Posts Tagged ‘Management’

PostHeaderIcon Program Management Essentials

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.

Alignment and Integration

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.

PostHeaderIcon Project Management Checklists

Much more than a Memory Jogger

Much more than a Memory Jogger

Among all the tools at our disposal for managing projects, programs and portfolios, checklists are perhaps the simplest and most productive means of building consistency in work practices. Checklists are useful in almost every field of human endeavor, and in particular where repeatability and systematic action drive performance. Yet they are still much under-used in the planning and managing of projects.

As a good friend of mine, Nick Gogerty, recently posted in Checklists, hedge funds and human behaviour, checklists provide for better outcomes – both individual and team. And the more collective experience that goes into the creation of a checklist, the more value it will have. Well thought-out checklists are indispensable wherever there is a need for control, risk reduction, rapid response or safety – as doctors, flight crew, investors and others the world over can testify, the checklist provides efficient guidance, increased confidence and focus under stress (see The Checklist Manifesto – How to Get things Right – a great-sounding read that Nick highly recommends).

Twelve Checks for Planning

Likewise for project managers – checklists can be used for all manner of things. Where training builds knowledge, checklists facilitate application.  Here is a high level twelve-point checklist for use during project planning:

  1. Have the needs and concerns of all key stakeholders been considered and resolved?
  2. Does the project have an overall approved mission statement defining the scope, schedule and resources/budget?
  3. Has the relative flexibility among scope, schedule, resources and budget been determined?
  4. Have all project deliverables been identified and described in detail with unambiguous completion criteria?
  5. Are roles and responsibilities defined and agreed upon for all project team members?
  6. Has an appropriately detailed work breakdown structure been created with input from key team members?
  7. Has a credible schedule with identifiable critical path and late schedule been developed from the WBS and optimized within the project constraints?
  8. Have milestones been included in the schedule to track major events, completed phases and/or deliverables and external dependencies?
  9. Have workload commitments been identified for each week of the project and agreed to by team members and their managers?
  10. Have response plans been developed for the most significant threats to project success?
  11. Has a change management process been defined and agreed to by all key stakeholders?
  12. Has the governance structure for the project been established with an agreed sponsorship role and expectations set for review frequency and format?

One of the features of checklists is that they can be designed to extend hierarchically, such that a sub-checklist could be developed to facilitate any or all of the checks above (e.g. a stakeholder analysis checklist or a risk management checklist). The PMI, training firms and PMOs would do well to promote checklists more strongly – project managers like to use checklists; not many want to read through an overweight methodology. And managers like checklists because they improve quality and instill consistency. For the converted, I’ll have more checklists in future posts.

PostHeaderIcon Project Management and the Four Cultures

Project Management and Culture - not always love at first sight

One of the most critical success factors in implementing project management is ensuring the right fit of processes and systems with the culture of the organization. Yet culture is such a wonderfully complex and seemingly amorphous thing that it can be hard to know what “fit” really means if we can’t define the characteristics and boundaries of the firm’s culture.

The Re-Engineering Alternative by William Schneider provides both a fascinating insight into organizational culture as well as a practical toolkit for determining your own company’s core culture. This is not a new book but it is a gem. Designed as an aid to improving organizational effectiveness by leveraging cultural norms and behaviors, Schneider describes how peeling back the layers of any organization will yield one of four dominant culture types.

Understand Your Culture

Each culture is defined in fine detail by comprehensively describing the leadership and management styles, strengths and weaknesses, structure, relationships and decision-making attributes that characterize them. Discovering the differences will help explain why organizations operate the way they do and, by extrapolation, why project management has to be tailored to be sustainable. Schneider terms the cultures as:

  • Control – structured, domineering, task-oriented
  • Collaboration – trust-based, empowering, people-centric
  • Competence – achievement-oriented, impersonal, excellence-driven
  • Cultivation – potential-fulfilling, creative, informal

If you’ve worked in a variety of culturally diverse organizations, you’ll quickly recognize the distinctive traits of each of these four cultures that are described in the book so clearly and with plenty of examples.

Culture Limits Execution of Strategy

As Schneider rightly points out, culture limits strategy. And since culture sets expectations, priorities, managerial practices and communication patterns, it also limits the execution of strategy – and therefore projects. Culture ultimately defines how work is planned, organized and managed – which is why it is such a crucial consideration in any effort to improve enterprise project management.

PostHeaderIcon Portfolio Management – Why the Long Wait?

Getting there - slowly

Getting there - slowly

It’s good to see more organizations finally getting serious about project portfolio management. But why is it taking so long? While all the process elements have been understood by an enlightened few for many years, progress in putting portfolio management into widespread practice has been disappointingly lethargic.

The reality is that most organizations have a great deal to do to make portfolio management work for them. Meaningful portfolio management standards and usable software applications have been painfully slow to emerge. In addition, several pitfalls often derail implementation efforts. Here are four of the biggest:

Lack of Ownership

Managing a portfolio is the responsibility of executives and this is a message that does not always get driven home. Portfolio management provides the crucial linkage of project work with strategy and ultimately the enabler of that strategy. It is not just another level of tactical project management. Executives have to take ownership, get firmly involved and be supportive.

Ineffective Process

In the same way as projects need some form of process to facilitate successful execution, a portfolio requires a structured methodology for establishing oversight procedures, prioritizing projects, balancing resource capacity and demand, and optimizing project funding, scoping, integration, sequencing and resourcing for strategic value. Portfolio management is a discipline.

Mismatch with Maturity

Often lost in the conversations about project prioritization frameworks and strategic alignment is the simple fact that without solid planning and tracking at the individual project level, portfolio management can never achieve its primary goals. Proper portfolio management needs proper project management.

Misalignment with Culture

Portfolio management, like project management, is scalable. It has to be designed to fit the organization’s culture and the way in which decisions are made and work gets done. Misaligning the intensity of portfolio information needs, analysis and control with a firm’s culture is a guaranteed showstopper. Each activity should not only deliver real value – it has to be widely supported.

The Good News

On a positive note, portfolio management is getting increased executive level attention. There is a realization that the option to “Do Nothing” incurs a very significant cost in unrealized strategies, overstretched and demoralized project teams, a lack of knowledge and control over what’s really going on, and dissatisfied customers. No longer can organizations afford not to respond. The call to action is gaining traction.

PostHeaderIcon Satisfaction is not Guaranteed (the 5th Law)

Projects exist in dynamic environments, where change and risk are the only constants and where the delivered outputs are dependent on a team of imperfect individuals. Which is why – whatever the customer may have been told – projects do not carry guarantees. This reality is what I call the Fifth Law of project management.

Success and stakeholder satisfaction depend on a trio of crucial enablers – competence, commitment, and communication. Respecting all the preceding laws will count for nothing if this threesome is lacking in some way, both at the project manager level and at the team level.

Competence

First among our three equals, competence is what gets the work done right. It is founded on knowledge of concepts and methodology, embedded through hands-on experience, and evidenced by the quality of a project manager’s actions (how they lead and manage), artifacts (such as plans) and, to a far lesser extent, accreditations (think PMP, PRINCE2).

Commitment

Excellence in any field has to be worked at and earned. Natural talent helps of course but to be really good at something, to be recognized and respected, plenty of dedication and passion are essential. Commitment is not hard to detect – it does mean putting in those extra hours but its as much about right focus and attitude.

Communication

Great project managers are outstanding communicators. I think of outstanding to mean mastery of multiple modes of expression – spoken, written or visual – in combination with exactly the right mix of human skills and behaviors for interacting with both stakeholders and team. Done well, its reflected in a team that exudes its own buzz – look for healthy relationships, confidence and humour.

The Core of Success

The right combination of competence, commitment and communication is an energizing force for the project, its customers and its contributors. It is at the core of project success and drives stakeholder satisfaction.

Want to do a quick pulse-check of your project? Start with an honest appraisal of the 3Cs – competence, commitment and communication – and do it for both the PM and the team.

(See all 5 Laws summarized in The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management)

PostHeaderIcon Eight Questions to ask your Project Sponsor

This might have been alternatively titled “Questions we are Occasionally Afraid to Ask”. Here’s the situation:

You’ve been appointed to project manage a new initiative. You know that effective project sponsorship is a critical success factor and so you set up a meeting with the project sponsor.  You want to be sure you’re starting out with the right kind of backing. The sponsor wants to discuss the budget (or maybe golf) but first, you have some big questions you need answers to…

1 – Do you understand your role?
Its a fact – many project managers I meet complain that their sponsor has little idea about their role and responsibilities. You may need to help them out here.

2 – Do you know what you want?
There’s not much more frustrating than a sponsor who isn’t sure about what should or should not be included in the project. A fuzzy sponsor means you could be in for a long road trip of about-turns – do, undo, redo, …

3 – Can I count on your support?
Or more specifically – will you truly champion our project? This means advocating the project at higher levels, helping maintain visibility and interest in the project with key stakeholders, providing adequate funding and obtaining resources.

4 – Will you be available?
No doubt about it, sponsors are typically busy executives. This means their time is limited and they may be hierarchically or geographically remote. You DO need those face-to-face meetings. Lock them into their calendar.

5 – Can you give me clear priorities?
What are the primary project objectives? Which is least flexible – schedule, scope or resources? (Hint to sponsor- you can choose only one). Which is most flexible? Why?

6 – Do you understand that project management is a discipline?
In pushing to ‘just get it done’, countless projects ignore the importance of proper planning and systematic tracking… and pay a high price. A sponsor who doesn’t appreciate this means we’re already in trouble.

7 – Do you know what a solid project plan looks like?
The sponsor has to approve the plan that lays out what will actually be done- so it might make sense to ensure they actually have an understanding of what a good plan looks like. If necessary, give them a Plan Review checklist and an ‘Executive Briefing on Tactical Planning’ (so they know a WBS from a critical path).

8 – Will you inspect what you expect?
Not much point in a sponsor’s list of expectations if the relevant questions are never going to be asked. Generating information, reports and updates that don’t get reviewed is a fast track to morale hits and trust breakdown.

If the sponsor answered these questions correctly, you’re likely to be in good shape. (Hint for sponsors- the correct answer is “Yes” to all questions). If not, then you just identified some additional risks to the project…

PostHeaderIcon Linking Projects to Strategy… er, what Strategy?

All good portfolio managers know that their organization should select and value projects with respect to its chosen strategies. This is intuitively rational given that strategy lays out future direction and projects exist to transform that vision into reality by satisfying needs for change and improving on what was or what is.

Ocean pier in the mist

Blue Ocean or Misty Ocean?

The reality however is that core company strategies are oftentimes not widely communicated, or at least, they are not well understood across the organization. I confess this does not make much sense to me. Why spend time conceiving Blue Ocean strategies or creating Balanced Scorecards if the outputs (and importantly, the consequences for project work) are not plainly articulated to all? (Ok, I’m forgetting the cost reduction or downsizing strategy which tends to be conveyed without much ambiguity).

The Future is Now

There are some exceptional standouts of course – I once consulted at a global bank that had its core strategies posted on everyone’s cubicle – but in the main I meet disturbing numbers of managers and PMO staff who readily confess that their organization’s strategies are pretty much invisible or at best opaque. (When I hear this, my mind heads off into scenes from the visionary 1927 movie “Metropolis” which portrays a segregated world of workers slaving underground, achieving goals without vision, while the ruling elite above the surface – the Thinkers – make grand plans without knowing how things work).

Without clear strategy, we have no context of purpose. The entire organization needs context of purpose. Purpose inspires. Without clear strategy, good ideas and smart programs cannot be developed, projects cannot be optimally aligned, evaluated and prioritized, and resources cannot be effectively mobilized and motivated.