PMI Standards Round-Up

April 15, 2013

PMI StandardsThe three standards released by PMI at the beginning of this year were the:
PMBOK® Guide Fifth Edition
Standard for Portfolio Management Third Edition
Standard for Program Management Third Edition

As a consequence, the global PM community now has a set of basic standards that will remain stable for the next four years through to the next cyclical update scheduled for late 2016. The tight integration between all three standards means minimal duplication of ideas and best practices.

Whilst each of the PMI Credentials tends to focus on one of these three standards, the key thing from an organisational perspective is they are integrated, and after this round of upgrades better integrated than ever!

The Portfolio Management standard focuses on the investment decisions needed to select the best projects and programs to start and maintain to achieve the organisations strategy within its resource constraints. Selecting the ‘right projects and programs to do’.

For guidance on ‘doing them right’, the Program Management standard focuses on the business outcome and integration aspects of program management and the PMBOK® Guide covers off the basic skills and capabilities needed to deliver the project outputs efficiently.

Each standard can be used in isolation; however, the real power lays in using all three as a framework for organisational improvement – Creating an effective Project Delivery Capability (download the PDC White Paper). The final missing link, PMI’s updated OPM3 standard will be released later this year.

This means that organisations interested in developing a best practice capability across the ‘enterprise’ aimed at achieving the maximum sustainable value from its investment in projects and programs now have an ideal opportunity to buy into current thinking via these standards and time to develop improved processes.

We have enjoyed working through the standards and writing this series of posts on the improvements (for previous posts click here) – but 4 months down the track we now consider these ‘new’ standards business as usual, have consigned the ‘old’ standards to history, and will make this our last post on the updates. Our very last PMP and CAPM course based on the ‘old’ standards will be run at the end of May (view course details) and then we will be 100% aligned to the new and improved versions. We encourage everyone else to do the same.


Persilience: A key to success!

April 24, 2012

Persilience is something that is essential to success of any endeavour you undertake, whether it is achieving project success, business success or virtually anything else.

Definition:

Persilience: an amalgam of resilience and persistence that recognises the importance of both characteristics.
Resilience is the ability to recover readily from adversity;
Persistence is about perseverance, resolve and determination.

The two elements are not always combined in equal measure; sometimes you just need to get on with it (this is persistence) but at other times you need the strength of flexibility.

Resilient people bend before excessively strong forces, absorb the energy and then recover, if necessary reframe or modify their approach and move on, their personal integrity intact.

The origins of persilience

The idea of persilience came from a meeting earlier this year with colleagues in Paris where we were discussing the topic of successful implementation of programs in organisations. It was -10 degrees in Paris at that time. Despite (or because of) the extreme cold we met for dinner at a restaurant in the heart of Paris.

We were discussing the central theme – ‘what makes projects work?’ What is the key to success? A Brazilian colleague told me a story about a PM guru of the 80s who said was that you only needed one characteristic to be a successful PM – you had to be ‘tough!’

By ‘tough’ the guru meant being able to maintain faith and support in the project in the face of adversity and carry it through despite all setbacks. The meaning of the word ‘tough’ has changed over the years so we had a discussion about what word would best fit the characteristic – we didn’t disagree with the characteristic but needed a better word to describe it in today’s terms.

We decided that what was needed was a mixture of resilience and persistence in building and maintaining the relationships that mattered for PM success. And thus with the help of some fine wine the new blended word persilience was born.

Used wisely, the concept of persilience recognises Abraham Ribicoff’s concept of ‘the integrity of compromise’ where this is necessary and in the best interests of everyone whilst also allowing for stubborn persistence when ethical standards or other core values are being challenged.

Ethical persilience won’t resolve every problem but it can offer a benchmark characteristic for us all to aspire to achieving.


Project and Organisational Governance

December 28, 2011

One of the themes running through several of my recent posts is the importance of effective Governance. Both organisational governance and its sub-set project governance.

Good governance is a synonym for ‘good business’, structuring the organisation to deliver high levels of achievement on an ethical and sustainable basis. This requires the optimum strategy and the right approach to risk taking supported by sufficient processes to be reasonably confident the organisations limited resources are being used to achieve the best short, medium and long term outcomes.

