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.