Author Archives: bdebaat

5 qualities a leader must have to turn around troubled projects

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Turning around troubled projects is a tough thing to do. It requires an interdisciplinary team of professionals with the right skill mix and personality traits to pull it off. The team must be led by an accomplished leader with the right qualities. But what are those qualities?

If you miss out on this step, don’t even bother to try to make a turn-around. Most likely you will end up with the same results: failed attempts. You have got to change the ground-rules and that takes courage. You would actually be surprised how often organizations ignore reality and keep driving through a red light. This is primarily because of time pressure, cost impact and lack of leadership.

A few months ago I saw the film ‘The Martian’, and for some reason got inspired by the main character Mark Watney and his approach to dealing with severe, existential problems.

Mark is an astronaut who is mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars. The film depicts his struggle to survive and others’ efforts to rescue him. Mark is relentless in finding solutions to return to Earth.

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?”

In my mind his attitude is what turn-around leadership is about. Leaders grow when they have to deal with difficult situations, because it requires them to change. They advance to the next level when they find a way out that brings them and the team to a better state.

What are the 5 qualities that a project turn-around leader must have?

Resilient – Being able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions is crucial. Mark Watney is unstoppable in his actions to return to earth, despite all the set-backs that he has to endure along the way. What it comes down to is a deeply rooted belief in the possibilities to reach the ultimate goal of turning around the troubled situation, without knowing exactly how you can make that happen. 

Plan driven – For turn-around project leaders, planning is an art. It is a skill set they master. They are able to quickly grasp the business context and the root-cause of the troubled situation and with that define targets, strategies, plans, alternative plans and realistic timelines. The structured approach sets the turn-around team up for success. With a roadmap, there is a way out. Without you are stuck. Mark Watney had a road map in his mind. He knew that he had to be able to survive and worked that out first. Once he fixed that, he started working on his way back home. He planned and carefully executed all the steps. When he faced unplanned circumstances that were devastating, he had a plan B

Creative – Having a plan is one thing, to make it happen is another. Turn-around project leaders must have a mixed bag of business, technology and organizational change knowledge and experience, because troubled situations are a mix of these 3 elements. With their creativeness they are able to unlock the potential of the team to the fullest by continuously challenging them on what the result can and must be. In his final attempt to return to earth, Mark Watney needed to find a solution to cover a wide open space at the top of object that would bring him back into space. He challenged the team of experts who helped him remotely and found a way to make that happen. It wasn’t necessarily the ideal way, but it was good enough for that particular step. The same applies to turn arounds, not all individual steps needs to be perfect, as long as the end result brings you were you need to be

Focused  – Turn-around project leaders are relentless in the planning, execution and control of the engagement. They are laser focused on the all the aspects that bring the organization from troubled to desired state. Their focus is based on automaticity. With that they are keen on articulating and managing expectations of the team. They implement mechanisms to ensure that progress is made and tasks completed. Their primary focus is on results, but they know how to balance that with the people aspects turn-around projects. Mark Watney had to make sure that he had enough food to survive, while he was executing his plan to return to earth. He was meticulous with his diet. He knew what was available, how much he needed at a minimum, and what he could possibly produce with the means that were available to him. His focus on the primary survival needs kept him going

Decisive – It is not uncommon that decision-making in organizations is a challenge, left alone in troubled situations. Turn-around project leaders must have a mandate from the executive team to make decisions. They are masters in building trust with the key stakeholders in the organization and the turn-around team. Turn-around project leaders build trust because of their character and competence. They are clear in their intentions and work in full transparency. Their environment knows what they are up to and value the results that are being delivered. As they go, turn-around project leaders gain ground and confidence from the organization by making the right calls with involvement of the right people. Their decision model is based on real data, facts and intuition. They do not need to discover all the facts to make decisions. They calculate risk, weigh options and make the decision and move on. They seek feedback, learn from mistakes and strive to do better the next time. They are opportunistic and look ahead. Up to the point that they have turned the situation around

Troubled projects should be perceived as opportunities and not as failures. Not only from a project management perspective, but more from a leadership and educational perspective. It requires a different attitude towards dealing with set backs, ambiguity, uncertainty, change, risk taking and cross-functional collaboration. All of these aspects can fuel and accelerate growth if the organization responds in an adequate manner by putting the right leadership qualities in place.

Bas de Baat

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is a game-changer

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A goal without a plan is just a wish – Larry Elder

The chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment that has become the new normal, needs Project Portfolio Management (PPM) to drive value. Organizations struggle to prioritize the right initiatives and manifest them at the right time. They are falling behind on their peers and over time put their existence in the market place at risk.

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) are forces that have an immediate impact on an organization’s ability to perform. PPM is the answer to VUCA. It provides a level of structure and concerted, orchestrated organizational behavior that is needed to drive ideas to results.

