Levels of Stakeholder Engagement

August 21, 2017

How engaged should your stakeholders be? Or how engaged do you want them to be? In an ideal world the answer to both questions should be the same, but to even deliver a meaningful answer to these questions needs a frame of measurement.  This post uses ideas from 1969 to propose this framework!

In July 1969, Sherry R. Arnstein published ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ in the A.I.P Journal[1] looking at citizen participation and the consequential citizen power over a range of USA government initiatives designed to enhance the lives of disadvantaged people in US cities. The typology of participation proposed by Arnstein can be transposed to the modern era to offer a framework for discussing how engaged in your project, or program, your stakeholders should be in actively contributing to the management and governance of the work they are supposed to benefit from.

Modern paradigms such as ‘the wisdom of crowds’, ‘user participation in Agile teams’ and ‘stakeholder theory’ all lean strongly towards stakeholder ownership of the initiative designed to benefit them. These views are contrasted by concepts such as technical competence, intellectual property rights, confidentiality and the ‘iron triangle’ of commercial reality (often backed up by contractual constraints).

The debate about how much control your stakeholders should have over the work, and how engaged they should be in the work, is for another place and time – there is probably no ‘universally correct’ answer to these questions. But it is difficult to even start discussing these questions if you don’t have a meaningful measure to compare options against.

Arnstein’s paper is founded on the proposition that meaningful ‘citizen participation’ is ‘citizen power’ but also recognises there is a critical difference between going through empty rituals of participation and having real power to affect the outcome of a process. This poster was from the May 1968 student uprising in Paris, for those of us who can’t remember French verbs, translated it says:  I participate; you participate; he participates; we participate; you (plural) participate; …… they profit.   The difference between citizen participation in matters of community improvement and stakeholder participation in a project is that whilst civil participation probably should mean civil control,  this same clear delineation does not apply  to stakeholder engagement in projects.  The decision to involve stakeholders in a project or program is very much open to interpretation as to the best level of involvement or engagement.  However, the ladder of engagement proposed by Arnstein can easily be adapted to the requirement of providing a framework to use when discussing what is an appropriate degree of involvement for stakeholders in your project or program.

There are eight rungs in Arnstein’s ladder; starting from the bottom:

  1. Manipulation: stakeholders are placed on rubberstamp advisory committees or invited to participate in surveys, provide feedback, or are given other activities to perform which create an illusion of engagement but nobody takes very much notice of the information provided.   The purpose of this type of engagement is primarily focused on making the stakeholders feel engaged rather than using the engagement to influence decisions and outcomes. The benefits can be reduced stakeholder opposition, at least in the short-term, but there is very little real value created to enhance the overall outcomes of the project.
  2. Therapy: this level of stakeholder engagement involves engaging stakeholders in extensive activities related to the project but with a view to changing the stakeholder’s view of the work whilst minimising their actual ability to create change. Helping the stakeholders adjust to the values of the project may not be the best solution in the longer term but every organisational change management guideline (including our White Paper) advocates this type of engagement to sell the benefits the project or program has been created to deliver.
  3. Informing: informing stakeholders of their rights, responsibilities, and/or options, can be the first step towards effective stakeholder participation in the project and its outcomes. However too frequently the emphasis is placed on a one-way flow of information from the project to the stakeholders. Particularly when this information is provided at a late stage, stakeholders have little opportunity to contribute to the project that is supposed to be delivering benefits for them. Distributing information is a key stakeholder engagement activity (see the Three Types of Stakeholder Communication) but there have to be mechanisms for effective feedback for this process to maximise its potential value.
  4. Consultation: inviting stakeholder’s opinions, like informing them, can be a legitimate step towards their full participation. But if the consultation is not combined with other modes of participation this rung of the ladder is still a sham, it offers no assurance that the stakeholder concerns and ideas will be taken into account. Effective participation includes providing stakeholders with a degree of control over the consultation processes as well as full insight as to how their inputs are considered and used. In the long run window dressing participation helps no one.
  5. Placation: at this level stakeholders have some degree of influence although tokenism is still potentially involved. Simply including stakeholders in processes such as focus groups or oversight committees where they do not have power, or are trained not to exercise power, gives the appearance of stakeholder engagement without any of the benefits.
  6. Partnership: at this level power is genuinely redistributed and the stakeholders work with the project team to achieve an outcome that is beneficial to all. Power-sharing may seem risky all but if the right stakeholders with a genuine interest in the outcome are encouraged to work with the technical delivery team to constructively enhance the project’s outcomes (which is implicit in a partnership) everyone potentially benefits.
  7. Delegated power: In many aspects of projects and programs, particularly those associated with implementation, rollout, and/or organisational change, delegating management authority to key stakeholder groups has the potential to significantly improve outcomes. These groups do need support, training, and governance, but concepts such as self-managed work teams demonstrate the value of the model.
  8. Stakeholder control: In one respect stakeholders do control projects and programs but this group tends to be a small management elite fulfilling roles such as sponsors, steering committees, etc. Genuine stakeholder control expands this narrow group to include many more affected stakeholders. Particularly social projects, where the purpose of the project is to benefit stakeholders, can demonstratively be improved by involving the people project disposed to help. But even technical projects can benefit from the wisdom of crowds[2].

