The Evolution of Project Management

September 25, 2017

The publication of the PMBOK® Guide sixth edition at the beginning of September, and the decision last week by ISO committee TC258 to revise ISO standard 21500 should mark the end of an era in the development of project management. For most of the last 50 years the dominant view of project management associations has been that project management is a generally transferable skill. This has resulted in the view that ‘project management’ can be represented by a single ‘BoK’ (Body of Knowledge), a single ‘competency baseline’ and capability can be demonstrated by passing a single credential or certification. However, whilst the PM professional associations have advocated this view, the job market has always retained a focus on different industry experience – you don’t get an IT project manager’s job without IT experience.

As outlined above, from the emergence of ‘modern project management’ in the 1960s[1] the predominant view of the professional associations and most academics and practitioners has been that ‘project management’ is a single discipline with transferrable skills. A single qualification framework is appropriate and the skills and techniques are generally applicable across all industries.  However, in the years between the 1960s and the 2000s, as different industries and disciplines progressively adopted the concept of ‘project management’ this holistic view has become increasingly stressed.

The future suggested in this post still sees project management as a single discipline focused around some high-level objectives; but rather than having a single set of generally accepted good practices applicable to most projects most time, the emerging discipline needs to be capable of embracing a range of different approaches to project management and a diverse toolbox of techniques that can be mixed and matched to optimise the creation of the project’s deliverables.

Project management literature has identified at least three key dimensions to project management:

  1. An ‘adaptive/agile’ approach -v- a disciplined structured approach.
  2. The size, scale, and difficulty associated with the work of the project.
  3. Simple relatively predictable projects -v- complex projects with emergent properties.

In addition to these parameters (mapped in the diagram above), there is also the degree of certainty associated with the work, the technical complexity of the product, and the attitude of the stakeholder community[2].

It’s time for a change.

The project management techniques needed to manage different types of project vary enormously; for example:

  • The optimum approach to managing a relatively small, simple project to upgrade a website may benefit from an adaptive/Agile approach to managing the work and should only require a ‘light touch’ to control the work;
  • Contrast this to the disciplined approach needed to design and build a new chemical plant where not only do complicated parts need to be manufactured to precise dimensions months in advance and shipped halfway around the world, but the work has to be carefully managed and the parts assembled in a precise sequence to allow all bits to be fitted together properly in a safe working environment.

Both these endeavours are projects, but the project management techniques needed for success are dramatically different. Even within the one project, some elements may benefit from an ‘agile’ approach to the work (eg, systems integration), while other elements of the work will require a very disciplined approach to achieve success – building space rockets does require ‘rocket science’.

The challenge facing the project management profession and project management academics is firstly defining the common core of project management, and then adapting the approach to developing and documenting the overall project management body of knowledge in a way that recognises the core commonality of being ‘a project’ whilst allowing different approaches to the management of the work. And once these foundations are in place, flowing these concepts through into documented standards, knowledge frameworks and certifications. In the 21st century a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the management of projects is no longer appropriate.

PMI has started down this path, they have agile certifications and have included both tailorability and agile concepts into the 6th edition of the PMBOK® Guide. Developments in the ISO space are also moving towards this integrated but separated approach to managing different types of projects. ISO 21500 Guidance on Project Management, is being updated and transformed into a higher level ‘management standard’, if this development is successful, in the future a series of implementation guides can be foreseen focused on different types, sizes and phases of project development and delivery.

What’s missing at the moment is a holistic and agreed understanding precisely what a project actually is[3] (this will segregate project management from other forms of management), and then a framework distinguishing the different types of project that exist within the overall frame of a project but requiring different styles of project management. Some of the multitude of factors that need to be considered include:

  • The inherent size of the project usually measured in terms of value;
  • The degree of technical difficulty in creating the output (complication) caused by the characteristics of the project’s work and its deliverables, or the time-frame the deliverables are required within;
  • The degree of uncertainty involved in the project;
  • The degree of complexity associated with the work and the stakeholder relationships;
  • The difference between client project management and contractor project management;
  • The various methodologies and strategic approaches to managing the project and developing the product (Agile, PRINCE2, etc);
  • The maturity of the environment in which the project is being delivered (developing economies/organisations -v- mature economies/organisations); and
  • The difference between project, program and portfolio management.

The common core

The core element of all projects is the intentional ‘temporariness’ of the team (organisation) set up to deliver the project. The ‘temporary organisation’ is given an objective to create a deliverable for a client and then to shut down efficiently; in addition, there is an intention on the part of most key stakeholders to treat the work as a ‘project’. This means the project has to be started (initiated), the work planned, then undertaken, and on completion the temporary organisation has to be closed – and of course, all of these activities need monitoring and controlling.

Where 21st century project management needs to diverge from the doctrines of the last century is in the way these overarching objectives are achieved – defining 44 or 49 processes as ‘generally accepted best practices’ is no longer appropriate.  The concept of ‘project management’ needs to be able to adapt to very different approaches, allow the project team to select from a toolbox of ‘useful techniques and methodologies’ and then encourage the teams to craft the processes they actually use to optimise the delivery of the project’s outputs to its clients.

Achieving this will require a different approach to developing standards, a different approach to training and qualifying practitioners and the creation of very different communities within the profession that encourages cohesion whilst embracing diversity of practice.

It will be interesting to see if our profession is up to the challenges.

____________________

[1] For more on the origins of ‘modern project management’ see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P050_Origins_of_Modern_PM.pdf

[2] For more on the dimensions of project management see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1072_Project_Size.pdf

[3] For more on defining a project see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/seeking-a-definition-of-a-project/

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Is your steering committee costing $5000 per hour?

December 13, 2015

The loaded cost of running a committee of senior managers can easily exceed $5000 per hour once the opportunity costs are included.  Productive committees offset this by creating value, hopefully significantly greater than their running costs.  Project and program steering committees should be no different!

Steering_Committee

However, if the steering committee is simply focused on ‘governance’ it is highly unlikely to be generating any significant value.  At the management level where most steering committees operate there is very little governance decision making needed and conformance and assurance usually needs specialists.

The first four functions of governance defined in The Functions of Governance are:

  • Determining the objectives of the organisation: this is done by the organisation’s governing body and implemented through the strategic plan. The project should have been selected because it contributes to achieving the strategic plan, a function of portfolio management, but once the project has started it is rather too late.
  • Determining the ethics of the organisation: this is done by the organisation’s governing body; it is a duty of every manager to support the organisation’s ethical standards and ensure the people they are managing conform. But you do not need a committee to ensure this occurs, just the project manager’s line manager (usually the Sponsor).
  • Creating the culture of the organisation: again this is done by the organisation’s governing body; it is a duty of every manager to support the organisation’s cultural standards and ensure the people they are managing conform. But you do not need a committee to ensure this occurs, just the project manager’s line manager (usually the Sponsor).
  • Designing and implementing the governance framework for the organisation: this should be done before the project is started and include delegations of authority for expenditure and decision making and escalation paths. If it has not been done, one half hour meeting of the sponsor and a few key managers can set the delegations.

In summary, the aspects of governance that determine the way the organisation operates and how the project or program will fit into the overall governance framework does not need a monthly meeting of any type.  There are management responsibilities but these are vested in the responsible line manager, typically the Sponsor (see more on the role of a Sponsor).

The final two functions of governance are ensuring accountability by management and conformance by the organisation.  A steering committee can certainly focus on these aspects of governance but if they do, they are largely wasting their time and most of the $5000 per hour.  There are two fundamental reasons for this:

  1. It is extremely poor governance for a managing entity to seek to provide assurance that the people it is managing are conforming. Assurance oversight should be provided by an independent body.
  2. Most aspects of project surveillance and assurance require high levels of technical skill. It is highly unlikely any of the managers on a steering committee posses these skills (see more on project surveillance).

The organisational entity best suited for the work of surveillance and assurance is a PMO with appropriate support from management. If there is an effective PMO structure in place with the ability to identify shortcomings, backed up by responsible line management there is no need for another committee to second guess the process a few weeks later (see more on PMOs).

Dilbert-committee

Some of the completely unproductive ‘governance’ functions undertaken by ‘steering committees’ include:

  • Validating correct procedures have been followed (properly resourced PMOs are a better and cheaper option).
  • Discussing negative variances and allocating blame (management action is needed not committee discussions).
  • Second guessing management decisions after the event and interfering in the day-to-day running of the project (project professionals are not helped by interference from amateurs – even if they are senior managers).
  • Listening to lengthy reports on what has happened during the last month (effective reporting is all that is needed).

Being involved in this type of activity may make the steering committee members feel important but contributes little or nothing of value in a well governed and structured organisation; if the organisation is not well governed and structured the committee members would be far better off focusing on fixing the real problems.

 

Steering Committees can be highly valuable!

The constitution of most steering committees creates a real opportunity to add value to the overall management of a project or program, but only if the committee focuses on helping craft success. Steering committees typically include members from a range of areas within the organisational affected by the project and its deliverables. Therefore as a group its members are uniquely placed to assist the project manager and sponsor deliver a successful project by helping them steer a path through the organisational politics and stakeholder issues that confront any project or program.

This objective can be achieved by making the members of the steering committee personally responsible for the realisation of value from the organisation’s investment in project, and in particular for dealing with the organisational change and stakeholder issues that are outside of the project manager’s responsibilities. Some of the key responsibilities allocated to the steering committee may include:

  • Responsibility for preparing the organisation for the changes needed to make use of the project’s deliverables and the realisation of value.
  • Managing the interface between the project and the organisational change management work
  • Being available to assist in the management of stakeholder issues escalated from the project and/or identified in areas outside of the direct influence of the project.
  • Ensuring effective benefits management is in place for the life of the initiative (ie, it continues after the project is closed).
  • Dealing with any other aspect of organisational politics that may affect the work of the project or the on-going change initiative.
  • Making value based decisions on complex change proposals, including contributing positively to the resolution of intractable problems, to optimise the value outcome for the organisation.

Obviously the steering committee also needs to take an interest in the project its steering to success. The problem is these are all management activities, not governance activities (for more on this see Does organisational governance exist?).

Effective steering committees work with the project manager and sponsor to identify the external influences causing problems and help the project successfully navigate the organisational stakeholder environment. They also resist the urge to interfere in the actual running of the project or program. There is a world of difference between a collaborative and supportive approach focused on success and the negative approach adopted by so many steering committees that seems to translate ‘governance’ into giving the project manager a ‘hard time’ to ensure compliance with ‘due process’ even if this adds to the existing problems.

Are your organisation’s steering committees worth their hourly running costs?


Making Ethics Effective

September 14, 2015

EthicsAn organisation can espouse the highest ethical standards but if these are not supported and enforced they are simply nice statements that look appealing. The challenge is to have the right levels of support and just enough enforcement.

Headline news in Australia over the last couple of weeks (with months to run) is the appalling treatment of franchisees and their staff by the 7-Eleven chain.  To survive (and in some cases profit) many 7-Eleven franchisees resorted to underpaying staff by a standard 50%.  The TV expose and press reports indicate multiple breaches of employment legislation, occupational health and safety legislation, corporations law and taxation legislation.  Most of the focus at the moment is on the students who allowed themselves to be trapped into the wages scam.  This post will suggest these people are not the ‘biggest losers’.

The whole 7-Eleven chain was benefitting from the scam.  Head office made more profit, the franchisees reduced their wage bill by up to 50% (their primary cost under the franchise arrangements) and the students received their reduced pay.  Whilst in some cases there may have been elements of coercion used to keep the students employed, everyone got into the deal voluntarily.

The major losers in this scam were people who rely on the workings of the law and run their businesses honestly.  Two major groups are the corner shop-keepers who paid the lawful minimum wage and saw their businesses destroyed because the 7-Eleven ‘model’ undercut costs illegally and the unemployed people who did not get jobs because they had the audacity to expect to be paid their legal entitlements.

