Tuesday, 24 February 2015 14:16

Business Acumen as an Integral Part of Project Management, Part II

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Managing with a Business Architect’s Mindset: Redefining the classic Project Manager’s role to deliver substantial business value

This is the second part of a series on how the project management profession must evolve to remain a vital part of an organization’s success and deliver business value. The first part made the case that managing the triple constraint (time, cost and scope) is not enough anymore. To excel, project managers must go beyond the current project management practices and ensure that their projects bring full business alignment. This paper will build on that point of view and discuss what it means to manage a project with a business architect’s mindset.

The Vital Importance of Managing the Triple Constraint with a Business Architect’s Mindset

Most of the tools that project managers employ in their daily activities are designed to balance the project’s classic triple constraint: time, cost and scope. The fundamental flaw in using the triple constraint alone is that it relies on a specific set of metrics that are mere compilations of tactical numbers that do not necessarily keep the project manager remain focused on the business objectives. In fact, if taken to an extreme, they may become the enemy of the business objectives.

The time constraint may be the ‘friendliest’ metric for keeping focus on the business objectives, in that the business objectives may have a time criticality; for example being ‘first to market’. However, many times the timing of the capability being developed may not be the key driver of the business objective. There have been many examples where stronger executions of the business objective have been more important than being ‘first to market’. Apple Corporation keeps proving this point over and over with every new product introduction. Some of the most successful companies these days were not the first to market, such as Amazon Fresh, Facebook, and Google (anyone remember WebVan, MySpace and AltaVista?).

Cost is almost always an important factor for meeting business objectives. Most companies do not have unlimited resources so managing cost is an important aspect of project management. However, cost may be a relative item when it comes to business objectives and the project manager has to be in tune with this nuance. Not every element of the business objective has equal value and thus each element may have a different tolerance for cost. A project manager that deals with the cost constraint in a classic narrow manner may not be able to realize that certain costs are ‘willing to be paid’ to ensure business objectives are met.

The final constraint of scope has the potential of being the worst ‘enemy’ of meeting business objectives. The project manager, who is not in tune with the business objective and is solely focused on managing the scope, will surely make decisions that will keep the project on time and budget at the expense of making the business objective a reality. Many project managers believe ‘managing’ scope (translate: cutting scope) is an ‘important tool’ (translate: easiest, laziest) in helping deliver a ‘successful project’ (translate: on time and budget…but not meeting business objectives).

What is Business Architecture?

So the question that needs to be addressed is what ‘business architecture’ is and what characteristics are required to become a good ‘business architect’? Project managers usually have a good understanding of what technical architecture is, and the importance of having a good technical architect on board. They realize the importance of building a solution that is based on a solid technical architecture; it provides the framework needed to efficiently build a solution that is flexible during the project and beyond. They understand that it is imperative to have the technical architect define and build the appropriate architecture upfront. Business architecture provides the same benefits but from the perspective of the business objectives. With the appropriate business architecture defined upfront and managing the project with a ‘business architecture’s mindset’ enables the project manager to efficiently make project decisions with the business objectives in mind. We spend incredible time in our projects ensuring we have a robust technology architecture that can support growth, a large user base, extensible requirements, etc. but not enough time is spent on architecting the business that the solution supports.

A project manager that manages with a business architect’s mindset occupies the ‘space’ between the business and the organization delivering the capability to support the business objective (many times a project that is under the auspices of the IT department). In essence, this role fills the gap that usually exists between the operational side of an organization (that has responsibility of the business strategy) and the execution side of an organization (responsible for building a capability or an asset). If positioned correctly, the project manager will have credibility on both sides of the organization; empowering them to make decisions that delivers a successful project while meeting business objectives.

Project managers have to change their paradigm from thinking that their role is ‘delivering successful projects’ to embracing that their sole purpose is to ‘turn business vision into reality’. This requires them to be aware of the business strategy and objectives in the first place which starts with understanding business acumen (see first part of this series). They should measure their success not at the end of a ‘successfully delivered’ project (i.e. measured by meeting certain metrics), but potentially many months or years later to see whether the delivered capability ‘enabled’ the business objective.

