Kiron Bondale (57)
It is a commonly held belief that in the absence of a higher driving need, people will focus on those activities or behaviors for which they are being measured and subsequently either positively or negatively reinforced. Given this premise, it should be no great revelation to leadership teams that if a balanced approach is taken by governance bodies to project oversight, this should result in a correspondingly greater incentive for project teams to consistently perform practices across all key project management knowledge areas.
This is why it never ceases to amaze me that the same senior stakeholders who complain about the lack of practice consistency across their project teams with regards to certain knowledge areas are equally guilty of forcing these same teams to focus on one or two specific constraints.
Please note that I’m not referring to the practice of communicating the priority of project constraints as it relates to the business objectives or key drivers for a project. That is an essential activity which will ensure that project and governance teams make the right types of trade-off decisions. For example, if a particular project is addressing a time-sensitive regulatory requirement, schedule is the primary driver and it is perfectly reasonable for the project team to propose decision recommendations which will protect project deadlines at the cost of other constraints such as scope or cost.
Those of us who have drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid don’t need to be sold on the benefits of project risk management. The challenge comes when we need to convince others, especially senior stakeholders such as project sponsors of the criticality of risk management practices.
If you are managing projects in a company which operates at a high degree of organizational project management maturity you might wonder why such marketing might be required. Your senior stakeholders likely possess the foresight and experience to understand the value of risk management, and if so, I envy you.
Unfortunately, most of us work for organizations where the perceived financial and behavioral costs of following consistent risk management practices outweigh the benefits. Usually these perceptions stem from one or more of the following causes:
Winter is coming, and in many parts of North America, sports fans thoughts turn to the drop of the puck which signals the start of the hockey season. I am reminded of Walter Gretzky’s advice to his son when considering the challenge companies face when attempting to match internal skills and capacity against future project demand.
With a traditional approach to annual planning, project requests are solicited, reviewed and analyzed. The resource requirements to deliver those projects are estimated at a high level and aggregated. These totals are then mapped against available capacity of required skills to determine how many projects can be completed. Invariably, demand exceeds supply so either resource augmentation is initiated in those companies which can afford to bring on additional staff or (more commonly) the project wish-list is culled through subjective selection and prioritization methods.
In companies which have adopted more dynamic planning approaches, while there is a better ability to shift resources away from projects which are not expected to deliver desired outcomes, there is still likely to be a variance between skills and capacity supply and demand.
Behind every successful project is an effective governance process. On smaller projects, this governance may be primarily driven by the efforts of the project sponsor and project manager, but on larger, more complex projects you may need to have multiple governance teams and processes to properly guide and support the project.
For those of you who have not experienced the pain of managing a project that is lacking appropriate governance, here are just a few of the issues which might be encountered:
- Inability to secure the committed allocation of required financial and people resources to deliver the project scope on time
- Inability to get those issues, actions and risks addressed which have been escalated beyond the authority level of the project team
- Protracted delays, excessive effort and staff frustration in getting key decisions made or, even worse, wasted effort and schedule impacts resulting from reversed or modified decisions
- Lack of buy-in from key stakeholders
- Insufficient visibility of the project’s importance at executive levels to secure sustained funding and perceived priority
If poor governance can be the cause of such lethal project impacts, wouldn’t you expect to see significant emphasis placed on this critical step?
In a previous article , I had suggested that there were project management lessons which could be learned from Star Trek (the Original Series) and while Captain Kirk might not always have been the archetype for a good project manager, the challenges faced and the diverse backgrounds, skills and personalities brought by the crew makes the analogy to project management reasonable.
At first glance, it might seem to be a much harder stretch to consider the TV reality show Survivor as a source of useful project management practices. After all, the show centers around a competition to win an individual prize so what parallels could be drawn to the project world where collaborative, aligned effort to meet common outcomes is required?
While this is true, the human dynamics are what makes the show interesting and those provide the source material for some useful lessons which are applicable.
When I wrote “I come to bury PMOs, not to praise them” in late 2009, I covered the challenges organizations experience in establishing PMOs and made the controversial hypothesis that many times, PMOs act more as a crutch enabling continued levels of poor organization project management maturity than as the vehicle to raise maturity. At that time, my point of view was vehemently opposed by some but over the past few years, I’ve started to see more evidence of this situation and have even seen other project management professionals start to share and communicate this belief.
Do I believe that PMOs should never be implemented?
Absolutely not, but I would advise careful consideration of an organization’s current project management maturity before proceeding with establishment of a PMO. While conditions such as committed executive sponsorship or sustained funding are commonly recognized as critical success factors for setting up PMOs, I’d like to propose that appropriate timing must be added to that list.
No one can argue that having a cohesive, focused team is critical to the success of a complex project.
The challenge for many project managers is figuring out how to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. This difficulty compounds when team members are not solely working on your project – maintaining a sense of shared purpose is almost impossible when team members are frequently context switching between activities.
Creating alignment and developing a high performing team starts as early as the project kickoff meeting, but how do you reduce the likelihood of enthusiasm flagging as time goes on?
Assuming you have worked with your project sponsor to come up with an inspiring name for the project, that’s a good start. With the exception of confidential projects, there are few good reasons for baptising projects with code names, techno-babble or convoluted acronyms. A well-crafted name can help to align stakeholder perceptions and can reduce misconceptions about the purpose of the project.
Unfortunately as project names are usually defined before most team members have been assigned to the project, there might be little team building benefit to be gained from having an inspiring name.
A common question that arises during project initiation is what is the optimal percentage allocation of a project manager to the project to ensure the "right" balance between cost and risk. This question should be distinguished from the determination of how much project management effort in total is required since multiple staff will participate in project management activities over a project's lifetime.
In a billable project, this question often generates significant “lively” discussion – depending on the customer’s project management maturity level and the desire of the sales team to win the business, it can sometimes be a tough sell to ensure there is sufficient allocation of effort and funding for the project manager. However, even in cases where the project effort is not being charged to someone, it is possible that there may be preconceived notions regarding what is a reasonable allocation of time.
Most of you will know that the only right answer for most project management scenario questions is “it depends” and this is no exception. Although there is no single formula to help you calculate how much of a project manager is needed as this can vary from as low as 5% to full-time allocation, it may be helpful to understand the factors which could affect involvement.
Risk management is a project management knowledge area which is very susceptible to individual biases. If not acknowledged and managed, these biases can significantly impact the value realized by taking a consistent approach to risk management.
A common instance of such biases relates to risk impact. Most practitioners are familiar with the relationship between tolerance to a risk and its perceived impact – low levels of impact are likely to be highly tolerated, but as impact increases, we reach a tipping point after which even incremental increases in perceived impact will result in a dramatically reduced risk tolerance, and often times, the cure may be worse than the potential of the disease.
A very tragic example of this took place within the first year following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A drastic reduction in airline passenger volume in North America was mirrored by a significant increase in the number of road fatalities as tourists chose to employ an alternate, statistically riskier method of travelling.
Media also helps to elevate our fears beyond reason – many will recall that the summer of 2001 was dubbed the “Summer of the Shark” due to a few highly publicized shark attacks, and yet, at year end, the number of shark-related attacks was no greater than in most years.
Risk management training covers the need to assess risks from more than just one dimension, but knowledge of such practices doesn’t help us if we let our natural (but prehistoric) “fight or flight” reaction drive our risk response.
No matter how good a job you do with planning your projects, if you are unable to effectively engage your team in delivering the scope of the project within approved constraints, you will fail.
Depending on the power structure of our organizations, as project managers, we might feel powerless to do more than proactively identify such issues. However, as I hope I conveyed in “Project Managers can Prevent the Three Signs of a Miserable Job”, just because we don’t have formal authority over team members doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to prevent team member disengagement.
I believe that the main barriers to team member progress relates to the following three C’s: Commitment, Capability & Capacity.
The need for commitment goes back to the saying I read on a fortune cookie a few years back: “People don’t lack strength, they lack will”. Commitment most closely relates to Lencioni’s three signs and is the dimension over which project managers should have the greatest influence.