How to succeed as a PM in 2016

January 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


Governance and stakeholders

June 7, 2015

CrisisBoth stakeholder theory and the modern concept of organisational governance place importance on the organisation fulfilling the needs of all of its stakeholders. The older, generally discredited ‘stockholder’ theory suggested the primary purpose of an organisation was to maximise value for its owners – generally interpreted by those in power as looking after the short-term interests of ‘those in power’ or the few with a direct investment in the organisation.

Three on-going sagas demonstrate the fallacy of taking a short term ‘stockholder’ approach to creating value.

1. The FIFA Crisis: Ignoring the alleged criminality of many of the key actors, my view is the biggest ‘governance failure’ in FIFA for the last decade or more has been the perceived method of allocating development funds to national soccer authorities.  The perception is that most of these funds were distributed at the behest of Sepp Blatter, and therefore if the associations wanted to keep on receiving their development funding they needed to vote for Blatter.

There is nothing wrong with funding the development of the game – it is one of FIFA’s primary objectives.  The governance breakdown was in the lack of a robust and transparent process for allocating the money to soccer associations that could make the most beneficial use of the funds and requiring accountability for the expenditure. The $billions in largely unaccounted largess distributed on a less than transparent basis is I suspect the root cause of much of the evil besetting FIFA at the present time.

Its too early to determine the damage to both FIFA and the game of soccer (football) from the breakdown in governance but one thing is already very clear, the big loser over the last decade has been the game, its players and its supporters – ultimately the stakeholders who really matter.

2. The on-going Banking Crisis: The focus of banks on employing and rewarding greedy people focused on maximising their bonuses at the expense of the Banks customers and shareholders lead to the financial crisis and a series of other failures, reviews and prosecutions in the USA, UK and Australia at least.

In Australia, the governance failure was senior managers and the Board’s Directors putting short-term profits ahead of the long term development of the bank. Front line sales people were paid to sell inappropriate products to clients – they do not get bonuses for not selling product even if it is in the best interest of the client.  Middle managers were paid to ignore potential problems – their KPIs and bonuses were driven by the sales volumes of their staff, etc.

The banks and their stockholders did very well for a while, now many of the problems created by this governance and cultural failure are starting to emerge, the short term stock speculators are taking their profits and dumping bank stocks.  Trust in the banking system is at an all time low (financial advisers are deemed less trustworthy then politicians). Very few of the stakeholders in the baking industry, including employees, long term investors,  clients or governments are on the ‘winning side’.  I’m waiting to see what game changing ‘disruptive innovation’ emerges – anyone offering a viable alternative to the banks has a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to start up in a market looking for a viable alternative to ‘big banks’.

3. The on-going Child Abuse Crisis: The Australian Government’s Royal Commission into child abuse continues to uncover major breakdowns in governance in a vast range of organisations. The thing I find most upsetting is the abject failure of the leadership in most of these organisations to uphold the values of the organisation.  Abuse was ignored, covered up, secret payments made to ‘settle complaints’, etc.  The focus of the various churches, school and other institutional leaders was always a short term attempt to protect the institution from ‘bad publicity’. Hide the perpetrators of the evil and diminish the claims of the abused children (causing even more distress and harm).

The long term damage this short-sighted policy of ‘cover-up’ and ‘look-the-other-way’ will cause to the churches in particular has yet to emerge but I suspect there will be massive consequences that damage both the institution and the people the institutions serve, their congregations.

Summary

In each of these cases, the governance failure started at the very top of the organisation, the Executive Committee, Directors, and Bishops failed to develop a culture focused on achieving good outcomes for all of the respective organisation’s stakeholders and allowed corrupt cultures to develop focused on advantaging a very select group of ‘stockholders’.  The resulting crises will be causing damage to the organisations and their stakeholders for decades to come. Unfortunately in the vast majority of cases the people responsible for the breakdown of governance in their organisation are still hanging on to their jobs and pretending the failures are the fault of people lower down the organisational hierarchy.

