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Author: Paul Oppong

Paul Oppong is a management, strategy, and business transformation consultant, specializing in digital transformation and program management. He helps clients navigate the ever-changing landscape of business Technology, using his expertise to deliver evidence-based solutions that exceed their performance expectations. Paul Oppong has a global outlook and has assisted organizations in both the public and private sectors, including some of Africa’s largest financial institutions and Australian government agencies, in realizing the benefits of their transformational investments through project and portfolio management. For more information visit www.pauloppong.com
PMTimes_May31_2023

Beyond Traditional Metrics: Why Adaptive KPIs are the Future of Project Management

In a recent engagement with a government client, I came across an intriguing yet common conundrum regarding the enforcement of KPIs. Individual projects within their diverse portfolio were flagged ‘red’, signalling they were off course, yet the overall portfolio surprisingly reflected a ‘green’ status, implying smooth operations. This stark inconsistency, compounded by disagreements over the statuses of individual projects, underlined the critical need for a more sophisticated, adaptive approach to KPIs in project management.

Introduction

Conventional KPIs in the realm of project management often bear resemblance to religious texts – unwavering and unchanging, even in the face of shifting project dynamics. This rigid constancy, while providing a sense of stability, may distort perceptions of project performance and overlook potential avenues for improvement. In this article, we delve deeper into these inherent limitations of traditional KPIs and champion a more agile, adaptive approach, one that aligns better with the fluid and ever evolving and unique nature of today’s project landscapes.

Let’s scrutinize the limitations of traditional KPIs. These conventional metrics, while offering a valuable framework, do exhibit certain drawbacks. They possess an inflexible character, condense the complexities of project statuses into a simplistic ‘traffic light’ system, and enforce a generic approach that overlooks the distinctive nuances of individual projects. Consequently, a sudden transition from ‘green’ to ‘amber’ might not truthfully represent a project’s actual condition. Moreover, ignoring key project-specific factors such as the project team’s experience and composition, and other complexities could thwart optimally project outcomes.

Envisioning a New Approach to KPIs

Considering these constraints, we advocate for a more adaptable approach to KPIs. KPIs should serve as flexible signposts, offering nuanced insights and evolving in response to dynamic project conditions. A ‘spectrum’ system could replace the binary ‘traffic light’ system to better encapsulate the subtle gradations between ‘good’ and ‘caution’, thereby enabling a more accurate snapshot of the project’s health and fostering tailored problem-solving and decision-making strategies.

Let’s illustrate this ‘spectrum’ grading: ‘Deep Green’ signifies a project operating ahead of schedule; ‘Light Green’ and ‘Yellow’ mark minor deviations that are manageable with slight adjustments; ‘Orange’ indicates a substantial deviation demanding dedicated intervention; ‘Red’ denotes a severe delay necessitating immediate action. This refined system facilitates proactive responses to project status changes and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

KPI thresholds should be malleable, adapting to the unique context of each project and evolving in sync with the project’s progress to spur continuous learning and strategic adjustments. Influential variables, such as the project manager’s experience, sponsor involvement, project type, size, duration and team skillset, ought to be incorporated into the KPI thresholds to ensure a more precise and meaningful assessment of project performance.

Finally, KPIs should be viewed as living, evolving mechanisms, mirroring the project’s trajectory. This dynamic perspective fosters a culture of continuous learning, encourages periodic strategy adjustments, and aligns more effectively with the complex and fast-paced realities of modern project landscapes.

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Advantages and Challenges of an Adaptive Approach

Adopting an adaptive approach to KPIs unveils several compelling benefits. Primarily, this method fosters a responsive and agile project management environment, enabling teams to adeptly navigate changes and maintain momentum towards their objectives. By embracing flexibility, teams are encouraged to continually learn, refine their strategies, and progressively improve. This learning culture not only nurtures individual and collective growth but also enhances the potential for delivering value and achieving project goals.

However, implementing an adaptive approach is not without challenges. Critics may argue that tailoring KPIs for each project is a burdensome task, especially for organizations handling a vast number of projects. Indeed, creating individual KPIs for each project may seem daunting and resource intensive. However, this concern often underscores a deeper issue of mass governance in project management, where projects are overseen in a bulk, uniform manner, neglecting their unique characteristics.