It is time for a new PPM vision.

PPM is not just implementing a tool and you are done. It is much more than that. PPM is a mindset. It is an organization-wide solution that impacts people, process and technology. Its purpose is to unlock and extend organization’s potential and innovative power, which is then translated in meaningful projects that successfully get delivered.

PPM is a business function at a strategic level of the organization. Ideally, PPM has a direct reporting relationship to the CEO. With that, it gets the right order of magnitude and can operate in an independent and effective manner. If you move PPM under a dominant function, for example technology or finance, it can less optimally operate as facilitator of organization-wide initiatives.

PPM is a business process and permeates through the body of the organization. PPM operates as a facilitator of 4 main process steps: prioritize demand, manage portfolio, execute project or program, sustain and improve. The end-to-end PPM process drives consistency and enforces all key stakeholders to actively participate. It allows people to work collaboratively towards manifesting a shared set of goals and initiatives. The recognition of PPM as a business function and process, sets the organization up for success in responding to change.

PPM requires a robust solution architecture. What that means is that PPM is an integration of 4 building blocks: process, application, analytics and governance. It is important to keep the PPM design simple. The value is coming from how well you deploy the solution, not by adding secondary conditions and increased levels of complexity.

There are organizations who believe that PPM is a stopgap measure for failed projects. It is not. PPM will provide a robust platform for planning, execution and control. It will increase the number of successful projects, but it is not a magic wand. That’s because the root cause of project failures our outside PPM’s control. Projects fail because of wrong people behavior that may have been identified but has not been properly addressed. PPM requires a horizontal, cross-functional focus of the entire organization, instead of a vertical, silo-ed focus of a team or department.

PPM is a game-changer. It can drive value and provide sustainable competitive advantage. If you do it right, it attracts top talent. They want to work for organizations who are successful, because success helps manifest their dreams. To build a world-class PPM solution, an organization has to go through 4 stages. The first one is where it “grounds” PPM, by building a cross-functional coalition of key stakeholders. The second stage is where the coalition “visualizes” the future end-state and documents the PPM vision. In the third stage of “align and commit”, the focus shifts towards broadly communicating the vision and getting buy-in. In the fourth and last stage, it is all about “making it happen”. This is where the PPM solution has been successfully deployed, and the organization is consistently performing and delivering high priority initiatives.

If you do it right and implement this PPM vision, the changing environment with its VUCA forces, become less of a problem and can actually work in favor of the organization. PPM can get you ahead of your industry peers. It allows you to have a real-time view of your demand (ideas), your supply (resources) and in-flight initiatives (portfolio) supported by analytics (transparency) and effective governance structures.

Bas de Baat

3 steps to make project portfolio management a business process

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If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing – W.E. Deming

Organizations have a hard time to plan and execute the right initiatives, because project portfolio management (PPM) is not deployed as a business process.

With an increasing need and desire to innovate and change the ways we are doing things, one would expect that organizations are keen on project portfolio management. In an ideal state, PPM is managed as a business process, equivalent to the more traditional process like finance, marketing and sales, procurement and human resources management. Yet we are not doing that, or at best we are trying, but agree that there is room for improvement.

The PPM process should be cross-functional of nature and serve internal customers from all business areas. To make that happen it should reside in a business function that by default is set up as such. A Project Management Office or Information Technology Department are then quickly becoming the logical candidates.

What are the steps to deploy PPM a business process?

Align Leadership

Ideas, become successful when we all buy into it, make it happen, and live up to it once it is in operation. Implementing PPM as a business process is a game changer and requires adequate change leadership. Part of that is executive alignment. A key element of the alignment process is visualization. Senior leaders must be able to envision what the future-state looks and how that improves their business area and the organization as a whole. An introduction to the high level process design, a demonstration of the PPM application, and a walkthrough of a few use cases, are instruments to get them all on the same page. Once the alignment is there, a change leadership committee should be established, tasked with delivering the PPM solution.

Implement and Deploy

PPM is an enterprise application, which means that the implementation and deployment must be managed as such. The project team is a balanced representation of the organization with functional and technical resources. If these two principles are violated, the probability that the end-users do not adopt the PPM solution as intended, is high. The focus of the implementation must be on business process, analytics, application and governance. These four components make up the integrated PPM solution, and all need to come into play at the same time. Examples of PPM applications are: Innotas, Workfront, Clarizen, ChangePoint, and others

PPM projects tend to fail when the focus is primarily on the application. Organizations rush through the software product capabilities, make design decisions on-the-go and forget the importance of the business process, governance and analytical requirements. Mobilize a team with internal and external resources. It is imperative that the vendor can provide the expertise in all the four areas of the PPM solution, and can assist the change leadership committee with manifesting the future-state

Execute, learn and adjust

When the PPM solution goes live, it’s the start of a new beginning. The primary focus of the project team and business must be on user adoption and tying the experience back to the original business case. It is a good idea to have super user representation in all of the business areas. The super user is a functional expert in the PPM solution and an evangelist pur sang. It is the first line of support for all the end-users. The PPM business process has a natural cadence where at set times and gates, certain activities must be completed. It is not uncommon that this is a one year cycle. As a consequence, the learn and adjust cycle is at least equal to that period. The organization must go through all the hoops and loops, complete lessons-learned sessions and optimization steps, before the project can be declared a success and closed.