Managing with a business architect’s mindset takes place during different aspects and phases of a project:

  • At project initiation, it requires a good understanding of the project’s business case. Not only an understanding is required, but ownership of the business case is also required to make sure the business case is updated along the way as the business environment changes.
  • During the requirements phase, it requires special listening skills to make sure they understand the business organization as they articulate the requirements (the ‘what’) of the capability needed. A good project manager will ensure the project team does not only understand ‘what’ is being requested but to also understand the ‘why’ as well…i.e. the meaning and purpose of the requirement.
  • In the heat of executing a project is where the business architect mindset really becomes important. That’s where a project has the tendency to focus on ‘getting things done’ and where many course corrections may be required. The project manager needs to be the compass to make sure the project stays focused on business objectives.

Developing Project Managers that Manage with a Business Architects Mindset

So how can a project manager learn how to manage with a business architect’s mindset? What skills are required? Can anyone become this kind of a project manager? Although, some of these skills are inherent to personality traits, we believe the majority of these skills can be developed as part of normal career development.

One of the key skills required of managing with a business architects’ mindset is the ability to be ‘multi-lingual’. What does this practically mean? Since the project manager is ‘sitting’ in the gap between the operational and the delivery organizations, it is imperative that they clearly interpret the objective and requirements into the ‘language’ that is understood by the project team. This is the simplest definition of business architecture; translating a business strategy objective in terms of a capability that needs to be developed (the business architecture). The capability has to be defined in such a manner that it can actually be delivered. This requires also understanding the language of the other side of the organization (for example understanding the technical limitations if the capability is a software solution). IT organizations definitely have their unique ‘language’; this may be related to a technology required to develop a capability, the methodology required to run a successful project or it may be the use of special phrases or ‘lingo’ that needs to be interpreted for deeper meaning.

These different language skills can be learned over time from experience, however they are also influenced by the choices we make throughout our career such as educational choices that are made early in life. For example, a project manager who has different flavors of education (for example an engineering degree combined with an MBA) may have an inherent advantage in speaking multiple languages fluently. The recent focus on the STEM degrees will help create future generations of strong project managers. Continuous education may also play part in this, for example a project manager with a strong educational background in business may choose to take technical classes to strengthen his IT language.

This concept of being multi-lingual is also being applied to other practices besides project management. The concept of ‘Test Driven Development’ is a best practice that is being socialized in technical circles. The gist of this best practice is to train the technical developers to include certain ‘business scenarios’ in their code so when they conduct unit testing it ensures a given business scenario is not compromised when changes are made to the code. A unit test checks that a piece of code performs correctly for its business case. This requires the developer to be in tune with the ‘language’ of the business and develop the code with the specific business cases in mind. A better description of the concept may be ‘Business Driven Development’.

In addition to being multi-lingual, it’s also beneficial to be multi-skilled; having interests in the varying areas. For example, it may require a person with a technical educational background develop interests in the business realm. This may be as simple as making a habit of reading weekly journals such as Time or Fortune magazine or even more focused industry specific journals. You cannot ‘speak’ one of these languages without showing a genuine interest. In other words, you need to have some ‘street cred’ before you can be accepted by these organizations. You cannot be ‘uninterested in’ or ‘fear’ technology and expect technical developers to respect your authority. They need to feel you identify with them and appreciate the complexity they deal with on a daily basis. The same is true for the business and operations side. Each organization has complexity they are dealing with and a good project manager will need to exhibit understanding and empathy for these complex issues.

Conclusions

  • The classic role and definition of a Project Manager is evolving…they must manage with a Business Architect’s mindset with primary goal of turning business objectives into reality
  • That means occupying the ‘space’ between the operational side and the delivery side of an organization
  • They must define business capability clearly to make sure it meets business objective and is also ‘do-able’
  • It requires the skill of being ‘multi-lingual’…interpreting business objectives into the ‘language’ that is understood by the delivery team
  • This skill can be gained through experience and career choices…e.g. college degrees and continuous education

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Herag Haleblian

Herag Haleblian is Founder and Managing Partner at KRE Consulting, where he is a key contributor to the company’s service offerings and solutions, including its Project Management Practice. In addition to his responsibilities at KRE, Herag has been a guest lecturer at local universities such as the University of Southern California as well as abroad such as the American University of Armenia.  He is also committed to giving back to community by serving on several non-profit boards such as the National Leadership Institute and his local church.

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