Counterarguments and Solutions

To address these concerns, it’s important to emphasize that while individualizing KPIs requires upfront effort, the long-term benefits—enhanced accuracy, improved decision-making, and ultimately, successful projects—outweigh the initial investment. It’s about quality over quantity, shifting the focus from managing a large volume of projects to truly understanding and effectively managing each one.

Technology can also play a pivotal role in facilitating this adaptive approach. Advanced project management tools and software can automate the process of defining and adjusting KPIs, making it a less labour-intensive and more streamlined process. Organizations can gradually introduce adaptive KPIs. Starting with pilot projects could allow teams to gain confidence and experience with the approach and help refine the process before wider implementation. This gradual integration can help alleviate concerns and demonstrate the efficacy of adaptive KPIs.

Ultimately, transitioning to an adaptive KPI approach should be a thoughtful, well-planned process, considering the unique needs and capabilities of each organization. By doing so, we can address the legitimate challenges posed, while still harnessing the substantial benefits of this innovative approach.

Conclusion

In our rapidly changing project environment, the steadfast, conventional KPIs may no longer suffice. It is high time we welcome a shift towards an adaptive KPI approach, one that truly echoes the unique fabric of each project, appreciates the diverse shades of project progress, and continuously evolves in tandem with the project’s trajectory. This approach not only amplifies our project management effectiveness but also ensures that our success metrics are as diverse, resilient, and forward-thinking as the projects we orchestrate. By advocating this change, we lay the groundwork for a more realistic, precise, and insightful method of tracking project performance, fostering an environment that champions continuous learning, innovation, and strategic flexibility. With this, we can confidently navigate the complex waters of project management, steering our projects towards their destined success, one adaptive KPI at a time.

PMTimes_Jan31_2023

Maximizing Impact and Efficiency with Zero-Based Portfolio Prioritization

Introduction

In today’s competitive business environment, it’s important for organizations to stay ahead of the game. One key to success is being able to effectively prioritize and deliver on projects that will drive strategic goals and bring about competitive advantage. This is where zero-based portfolio prioritization comes in.

But first, let’s consider the importance of prioritization to your portfolio and your business.

 

Why Prioritize?

Effective project prioritization can bring a number of benefits to your organization, including:

Improved return on investment: Studies have shown that prioritized projects are more likely to drive greater ROI and overall value, as they are more closely aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. Additionally, projects that are well-aligned with strategy are 45% more likely to be delivered to budget and 50% more likely to be delivered on time.

Better support from senior management and other key stakeholders: When projects are clearly linked to strategic imperatives, they have a 57% higher likelihood of success. This is due in part to increased engagement from senior leadership and greater energy behind the projects, which can result in more resources being made available to deliver them.

 

Reduction of waste: Prioritization ensures that organizations are focused on projects that will add value, rather than those that are no longer relevant. All too often, organizations continue working on outdated projects that consume valuable resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Avoidance of resource overload: When organizations do not focus on the most important projects, resources can be stretched too thin, leading to bottlenecks and delays on critical projects. Prioritizing projects effectively frees up people to work on the things that really matter, which can also be more motivating for team members.

What is the Zero-based Portfolio Prioritization Process?

Zero-based portfolio prioritization is a method of evaluating and prioritizing projects based on their potential value, rather than their place in a pre-existing hierarchy or list of priorities. It involves starting with a blank slate and reviewing each project based on its current potential value to the organization.

There are a few different methods that can be used for zero-based portfolio prioritization, including weighted scoring, MoSCoW prioritization, the Eisenhower Matrix, and the Impact and Effort Matrix.

 

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Implementing Zero-based Portfolio Prioritization

So, how do you go about implementing zero-based portfolio prioritization in your organization? Here are the key steps to follow:

Define your criteria: To effectively evaluate and prioritize projects, you’ll need to decide on the criteria you will use. This could include things like ROI, risk level, resource requirements, and cost-benefit ratio. Involve key stakeholders in this process to ensure that the criteria align with the organization’s strategic goals and needs.

