Sometimes The Rules Must Be Different

There is a big debate in GB media this week: should the Olympics and Paralympics be treated the same, combined or be carbon copies.  Aside from the practicalities (4 hour opening ceremonies and time tabling venues) Peter White (bbc.co.uk) reminded the media that there are differences and what suits a person in a wheelchair will not be a level playing field for those on two legs.  The country is learning new sports (e.g. boccia). Closer integration of the games might be possible but we must acknowledge the key aspect: these games are different with different rules. It would be unfair on all competitors to try to make them the same.

Some companies and project managers make similar mistakes seeing a portfolio of projects as homogenous and trying to endorse the same methods and processes. A fundamental definition of a project is that it is a unique undertaking. In organisations, the types of project they undertake may be grouped by type and complexity to help assign effective project management teams. However, many don’t do that, they group by location or year: accidental dragooning into manageable groups.

The underlying problem with accidental grouping is the assumption that a consistent management can be applied to the projects in that group. That is where the project that isn’t quite the same can be the performance management equivalent of a land-mine: hidden, explosive and unexpectedly damaging. These land-mine projects are damaging because they go wrong, add cost, demotivate the team and upset stakeholders. Sometimes the costs of these projects can stop the business performing in other areas. If the dispute goes to law it can have a catastrophic impact on the organisation.

Therefore, portfolio and programme managers need to find a way of identifying those projects that are different: different type of delivery, different type of client, more complex, bigger or smaller teams, longer or shorter timescales, new or innovative. They need to tailor their controls and processes to manage these.  This is adaptation for a situation not a licence to lose the overall controls applied.

I recognise that a number of Paralympic competitors first “qualified” for the trials that got them into their nation teams because of land-mines.  While “the project that brought down the business” isn’t really on the same scale, the metaphor works. Their life has been set on a new unplanned direction that is incomparably different from their original hopes and dreams. Their success as elite athletes may be a huge achievement and entirely worth celebrating but it is not the same: the rules are different.

Advertisements

Running On Ice

Summer isn’t warm enough for lots of ice but the metaphor struck me as so true in a project rescue I was discussing with an old client. Their new project manager joined to turnaround a project but seems to be making little progress.

With a little coaching, the client admitted that the project manager was being pushed to deliver fast but had no control over the things that were the causes of his predecessor’s struggles: poor portfolio management and resource churn.

When the team is constantly being churned, leaving, reassigned and re-forming, momentum is lost. Inductions and hand-overs take time that should be spent on the project. Rework become inevitable because the learning curves are being trodden every day. The lack of stability in a team means communications channels are restarted (or fail to include the right people) nearly every day. That is wasteful.

The portfolio management was broken. There was so much pressure to get projects out of pipeline and to “started” states that there were more projects in progress than the organisation had capacity to  deal with.  That meant the rare, highly skilled resources had more churn than anyone else. They were getting worn down.

Time for my client to face reality. They had to stop running on ice. We laughed at the metaphor but my client’s presentation may have a cartoon on the page were he delivers the  tough message to the senior team: be serious guys, either resource the teams for the projects we are doing or do less projects at once. In agile terms: minimise work in progress.

Lessons Learned are worth the effort!

The Canadian charity Engineers without Boarders is learning the way in looking at their projects openly, admitting what went wrong and sharing the lessons they learn through that process. That is a level of maturity many organizations don’t have – even if they have a process that says they do retrospectives or lessons learned. They say they have made more impact and reached more lasting goals because of this.  And they encourage others to do the same on http://www.admittingfailure.com

Read more of this post

50 Days of Silence

50 Days of Silence – that’s what it might have looked like to those who read my blog. Why no posts for 50 days?

Was it writer’s block? No

Was it that there was nothing to comment about? No

Have we exhausted every topic for business improvement, quality management, project management or related topics? Of course not. (You’ll have seen articles from me in other publications.)

In all portfolios of projects there are times when you must simply concentrate on the work and decisions in hand.  Thinking takes effort and time. Getting a decision right takes research, so of the key questions for me are: What do we really want the outcome to be and does that fit with our strategy? Is that possible given the state of the art? Do we have the resources? Can we really start from here and if not how do we get to the next step?

How often do you set aside time to truly review the balance of your portfolio and properly think about where to go next?

And don’t forget, you may need to look at your personal portfolios too: your business, your projects, your career development, your personal “life” portfolio.

Giving yourself space and time to do that may mean scheduling some time away from the daily cycle of tasks and making space to consider your options.

