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.


The PMI Marketplace now selling Stakeholder Relationship Management

March 21, 2010

PMI has selected Stakeholder Relationship Management: A Maturity Model for Organisational Implementation for its on-line book store and will be promoting the book at the PMI EMEA congress in Milan (10-12 May).

I will be in Milan for the congress to present on ‘The future of the PM Hero’ followed by my SeminarsWorld® workshop ‘The science and art of communicating effectively’.

I will be happy to sign copies of the book for anyone who buys a copy during the congress and look forward to exploring the delights of Italy.


Busy Times Ahead

February 20, 2010

This is just a brief note to update you on what’s happening, for me 2010 looks like being a very busy year……

Two weeks ago I was elected President of the PMI Melbourne Chapter. The previous team have left the organisation in good shape, thanks are due to Ken Farnes and Doug Treasure, but as with any growing organisation there are always many new things to do and processes to improve. My other commitments to PMI continue, as a regular columnist in the PM Network magazine (next column due publication in March) and as a blogger in the PMI Voices on Project Management team.

The major work of editing and finalising the content of my new book, Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders cuts in shortly. The eminent panel of writers who are contributing chapters are due to submit their first drafts in a few weeks.

The next few days are occupied with the PMI Asia Pacific Congress, most of the time I will be around the Melbourne Chapter booth and have my paper, Beyond Reporting – The Communication Strategy to present.

I still have lots of ideas for posts for these blogs and white papers for the Mosaic site but may be slower in delivering them this year.

Just as well we are in the Year of the Tiger – I feel as though I will need all of the power and energy the Tiger possesses.


Communication or Confusion

February 5, 2010

Whilst preparing my March column for PM Network (available 1st March), I was considering the difficulties caused by language in the process of communication. Albert Einstein summarized the problem nicely: ‘The major problem in communication is the illusion that it has occurred.’

Communication, is a two way process to build a common understanding. But the process of communication is not helped by words. There are words spelt the same with totally different meanings:

  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

And words that are spelt differently but sound the same:

  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

These are just a few examples, the meaning of some words also changes by national, regional and industry usage as well as the migration of slang into acceptable usage. The example I used in my column is Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. What’s really interesting though is most people with a reasonable command of English within the context of the whole sentence would have little difficulty in distinguishing between:

– present = the current time

– present = bestow or give

– present = gift.

Then bring in punctuation to change the meaning of words:

  • Eats shoots and leaves.
  • Eats, shoots and leaves.

The Australian version of the ‘eats shoots and leaves’ joke is:

A wombat walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires it into the ceiling.

‘Why?’ asks the confused waiter, as the wombat makes towards the exit.

The wombat produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. ‘I’m a wombat’, he says, at the door. ‘Look it up.’

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

‘Wombat: Mid sized Australian marsupial. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

(The Australian version of this joke is actually eats roots and leaves – wombats live in burrows – but I won’t go there).

In face to face conversations, recognising misunderstandings that can lead to a breakdown in communication is fairly easy; up to 90% of the communication is through body language and vocal tones. Even with telephone calls, the tone of voice tells you a lot about the other person feelings. Traditional writing with proper sentence construction and punctuation falls a long way short of verbal communication but is also a well understood structure for conveying information, if not understanding.

However, the arrival of emails, SMS and twitter has transformed the communication landscape. In a virtual team probably more than 90% of the communication is based on the words in emails and texts. These communication media do not follow the traditional rules.

People in a well established group operating virtually may be able develop language protocols that provide effective communication but to outsiders this ‘new language’ can be almost impenetrable. Cn u undRst& dis? (translated at Lingo2word  =  can you understand this?). Throw in some good old industry jargon and from the perspective of the old rules, it’s surprising any one actually communicates. But they do, or at least appear to!

One study has suggested good virtual teams outperform good co-located teams but poorly functioning virtual teams are far worse than poorly function co-located teams. I need to follow up on this but my first impressions are the breakdown in communication implied in the study has far more impact in the virtual arena.

In this new age of interconnectiveness the rules of effective communication are different and rapidly evolving and the degree of acceptance of these ‘new rules’ is likely to be in part age based. Most people in their 50s and 60s really need to see someone they are dealing with at least once or twice to build rapport and open effective communications; whereas younger people seem totally comfortable building rapport by email and text.

Another aspect is the global nature of ‘web2’. Old communication protocols varied from society to society based on each society’s concepts of formality, social structure and power. Outsiders who needed to communicate effectively in a different culture learned the appropriate cultural norms. How relevant these traditional forms are to people under 30 who can communicate with anyone, anywhere using SMS and email, not to mention the social networking sites such as twitter has not been determined. More things to look at…..

What does this mean for a manager developing a communication plan today? The short answer is I don’t know. Effective communication is still critically important in most aspects of business but I would suggest relying on any set of protocols that worked in the past without a careful assessment of their current effectiveness is likely to be counterproductive.

Some of these questions will be addressed in my new book, Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders (publication 2011), many of the others are starting to be worked into our communication workshops but there’s a long way to go both academically and practically to really come to grips with the new communication landscape.

More later.


The Value of your PMP Qualification

January 29, 2010

Over the years there has been a lot of discussion on the value of credentials such as PMP; frequently triggered by the failure of a ‘qualified’ person to perform in the workplace.

There are essentially two ways to assess a person from a credentialing point of view. Testing what they know or assessing what they do. Competency based assessments (what they do) tend to assume knowledge based on performance. You cannot perform a complex task such as managing a project without knowledge. However, competency based assessments have two disadvantages:

  • Competency is demonstrated in a specific a time and location. There is no guarantee the competent person will perform as well in a different setting with different people, cultures and relationships.
  • The assessment of interpersonal competencies tends to be subjective and project management is very much focused on directing and leading people. Assessing behavioral competencies goes some way towards solving this dilemma but the assessment is still subjective.

Knowledge based assessments are empirical. The person had sufficient knowledge to pass a defined test at a defined point in time. However, the passing of a knowledge based assessment such as PMP or for that matter an MBA only shows the person has a predefined level of knowledge. The disadvantages of knowledge based assessments are:

  • There is no indication the person can apply the knowledge effectively in the workplace.
  • The knowledge tested in any exam is only a portion of the overall domain knowledge.

Given the problems with either assessment process, assessing the value of a qualification is complex and is differs depending on who is making the value judgment, an employer or an individual.

The value of a qualification to an individual can be measured in at least three areas:

  • The advantage it offers in the job market;
  • The recognition governments and other licensing authorities give to credential holders and
  • Its recognition by other entities offering higher qualifications through credits or advanced standing.

The value of a qualification to an employer is in part a function of the credentials reputation and in part, what this tells the employer about the credential holder. Whilst the PMP is a uniquely valuable industry based credential, no single assessment is ever going to provide a guarantee of a person’s suitability for employment in a particular organisation. Being a PMP provides one point of assessment; the PMP holder had the knowledge needed to pass a difficult, quality controlled exam. However, employers also need to look to other aspects of a person’s overall capabilities as well.

My feeling is the lack of undergraduate/baccalaureate degree courses in project management has given PMI’s PMP and other similar project management certifications a solid value in the job market. This is quite different to many other credentials issued by professional bodies. The UK based Chartered Institute of Building’s MCIOB credential requires a degree, several years experience, an examination and a professional interview; in most respects at least equal in its rigor to PMI’s PMP requirements. Both credentials should be assessed as being at a higher level than a degree but at least in the Asia Pacific region, the construction industry and governments focus on building managers holding a University construction degree, not MCIOB.

Similarly, higher degree courses in project management routinely offer some level of advanced standing for PMP holders. I am unaware of any advanced degree in construction or the built environment that offers similar advanced standing for MCIOB, although some other professional credentials do achieve a level of advanced standing in some higher degree courses.

This unusually valuable status of PMP as been built up over many years; however, the value also creates a number of challenges:

  • Employers may have expectations of PMP holders not supported by the credential.
  • But, credential holders need to live up to the reasonable expectations of their employers, and current credential holders also have the challenge of maintaining the worth of the credential for future generations of PMs.
  • PMI needs to ensure the examination process remains both credible and effective.
  • Training organizations such as ours need to ensure their PMP courses are relevant and interesting.

We have chosen to focus our training on the PMI range of credentials because they are a defined package, we know if we have done a good job as soon as a trainee passes their exam. The subjectivity of competence assessments lacks the clarity of pass/fail. However, look 5 to 10 years into the future and I expect the credentialing process will have change substantially to blend aspects of workplace assessment (competency) with the formal testing of knowledge. The Program Management Professional (PgMP) credential is a start along this route, my prediction is most other credentials will follow.