Review and evaluate projects: Once you have your criteria defined, review and evaluate each project based on how it aligns with the criteria. This could involve creating a matrix or other tool to help you score and compare projects. Be sure to consider both quantitative and qualitative benefits in your evaluation.

Communicate and act: Once you have your prioritized list of projects, it’s important to communicate the changes to all stakeholders and start working on the revised plan. This can be challenging, as some team members may be disappointed if their projects are deprioritized. Be sure to clearly communicate the reasons for the changes and how they align with the organization’s goals to help mitigate resistance.

Monitor and evaluate: Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the prioritized projects is key to ensuring that they remain aligned with the organization’s goals and that resources are being used effectively. This may involve regularly reviewing and adjusting the criteria used to evaluate projects, as well as tracking progress and outcomes.

 

Challenges and Considerations

While zero-based portfolio prioritization can bring many benefits to an organization, it’s important to be aware of the potential challenges and considerations that may come up. These could include:

Resistance to change: As mentioned, it’s common for team members to resist changes to project priorities, especially if their own projects are deprioritized. It’s important to clearly communicate the reasons for the changes and how they align with the organization’s goals to help mitigate resistance.

Difficulty in evaluating and comparing projects: It can be challenging to accurately evaluate and compare projects, especially when some benefits are hard to quantify. It’s important to be thorough and use a consistent approach to ensure that projects are being compared fairly.

Ensuring alignment with strategic goals: It’s essential to ensure that the prioritized projects are aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. This may require regular review and adjustment of the criteria used to evaluate projects.

 

Limited resources: Even with effective prioritization, there may be times when the organization simply doesn’t have the resources to tackle all of the highest-priority projects. In these cases, it may be necessary to prioritize further or look for ways to free up resources.

Overall, zero-based portfolio prioritization can be a powerful tool for organizations looking to align their priorities with their strategic goals and ensure that resources are being used effectively. By carefully defining criteria, evaluating, and comparing projects, communicating and acting on the revised plan, and monitoring and evaluating progress, organizations can make the most of their resources and drive greater success.

PMTimes_Nov30_2022

Key Approaches to Incentivizing Project Teams Effectively

Putting Things into Perspective

Great goals need great teams to be achieved. You can’t go it alone when it comes to attaining sustainable and far-reaching change. Now, that does not take anything away from strong leaders and leadership. But strong leadership is always rooted in concerted efforts owned and shaped by project teams. Organizations need to create a work environment in which people have incentives to succeed, one that puts faith in their professionalism and builds a sense of camaraderie that is a must for achieving ultimate success.

In this article, I am sharing my take on some of the best practices in creating incentives for project teams in public agencies. These incentives put teams in a great position to be effective. I have consciously avoided concentrating on the material or financial incentives, which are fairly straightforward to adopt (as long as they are managed in an equitable and transparent manner). Instead, my focus is on the intangible benefits team members can derive from a set of purposeful actions supported and driven by their organizations.

  • Create A Level Playing Field

This is a foundational step. None of the other measures make much sense if the project team members feel they are treated equally or, at worst, face workplace discrimination. People don’t like to work in an organization where, as it were, some are more equal than others.

Equal opportunities, rules and procedures applying to all, healthy competition, and prevention of favoritism are all important aspects of creating a fair and just work environment. They help establish conditions for the project teams to be genuinely encouraged to thrive and succeed.

  • Delegate

Managers often underestimate the importance of delegation. The days of micromanagement and perfectionism have long given way to teamwork and iterative learning. Prudent and effective managers are extremely good at delegating tasks to different team members.

Delegation thus becomes both an efficient use of resources and a judicious staff development strategy. It creates ample space for team members to test themselves, seek on-the-job and mentoring opportunities, and proactively engage with colleagues and other stakeholders.

  • Allow Space for Innovation

Organizations that create space for and encourage innovation are usually ahead of the curve. Innovation might be fraught with risks. Risk-averse organizations try to stick to well-tested routines. But they often forget about a bigger risk–the risk of becoming irrelevant or obsolete in today’s fast-changing and technology-driven environment.

Innovation also needs support genuinely. Employees who feel they are fully engaged in their work are more innovative, research suggests. Thus, the leadership of an organization must be ready for failure, and it should institute mechanisms for learning from those failures. All the good things come to those who try!

 

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  • Be Transparent and Accountable

Transparency and accountability have become commonplace buzzwords in the public sector. Don’t turn them into overused cliches. Lead by example to initiate and uphold high moral and ethical standards. Walk the walk, as they say. This will be a great incentive for all other team members to emulate your actions. Make things transparent and accountable.

This is not to say all decisions need to be based on absolute consensus. At times, managers have to make executive decisions in the interests of time and efficiency. But they can’t make them on the sly. If you want your team members to put stock in your words, consult people, keep them informed, and explain the rationale for your decisions.

  • Be Who You Are

No matter how senior your position is within your organization, don’t forget that you are just as human as anyone else. Your team members are no more prone to err as you are. So, err on the side of caution and be forthcoming about your setbacks or mistakes. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong.

This will be a great incentive for your team members to be candid and forthright on their part. You can thus establish the kind of rapport with your team that fosters ingenuity and an inspiring organizational culture. Socialize with your team members and help them out when you can. Remember that straight shooters always make a great team.

  • Support Personal and Professional Development

For many people, current jobs are as important as opportunities for professional development. Organizations should not treat professional development plans as just pro forma HR actions. Those who are seriously interested in building long-term careers seek training and development opportunities on a regular basis.

Successful and effective organizations normally have generous and well-structured staff development plans. They also have dedicated funds to support the educational and career goals of their teams. Some go even further and support post-graduate or graduate programs of their staff. Of course, these measures vary from agency to agency. The takeaway is that organizations need to do it in a structured and systematic manner.

 

  • Ask For Feedback On Own Performance

Asking for and providing is a major feature of a learning organization. People in such organizations feel empowered and incentivized to benefit from organizational feedback loops in a constructive fashion.

Project team members need to be proactive about soliciting feedback. If asked for one, take time to provide an honest and fact-based assessment that will help your colleague achieve more. Research shows that unbiased feedback helps organizations both improve and transform.

Summary

For organizations seeking excellence, employing people with the right motivation matters. What happens in the workplace often shape the right motivations. The agencies that take it seriously are intentional about developing, introducing, and institutionalizing a number of incentives that make their project teams more effective.

I have reviewed some of the key approaches to incentivizing project teams effectively. Research has found that incentives can play a crucial role in advancing organizational goals and objectives. Conversely, demotivated staff are more likely to become cynical than go beyond what’s business as usual. Organizational success takes more than just retaining people in their comfort zones. Smart incentives help both entities and individuals push the envelope and make the most of their untapped potential.

Progressive PMOs are harnessing the power of Citizen Developers

A few of my colleagues raise eyebrows when I mention that I used to be a programmer back in the days, I am not talking about assembly language, but I could write a few things in Java and C++. Recently I picked up some new skills creating Power Apps, connecting data with Microsoft Dataverse, building Power BI Dashboards, automating processes with Power Automate, and building chatbots with Power Virtual Agents whilst preparing for Microsoft’s Power Platform Fundamentals certification. This is part of a growing trend of what has been termed Citizen Development.

Citizen development is an innovative approach to dealing with application development needs that a lot of Project Management Offices (PMOs) are now adopting. This innovative and inclusive approach to application development addresses the ever-increasing need for PMOs to keep abreast with technological change and the associated demand for user-friendly, hassle-free applications. Enterprise Technology departments are not always best to shoulder all the responsibilities related to digital transformation.

That’s where the inclusive idea of citizen development comes in as a broad-based and innovative solution. It enables project managers and implementers to develop applications on their own and in accordance with the most pressing PMO needs. Of course, they need to have advanced level of digital skills to use the low-code/no-code (LCNC) platforms, but with those skills taken for granted, almost any team member could take a stab at it.