In summary, the framework looks like this:

The biggest difference between the scenario discussed in the original paper and stakeholder engagement around projects and programs is the fact that different stakeholders very often need quite different engagement approaches to optimise project outcomes. Arnstein’s 1969 paper argued in favour of citizen participation as a single entity and the benefits progressing up the ladder towards its control. In a project situation it is probably more sensible to look at different groups of stakeholders and then assess where on the ladder you would like to see that group functioning. Some groups may only need relatively low levels of information to be adequately managed. Others may well contribute best in positions of control or at least where their advice is actively sought and used.

Do you think this framework is helpful in advancing conversations around stakeholder engagement in your project?

____________________

[1] Arnstein, S.R.  AIP Journal July 1969 pp:216 – 223.  A Ladder of Citizen Participation.

[2] The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, published in 2004, is a book written by James Surowiecki about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.

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Selling Change – lessons from Brexit

June 30, 2016

Is the reason so many change initiatives fail an excessive focus on the ‘technical benefits’ and future value?  Some of the lessons from the Brexit campaign would suggest ‘YES’!

brexitBefore people will buy into a new opportunity (the ‘change’) it helps if they are unhappy with the status quo.  If this unhappiness can be magnified the willingness to embrace an uncertain future can be increased.  The Brexit ‘leave’ campaign is an extreme example of creating this desire. Most of the focus of ‘Leave’ campaign seems to have been tailored towards raising the level of unhappiness with the status quo. A few key examples:

EU bureaucracy – it exists and it is a significant burden; by simply focusing on the ‘perceived pain’ (most electors have very little contact with the regulations) a desire to leave was generated. The counter points carefully ignored include:

  1. If the UK leaves it will need its own regulations for public health and safety
  2. Firms that want to export to Europe will have more bureaucracy to deal with, complying with both the UK rules and the EU rules (the alternative is to cut off 50% of your export market).

EU bureaucrats – the unelected and unaccountable masses in Brussels!  This ignores the fact UK bureaucrats are unelected and both sets are accountable to their respective parliaments.  However, the perception of lack of control and accountability was significant despite the fact 99% of the UK electors have no control over UK bureaucrats.

Immigration and Islam. ‘Taking control of UK borders’ seemed to be the biggest factor in the debate.  It’s a nice idea that ignores history:

  1. The vast majority of Islamic migrants in the UK arrived before the UK joined the EU (or these days their parents arrived…). Until the 1960s Commonwealth citizens had UK passports and a right of residence in the UK.
  2. The EU is less than 5% Islamic.
  3. Freedom to work in the EU is a two-way process – the right to work and access to workers is important (and has virtually nothing to do with ‘immigration’).

Trade deals. Negotiating ‘trade deals’ to the benefit of the UK…..   Ignoring the fact that any trade deal requires concessions and most take 5 to 10 years to negotiate. The ‘other party’ has to see a significant benefit.

 

Lessons from Brexit!

The positive lesson for change proponents is to spend more time on creating the desire for change. Most people in an organisation can ‘live with’ the status quo (but are aware of the problems and pain points), and are likely to be frightened with the perceived threats and challenges of the proposed change.  Digging into the ‘pain points’ and offering constructive solutions may provide a powerful basis for building the desire for change.  This is a very different approach to starting with an emphasis on the future benefits and opportunities the proposed change will bring.

The processes needed to sell the change to the organisation’s executive decision makers have to focus on benefits and value, but Brexit suggests a different approach may be beneficial when approaching the people within the organisation affected by the change.

Ethics matter!  “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time[1]”. What has yet to wash out in the Brexit aftermath is the lack of ethics and in some cases blatant dishonesty of the ‘Leave campaign’. I suspect there will be a major backlash against the people responsible for the ‘Leave campaign’ as people become aware of the exaggerations and deceptions.  The current crash in the Pound and the almost inevitable recession it will cause were predicted.  What was missed from the UK debate, and is essential in an organisational change initiative, is recognition of the challenges of the change – offset by the vision of future benefits. Ethics are not negotiable!

Simple language is important.  Creating and emotional commitment to change requires the use of language that is easy to understand. The ‘Leave vision’ was simplistic rather than simple but it worked – ‘make Britain great again’ and ‘regain sovereignty’ sound appealing[2] but lack substance.  The difference between the Brexit ‘con job’ and ‘informed consent’ is understanding what you are committing to, both the vision and the journey. But the language of projects, engineers and technicians used to define and develop a change proposal is frequently inappropriate for effective communication to the rest of the people affected.  This is discussed in my paper: Understanding Design – The challenge of informed consent.

Summary

The Brexit campaign is an extreme example of creating a desire for change based on developing a level of dissatisfaction with the status quo.  This tactic can be a very useful early phase in the communication processes around a proposed organisational change – dissatisfaction with the current state is a powerful driver to accept change.  The flip side, also observable in the Brexit campaign, is that ethics and honesty matter. Democracy requires informed consent!  We have no idea what the consequences in the UK would have been if the ‘Leave campaign’ had been more ethical and spelt out a future; but judging from the reaction of many, large numbers of people now seem to feel conned by the ‘leave’ campaign.

In an organisational context, this loss of trust will be disastrous.  However, the fact the ‘Leave campaign’ could persuade a majority in the UK to vote in favour of an uncertain future that will reduce living standards and increase costs in the short-term (at least) without even bothering to paint a clear vision of their proposed future (or how to get there) shows how powerful the techniques discussed above can be.

The challenge for ethical organisational change is to harness the power without resorting to the deceptions.

 

 

 

[1] Adapted from: “Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne” by Jacques Abbadie (1684, Chapter 2)

[2] Britain was ‘Great’ in the period leading up to WW1 based on its Empire (not the Commonwealth); it is and has been a sovereign nation since 1066…… Neither of these concepts was fleshed out possibly allowing 1000s of different self-made visions to fill the space. Potentially a good tactic but fraught with problems going forward.


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?


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.


Designing effective KPIs

August 5, 2014

KPI1In a couple of posts I highlighted the damage that poorly considered KPIs and incentive payments can cause either to the organisation or its customers:

This post fills the missing link and discusses the practical challenges of creating effective KPIs.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) exist to influence decisions and actions; effective KPIs motivate people towards taking valuable, and useful, actions and decisions.  Each KPI is a measure of how well a fundamental part of the project (or organisation) is progressing towards achieving its goals. The elements of a KPI are:

  • Key = something that is important, essential, fundamental.
  • Performance = the execution or accomplishment of work
  • Indicator = a measure, and record of variations

The specific purpose for each KPI is to communicate a relevant summary of the current situation to a particular person, or group; giving an indication of how effectively a particular element of the project (or work) is achieving its objectives. Because the KPI is an ‘indicator’ it does not have to be all encompassing, or provide all of the information about the activity. The purpose of a KPI is to highlight if and when more investigation is needed; they do not replace everyday ‘project controls data’ and other management information.

The challenge with KPIs is to set measures that provide indicators of potential problems in sufficient time to allow investigating and action.  The purpose of most projects is to create value through the realisation of benefits; unfortunately this ‘real measure’ only happens after the project is finished. So whilst tracking benefits realised is important, the information lags behind the actions that affect the outcome. Other leading indicators are needed that focus on the probability of generating value during the course of the work (which is more complex than simply measuring time and cost performance).

kpi3

 

The way to design effective KPIs involves six simple steps:

  1. Understand your audience and tailor specific KPIs for different levels and groups within the project and the project’s stakeholder community. Detail should decrease as you move up that structure, what’s useful to a team leader is information overload for a sponsor.
  2. Be clear and concise. Each KPI should be designed to deliver a message that will instigate one of two decisions; either ‘do nothing’ or ‘investigate’! The KPI’s job is to tell you one of these three things (any more information and it is not an ‘indecator’):
    1. Things are looking bad – investigate and fix
    2. Things are looking good – investigate and learn
    3. Things are OK – do nothing.
  3. Make the KPI understandable. The KPI is an indicator of how well specific work is being done, or accomplished; being clear about precisely what work and what goals is critical. This means the KPI has to:
    1. Be well written;
    2. Contain one clear measure;
    3. Set realistic targets;
    4. Be time framed;
    5. Define how the data will be tracked.
  4. Balance the KPIs across the performance window:
    1. Input KPIs – measure the quantity and sometimes quality of inputs to the project.
    2. Process KPIs – measure the quantity and sometimes quality of the work required to produce certain expected outputs.
    3. Output KPIs – measure the quantity and sometimes quality of the goods or services created.
    4. Value KPIs – measure the quantity and sometimes quality of the results achieved through the delivery of the goods and services eg, benefits realised.
  5. Use both types of KPI:
    1. Target KPIs focus on achieving a specific measure (pass / fail), usually within a time frame, eg, units delivered per week.
    2. Directional KPIs measure tends. With many KPIs the precise number is less important than the trend. For example, “Number of days lost to staff sickness” [per month]. Here the exact number of days is not that useful as we can’t control this, however if the trend is rising we can investigate and take action accordingly.
  6. Test and fine tune the KPIs, make sure you are getting the results you want. As both of the referenced posts have demonstrated, it can lead to disaster if you simply design, then implement, a KPI as a way to allocate bonuses without fully understanding if and how it can be ‘gamed’ or how it will affect morale, or any other unforeseen outcomes. Therefore:
    1. Allow some lead time to check that everyone understands the KPIs, if the outcomes being measured are reasonable and the data is easy to collects and accurate.
    2. Trial the KPI to make sure it is driving the behaviours you desire.

Finally, the characteristics of good KPIs are:

  • Simplicity. The metric name should be less than 5 words and the calculation is easily described in under 10 words.
  • Comparability. The measure is comparable to other time periods, sites, or segments.
  • Incremental. A rate or ratio is better than an absolute or cumulative value.

Some good KPIs include:

  • The accident (and ‘near miss’) rate on engineering and other ‘hard hat’ projects, a low rate indicates a safe environment which means a clean, well managed and well planned workplace.
  • Performance measures such as the number of activities completed within 5% of the estimated time (the workers cannot control the start but can control the flow of work once started).
  • The number of open issues (and the trend), or the number of issues that remain open after a ‘reasonable’ period (say 2 weeks).
  • Quality measures.

