Author: Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected]

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Project Partnerships Pay Dividends

“If we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail.”- Winston Churchill

A project is a unique beast. It’s a method of delivering change, hopefully in an organized and predictable fashion. Yet it can be a challenging exercise, requiring people who often don’t know each other and haven’t worked with each other to come together, coalesce around a common vision and sweat the details to deliver something better.

Partnership structures, both formal and informal, are vital for the effective collaboration and decision-making so essential to a project’s success. Formal partnerships define the structures, accountabilities, roles and responsibilities of the key players and can manifest as an organizational structure, RACI chart and similar artifacts in a project setting. Informal partnerships tend to form between and among project participants based on shared mission, vision, culture, core values and shared interests.

The following case demonstrates that, regardless of the nature of the planned change, project partnerships pay dividends, for the better, in myriad ways.

Thanks to Y.N. for the details on this story.

Situation

This international bank acquired the life insurance operations from a large multinational insurance organization that was struggling in the aftermath of the great recession of 2008. However, investment in the insurance branch had stagnated and it found itself behind its competition in terms of business process productivity and technology offerings.

The VP of Marketing and VP of Underwriting were aware of the challenges they faced and, working together, developed a plan to make their operations and offerings more competitive. They proposed the development and implementation of an electronic application for the independent agents that sold their products to clients. It would be an attractive package, easy to learn and use, improve front end productivity for the agents and the bank’s staff, reducing errors and producing a completed policy for the majority of clients in considerably less time than the current systems allowed.

The two VP’s, with their CEO’s assistance, were able to secure funding from their parent company for the project. And so the journey began.

The Goal

Implement an electronic application for life insurance for the company’s independent agents to increase business by 50% over three years and reduce unit costs by 30%. The project budget was set at $3 million with a 12 month duration.

The Project

With the funding in hand, the two VP’s, the project’s co-sponsors, proceeded to staff the project. They agreed on an experienced senior SME from the underwriting group as the business PM and approached the leader of the PMO to secure the technology PM.

The sponsors had identified the selection of the technology PM as a high risk. The technology organization the insurance company relied on was part of the bank’s organization and took direction from the bank’s executives, not from the insurance operation. The sponsors needed a tech PM who would be willing and able to collaborate openly with them and the business PM, who would focus on the target business solution, not just on the technology components. They succeeded in securing the services of a PM with more than twenty years of experience at the bank. More importantly, he was a great communicator and thoroughly familiar with the insurance company’s technology infrastructure.

The sponsors charged the two PM’s with three priorities:

  1. Define the requirements for the project,
  2. Develop and issue an RFP for the solution based on those requirements and
  3. Review the RFP submissions and recommend a course of action for the sponsors’ consideration.

The business PM brought in two business analysts to work with independent agents and administrative staff to understand their needs going forward. They focused on the business processes and rules that needed to be supported. They also addressed the non-functional needs such as performance, ease of use, flexibility, continuity of service and security.

Concurrently, the tech PM worked with the Lead Technology Officer and his staff to establish the needs of the technology organization including architectural compliance, authorization requirements, service level administration and service desk, change management, system administration, output management and system administration needs. As the business needs evolved, he also worked with the application support group to identify interface requirements and any interface standards that needed to be met.

As the business and technology needs were being discovered, the PMs worked together to draft the RFP, identify potential candidates for providing the solution and contact those vendors to determine their level of interest. The tech PM also explored the possibility of an internally developed solution with the application development organization. He discussed his findings with the business PM and the sponsors. They decided not to pursue the option further because of a lack of any strategic advantage and greater risks associated with a from scratch, home grown solution.

The requirements gathering was a collaborative effort across the board. Independent agents and their staff were consulted. Managers and senior staff in the organizations that would be affected by the project were engaged. The collective “wants” were subjected to a priority setting MuSCoW process (Must, Should, Could and Would) that was widely vetted and endorsed, from operating staff through to the sponsors.

The finalized RFP was reviewed and approved widely before being passed to the interested vendors. The RFP submissions and vendor presentations were made available and open to all affected parties as well as the final RFP assessments and recommendations.

When a vendor was finally selected, the project scaled up quickly. The vendor, who planned to do most of the development work offshore, designated a project manager and business analyst as the local contacts. They were embraced by the business and tech PMs and worked seamlessly with the in-house staff and the project’s sponsors.

The vendor selection process had placed a priority on matching the company’s requirements to the functionality offered by the various software packages. As a result, the software from the selected vendor required very few functional changes. The majority of the effort was focused on building and implementing the interfaces to the company’s infrastructure and back end applications. That helped reduce costs, accelerate delivery and ensure a quality solution.

When issues did arise, the PMs adopted a sidebar strategy that involved initial one on one discussions with the affected stakeholders followed by collaborative group meetings if necessary. That approach made everybody feel a part of the solution. The PMs were never blindsided by an issue at a steering committee meeting and that increased the sponsors’ confidence in their management abilities and their project oversight.