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Citizen development has multiple benefits for the PMO and project management. By project management, I mean its agile and strategic version. Initially, this is far better for the current needs of success-oriented PMOs. Although traditional, waterfall types of project management would also gain. The benefits span many different sectors, whether it be public sector agencies, financial services, or non-governmental organizations. There is growing evidence that citizen development works, and that it works well for both organizations and individual employees. Let us examine what these benefits are and why they are important for the PMO and project management, irrespective of the field.

Cost-Effectiveness

This is an obvious one. With application development demands being extremely taxing on Enterprise Technology departments, LCNC platforms provide substantial cost-saving opportunities to PMOs. PMOs can thus channel the savings to other, under-resourced needs. Experts estimate that by using LCNC resources, applications can be developed 10 times faster when compared with traditional methods.

PMOs can also expect savings on the maintenance of the new applications. Maintenance and application support are normally separate line items in operational budgets. Higher-end products usually require significant inputs to avoid disruptions and breakdown. The maintenance and support cost are minimal for the applications developed by citizen developers. The overall cost to develop and maintain LCNC -based applications is estimated to be 74% lower than the cost of traditional development led by Enterprise Technology resources. In addition, LCNC platforms hosting present sizable cost reductions, as shown by the experience of Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance. The company was able to save $1.4 million because of creative use of LCNC tools.

Breaking Down Silos

As citizen developers engage in software or application development, coordination with other business units of an organization becomes an absolute must. LCNC platforms do not require expert digital skills to use, but they need citizen developers to ensure that the end products are relevant to the PMO’s needs. From the perspective of effective PMO role, this is a great way of breaking down silos, which exist in all organizations. Improved teamwork and camaraderie are the important by-products of citizen development, which have long-term benefits. Citizen developers cannot go it alone, and it always takes a team effort to ensure that the end-product meets the critical needs of an organization. Importantly, this includes coordination of Enterprise Technology and non- Enterprise Technology resources too.

Agility

Citizen development also has the potential to make the PMO more agile. It expects non- Enterprise Technology resources to demonstrate adaptability and willingness to learn – two key attributes of an agile organization. From the perspective of the PMO, citizen development becomes a new and unconventional way of spurring continuous learning as an iterative and inclusive process.

Innovation and Creativity

By encouraging non-Enterprise Technology department resources to become software and application developers, PMOs can create a workspace conducive to creativity and innovation. As it happens, when people are given space and opportunity to punch above their weight, they usually outdo themselves by coming up with something extraordinary. Citizen development consequently becomes a great approach to egging people on to think outside the box. Agile organizations need to be innovative and creative. Equally, they need to be adaptive and committed to continuous learning.

Digitisation and Organizational Culture

The more employees get involved in citizen development, the better for the PMO and digital transformation. As PMOs take steps to adapt to the needs of digital transformation, citizen development becomes a timely and cost-effective method. It nurtures an organizational culture favourable for project resources and other non-Enterprise Technology resources to embrace change and make it work for themselves and the organization. It is this type of culture that becomes pivotal in weathering the storm of imminent changes and making the most of new opportunities for development.

Relevance and Flexibility

The involvement of PMO resources as citizen developers warrants the relevance of newly developed software and applications. No one could be more intrinsically motivated to ensure that they serve the purpose than the end-users themselves. I’m sure you can recall cases when even very expensive IT products turned out to be missing the mark. When developed in isolation from an organization’s core strategic goals and needs, they become underutilized. With less stringent requirements imposed; citizen developers have more flexibility to adjust as they go. As application development becomes faster, citizen development makes it easier to maintain the end products.

Summary

Citizen development has been winning over an increasing number of progressive PMOs and organizations. There is growing evidence that it leads to substantial cost-savings, encourages innovation, and makes organizations more agile. PMOs use it effectively to ease the workload of Enterprise Technology resources. Such departments are often understaffed or incapable of dealing with an ever-increasing list of requests and demands.

Citizen development makes a valuable contribution to an organizational culture that promotes creativity and initiative. In the current era of digital transformation, it is critical for agile organizations to create opportunities for their employees. This is to test and improve their digital skills. The experience of organizations that have embraced LCNC platforms for their non-Enterprise Technology resources to develop new applications shows that citizen development is definitely worth the effort.

