Project Risk Management – how reliable is old data

January 28, 2016

One of the key underpinnings of risk management is reliable data to base probabilistic estimates of what may happen in the future.  The importance of understanding the reliability of the data being used is emphasised in PMBOK® Guide 11.3.2.3 Risk Data Quality Assessment and virtually every other risk standard.

One of the tenets underpinning risk management in all of its forms from gambling to insurance is the assumption that reliable data about the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future – there’s no certainty in this processes but there is degree of probability that future outcomes will be similar to past outcomes if the circumstances are similar. ‘Punters’ know this from their ‘form guides’, insurance companies rely on this to calculate premiums and almost every prediction of some future outcome relies on an analogous interpretation of similar past events. Project estimating and risk management is no different.

Every time or cost estimate is based on an understanding of past events of a similar nature; in fact the element that differentiates an estimate from a guess is having a basis for the estimate! See:

–  Duration Estimating

–  Cost Estimating

The skill in estimating both normal activities and risk events is understanding the available data, and being able to adapt the historical information to the current circumstances. This adaptation requires understanding the differences in the work between the old and the current and the reliability and the stability of the information being used. Range estimates (three point estimates) can be used to frame this information and allow a probabilistic assessment of the event; alternatively a simple ‘allowance’ can be made. For example, in my home state we ‘know’ three weeks a year is lost to inclement weather if the work is exposed to the elements.  Similarly office based projects in the city ‘know’ they can largely ignore the risk of power outages – they are extremely rare occurrences. But how reliable is this ‘knowledge’ gained over decades and based on weather records dating back 180 years?

World-Temprature

Last year was the hottest year on record (by a significant margin) as was 2014 – increasing global temperatures increase the number of extreme weather events of all types and exceptionally hot days place major strains on the electrical distribution grids increasing the likelihood of blackouts.  What we don’t know because there is no reliable data is the consequences.  The risk of people not being able to get to work, blackouts and inclement weather events are different – but we don’t know how different.

Dealing with this uncertainty requires a different approach to risk management and a careful assessment of your stakeholders. Ideally some additional contingencies will be added to projects and additional mitigation action taken such as backing up during the day as well as at night – electrical storms tend to be a late afternoon / evening event. But these cost time and money…..

Getting stakeholder by-in is more difficult:

  • A small but significant number of people (including some in senior roles) flatly refuse to accept there is a problem. Despite the science they believe based on ‘personal observations’ the climate is not changing…….
  • A much larger number will not sanction any action that costs money without a cast iron assessment based on valid data. But there is no valid data, the consequences can be predicted based on modelling but there are no ‘facts’ based on historical events……..
  • Most of the rest will agree some action is needed but require an expert assessment of the likely effect and the value proposition for creating contingencies and implementing mitigation activities.

 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it???? 

The challenge facing everyone in management is deciding what to do:

  • Do nothing and respond heroically if needed?
  • Think through the risks and potential responses to be prepared (but wait to see what actually occurs)??
  • Take proactive action and incur the costs, but never being sure if they are needed???

There is no ‘right answer’ to this conundrum, we certainly cannot provide a recommendation because we ‘don’t know’ either.  But at least we know we don’t know!

head-in-sandI would suggest discussing what you don’t know about the consequences of climate change on your organisation is a serious conversation that needs to be started within your team and your wider stakeholder community.

Doing nothing may feel like a good options – wait and see (ie, procrastination) can be very attractive to a whole range of innate biases. But can you afford to do nothing?  Hoping for the best is not a viable strategy, even if inertia in your stakeholder community is intense. This challenge is a real opportunity to display leadership, communication and negotiation skills to facilitate a useful conversation.


How to succeed as a PM in 2016

January 6, 2016

On-the-busProjects are done by people for people and through the medium of social media, people power is growing.  Successful project managers know this and use it to their advantage; they create a team culture focused on working with other stakeholders to create success.

Project managers know when they get this right because their project team will challenge, follow and support them, and each other, in order to get the job done. Not only that, but word spreads and other people inside the organisation will want to join the team or be associated with its success. When a PM achieves this, they know they have created something special and paradoxically are under less pressure, can get a good night’s sleep, and as a consequence are fully refreshed each day to keep building the success. This is good for the people and great for the organisation!!