As development progressed and the solution took shape, demonstrations and “Tell us what you think” sessions were offered to the independent agents and their staff and to the company’s underwriting and administrative staff. The feedback was extremely positive. Suggestions for improvement were captured, most were implemented in short order and the requestors rewarded for their contributions.

The testing plan addressed the required business functionality, of course. But it also covered the non-functional requirements (including usability, performance, flexibility and security) that would be key to the application’s ultimate success. Finally, the application was phased in by region and product line with ample on-site support for the early adopters. Although there were very few defects encountered, the approach made those involved feel enthusiastic about the new application. The word quickly spread that this was a very positive change for the better.


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The Results

The implementation of the electronic application went seamlessly. It was phased in by region and product line to minimize the impact and risk. It was a well-liked solution. The user feedback was great and user adoption exceeded targets. The project was also essentially on plan and budget, a little under budget actually and a bit late because of the phase implementation. Business volume in the first two years increase by 37% and was expected to exceed the 50% target in three years. Unit costs in the first two years were down by 36%. The sponsors were thrilled. Project partnerships pay dividends indeed!

How a Great Leader Succeeds

It’s no surprise that successful projects reveal a common and consistent set of qualities and practices. Check out this blog and others that focus on project success and failure and you’ll see those success factors at play again and again, including the following best practices:

Set your goals – In the words of the New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else”. The two sponsor of this initiative knew what they wanted, why they wanted it, set concrete goals to guide them and shaped the project to achieve them. The PMs and other key stakeholders marched to the same drummer.

Partnerships all around – The co-sponsors partnered on their vision, on their pitch to the bank to secure funding and with their PMs to deliver the solution. The PMs partnered on their plan and with their constituents (business, technology, project and vendor) to gain insights and consensus and deliver successfully. They used their sidebar strategy to engage stakeholders and form a partnering and collaborative culture.

Know your requirements – The PMs and BAs drove the requirements process though individual engagement, collaboration, iteration and repetition. They focused not only on the business aspects but on the non-functional and quality needs. The process they used, from inception, through the RFP exercise, to testing and post-implementation offered an openness and willingness to change and evolve to make it right for everyone involved.

Manage the change – The focus of the project from the get-go was on the business solution, not the technology, and on the people who would have to acquire new skills, attitudes and behaviours to achieve the project’s goals. The people who were affected were invited, on numerous occasions and in different contexts, to contribute their knowledge, issues, concerns, thoughts and suggestions. As the project progressed through its various stages, they were able to see their contributions reflected in the evolving solution. That increased their comfort with the change, their satisfaction with the project’s direction and their confidence in their abilities to handle the change going forward.

Phase it – There is nothing worse than flipping the switch on a major change and watching it seize up and implode. It’s almost impossible to recover from that kind of setback, politically, professionally and organizationally. If you want proof, check out The Great Canadian Payroll Debacle and Start Your Project with PACE, two previous posts in this blog. The three PMs agreed on a slow, phased rollout by region and product line to minimize the risks and gain experience and user support. The sponsors endorsed the strategy. The early adopters loved the notoriety that went with being the first to use the offering. When the first implementations succeeded without a hitch, there were high-fives all around and the word got out.

So, as you work on your current project and when you tackle your next project, consider these points as proven ways to improve overall project performance. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three best practice based building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors for managing change.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Leverage Passion to Power Performance

“The pursuit of excellence with unrestrained passion can lead to the accomplishment of wonders with unsurpassed joy.”

― Aberjhani, American-born multi-genre author

It’s tough to spend time on introspection and self-development with all the other demands on our time. Our job, family, friends and extra-curricular activities all demand attention. And before that, our bodies require a third of every day for rest and fuel. But, without reflection, selection and pursuit of personal development opportunities and goals, we will stagnate. How can we avoid that outcome? Leverage passion to power performance.

Passion is the force multiplier. We know that from experience. When we’re passionate about something, we tend to spend the time we need to pursue it to fruition. When we’re passionate about our priorities, they get attention.

However, our priorities change. The urgent tends to squeeze out the important unless we keep up our guard. How can we keep up our guard? Adopting a program or process that integrates our priority activities into our daily regimen is one approach. For example, if our passion is getting and staying in shape, joining a gym to improve fitness can help. Unfortunately, according to one study, 80 percent who joined a gym in January quit within five months.

Something else is required to keep us focused. And that’s what Keith Abraham, a performance consultant, offers – programs that help individuals, teams and organizations focus and sustain their passion on their top priorities. His programs anchor that commitment by helping build an in depth understanding of the competing challenges and priorities and mobilizing the passion needed for success.

As managers, wouldn’t it be amazing to have staff with in-depth understanding of the challenges and priorities in their lives, who had plans to pursue their passions and managed their plans to successful completion? Wouldn’t it be great if our teams had the same insight? And our organizations? Read on and see how Keith’s approach helped one organization and the involved individuals achieve stellar performance gains while adding lasting value.