Avoiding this type of problem is not easy but it starts with the governing bodies recognising that they, and they alone, can set the cultural and ethical tone for an organisation. The functions of governance outlined in our White Paper may seem soft and fuzzy concepts but if they are not implemented effectively and rigorously the next crisis will only be a matter of time. Long term success can only be assured by governing for all stakeholders, which in turn requires an ethical framework and a culture that demands transparency and accountability (as well as technical excellence) from everyone working in the organisations hierarchy.


Making Projects Work: Effective Stakeholder and Communication Management

April 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

Features – the book:

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

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


For Stakeholders, 2×2 Is Not Enough!

April 4, 2015

The world loves 2×2 matrices – they help make complex issues appear simple. Unfortunately though, some complex issues are complex and need far more information to support effective decision making and action. The apparent elegance of a 2×2 view or the world quickly moves from simple to simplistic.

One such situation is managing project and program stakeholders and convincing the stakeholders affected by the resulting organisational change that change is necessary and potentially beneficial. As a starting point, some stakeholders will be unique to either the project, the overarching program or the organisational change; others will be stakeholders in all three aspects, and their attitude towards one will be influenced by their experiences in another (or what others in their network tell them about ‘the other’).

The problem with a simple 2×2 view of this complex world is the assumption that everyone falls neatly into one of the four options and everyone categorised as belonging in a quadrant can be managed the same way. A typical example is:

power-interest

Power tends to be one dimension, and can usually be assessed effectively, the second dimension can include Interest, Influence, or Impact none of which are particularly easy to classify. A third dimension can be included for very small numbers of stakeholders by colouring the ‘dots’ typically to show either importance or attitude.

The problem is you may have a stakeholder assessed as high power, low interest who opposes your work, who you need to be actively engaged and supportive – ‘keep satisfied’ is a completely inappropriate management strategy.

The Salience Model developed by Mitchell, Agle, and Wood. (1997) introduces the concepts of urgency and legitimacy.

Salience

Urgency refers to the degree of effort the stakeholder is expected to expend in creating or defending its ‘stake’ in the project, this is an important concept! However the concepts of ‘legitimate stakeholders’ and non-stakeholders are inconsistent with stakeholder theory and PMI’s definition of a stakeholder – anyone who believes your project will affect their interests can make themselves a stakeholder (even if their perception is incorrect) and will need managing. This model also ignores the key dimension of supportive / antagonistic.

The three dimensional Stakeholder Cube is a more sophisticated development of the simple 2×2 chart. The methodology supports the mapping of stakeholders’:

  • Interest (active or passive);
  • Power (influential or insignificant); and
  • Attitude (backer or blocker).

Ruth_MW

This approach facilitates the development of eight typologies with suggestions on the optimum approach to managing each class of stakeholder (Murray-Webster and Simon, 2008). However, the nature of the chart makes it difficult to draw specific stakeholders in the grid, or show any relationships between stakeholders and the activity. However, as with any of the other approached discussed so far, the classifications can be used to categorise the stakeholders in a spreadsheet or database and most of the key dimensions needed for effective management are present in this model. The two missing elements are any form of prioritisation (to focus effort where it is most needed) and the key question ‘Is the stakeholder in the right place?’ is not answered.

Information needed for a full assessment

The factors needed for effective stakeholder management fall into two general categories, firstly the information you need to prioritise your stakeholder engagement actions; second the information you need to plan your prioritised engagement activities.

The two basic elements needed to identify the important stakeholders at ‘this point in time’ are:

  • Firstly the power the stakeholder has to affect the work of the project. This aspect tends to remain stable over time).
  • Secondly the degree of ‘urgency’ associated with the stakeholder – how intense are the actions of the stakeholder to protect of support its stake? This aspect can change quickly depending on the interactions that have occurred between the project team and the stakeholder.

I include a third element in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology, how close is the stakeholder to the work of the project (proximity) – stakeholders actively engaged in the work (eg, team members) tend to be need more management attention than those relatively remote from the work.

