Posts Tagged ‘PMBOK’

PostHeaderIcon Principles of Alignment

Team Alignment, not Team Building

One of my favorite blogs is Glen Alleman’s “Herding Cats”. Solid project management commentary, a wealth of experience and expert guidance with no fluff. Glen recently posted on Team Building and like me he doesn’t have too much time for ropes in the forest and artificial partying as a means of ‘building’ teams.

Effective project teams are built on purposeful activities centered on the project in question. Confident facilitation of a clear agenda that engages the team in understanding and elaborating the project mission is a good starting point.

Five Principles for Aligning the Team

If project startup and planning activities are well conceived and facilitated then team alignment should be a natural outcome. Maintaining alignment is subsequently a function of proper control, engagement and communication. Five principles guide the project manager in developing a unified, cohesive and productive team:

1 – Know the Objective

Shared vision and common purpose are the starting points for building an aligned team. Review the project business case, then craft the project mission statement together with the core team. Ask yourselves what’s missing? Is it specific enough? Is it realistic? Does it properly reflect the tactical objectives that should in turn yield the anticipated benefits?

2 – No Moving Targets

Establish clear boundaries. What will be included? What will not be included? What deliverables will be produced? How will we know when those deliverables are complete? If key stakeholders keep moving the goal posts, we’ll never complete the plan. So force agreement on a phased or iterative approach if necessary.  What is needed now? What can be done later?

3 – Lay Out the Detail

Creating alignment means setting expectations – at a deep level. Far too many projects are underplanned and insufficient detail promotes ambiguity, conceals the realities of time, effort and cost, and leads to unvalidated assumptions. Secure ownership and trust among team members by ensuring they are involved in defining the work, agreeing the details of hand-offs and validating completion criteria.

4 – Use a Trustworthy Process

A solid process for defining, organizing, planning, tracking and controlling the project is at the core of good project management. Talking the team through the process builds credibility. Implementing that process (walking the talk) generates motivation and commitment. Recognizing the difference between PMBOK and a practical, step-by-step, end-to-end project management process is a pre-requisite here.

5 – Feedback Smart and Often

Insist on efficient and frequent review cycles. Avoid wasting people’s time in meetings by getting status updates beforehand. Use the meetings to review overall progress, solve problems and decide on adaptive action. Check in with team members regularly and reward good performance swiftly. Keep key stakeholders appraised of progress and ensure bad news is acted on, not hidden.

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 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 Adieu Triple Constraint

Triangle in flame.

RIP project triangle

Its good to see the PMI moving with the times and dispensing with the sacred Triple Constraint. Now we’re advised to balance additional constraints such as quality, risk and resources. So no longer is project success to be measured per the old PMBOK 3, in which we learned that “High quality projects deliver the required product, service or result within scope, on time and within budget”.

This change has been nicely acknowledged by Telstra, Australia’s privatized telecommunications giant. According to, the telco recently revealed payment of a $2.2 million bonus to its ex-COO for outcomes relating to its IT transformation program despite it running $200m over budget and behind schedule with currently only half of the legacy systems planned for consolidation switched off. The chief exec declared it a ‘good result’ apparently.

I wouldn’t mind trying for just a mediocre result under this new approach – say half the bonus for double the cost overrun… the Triple Constraint has a lot to answer for!

PostHeaderIcon PMP Mania and a Favourite Quote

As each year passes, the number of PMPs grows exponentially. I don’t have the latest stats but here are some data points:

  • 1986 – 100 PMPs
  • 1998 – 10,000 PMPs
  • 2007 – 250,000 PMPs

You get the picture.

Anyway, swept along in all this enthusiasm at seemingly the same rate of knots, is a fast-growing band of HR Managers, (or “Talent Managers” for the politically correct), who have been misled into believing that a PMP certification makes for a better project manager. In fact there is ample evidence that knowledge of the PMBOK does not make for a better PM. I have trained plenty of PMPs who by their own admission did not fully understand how to actually develop a high quality tactically viable schedule.

When organizations and recruitment agencies get locked onto PMP as a primary hiring criteria for candidate project managers, my first reaction is despair. My second reaction is excitement at another opportunity to provide some coaching in practical project management.

Which brings me to my favourite quote:

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.

(Friedrich Engels)

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


2 –  Credibility requires Detail


3 –  No Truth, no Trust


4 –  Uncertainty is Certain


5 –  Satisfaction is not Guaranteed


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!