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The bigger the dream, the more important the team – Robin Sharma

If you go through my blog you’ll see posts that speak about critical success factors for IT business transformation projects. I have talked about the importance of trust, the impact of ambiguity, how to pick the right people, but also vendor performance, dealing with competing priorities and SMART project leadership.

It is not so difficult to BREAK your project; you can do that in a heartbeat. It is much more difficult to MAKE your project. It all comes down to leadership potential of all internal and external stakeholders, because project success is something you create and achieve together as a well-integrated team.

There are a few, silent ‘BREAKERS’ of success that can be detrimental, throw you off track and ultimately force you to pull the plug.

Singing from the same song sheet

Many organizations that initiate an IT business transformation project put their faith completely or way too far in the hands of the vendor. They rely too much on the vendor’s expertise to design, build, test and implement the solution. For these organizations it is a given that the vendor provides industry leading practices to the project. “But that’s why we hired them” is a comment you hear when organizations realize that their expectations are not being met.

Is this an issue caused by the vendor only, or by both the vendor and the organization? It can actually be both. Every organization should develop in-house expertise of the future state solution, otherwise you are not able to define WHAT you want in clearly articulated business requirements. With expertise I mean: knowledge and experience of the business processes, technology and data.

Does it need to be at the same level as the vendor? It must be at least at a point where you can truly understand the options that are being presented by the vendor, and you can identify alternatives that for various reasons do not come forward. Organizations should consider assigning a solution architect (contract or permanent employee) to the project who can bring that level of knowledge and experience. The solution architect functions as a catalyst to other project resources and brings continuity, consistency and integrity of the design to the team. All key resources should be trained in the new technology at the start of the project, preferable by the technology vendor.

The money that the organization spends on building this solid project team capability must be perceived as an investment. It is a risk mitigation activity that has both short term (set project up for success) and long term (effective sustainment) value.

Vendors who embark on IT business transformation projects should encourage the organization to build up their capability right at the start of it and not gradually overtime. It is in their best interest to work with a client organization that sings from the same song sheet, speaks the same language and uses the same communication matrix, from the starts of the design phase onwards. The quality of the solution design drives the value and benefits that the organization has in mind and is expecting to realize.

Silo mentality

It is fairly common that organizations with traditional structures have entities (departments, units, teams, etc.) that operate in silos. We also know that nothing great happens in silos. IT business transformation projects thrive on creativity, collaboration, communication and a multi-disciplinary approach. Organizations can only attract and retain top talent if they move away from this one-dimensional paradigm once and for all. Top talent that is needed to staff the project and future sustainment organization will quickly move on to greener pastures if the organizational culture does not change.

A major risk of silo mentality is that the project will struggle with the “pave the cow path and reinvent the legacy” syndrome. The future state will be not be much different. As a result it does not bring what the organization needs to achieve cost savings, better customer service levels, accurate management information or anything of that kind that makes it better (world-class) than the organization’s peer group. It is not an easy task for the leadership team to successfully deliver the IT business transformation project in this context. What needs to happen?

Executive Leadership can:

  1. Set a new tone for the organization by communicating core values that go with the future state. There are organizations that define core values in a collaborative manner with their people
  2. Clearly articulate the vision, the path to get there, and what contribution is expected from each of the entities
  3. Model the behaviour that is expected
  4. Actively participate in the IT business transformation program with the intention to inspire, motivate and coach people
  5. Set the right business priorities and make timely decisions when needed
  6. Clarify in what functional and technical areas change must happen to achieve major business benefits
  7. Monitor progress and take corrective actions as required
  8. Assign ‘business transformation’ specific performance goals to key leaders
  9. Source top talent from outside the organization that resonates well with the future state
  10. Implement a reward program that encourages people to think, act and speak differently

Project leadership can:

  1. Make sure that project and relevant business objectives, strategy and plans are always aligned and well communicated
  2. Increase focus of change management activities on stakeholder alignment and commitment
  3. Define and enforce solution design principles that drive people, process and technology change
  4. Quickly identify and remove roadblocks on the design path to change, and actively manage integration points or dependencies between entities
  5. Simplify design concepts as much as possible
  6. Implement an escalation path up to the Executive Sponsor to get fast decisions on design issues and risks
  7. Foster a working climate of collaboration, creativity, communication and change
  8. Conduct demonstrations of components of the to be solution to key stakeholders
  9. Implement quick wins where possible and meaningful
  10. Seek for industry leading practices and share that with stakeholders that resist to change

There are a lot of ‘make or break’ project success drivers to think about when you initiate, plan, execute and close an IT business transformation project. Key is to identify and respond to them properly and in a timely fashion. Stay in control of your own destiny by investing in core project team capabilities and by taking the right actions at the Executive and Project level.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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robaxin online “If you think that a fixed price contract is going to solve all your previously experienced project issues, think twice”

A fixed price contract appears to be the magic bullet to a number of project management issues, but that may only be superficial. At the end of the day, all of the project management routines still need to be flawlessly executed including the financial aspects, regardless what contract vehicle has been selected.

