Organizations seek High Performance PMs

August 27, 2009

According to a survey undertaken by the PMO Executive Council (part of the Corporate Executive Board: organisations need to develop high performance PMs to survive. The snapshot survey, Attributes of a High Performance PM – 2007, found very little correlation between project management certification and project management effectiveness, or the number of years a person has been in project management roles and project management effectiveness.

The survey found the drivers for project management effectiveness were behavioural attributes such as problem solving and the ability to relate effectively with key stakeholders. Whilst many people may initially want to disagree with these findings, they are consistent with many other trends and on reflection quite logical.

Firstly, the survey did not look at the PM’s track record, merely the time the PM had been in project roles. It is reasonable to assume highly effective PMs will have a relatively short PM career and then move on and up the organisational hierarchy. Less effective PMs are likely to stay in their PM role focused on process and technology.

Secondly, whilst PM credentials such as PMP remain very effective tools in the job market; passing your PMP does not make you an effective project manager (see more on PMP). The PMP knowledge framework gives you the knowledge to be an effective project manager. Being effective requires you to become a competent project manager.

Competency has three aspects, knowledge, skills and behaviour:

  • what you know,
  • your ability to apply the knowledge (essentially personality traits) and
  • your willingness to use the skills effectively (essentially behavioural traits).

Qualifying project managers based on behavioural competencies is in its infancy. The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) has recently moved its professional certification program (RegPM) from a procedural view of competency (eg, do you have a project schedule – the artefact?) to a behavioural view of competency (how effectively do you manager the schedule on your project?). This is ground breaking work and still has a long way to go.

PMI have adopted a different, but similar approach in their program management certification (PgMP) with a 360 degree review testing how effective the candidate is in the workplace. These trends have a long way to go but are likely to be the next step in project certification.

Of more direct interest in the short term is the demonstrated link between how effectively a project manager engages with his/her key stakeholders and high performance outcomes. These skills are a core element in a number of workshops we run including Successful Stakeholder Management and The Science and Art of Communicating Effectively, and are supported in part by our Stakeholder Circle® methodology and tool set.

Learning how to apply the skills in the workplace though is not quite as simple as attending a workshop or buying a set of tools. Soft skills are very hard to acquire and use. My feeling is they are called ‘soft’ because they change shape and texture depending on the environment they are being applied within. The calculations for EV or CPM are universal; the best way to engage a senior stakeholder is totally dependent on the culture of the organisation. Some elements remain consistent (eg, the need for an effective relationship) but the way this is achieved varies.

Developing these advanced skills that are the attributes of high performance project managers requires context sensitive coaching and mentoring rather then formal courses (see: Executive PM Coaching & Mentoring). Ideally organisations seeking to develop high performance PMs will move beyond certification towards implementing internal mentoring systems – it’s the best way to ensure they are contextually relevant.

However, where we differ from the survey findings is that we believe certifications such as PMP are still relevant. Passing a PMI credential such as PMP or CAPM (see more on the PMI credential framework) is a positive demonstration of the initial knowledge component of competency; it’s just that knowledge alone is not sufficient.

Achieving this next level of high performance PMs will also require organisational competence in at least two domains. Process competence measured by tools such as PMI’s OPM3® framework and relationship management maturity measured by tools such as my SRMM® framework.

These are definitely interesting times for our profession.

Stakeholder Management Maturity

August 20, 2009

Ethical management and corporate governance are about balancing the competing needs of all of the organisations stakeholders, balancing long and short term goals and being socially responsible (CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility). The good news is empirical studies consistently show organisations that focus on these objectives also consistently out perform those seeking short term and excessive profits. This sort of long term, sustainable success is not achieved by the simplistic win-lose scenarios favoured by many MBAs. It needs mature, pragmatic governance and a focus on win-win. Successful organisations survive and thrive because they understand the only effective long term strategy is to help their customers succeed in their ambitions. So when the customers win and society wins, the organisation wins.