Developing the skills and personal characteristics needed to develop and lead a committed team needs more then technical training. Experience, reflection, coaching and mentoring all help the project manager grow and develop (and it’s a process that never stops). Five signs that they are on the path to becoming a great team leader are:

  1. They’re well liked. Great leaders make people feel good about themselves; they speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, are clear about what needs to be achieved[1], and are also interested in their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that they are human. They’ll always start the day with a ‘good morning’, the evening with a ‘good night’ and every question or interaction will be met with courtesy. When the team picks up on this the project area will be filled with good humour and great productivity.
  2. They put effort into building and maintaining teams. Designing great teams takes lots of thought and time – you need the right people ‘on the bus[2]’ and you need to get the wrong people ‘off the bus’. A great project manager doesn’t accept the people who are ‘free’ or ‘on the bench’ unless they’re the right people and they’ll negotiate intensely for the people that they really need, going to great lengths to recruit people into the vision that they have. Once the team is in place, they never stop leading it, building it, encouraging it, performance managing it and celebrating it.
  3. They involve everyone in planning. Or at least everyone that matters! The PM identifies the team members and other stakeholders that need to be involved; creates a productive, enjoyable environment, and leads the process. They want to ensure that they get the most out of the time and at the end have a plan that the team has built and believe in.
  4. They take the blame and share the credit. Great project managers are like umbrellas. When the criticism is pouring down they ensure that the team is protected from it. They then ensure that the message passed down is presented as an opportunity to improve not a problem to be fixed. Similarly, when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it. When they talk about how successful a project has been, they talk about the strengths of the team and the qualities they have shown, never about themselves.
  5. They manage up well. Stakeholder engagement, particularly senior stakeholder engagement is the key to project success[3]. Great project mangers know they need senior executive support to help clear roadblocks and deliver resources and know how to tap into the organisation’s powerlines for the support they need.

Great project mangers are also good technical managers; they have an adequate understand the technology of the project and they know how the organisation’s management systems and methodologies work. But they also know they can delegate much of this aspect of their work to technologists and administrative experts within their team. And if the team is fully committed to achieving project success, these experts will probably do a better job than the project manager anyway.

Projects are done by people for people and the great project managers know how to lead and motivate[4] ‘their people’ to create a successful team that in turn will work with their stakeholders to create a successful project outcome.

 

[1] For more on delegation see:  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1091_Delegation.pdf

[2] In the classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “…to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.”

[3] This is the focus of my book Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders, see http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Adv_Up

[4] For more on leadership see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1014_Leadership.pdf


Making Projects Work: Effective Stakeholder and Communication Management

April 16, 2015

Making Projects WorkMy third book, Making Projects Work is now generally available in hardback and Kindle editions.

Making Projects Work: Effective Stakeholder and Communication Management focuses on the skills needed by project management teams to gather and maintain the support needed from stakeholders to make their project successful.

The underlying premise in the book is that projects are performed by people for people. The key determinants of success are the relationships between people in the project team and between the team and its wider community of stakeholders. This web of relationships will either enable or obstruct the flow of information between people and, as a consequence, will largely determine project success or failure.

Making Projects Work provides a framework for understanding and managing the factors required for achieving successful project and program outcomes. It presents guidelines to help readers develop an understanding of governance and its connection to strategy as the starting point for deciding what work needs to be done. It describes how to craft appropriate communication strategies for developing and maintaining successful relationships with stakeholders. It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing project controls and outlines effective communication techniques for managing expectations and acquiring the support required to deliver successful projects on time and under budget.

Features – the book:

  • Provides a framework for understanding and managing factors essential for achieving successful project and program outcomes.
  • Facilitates an understanding of governance and its connection to strategy as the starting point for decisions on what work needs to be done.
  • Describes how to craft appropriate communication strategies to develop and maintain successful relationships with stakeholders.
  • Supplies an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of existing project controls.
  • Outlines effective communication techniques for managing perceptions and expectations and to acquire the support necessary for successful delivery.

For links to more information on this, and my other two books, start at: http://www.stakeholdermapping.com/stakeholder-management-resources/#Books


If you screw-up, own-up

March 5, 2015

Screw-upOne of the traits that strong leaders and credible advisers have is the willingness to ‘own up’ to mistakes they’ve made.  No one operating effectively as a project or program manager, or for that matter any type of manager making decisions can expect to be correct 100% of the time.

If you do something new some mistakes are inevitable. If you accept risks, some negative outcomes are inevitable. And time pressures increase the probability of error. And given project management is all about accepting and managing risks to create a ‘new’ product service or result under time and cost pressures – we probably have more opportunity to ‘get it wrong’ than most.

The generally accepted way to deal with ‘your mistake is:

  • Acknowledge it (“my mistake”)
  • Make restitution if needed (eg apologise)
  • Learn from it
  • Move on, only people who have never made anything have never made a mistake.

Conversely if someone makes a mistake involving you look for the best outcome rather than blame of revenge. We have discussed these concepts in a couple of posts:

https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/mistakes/

https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2008/12/13/learning-from-your-mistakes/

What is rare is a really good example of the basic steps outlined above being implemented.  This changed with a publication on page one of yesterday’s Age (also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald). What could have been a bitter and dragged out defamation case – you probably cannot be more insulting these days than incorrectly accusing a Muslim of being a terrorist – both The Age and the aggrieve person applied common sense and resolved the issue in a way that would appear to have left everyone ‘feeling good’ and with a sense of closure, not to mention thousands of their readers.

If you missed the item, you can read the story at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/fairfax-media-says-sorry-20150303-13ttpd.html

Mistakes are inevitable – strong people deal with them in an appropriate way, The Age’s example being exemplary.  This is a salient lesson we can all learn from.


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.


The strategic management of projects

June 20, 2014

WP1074_PPP_ArchitectureOne of the clearest messages emerging from a range of sources is that ‘project management’ as defined by the PMBOK® Guide and other similar documents is simply not enough!  As Professor Peter Morris has been advocating for more then a decade, organisations need to be able to effectively manage projects.

The concept of strategically managing projects describes the organisation’s ability to select, nurture and deliver the right projects and programs effectively. This includes an emphasis on the ‘front end’ of the overall process to ensure the right projects and programs are selected and initiated for the right strategic reasons and the ‘back end’ to make sure the outputs from a project are used effectively by the organisation to realise the intended benefits.  Traditional ‘project (or program) management’ deals with the messy bit in the middle – delivering the required scope efficiently.

Project management skills are well defined as are some aspects of the strategic management of projects such as portfolio management and benefits management. What has still to emerge in the executive management and governance layer of an organisation’s hierarchy is an understanding of the integrated nature of the strategic management of projects. At the moment in many organisations the executives and ‘governors’ who allow their organisations to create failure after failure seem to be able to emerge unscathed by blaming the failures on lower level managers within the organisations they have created.  Some of the reasons projects are ‘set up to fail’ are discussed in this post by Patrick Weaver.

From my perspective, this is a systemic failure of governance and the governing bodies should be held accountable for the destruction of stakeholder value associated with systemic project and program failures. The governing body should not be directly accountable for any specific project failure, rather for failing to develop their organisation in a way that enables the effective development of a realistic and achievable strategy, and then strategically managing the right projects and programs needed to implement the strategy. An overall framework for this type of strategic management of projects is outlined in our White Paper.

Implementing the organisational change needed to create the broad range of capabilities needed to implement the strategic management of projects requires sustained senior executive support and a group of determined, enthusiastic and resilient practitioners to develop the organisations ‘project delivery capabilities’.  The biggest challenge is very few practitioners can explain what they are recommending in a language that is meaningful to executives or really understand the type of information executives need to make the best decisions.

Unfortunately complex detailed reports with dozens of RAG traffic lights and a focus on ‘time and budget’ won’t do the job. A different reporting paradigm is needed that looks at strategic alignment and the delivery of benefits to the organisation and its stakeholders.  Some ideas on the best ways to effectively communicate with executives are discussed in my book Advising Upwards.