Project portfolio management (PPM) must be perceived as a business critical process for organizations who have the intention to grow, accelerate and improve. Those organizations who want to be an outlier and exception in their marketplace, out serious effort in implementing and deploying a robust PPM solution. It is part of innovation and getting better than your competition.

Bas de Baat

Under pressure everything becomes fluid

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Nobody works better under pressure. They just work faster – Brian Tracy

There is a misunderstanding that under pressure people perform better. Pressure to a certain degree is fine and can have a positive impact on performance, because people become aware of the fact that things have to get done. But too much pressure will have a negative effect on the quality of output. And if that happens the probability of rework at later stages in the project goes up significantly.

Under pressure everything becomes fluid. In other words, when hitting deadlines becomes the primary driver and focus, deliverables will eventually get done, but oftentimes with lack of quality. People start to demonstrate irrational behaviour, remove standards and constraints, and go the extra mile to get the job done with making sacrifices. This makes sense, because in the devils triangle of project scope (quality), schedule and cost, the latter two are fixed, and the only variable that can move is scope.

When the project schedule is aggressive and tight, the risk of a balloon effect is high. At the start of the project, people believe they have tons of time to complete the work. You actually see the opposite happening. People are focused on scope and quality of output, instead of schedule. But as we go, those two variables start to shift.

What can you do as project manager to mitigate the ‘risk of pressure’?

  • Build a hierarchy of schedules that reflect the milestones, dependencies, tasks and deliverables. That sounds simple, but in reality people struggle to build meaningful schedules. They need to be granular enough for the level you report status. You need to be able to communicate the schedule. Many project managers are challenged to find the right level of detail. If there is too much or too little, nobody else than the project manager looks at the schedule. I would recommend to use 3 schedules. One for the executive level that you use for steering committees and CXO. One for the program or project level. And one at the team level. You build them top down, and validate them bottom up by assessing the work and estimates against the time line
  • Communicate the schedule and report accurate status. How many times have you been in projects, where you knew there was some sort of schedule, but you did not know the details, nor did you have access to it? It happens more than you think and if it does, you can rightfully wonder if there is one. Project managers must communicate the schedule and status at a minimum on a weekly basis at the project and team level. For the executive level and CXO it can be bi-weekly to monthly. Status reports have to be accurate and complete. But how do you know that you something is accurate? For deliverables and tasks that are on the critical path you want to do cross-checks to mitigate the accuracy risk
  • Paint the bigger picture. When people perform under pressure, they tend to loose the big picture. Although you want them to be in the zone for optimal performance, they need to be made aware of what is happening around them. They need to know what is coming up next, and how they impact that with their current output or lack of output
  • Facilitate daily scrum meetings to set focus, priority and urgency. When the going gets tough, the though gets going. You cannot be early enough to start with daily scrum meetings. I am using the word ‘scrum’ to refer to a daily stand-up meeting at the team level, where each and everyone is present and provides input on the schedule and status. The project manager and solution architects are on point to resolve issues on the spot and to keep the work flowing.
  • Open up your toolkit and be creative. When that deadline is looming and smiling in your face, you want to do a step back as project manager and assess, reflect and adjust. It is the only way, to let your creative mind go and provide new and better mechanisms to get the finish line with the best output possible. The worse thing you can do is to get hooked into the pressurized momentum as well. If that happens, it could be game over

Every project gets under pressure. If it hasn’t, it probably wasn’t a real project, meaning there was tons of time to deliver. Project managers need to be aware of this and understand that under pressure everything becomes fluid. When that happens it is time to roll up the sleeves and apply specific techniques to bring the game home with the right level of quality. Most of these techniques centre around better and more timely communication, detailed work schedules, ad-hoc actions to keep things moving forward, and creativity.

Bas de Baat

The 5 A’s on the program manager’s report card

big-red-a-report-cardGreatness begins beyond your comfort zone – Robin Sharma

One of my kids came home with a report card the other day. I saw it laying on the stairs when I was on my way to go to bed. I picked it up and stared at it for awhile. The result were great and made me feel proud. Once I was beyond the point of happiness, I looked at the scoring mechanism and concluded that through the years it has not changed much. The other thought that came to mind was how would a report card of a program manager look like.

The easiest and most obvious way is to measure a program manager’s performance on traditional metrics like scope, schedule and budget. Still in most of the job profiles today you read something like: “must deliver the planned scope of work on time and on budget”. I wonder if that still makes sense in a world where leaders need to rely more on soft skills to make things happen. The capability to apply the technical aspects of program management must be there, no doubt, but the ultimate success is a result of other qualifications.

What A’s must a program manager score? I think the following five apply:

Accountability – Many years ago when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers they communicated being visionary, bold, open and accountable as core values of their professionals. I like them all and probably accountability the most. It determines whether you are a winner or not. Strong program managers put their teeth in an initiative they believe in and deliver no matter what

Adversity – Program managers show their true colors at times of adversity. With strong headwinds blowing, accomplished program managers have alternative strategies in their back-pocket. With their helicopter view and ability to connect the dots, they are best positioned to provide sound recommendations to adjust, correct and overall stay the course.

Adaptability – It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, but a top-notch program manager must have a high degree of flexibility. In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment the key levers of any program are under pressure all the time. It is critical to have some sort of ‘sense and response’ system that helps you manoeuvre through the landscape

Automaticity – The thought behind this measure is that the program manager maintains a set of habits to are being applied by default without putting to much thought into it. For experienced program managers it is imperative that they provide strong facilitation, communication and problem-solving skills instantly. These are a few examples of core skills

Ambiguity – In one of my other posts, I wrote that ambiguity is the silent killer of any initiative. A high level of ambiguity can be an indication that the level of trust amongst the business partners who participate in the program, is not where it needs to be in order to deliver on time, scope and budget. An experienced program manager is on top of this and avoids the program to enter into a ‘stuck-in-the-middle’ situation

Bas de Baat

 

Who moved my schedule?

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Change happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go  Spencer Johnson

Project schedules are subject to change all the time. When you think that you have it clearly defined and communicated, something unexpected happens and before you know it, you are making changes. It is not that changing schedules is necessarily your idea or desire to do, it is more often a consequence of movements that occurred outside your control. Program managers are typically responsible for the overall timeline. What   are some of the habits that you practice daily to stay comfortable with that responsibility?

Understand the business context – One of the first things you want to do as program manager is to network with the key stakeholders on the business side, who indirectly influence the program. It is crucial to understand the business needs, constraints, expected program benefits, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Assess the decision making process by figuring out who the key players are, how much time it takes to make decisions, and what buttons you can push to get things done. Involve these key stakeholders as you execute the program by keeping them involved and engaged. It is one way to mitigate the risk of a schedule change for unplanned work or not well defined work

Control the scope of work – The single biggest driver of success for any program is a clear and unambiguous definition of the scope of work. As much as it sounds obvious, it is the most complex activity to do. From a scheduling perspective it is important to understand the level of effort, the timing and sequence, as well as the probability that the scope definition changes as you execute the program. Is it in, is out, if it is in has it changed, if it is out, has it been replaced, why is it out, can it come back? Each variation has its own schedule impact. Be in control by communicating the scope of work, who is responsible, when it needs to be completed and what that status is based on a progress tracker. Simple concept, simple on paper, complex stuff in the real world

Assess the skill set and mix – You get the job done well and on-time if you have the right people. Always put priority on the quality of the team, no matter what. Assess team performance on an ongoing basis and adjust where you must. If that is not completely your call, influence leaders to make changes as best and often as you can. Schedule attainment is for 100% a result of having the right skill set and mix in your team.

Maintain visibility of work status – Building and maintaining work schedules is a must as long as they have meaning for the receiver. I am a fan of keeping schedules crisp, concise yet complete. Many of the detailed project schedules with thousands of line items do not work, because you cannot communicate them. Try to set up a schedule hierarch with a high level timeline with a GANTT view, a master project schedule with the key tasks, deliverables, milestones and dependencies. And last but not least, maintain a number of detailed progress trackers by deliverable type. These trackers are really helpful as they ultimately help you drive the work to completeness. They are easy to communicate if set up correctly, and help build focus and momentum in the team

Continue to build and sustain trust – The silent killer of any project schedule that is always out there to get you is the lack of trust among key stakeholders. Work gets done on-time or faster when people trust each other. Works does not get done at all or gets delayed when the level of trust is low. It is a core accountability of the project sponsors to foster and establish a healthy and trustworthy working climate. The program manager is responsible to manage trust as a risk and initiate and influence corrective actions when needed. It is important to understand early on in the program what the people and organizational change impacts are. These game changers oftentimes have an immediate effect on trust

There are many factors that can move your project schedule. The five that I have mentioned here above are only a few. They are the more impactful ones. I think the overall key message is to always try to stay ahead of the curve. If you understand the context, the scope of work, the capability of the team and level of of trust, you can rely on your instincts and assess at any moment whether you can deliver on-time or not.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager and Coach

5 things elite coaches do with top talent

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Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain — William Jennings Bryan

I enjoy every moment that I can work with top talent, because I like to see people develop their capabilities and improve their performance over and over again. On the contrary, it can upset me when I see people with potential wasting their time and resources on unimportant or irrelevant activities.

Every single human being has a natural aptitude or skill that can make them a top talent. Some of us have more than one talent. The trick is to find it. That takes time, effort and dedication. We all have our dreams about who we want to be and what we want to achieve. A junior consultant who wants to become a managing partner in a consulting firm. A basketball player who wants to be a point guard in an NBA team. Or a model who has the ambition to become a Victoria Secret’s Angel. We all have our dreams.

It is not a given that your dream is aligned with your talent. When you follow your dream the experiences you face will tell you whether you have an innate talent for it or not, and more importantly, if you are passionate about it. Potential will only surface and morph into talent, when your heart beats faster when you think about it and truly commit. It will be those actions where time flies by without you noticing it, because you enjoy doing it so much. If that’s not the case, the experience is telling you that you still have not found what you are looking for. In that case, don’t give up, just keep exploring.

Dreams oftentimes don’t materialize, because the person either does not have the skills or if they do, lacks the willpower to persevere and to make things happen. If they do manifest their dream, many of them start cruising and ignore the fact that you have to sustain what you have achieved by continual investments. Having potential is one thing, bringing it to fruition and keeping it up is another. It never stops.

Top talented professionals have a coach who helps them grow. In the early nineties, Sir John Whitmore wrote the book ‘Coaching for Performance’ that overtime became a standard in the field of coaching. The core concept of the book is the GROW model. It is about goal-setting and problem-solving.

You start with the future state in mind and set your Goals. The next step is to get a deep understanding of where you are now or in other words becoming aware of the Reality of the day. The third step is to understand the context and the path to the end state. You do that by defining a number of Options. The last step is about developing an action oriented plan that gets you to where you want to be. In the model it is called the Way forward. Four simple steps that can be very effective and help you to develop your potential.

The GROW model is a great instrument for the top talent and coach to draw a baseline. It is a very helpful steppingstone to start building a successful career path. However it is not enough. A valuable coach who can really unlock and extend talent is able to push you forward repeatedly by applying specific and meaningful tactics.

What will an elite coach do with top talent?

Keeping you off balance – A top talent who is locked up in his or her comfort zone may be able to grow with small steps, but that is not enough in an increasingly competitive and volatile environment. An elite coach will keep you off and on balance. It is an intermittent process such as a flash light. The coach will expose you to new experiences, makes you feel comfortable, and push you forward again just when you hit the right level. It is the coach who knows what that level is based on his knowledge and experience of the profession. Think about a tightrope dancer who always needs to be in balance to get to the other side. His coach may extend the rope, lift the rope, takeaway the balance pole or introduce external conditions like wind, noise or light.

Helping you to focus when to perform – For top talent to perform in the moment, one of the most important factors is focus. Any kind of distraction can be a game changer. This is oftentimes more a mental process than the actual practice itself. Most professional soccer players know how to shoot a penalty kick. When you watch how they do that on a training, you will be amazed how creative they are and how easy they score. But in the game it is different. The thousands of spectators who raise the energy level, the importance of the goal for the team and numerous other external factors, determine success. A focused player knows how to deal with such a situation. Many of them follow a special routine that works for them. The role of the elite coach is to work with the top talent on improving the mental process and on routines that are effective.

Guiding you when dealing with pressure – When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. You can be the most talented professional, but if you cannot deal with pressure, you will never make it to the top. Pressure is an external force and has nothing to do with factors that you can influence. You cannot change the way spectators behave during a game. You cannot change the type of questions customers ask when you give that final presentation that makes or breaks a deal. Elite coaches prepare you for these situations by giving you guidance. There are a few tactics to deal with pressure. One of them is to stay aware of the bigger picture by putting things in perspective. That one moment may count, but there is always the next one. As long as you believe and learn, you will improve and nail it the next time. Another tactic is to visualize ahead of the event what pressure moments you can encounter and strategize a response. If possible, you can practice it so you are ready for it when it comes.

Assisting with sharpening your goals – No goals, no guts, no glory. It’s that simple. Top talented professionals know exactly what they want and have some idea how to get there. The elite coach helps you to sharpen your goals by asking the right questions that force you to dig deep. Your goals need to become more precise overtime. The coach can help you build a hierarchy of goals that you need to achieve to ultimately materialize your dream. Think-Change-Achieve is a mantra that I am using all the time. The think step is about defining your goals. It is also about creating awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as key environmental conditions. To ultimately achieve your goals, you have got to change. That’s where your elite coach steps in to help you. The coach will create development plans that are tailored to your needs. He will put the plan in motion and keeps a close eye on your progress. He will make adjustments to your plan as required. But foremost he will continuously push you to the edge on every single step to make you better.

Helping you by removing obstacles – There will be much more obstacles on the path to victory than the top talent ever expected. Although the majority of them can be planned and prepared for, it will be the ones that came out of nowhere that have the largest impact. In such a situation, the elite coach can help you dealing with the setback and with carving out a recovery plan. The coach can bring a number of instant resolutions that he may have applied before with other talent. It’s one of those moments where the experience from a seasoned expert like a coach, has the most value for a top talent to keep going strong.

Coaching top talent is one of the most rewarding activities if you want to share knowledge and experience with professionals who are ‘hungry’ to go to the next level and the next. There are a number of books about coaching that I have enjoyed reading over the last years and can recommend if you want to get more acquainted with coaching.

The Willpower Instinct from Kelly McGonigal

Performing Under Pressure from Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry

Relentless from Tim S. Grover

Unlocking Potential from Michael K. Simpson

The Talent Code from Daniel Coyle

In each of these books there is a recurring theme that speaks about the ultimate force behind every top talent, no matter what discipline, no matter what potential, no matter what background or where you are on earth. It is that fire in your belly that makes you so incredibly happy when you do a particular activity that keeps you going. It is an intense energy to succeed in becoming the best in what you like the most. When you have experienced that unique moment, you are on the right path and have opened the door to become a world-class talent.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager and Coach

Why business transformation programs fail

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The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance – Nathaniel Branden

Sometimes people ask me why business transformation programs fail. Many of them have searched the web, found the famous top 10 list and also a number of measures how to avoid them. What many people don’t realize is that these measures are very tactical. Like if I do this, then that won’t happen. Reality is different these days. Business transformation programs fail because of lack of awareness, trust and structure. Root causes of failures are less related to technology, more to process, and most to people.

The first two factors, awareness and trust, are very difficult to change, because they are directly related to how people within and in close proximity to the program behave. The third reason, structure, is relatively easier to change, because there are tonnes of proven concepts, methods and tools available that can help you. The challenge there is to implement them correctly and stick to it.

Awareness

One of the courses that I followed at University was Information Management. The professor was a fabulous storyteller. He vigorously spoke about technology and sociology. That may seem like a weird combination at first. But if you think about it, technology only works when people adopt it and apply it as intended.

In one of his classes he spoke about awareness and referred to the Thomas Theorem: “If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (W. I. Thomas and D.S Thomas). The theorem and his explanation made such an impression on me that ever since, it jumps up in my mind once in awhile and let me ponder about situations that transpired.

What if the interpretation of the situation is wrong? In that case, the consequences are most likely wrong too. An interpretation is personal, subjective and in reality somebody’s perception of the situation. You cannot change someone’s perception. At best you can influence it and steer it in another direction, and hope that overtime it changes.

Internalize this theorem for a second and apply it to business transformation. If you want to in-still change in an organization and ignite a transition to the future state, the hardest part is to make people aware. If you want to be effective with creating awareness, there are 3 factors you want to look at: communication, relevance and acceptance.

Communication is about clarifying the purpose of the program and motivation. People tend to accept change if they understand the purpose and can relate it to themselves using their own insights, visuals and words. When they understand the value and realize that a step forwards actually means achieving a number of benefits, they’ll make that step. When they have reached the point where they can flawlessly articulate and share the purpose with others, you know you have a successful communication strategy.

The other element is about relevance. In other words: ‘what’s in it for me?’ People can only become aware if they hear about it. But they really pick up on it and are willing to invest time and energy in further exploring the subject, if it has meaning. This is an area where communication in business transformation programs can improve. Communications must be more tailored towards different stakeholder groups. How many times have you seen the same set of slides passing by in meetings with stakeholders who have completely different needs and interests? Wonder why certain people do embrace change and others don’t?

Trust

In one of my posts on www.basdebaat.com I wrote that ‘trust, is the primary driver of success’. The single reason why people are willing to do things together and work towards a common goal, is trust. They are willing to build and strengthen relationships, because they believe there are mutual benefits in doing so.

One of my favourite books is from Stephen M.R Covey and is called ‘The Speed of Trust’.  Covey says that trust means confidence, and the opposite of trust, or distrust, is called suspicion.  In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.

Business transformation programs with low-trust relationships between key stakeholders have a high risk of failure. When trust is low, programs tend to delay on schedule, under-deliver on scope and overrun on budgets. It is important when business partners are being selected, teams are being assembled and meeting structures are being defined, to gauge the level of trust and make corrections when deemed necessary. This is an accountability of the executive sponsor. It makes sense to periodically conduct a ‘trust assessment’ of the critical relationships and make conscious investments.

High-trust relationships demonstrate effective collaboration and consistent performance. People are going the extra mile, because they are intrinsically motivated. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, introduced a performing model that can be very helpful with building and developing project teams. I oftentimes introduce the forming-stroming-norming-performing model at the start of a program and revisit it along the way, because team dynamics change all the time. The model helps people explain and understand why certain behaviours happen and how they can best respond to it. That contributes to better, healthier and more trustworthy relationships.

Structure

Business transformation programs that don’t have a robust planning and scheduling function fail by default. My recommendation is to implement a cascaded model, comprised of plans and schedules at 3 distinct abstract levels. Executives have a strong preference to steer the program based on a GANTT (high level visual timeline from start to finish) with major work streams and milestones. At the program level, the PMO works with the same GANTT, complemented by a MPS – Master Project Schedule that has all the contractual deliverables, key tasks and dependencies. The MPS can be supported by a number of trackers that have detailed schedule information by sub deliverable, for example design documents. The MPS has a firm schedule for a 3 months horizon. At the project team level, leads work with the MPS and TWS – Team Work Schedules that are deliverable oriented and activity based. They follow a 6 weeks rolling window.

Having a plan and schedule does not mean ‘success guaranteed’. A major risk of failure is timely and appropriate decision-making. Decisiveness competency is influenced by a number of factors. One of them is trust, the other ones are quality of available information, level of ambiguity, risk attitude and ability to deal with pressure. It is the responsibility of the program manager to understand what the critical decisions are, the timing that decision need to be made, and managing the decision-making factors pro-actively. Part of that responsibility is to escalate decisions up the chain if they are not made or made inappropriately.

Organizations must be resilient and have the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and toughness. Business transformation programs are roller-coasters with high peaks, lows, accelerations and slow-downs. Project and business teams involved in the execution, will encounter the valleys of despair at times and wonder if they can ever get to the finish line and meet expectations. There are a number of remedies to deal with this. For example, increased executive level involvement at peak times to fast-track decisions or remove hurdles like resource constraints. Daily scrum meetings where progress, issues and risks are being discussed with the key players and as a result the bonding helps the team to get through a difficult stage. Or team building exercises where the focus is on techniques that improve overall performance.

Successful business transformation programs focus less on tactical measures to keep them on track, but more on the people factor. They have created effective communication strategies that create the required level of awareness for the different stakeholder groups. They are able to relate to the interest of the group and individual. These programs foster a high-trust culture, resulting in strong, collaborative and productive relationships. They thrive because there is a well-defined structure with plans and schedules, and teams that can deal with pressure, high expectations and tight timelines.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

The ABC’s of Program Management

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There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure – Colin Powell

Imagine that you are asked to lead a large scale business transformation program. Before you start, you can pick 26 instruments that will set you up for success. It can be a mix of tangible or non-tangible items . What is your ABC of Program Management? What do you put in your bag pack before you head out and deliver? Here is mine:

Awareness

Budget

Collaboration

Decisiveness

Escalation

Finesse

Grit

High trust

Issues

Judgement

Knowledge transfer

Listen

Management information

Negotiation

Organizational Change

People

Quality

Risk

Scope

Timeline

Usability

Value

Willpower

Xroad

Yield

Zero defects

As you have probably noticed my ABC’s are a fine melange of core program management aspects and transformational values like grit, trust and willpower. Program managers who make-things-happen in today’s world are very capable of applying both dimensions intermittently. I am curious what your selection is. Let me know!

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Find your sources of inspiration

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Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve – Napoleon Hill

If you want to get your creative juices flowing, you want to know what your sources of inspiration are. Whether you want to resolve an issue, respond to a risk, craft a project strategy, you need to be able to tap into the creative zone of your brain. It applies to all non-routine activities that you are facing on a daily basis. Be effective, smart and of real value to your clients by being aware of where your inventiveness is coming from.

The greatest sources of inspiration are stories about work and life experience of other people, and memories you have of achievements that had a lasting impact. Inspirational leadership is based on stories. Think about it for a minute. Inspirational leaders like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Michael Jordan, Johan Cruijff or Hasso Plattner all have great stories to tell about their accomplishments. They entice you because they can vibrantly articulate what they have done, why they relentlessly pursued on that path and how they dealt with obstacles along the way. Many people want to replicate behavior of inspirational leaders and do it slightly better.

People love stories. The best presentations you remember are the ones where the speaker gets your attention right from the start by telling a unique story. The best stories grab your energy and direct it to a better, high motivating level. A formal setting is not needed for storytelling. It can simply come from somebody you are talking to, or from the different kinds of (social) media we have today. It can come from a location that is special to you and where the setting and ambiance is inspiring.