Situation

Keith Abraham has engaged with over 1.6 million people in 29 countries over his 23 years in this business. He has a 95% client repeat rate. In fact 57% of his clients have made use of his services at least 6 times, 34% more than 10 times.
According to Keith, he “has researched how top performing people harness their PASSION, achieve their GOALS and FOCUS on what’s most important to bring the best out of themselves and their businesses.”

He has discovered the link between best performance, and people who are passionate about their life: “Establishing true goal alignment enables an individual to live their personal and professional lives energised, and with direction.”

Keith has a client base of over 300 companies and has won numerous awards including the highest honour for professional speaking, the Nevin Award, and Keynote Speaker of the Year by the Australian National Speakers Association.

Keith develops and tailors a wide variety of programs for individuals, teams and companies. How does he do it? He starts out with a comprehensive model that captures his years of experience and research.

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The model incorporates Keith’s accumulated knowledge and provides the foundation for building a multitude of offerings to address a wide diversity of client needs. It also provides a framework for incorporating new learnings as they arise. Take a look at the factors included in the model from the Passion center on out. How many have you addressed in your life, your career, your family, your organization? Intimidating isn’t it. That’s one reason why Keith’s offerings have such impact. Most of us are uninformed and unprepared on these fronts.

One company in particular was interested in Keith’s services to improve their operational performance. The people in this large Bank had experienced a huge amount of change in a very tough marketplace. They had managed to retain their market share but the people had lost their energy and enthusiasm for the business and its future goals. They had lost their passion and purpose.

The head of the Business Banking unit knew that unless they re-energised their Sales, Service and Admin teams the next year’s goals would not be met. He was chatting with a colleague about the challenges he was facing and his colleague suggested he engage Keith and his organization to help tackle the problem. And so he did.


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The Goal

To revitalize the staff in the Business Banking unit so they could meet the challenges in the coming year with new enthusiasm and commitment to achieve the year’s targets.

The Project

Keith and his team met with the VP Business Banking and his senior leaders to develop a comprehensive plan. Over a four month period, they would engage with 1100 people including Senior Executives, Regional Managers, Senior Leaders, Administration Team Members, Call Centre Staff, Business Banking Managers and Mobile Lenders to revitalize and repurpose the organization.

In that four month period, Keith and his team conducted a series of 1 day workshops for all 1100 staff. Follow up sessions were held after 90 days to measure change, transformation, progress and success. 24 online video modules and a weekly inspirational blog were offered over the following 12 months. As well, Regional Managers were reskilled to conduct 45 minute reinforcement sessions each quarter over the same period. It was a massive undertaking affecting every corner of the organization. And it worked!

The Results

With re-energized and re-committed staff, the Business Banking unit generated a 12% increase in sales results in a very tough market. As well, they increased staff retention by 7% and lifted their staff engagement score by 9.5%. They managed to leverage passion to power performance.

How a Great Leader Succeeds

There is no question Keith’s offerings are successful. The repeat rate alone shows the value individuals and organizations realize from Keith’s programs. How does he do it? Here are a few of the secrets to his success:

  • Lifelong learning – Keith is always learning. He considers himself an apprentice on many fronts. He uses mentors regularly and has five today. That learning frame of reference supports his ability to create custom offerings for his clients and recognize and incorporate new learnings as they arise.
  • Best practices – Formulating best practices and structuring them in his model allows infinite flexibility and variability in his programs and his relationships with clients. The reuse enabled by his best practice mindset also enables rapid response at low cost.
  • Use it or lose it – Keith delivers roughly 100 presentations a year and engages with seven people a day on average. The more he does, the better he gets and the greater the return for his clients.
  • Build and sustain business on referrals – Keith doesn’t do much direct marketing because most of his business comes from people who have been on his courses or who have heard great things from people who have attended his courses or benefited from his services. That’s a wonderful confirmation of the value he delivers.
  • Know your strengths – Keith’s primary focus and talent is on assisting leaders. The folks he deals with are invariably successful in their jobs, but they’re stuck. They are facing new challenges and have a fear of failure. Keith teaches them to fall in love with the difficult, to be living examples – at work, for clients and families.
  • Follow your passion – The work Keith does changes people’s lives. They discover vital insights about themselves, their teams and their organizations. They discover that activity kills uncertainty. It’s about progress, not perfection. That in itself is a sustaining realization.

Keith Abraham practices what he preaches. He encourages his staff to do the same. His achievements and broad reach, the practices he employs to sustain his performance and that of his organization and the value he delivers to his clients should be an inspiration for all of us. Let’s all commit to pursuing our passions, for our betterment, for our families, our teams and the organizations we contribute to and work for.

So, as you proceed through your life and career journey, consider these points as you pursue your own passions. Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three best practice based building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors for managing change.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, a favorite best practice, or an interesting insight that can make a project or change manager’s life a little easier, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. 

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Luck Has Little to Do with Project Success!

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”- Seneca

Sometimes, things seem to fall nicely into place. The potential major risks we identified didn’t materialize. The executive sponsor was actively involved, got the funding and made the decisions when required. The resources we needed were available when we needed them. The team members jelled and thrived. Our customers were enthusiastic partners. The vendor delivered on its promises. It seemed we lucked out. But, of course, we know that luck has little to do with project success!

In this post, we’ll follow the journey of one technology consulting company through three distinct, ever more challenging projects with the same client. We’ll see how relationships, professionalism, capability, insight and superior service helped the company earn its opportunities and create its own luck.

The Situation

Bill Moher is an Information Technology executive and consultant, with experience in marketing and sales, architecture, software development and operations. One of his sales people was attending a weekend wedding and, as one normally does at such events, he chatted with the other guests at the reception. He was intrigued with one guest in particular, the CEO of a financial services organization. When the sales person explained that he represented a technology consulting firm, the CEO’s eyes focused in and he said, “Perhaps you can give me some advice.”

The CEO went on to talk about a problem his company was experiencing with a recently implemented SaaS application. The company had contracted with a software vendor to implement their cloud based solution in support of one of the company’s core services. Since the implementation two years prior, the application had not been aging well. Feature updates were slow to roll out and more recently it had been averaging in excess of 24 hrs per day to handle the average daily load. The software vendor had not been able to resolve the issue to date. According to the financial services company’s CIO, the vendor was throwing extra hardware capacity at it but the situation couldn’t go on much longer without jeopardizing client services and blowing the targeted savings. So the CEO asked, “What would you recommend?”

The sales person quickly reviewed his company’s many capabilities and indicated the CEO’s problem application was a perfect fit for his company’s talents. He suggested a quick trial of his company’s abilities to let the CEO and his top technical managers judge their performance first hand. If that worked to their satisfaction, the CEO could extend a contract to resolve the performance problem with greater confidence.

On the Monday following the wedding, the CIO called the sales person and indicated he had an assignment for their company. The CEO had called the CIO on Sunday evening and explained the discussion with the sales person and his recommendation for a trial contract. The CIO had his folks check out the technology consulting company and found a stellar reputation and track record. He then charged them with finding an assignment that would be a suitable test. They found just the assignment – an internally developed internal marketing web site whose pages were taking abnormally long to load, a problem his staff had not been able to solve.

The sales person reviewed the opportunity with his company’s executives, they blessed the initiative, a one page contract was drafted and the sales person emailed it to the CIO for his signature the same day. The following day, the signed contract was returned and the project began.

The Goal

To ensure all pages on the targeted web site loaded in less than 2 seconds and produced identical results to the existing implementation. The work would be completed in two months.

The Project

Bill Moher met with the company’s CIO the following day to thank him for the opportunity, to review the key players on the team and the approach they would be taking. He asked the CIO to assign his most knowledgeable resource to the project to help accelerate the resolution of the problem.


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The plan of attack included a six step approach to solving the problem with as much parallel work as possible to accelerate the solution:

  1. Review the original goals for the website and work with the client to address any expectation gaps to ensure that all subsequent work reinforced that mandate – 2 days
  2. Review the technology infrastructure at the company and the architecture for the website – 4 days
  3. Based on the first two steps and independent of the existing design, draft a high level design leveraging the consulting company’s top talent – 5 days
  4. In parallel, review the existing design and performance issues – 5 days
  5. Based on that input, create a new or revised design for the application, develop and test one hierarchy to confirm that it addressed the issues and refine if necessary – 10 days
  6. Apply the proven new design to all remaining hierarchies and test to confirm compliance – 20 days

Once all components of the website were revised according to the new design, the solution would be implemented and monitored to ensure satisfactory resolution.

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On the Wednesday, with the CIO’s assigned resource on board and Bill and his team of two in place, the work commenced. Bill’s team included himself and his two consultants with skills in software development, data base technology, software architecture and test automation to prove the revised solution delivered the same results as the existing functionality. Bill recognized that his success was directly dependent on the attitudes and capabilities of his team members. He always chose carefully. He would add additional resource as the solution became clear and the need arose.

The first two steps were completed in two days thanks to the knowledge of the CIO’s assigned resource and the expertise of Bill’s staff. The next three steps were concluded in four days versus the planned fifteen and focused on revamping the data base structure being used in the existing application. The rest of the application was reworked, tested and implemented in a little over two weeks. The total project took just over three weeks versus a planned two months. Web site performance was sub second versus the targeted 2 second response time.

Bill and his team updated the CIO in a ten minute daily update so the final result wasn’t a surprise. But the CIO was ecstatic nonetheless. In addition, the CIO’s assigned resource couldn’t stop raving about what a great experience it was working with Bill and his team. They were absolutely focused. They knew their stuff. There was an ongoing, frank and collaborative exchange of information. They were incredibly productive. The CIO’s assigned resource suggested to the CIO that there would be significant benefit for the company to do more work with Bill’s company.

And so the CIO approached Bill about taking on the SaaS problem the CEO had previously mentioned at the wedding reception. Of course Bill was thrilled to oblige. In three weeks, using a similar approach, Bill’s team was able to reduce the average daily load to three hours. But the most significant outcome from that engagement was the insight they gained about the company’s core application. Bill’s team concluded that the SaaS application posed a huge challenge from a security standpoint and would never deliver the benefits the company was expecting to realize. That resulted in a proposal to redevelop the application and bring it in house to take advantage of significant amounts of unused capacity. That proposal was endorsed by the CIO and approved by the CEO.

The Results

From an initial two month contract through a subsequent three week engagement, both very successful, Bill’s company earned the admiration and trust of the financial services organization’s executives. That resulted in a one year contract to bring the core service application in house. That engagement, using a similar approach to the other two contracts, delivered almost three million lines of new and revised code, involved up to forty people at the peak and was able to deliver the solution at about $1 per line of code.

Because the hardware and software architecture for the system was done properly, the third party firm hired to load test Bill’s teams solution was unable to slow the system with loads in excess of 300% of the maximum load the previous system had ever received.

Additionally, the CIO had secretly contracted with an industry leading security audit firm who was offered a bounty for any issues identified. The findings: zero vulnerabilities!

How Great Leaders Succeeded

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination.” That is certainly an accurate assessment of this company’s relationship with its client. As well, it’s probably an accurate reflection of successful individual growth, both personal and professional. That outlook helped Bill, his team and his company achieve remarkable results and provided the foundation for delivering a number of best practices, including the following:

  1. Always explore opportunities – This contract wouldn’t have happened if the sales guy hadn’t shown an interest in the CEO at the wedding. The sales person didn’t know the individual he was talking to was a CEO but he took an interest anyway. When he recognized a potential opportunity, he presented his firm’s offerings. The rest is history. So, regardless of the situation or circumstances, show an interest in the people you meet.
  2. Prove yourself – The contact at the wedding resulted in a short term assignment. That successful engagement resulted in another contract. Knocking that assignment out of the park provided the opportunity to learn the environment and pitch a remedial solution. The accumulated credibility helped close the deal. The saying “you’re only as good as your last project” is a telling reminder that success leads to opportunity.
  3. Provide your own SLA – This company ran into difficulties on its core systems because it didn’t stipulate its target expectations and hold the contractor accountable for managing to them. There was no service level agreement. Quality factors, often referred to as non-functional requirements, are the scourge of too many failed projects. Knowing a client’s expectations about things like performance, security, recoverability, continuity, ease of use and scalability, for example, and managing to those targets improves a project’s chances of success immensely. Bill discovered that his client couldn’t readily articulate their expectations. He facilitated that discovery exercise to ensure he and his team knew explicitly what they had to deliver. In the process, he earned the client’s trust and confidence in his professionalism and leadership.
  4. Learn – Bill didn’t know much about his client’s business so he read some books on the industry. He also took a couple of online courses. He didn’t know a lot about the technology that was being used in the SaaS application, so he read some books – including manuals and whitepapers from the customer’s chosen technology vendor. He took a couple of online courses. Bill’s personal motto was and is “know as much as you can know”. That knowledge allowed him to converse intelligently with the company’s staff, from the CEO on down. It helped earn their respect. It provided a broader and informed frame of reference in his outlook. It made him look like an expert in his client’s eyes. It grew his expertise to help solve the problem.
  5. Build domain knowledge – This point is similar to the Learn point above but it’s worth differentiating too. Bill is a technology guy. He could have focused just on learning about the different technologies involved. But he learned about the business too. That broad yet focused domain knowledge gave him the insight he needed to provide the solution his client needed and the credibility to get the contract.
  6. Reuse – This is where technology architecture comes in. It’s equivalent to previsualization in the sports arena. Bill’s emphasis on thinking about possible solutions – business as well as technology, and exploring, at a high level , how elements of a solution could emerge, evolve and integrate was critical to his success. That world view provided a well- defined foundation and a framework for reuse – of concepts, designs, hardware and software – that allowed his teams to deliver more appropriate, higher quality solutions faster and at less cost.
  7. Build your best team – Bill attributed much of his success to an emphasis on acquiring the right staff, including a balanced mixture of education, experience, attitude and something he calls grit – a blend of courage, tenacity, resilience and a willingness to think differently with a touch of mischief for good measure. His secret sauce was creating project teams that would leverage terrific talent to achieve individual and team growth while delivering out-of-this-world project accomplishments.
  8. Shape culture – Building a great team is difficult. If there’s a corporate culture in place that thwarts that effort, outstanding results can be difficult to achieve. As was almost always the case, Bill and his teams operated within an existing client culture, with staff shaped and guided by that culture. Sometimes its effects were benign. Sometimes they were toxic. Occasionally they were empowering.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron, “Too many companies bet on having a cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners culture to drive their financial success. But a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.”

Much of Bill’s focus was on bridging the divides between his staff and his client’s staff and forging a new normal. It turns out, he was a bell weather of sorts. According to Gallup, the polling and analytics company, as reported in the State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report, “managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units”.

It is clear; luck has little to do with project success. In this case, Bill, his teams and his company were the authors of their own luck.

So do yourself and your colleagues a favour. Put these points on your to-do list for your career and future projects. And also remember; use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Project Selection Scorecard

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.

Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”– George Bernard Shaw

A colleague of mine is a contract project and change manager. Before he finishes an assignment, he launches a search for his next gig. His primary concern, of course, is continuing to earn an income. However, he’s also looking for potentially great projects that are fun, offer learning opportunities, provide a scintillating professional environment and deliver something meaningful. But the number one criteria in his search is the potential for the project to be successful. He has developed a project selection scorecard for that.

Thanks to Adekoya Taiwo for the idea for this article

The Project Selection Scorecard considers ten factors. Here’s an example.

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Using the Project Selection Scorecard is pretty straightforward. There are five stages:

1. Gathering information about the project – If you’re being interviewed for a project or change management role, consider who’s providing you with information on the project – a Human Resources interviewer, the project owner, the head of the PMO, or others. The accuracy and completeness of the information you receive can vary considerably based on the source. You will need to be focused to obtain the best possible project profile. If you aren’t satisfied with the answers you receive, don’t hesitate to ask to talk to someone who has more insight. That act, in itself, could set you apart from the competition, hopefully in a positive way.

2. Determining the stage of the project – As you’re gathering the information you need, consider where the project is in its life cycle. If it’s at the very start, you’ll obviously receive fewer details than if the project is already underway or has already delivered some components. Use that knowledge to shape your questions and form your opinions.

3. Assessing the significance of the information – For each of the ten categories in the Scorecard, you need to reach a judgement on each about its level of robustness. The Scorecard uses a scale of 1 – 5, where 1 is minimal coverage or support and 5 is mature or comprehensive coverage. If an answer isn’t immediately obvious, ask more questions about the category and seek greater substance. Be conservative in your assessments. Err on the side of a lower rating if in doubt.

4. Drawing conclusions about a project’s suitability – Once you’ve assessed each of the ten categories and rated them from 1 to 5, total the numbers and reach a conclusion about the project’s chances for success. Suggested judgements are:

  • total of 30 or less and any category less than 3 – significant risk of project failure
  • total greater than 30 but one or more categories less than 3 – some risk requiring remediation
  • total of 40 or more and no category less than 3 – excellent prospects for project success

5. Making a decision – With the project profile in hand, you can now decide whether you’re interested in taking on the project. You have a couple of options:

  • If you’re interested – you like the opportunity, the company, the people – but the score leaves something to be desired, seek further input from a knowledgeable source within the organization.
  • If your heart says yes and your head says no, accept the contract if offered but make absolutely sure that the contract is contingent on the gaps (those categories rated 3 or less) being closed.
  • If you’re all in and like the opportunity, say yes if offered but review the scorecard with the key stakeholders once you’re on the job. That will serve two purposes; it will help you confirm the accuracy of your assessments and, it will give your key stakeholders some additional insights into the project and into who you are and what you’re looking for.

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The ten categories included in the Scorecard are perennial best practices for well run and successfully delivered projects. Here’s a bit more detail:

1. Engaged initiating sponsors – An engaged initiating sponsor is the individual who takes ownership for the project and commits to shepherd it through to the bitter end. They make the necessary decisions when they are required. They provide or arrange appropriate time, priority, funding, resources and organizational commitment. They are the key success factor.

2. Engaged reinforcing sponsors – Reinforcing sponsors are the directors/managers/supervisors of departments affected by the change. They are essential champions and guides to help the affected staff acquire the necessary new skills, beliefs and behaviours for a change to be successful. Having those players already identified and engaged will make your life and the project’s prospects so much better.

3. Roles & responsibilities – Everyone on and affected by a planned change needs to know the decision-makers and their accountabilities and responsibilities as well as those that should be consulted and informed. Look for a RACI chart or similar. That would serve this need perfectly.

4. Business Case – The business case is the heart of the project. It describes the rationale for the change, the key players, the impact on the organization as well as on customers and external entities, the expected value that will be delivered, what the organization is willing to invest, the targeted payback period, alternative business and technology options, relevant implementation strategies and perceived risks. Projects without a grounding business case tend to be aimless, costly and unsuccessful. I don’t think that’s what you want to take on.

5. Funding – Talk is cheap, change is expensive. Projects that succeed have funding and resourcing available in accordance with the intended magnitude and duration of the effort. Do you want to spend all your time scrambling for funds or spending the previously allocated resources to achieve your project’s goals? Your choice.

6. Strategic compliance – Corporate strategies delineate a path to a desired end state. Successful projects tend to be fully integrated with that strategic direction and supportive of that end goal. Look for an acknowledgement of the corporate strategy and an understanding of how the proposed projects relates. If you don’t get that feedback, be extra vigilant.

7. Prioritization – Clearly prioritized and appropriately timed initiatives ensure projects get the time, attention and support they need, when they need it. Effective prioritization maximizes the effective use of executive time and corporate resources. A properly prioritized project means you’ll have a much more productive project experience if you decide to take it on.

8. Organizational practices – The importance of well-defined and engrained project and change management practices, quality processes, security, infrastructure change management and others will obviously be dictated by the nature of the project. Ask about organizational practices needed and/or impacted by the planned change and then assess the robustness of the organization’s capability as you progress through the interview process.

9. Organizational skills & capabilities – The specific needs for and impacts on skills and organizational capabilities, like organizational practices above, is very dependent on the planned change and the options chosen. However, ask the questions and see what response you get. The more insightful and complete, the better. If the interviewer’s eyes glaze over, beware.

10. Risk assessment – Look for some clearly articulated risks and mitigation options. As well, insight and understanding of the risks a project might face shifts and evolves as a project progresses. So, you’ll also want to see evidence of an ongoing risk management process, not just a static, one-time assessment.

The scorecard takes very little time to complete. Of course, gathering all the information you need to be able to make an informed assessment can be a bit more time-consuming. As a result, you will probably find yourself completing and revising the scorecard iteratively as you go through the interview process.

Also, don’t hesitate to use the scorecard as a mini project health check at any time during a project. Get other key stakeholders to complete it and compare the results with them to reveal potential gaps or conflicts and opportunities for remedial action. It’s also a great tool to use if you have an organizational change that results in the departure or addition of a key decision-maker.

Finally, feel free to revise and adapt the Project Selection Scorecard as you see fit to meet your particular needs. And please let us know how it’s working for you and what changes you’ve made to improve its performance. Thanks.
Also remember, use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors. After all, Project Pre-Check is the ultimate project governance framework.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Just Duck, Bob and Weave for Great Projects!

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out…

nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.” – Machiavelli

Drew Davison April 8 19

It’s one thing to sit in a comfortable, air conditioned office planning and controlling a project. It is quite another challenge to manage the heavy equipment necessary to move tons of raw materials to reshape Mother Nature. Or is it? Perhaps in both situations, the essential role is to just duck, bob and weave.
In this post, we’ll look at the path one project manager followed to restore a vital road in a northern community in the onslaught of winter. Are there different approaches construction projects use that business and technology projects could benefit from? Read on and find out.

The Situation

The main road through this small community had been compromised by the combined impact of high waves from the adjacent lake and cumulative storm events. The townspeople depended on the road and its loss was a major inconvenience. The road had been raised and rebuilt a number of years prior but floodwaters continued to rise.
The provincial government awarded the contract for the work to G. Ungar Construction after a competitive bid process. The company appointed Cindy Friesen to manage the project. The Department of Highways, Water Security Agency and the Village appointed several professional engineers and technologists to oversee the project and look after the town’s interests.

The Goal

Raise the road a meter to a meter and a half which will double as a dike along the 2 kilometer border with the lake using earthen materials and mechanically stabilized earthen walls (MSE) to prevent future flooding. Face the entire length of the lake exposure with riprap, underlain by non-woven geotextile to prevent erosion. Complete the work by mid-January.

The Project

Cindy took on the project in early October. She was an experienced project manager and in the past had taken on a variety of roles in a professional civil and environmental engineering setting. She identified the following challenges in her initial review of the mandate:

  • The work would take place in late fall and early winter in northern climes. The weather would be a factor.
  • The amount of fill that would have to be contracted for, hauled, dumped and placed would be significant – 2 kilometers long by 1 to 2 meters high by over 7 meters wide.
  • The use of MSE, essentially sandbags, was very labour-intensive, time-consuming and costly.
  • The low hanging power lines posed a danger to the heavy equipment operators and would need to be moved.
  • The construction site was in the heart of the community. All workers would have to be mindful of the local population as they went about their daily business or stopped by to view progress.

Cindy’s team proceeded to develop a plan that would get the work completed by the mid-January target. Included in the initial tasks was a request to the local electrical utility to move the hydro poles. She then contacted local aggregate suppliers to contract for the granular and riprap that would be required and booked her firm’s heavy equipment and operators to carry out the build.

In the early stages, with flags and signs to caution operators about the low-hanging hydro lines, and cooperative weather, work progressed quickly. Cindy maintained regular contact with the engineers to make sure they were on side with the plan and the work being done. She’d also chat with the locals who were watching the work or passing by, commiserating with them about the inconvenience they had to endure and reminding them to be cautious around the heavy equipment and piles of material.

Early on in the project, Cindy and her team identified an opportunity to accelerate the work and reduce costs. The sandbags for the MSE wall were required to provide a stable 1:1 slope on the embankment. That’s one foot in for every foot up, a pretty steep 45 degree slope. Except, they noticed that most of the dike was in an area that would allow a more gradual 3:1 slope from the lake. That would allow the use of clay fill, a big time and cost saver. Cindy reviewed the proposal with the engineers. In the end, they agreed to use MSE for about 200 meters of the 2 Kilometer length, a huge savings. Cindy revised the plan, notified her team and the work continued on the revised basis.

At its peak, Cindy’s team included 20 core staff and 10 locals including labourers, operators, and servicemen. In addition, two of the rock truck drivers and one labourer were women, so the ladies constituted approximately 10% of the work force, Cindy included.

