Project Management POV - An Impetus To Rethink
An impetus to rethink
A word in advance: This POV is not intended to be another of those articles and tweets about Project Management methods, the urgency for Change implementation or how to become Leaner & more Agile. The next paragraphs share just a few hands-on experiences. Some projects might lack only one dimension. Others might identify a few more critical factors. It’s neither a recipe about the ideal project nor a cure for project failure. In fact, there is a strong believe that projects will never entirely run smooth. But why not hear from lessons learned by others? Those might soften the impacts to your projects. Let’s start.
To keep it simple, the failure factors (FF’s) are grouped into three categories: Processes, Communication and People – in no particular order. There might be many more, but we want to focus on the crucial ones. Omissions related to the FF’s can be – if anticipated and adequately managed, reduced or avoid impact. In some cases, failure is inevitable but – and this is what management must be about – should be controllable. You wouldn’t volunteer to drive into a concrete wall either.
1) Lack of focus. You wouldn’t walk around blind folded, right? So why would you manage a project without a baseline, THE project plan? It is the most critical tool to manage dependencies, to track baseline deviations and to check milestones.
In case the project relies on multiple vendors, make sure there is an integrated plan that considers dependencies between all involved parties. Worst case you risk downtimes as project members wait for deliverables, which in return leads to further delays.
2) The establishment of a change process is key! The number of acceptable change requests (CR) must be agreed plus a timeline set until the project can tolerate the CR’s consideration. Don’t forget to prioritize – including dependency matrix - your CR backlog otherwise you risk to drowning in CRs and will not be able to timely implement the changes. Not having a clear definition of the amount and timeframe makes it almost impossible to deliver the What on time.
CR tracking is next. There is no point of raising a change request that doesn’t progress and is keeps the project activities (build, development) potentially on hold.
3) Success criteria. Great if the team produces features, creates designs, or builds, for example data center compartments. In case of missing KPI’s (key performance indicators) how can you assess a built product or a design as progressing or complete? Before you start with any activities you must elaborate, define and agree on requirements (requirement baseline).
Be clear about your definition of the minimal viable product (MVP), which reflects the minimum number of features for the 1st release. Who must sign-off the deliverables? This will also help you with your regular status reporting. Without success criteria or finalization grades (%) you cannot assess the progress and tick off a milestone. You want to be able to prevent contractual review battles as 3rd party involvement is very common these days.
4) The “RAG” fairy-tale. This is closely linked to the ’requirement baseline’ and KPI’s. As obvious as this may sound, you may be surprised to hear how often this simple tool is omitted and replaced by guesstimates.
The following situation is not an exception: A project manager joins a project that is well progressing from an outside point of view. Despite a few minor problems with budget and resources, all seems ok. Great huh? But digging deeper prevails another truth, unfortunately. The milestones are poorly tracked, success criteria not defined, the requirements are not aligned with every stakeholder, the project plans are not up to date, several tasks in the books are unassigned or, if assigned, have no due dates, etc.
In fact, all those points are plausible reasons for a red flag (of course, you have not found it on the weekly status slides yet). The lack of objectivity (you must be brutally honest) or critical questioning leads to a trend that often project forecasts are not accurate and (this often happens) thus the project flips from green to red (RAG derives from red, amber, green) within a minute (and typically comes as a huge surprise to the senior management) due to the missing upfront anticipation that the project is not progressing as planned (Figure 1).
5) Internalization of consultants or the “easy fix” mentality. After the hyper care or the end of the project, consultants will not run your business unit! They were hired to bring in additional skills, more manpower or another perspective for a temporarily time for the project. From a cost and long-lived perspective, it is wise to staff your teams with at least the same amount of internal resources as consultants – even when it might hurt at this time. It will pay off. (In theory) Once the project is over the first people leaving your offices will be externals. Theoretically. In reality, that is the moment when a few question marks will pop up on the foreheads of your internal staff, either because they have not been involved so far or they cannot cover additional workflows/tasks as those require an additional (permanent) FTE. Also, handover arrangements from external to internal resources should be planned thoroughly and well ahead. You don’t want your core skills leaving right after the project or with the first cost cutting wave.
1) Transparency throughout the program: The stepchildren PMO and Change Management. Most of us associate PMO with repetitive requests and annoying governance requests. However, an efficiently and accurately established PMO function from the very beginning can safe (everyone on the project) lots of emotions and time during the project lifecycle, especially when Audit findings require a fast fix. It also eases the onboarding of new joiners and ensures every project member uses an ideally standardized approach.
The same applies to Change and Communication Management. On a program with multiple workstreams and vendors it is essential to remove the siloes and create a steady flow of information. This enhances collaboration, increases transparency and creates informative synergies. Tools such as monthly newsletter and all hands calls with (!) the program management have proven to be successful and appreciated by the participants (Figure 1) as those provide the opportunity for information exchange and remove misunderstandings (Chinese Walls). Regularity is key!
2) Expectation and people management. It can be very frustrating if you work on a piece of work for quite some time just to learn far too late that a certain requirement or changing circumstances were not considered. It is not only demoralizing but also expensive as it binds resources, may lead to delays and thus eats typically tight project budgets. Imagine another scenario: A team member is waiting for an artefact required to continue with her/his work. On the expected delivery date, he/she is informed that the expected time of arrival (ETA) will be delayed by another 1.5 weeks. If that delay would have been discovered and addressed early enough it could have been mitigated by allocating another resource for example. What about all the following process steps? Annoying, huh?
These are just two of plenty other examples highlighting the importance of expectation management. Communi-cation in advance makes a huge impact (Figure 1)!
There are periods, when we spend more time at work with our colleagues than with our family. Tons of research clearly demonstrates that good vibes within the team leads to more productivity. Thus, team spirit should not be neglected by the senior management and be taken seriously – especially in tough times. It is the duty of the Program Manager to manage and motivate his/her people throughout the entire project lifecycle. If for no other reason, an optimal performance should be motivation enough. A communicative and rewarding leadership style – not only at the end of a 2-years giant program is an essential for the project’s success. This also implies that the communication style is of open nature and concerns of team members are being acknowledged and considered.
1) Manpower. This FF refers more to a quantitative measure as soft skills (e.g. team spirit, communication) falls – for the purpose of this POV – under the Communication dimension (Figure 1). People in this context relate to appropriate staffing. The project team must be provided with the tools required to fulfil their mission. It will not work (at least, I have not seen so far) to hire a Project Manager to ask him to look after 2 workstreams, to define a disaster recovery program and to design the target operating model (TOM) – believe it or not, that really happened.
The program management has to ensure to engage (internal) staff, to acquire skills (adequate technical and non-technical resource skills) and to mobilize tools and techniques that are needed to successfully produce the desired project outcomes – in advance. Any delay in doing the prep work will lead to further delays once the project kicked off. Very often neglected: Start with a RACI matrix (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed), clearly define the roles and responsibilities and get the buy ins from all stakeholder needed. This will help everyone on the project as there is a common understanding of each other’s duties.
§ Ask yourself those simple questions and transfer them into a project’s life:
§ What would you expect?
§ How do you want to be treated?
§ Did you empower the people to bring in their knowledge & skills?
Good people will leave the project (worst case: the organization) if they are not managed appropriately or become frustrated zombies which will especially on critical projects hurt even more.
Figure 1 Wheel of Project Success Determinants
A few final words
To support a sustainable strategy and secure long-term success you must minimize disruptive factors and reduce bureaucracy. The agile framework provides you tools to achieve a higher degree in flexibility and – eventually – more productivity. Areas such as software development benefit from those methodologies through shorter iterations, enhanced communication channels, and faster escalation through control.
Consulting firms can help you to implement those tools within your company by serving as a coach. However, it is in your responsibility to live those values by assigning clear (internal) ownership and establish accountabilty.
Our Agile approach to support you on your transformation path
What is the difference to Typhoon Consulting and other consulting companies? Let’s be honest. There might only little to no difference than the logo between the numerous consultancies. Consulting firms advise and support their clients, they complement missing skills or workforce of the client.
How do I perceive the difference then? Why do I want to deliver my services under the Typhoon umbrella? I am convinced that the differentiator that makes us unique are our people. We are small, a boutique consultancy. I rarely work with my consultants on the same project so that I often become a temporary internal. I cannot hope that my consultant colleagues will make up for what I have missed. I must ensure everything I do serves the intended goal of the client, the project. I am liable for every approval I give, for every workshop I lead. Working on a team of my own I bond with my client’s team. Each of our consultants takes ownership for his/her assignment and accountability for the project seriously.That makes us unique.
How we coach and implement Lean and Agile techniques
§ As-Is assessment to evaluate your efficiency potentials
§ Analysis, review and optimizing of your cost and operations structure
§ Agile product management and requirements engineering
§ Scrum Implementation and Coaching
§ Design and launch of Lean and Agile techniques
§ Optimization of process, data and platform workflows
How we support you to deliver change to your organisation
We work with our clients to simplify complex change by making it easier to define, plan and deliver. Typhoon has ‘hands-on experience’ working on Change Management projects that involve changes to HR service delivery models. Our consultants will work in partnership with you to deliver proven, disciplined approaches to Change Management, tailored to meet the needs of your programme.
§ Conduct stakeholder analysis and engagement
§ Build buy-in and alignment for change within HR and in business
§ Identify impacts by business units and stakeholder group
§ Design and implement change & transition support strategy (including changes to behaviours, processes, systems, and roles)
§ Assess business readiness for change
§ Provide solutions to target areas that need extra help (if required)
§ Develop and deliver training
The below approach is an illustrative example of how we would apply Change Management in context to the launch of a new delivery model or a system change: