Posts Tagged ‘Methodology’

PostHeaderIcon The Power of Rapid Planning Workshops

Accelerating Capability...Beyond Training

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.

Beyond Training

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.

PostHeaderIcon Project Prioritization Criteria

Sorting the Best from the Rest

For most organizations, a critical component of portfolio management is a framework for prioritizing project work. This involves evaluating the merits of current and candidate projects against a common set of criteria and using the results to rank-order the importance of those projects for the purposes of optimizing the portfolio (see “The Goals of Portfolio Management”). But which prioritization criteria should be used?

Strategy Drives Priorities

Criteria should be directly driven by strategies – assigning a single criterion for each strategy is a good starting point. They should also be multi-dimensional in the sense that they appropriately balance strategic concerns across differing perspectives, such as financial, technical, commercial, process, people and customer; typical examples include:

Financial

  • Revenue, Profitability, Investment cost

Technical

  • Solution complexity, Innovation quotient, Technical risk

Commercial

  • Market need, Market growth, Commercialization risk

Process

  • Efficiency, Quality, Time to solution

People

  • Skills development, Existing resource leverage, Functional interdependence

Customer

  • Business impact, Customer satisfaction, Image

Note that criteria lie on a continuum of tangibility; while some are easily quantifiable for any project, the more intangible may be challenging to rate.

Keep it Simple

Once established, each project is scored against the prioritization criteria to determine its strategic fit and importance. Well-defined prioritization criteria and scoring models allow for clear differentiation between “clear winners” and “obvious losers”. Too often however, this all gets over-complicated. Here are a few guidelines to ensure that the prioritization framework is practical as well as accurate. Criteria should be:

  • few in number
  • measurable
  • mutually exclusive
  • linked directly to a business strategy
  • appropriately balanced for the portfolio’s type of projects.

To quote Einstein: Keep it as simple as possible – but no simpler.

PostHeaderIcon Project Management Maturity Models

Stages of Maturity... depending on how you measure it

Looking for a means of assessing your organization’s project management capability? Maturity models can provide a useful frame of reference and there are plenty of models out there – home-grown in-house models, proprietary models devised by consultancies and training firms, and models developed by project management standards and certification bodies.

Look before you Leap

Unsurprisingly perhaps, not all models are created equal – some are far more useful than others – so here are a few important questions to help ensure real value is delivered:

1 – Does the model provide direct input to a capability development roadmap?

There’s no point doing a maturity assessment if it does not result in an actionable plan for improvement; a well-defined, specific, accurate development roadmap should be derived directly from the assessment model and constitute the final deliverable from an effective maturity evaluation.

2 – Are elements of project, program and portfolio management appropriately represented in the model?

For most organizations, project management capability is dependent on practices in all three of these disciplines, not just the first. Few models give adequate coverage to portfolio and program management; most lack proper process frameworks in these domains and some consider portfolio applies only at higher levels of maturity – both of which result in incomplete and misleading assessments.

3 – Are people skills and toolsets properly evaluated as well as processes?

An assessment of maturity is only valid if it includes a fair evaluation of project management awareness and knowledge (such as through interviews and surveys), its application through tools and templates, and the artifacts that result. The breadth, depth, suitability and quality of know-how, supporting tools and project documentation should all be rated across each of the project, program and portfolio disciplines.

4 – Does the model provide for appropriate discounting of non-relevant areas?

Not all organizations have the same needs; for example, deeper aspects of project planning and control may be of little importance in some research or non-complex service environments; conversely, many components of portfolio management will be unnecessary to an organization that only performs 1 or 2 major construction projects per year.

5 – Does the model assess a reasonable number of maturity attributes and capability indicators?

Too few indicators are likely to omit key areas; too many will result in data overload and an implausible development roadmap; OPM3 from the PMI is a case in point with a ridiculously impractical base model of 488 best practices.  Accurate results and effective improvement plans have more to do with striking a balance between model detail and experienced application rather than analysis-paralysis.

Shaping the Future

Maturity models, combined with their associated assessment techniques and action-oriented outcomes, can offer the best basis for shaping project environments – but only if properly designed and entrusted to experienced hands.

PostHeaderIcon Process, People, Tools – In That Order

Project management is a blend of processes and procedures, the skills and knowledge of the project community, and tools for assisting with the application of process and knowledge. Good project management is when these three are properly tailored to the needs of the organization, its projects and their teams.

How It Goes Wrong

Corporate initiatives to improve project management sometimes fall short of their goals when these three elements are (a) incomplete, (b) not customized, and (c) treated in the wrong order. For example:

(a)    Training is conducted in process but no tools are provided for follow-up application
– a sure way to minimize training ROI

(b)   Training is conducted in processes that are too generic, too lightweight or too onerous
– very common, leaves PMs to figure it out for themselves

(c)   Project managers are given project management tools without prior training in process
– the “seduction of software”, usually results in poor quality information and plans that are plain wrong

It’s a repetitive scenario and goes some way to explaining the plethora of statistics on failed projects and generally poor project performance.

Right Focus, Right Sequence

The swiftest and most effective way to raise the bar of project management capability and performance is to ensure process, people and tools are treated in an integrated way with appropriate focus on each at the right time. Here’s how:

  1. Define a process that fits the organization’s projects and culture
    (proper tailoring is critical to ensure buy-in and long term success)
  2. Provide training in this process
    (we’re talking lifecycle here, not PMBOK knowledge areas)
  3. Follow-up immediately (even simultaneously) with hands-on tools training
    (custom templates and project management software)
  4. Then finally, ensure that support structures are in place
    e.g. a PMO and coaching, to embed the disciplines and practices for the long term.

Done right, it’s a recipe for sustained success.

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 Process Balance and A Favorite Quote

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to step inside a wide variety of organizations and view first-hand how they ‘do projects’. While a few seem to have got it right, too many suffer from a mismatch of either too little or too much process. Its a fine balance.

The trick to implementing sustainable project management is to tune process to the needs of the organization (right fit – which depends on culture and maturity) and to the needs of all projects (right scalability – which depends on differences in project scale and complexity).

Keep it Practical

Too often, well-intentioned PMOs get carried away in their zeal for rolling out a new and comprehensive project management process, that they forget about the customer – the project managers. Since they have to actually use the process, the right balance is key to ensuring the well-being of the project community.

For all those wanting to embed best practices, (or alternatively, trying to circumvent process overload), remember that:

  • (a) The PMBOK is simply a guide to the body of knowledge – it is not a methodology
  • (b) Good project management is first and foremost practical

With this in mind, here’s one of my favorite quotes:

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory

(Friedrich Engels)

Its the mantra of all good PMOs.

PostHeaderIcon Credibility requires Detail (the 2nd Law)

Most projects are underplanned. They’re already late before they start. For a host of reasons – the usual suspects include a lack of project management discipline, inadequate tools and training, unclear objectives, top-down influence, overworked and under pressure team members – projects get planned with insufficient detail.

The reality is that detail is the basis for accuracy in all projects. Plans that lack appropriate detail can’t be believed. This is what I call the Second Law of project management.

The consequence of a lack of detail is a project suicide spiral:

Understate what’s needed… Misunderstand what ‘done’ looks like… Miss stuff out… Underestimate time and effort requirements to do the work… Overcommit resources to unrealistic schedules…
Present bad news to customer.

Breakdown Checks

Without a credible plan, a project manager lacks credibility with the team and stakeholders. Only when we get to the detail is the full extent of work revealed, which means developing a great Work Breakdown Structure. Here are a few WBS must-do’s:

  • Ensure tasks are small enough so that-
    • Estimates of effort and duration are as accurate and credible as possible
    • Task durations are typically no greater than the time between progress updates
  • Define explicitly what ‘done’ means-
    • Especially for any task that is unfamiliar, complex or difficult to break down
  • Assign a single owner to each task-
    • Have them verify that the expected workflow minimizes likelihood of any missing tasks
  • Use a checklist of often forgotten tasks-
    • e.g. meetings, defect resolutions, reviews and approval cycles.

They say the devil is in the details – and just looking for a chance to cause trouble. Good process and a little extra planning time will build protection.

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

PostHeaderIcon Ambiguity kills Projects (the 1st Law)

Not so clear

Ambiguity is the enemy of project success. Its one of the first things I instruct new project managers on. I call it the First Law in project management.

Its not hard to find ambiguity in projects. Look closely at the objectives, the requirements, the scope definition and the schedule. Are they each as clear and as accurate as they can be? Most importantly, do we know what “done” really looks like? This is crucial. (Glen Alleman’s prolific and consistently excellent blog at Herding Cats has a host of outstanding posts on this – check it out). Each ambiguity is a potential source of conflict, rework and failure.

Clarity Checks

The antidote to ambiguity is clarity – here are a few items that must be on the ‘Clarity Checklist’:

Leaving ambiguity unchecked simply increases project risk. The pursuit of clarity isn’t always popular because it makes people have to think ahead a little harder. But its necessary. So put on your flak jacket and go on a mission – seek out ambiguity and destroy it… before it does some damage.

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

PostHeaderIcon The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to observe, lead and coach dozens of project teams in all sorts of organizations in a variety of countries and cultures. It struck me that while we have a multitude of overwhelming specifics and references for sound project management, (think PMBOK, PRINCE2 etc.), many project managers would benefit from simply absorbing a few basic realities—or, put another way:

Universally Useful Mantras

So some time ago I started wondering if we could condense recognized best practices in project management into a simple set of guiding principles. My answer – YES, I think we can.

A few simple rules

A few simple rules

So here are my own personal mantras:

1 –  Ambiguity kills Projects

more…

2 –  Credibility requires Detail

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3 –  No Truth, no Trust

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4 –  Uncertainty is Certain

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5 –  Satisfaction is not Guaranteed

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I believe these realities hold true irrespective of the nature or complexity of project. They reflect the strongest forces for shaping success or failure on most projects, most of the time.

I’ll be expanding and evangelizing my perspectives on each of these in future blogs… so stay tuned!