With a fixed priced contract the customer is making an attempt to transfer the financial risk to the vendor. The transfer is at a cost to the customer and wouldn’t exist, if the parties decided to sign a time and materials contract. The additional cost is a risk premium (cost contingency) that the vendor is adding to the base estimate that if done properly already has an effort contingency. It is quite common to see a risk premium in the 10 – 30% range on top of the base estimate and effort contingency together. So long story short, customers are paying a lot extra when they sign a fixed price contract. Is that worth the money; is that worth the delivery risk? Now, there are customers that want to know what the actual project cost to the vendor is and based on the outcome recoup part of that risk premium. Unfortunately that’s not how it woks, because the customer did not bear the delivery risk and also would not chip in extra dollars if the vendor would experience a cost overrun.

Alongside the risk premium (additional cost), the customer bears the risk that the vendor is not delivering the contracted scope with the expected quality (less business benefits). When a vendor is exposed to a fixed price deal, they are managing the project scope very tight. When the project scope is not well defined in the contract and therefore the level of ambiguity (see previous post ‘Ambiguity’) is relatively high, the project is set up for failure. Oftentimes the expectation gap cannot be closed without a project change request, which most customers do not account for in their budget when they have signed a fixed price contract. It is very likely that the gap is significant; therefore the vendor is raising many change requests over time. The relationship stress that manifests between the customer and the vendor, because of the conflict, can be detrimental to the overall trustworthiness of the parties, and when trust goes down, cost goes up, and speed goes down (see Stephen M.R.Covey, “The Speed of Trust”). As a result, the project slides into a downwards spiral triggering all different kind of consequences.

Managing a fixed price contract is asking for a different mindset from the parties than any other contract vehicle. Scope and schedule must be perceived as equally important for both parties. If not, the project is doomed to fail. There are cases where a vendor managed a fixed price contract as it was a time and materials contract. For quite awhile there was an abundance of resources and everything seemed possible (exaggerating here a little bit), but overtime when the project actuals came in and the scope verification check was completed, the vendor realized that the burn rate was way out of line, and that the only way out was raising change requests (extra dollars or scope reduction). At that point, frantic behavior should not be a surprise to anybody. It is possible that the vendor tells the customer that for certain deliverables they have exceeded the number of hours, and the customer has to pay extra. Or that rigorous testing is not required, because best practices and development standards have been followed consistently, and therefore the risk of failure is low. A customer would instinctively think: “But I have a fixed price contract for that deliverable, the requirements are clearly articulated in the contract, blueprint and specifications. We agreed to the delivery approach, what’s the problem?”

These are just a few examples of situations where a customer might end up with, if they make a fixed price deal. They need to be aware of the buyers risk of paying more (risk premium), for potentially less quality (business benefits), and potentially damage to a good relationship with the vendor, whom they may have been successful with before at other projects. What is then the alternative?

There is actually a few. Customers can simply go for a time and materials contract. There is nothing wrong with that if they manage it well. Or customers can decide to go for a hybrid model, where the basis of the contract is time and materials, with fixed price for specific, well-defined scope items. They can also consider performance-based contracts with time and materials as basis. If the intention is to transfer delivery risk to the vendor (which is a great idea and something a customer must consider), embedding performance-based incentives in the contract is a perfect alternative. More and more vendors are willing to demonstrate skin in the game.

The success of any contract vehicle comes down to the accuracy of the scope definition. Customers need to know WHAT they want (see my post ‘Continuity of Vision’) throughout the project lifecycle. They need to clearly articulate it to the vendor, and collaboratively document it meticulously in the contract. When customers are locked into a fixed price contract, discrepancies seem to be much harder to resolve than with any other contract vehicle. Customers must be mindful of the pros and cons of a fixed price contract when they consider it. Customers should not run into it, because they think they have frozen their financial baseline and they therefore only need to focus on scope and schedule. That’s an act of shortsightedness, which at a certain point in time will be proven to be wrong.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level – Peter Drucker

What can you do when you need “that one decision” right now before you can move forward with a critical path item? You are already tracking behind schedule and a further delay can be lethal. You have exhausted all your creative planning and scheduling options. You know what the decison should be, have made the right recommendation a few times, but still don’t have an answer.

Making decisions can take more time than you anticipated. Making big decisions (impactful) takes courage and risk. These values are crucial for any leader and they are must haves for any project in order to be successful. But unfortunately there are leaders who, for a variety of reasons, default to risk aversion, procrastination, deflection and counter-productive behaviour. Now for the record, there are leaders who live up to these values, they are fabulous, very effective, epic performers and role models, but they seem to be more and more an exception than the rule.

Now back to the question: what can you do in these circumstances?

1 – Clearly articulate the impact – Make sure that you have prepared a decision document with options and a recommendation. Socialize the document with stakeholders who can be influential to the decision making process and build a coalition. Make sure that you have the impact of ‘not making a timely decision’ documented as well. You want to avoid that the decision maker can find an argument about lack of information. Decision makers typically have limited availability and you want to be respectful of their time

2 – Set the sense of urgency – Set the right tone by making the need for a ‘decision now’ explicitly clear. Explain to the decision maker what the risk, cost and missed benefits are if a decision is pending

3 – Escalate – Every project must have an agreed to escalation path before it starts. This has a number of reasons. One is to expedite decision making, and the other is to avoid people from being surprised when you actually do escalate. Don’t hesitate to escalate. As PM you are resonsible to deliver on time, on budget and as per specification. That means that you have the right to take corrective actions when you feel it is needed. When you do escalate make sure that it is transparent to the people involved. You want to keep trust levels up high

4 – Be bold – If it turns out that the last station on your escaltion path also doesn’t make a decision, be bold, creative and identify another end station. Keep going up the ladder and find that leader who can and wants to make the call. You would be surprised how effective that can be for not only the decision you need, but also for anything to come after.  You have found yourself an ally!

5 – Document and move on – If it turns out that there is no sight on a decision anytime soon, document all the steps that you have taken and what has been discussed along the way, with whom and when. There is a high probability that at a later time, the fact that a decision was not made, comes back as an issue. You want to make sure that you can speak to the facts instead of emotions. Share the document with the key stakeholders who have been involved. Once that’s done you are ready to move on with scope that you can deliver and implement

Good luck with getting that “one decision” made!

Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities – Stephen Covey

It seems that we are more and more dealing with ‘Competing Priorities’ on a daily basis then ever before, and as a result do not get the work done that we want to get done. Meaning we are facing a downwards spiral on our productivity. Is this a true fact or is it an excuse to better organize the work?

I think that both arguments are valid. It appears that in the world we are living today, much more options are available to decision makers than in  the times where technology was not a major influencer. And if you look at technology in general, we really have just started, knowing that we are in the early adopter phase of mobile solutions, big data and analytics, wearable gadgets, the internet-of-things, and robot technology. Having said all of that, there are no excuses for not doing a much better job on organizing the work. Procrastination, power and politics, are examples of drivers that work counter productive in getting things done. But the most important driver in my mind is that we are not effective enough in consistently prioritizing the work according to the goals we want to achieve. And that activity is fully in our control, compared to the other two. How can we change that?

First of all, what is a priority? According to Google a priority is defined as a thing that is regarded as more important than another. It suggests that there is some kind of ranking happening based on certain conditions.

One of the things we can do is to change our behaviour by taking a structured and pro-active approach by becoming a better planner! It has been proven that people, teams and organizations who spend a serious amount of time on planning are ultimately more effective in attracting what they want. Planning is a routine activity and starts with defining and prioritizing goals and scope. Once you have done that including proper communication to stakeholders you have made the most important step on your way to a new, future state. Planning is an iterative and repetitive process. The process itself can be more important than the outcome itself. The fact that you are consciously thinking about what you want to achieve is major. Planning is like a perpetual mobile, it never steps and if you do it well has the same rhythm.

Before you can set the right priority, you must have alignment and commitment from the stakeholders on the vision, goals and scope of work. Alignment means that everybody who is impacted, agrees with what is going to be done and why. Commitment means that everybody who is impacted, has the will power to make it happen.

There are a number of models that you can use to prioritize the work. Without going into detail, most of them are based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative argumentation. Or in other words, what are the cost and benefits to do first and that later? A pragmatic approach is to  categorize things as high, medium and low. Or the Moscow model: Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have. Problem is that these models can quickly become a biased and subjective approach. Something that is high for you, can be low for someone else. What it comes down to, is that in order to prioritize the work, you need agreement on what the selection criteria are. Depending on the complexity of the work, you want to make a choice between a simplistic or more comprehensive approach.

Another dynamic that tends to derail our work prioritization and therefore our productivity is information overload. If have seen organizations spinning on prioritizing work, because overtime the items were discussed, new information was brought forward. Most of the times, the new information was irrelevant and did not change the foundation for stakeholders to make decisions. A successful leader is able to make the right decision and set the right priority based on a limited set of information. What it means is that the leader is taking risk, and in some industry sectors that kind of behaviour is not stimulated.

If you look at all of the above, if you want to be effective and get things done, as an individual, team or organization, you must be aware of where you want to go and the conditions that ultimately help you or not. Make sure that you shift your mind set to one where you are capable of defining what you want and remove the conditions that are roadblocks. This requires a change that takes time. For teams and organizations it means a cultural change. External expertise may be required to make that change happen. For an individual it can become a mental and spiritual change. To make that mental change, you may want to practice the art of planning the work over and over again until it becomes a habit. To make a spiritual change, the art of meditation is very effective.

Once you have figured out what you want to achieve with the right priority, the only that is left is to stay focused and dedicated to the plan and intended outcome. Stick to the plan and keep it up to par as new situations arises, or vision, goals and scope of work changes. Make planning a routine and always try to be a step ahead of the game.

Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

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People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude – John Maxwell

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John Maxwell is a well-known American author of more than 75 books primarily about Leadership. Recently I listened to his audio book “Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships” [2014] and liked his simple and practical interpretation of Charisma.

To start of, he is referring to Merriam Webster encyclopedia’s definition, which says: “Charisma is a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm”.

He also mentions that Charisma is a trade or quality that can be learned and developed, because it basically is a result of strong and effective communication and interpersonal relationship skills. That is important to know!

To completely take it away from the mystical, illusive and indefinable side, he breaks it down into eight different values:

C – concern
H – help
A – action
R – results
I – influence
S – sensitivity
M – motivation
A – affirmation

What do these values mean for the Pragmatic Project Leader? To come to that answer, I will share John Maxwell’s definition for each of the items first (cursive text) and than address them.

Charisma and Pragmatic Project Leadership, let’s break it down.