People in these groups faced a major ethical dilemma, go out of business (or remain unemployed) or ‘bend the law’ to survive in completion with a chain that was prepared to allow widespread malpractice.  Not an easy decision!

I would suggest the major failing was not the ethics of the 7-Eleven chain: the erosion of ethical standards is usually slow and insidious. The real problem appears to be the government agencies tasked with enforcing the law.  Over several decades government departments have been steadily stripped of resources and these days can only adequately respond to ‘major issues’ –  they are forced to assume ethical behaviour by most people most of the time and even when advised of blatant breaches will generally ignore the issue if it is considered minor.

One example we confront regularly is breaches of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 – one of the Act’s primary requirements is honesty in advertising, the advertised price of any goods of services should be the minimum price the consumer has to pay.  We routinely see Google advertisements targeted at our training market in Melbourne offering ultra cheap prices.  Click through to the related web page listing the training courses in Melbourne and the price increases, spend 15 minutes filling in registration forms and you eventually see the price you are required to pay (with all of the taxes and changes now added)!   This is a deliberate strategy by unethical organisations – the low price gets people onto their web site, and inertia keeps them there (particularly after spending effort on filling in the forms) so they end up paying far more than is necessary for an equivalent course.  The practice is so widespread, particularly with overseas based training providers, we regularly find people asking us if our prices are ‘real’ and ‘how much will they actually pay’ – the answer is simple, we conform to the law and charge the advertised price.

However, this was not an easy decision to make! We have had to reduce prices and increase advertising to attempt to off-set the illegal practices of others. Complaints to authorities go unheeded because they simply do not have the resources to deal with a relatively minor issue and business suffers.

When ethical standards start to slip several things tend to happen, ethical people move away to somewhere where their standards are not being challenged, less-ethical people move in and further degrade standards and many other people simply learn to ignore the problem (see The normalisation of deviant behaviours). And once unethical or corrupt behaviour becomes normalised, reversing the situation is extremely difficult. Press reports suggest that some 7-Eleven franchisees who have been forced to pay proper wages are now using extortion to demand 50% of the money back from the employee (outside of the premises so the extortion is not recorded), or the worker loses his/her job.

At a national level one hopes the 7-Eleven furore when added to the construction of a refuelling wharf in the Tiwi Islands without environmental approval (the government agency did not have the resources to investigate in a timely way), the blatant abuse of the vocational training scheme by some commercial organisations and numerous other failures will cause a re-think of the way business and government approach regulation.

Certainly the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, regulations and other forms of red tape is to be encouraged. However, if the government decides a regulation is desirable, proper and comprehensive enforcement should be automatically provided. The failure to enforce regulations penalises the honest, ethical organisations who feel obliged to comply; and advantages the dishonest who chose to breach the regulation and balance the low cost of getting ‘caught’ against the additional profits garnered from ignoring the provision. Prosecuting a few ‘rule breakers’ 5 or 6 years after the event is not an appropriate way to govern – the damage is already done.

What does this mean within organisations and projects?  Effective governance sets the ‘rules and objectives’ for the organisation (see: The Functions of Governance). Management and staff operate within those rules to achieve the objectives. A key element in a well designed governance framework is the feedback loop providing assurance of management accountability and compliance.  This loop needs three elements:

  • A clear articulation of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours at all levels of the organisation, with senior leaders ‘walking the talk’.
  • Proactive surveillance to identify issues and opportunities as early as possible backed up by effective improvement processes (see: Proactive Project Surveillance).
  • Rigorous, but fair, enforcement processes to deal with breaches.

The last point is the most difficult to get right.  The system needs to be open and accountable, apply both natural justice and the ‘presumption of innocence’, deal with the root cause of the breach, avoid scapegoating, and be trusted.  One element is ensuring effective reporting and ‘whistle blowing’ processes are available so that people (both internal and external to the organisation) who believe there is an issue can raise the matter safely – its impossible to enforce rules if people in authority don’t know (or don’t want to know) about the breach.

The good news is that if these types of system are in place, the organisation will develop a self-reinforcing ethical culture.  Unethical people will leave to find somewhere easier for them making way for people who want to work in an ethical environment.  Fairly soon, everyone holds both themselves and other accountable.

However, this situation cannot be taken for granted! The presence of the surveillance and enforcement processes underpin these highly desirable behaviours.  If the organisation makes the same mistake the Australian governments have repeatedly made over the last 10 years of deregulation and simply ‘hope’ everyone will do the right thing it won’t take long for the slide into unethical behaviour to start.  Hope is not a strategy, good governance requires assurance that the organisation’s objectives are being achieved, and effective assurance needs both surveillance and enforcement capabilities.


What’s in a Name?

May 14, 2015

When it comes to effective communication, a clear, concise and easily defined name for something is essential if you want people who are not directly involved in your special disciple to understand your message.  Jargon and ambiguity destroy understanding and damage credibility.

Potentially one of the major reasons senior executives still fail to understand ‘project management’ within their organisations is the fact that the project management profession uses its special terms in a multitude of different ways……

There are four generally recognised focuses within the overall domain of ‘project management’ Portfolio management, Program management, Project management and the overarching capabilities needed by an organisation to use project, program and portfolio (PPP) management effectively.

The starting problem is implicit in the above paragraph, ‘project management’ can be used as a ‘collective noun’ and mean all four areas of management or specifically to mean the management of a project.

The next problem is if project management means the management of a project, exactly what is a project?  The current definitions for a project are very imprecise and can apply to virtually anything. A more precise definition is discussed in Project Fact or Fiction.

Program management is fairly consistently defined in the literature and involves both the management of multiple projects and the realisation of benefits for the organisation. There are still legacy problems though; the ‘Manhattan Project’ to create the first atomic bombs during WW2 was a massive program of work involving dozens of separate projects.

Similarly, Portfolio management is fairly consistently defined. The core element of portfolio management is deciding on the best investment strategy for the organisation to meet its strategic objective through investing in new selected projects and programs and reviewing current ‘investments’ to ensure the project or program is continuing to deliver value (and closing those that are not to redirect the resources to a better ‘investment option’.

Both Program management and Portfolio management are relatively new concepts and have the advantage of being developed at a time where wide reaching communication was relatively easy allowing a consistency of though and definition. Where the real problems emerge is in the realm of the overall organisational capabilities to use PPP concepts effectively.

The management space around the core PPP management functions includes:

  • Governance
  • Multi-Project management
  • Organisational enablers such as PMOs, etc
  • The ‘management of projects’ (Prof. Peter Morris)
  • Benefits realisation
  • Organisational change management
  • Value creation

In general terms this area of management responsibilities can be picked up if ‘project management’ is used as an overarching term. Some times, some aspects get absorbed into people’s definition of portfolio management and program management. But this ‘absorption’ does not really help develop clarity; for example,  whilst benefits realisation is generally seen as part of program management, this does not help deal with the realisation of benefits for the 1000s of project that are not part of a program, etc.

Apart from project, program and portfolio management as defined I believe the global project management community, including academia and the major associations need to make a focused effort to develop a ‘standard’ naming convention for these various aspects of ‘project management’ – if we cannot be consistent in our use of terms our stakeholders will be permanently confused and confused stakeholders are unlikely to be supportive!

I feel there are three distinct aspects to this ‘fuzzy space’:

  • The second is the ability of an organisation to effectively select and support its project, program and portfolio management efforts. This includes the ‘management of projects’, organisation enablers and multi-project management: The Strategic Management of Projects.
  • The third area is the link between PPP, operations, strategy and value, encompassing benefits realisation, value creation and integration with organisational change management (which is an already established management discipline). I don’t have a good name for this critical area of our professions contribution to organisations but it is probably the most important from the perspective of executive management.

The overall architecture of the discipline of PPP management looks something like this:

WP1074_PPP_Architecture

 

The challenge is to start moving towards a consensus on a naming convention for these aspects of ‘project management’ so we can start communicating clearly and concisely with all of our stakeholders.  Hopefully this post will start some discussions.


Take the time to be creative

January 22, 2015

Smell the dasiesOne of the most overlooked aspects of creativity and learning is simply taking the time needed to reflect and think.  Professor Manfred Kets De Vries suggests that the fast paced, continuous access, instant response culture we operate in is eroding people’s ability to reflect and create innovative solutions to problems.  The pressure to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out about (and hit Google on your smart phone)’ is usually too great to resist. But working quicker and harder is not necessarily working smarter.

De Vries believes that deliberately slowing down  and setting aside regular periods of ‘constructively doing nothing’ may be the best thing  you can do to induce a state of mind that nurtures imagination, creativity, and improves your mental well-being, by giving ideas time to mature.

“Learning without reflection is a waste, reflection without learning is dangerous” – Confucius

Business may be all pervasive, almost everyone seems glued to their PDA and feels compelled to respond to virtually every email received instantaneously but being busy and being effective are not the same thing unless you work in a customer service or support role!

If you are in a management, problem solving, or creative role a significant part of your job is developing new ideas or concepts that have been though through  and optimised. This requires thinking time.  But is creatively doing nothing really acceptable? Most of us feel guilty if we don’t have something to do, and we get a buzz when we feel really busy. And these busy behaviours generate their own reward by stimulating the brain to shoot dopamine into the bloodstream giving us a rush that can make stopping being busy so much harder. It really is nice to feel wanted, busy and in demand.

The problem with being busy is that if you don’t allow yourself periods of uninterrupted, freely associated, thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge. And taking the time to ‘smell the daisies’ has multiple benefits……

The world of multitasking and hyperactivity helps us to delude ourselves that we are productive. The reality is that social media is reactive and not very original. It contracts creativity and can impact mental health. If we don’t know how to calibrate the balance between action and reflection we may become a casualty of information overload and psychological burnout.

Similarly, in many contemporary organisations work addicts are encouraged and rewarded; the behaviour is superficially useful to the organisation. Unfortunately, a workaholic environment can contribute to serious personal and mental health problems including low morale, depression, and above average absenteeism. The most effective knowledge workers are those who can both act and reflect, which means unplugging themselves from the compulsion to keep busy.

Deliberately doing nothing creates valuable opportunities for unconscious thought processes. Unconscious thought excels at integrating and associating information; we are less constrained by conventional associations and more likely to generate novel ideas. As well as being good for our mental health, doing nothing may turn out to be the best way to resolve complex problems.  Italian painter Giorgio Vasari summed it up well when he said “Men of genius sometimes accomplish most when they work least”.

Some of the ways you can create time for reflection include:

  1. Maintaining your relationships. We all need meaningful contact with people to feel fully alive. Maintaining our relationships needs interaction, engagement and time out from work. Conversation is also a powerful stimulant for creativity (just make sure you have a notebook handy).
  2. Saying No. Being able to say no is a key skill. Simply saying no to unimportant requests can free up time for more important things (see more on personal time management).
  3. Managing your sleep habits. In a perfect world we should all sleep around eight hours a night. Good sleep is essential for personal growth and creativity.

The challenge with taking time out to be creative is the good ideas always come ‘from nowhere’, usually at the most inappropriate moments (eg, in the shower). If this happens to you, you are not alone; from Archimedes in his bath, to Newton in his Lincolnshire garden (but no ‘apple’), brilliant ideas just seem to just appear. So the final element in creatively doing nothing is being able to trap your ideas when they surface.

ProductivityIn summary, a walk around outside or time spent with your feet on the desk can be more productive than working through a lunch-break – now all you have to do is convince the boss.

For a different take on productive laziness see: http://www.thelazyprojectmanager.com/


Fine Tune your detectors

January 3, 2015

Fine tune your detectorsThe quality of any decision you make is determined by the quality of the information and advice you receive. Good information does not necessarily mean a good decision, but bad information will almost certainly lead to a bad decision.

The decision making process and the types of decision a project manager, and almost anybody else, has to make are discussed in WP1053 Decision Making.  The closely aligned process of problem solving in WP1013. Good information and advice is an essential input to both of these processes.

The right information has the potential to reduce or remove the uncertainty at the centre of every decision. If you are lucky and the information or advice removes all of the uncertainty, then there is nothing left to decide! Usually even with good advice, there is still some uncertainty and you still have to make the decision.

In reality, we rarely if ever have enough information; the challenge is to get as much information as is sensible in the circumstances and then make a timely decision accepting there will inevitably be gaps in your knowledge potentially leading to suboptimal outcomes.

However, simply collecting vast quantities of information does not help (unless you are using data mining). Generally information has no value, unless it has the potential to change your decision! The critical thing in decision making is having the key elements of information available when needed, in a useful form, which improves your awareness of the situation and your ability to decide.

But no information or advice is perfect. Before making use of any information, the decision maker has to evaluate the reliability and accuracy of the information or advice and look for any vested interests or bias on the part of the people developing the information or proposing the advice. Good decision makers usually have very finely tuned ‘bull s**t’ detectors.  And whilst this skill often seems to be innate to an individual many of the skills can be learned.

Some of the elements to consider when weighing up information are:

  1. As a starting point, everyone is biased and most people have vested interests. The antidote to bias and vested interests are to consider what effect these influences may have. The more effort someone has committed to developing a set of information, the greater their vested stake in the work. See more on Biases.
  2. Beware of factoids!
    You will be pleased to know, you are one of the 1635 people who have read this post, and as a consequence are now aware of factoids.How do we know this? We don’t. I just made it up; but you can’t call me wrong, because you don’t know, either. A factoid is something that looks like a very precise fact. The antidote to factoids is source information. Good source information in the statement above would be ‘our web counter shows that you are visitor 1635 to this page’. Start worrying if the source is nebulous ‘our webmaster advises’ or ‘based on a sophisticated time related algorithm…’.
  3. Beware of false precision.
    Almost everything that affects project decisions is a guess, assessment or estimate (the terms are largely synonymous) about something that may occur in the future But no one has precise information about the future! False precision damages credibility (see: Is what you heard what I meant?) and is generally less than useful.  The antidote to false precision is to ask for ranges and the basis of the range statement.
  4. Lies, dam lies and statistics 1.
    Some statistics result from the counting of real things. If you trust the people who do the counting, the math and the reporting, the data is as good as you are going to get. However, most statistics are estimates for a large population, derived from the extrapolation of the results from a small sample. Professional statisticians and pollsters attach a calculated margin of error to their work – this margin is important!  The antidote to false statistics is to ignore any that do not come with a statement of the margin for error and how this was derived.
  5. Lies, dam lies and statistics 2.
    Understand the basis for comparison – it is very easy to distort information. Project A will increase the profit on the sale of widgets by 50% whereas project B will only increase the profit on our training business by 10%, if both projects involve a similar cost outlay which one is best??? You need to know the basis for comparison to answer the question: a 50% increase in profits from a base of $100,000 = $50,000 which is half the value of a 10% increase in profits from a base of $1 million.  The antidote to statistical distortion is to largely ignore percent changes and statements such as ‘fastest growing’, ‘biggest increase’, etc.  It is always easier to be the ‘biggest’ if your starting point is the smallest.
  6. The ‘one-in-a-million’ problem
    Discussed in The role of ‘sentinels’ many ‘one-off’ problems are symptoms of a much deeper issue. Our entire working life is less than 20,000 days so the chances of you encountering a genuine ‘one-in-a-million’ event, just once in your working life, is about 2%. Other phrases that should trigger concern include; ‘she’ll be right’, ‘no-problems’, ‘it’s easy’, etc…The antidote to these type of expression is to simply reverse the statement:
    – one-off / one-in-a-million = there’s probably a structural cause to be discovered;
    – she’ll be right = I have no idea how to fix it (and its definitely not OK);
    – no-problems = this is a major problem for me;
    – it’s easy = this will be very difficult (unless the ‘easy’ is followed by an explanation of how it is easy).
  7. The false prophet
    False prophecies are allegations and unsubstantiated statements made with the expectation that the ‘expertise’ of the person the statement is attributed to will cover the statement with absolute credibility. If the statement is improbable, it is improbable regardless of the alleged source.  The antidote to false profits being quoted in the ‘third party’; eg, “Einstein said controlled nuclear fusion was easy”; is simply to seek authentication from the source. If the ‘prophet’ is present, ask them for more information.  Real experts know both the upside and the down side of any course of action they are proposing – they understand the uncertainty. Wannabe experts pretend there is no downside or uncertainty.
  1. Well known facts
    Remember, most ‘well known facts’ are in fact commonly held misconceptions (this statement is a factoid but also useful).  The antidote to ‘well know facts’ is to dig deeper and gather actual facts.

These are just a few ways bad advice and information can be introduced into a decision making process. Taking a few minutes to verify the quality of the advice you are being given, ditch the unsound advice and information, and then use what’s left to inform the decision will enhance the probability of making the best decision in the circumstances.  This is not easy to do (but good decisions are rarely ‘easy’); the consolation is once you develop a reputation for having a good ‘bull s**t’ detector, most sensible people will stop trying to use it on you. Then all you need to do is make the right decision.


Are Sponsors over worked and under effective?

December 16, 2014

Sleepy-Sponsor1The Institute of Project Management (Ireland)  has published a  survey is based on self-reported information from their course based on nine major position descriptions/levels in reporting the data comparing the expected number of hours to be worked based on their terms of employment and the actual number of hours typically worked. The averaged data from senior management positions is worrying:

  • Director of PMO; expected: 39.0 Hrs, actual: 60.0 Hrs
  • Portfolio Manager; expected: 37.0 Hrs, actual: 50.0 Hrs
  • Project Manager (Senior); expected: 37.9 Hrs, actual: 50.3 Hrs.

Combine these findings with data from PMI on the hours worked by Sponsors (download the PMI report on ‘Executive Sponsor Engagement’) with many reporting working weeks of 50 to 60 hours on their ‘day job’ before taking on the additional responsibilities of sponsoring a project or a program; and, that effective sponsors report that typically they are working on three projects at a time, spending an average of 13 hours per week on each, the problem of over extension of key executives becomes obvious.

Combine these findings with the demonstrated correlation between effective sponsorship and achieving project success, the over extension of senior managers has serious consequences:

  • Sponsors have inadequate time to understand the project’s requirements and support the project manager leading to an increased probability of failure;
  • Tired managers make poor decisions, and tiredness affects ethical standards (see: Tired workers lose their ethics);
  • There is frequently not enough time to train the sponsor in his/her role further reducing their effectiveness; and
  • These pressures often lead to a lack of continuity in the sponsorship role, which is another identified source of project failure.

The evidence is clear, organisations that fail to effectively sponsor their projects and programs are making an overt commitment to wasting the organisation’s time, money and resources – there is an 80% greater probability of failure and no amount of effort at the ‘project management’ level can overcome executive management failures.

Sleepy-Sponsor2One simple way to stop the waste is for an organisation to defer any project where it is unable to find a committed, trained sponsor, with adequate time, energy and skills to properly fulfil their role. No sponsor – no project! (See more on the role of a sponsor)  This may sound extreme, but if the executive management team do not see the project as being sufficiently important to the organisation they manage, to reorganise the disposition of executive resources to properly support the work, then the project is probably not that important anyway. The organisation will be better off not spending the money and wasting its resources.

The governance challenge is creating a management culture that on one hand, actively encourages the deferment of projects that are inadequately supported (eg, don’t have a sponsor); and on the other actively encourages the development of the organisation’s capability to excel at the ‘the management of projects’ (see more on the strategic management of projects).

Sleepy-Sponsor3Creating this culture is a critical governance issue (see more on the governance of project management).  If an organisation cannot implement projects and programs efficiently, it cannot adapt and change to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world which will inevitably lead to the organisation becoming obsolete. However, achieving the necessary changes won’t happen if the executive team are already overextended – the situation highlighted in both of the reports referenced in this post! Building the organisational capability to efficiently its projects and programs is itself a major change initiative that needs resourcing and sponsoring at the highest levels.