Posts Tagged ‘PMO’

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 PMO Design Constraints

PMOs need enduring architecture too

The function and practices of a Project Management Office (PMO) lie on a continuum spanning a wide variety of designs. For example, a PMO can exist solely as a passive ‘library’ of some set of project information that it occasionally presents to management; a PMO might also be a highly active enforcer of project management methodology, play a lead role in facilitating planning of all significant projects and make recommendations to management on the optimization of resources across the project portfolio.

The success of any PMO is ultimately governed by how well it is designed and how well it fulfils its mission. The importance of the design part is often underestimated. There are plenty of failing PMOs around, staffed by well-intentioned people, but offering processes and resources poorly matched to the needs of the organization.

Four Major Constraints

Whatever the intent, the form of the PMO needs to be designed with careful consideration of four major constraints:

1—The Perceived Need

Minor issues or big problems? No PMO can succeed without the buy-in and support of the project community it serves. If that community believes project issues are mostly small, isolated occurrences and/or solvable without the overhead of a PMO, then a full analysis of the facts – hard data – will be required before the PMO mission and vision can be defined. If resistance persists, then the PMO will likely have to be designed to start small and earn its credibility progressively, in a step-by-step evolution.

2—The Project Environment

Small projects or large, complex projects? A few projects or hundreds? All local resources or often global? A cultivation or control culture? These are fundamental variables that should determine the shape the PMO. It’s surprising how often this is misunderstood. Deep knowledge of the environmental characteristics and behaviors is a vital design pre-requisite.

3—The Level of Maturity

Does the organization currently exhibit high or low levels of project management capability? Some form of maturity assessment can determine this – but choose the model carefully (see Project Management Maturity Models). An effective assessment helps define the type and form of PMO resources, products and services, and provides a key indicator of the PMO’s performance over time.

4—The Level of Executive Support

Strong, unified commitment or general disinterest? Funding and resources available or hard to get? The broader the PMO’s scope, the bigger the backing it will need. The better the design is aligned to the constraints above, the greater the chance of securing the top-down support it will need. The design itself must also appropriately address the interests of the senior stakeholders, such as the level and type of project portfolio information, and consistency of project planning and reporting.

Important Questions

PMO design needs to answer important questions, such as:

  • What are the responsibilities and reporting lines of the PMO?
  • What is the scope of PMO operations and authority?
  • How many PMO resources and with what skillsets are needed?

Getting the PMO design right should ensure that the answers are properly aligned to the project community’s needs, thereby building a sustainable and valued component of the organization.

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 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 The Best Way to Identify Risks

There are several methods for identifying project risks but the best approach involves the team (at least the core team members and any relevant SMEs and/or PMO staff) and considers the following:

  • History (review past projects of a similar nature – surprising how often this is missed)
  • Context (assess the stakeholders, implementation environment and constraints)
  • Boundaries (review the project’s SOW, scope and deliverables)
  • Details (review the WBS, dependencies, estimates and resourcing)

The Nominal Group Technique

To get optimum input on possible project risks, there is no better team method than NGT. It leverages the advantage of multiple perspectives, can be done relatively quickly and avoids all the pitfalls of brainstorming, which is over-used and usually poorly facilitated. Here’s how NGT works for risk identification:

  1. Each individual reviews history, context, boundaries and details (as defined above) and writes down their own list of possible risks – i.e. with no interaction between members
  2. With the team grouped together, all identified risks are then captured by going around the team, taking the first item on each person’s list, then around again capturing the second item and so on until all items have been captured
  3. Duplicates are removed from the consolidated list and descriptions clarified as needed
  4. Each person reviews all the risks captured and the team decides if any should be removed the listing, on the basis of being extremely unlikely AND with little or no impact

Once this process is complete, the team can move to assessing the severity of the remaining risks, prioritizing them and defining response strategies to manage them.

Lots of Benefits, not much Downside

Using NGT is a great way of aligning the team on project risks. Its thorough, avoids groupthink, rapidly builds awareness, avoids jumping prematurely into risk analysis and prevents outspoken individuals unduly dominating the final risk list.

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.