Linking Strategy to Execution through Innovative Techniques
This year’s Strategic Execution Conference takes place on Oct 21-22 at the Hyatt Regency, Santa Clara.
This is the world’s premier event focused on improving the way organizations and their teams execute strategy, with keynotes and 32 presentations combining thought leadership and new ideas with latest industry practices and case studies in three tracks:
- Strategic Initiatives
- Bridging Execution
- Executing Excellence.
The Strategic Execution Conference is designed for:
- Senior and rising leaders from established or growing global enterprises relying on innovation and technology for success
- Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program students and graduates
- Managers of large programs and portfolios
The conference also helps deepen the connection the many Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) graduates and participants have with the program and each other by providing an environment to showcase new ideas, foster continual learning and network with the best in strategic execution.
Are you involved in execution of your company’s strategy?
Whether you are the head of the PMO or the CIO; work for a global tech company; or an organization from a robust industry such as financial services, energy, manufacturing or others – this conference is for you.
Details and Registration
For more details on this unique event and to register, go to www.executionconference.com
Overwhelmed by your project(s)?
Am I at Risk of Burnout?
If you’re thinking ‘Yes’, then MindTools has a quick self-test for stretched project managers:
Now and again one comes across great resources for enhancing project management knowledge and offering practical support.
ProjectManager.com has it all:
- Videos – almost 100 videos on seemingly every imaginable PM topic
- Blog – a daily blog
- eBooks – an array of useful references for building high performing teams and planning and managing projects
- Templates – from Charter to Closure
- Webinars – recorded sessions covering project management, leadership, scoping, tracking and more
- Software – tools for planning, tracking and reporting.
And if that’s not quite enough, there are also postings of PM jobs and a regular newsletter.
To find out more, check out http://www.projectmanager.com/.
What gives meaning to accomplishment? In the end, it is the journey that often matters more than the destination. How we get there and most especially, how we are led there, is what instills color in our memories – and most notably in our project and organization experiences. Superlative leadership inspires, motivates and brings meaning to what we do. As individuals, we also find our own way of facilitating a meaningful journey.
I live my working life by three themes, whether leading or contributing. Steve Jobs illustrates how these mattered at Apple:
My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary.
Our job is to figure out what they’re (the customers) going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.
I figured it was always my job to make sure that the team was excellent, and if I didn’t do it, nobody was going to do it.
I believe each of these themes are vital to every project and to every organization.
How effective is your organization’s approach to project management skills development? Does it yield measurable, positive and sustainable change?
Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change.
Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them.
Henry Steele Commager
We should not equate education with training here – yet this often occurs. The most effective means of assuring progress in project management is a multi-faceted education approach that supplements training with strategies that not only embrace but emphasize:
- Tailored coaching/mentoring
- Regular (“push”) knowledge feeds
- Practical (“pull”) resources, and
- On-demand support.
Education does not equal training.
Much of the dialog and content of project management improvement is focused on increased knowledge, better processes and the right tools for the project manager. Project by project however, there is another, oft-overlooked element – the project sponsor. This leadership role can, quite simply, make or break a project. If you have ever had experience of working with a great sponsor and separately with a poor sponsor, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Good Behavior for Smoother Projects
The reality is that, much like many project managers, sponsors are frequently unprepared for their role. Yet the quality of sponsorship can make all the difference to a project and its outcomes. Adhering to the principles below can help to steer a smooth course:
1 – Align the Team
Describe the purpose of the project and its context. Articulate the rationale and summarize the business case. Express the vision of what will be different after the project, what the benefits are and how any stakeholder concerns have been addressed. Unify the team around a common goal and avoid being fluffy on what you want (and don’t want). Focus the team on the tactical objectives and be clear about the boundaries – what will and will not be covered. Not getting sufficiently involved and specific up front almost guarantees excessive involvement later on in resolving issues and fixing problems.
2 – Validate the Plan
It’s the responsibility of the sponsor to approve the plan for execution. This means knowing what a good plan looks like versus a bad plan (i.e. don’t sign anything unless you know what you’re signing). Have you reviewed the WBS with the project manager? Is it sufficiently detailed? Does it cover all required aspects of scope? How confident are the team in satisfying the objectives? How were estimates derived? Have all resources and their managers agreed to the schedule? If in doubt on how to validate, seek input from an experienced and trusted project manager or from the PMO.
3 – Demonstrate Commitment
An effective sponsor is THE champion for the project. This means being accessible and available, sticking to scheduled meetings, touching base with the team regularly – even if it’s a working lunch, keeping the project visible with senior stakeholders and advocating the interests of the project in management forums. Clearly explain the rationale for tough decisions that might be misinterpreted or risk alienating the team – (business considerations sometimes outweigh pure project interests). Showing real commitment and a passion for executing the project well, in person, week in, week out – this can be a real energizing force for the team.
4 – Inspect what you Expect
The sponsor should be an advocate for effective project management. Insist that the project team adheres to processes and provides the data that you ask for. This is especially important where the organization’s maturity in project management is still low and new processes are being introduced. Review process issues, for example in planning, technical lifecycles, tracking and reporting. Determine if anything is not working and take action to resolve it. Ensure information is timely and accurate. Poor decisions are a common consequence of bad data resulting from inadequate (or, sometimes, too much) process.
5 – Ask the Right Questions
Ultimately the project needs to deliver results – it’s the job of the sponsor to ensure the project is not only on track to deliver those results but also to verify those results are still relevant and worthwhile. This requires courage to ask tough questions and take adaptive action – possibly changing course, re-planning or even terminating the project. It also means proactively exploring options and alternatives with the project manager and understanding both the business and tactical impact of changes.
6 – Define Success and Measure It
Lay out what ‘success’ will mean for the project right from the outset. What are the ways in which the project can be judged a triumph rather than a failure? Consider who will benefit and how. What does success mean from a people standpoint? A deliverable standpoint? A process perspective? What about for the team? The organization? Use each review meeting as an opportunity to gauge how well the project is tracking to these measures – not just at the end.
7 – Acknowledge Accomplishment
As the overall project leader, the sponsor must be in touch the team’s achievements, especially when the going gets tough – which is no time to be remote. Be interested in progress, recognize both individual and team contributions and express thanks for extraordinary commitment and significant accomplishments, openly and publically. Putting in extra hours is common enough on projects but if your sponsor is an inspirational leader, genuinely empathetic and rewards high performance, it’s a whole lot less painful for the team to go the extra mile.
How effective is your sponsor?
For all the millions spent on project management education, significant improvement in the way projects are actually planned and managed remains an elusive goal for many firms. While formal training is (or should be) an excellent foundation for improvement, it is not the greatest means of turning knowledge into sustainable, collective action – which ultimately, is what most organizations actually need.
Rapid planning workshops, in contrast, do just that. They offer one of the single most powerful methods, (especially post-training), of embedding effective project management methods and tools.
Conducted in a live intense planning environment with the project manager and his/her core team, they are explicitly dedicated to evolving a high quality mission-critical project to execution-readiness as fast as possible. Properly designed, skilfully-facilitated workshops can compress planning time from weeks to days, by fully focusing the team on their project without productivity-sapping distractions, and by elaborating overall goals into detailed, tactically-viable, fully-resourced integrated schedules, all under the guidance of an expert facilitator, (ideally from the PMO).
Project planning is an everyday occurrence but the quality of the output is too often suspect – and the stealthy precursor of unnecessary strife, poor productivity or a troubled project. Repeatedly exposing project teams to high impact, structured planning, results in profound acceleration of both their projects and the organization’s project management capability.
Follow the Process
A typical planning workshop agenda should be tailored to the project’s needs and the organization’s own methodology (if it’s adequate) and might include activities such as:
- Define objectives (tactical targets)
- Define scope (deliverables, exclusions, completion criteria)
- Create WBS (tasks, ownership, completion criteria)
- Assign resources (staffing)
- Develop schedule (dependencies, estimates, constraints, critical path analysis)
- Optimize plan (schedule/scope/resource constraints and tradeoffs)
- Manage risks (identification, assessment, responses)
These are really just standard planning steps but the trick is in how they are actioned in the workshop using a mix of large/small group collaboration, flipcharts/Post-Its, templates/software and real-time analysis/quality control/adaptation for maximum impact. Any project can benefit from these structured sessions; larger projects can typically get to the lowest level of appropriate detail (potentially thousands of tasks) within just a few days. Team alignment, a credible plan and knowledge transfer – for maybe less than 2% of the total effort to execute the project. Its a great return. And done right, by institutionalizing rapid structured planning as an operational norm, the biggest winner is the organization.