Focusing on customers and society at large may seem at odds with the first and fiduciary duty of the directors and managers of any commercial business which is to optimise the long term benefit of its investors/shareholders. The key element though is ‘long term’. GM and the other big US car manufactures seem to have spent most of the last decade responding to short term imperatives such as the quarterly share price and executives bonuses at the expense of the health of the business and the long term wealth of their stock holders. The net result, GM stock holders lost everything, and stock holders in other US vehicle manufacturers have lost almost everything. In contrast, Toyota’s stock holders are probably quite pleased with the long term strategic decisions their management made.

The difference between Toyota and GM was the topic of my post, Short termism -v- long term survival – Toyota had by far the better strategy for its business survival. Similar debates also surround corporate social responsibility (CSR – statistically organisations that embrace CSR do better then those that don’t) and the organisations attitude to its stakeholders (the topic of my new book, Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation).

I may be biased but my feeling is the touchstone that facilitates an effective focus on both CSR and excellence in client services is the way organisations engage with their stakeholder community. A mature, balanced and pragmatic approach to stakeholder relationships seems to be the underpinning needed to allow the optimum balancing of competing demands and opportunities leading to long term, sustained growth. What do you think?

Agile’s Business Failure

August 14, 2009

There has been a robust discussion around some of my other blogs on the value of Agile as a software development methodology.

Accepting for a moment the potential improvements in software delivery promised by Agile are real or at the least Agile has the capability to substantially improve the success rates of IT projects (which should not be too hard given the latest Gartner report) one has to ask why its acceptance has been so low? I suggest the answer is the lack of effective communication between Agilists and Executive Management.

As significant number of Agile evangelists believe that all that is needed to make IT successful is to allow the software developers to develop code! Vasco Duarte’s blog Software Development Today is typical – totally focused on the beauty of developing code. And done well, Agile methodologies can produce very effective code. The trouble is the developers don’t run the organisation.

Executive management run the organisation on behalf of the owners. These managers develop strategies for the organisation to follow and create projects and programs to achieve the new capabilities needed to implement the strategy. Software changes or developments are simply one element of the changes needed to enable the strategy and create new value for the organisation.

No matter how badly executed these processes are, the only ethical role for any project management team is to support the strategic initiative of the executive to assist in the creation of value. This was the subject of my post ‘Value is in the eye of the stakeholder’.

Within this framework, Agile Advocates (AAs) need to understand how to communicate the advantages of the development methodology bearing in mind most executive managers see IT as a major liability that routinely fails to deliver as promised (don’t get upset, read the Gartner reports). Management’s natural reaction to this perceived failure of IT has been to enforce ever tighter controls. Of course this has not worked, project controls don’t actually control anything (ref: The Paradox of Project Control in a Matrix Organisation and Project Controls Don’t).

However, viewed from an executive management perspective, the Agile approach is counterintuitive: less controls and greater flexibility to produce better outcomes??!  Achieving the level of trust needed to allow Agile to deliver its benefits requires a structured campaign by the AAs to first build solid relationships with senior executives and then communicate enough information to develop the trust needed to allow Agile to deliver its benefits. Advising upwards is a skill that most technicians don’t have but is a core stakeholder management skill (see: From Commander to Sponsor: Managing Upwards in the Project Environment) and is critical to the success of Agile in business.

There is also a need to discipline the Agile development process. Far too many IT techo’s see Agile as an excuse for not documenting code, ignoring scope requirements, and having fun writing stuff. To succeed in business, the flexibility advocated in the various Agile methodologies has to be tempered with pragmatism. The delivered software needs to meet the business objectives set by senior management as well as the desires of the SME ‘customers’ working with the team. The key stakeholders for any IT project are the people at the top of the organisational tree. The problem is these key stakeholders are rarely involved in the project. Until AAs can develop a language and a practice that offers some certainty to senior management that their way of developing software will deliver enhanced business benefits and maintainable code the potential benefits will be lost.

The fundamental principles in the Agile Manifesto have support in a number of emerging fields of academic research including Complexity Theory and Social Networks Theory. The challenge for AAs is to communicate these ideas in business language and to temper the exuberance of many ‘Agilists’ who naively believe that simply because you have developed a better mouse trap everyone will buy it. The world of business does not work that way.