A final thing is to remember setting two or three effective KPIs and using them effectively across all projects is better than a scattergun approach. You know you have too many KPIs when you hear people saying things such as the “top KPIs” or “most important KPIs”.  Keep them simple, consistent and rigorous for the maximum benefit.


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.


What price should you pay for perfection?

March 8, 2014

What price should you pay for perfection or alternatively how do you mange genius?

3D Scan of the building by the Scottish Ten Project

3D Scan of the building by the Scottish Ten Project

The Sydney Opera House is now over 40 years old, is the youngest cultural site to ever have been included in the World Heritage List, is the busiest performing arts centre in the world, supports more then 12,000 jobs and contributes more then $1 billion to the Australian economy each year. The fact is cost nearly 15 times the original under estimate with a final bill of $102 million pales into significance compared to the benefits it generates.

Over the years, we have written about the project and its value on numerous occasions some of the key discussions are:

What I want to focus attention on this time is the genius of Jørn Utzon and the inability of the NSW Government bureaucrats and politicians of the time to understand and appreciate the value of the work he did 50 years ago.

Utzon focused on developing partnerships with ‘best of kind’ manufacturers to prototype and test components then incorporating the best possible design into the fabric of the building. The process appeared relatively expensive in the short term (especially to bureaucrats used to contracting work to the lowest cost tenderer), but 50 years later the value of careful design and high quality craftsmanship is becoming more and more apparent.

Much of the structure was carefully designed precast concrete units, they were used extensively in the shell roofs, podium walls, sunhoods and external board walks. 50 years later the near perfect condition of the concrete despite its continuous exposure to a very hostile saline environment shows the genius of a person focused on creating a lasting landmark rather then seeking the cheapest short-term solution.

Similar longevity can be seen in the tiles that clad the shell roof, the glazed walls and most of the other work designed by Utzon (for more on this see the recently rediscovered, iconic 1968 film Autopsy On a Dream).

Contrast this clarity of vision leading to a high quality, long lasting, low overall cost outcome to the high costs of maintaining and/or replacing the elements of the building designed and installed by others after Utzon was forced to resign. The internal concert and opera halls are planned to be rebuilt at a mooted cost of between $700 million and $1 billion; and changes to Utzon’s design for the precast ‘skirts’ around the podium have resulted in $ millions more in repair costs.

The Sydney Opera House and the National Broadband Network have a lot in common. Both were inspirational schemes intended to cause a major change in culture and move society forward. Both were the subject of opportunistic political attack. Neither was well marketed to the wider stakeholder community at the time, very few understood the potential of what was being created (particularly the conservative opposition), and after a change of government both had the fundamental vision compromised to ‘save costs’ and as a result the Opera House lost much of its integrity as a performance venue with poor acoustics and an ineffective use of space.

Hopefully over the next 10 years $1 billion may solve most of the problems caused by the short sighted ‘cost savings’ in the finishing of the Opera House so it can at last achieve its full potential. The tragedy is repairing the damage done by the short term cost savings and compromises in design to appease vested interests are likely to cost 30 to 40 times the amount saved.

I’m wondering how much future telecommunication users will have to pay to drag the sub-standard NBN (National Broadband Network) we are now getting back to the levels intended in the original concept. The cost savings are focused on doing just enough to meet the needs of the 20th century such as telephony and quick movie downloads – simple things that politicians can understand. Unfortunately the damage this backward looking simplistic view will do to the opportunities to develop totally new businesses and ways of working that could have been facilitated by the original NBN concept of universal fibre to the premises will not be able to be measured for 20 to 30 years. Envisioning what might be requires a different mind set and a spark of genius.

In both the situations discussed in the blog, and when looking at the next bold concept proposed by a different ‘visionary’, the challenge will still be answering the opening question. How can businesses, bureaucracies and politicians learn to manage genius and properly assess a visionary multi-generational project to achieve the best overall outcome? There’s no easy answer to this question.