It is definitely time to move the strategic management of projects to the next level and that is firmly into the ‘C-Suites’ and board rooms of organisations. Once this is accomplished, professional project managers will be better positioned to deliver their part of the value chain effectively.


Gamification – A new way of working

January 16, 2014

gamification-user-experienceGamification is discussed in Chapter 7 of my book Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders.  This post takes a closer look at the topic from a more basic level and based on some of the research, and will suggest options for making your next wait at the dentist’s fun!

In my book, Robert Higgins, the author of Ch. 7 – The New Confucian Communication Game: Communicating with the Nintendo® Generation, suggests the way to lead in business is very similar to being a superhero in an on-line game and explains the self-organising networks of communication and status that develop (with plenty of help for non-gamers). But the potential is much wider. Gamification has the potential to revolutionise the way people see work, and how they interact with one another within the workplace.

Gamification is the concept of transferring the positive mechanisms present in games (such as badges, leader boards and other forms of ‘instant feedback’) to mundane work tasks, creating a more dynamic, fun approach to the working environment. Applied effectively, Gamification restructures a typically boring task into something fun, competitive and engaging.

Technology research and advisory company Gartner has identified four principle means of driving employee engagement through the use of gamified techniques:

  • Acceleration of feedback cycles to maintain engagement
  • Use of clear goals and rules of play
  • Allow players to feel empowered to achieve these goals
  • The building up of narratives that engages players to participate and achieve the goals of the activity

When used in a positive way, gamification will encourage people’s psychological desires for competition, drive them to engage and participate in a community structure, and increase workplace morale and productivity; it is a great way to motivate and engage the new generation of knowledge worker and reduce attrition.

The key is to develop a meaningful ‘points score’ associated with the performance of the work and then provide effective (and visible) feedback. Built from Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of need’, three key areas to include are:

  1. Level 1: Recognition. This first level focuses on highlighting success and engaging novices. The key themes drive personal brand recognition.
  2. Level 2: Access. This second level builds demand for association and attracts intermediate users by creating value and scarcity around access to ‘special’ resources, people, and tools for improvement.
  3. Level 3: Impact. This third level appeal to power users and advanced users. At this level, bragging rights and incentives align with impact on the growth of the organisation.

Gamification as a concept within business is still in its infancy, but with the energy surrounding its adoption it seems inevitable that in the long term we will all be exposed to this fast growing phenomenon. The statistics certainly suggest there is a potent demand for gamification. Research by Gartner suggests that by 2014 more than 70 per cent of global organisations will have at least one ‘gamified’ application, and by 2015, the research shows that 50% of Global 2000 organisations that manage innovation processes will have gamified those processes. Although this current wave of enthusiasm may be at the ‘peak-of-inflated-expectations’ and about to descend into the ‘trough-of-disillusionment’ on Gartner’s Hype Cycle.

trough-of-disillusionment

Used effectively, gamification has the potential to improve productivity significantly. Three examples include:

  • Using gaming to revitalise ‘lessons learned’, and promote the creation and sustenance of organisational and project knowledge ‘wikis’ rather than boring databases using competitive knowledge ranking systems to encourage increased contributions and improved team engagement (often seen in enthusiast online forums today).
  • Using challenges and rewards to track performance against the plan (where the on-time performance for the updating of progress information and the accuracy of the data provided is weighted more heavily than the actual achievement of results – the ‘players’ all have equal control over updating their progress accurately, but may not have control over the pace of work).
  • Workflow processes can be visually represented and improved by managers and team members alike, with leader boards in turn highlighting and rewarding the innovative thinkers (see more on process improvement).

The use of feedback mechanisms, such as leader boards, allows the creation of a potent dashboard from which other managers can gauge the health of each project. As well as allowing the day to day monitoring that is essential to ensure on time delivery.

Gamification has the potential to become part of the project managers ‘toolkit’, and when combined with other innovations, to contribute to successful project delivery, but it is not a one size fits all remedy to all project problems and should not be forced upon a workforce without first gauging the level of buy-in amongst individual employees. And, it may just be another business fad, but who could deny that to make work fun is a laudable aspiration? Your next challenge is to make a ‘game’ out of waiting at the dentists…..