The global state of project management would be infinitely improved if just a fraction of organizational training budgets were allocated to properly standardizing high impact planning practices.
The world is (slowly) moving toward a shared understanding of the term “program”. There are still widely varying interpretations of project vs program but the most common themes are that programs typically drive significant strategic change, involve the integration and coordination of multiple component projects (and sometimes non-project work too), and focus on outcomes rather than outputs.
Where all these criteria are fulfilled, major problems arise when the program is treated simply as a large project, meaning that planning and oversight is overly tactical to the detriment of the more strategic activity necessary for program success (see Big Programs, Basic Flaws).
Seven Key Elements
Ensuring the program delivers what was intended requires special emphasis given to areas such as strategic alignment, stakeholder management, scope and schedule integration, and benefits planning.
The following major elements of program management help provide appropriate focus:
1 – Business Case
Programs should have a well-articulated justification for the investment, that centers on the estimated costs of implementation and ongoing operations against the anticipated benefits to be gained and offset by the associated risks. The business case lays out the strategic context of the program and shapes its overall mission and vision. Once approved, the business case provides a point of reference throughout the program (updated as necessary) in order to ensure a continued business rationale for the initiative.
2 – Program Organization
This should comprise a single program manager with unambiguous reporting lines to an executive steering committee (program board) that adequately reflects major stakeholder interests, budgetary control and resourcing. Other advisory committees may be set up to review and guide specific aspects of the program but the board always has ultimate decision-making authority. The program manager should have ready access to an individual program sponsor to resolve issues and obtain guidance not requiring involvement of the other board members.
3 – Stakeholder Alignment
The sheer scale of a program will usually infer involvement of many parties with vested interests. Stakeholder analysis will help to identify individual concerns and parties needing the greatest attention, and subsequently define appropriate response strategies. It also assists in identifying risks associated with (real or perceived) negative outcomes. Properly managing relationships with key stakeholders requires detailed communication plans and, (sometimes forgotten), ensuring adequate time and effort is expended in acting on those plans.
4 – Benefits Realization Plan
Since programs focus on outcomes (vs. projects which focus on outputs), a core element of program setup is the development of a plan that (a) assigns metrics to identified benefits, (b) forecasts when and how those benefits will be realized and (c) maps program deliverables to the benefits which are in turn linked to program objectives. This helps ensure that assumptions in how each benefit will be realized are validated and that all required deliverables are clearly identified.
5 – Program Architecture
The program architecture identifies component projects and the major interfaces between them. A vital aspect of developing the architecture is scope integration, whereby the boundaries of each component are validated to ensure that program objectives can be fulfilled without gaps or overlapping effort among the constituent projects. A high-level program roadmap is an important tool in depicting anticipated sequencing of the projects, target dates for key interfaces, review/approval gates and other milestones, and successive stages of funding.
6 – Integrated Master Schedule
An effective integrated master schedule (IMS) consolidates all component project schedules and links them at the task level with specific, clearly defined interfaces with explicit completion criteria. Depending on the schedule criticality, the use of simulation tools and optimization techniques are often essential tools to properly manage schedule risk and greatly increase credibility of the plan and confidence. The IMS re-validates the program roadmap and benefits plan and together with an interface tracking log will therefore provide the basis for much of the program manager’s performance monitoring focus during program execution.
7 – Tiered Governance
While project managers within the program will typically track progress against schedule, cost and technical performance, the program manager needs to ensure not only proper roll-up of this data (possibly via a program office) to control overall program progress but also to implement tracking of benefit metrics, as per the benefits realization plan. A well-designed program dashboard reflects both types of metric to provide the board with a holistic view of both the strategic and tactical performance aspects of the program.
Conducting and reading through assessments of various programs highlights how complexity in large scale initiatives can distract and divert focus from doing the basics. Several factors can contribute to this but the end result is the same- an out-of-control program with impacts exacerbated by its sheer size.
For example, recent audits of half a billion dollars worth of government programs in the state of Queensland (AUS) highlight a multitude of major issues resulting in spiraling costs, runaway schedules, unrealized benefits and irate stakeholders.
Its a sobering read; particularly striking, given the nature of the initiatives, is the apparent failure to attend to program management fundamentals. Here are a few summarized findings from the various programs assessed:
No Business Case
An approved business case that clearly identified the benefits to be realised could not be identified. There was no periodic review of the business needs.
Lack of Proper Governance
A program board with adequate stakeholder representation, that had the authority to drive the program forward and to deliver the outcomes and benefits, was not in place since the program began.
No Benefits Management Plan
There was no benefits management plan to consolidate benefits measures for all stakeholders impacted by the program. There was no method of identifying, recording, tracking and reporting demonstrable benefits for the program.
Lack of Integration
From a program perspective, it appeared to be a series of separate projects rather than a coordinated program.
Inadequate Program Metrics
Many of the controls within all three programs were typical of a project management scheme to manage schedules, capabilities and costs. The baselines, recording, monitoring and reporting of benefits did not form part of program documentation.
Program Management Fundamentals
While these findings relate to a few specific programs, they are symptomatic of common issues in program management, namely, that program planning and oversight is often at too tactical a level. Successful program management is founded on the themes of:
- Strategic Alignment
Ensuring a clear and ongoing linkage of program objectives and scope with the organization’s strategic objectives
- Stakeholder Management
Aligning the expectations and interests of all key stakeholders to promote their ongoing support and ensure success criteria are unanimously understood
- Program Governance
Developing an integrated program master-plan that links all component projects both tactically (tasks) and strategically (business goals), implemented within the framework of an unambiguous program organization structure
- Benefits Management
Defining anticipated benefits early and mapping them explicitly to program scope and objectives, and subsequently forecasting and tracking their realization.
Ignoring these core considerations is to disregard the fundamentals of good program management.
Much time can go to waste in project review meetings. Mostly this is due to: (a) poor agendas, (b) poor control and (c) poor preparation. The project manager has responsibility for each of these and should recognize each meeting as an opportunity to improve project performance, enhance personal credibility and motivate the team – all as timely and efficiently as possible.
A fine balancing act is typically needed in maintaining meeting focus on project status while ensuring an appropriate environment to re-align the team and foster a positive outlook. Here are some guidelines to keep meetings productive, on-point and on-track.
Set a clear agenda and stick to it-
e.g. Review the:
Ready the data before the meeting-
- Don’t waste valuable meeting time getting status updates from team members. Collect this information one day beforehand to allow time for updating the schedule, analyzing variances and identifying specific items needing team review, all in advance of the meeting. Provide team members with any pre-reading that could reduce meeting duration.
Make attendance mandatory-
- Allowing members to skip meetings without a really good reason will hamper decision-making, dilute communication and weaken the team. Ask the Sponsor to send out a message reinforcing expectations on attendance – and let him/her know how well they’re being met.
Keep meetings relevant and concise-
- Keep control of discussions, stick to the agenda, ensure cell-phones stay off and stop any side-conversations promptly. Actively solicit inputs from the team on their perspectives of likelihood of success – and probe any concerns thoroughly. Secure clear commitments on actions and due dates.
Rigid or relaxed to suit the culture–
- It’s a subtle thing but get it wrong and your perceived credibility as an effective leader will be impacted…as will the team’s motivation and commitment. Some cultures respond better to informal meetings, lots of humor and a relaxed environment than others. Know your team members and your organization’s culture.
- If the team includes foreigners, speak slowly and avoid using idioms. (Obvious perhaps, but rampantly ignored). If time zone differences are severe, consider rotating weekly meeting times to spread the pain of early morning or late night calls. Consider asking virtual participants to connect into the meeting individually and separately to avoid the risk of co-located groups getting into their own side-conversations while ‘on mute’.
- Be sure to take time to express appreciation for any and all noteworthy efforts honestly, openly and consistently. Whether for the efforts of a single individual or a group, conveying words of thanks and using simple positive reinforcement rewards are powerful motivators.