Project governance focuses on the portfolios of programs and projects used by the organisation to deliver many of the strategic objectives. This process focuses first on doing the right projects and programs constrained by the organisations capacity to undertake the work – Portfolio Management; secondly, creating the environment to do the selected projects and programs right- developing and maintaining an effective capability; and lastly systems to validate the usefulness and efficiency of the ongoing work which feeds back into the selection and capability aspects of governance.

Within this framework, portfolio management is the key. Strategic Portfolio Management focuses on developing the best mix of programs and projects to deliver the organisations future within its capacity to deliver. This means taking the right risk and having sufficiently robust system in place to identify as early as possible the ‘wrong projects’, so they can be either be reframed or closed down and the resources re-deployed to other work.

It is impossible to develop an innovative future for an organisation without taking risks and not every risk will pay off. Remember Apple developed the ‘Apple Lisa’ as its first GUI computer which flopped in the market, before going on to develop the Apple Macintosh which re-framed the way we interact with machines.

Apple Lisa circa. 1983

Obviously no organisation wants to have too many failures but good governance requires ‘good risk taking’. Apple had no guarantees the i-Pod and its i-Tunes shop would succeed when it started on the journey of innovation that has lead to the i-Phone, i-Pad and Apple becoming one of the largest companies in the world based on capitalisation. As Richard Branson says – ‘you don’t bet the company on a new innovation’ but if you don’t innovate consistently, obsolescence will be the inevitable result.

The balance of project governance focuses around creating the environment that generates the capability to deliver projects and programs effectively, effective sponsorship, effective staff development, effective and flexible processes and procedures, simple but accurate reporting and good early warning systems to identify issues, problems and projects no longer creating value (a pharmaceutical industry saying is that if a project is going to fail it is best to fail early and cheap!).

Good questions outrank easy answers! Every hour and dollar spent on governance processes is not being spent on developing the organisation. The challenge of good governance is to have just enough reporting processes embedded in an effective culture of openness and accountability to provide an appropriate level of assurance the organisations resources are being used effectively; whilst at the same time allowing innovation and development. Restrictive and burdensome governance processes are simply bad governance – they restrict the organisation’s ability to achieve excellence.

To help organisations understand these key governance processes we have updated our two White Papers on the subject:
Corporate Governance: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1033_Governance.pdf
Project Governance: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1073_Project_Governance.pdf

For more discussion around the subject of governance see the previous posts on this blog.


Change is essential

December 17, 2011

If you don’t like change you had better get used to irrelevance! By 2006, of the approximately 60 highly successful companies listed in ‘In Search of Excellence’ (1982, Tom Peters & Robert H. Waterman, Jr.) and ‘Built to Last’ (1994, Jim Collins & Jerry Porras), only 33% remained as high performers (source: Beyond Performance, Scott Keller & Colin Price). Of the rest, 20% had ceased to exist and 47% were struggling.

The message from ‘Beyond Performance’ is that focusing on current performance such as return on capital is never enough. The primary driver for long term success is focusing on the health of the organisation, supported by performance. Sustained excellence needs an organisation that has a vision of a medium and long term future as well as performing effectively in the current environment. This requires investment in change to meet those futures with no guarantees the investment will pay off, in the short-term, or at all.

A ‘healthy’ organisation has a clear sense of direction, inspirational leadership and an open and supportive culture of shared beliefs. Within the organisation, the people are motivated and empowered to take responsibility and accept accountability for their work, within a coordinated and controlled environment that deals effectively with risks, issues and opportunities. The organisation is effectively governed and designed by its leaders to execute strategy effectively; it is outwardly focused on a wide range of stakeholders and most importantly, creative and innovative.

But innovation is not enough; the key enabler of sustained excellence is the ability to implement change! This requires good project capabilities to transform innovative ideas into the elements needed to enable the change such as new processes, products or procedures, supported by the ability to implement the change effectively within the organisation to realise the benefits. There is no magic formula for this; different styles of leadership can be equally effective. However, what is certain is that organisations that don’t create the ability to continually change and grow quickly fade into irrelevance as the world around them moves on.

This applies equally to private sector companies and government departments and agencies – there are very few government processes that can’t be privatised, commercialised or simply abandoned if the public service executive don’t rise to the challenge. Australia Post makes a profit for the Government; the Royal Mail in the UK carries far more mail over far shorter distances with a far greater population density and charges far more for its stamps but despite all of these advantages is only marginally profitable through the sale of property assets – guess which organisation’s future is in serious doubt!

All types of organisation need to embrace the ability to change or the cultural inertia I’ve been discussing in a series of posts over the last few weeks will have its inevitable consequences sooner or later.


Cobb’s Paradox

March 18, 2011

Cobb’s Paradox states, ‘We know why projects fail; we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail?’  PMI has recently published its latest Pulse of the Profession survey which shows some improvements on the 2008 and 2006 results but not much. Nearly half the projects surveyed in 2010 still failed to meet time and cost targets.

However, the PMI survey did highlight a stark difference between high performing organisations with a better than 80% success rate, and low performing organisations with a greater than 40% fail rate. And, the survey also clearly showed the processes typically used by the high performing organisations (and ignored by low performing organisations) are straightforward to implement and use; they include:

  • Using standardised project management processes.
  • Establishing a process to mature project, program and portfolio management practices.
  • Using a process to increase project management competency.
  • Employing qualified project managers.

Most of these elements coalesce around an effective project management office (PMO). Simply by standardising project management processes, the survey shows an organisation can expect a 25% increase in project success.

None of this new is new, KPMG demonstrated exactly the same point in its 2002 and 2003 surveys, supported by similar findings by PwC in 2004 (see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Resources_Papers.html#Proj_Off).

What’s worrying me is the large number of organisations whose middle and senior management are simply failing their stakeholders by not implementing these simple pragmatic steps. The question that should be asked is WHY?

The stakeholders whose rights are being ignored include the owners who have a right to expect efficient use of resources entrusted to the organisation and the people employed on the failed projects whose work life is made unnecessarily stressful.

As Deeming pointed out in the 1950s, quality is a management responsibility. Therefore, allowing poor quality project management processes to exist in an organisation is a management failure. To quote another mantra: quality is designed in not inspected in. Workers and project managers cannot be expected to retrofit quality into defective systems; systemic failures are a failure of management.

What makes the situation even more worrying is that the tools to develop a quality project management system are readily available. Models such as CMMI, P3M3 and PMI’s OPM3 maturity model has been around for years and are regularly updated.

PMI has recently moved to improve the availability and support for its OPM3 Self-Assessment Module (SAM). This basic assessment system is now sold and supported by organisations such as Mosaic that are qualified to deliver the full range of OPM3 services and help businesses achieve the best return on their investment (for more see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/OPM3.html). OGC have similar arrangements for P3M3 as does CMMI.

So, given the tools are available, the knowledge is available, and the value has been consistently demonstrated; why are organisations still prepared to squander $millions on failed projects rather than investing a fraction of that amount in simple systems that can significantly improve the value they deliver to their stakeholders?
I would be interested to know the answer.


Procrastination is Genetic

November 11, 2010

We appear to be hardwired to procrastinate! Without an effective set of countermeasures, we almost inevitably delay difficult or uninteresting work until the last minute when time ultimately makes us choose the undesirable and risky.

A couple of interesting posts I’ve read on this are firstly by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he specializes in the study of procrastination (presumably as a theoretical concept; see: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay). He suggests:

  • The brain is built to firstly minimize danger, before maximizing rewards.
  • Too much uncertainty feels dangerous so we avoid it.
  • We are not good at predicting what might make us happy.
  • Our capacity to regulate emotions is limited and our intentions and goals alter the information that the brain pays attention to.

In combination all of these traits make if far preferable to do something simple now for an immediate reward, or nothing at all, in preference to something more difficult and therefore risky for a more valuable reward in the future. This is called Hyperbolic Discounting; most of us will take $100 tomorrow in preference to $1000 in a year’s time.

The other source was posts by Dr. David Rock; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work . The overall consensus is we procrastinate by design but we can also manage this tendency by effective negotiations with our self. Brute force attempts to suppress procrastination by ‘force of will’ are doomed to failure; smart tactics that reward yourself for necessary achievements and accept the inevitable relapse from time to time are far more effective. Some ideas on personal time management are in our latest White Paper Personal Time Management.

Probably the most focused comment I found on getting stuff done though is a very short video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P785j15Tzk&feature=player_embedded


The Art of Learning

April 3, 2010

I deliver a significant number of training sessions each year through Stakeholder Management and Mosaic Project Services; including both face-to-face classroom courses and using our Mentored Email™ distance learning methodology.