Concern (the ability to care)Charismatic people are truly concerned about people’s deepest needs and interests. They truly care and leave you feeling important.

There are a number of things that can you can do as a Pragmatic Project Leader in this area. One of them is to ‘listen with empathy’. When you are concerned with the well being of one of your team members or perhaps the entire team, you want to sit down and have a positive conversation where you primarily listen and are very mindful of the situation. Sometimes listening and acknowledging the situation is enough and all of what is being asked from you. Sometimes it entails more, in which case you often take on a coaching role and help the individual or team to think, change and achieve specific goals. Key is that you demonstrate your concern by sharing the right thoughts, speaking the right words and taking the right actions. Always handle with care and an appropriate level of discretion.

‘Standing for the team’ is another quality that you must have as Pragmatic Project Leader. Regardless of the team performance, whether is good, bad or excellent, you are always responsible for the outcome. Taking responsibility is a way of demonstrating to the team and all the other stakeholders that you care about them and that you are the orchestrator of what they do and deliver. Taking responsibility in this case has two meanings. Aside from the fact that the team is following the path that you set out for them, you are also responsible for taking corrective actions on a timely basis. A key aspect of that is the learning component. If you care about the team, you want to avoid that situations have a reoccurrence. Sitting down with the team and do a quick and effective lessons learned session is what you want to do.

Help (the ability to reach out)Charismatic people help other people with their problems. They inspire them to face their problems and offer creative solutions and hope.

The best way to reach out as Pragmatic Project Leader is to coach the person through the problem solving process, starting with awareness, assessment and acceptance. Before you move forward to the resolution phase, you want the person to accept the problem as that demonstrates ownership and skin in the game, which is needed to get into a winners mood. Once you have reached that stage it is time to set goals, create and discuss options, change and make things happen. There are a number of coaching models that you can follow. Max Landsberg describes a GROW model in is book “The TAO of coaching” [2003]

Action (the ability to make things happen) – Charismatic people are never boring. They are always creative and confident in the way they present ideas or solutions.

One of my previous posts describe key characteristics of the Pragmatic Project Leader. The ability to make things happen is in my mind based on the following aspects. Pragmatic Project Leaders have a detailed understanding of the vision and future state originally set by the Business Leader. With that understanding they are able to decompose the vision into a roadmap, timeline and actionable work packages. In other words they are far-sighted and have a plan to deliver the intended solution. Throughout the execution phase, Pragmatic Project Leaders are connecting the dots, pro actively responding to change, while keeping the project on track. In doing so, they are providing solutions that at times are creative, unique and tailored to the business context.

Results (the ability to produce) – Charismatic people are other-centered and genuinely wish for other people to succeed. This trait inspires productivity in people

Pragmatic Project Leaders are people and result-oriented at the same time. They are very capable of finding the right work-life balance for the team and often care less about how and where work gets done as long as it gets done. Delivering results and making quick wins to demonstrate performance is a key element of their overall project approach. They communicate results upwards in the chain of command frequently and clearly articulate the contribution of key individuals and teams.  Pragmatic Project Leaders understand that celebrating success and sharing the joy of making things happen collectively is the best multivitamin you can give to the team to boost productivity. Once you hit the first milestone, you want to hit the next and…

Influence (the ability to lead) – Charismatic people are natural leaders. They know how to influence people and make them follow their lead.

Pragmatic Project Leaders excel in verbal and non-verbal communications. Their intentions are transparent and they are keen on communicating what, why and how in a constructive and timely manner to the right stakeholders. Oftentimes they use visualization as a method of sharing information, because they realize that ‘pictures speak a thousand words’. Pragmatic Project Leaders understand the power of the informal network that any organization has and they are able to make it a meaningful instrument for the project and use it in achieving project goals, resolving issues and managing risks. As required, they are not shy of taking bold actions to keep the project on track. They are persistent in finding the right answers. This kind of behaviour tends to entice people and that is exactly why Pragmatic Project Leaders demonstrate it in a consistent manner

Sensitivity (the ability to feel and respond) – Charismatic people are sensitive to changing situations. They are adept at responding appropriately to the mood, feeling, and spirit of any situation.

‘Being ahead of the change curve’ is a quality that Pragmatic Project Leaders master. Because they always operate with the future state in mind, they understand what change is coming on their path and when. Pragmatic Project Leaders are successful when they give equal importance to people, process and technology. They understand that the vision can only be achieved when organizational change is marching ahead of process and technology change. Building trust within the organization, within the project team and with external stakeholders about what is to come is crucial to manifest the project goals. Pragmatic Project Leaders are well positioned to coach Business Leaders in initializing, planning, executing and communicating change as they have the helicopter view across the building blocks of the future state. As mentioned above, they are able to connect the dots at all times.

Motivation (the ability to give hope) – Charismatic people are good motivators. They are good at encouraging, believing, and supporting people in the face of despair and adversities.

Pragmatic Project Leaders understand what the team finds important and uses that as a motivator. This can differ by country, client, organization and project. They are mindful of the interest of the people and business context and offer realistic options when hurdles need to be taken. Because they are far-sighted and know how to get to the future state, they help the team to go through difficult times and overcome obstacles. Pragmatic Project Leaders are knowledgeable of people, process and technology dynamics and can motivate the team by providing a cohesive perspective on where things are, why they are where they are, and were things are going. They know that motivators are sometimes just small incentives and they are able to offer them at the right time with the right impact to the right people or team.

Affirmation (the ability to build up) – Charismatic people are good at acknowledging the accomplishments of other people. They think the best, believe the best, and express the best in others.

Acknowledging the performance and contribution of people is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of leadership. Pragmatic Project Leaders are keen on saying ‘Thank You!’ They want people to grow in their work and life and continuously help where and whenever they can. Oftentimes that is through a coaching. Sometimes people think that affirmation is equal to pizza lunches, parties or other form of social gatherings. It is good to have those kind of events for sure, but foremost and above all, it is key to understand that affirmation is as simple as a few nice words often with a bit of humour. Affirmation must be simple, must be frequent.

Now do you need to qualify on all of the eight values with the same level of proficiency before you become that person with that magnetic charm? I don’t think so. Your personality, knowledge, experience and preferences will make you excel more on certain values than others. And that is perfectly fine as long as overall your performance is such that you are able to make other people feel good about themselves, rather than to make them feel good about you. If people feel good about themselves and there are no obstacles for them to perform, they directly contribute positively to the outcome of the project. At that point you have done your job as Pragmatic Project Leader.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality – Yoko Ono

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Think

In simple terms, organizations do projects to implement new ideas. Where the business leader is most of the times the originator of the idea, the pragmatic project leader shapes the path to attain it. It is crucial to clearly define WHAT the organization wants to achieve. The generation of the idea is just the first step of many.

One of the next steps is to ask WHY the organization wants to implement the new idea. Organizations go through a thinking process where they quantify and qualify the business benefits and associated cost. They often conduct an impact assessment and determine the change the organization must go through to ultimately manifest the desired end state.

Once the organization has a decent understanding of what it wants and why, the final step is to think about HOW to achieve it. There are many aspects that come into play at that point in time. Implementation strategy, time line, methods and tools, required skill set and business partners are a few to mention.

What do you want?

Organizations must understand that this question needs to be answered many times throughout the project. The level of detail is increasing as you go, because experience and insight in the future end state continues to grow. Clear and transparent documentation and communication of the WHAT is therefore an ongoing and primary project task that is often misunderstood resulting in projects delivering less than expected or potentially to fail. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to organize that in terms of specific types of deliverables at specific times in the life cycle of the project.

When the level of detail of the WHAT is increasing as we move along, the level of ambiguity is decreasing at the same pace. As soon as you approach the build phase there can be no ambiguity left. If there is, you know that specifications are not accurate and must be revisited before you proceed.

The following list are examples of deliverable that define the WHAT. I have put between brackets an indication of the level of ambiguity: H = high, M = medium and L = low.

  1. Dream collage (H)
  2. Vision board (H)
  3. Business requirement (H)
  4. Design criteria (H)
  5. Solution architecture (H)
  6. Demonstration (H)
  7. Process design document (M)
  8. Business blueprint (M)
  9. Integrated solution design (M)
  10. Functional specification (L)
  11. Technical specification (L)
  12. Test script (L)
  13. Training material (L)
  14. Work instruction (L)
  15. Business procedure (L)

Defining WHAT the organization wants in a progressive and consistent manner is one of the biggest challenges in IT business transformation projects. “Continuity of vision” is a critical success factor throughout the project life cycle. Organizations must ensure that in the evolution process from ‘dream collage’ to ‘business procedure’ the vision is carried forward by an individual or team from start to finish. The business leader is accountable to delegate that responsibility to for example a solution architect.

The pragmatic project leader is responsible for implementing a robust framework of processes, methods and tools that support the end-to-end definition process. This framework must also includes quality assurance and control steps, as well as measures that prevent the business leader from making definition changes randomly at any point in time.

It is imperative that stakeholders are made aware of the roles and responsibilities, the framework, as well as the risks associated with non-compliance.

That the definition of WHAT an organization wants is a critical step in the overall THINK.CHANGE.ACHIEVE TM process may be obvious and logical, but is often not followed meticulously. Here is why:

  1. People assume that others understand WHAT they want
  2. Business is requesting changes that are not well understood and/or documented
  3. Vendors over promise and under deliver (commercial, capability, or financial reasons)
  4. A knowledge and experience gap (technology) between organization and vendor
  5. Stakeholders from different disciplines are not aligned (vertical organization | silo-ed behaviour)
  6. Stakeholders are not aware of the end-to-end definition process, deliverables, roles, responsibilities and risks
  7. Any form of non-compliance that is not being corrected

Shortly after the organization has started to shape and define the WHAT, there is another question that must be answered, and that is WHY you want something.

Why do you want it?

The definition of the WHAT is an ongoing process that never sleeps. For the WHY it is exactly the same. Organizations who are about to embark on a new initiative must always answer the WHY question. Depending on what stage of the initiative you are, the answer is different as well as its impact. For example, a change to a business requirement in the testing phase close to deployment can be fatal, because of its impacts to the core of the solution, whereas rolling out a solution to a country that was not in scope before can be accomplished because resources are available and the timing is right.

Organizations often make the wrong decisions, because of a lack of awareness and/or understanding of the impact. And if the awareness / understanding is there, its often an inadequate ranking and prioritizing of the WHAT that pushes things off track. It is the responsibility of the pragmatic project leader to bring that awareness, insightfulness and reality check to the key stakeholders and decision makers. As long as that reality check is based on factual insights it is meaningful and situations can be corrected and reversed. If the executive stakeholder and/or sponsor needs to be involved to steer the decision making in the right direction, the pragmatic project leader, must do that without hesitation. In order to make that happen, escalation paths need to be pre defined, transparent and respected.

The general rule of thumb for answering the WHY is two fold. You need a business case and an impact assessment. The materiality of the WHAT determines the effort to complete these tasks. Less material requirements can almost have an immediate answer, whereas material business needs require a documented process with formal reviews and approval steps. The pragmatic project leader is responsible to orchestrate that process.

Examples of deliverable types that you can expect are:

  1. Cost-benefit analysis
  2. Business case
  3. Impact assessment 
  4. Strategic decision document
  5. Key decision document

How do you achieve it?

The last question that is part of the THINK step is about HOW you are going to achieve the WHAT. The result of this step must set the entire project up for success. You cannot proceed to the CHANGE or ACHIEVE steps if you are not a 100% confident on the overall approach. The pragmatic project leader is best positioned to determine whether the project team is ready to move forward or not.

Here are a number of items (there are many!) to be considered while answering the HOW:

Implementation strategy – This item is primarily about how the organization is going to deploy the solution when it is ready for use. The typical options vary from a big bang to an incremental approach by function, organizational entity and/or geography. The key decision driver is the level of risk the organization finds acceptable. Risk averse organizations tend to go for incremental, pilot, staggered and phased deployments, whereas on the opposite side of the risk continuum, risk taking organization tend to go for a big bang go live. The pragmatic project leader must provide detailed insight in the various deployment options, their risk profiles and cost/benefits. This is one of those steps where the organization must do sufficient research and listen to experiences from other organizations, the software vendor, the system integrator and industry experts. Be aware that key stakeholders who have defined the WHAT, oftentimes want to achieve that fast. There is nothing wrong with an expeditious process and aggressive timeline as long as it is realistic, do-able and warranted by build in contingencies. The pragmatic project leader must bring that reality to light.

Required skill set and eduction –  You can only start the initiative, project or program when you have the right team with the right mix of skills. As I wrote in one of my other posts, it is key to select talent based on knowledge, experience and personality. These criteria are equally important. Set the bar high and don’t easily walk away from the requirements if you cannot seem to find the right person. The pragmatic project leader must develop a learning strategy and team leads learning plans for each of their team members. Learning must be a key performance metric in the project performance plan. Education is a critical success factor for the short and long term. For the project (short term), organizations want to make sure that they can deliver quality. Organizations also want to bring their people close to the knowledge and experience level of the external project resources as soon as possible to minimize ambiguity and maximize output. For operations (long term), the organization must be able to develop talent that can sustain the new solution and operating model. To make that happen, education and knowledge transfer must be carefully planned and executed

Methods and tools – This item is oftentimes not well taken care off. Organizations spend a lot of time on defining WHAT they want, WHY they want it, and HOW to get there from a time line, business partner and required skill set perspective, but underestimate that methods and tools ultimately determine the quality of the outcome of the project. You cannot simply assume that the vendor brings that to the table, although some do. The pragmatic project leader must organize ‘method and tools adoption workshops’ where the organization and the vendor assess, review and decide what methods and tools will be used. Part of the selection is also the implementation, education and support requirements. Depending on the size of the project and available budget, organizations can consider to assign a ‘method and tools’ subject matter expert, who is responsible to implementation, support and education. Make that a serious consideration and realize that a robust set of methods and tools are essential for crafting WHAT the organization wants.

The THINK step is one that continuously needs to be revisited throughout the project lifecycle. It interacts with the other steps CHANGE and ACHIEVE all the time. It is important to be mindful about that as pragmatic project leader.

Bas de Baat

Business consulting | Program Management | Coaching

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You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. 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 – Steve Jobs

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In today’s world, organizations are looking for pragmatic project leaders, who can steer projects to success by applying the technical aspects of project management combined with a practical leadership style.

 

 

What I mean with the technical aspects of project management is how the Project Management Institute (PMMI) has defined it in the “Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK).” For more information go to buy viagra online usa

Pragmatic Project Leadership is going beyond PMBOK. It is about the leadership style and characteristics of the project leader. It is about the practical, no-nonsense approach where aspects like focus on making things happen, people management, building trust, learning and growth, play a critical role on project performance. They make or break the project. It is a combination of delivering projects by applying standard methods and tools, with special attention to the personal interest of people assigned to the project. That can for example be, job satisfaction, career development, personal growth, coaching, mentoring, team development, organizational change, culture change and transformation. The thought behind this is that when you take good care of your project staff, it has a positive impact on the project outcome as well as long term business benefits.

What are key characteristics of a pragmatic project leader?

  1. Have a broad interest and understanding of business, technology and organizational change management
  2. Are able to understand, communicate and translate the vision set by the business leader into a well defined and transparent path to attain it
  3. Act with confidence, optimism and determination
  4. Listen carefully and with empathy to their people, understand their needs, concerns and professional goals
  5. Bring people together to work as a team to manifest the end-state
  6. Is comfortable in dealing with ambiguity, taking calculated risk and managing conflict, disruption and deflection
  7. Is realistic, fact driven and has eye for detail
  8. Selects the right people for the project to get the job done
  9. Build trust in relationships and delegates responsibilities to people they are aligned with
  10. Is straight-forward, sharp aware, decisive, sound in judgement, intuitive, creative and far-sighted
  11. Prefers to operate at macro level using a helicopter view, but if  necessary can manage at detailed level
  12. Coaches top talent and help them grow in their careers
  13. Is a big picture thinker, connect the dots all the time and is able to tune by taking immediate corrective practical actions
  14. Is able to align business leaders on the execution of the vision
  15. They have a good sense of the power structures of the organization, are very capable of influencing and using it in favour of the project and future state of the organization

This is the first publication of 4 in total and speaks about the characteristics of the pragmatic project leader. Subsequent version will be about the Think.Change.AchieveTM process that PM Consult is using to advise and coach business leaders when they are engaged in IT business transformation projects.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

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When  I decided that it was time to broaden my horizon beyond leading projects into areas like business coaching and writing, one of the things I did was looking up quotes of successful, accomplished and famous people. I find that a very inspiring activity. Besides great leaders like Colin Powell, Peter Drucker, Einstein and Stephen Covey, I came across George Bernard Shaw.

I would not be surprised that after reading and internalizing them, your perspective on project leadership changes, and that you are excited to follow a much more practical style.

“George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) was an Irish playwright, a co-founder of the London School of Economics and Nobel prize winner in Literature. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was fordrama, and he wrote more than 60 plays. He was also an essayist, novelist and short story writer. Nearly all his writings address prevailing social problems with a vein of comedy which makes their stark themes more palatable. Issues which engaged Shaw’s attention included education, marriage, religion, government, health care, and class privilege. ”

Here is a selection of this famous quotes:-

  1. Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything
  2. The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place
  3. Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will
  4. Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time
  5. The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people
  6. You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’
  7. Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get
  8. Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance [there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know”, see also the book “Think like a Freak” from Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner]
  9. People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it
  10. A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing

Hope you liked it. Let me know what you think.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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In 2002, Colin Powell, an American statesman and retired four-star general in the United States Army, published one of his bestsellers: “The Powell Principles: 24 lessons from Colin Powell, a Legendary Leader.” The lessons are concise, clear, straightforward and very valuable to any Leader. If you have the opportunity to read this book, please do so. I am sure you will enjoy it as I did.

What are the 24 lessons? I am listing them here below so you get an idea of  what Powell is talking about. For this blog post, I am selecting 3 of them and share my opinion with you of how a Pragmatic Project Leader can best apply them. Here is the full list:

  1. Promote a clash of ideas
  2. Be prepared to piss people off
  3. Establish trust
  4. Walk the talk
  5. Pick the right people
  6. Listen
  7. Be vigilant in details
  8. Be a disorganizer
  9. Check your ego at the door
  10. Let change lead growth
  11. Seek consensus (but don’t be ruled by it)
  12. Fit no stereotypes
  13. Simplify
  14. Let situation dictate strategy
  15. Push the envelope
  16. Close with the enemy
  17. View People as partners
  18. Challenge the pros
  19. Don’t rely on charts and title
  20. Trust those in the trenches
  21. Make optimism a top priority
  22. Have fun in your command
  23. Strive for balance
  24. Prepare to be lonely

I can tell you that it wasn’t easy to select 3 lessons learned, as most of them are intriguing and worthwhile to address. Because I have talked about trust in one of my previous posts, I did not select ‘Establish Trust’, however my opinion is that this is the most prominent critical success factor of a project. What I did select is the following:

  1. Pick the right people
  2. Listen
  3. Let change lead growth

 

Pick the right people

 People aren’t just a piece of the puzzle, they are the puzzle. Or more accurately, they’re the solution to the puzzle – Colin Powell

Picking the right people for your project team is crucial. It is almost as important as establishing and maintaining trust. That’s a topic I have published a post about before. But how do you pick the right people as a practical project leader? That is not an easy task. Sometimes you come in when the selection has been completed and people have been assigned to the project. Making changes at that point in time is hard to do. In that case, do a thorough assessment and notify the Executive of potential skill gaps and risks you have identified. Most likely the Executive assembled the team, or at least approved it. Escalating your concerns to the Executive in a structured and informative manner is all you can do. After that: start rowing with the team you have! If you do have the option to build your team from scratch, think about the following.

Understand the complexities of the solution, the organization, the culture and the business context before you start with defining the required skill set and mix you need in order to deliver. If the initiative that you are leading has a substantial business transformation component, you want to make sure that the people you select are aligned with the vision of the end state that you are going to move towards. They must believe in the ‘product’ that the project is about to deliver. If you don’t have that certainty, you are probably going to feel pretty lonely soon and struggle with manifesting the change. As orchestrator you want people in your team that want and can sing from the same song sheet. They must be able to identify themselves with the notes and the lyrics.

How do you make sure that you are looking for the right skills? If you don’t know that for sure that’s perfectly fine, you just need to consult an expert in those particular areas and ask for input. Executives expect you to assemble the right team, not to have deep expertise in all aspects. Feel good when you don’t know as long as you are aware of it. Once you have defined the right skill set, there is one other step to take before you can start the recruitment process. You want to attract people that have the right attitude, values and beliefs. Ultimately, we all know that any team performs and delivers when people work well together. It sounds simple and it truly is. As Pragmatic Project Leader you want to work with people that are intelligent, humble and hungry. It is not only about knowledge and experience, it is also about personality. Teams perform well when personalities match. Too often I see that selections are made on the candidates resume and much less on the fit with the team. Intelligence and being humble need no further clarification. Being hungry does. What does that mean? People who have a motivated interest in joining your project and want to take the extra mile to deliver, are the ones who are hungry and are the ones you want to have in your team. They will become your front runners. When the going gets tough, they will step up and safe your bacon. Consider selecting a candidate who has less knowledge and experience, but who is humble and hungry, because that’s something that you cannot change and you have to live with that.

Once you have selected your team players, the journey begins.  Your responsibility is shifting towards managing the team and coaching each of the players such that their individual talents grow and their output and contribution to the project gets optimized. In every project that I have been part of, the team is going through ups and downs, through stages of development. As Pragmatic Project Leader you must be aware of that team dynamic and your role is to manage the relationships between the players. It is your moral obligation to grow people in their careers. That is often one of the motivations why people want to join your project.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 article, “Development Sequence in Small Groups.” He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, “adjourning.” If you aren’t familiar with that concept, I recommend to read it. In my future posts about team performance, I will come back on it

Listen

Good listening begets good listening. Ideas get exchanged faster and more reliable – Colin Powell

Or like Stephen Covey said: ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As practical project leader you are in a lot of meetings, conference calls, conversations and other forms of gatherings, where a lot of information is being exchanged each and every day.

Now, how often are you in a meeting where you notice that people are simply not listening, and over time topics circle back over and over again? As practical project leader you want to intervene when that happens. The best way to do that is to listen actively, thoroughly grasp the subject and speak up at the right moment. When is that? When your gut tells you to. When you speak up paraphrase what you have been listening to and ask for confirmation from the people participating in the discussion. Make it an inclusive discussion by inviting people to speak up who have been quiet before. You want to do that with people who have a serious stake in the outcome of the meeting. It is your responsibility as Pragmatic Project Leader that the right people participate, listen, speak up and make timely decisions.

There are in my mind two very effective ways to obtain valuable information that benefits the project by putting on your listening hat. The first one that I am a strong advocate of is what is often called ‘management by walking around.’ You are engaging with individuals or group of individuals on the project floor in an informal way and asks open questions about work and life. These meetings can have positive side effects as well like team motivation, team integration and collaboration. The second one that I find effective and often have are 1:1 coaching sessions, where you help improve the talented individual by making a connection between performance, contribution to the project, career development and aspirations in life. Coaching can become a fascinating aspect of practical project leadership. If you want to read more about coaching, search for books and/or articles about the GROW model.

Let change lead growth

Leaders need to encourage a philosophy in which change becomes equivalent to growth and growth becomes equivalent to satisfaction – Colin Powell

It is imperative that if you want to achieve your dreams you must change. Think.Change.Achieve is the core concept of PM Consult. Organizational change management is a key component of our advisory services. The capability to manifest ‘Change’ through an IT business transformation project is as important as expertise of business process and technology design and delivery (the solution). But why do organizations not treat it as such when they initiate new projects?

Oftentimes there is a lot of talk about organizational change management, but it hardly translates in concrete, consistent action plans that leadership follows through. There is no shortage of opinions of what must change, who must change by when and what happens if change does not occur. Having said all of that, it seems that organizations  have little experience of how you make ‘Change’ happen. Not giving ‘Change’ the right priority is really too bad and unnecessary. One of the symptoms of a failing organizational change management team is that they only perform ‘communication activities’, whereas the core focus should be on alignment, commitment, transformation and implementation.

If you read literature about why projects fail, the organization’s inability to change is over and over again mentioned as a root cause. I think that one of the reasons why this happens is that organizations do not value change management activities as they should, because it is hard to make its effectiveness tangible. It is not an easy task to find a correlation between for example ‘executive alignment sessions’ and the organization materializing the vision of the end state.

There is a saying “without great risk, no great reward”. Organizations that want to move to a new, promising future end state must change and therefore intrinsically must take risk.  And that is exactly where the problem lies. Typically organizations are risk averse and only want to pursue activities that can be planned in detail and tightly managed.  Organizational change management does not fall in that category. On the contrary, business process and technology design and delivery, the more tangible aspects of an IT business transformation, do. Organizational change management must always be ahead of the curve, meaning it starts ahead of business process and technology design and delivery.

How can we change this situation? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make the business case! An investment in change multiplies investments in business process and technology and therefore overall business value of the initiative
  2. Formulate a transparent, action oriented change management plan. Sell that plan, get alignment and commitment
  3. Recruit adequately skilled organizational change management experts on your project and follow their advice
  4. Assign a change leader who is comfortable to take great risk when necessary. Actively manage risks in favour of achieving the goals and future end state. Ideally the visionary leader that I talked about in one of my previous posts is that change leader
  5. Make the execution of the change management plan a productive journey with meaningful deliverables that contribute to the success of the project. Make it an instrumental part of project status meetings and Executive briefings

Change is fun. That is the exciting part of IT business transformation projects. Embrace and it pays off.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©