The next step is to assess the attitude of the important stakeholders towards the work of the project. Two assessments are needed, firstly what is the stakeholder’s current attitude towards the project and secondly what is a realistically desirable attitude to expect of the stakeholder that will optimise the chance of project success?

Attitudes can range from actively supportive of the work through to active opposition to the work. The stakeholder may also be willing to engage in communication with you or refuse to communicate . If you need to change the stakeholder’s attitude, you need to be able to communicate!

From this information you can start to plan your communication. Important stakeholders whose attitude is less supportive than needed require carefully directed communication. Others may simply require routine engagement or simple reporting .

If this all sounds like hard work it is! But it’s far less work then struggling to revive a failed project. This theme is central to my new book, Making Projects Work, Effective stakeholder and communication management. You generally only get one chance to create a first impression with your stakeholders – it helps to make it a good one.

Making Projects Work


Are Sponsors over worked and under effective?

December 16, 2014

Sleepy-Sponsor1The Institute of Project Management (Ireland)  has published a  survey is based on self-reported information from their course based on nine major position descriptions/levels in reporting the data comparing the expected number of hours to be worked based on their terms of employment and the actual number of hours typically worked. The averaged data from senior management positions is worrying:

  • Director of PMO; expected: 39.0 Hrs, actual: 60.0 Hrs
  • Portfolio Manager; expected: 37.0 Hrs, actual: 50.0 Hrs
  • Project Manager (Senior); expected: 37.9 Hrs, actual: 50.3 Hrs.

Combine these findings with data from PMI on the hours worked by Sponsors (download the PMI report on ‘Executive Sponsor Engagement’) with many reporting working weeks of 50 to 60 hours on their ‘day job’ before taking on the additional responsibilities of sponsoring a project or a program; and, that effective sponsors report that typically they are working on three projects at a time, spending an average of 13 hours per week on each, the problem of over extension of key executives becomes obvious.

Combine these findings with the demonstrated correlation between effective sponsorship and achieving project success, the over extension of senior managers has serious consequences:

  • Sponsors have inadequate time to understand the project’s requirements and support the project manager leading to an increased probability of failure;
  • Tired managers make poor decisions, and tiredness affects ethical standards (see: Tired workers lose their ethics);
  • There is frequently not enough time to train the sponsor in his/her role further reducing their effectiveness; and
  • These pressures often lead to a lack of continuity in the sponsorship role, which is another identified source of project failure.

The evidence is clear, organisations that fail to effectively sponsor their projects and programs are making an overt commitment to wasting the organisation’s time, money and resources – there is an 80% greater probability of failure and no amount of effort at the ‘project management’ level can overcome executive management failures.

Sleepy-Sponsor2One simple way to stop the waste is for an organisation to defer any project where it is unable to find a committed, trained sponsor, with adequate time, energy and skills to properly fulfil their role. No sponsor – no project! (See more on the role of a sponsor)  This may sound extreme, but if the executive management team do not see the project as being sufficiently important to the organisation they manage, to reorganise the disposition of executive resources to properly support the work, then the project is probably not that important anyway. The organisation will be better off not spending the money and wasting its resources.

The governance challenge is creating a management culture that on one hand, actively encourages the deferment of projects that are inadequately supported (eg, don’t have a sponsor); and on the other actively encourages the development of the organisation’s capability to excel at the ‘the management of projects’ (see more on the strategic management of projects).

Sleepy-Sponsor3Creating this culture is a critical governance issue (see more on the governance of project management).  If an organisation cannot implement projects and programs efficiently, it cannot adapt and change to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world which will inevitably lead to the organisation becoming obsolete. However, achieving the necessary changes won’t happen if the executive team are already overextended – the situation highlighted in both of the reports referenced in this post! Building the organisational capability to efficiently its projects and programs is itself a major change initiative that needs resourcing and sponsoring at the highest levels.


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.