Category Archives: Project Management

The augmented project manager

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You can dream, create, design, and build the most beautiful place in the world, but it requires people to make it a reality – Walt Disney

The evolution and functional application of artificial intelligence (AI) is on the rise in many different ways and forms. The technology is going to impact the role of the project manager substantially in the next decade. We are shifting towards an era where intelligent machines work on our behalf rather than work on our command.

The enthusiasm for the emerging technology is outranking the scepticism by far. A recent poll held during the Microsoft Emerging Tech Virtual Summit showed that 59% of the participants find AI supercool, 36%  take a more conservative position, and 5% is deeply worried. The outcome is encouraging and indicating that people’s readiness to adopt the technology in their life and work is bright.

Driving forces like growth of computing power, maturity of cloud technologies, and enhancements in algorithms boost the evolution of AI in the last 5 – 10 years. Tractica, a market intelligence company that focuses on human interaction with technology, predicts a steep curve in AI revenue. They forecast that annual worldwide AI revenue will grow from $643.7 million in 2016 to $36.8 billion by 2025.

AI as technology exists for decades, but we may not have realized that as much as we do today. Imagine that the postal industry world wide is processing billions of documents and parcels using AI since the seventies. They automatically sort items and trigger distribution events based on text recognition software.

It is widely expected that AI is going to replace routine tasks that are highly predictable. In this case, the spectrum of change holds all possible colours. It means that all jobs will be impacted, some more than others. Evidence-based decision making enabled by AI will become a standard for many jobs. It is already happening in the health care industry.

Non-routine tasks that have a high degree of uncertainty, require creativity and social interaction, will continue to be performed by humans. AI will struggle with recognizing patterns in the available data set and is therefore unable to understand and process a transaction. For these none-routine tasks, AI will enhance and scale the role of humans by acting as an advisor instead of a worker. The following diagram illustrates that.

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The role of the project manager is going to change with the infusion of AI into the work environment. I wrote the white-paper  ‘The augmented project manager’ about it. The document speaks about artificial intelligence or cognitive computing in more detail and how it can be applied to the role of the project manager.

The value of AI for project management is immense. It is a matter of time that AI roots itself deeper and deeper in the role of the project manager. We know that AI as technology is making rapid progress. We also know that the application  is the hardest part. To channel and expedite a meaningful adoption in the role of the PM, I am working with business partners to found a Think Tank. I will keep you informed about the progress we make in this blog on CIO.com.

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How to keep project team performance high

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“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go”  – Oscar Wilde

When organizations initiate a project, the level of enthusiasm is at an all time high as it should be. All noses point in the right direction and people are ready to make things happen. They are ready for the fireworks to rumble. However, a few weeks into the project the first cracks start to appear. And some of those cracks are hard to repair. Why does this happen and what can be done about it?

There can be many triggers that cause the project team performance to change and sometimes change rapidly. Some of these triggers surface more often than others. Here are 5 triggers that are quite common in technology-driven-change projects:

1 – The vision of the future-state does not seem to be same for the key stakeholders as they are going through the solution design and build phase

It can be very hard to get and keep the key stakeholders aligned and committed to the purpose and vision of the project. They all have their opinions, ambitions and agendas to manifest. Working towards shared project goals continues to be a challenge, especially for the more traditional and function oriented organizations, where silo-ed behaviour is still very dominant.

It’s a core task of the project leadership team to provide progressive insight and detail as the project moves ahead. This is an ongoing responsibility. Among other instruments, visualization and demonstrations of the end-state can be quite helpful to manage expectations, deal with adversarial conditions, and level set on the intended outcome and benefits.

I have seen projects where key stakeholders signed off in front of the project team on the vision and high level design as a symbol of unity and conformity. That in itself is a great idea, but it doesn’t necessarily mean much. What it ultimately comes down to is ‘how bad do you want the change’ and ‘what is in it for you to give’ instead of ‘what is in it for you to take’. Unfortunately, the latter is still too powerful.

2 – The willingness to transition to the new operating model has diminished now that people and organizational impacts are better understood as well as the change process itself

People really get a good understanding of change when it is about to manifest and not much earlier for various reasons. This is regardless of all the organizational change impact activities and communications that are happening.

Internalizing the scope and impact of change is a challenge in itself. Robin Sharma says ‘change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end’. Based on what I have experienced in projects his message is bang on.

Dealing with competing priorities is another reason why this occurs, as well as work prioritization and simply procrastination.

There are a few ways to address this. First of all, the overall change leadership must come from a revered senior leader in the organization who has the authority, experience and ability to pull the right change levers. As an example, somebody at the senior level must be in a position to force people to decide to ‘get on the bus or not’.

Second of all, the implementation of people and organizational change should be managed by the key stakeholders themselves with assistance from the project team. Not the other way around. They are on the receiver side and have a vested interest to manage change properly, whether they fully understand it at first or not.

Taking early ownership of change is crucial. Organizations who have been successful with transformations have established change teams in their business operations that worked closely with the project change team.

3 – Some of the key internal and external resources do not qualify for their role on the project and are not timely replaced

The quality of the solution is directly related to the quality of the people who are put on the project team. Technology is not the key driver of success, people are. It is how the people work with technology and apply it to their own organization, operating model and business processes. If you set people up for success, you set up the project for success.

Therefore, the best and most qualified internal and external resources must be assigned to the team. A key qualifier is the ability of the individual to bring the organization to the future-state.

Adequate time should be dedicated to define job profiles, roles and responsibilities and the project governance model. This applies to all project resources, internal and external from system integrators and staffing agencies.

At the start of the project, a process should be defined for managing resources who do not perform. Key stakeholders and external organizations should agree and sign off on the process. The issue management process should be used in case one of the parties is non-compliant with the process.

4 – The internal project team resources have not been adequately trained in methods, tools and the new technology. This can lead to a communication gap with external resources, and eventually solution quality issues and less realized benefits

There are too many projects that start without the core project team being trained properly for time and budget reasons. There is an expectation that the team members obtain the required knowledge as the project progresses. This is fundamentally wrong and should be avoided at all times. Senior leaders who initiate projects should understand that training pays off in multiples for the short (project) and long (sustainment) term.

When people grow their skills the organization grows with it. The return on investment on project team training can be significant. Technology-driven-change projects are the best events for top talent to grow and extend their potential.

Organizations should spend time on assessing the personal goals of each of the core team members and match them as best possible with project and business goals. This activity leads to major mutual benefits: intrinsically motivated project staff, high-performing teams that drive results, and organizations achieving key objectives.

5 – The organization has limited experience with managing large scale business transformation projects. Despite setting the initiative up as a project, the key business stakeholders in reality manage it as an extension of their daily functional operation

Every technology-driven-change project must be set up with a ‘projectized’ organization model to minimize the risk of functional leaders ‘indirectly’ running it with potentially different interests and priorities. The authority over scope, schedule, budget and resources must be with the project leader and not with the functional leaders.

Project leaders run into issues when one of these dimensions are outside their control. As example, a project leader who has no influence over budget and resources is not able to optimize the project team as required. As mentioned above, projects are all about people, their character, competence, capacity and performance. A project leader must be able to influence that at all times.

It is critical that the core team resources are full-time assigned to the project and backfilled in the functional organization as required. The reporting relationship transitions to the project leader, as well as all performance management activities. The organization should develop a career plan for each of the core team members that allow for a return to the functional organization once the project has been completed

To enable this ‘projectized’ model the project sponsor must provide a transparent mandate to the project leader that is supported by the functional leaders impacted by the project. The roles and responsibilities of the project and functional leaders must be clearly articulated at the same time.

These are just 5 triggers of many that can cause the happy state of the project to change. It is very important for organizations to establish the right level of project leadership. Organizations that have successfully delivered projects have build their own leadership team of internal and external resources. The internal resources bring in the business expertise, whereas the external resources project management, business process improvement and business transformation skills.

You build and sustain a happy state project when you set up people and teams for success. That can take a lot of preparation and effort before you conduct the project kick-off. The extra time is well spent and is much less compared to the time that is required to make corrective actions as you go. Think twice!

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5 key steps to get a derailed project back on track

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Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless – Thomas Edison

I have been lucky for the number of occasions where I was asked to put a derailed project back on track. The recovery of a troubled project is a great learning opportunity for any organization. When it goes wrong, it can go wrong really fast and oftentimes with severe impact. On the other hand, the learnings can be of value for a lifetime, nut only when one is receptive to it. There are five simple steps to turn a project around:

Sit down and listen: The first thing you want to do is to meet with the people who represent different internal and external stakeholder groups. Listen with empathy. Seek to understand first, before to be understood. Conduct a detailed impact analysis that clarifies the root cause of the derailment. Keep digging in case of conflicting information, up to the point where the facts speak for themselves. Be audacious in asking for information when you believe its available, but appears to be inaccessible. Escalate if you need to. Leverage senior level relationships

Structure your findings: Document your findings in such a way that it can be easily shared with stakeholders upon request, and retrieved for presentations. Create a separate ‘living document’ to capture lessons-learned. What has worked for me in the past, is to structure the findings by business process, technology and stakeholder or stakeholder group. These are three key dimensions of the solution the project is about to deliver, and people can easily relate to when you discuss your findings

Build a coalition of positive advocates: While you are making your rounds to gather information, you’ll find out who the strong, positive advocates are of the project. At a certain point in time you need to rally the troops to re-start the project and you can only do that when you have established a coalition of people who can positively influence the outcome. The key purpose of the coalition is to drive change throughout the lifecycle of the project, and make sure that key stakeholders remain aligned and committed. Especially at the start when things can be messy and ambiguous, you need leadership support to keep things moving forward, make small adjustments and celebrate quick wins

Present options to move forward: When you have got your facts straight, completed the root cause analysis, defined options and a recommendation, developed a plan, and got buy in from the key stakeholders, it is time for an official presentation of your findings and plan to move forward. The presentation is the first milestone of recovery and start of a new begin. That moment in time must be celebrated and marked as the turn-around point. The presentation is more of a formal approval of the new approach, as you have already obtained your approvals ahead of time through a number of preliminary meetings with the Executives. Make sure that the key messages are shared with all project stakeholders with the right level of detail. Transparency and openness are key values as you move forward and put the project back on track

Rebuild the team: Re start the project with the right people and make use of the momentum to assess the integrity and capability of the project team. Make the necessary changes as required. This applies to internal and external resources. Look further than the required knowledge, experience and skills. Think about personality, leadership style, motivational aspects and willpower. Establish a team with leaders who are intrinsically motivated to make it happen. Aim for a world-class team that has the guts, courage and bravery to deliver with relentless effort. Re build trust in the team.

There is a reason why projects derail and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as there is a willingness to learn and do it different and better the next time. By adjusting plans and strategies, and by making changes to the approach and team, organizations will be able to behave themselves out of the troubled situation, and oftentimes faster than they think.

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How do you put your project team in the zone

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Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work – Vince Lombardi

When you hear about flow and being in the zone, you almost always associate that with sports. The performance improvement of an individual athlete or sports team is increasingly based on science and technology, along with the deep practice and motivational triggers. For a project team it shouldn’t be much different you would say. Have you ever wondered how you put a project team in the zone?

Before we go into more detail, let’s define first what the concept of in the zone or flow actually means. According to Wikipedia it is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

My personal experience in leading project teams is that flow is very much about exceeding expectations by being aware of what’s happening in the present moment, having a monomaniacal focus on a single goal or key tasks, being driven by an abundance of energy and inspiration, and by being intrinsically motivated by a higher level purpose in work or life.

To put your project team in the zone, there are 5 conditions that need to be met.

Clarify the purpose – This is much more than a communication from the Executive Sponsor of what the project is about in terms of objectives and scope, and why it is so important to the organization. Purpose starts to live when team members are able to relate it to their own world. Many of them think about ‘what’s in it for me?’ Once they are able to connect project to personal goals, the purpose of the project becomes meaningful for the individual. At that point you have got their commitment, and it is up to the project leadership team to keep it. Give this step as much time as it needs

Focus the team – There is long term and short term focus that needs to be addressed. At the start of the project you must focus the entire project team on the future state. ‘Keep your eyes on the prize.’ As you move closer to the end-state, you need to refresh the outlook continuously, not only when it changes. This is all part of the long term focus. Equally important is to focus the team on interim goals and key tasks, or the short term priorities. Although many of us will say that they are great at multi-tasking, in reality they are not. There are two dynamics that you need to be cognizant of at all times that trigger you to multi-task: distraction and procrastination. Both of them force you to demonstrate behaviour that looks like multi-tasking. When people are distracted it is often because there is a foreign task appearing on their to work list. Oftentimes it is outside their control. Remove distractors at all times as soon as you see them. Procrastination is harder to deal with, because it is a personality trait. The most effective way to remove this barrier is to go back to the purpose of the project and the value it has for the individual. Procrastination goes away when you entice the intrinsic motivation of the person involved.

Establish one communication matrix – When you form teams, you are in a situation where the members can come from many origins with different knowledge, experience, skills, personalities, interests and cultures. It takes awhile to get the team to a performance level. A critical step in that process is to level-set or calibrate to a single operating model and communication matrix. ‘Team members must start to sing from the same song sheet shortly after they onboard the project’. As an example, an organization launches a project to implement an enterprise wide business solution. They have selected an external consulting firm to implement the solution. The organization has identified top talent to join the project as key resources. The set expectations are very high. The team members are highly motivated and know their business very well, but not the new technology. In this situation, it must be imperative that these team members are being educated on the new technology before the project starts. In reality this is oftentimes not happening for a number of reasons, available budget being one if them. Education is crucial. Not only to bring them up to speed on the features of the solution, but more from a communication perspective. Once the team members have been trained, they are able to speak the same language as the consultants. That has an immense impact on the quality of the solution design, but also all subsequent steps in the project.

Give immediate feedback – High-performing teams know their plays. They know when to start, how to work together, finish, and pick up the next task to do the same thing over and over again. ‘Their brains wire and fire together.’ During the execution of the work it is critical to give immediate performance feedback for two reasons. At first, you want to team to grow and further improve, and second, the work needs to continue and hit the right level of quality on time and on budget. You cannot afford to hold back on giving feedback. Create a project culture where team members feel that it is okay to fail. The best project teams have a reversed balloon effect in failures. Or in other words, they get less and less over time. That can only happen when people can speak freely about mistakes and where leadership fosters progressive learning. One of the things that I frequently do in projects is to hold daily stand-up meetings (even when it is a waterfall project) where team members speak about what has transpired, what is up next and what is holding them up. This can become an effective communication platform over-time when there is the right level of interaction. If there is a lack of interaction, most likely the organizational culture is much different as the project culture that you want to establish. In that case, one of the better options to provide immediate feedback is to have frequent meetings with the key resources on the team.

Clear the way – Any project team, high-performing or not, will run into obstacles that they cannot remove without assistance. Regardless of their autonomy, creativity and collaborative willpower. How do you keep your team in the zone when they hit a wall? Take a time-out as many as you think the team needs. Of course, effective leaders, try to minimize this by being a few steps ahead of the team by exploring the path that the team will eventually follow. Nevertheless, their will be situations where the stop light flips on red and you need to call a time-out. In that case, you pull the team together and analyze the situation. You always must consult the team and seek their input. Keep them involved and close to the fire. Missing out on that steps increases the risk of derailment further down the road. Work with the team on options and drive towards consensus on the decision and next play. This approach also applies to situations where an issue gets escalated to the executive level or when a third-party gets involved. Always keep the team closely involved and make them part of the process.

Flow or being in the zone is a concept that can very well be used in project management. When I kick-off projects, I frequently draw a comparison between a project team and a NBA basketball team. If you really think about it, there is not much difference in the mechanics. High-performing project teams consists of members that really want to play together and know how to play as one team. When they go on the court, the have a purpose, they are focused on closing a deliverable, they speak the same language to properly execute the play, they give immediate feedback to progress and learn, and finally they switch to different plays each time the opponent blocks them. Ultimately they make the basket and finish the project successfully.

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How companies limit project success

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It always seems impossible until it’s done – Nelson Mandela

Companies can limit project success and may not even know it. If they do, they tend to ignore it at first and move ahead, often up to the point where it really becomes broadly visible and dismaying. By then the damage has already been done and it’s hard to recover, if at all possible.

Technology-driven-change projects have a massive impact on the organization, because they touch people, processes, and technology all at once and deeply. Before you start the project, you need to take care of a number of derailing factors that can be deeply rooted in your companies DNA.

I will list a number of these factors first, select a few and address those in greater detail:

  • Establish leadership alignment and commitment on vision, scope and strategy
  • Remove silo-ed behaviour of departments and groups
  • Assign full-time, qualified people on the key positions
  • Implement governance structures within the project and outside with external stakeholders
  • Focus the team on the key tasks by minimizing distractions and prioritizing the work
  • Educate project staff on how to execute key tasks and what the new technologies are about
  • Select qualified business partners to help you deliver and act upon their recommendations
  • Adequately resource the organizational change management team
  • Communicate the project scope, timeline and strategies over and over again

The factors that I have picked to explain in more detail below are not necessarily the obvious ones, but they can be very detrimental to the project outcome.

The first factor is about silo-ed behaviour of departments and large groups. Traditional, function oriented companies struggle in today’s fast pace world with cross-functional collaboration. The majority of the leaders of these organizations are still very comfortable in their verticals and do whatever it takes to optimize the fragmented reality of the day for themselves first, and others second. When they engage in cross-functional activities and communications, they appear to work well together, but in reality they hardly do. This is a severe challenge for projects who are implementing enterprise business solutions.

It is very hard to course correct this behaviour and oftentimes requires people changes to remedy. A short term effective measure is to work with performance metrics that stimulate cross-functional collaboration at the executive and mid-level of the organization. Another short term measure is more frequent involvement of the CEO or GM who can bond the team of senior leaders, foster the right behaviour and make key decisions in adversarial situations.

My point of view is that traditional, function oriented business models don’t work effectively in today’s world. Instead, organizations should strive for a horizontal design of their business operations. They should orient their structure by end-to-end business processes and lines of business. It is business process first and then function, instead of the other way around.

The second factor is about distraction and competing priorities. Most people and project teams struggle with getting things done when there are too many tasks at hand at once with similar deadlines. They have a hard time dealing with planned work that happens concurrently. At the same time, they are getting distracted by unplanned work that grows in volume towards the end of a project phase. When the pressure goes up, the team’s progress slowly comes to a grinding halt. People start to point to the timeline being to aggressive. But is it really? What do you need to do on this front before you start the project, and as you move forward?

The biggest step to make or take is to educate the team on how to organize and schedule the work. Make sure that every project and sub-team has work planners and schedulers. Make sure that highly effective communication structures are set up. Make sure that internal and external dependencies are identified and managed. Use a hierarch of work plans and schedules, with a MPS – master project schedule, and TWS – team work schedules that are aligned all the time.

There has been a lot of discussion the last years of waterfall versus agile project management methodologies. Without going into detail in this post, my point of view is that for technology-driven-change projects a combination of both is most effective. As example, the baseline of the project can be waterfall oriented, but when the planned work volume peaks you use SCRUM techniques to get through that particular moment. You can also decide to use agile for certain parts of the project scope, where waterfall is more effective for others.

There is one behavioral element that is hard to deal with when you are in-flight and can be addressed at best before the start of the project. It is called procrastination. Many people have a habit of leaving the work up to the last minute. This can be devastating if they don’t understand what the work is in detail, and when at the same time unplanned work comes up.

When you staff the project team with internal and external resources, be aware of the core personality traits of the key resources on the project. Do not only focus on the expertise that the person can bring to the project, also focus on ability to deliver under pressure and tight timelines, collaboration with other individuals and teams, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Get the right team on the ground. From your own internal organization, and from the business partners.

The third factor is about project management capability. Companies limit project success, because the majority of the resources they assign to the project don’t have  the right level of knowledge and experience to manage a project. Let me be more clear on this. Every resource in the project has a responsibility to manage the project to some degree. For the program and project managers it obviously is a full-time responsibility, for team leads and team members it is a partial responsibility.

An example of what happens quite often is an issue that should be reported upwards to the project level, stays far too long at the team level without a decent chance of getting an effective response. When it does finally boil up, the severity and impact has gone up dramatically with less time for resolution. Another example is work planning and execution. It happens regularly that project resources get stuck with their project work, because their functional leader has other non-project work assigned to them that the project leadership is not aware of.

What you also see is that the initiative is not managed as a true project, but more as an initiative that functions as an extension of the departments involved. Let’s say there are two departments leading the initiative. That means there are two circles of influence that overlap. Ideally the overlap would be significant. Project resources operate where the circles overlap. You may call that area the project. In such a situation, project resources tend to go to the home base first to discuss anything that is related to the project. Once that happened, they may or may not discuss it within the project. This occurs because the traditional function or department is stronger than the project. What should it actually be?

There should be three circles of influence. The two circles of the departments and a third circle, being the project. The project needs its own identity with its own leadership, governance and resource structure. With the project assignment, resources move over completely to the project and only report to the project and not to the home base they originate from. At the same time, the company must have a clear strategy of how project resources at the conclusion of the project flow back to the organization. Such a strategy builds trust and gives comfort to the project resources, because they know what will happen in the long run.

An example of a behavioral issue that happens all the time with two circles and not with three, is accountability. When there is no true project (two circles that overlap), the needs of the home base can take precedence over the needs of the project. Resources tend to ignore project leadership in favor of their functional leadership, because they know that in the long run the functional leader has more impact on their future at the company. This is a situation that is not beneficial for anybody: company, department, project and resource, yet we still allow it to happen.

Before companies embark on technology-driven-change projects , they must take care of a number of factors to maximize the potential for success. I am a firm believer that projects do not fail of the technology itself. If they fail or realize less benefits than planned, it is about key decisions the senior leadership team did not make properly before the start, or not adequately executed them while in-flight.

If companies want to deliver projects and achieve the planned benefits, they must set people up for success. If they do that for each individual, they will build high-performing teams and get the anticipated results. Make sure you have got all of the factors addressed before you go.  Investigate what leading practices or world-class standards are and implement them. Use the expertise from professionals in the marketplace to get you off to a right start. Build the right project platform to operate from.

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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.

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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