Why Every Project Needs A Formula One Style Pit Stop

As a bit of a motor head, I was excited to watch the inaugural Formula One sprint race format at the British Grand Prix recently. I was pondering Formula One and how efficiently the teams work to make sure that everything comes together so that teams can perform at their peak and achieve success in the ultimate test of speed. Thinking on it further, it occurred to me that there are lessons to be learned from Formula One pit stops that can be applied to project management, and specifically to project health checks. Here is why every project needs a Formula One style pit stop.

 How Pit Stops are Like Project Health Checks

A Formula One pit stop occurs when the driver of the racing car pulls into “the pits”. The common activities that occur during a pit stop include replacing the tyres, repairs, and mechanical adjustments to the car to ensure that the vehicle is optimally placed to perform in the manner required of it. The driver’s helmet even gets cleaned to ensure the best vision for the rest of the race.

Projects, just like Formula One racing cars, need pit stops every so often to make sure the project is on track. A project health check can be likened very much to a Formula One pit stop. Both seek to ensure that success can be achieved through taking a brief interlude in the activities underway to check some of the key issues that might commonly arise. While a pit stop check changes the racing car tyres, a project health check examines the project indicators to make sure that nothing is going to let the team down.

Both activities can be undertaken efficiently to help steer the team towards success. There is no need to waste time with your pit stop (health check). The best teamwork ensures that the check is completed rapidly but efficiently, with everyone playing their part. The Red Bull team showed this with absolute perfection during the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo Brazil when they beat the world record for pit stop speed in just 1.82 seconds! Now I am not suggesting your project health check is completed in 1.82 seconds… if you did that, you would risk negligence. But with sharp focus and everyone pulling their weight, the time spent on the health check can be optimized.

Let us think for a minute about what would happen if there was no pit stop. The car might very well continue to complete the race. But there would be every chance that the tyres would not be in great condition and would not be well placed to perform at the high standard expected of them, because of extreme wear. As with the Grand Prix, stopping to undertake a health check on your project can help ensure that it too has the best chance of performing at the highest possible level to achieve the goals required of it. That is why every project needs pit stops to ensure everything is on course for the win.

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What to Look for in a Project Health Check

With a project health check, you need to look out for signs that the team might not be performing optimally. There are several symptoms to consider. One of the key areas to consider is what the people are doing and how they are behaving. Research shows that people factors are a key factor in project failure (in a third of cases). Look at what the team is doing. Are they focused or distracted? Are they committed to the project vision, or are they seeking to advance their own agendas? This is important to address, otherwise, it may affect the likelihood of delivering the project on time and to budget or meeting the requirements of it.

Consider how people are communicating with one another, and how motivated they seem towards delivering the project. If they seem stressed, the health check is a suitable moment to ask yourself (and them!) why that is. Has the project scope crept? Are there sufficient resources assigned to different aspects of the project to enable people to meet the timelines required of them? Are processes working how they should, to drive project success? By taking a brief interlude to examine these areas, you can identify issues and get the project back on track, to avoid failure.

Steps to Take at a Project Health Check

One key step to take during a project health check is to reiterate the vision to ensure everyone clearly understands it and believes in it. Ask people questions to find out where they are at, not just with the activities they are carrying out, but how they feel about achieving the deadlines. You will also want to avoid further scope creep if that has occurred. Make sure the processes are in place and sufficiently robust to ensure that if movement to the scope is required, that the required resources are also put in place to help the team achieve the new tasks in the specified time frame. Do look at how people are communicating with one another and clear up any potential sources of confusion or distraction to make sure that people are completely focused on the tasks at hand.

Summary

Every team can benefit from a brief pit stop to make sure that it is working optimally to perform to the highest possible standard. A project health check can help you address people (and other) issues that might otherwise lead to project failure, fine-tuning the team to help it deliver the success that it is primed for. A health check is not a waste of time, rather, it is an essential activity to drive project success, to help ensure on-budget and on-time delivery.