One of the interesting observations is how the rate of information absorption (ie, learning) varies from person to person. The rate of learning does not seem to be correlated to a person’s IQ, industry or role in the workforce. If anything, people who absorb the learning more slowly seem to retain the information longer.

It would appear the ability to learn is a skill that is exercised naturally by younger people, but as one grows older this natural ability seems to fade with only some adults maintaining their innate capability to learn, frequently linked to active practice via university courses, etc. When presented with a large volume of new information (eg, a PMP course) the rest of us need to learn how to learn!

Some of the easier ways to absorb, make sense of, and retain information include:

Using analogies and metaphors

You can learn abstract processes by creating metaphors for more common events. So whenever you learn a fact, ask yourself what the idea is similar to in the tangible world; eg, a data store in a software program may be a cupboard with different things on each shelf.

Build mental pictures

If you break apart a complex mathematical formula into components, you can try to imagine what it would like as a graph or how each component influences each other in a railway switchyard.

Build on the basics

Do a bit of extra research on your most difficult topics focusing on their foundations. You might not understand the more complex theories perfectly, but it makes understanding your testable material much easier.

Become the teacher

The act of explanation creates connections. Ask yourself how would you explain what you’re learning to someone else? Teaching forces you to simplify and break down complex ideas and then re-connect them to build the overall picture.

Stop writing transcripts

Try to free yourself from rigid note taking (the course handouts fulfil this need), instead write down ideas in branches and connections. Add your own thoughts, diagrams and arrows linking ideas so you have a web of information. ‘Mind mapping’ tools are great for this but pencil and paper work just as well.

Draw Diagrams

Most people think in pictures and maps. Research suggests drawing will increase your concentration and help develop the connections between ideas. A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but it can often illuminate the connections that lead to a greater understanding.

There are many more sophisticated memory techniques available in a range of books on the subject but certainly in our areas of teaching, the ability to link ideas and understand the flow of both ideas and information seem to be the key to real understanding.

This opens up a second strand of thought – making the best use of a training course. Some simple tips that will help you to get the most from your training course include.

Before the training course

  • Have a clear picture of what you hope to get from the training course expressed in terms of the benefits to you: a pay rise and promotion is more motivating than a PMP credential.
  • Do any pre-course reading and make a note of any questions to bring along and ask the trainer. You won’t pay extra if you make the trainer work hard……

At the training course

  • Arrive prepared
  • Be open to learning new concepts, even if these challenge your previous understanding
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the trainer to clarify points; remember that if you don’t understand something, it is likely that you are not the only one
  • Share experiences when they are relevant and learn from others in the group, they are likely to be from different industries and have different experiences; take advantage of the fact that you’re surrounded by people with diverse work backgrounds.
  • Dedicate time each evening to completing your homework activities, or reviewing the work covered during the day (our training courses cover a great deal of content in a condensed fashion – reviewing the material each day helps to cement the ideas in your mind).

After the training course

  • Use the resources provided during the training course to help you integrate the concepts into your every day work life (the first 24 hrs after the course are a critical period for reinforcing learning by practice).
  • Make the effort to change if you have discovered better ways of approaching your work, but remember you will need to explain the benefits of the change to people who did not attend your training sessions.
  • Recommend the training to any colleagues that you believe will benefit from it

Learning new things should be an enjoyable process at all stages of life and career, and is becoming increasingly important to stay competitive in a rapidly changing world. Learning how to learn effectively is the first step along the journey.


Developing Competency

February 13, 2010

Knowledge alone is not enough! To be effective in any sphere of life you need to be capable of applying knowledge effectively to achieve an outcome; this is competency. However, to be really effective you not only need to be capable of being competent, you need to be willing to act, to use your capability effectively. Effective (ie, competent) managers need to know what should be done, have the skills to do the work and be willing to actually do the work.

Putting this into context, project managers agree that having an effective schedule is important and also know they need knowledge of CPM theory (summarised in Chapter 3 of the PMI Practice Standard for Scheduling) and their scheduling software to produce a realistic and achievable schedule. But simply creating a schedule is not sufficient – the project manager needs to make effective use of the schedule if it is going to add value to the project delivery process.

This makes measuring and assessing management competence difficult. Observing an artefact is not sufficient, it is the way the competent manger behaves that make the real difference. Fortunately, the definition and assessment of competency is based on a defined structure:

First, there are three basic elements within the project management competency framework,
        –   technical competencies – what you do or produce,
        –   contextual competencies – how you work within the organisation / environment, and
        –   behavioural competencies – how you operate in the workspace and interact with people.