The stories that I remember and like to go back to for inspiration are from people who contributed to my personal growth and performance. They gave me meaningful messages that I instantly knew I would never forget. I also obtained insightful stories from biographies, audio books, magazines, TV or radio programs. Not necessarily from academic literature. Of course there are a number of key concepts and theories that you have memorized for a lifetime, like a SWOT analysis, the five forces of Porter, or Mintzberg’s structuring of organizations. Truth to the matter is that most of what you remember and recall when you need it is from experiences, either your own personal experience or somebody else’s.

It is key to have a broad interest in topics, also outside your field of expertise, outside your comfort zone. By expanding your horizon, you are able to expose yourself to information that you have never imagined and which can be very helpful for completing a task you have been struggling with for quite awhile. As an example, one of the areas that I have been exploring the last year is artificial intelligence and its impact on professional services. It is a fascinating topic that is rapidly evolving and one day will impact all of us to some degree. A development that is very interesting to follow is what IBM is doing with Watson.

Sources of inspiration can be ‘real-time’ or from past experiences. When I was 15 years old I started working for a grocery store in a small city, north of Amsterdam, who was well known in the area for their fresh produce. It was a family owned business with a long tradition of serving top-notch products to a very loyal group of customers. The owner and his two sons ran the business. Each son had his own store. The owner was in his late seventies when I met him. He was a great storyteller. I remember the days that he asked me to work with him in the warehouse. It was a very old building not far from the office where my father worked. Together we prepared the fresh produce for the store. We would load a silo full of potatoes and unload it by filling 5 kilogram bags for example. That activity could easily be for half a day. While doing that, he told stories about the Second World War and what he and his friends did to hinder the Germans. Or how he helped local people survive by handing out food. He spoke about the evolution in transportation, and that the distribution of fresh produce was now so much easier with the use of trucks. Small vessels did when he was young most of the transportation from Amsterdam. With him telling stories, they days went by fast. When we were done with bagging the potatoes, we would switch to sorting all the different kind of bottles that the customers returned to the store. Crates and crates full of bottles, sorting a getting them ready for return transport. I did not mind doing the work, as long as he kept telling stories. What I have learned from this period in my life was to always deliver quality output, even when the work is repetitive. But also to respect the quality of life we have today, as well as the freedom and security. He taught me what it means to persevere, especially by explaining what it meant for him to stay alive during the cold winter of 1944-45 of the Second World War.

Locations you visit on a regular basis can become a source of inspiration as well. There is an island in the Caribbean that I visit quite often with my family. The entire experience from arrival to departure completely renews, replenishes and reenergizes me. Whether it is going to the white sand beaches, listen to live music, nice dinners or get togethers with friends, all of them or very inspiring. One day I met the founder of a Brazilian company that manufactures, installs and services ATM machines, entrance technology and ticketing systems around the world. He was in his eighties and had passed on the business to his sons. He was still involved as an advisor. I had long talks with him about his life and work. He told me that he worked in many different places and companies in Europe and North and South America. Engineering was his trade and he made a number of major inventions. Through this storytelling he handed a number of lessons:

  1. Be the dominant leader player in your industry – Be so damn good in whatever you are doing, such that you always attract business
  2. Know the key players and work with business partners – To be successful you have to collaborate with other stakeholders in the market segments where you operate.
  3. Know your clients – The most important stakeholder is your client and you better understand their needs and challenges they have to overcome
  4. Have lots of cash, cash is King – You will be facing difficult times whatever you do and you need a cushion to keep going
  5. Be fit – No matter how busy you are, find time to maintain your health through exercise and clean diet.

Despite his age, he swam a few kilometres in the ocean every day. He would park his car, warm up his muscles, put on his goggles, watch the tide, decide what direction to swim, swim and walk back. During the swim he would oftentimes get ideas that he would share with his sons, the new leaders of the company that he founded.

Another source of inspiration for me are performances from business leaders who really made a difference and changed the world we live in today. Steve Jobs is an example of such a leader. His commencement speech at Stanford University says it all. The advice he gave to the students has made a huge impact on me and many others who I know admire him as well: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.

In the 1989, Stephen Covey published his bestseller ‘the 7 habits of highly effective people’. I remember that many people around me in the workplace read the book and mentioned that it  changed their attitude towards work and life. The 7 habits transformed the way they work and interact with other people. The book became of standard and many companies included it in their management development programs. Overtime, it became a source of inspiration for many successful leaders. His book also inspired his own son Stephen M Covey to write the bestseller ‘the Speed of Trust’. One of the key lessons that comes to mind frequently when I lead technology-driven change programs, is that when trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. Stephen came up with this equation to clarify a simple dynamic that can make or break any initiative, and that is that ‘trust in relationships is the main driver of success’.

You can make it a habit to get to your sources of inspiration. Most of those habits require a moment of silence or time for yourself. It could be a walk in the forrest, or some form of meditation, an outdoor run, an intensive workout or any kind of activity where you are detached from the day-to-day routine. Try to find what that habit is for you and seek your sources of inspiration.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications