, coined the “Christmas rule”:
“If you do it rarely, and it's important, you're likely to underperform.”
Christmas is a major activity for many of us. Since we don’t look for decorations and cook a turkey every day, it’s no wonder that we struggle with planning Christmas. Planning projects have just the same difficulty.
The Christmas rule means we can’t expect to be highly proficient at tasks that we do infrequently. That’s why it feels so difficult when we move to a new house (but moving companies do it each and every day with a lot less stress).
Consider the case of a project manager who works on three to five large projects a year. She may have a major planning session in December or January and then move on into project execution. Many of us are planning our projects (and career objectives!) for next year right now. If your planning abilities are out of practice, use these tips to reinforce your planning capabilities.
If you’ve followed my blogging at all, you know that I’ve worked for several companies in the last 6-8 years that have colored my thinking as an agile coach. Sure, I’ve coached a wide variety of other organizations, but there’s nothing like being an employee of a company and assuming the role of technical leader and agile coach to get your attention each day.
One of those companies was iContact (now Vocus), which develops an email marketing SaaS platform. This story comes from my time spent there working with some wonderful development teams.
Conflict and Confusion
We had a fairly well established Scrum instance at iContact. And the teams had generally received entry-level Scrum training at one time or another, so everyone was relatively on the same page. One of the things I noticed early on though was quite a bit of what I’ll call – role confusion.
In the world of construction projects, cost and time management usually have a greater influence than scope management — despite how big they are.
Having said that, construction projects usually suffer from cost and time overruns. In some cases, those can be a symptom of productivity issues. However, if we better analyse their root causes, we will discover they are issues in the overall value management of the final project deliverables.
Productivity problems are widely analysed and studied by construction companies and general contractors. In this analysis, it is mostly taken by time and cost management, as these are the constraints that ultimately influence the main decisions about the management of a construction project.
The management of a construction project is generally done as follows:
The scope is first analysed by the company that sponsors the project. After that, this analysis is passed to the construction company that, in the execution of the project, will update the scope according to the sponsor change requests. During this work the focus will be on the management of the relationships among the main project stakeholders in a construction project.
In my last post, Beware the Change within a Change, we looked at the damage done when one organization didn’t pay sufficient attention to a change within a change. It’s easy to get distracted when dealing with a major project, like an acquisition. But, as we learned, being busy with a big change is no excuse for ignoring other significant changes that are going on concurrently. Appropriate oversight and diligence is always needed.
In this post, we’ll review the approach new owners took with a successful, forty year old, formerly family owned manufacturing company to improve bottom line results. They used just the right blend of project and change management best practices and lean techniques to transform the organization and improve performance while retaining and growing their customer base.
Thanks to D.N. for the details on this case.
This manufacturing organization had been recently acquired by a private equity firm. The acquirers justified the acquisition on a number of factors: the company had a long history of success, profitability and growth; it had a diverse and loyal customer base; it had narrow but very competitive product lines; the family wanted to sell. In addition, there was an expectation that profitability could be boosted significantly by improving manufacturing productivity and quality and offering a suit of new products.
“You are remembered for the rules you break.”
Anyone who has studied the history of medicine will notice that some of our biggest breakthroughs have been the result of a single scientist breaking the rules. History tells us these are the same people who have also effectively changed a conventional paradigm. For example, the world is flat, wash your hands, earth revolves around the sun. Often times, the rule-breaking scientist pays a considerable price for being a change agent. The pain of change forces an outlandish idea to become a piece of conventional wisdom.
Even in the social sciences, we often see rule breaking as a means to progress and enlightenment. Just look at Rosa Parks and others like her during the Civil Rights Movement. Nelson Mandela in the face of Apartheid. Ronald Reagan challenge to Gorbachev to tear the wall down.
Project results drive business performance! In my experience in working with countless companies ranging from small to multi-billion dollar ones, I’ve yet to run across one that wasn’t dependent on project results to meet critical company objectives. Actually, quite the opposite is typically the case – too many projects with too few resources are vital to performance. Thus, those executives who find ways to ensure project success will outpace the competition.
For example, one of my significant manufacturing aerospace clients is experiencing delivery challenges. Thus, there are several projects which are geared towards improving the order fulfilment processes to improve delivery performance. If they do not deliver results, customers will leave. What could be more important than that?
The bottom line is that project failure is not an option! Yet 0% of my clients have enough resources, and they are especially short on the right resources with the right skills to deliver these projects. Given this state of affairs, it is important to understand the top project pitfalls – and, of course, how to avoid them.