The contract with the province specified a specific level of granularity for the fill being used in the project. Cindy provided that specification to the aggregate suppliers who were responsible for ensuring their compliance. The engineer also tested the levels periodically. Unfortunately, about a third of the way through the project, the engineer’s test results revealed a deviation from the specification and he ordered the offending fill to be removed and replaced with new compliant fill.

Cindy reviewed his findings and saw a way around the costly rework. The granularity specification was intended to insure the stability of the dike while providing adequate drainage. She realized that the discovered variance was minor, didn’t jeopardize the dike’s stability and in fact improved drainage, a plus. Again, she reviewed her findings with the engineers. They agreed with her findings. However, to be conservative, a portion of the base course was removed and replaced. Cindy updated the suppliers to be more vigilant on material granularity going forward and the work progressed.


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In early December, with the finish date in sight, Cindy and her team suggested a solution to the pending problem of water accumulating inside the road/dyke. The site had experienced periods of heavy rainfall with more to come, and combined with the ground frozen solid and the anticipated spring runoff, the water had nowhere else to go. The engineers proposed using surface pumps within sumps to direct the water over the dike and into the lake. Cindy and her team considered the options and suggested an alternative – directional drilling HDPE pipe from the sumps under the dike. There would be some added cost but it would provide a permanent solution for directing ground water under the road and into the lake. The engineers agreed to the expanded scope and the work was completed expeditiously.

And so the project continued to its successful conclusion. Cindy and her team worked 12 hour days with minimal time off and slugged through it in time for Christmas. I’m told they all felt pretty good about their achievement. Justifiably so.

The Results

The project was completed and signed off by the engineer on December 15, a month earlier than planned and considerably under budget. The engineers were pleased with the results and the conduct of the project. The townspeople were thrilled to have their main road back in service before the worst of the winter weather hit them.

The construction company and Cindy could chalk up another successful, referenceable project. Unfortunately, the hydro lines weren’t raised until months after the project was completed. Fortunately, no one was injured because of the delay. By the way, the photo at the top of this post is of the completed project. Quite beautiful isn’t it.

How Great Leaders Succeeded

I have a friend who was involved with delivering health care services to people in their homes, including many elderly. Her favorite saying was “just duck, bob and weave”! It aptly described her working world. While there were standard processes and practices in place for almost everything she did, invariably she also needed to “just duck, bob and weave” to get the job done right.

That phrase also describes how Cindy approached and conducted this project. While there is no doubt a standard approach for building a dike like this project called for, the circumstances called for continuous awareness, negotiation, adaptation and innovation to achieve the desired results. Just duck, bob and weave indeed!

Here are some of the other approaches Cindy and her colleagues used to deliver successfully:

Enlighted planning – The original plan was developed to achieve the original goals. Cindy used that plan as a communication framework for getting the work underway and for assessing the impact of alternative courses of action. As new opportunities were identified, the plan was reviewed and revised as needed to accommodate new priorities and directions. It was enlightened planning.

Risk management – The plan was informed by a comprehensive risk assessment and incorporated the necessary mitigation plans to deliver an appropriate solution on time and budget. Tellingly, there were no unanticipated surprises that negatively affected the outcome.

Issue management – As issues arose, including the groundwater challenge and the granularity issue, the senior managers and team members took stock, assessed options, discussed the alternatives openly and made collective and collaborative decisions to keep the project on track.

Stakeholder relations – Cindy worked hard establishing and maintaining a trust relationship with her team members, with the engineers, with the granular haulers and with the townspeople. That effort helped avoid conflict, facilitated mutual trust and commitment and expedited decision making to reach the end goal.

Continuous collaboration – This project involved, in fact depended upon ongoing, multiway communications. It was that core value that enabled this team to deliver a massive infrastructure repair in less than three months. Even the president of Cindy’s company was engaged. It was his idea about the directional drilling under the dikes to drain the roadway.

Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith captured the spirit of Cindy’s team in their collection High-Performance Teams, where they state “What sets apart high-performance teams, however, is the degrees of commitment, particularly how deeply committed the members are to one another.”

Creative solutioning – Our understanding of a project’s many dimensions at initiation is an empty shell. The details take shape only as a project progresses. It is vital that the project’s stakeholders stay open to opportunities to enhance the value delivered as knowledge and awareness increases. Creative solutioning was a hallmark of this engagement.

Most of the cases I’ve dealt with in this blog are about managing information in a business or technology setting. And most of the successful ones incorporated most if not all of the best practices Cindy and her team applied on their project. It seems the path to a successful project, whether it’s capturing and manipulating bits in an office setting or carting and shaping tons of soil and rock in the wilderness, is the same – good people, good project management, good change management and essential domain knowledge.

So do yourself and your colleagues a favour. Put these points on your to-do list for your current and future projects. And also remember; use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks covering the key stakeholder group, the decision management process and the Decision Framework right up front so you don’t overlook these key success factors.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation on this blog. Everyone benefits. First-time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, good, bad and everything in between, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your experiences.