So, that wasn’t silence, that was me getting inspiration and using those insights to spring clean my portfolios. Others might call it a comprehensive management review.  Either way, it is much easier to see a path forward you can take with confidence once that is done.

Danger:too many projects!

It’s still February and rugby is still the preferred sport for a few more weeks. The big debate seems to be, simply, why doesn’t England win the Six Nations tournament more? England has a relatively big population, the biggest sports economy, the national rugby organisation with the biggest turnover, most players, more registered professional players, etc.  The press question if those resources are being wasted. The answer cannot be about numbers and statistical ratios but about what is done with those resources.

At the end of the game, the important thing is the result created by the 15 guys on the pitch. If they have good enough facilities, high quality coaches and plenty of practice, a player can leave the locker room at the start of the game with confidence of a good start and a potential win. If the 15 are focused on doing the small things right, take the opportunities that present themselves and play for each other as a team, then they could be running back to their lockers as winners. That is true no matter how big your resource pool is. If you have a squad of 50 instead of 22 (15 plus the 7 allowed substitutes) the dynamics of communication between players becomes problematic and building a coherent team is harder. If you have just enough players the team will  probably work well. If you have too few in the team, guys start to play more than one position and risk loosing focus on the important things.

So in reality, it does not matter how many players England have: it’s the quality of the team that is selected to play the big game and the support they get to win. For England, the number of players available may be a distraction because the selection process has to cope with more possibilities. The temptation will be to spend the same effort on all players for consistency of process (and fairness). But that robs people of the attention they need (if they need more than average) or wastes the coach’s time (if things can be done quickly.) The team’s key players need the best coaches. Those at the start of their career need coaches who can help them grow. Every player needs an appropriate time with the right coach to get them ready for the game they need to play.

Like every international team needs a selection process, every portfolio of projects needs a governance process. And like every player needs a coach, every project needs the right attention in the governance process. Each project team needs good preparation before the game begins. The processes around a project portfolio also need to increase the opportunities for success.  In really large portfolios, the time and energy to do this can seem inefficient but not doing it can be really costly. This is where some organisations start to go wrong: they have lots of projects and management start to feel there is too much time and cost devoted to the governance process – they want to spend the resources on the projects. The real measure should be about how well the governance process works: how many projects slip through and fail or how many real opportunities are missed? The right level of governance for each project must make sure that the right projects are run and the right resources are available for the best chance of success.

Quite simply, if you don’t have time and resources for an effective governance process, you have too many projects running in your portfolio. Time to consider either rescheduling the portfolio or looking at changing the resources applied to governance.

Portfolio Ambition

It’s February and six weeks into the year I’ve listened to project portfolio managers wrestling with their organisations’ daydream-like expectations of the project portfolio. When the board signed off the portfolio with a list of change initiatives and project objectives in January, they had not made a proper evaluation of the resources available to complete the work or the risks involved.
Read more of this post

What are we trying to achieve?

Setting the objective for a programme or project is something that some managers and organisations give too little analysis. The instinct is to say “make me widget X” or “make this new organisation structure happen”.  That simply defines the solution that seems obvious at the time. For some projects that is enough but for many that is like saying “go to Plymouth” without say why or what you need to be ready to do when you get there.

For a project team to be successful, it helps to know what the end state needs to be and why you need that end. Read more of this post

The PMO role in risk management

The links between project risk management and the organisation’s risk management mean that some project risks could be dealt with at organisation level more easily.  It is in both the project manager’s interests and the boards to get these processes to join up effectively.  A good PMO (Project Management Office) who really understand risk management and organisational context can help by spotting themes to talk to corporate risk managers about. Read more of this post

Short-term delay can have long term impact

In the mad rush of ideas that some managers get over the holiday season , some will have decided to cut costs in their operations. In doing so, they will have chosen short-term delays for projects that don’t bring a quick return.

I’ve even seen blogs and advice from management consultants specifically saying things like, “Defer discretionary projects which are not able to make acceptable cash returns in the short-term”.

That is the wrong message because it looks at projects in isolation from each other and the organisation. Read more of this post

PMO Confused?

Senior Managers seem to be confused: every consultant they talk to describes a different model for a PMO or PPSO (programme and project support office) from the last consultant they thought they understood. 

This is not new for larger organisations. The confusion for the PMO staff can be quite difficult and transition to new roles can be tough if you have staffed the PMO with completer/finisher admin or project managers in waiting. Read more of this post