To succeed, AAs is to avoid over claiming the benefits of Agile and work the organisational systems to allow Agile to deliver its benefits. This includes demonstrating to management the project is aligned to the business objectives, that only the minimum scope needed to achieve the planned benefits is being developed and any new ideas (ie, scope creep) will be properly assessed before inclusion in the project. Achieving this involves the appropriate use of traditional project management processes linked to effective ‘upwards’ communication.  To keep Agile, agile, the application of these processes certainly needs modification and adaptation from the more heavy handed approaches of the past (eg, Waterfall and PRINCE2) but they cannot be ignored.  The PMBOK® Guide certainly advocates/requires PMs to adapt its processes to the needs of the project – I suggested a few of the key adaptations needed in The Gentle Art of Managing Agile.

Now its up to the Agile community to make Agile relevant to the businesses it is designed to serve. To read more visit my posts on the PMI Voices on Project Management blog, and join in the discussion.

PMOZ 2009

August 6, 2009

We have a busy week coming up. The 6th annual PMOZ (Project Management Australia) conference kicks off on Monday and we have a full workload.

Monday I will be running a workshop with our colleague Bob McGannon on ‘Avoiding project manglement’. This workshop combines Bob’s work on intelligent disobedience with mine on stakeholder management to outline a strategy for effectively advising upwards to help your project avoid sinking into the political swamp (manglement).

During the main part of the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday, I have a paper on Communication in organisations: making the schedule effective and Patrick Weaver on Seeing Who’s There – A Brief History of Stakeholder Mapping & Visualisation. We will also be running a short in-conference workshop on our SRMM® model.

Apart from our efforts, there are a range of interesting speakers and events – expect an update from the conference next week.

Maturity Modelling

August 1, 2009

Engaging effectively and authentically with an organisation’s stakeholders requires an appropriately open culture linked to organisational maturity.

The Stakeholder Circle® offers an effective methodology for stakeholder engagement but using the methodology effectively requires a mature understanding of the importance of stakeholder engagement across all levels of an organisation. The Stakeholder Relationship Management Maturity (SRMM®) model has been developed to help organisations grow their maturity.

SRMM® uses a similar structure to CMMI staged assessment, and the P3M3 maturity models. P3M3 (Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model) has the following levels (CMMI in brackets):
– Initial (performed) – reactive and poorly controlled
– Repeatable (managed) – focus on the project
– Defined (defined) – focus on the organisation
– Managed (quantitatively managed) – measured and controlled
– Optimising (optimizing) – focus on process improvement

Whilst the PMI’s OPM3 model measures maturity on a continuous scale, it too sees maturity progressing from random to standardized, measured, controlled to continuously improving. An overview of these three models is in a paper I co-authored in 2007 (download presentation).

These ideas and hands-on experience helping organisations develop their stakeholder management capabilities led to the development of the SRMM® model for growing an organisations capability to manage its relationships with stakeholders.

SRMM has a 5 level structure:

  • Ad hoc, characterised by isolated pockets of awareness
  • Procedural, characterised by the routine use of tools and processes
  • Relational, characterised by an external focus on engaging stakeholders and ‘mutual benefits’
  • Integrated, characterised by a commitment to continuous improvement and strong internal support within the organisation
  • Predictive, characterised by the use of information for project ‘health checks’ (is the project ‘normal’) and predictive risk assessment.


An overview of SRMM® can be found in the paper I presented at the PMI Congress in Malta last year (download paper). A more comprehensive overview is contained in Section 3 of my book, Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation that will be published by Gower in October (preview the book).

The two key messages from all of the maturity models are firstly developing maturity is progressive, organisations need to start at the beginning and build progressively. Secondly, the process is a journey, there is not right place to be and no final end point, the ultimate level in the models is reached when the organisation can continuously improve, the good news is empirical data from CMMI at least clearly indicates a strong ROI based on improving maturity levels and anecdotal evidence suggests this is typical across all of the models.

How mature is your organisation?