Then each element of competence is assessed in terms of:
        –   knowledge (what you know – tested by CAPM and PMP exams),
        –   skills (the capability to effectively apply the knowledge in the workplace and the artefacts produced) and
        –   attitude (how willing or effective you are in applying the skills).

This is normative competence and is the structure of PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development Framework and virtually every other professional competency framework including those developed by the AIPM, IPMA and GAPPS. However, the framework dates back to the industrial age where task repetition was common and one could learn the best-in-class approaches and emulate these to deliver new tasks.

In the ‘age of knowledge’ this is probably not sufficient, competent project managers in the 21st Century need to grow beyond normative thinking and embrace transformative practice. Project management competence is shifting from a process view towards autonomy; self reference and group self organisation. These qualities empower professional project managers to perform well despite prevalence of complexity and rapid change. They develop customised solutions for each new, unique, occasion; implementing the new solution requires the use of existing knowledge but will also generate new knowledge.

This constructivism theory has a basic assumption that each time you perform a new activity you build on your existing knowledge to acquire new insight and competence, and consequently engage in continuous learning. To be really effective, the organic ‘on-the-job’ learning should also be reinforced with the acquisition new information from journals, innovative courses, discussions with colleagues and participating in communities of practice.

Consolidating the new learning into tangible and useful knowledge needs reflection (to understand what has been learned) and possibly the assistance of a mentor to help unlock the complex factors needed to grow within yourself, develop creative solutions, and find new ways to succeed.

Yesterday’s competence is the foundation on which you can build tomorrows, but relying solely on yesterday’s skills is insufficient! Competent project managers know they need to keep learning and developing.


Team Communication

January 4, 2010

Several of my recent posts have focused on the need for effective communication up the organisation to senior managers and clients. Successful project management also needs good downwards communication to and with the project team.

I have just finished reading two Executive Book Summaries from Soundview Executive Book Summaries . The first was ‘How did that happen’ by Roger Connors and Tom Smith, the second ‘The five dysfunctions of a team’ by Patrick Lencioni. Together these books emphasise the importance of effective communication within the team.

Lencioni suggests members of truly cohesive teams; trust one another, engage in open discussion of ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans and focus on achieving effective results. Trust and respect are the elements needed to allow this to happen.

From the perspective of project delivery, the key elements are active discussions leading to decisions that are represented by the project plan and then focusing on achieving the plan. The agreed plan represents the expectations of the project manager and the team for the performance of the work. But how to turn these expectations into reality?

Connors and Smith show how the project manager can hold the team responsible for results in a positive, principled way. The first step is for the PM to test the expectations contained in the plan to ensure each one is consistent with the overall plan, achievable by the currently available resources, and that the ultimate fulfilment of the expectation is measureable. An expectation may be a document, a piece of code, a successful test or any of the other elements needed to deliver the project to meet the expectations of the client.

Communicating specific expectations to the team members responsible for the work uses a why, what, when approach. The ‘why’ needs to be compelling on a personal level to the individuals concerned; this is helped if they are already committed to team achievements. The ‘what’ requires clarity; not just about the deliverable but also the boundaries of the work and the available support. Lastly, the ‘when’ needs to be precisely defined. The schedule, WBS, and other project documents usually contain the needed ‘what and when’ information, the challenge is using these documents as effective communication tools to build commitment and motivation in the team.

To maintain accountability, it is vital the PM routinely inspects what is expected. Making sure the ongoing work is aligned with the original expectations and any changes are properly managed. Holding people accountable needs the PM to precisely understand things as they really are and to be able to identify and diagnose any problems. Accountability is not ‘blame’ it is a joint process to commit to the truth and then act to develop solutions, overcome obstacles and deliver results.

Accountability is the key! Team members hold themselves and their colleagues accountable and work together to achieve results that meet the expectations of the PM and the project’s clients. To achieve accountability, open and effective communication between everyone in the team is critical and the PM has to be the ‘first among equals’ leading the process. This is one of the reasons a PM should spend 90% of her time communicating.

More next time.


Organizations seek High Performance PMs

August 27, 2009

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

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

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

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

Competency has three aspects, knowledge, skills and behaviour:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are definitely interesting times for our profession.