7 Books to Improve Your Projects
Looking for something to read over the summer? I’ve picked six of my top choices from this blog and one bonus review so that you can choose the right book to improve your projects over the summer holidays.
Most of them are available as ebooks so you don’t need to worry about weighing your suitcase down!
Roger H. Davies and Adam J. Davies
This book will help you answer questions from the executive group about how projects are adding value to the bottom line. They define value as ‘outcomes minus inputs’ so it’s a broad-ranging approach to working out how you are contributing, and applicable whatever ‘value’ means to you and your stakeholders.
It’s not an easy read but there are plenty of anecdotes, tables and graphs that explain the core concepts and help you get the most out of every project and programme that you do.
Business Case Essentials: A Guide to Structure and Content
Marty J. Schmidt
This is another of my favourites (I know, I have a lot!) because it is so practical. If you are preparing a project business case for the first time then this will really help you get your ideas clear and your figures in order.
Math for Grown-Ups
I read this a long time ago but it’s still one of my all-time favourite books. I did OK at Maths (as we call it over here) at school but only because I really worked at it. It never came naturally to me.
As project managers we need to be confident dealing with numbers because they are everywhere: estimates, schedule variances, earned value, the budget, risk assessments – lots of project management techniques involve processing data and crunching it until the numbers look right. This book will help build your confidence and learn what ‘looks right’ and how to handle things if they don’t.
Tame, Messy and Wicked Risk Leadership
Hancock explains that the equation risk = likelihood x consequence only works when the risk is as a result of a knowledge gap and you can easily plug it. That isn’t the case in real life, where most risks are complex and you can’t easily control exactly what the outcome will be, even if you work meticulously through your risk management plan.
If you work on large or complex projects this will help you take risk management to the next level.
Make Every Second Count:Time Management Tips and Techniques for More Success with Less Stress
Robert R. Bly
Struggling to fit everything in to your working day? The strategies in here will help you get a grip on the time available and deal with your To Do list in a more productive way.
Essentially, he asks: “Do you want to be productive?” If you do, then get on and do the work. As a professional project manager you might not find any brand new tools in here, but you will get a dose of motivation to not complain that you can’t get anything done when in reality you surf the internet for a few hours a day.
Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More
This is another great book about time management (and if I had to choose between the previous book and this one, I’d go for this one although they both have their merits). In fact, I still get the email updates I subscribed to when I first read this book, and I unsubscribe from a lot of things.
I like the style of this book so if you are looking for something that isn’t dry reading and that still offers you practical tips for eking out a few more hours in the day, this is it.
If I remember rightly, there might even be zombies.
The Power of Project Leadership
Finally, here’s a book about soft skills that is not at all soft in nature. This leadership primer from Susanne Madsen will have you reaching for a notebook and pen to make copious lists about what you can be doing differently to drive success on your projects.
I think many guides about leadership talk about it in an abstract way. This is a concrete look at what ‘doing leadership’ actually means, with exercises and tools to help you on the way – things you can implement tomorrow, if you wanted.
What will you be packing or reading over the summer? Let us know in the comments.
I’ve spent a lot of time going through the PwC Global PPM Survey recently and there are lots of things in there that project managers can take away. The most important message – and this won’t come as a surprise – is that “the PM community needs to brush up on the basics.”
They give some statistics to support that:
That last statistic troubles me, because risk management is not a one-off activity. You can’t set up a risk log (on my other blog I have a free risk register template) and expect it to manage itself or expect the project’s environment to remain static to the point that no other risks manifest themselves during the life cycle. Risk management has to be a regular, ongoing activity.
Getting the project management basics right
The survey says:
“PMs can improve their performance in getting the basics right and help Executive Teams deliver programmes of change. Many of the improvements that can be made are basic PPM processes and should be part and parcel of every programme but are frequently not done well or are not done consistently.”
This is what I consider the basics.
First, set your objectives. Have a clear goal and a line of sight to that goal. Everything is easier when you have total clarity about what you are trying to achieve because every decision you make supports the journey to get there. (It also makes it easier to do point 3 below.)
Second, regularly measure progress. Apparently this is not always done in all programmes, although why you would invest in a programme of work and then not bother to check anyone is actually working on it is beyond me.
Third, have a process to manage changes. According to PwC’s maturity assessments, almost half of programmes don’t have established processes for managing change.
Fourth, build in time to reflect. You can’t do a good job when you and the team are stressed and under pressure. You need a moment to catch your breath, consider alternative solutions, work out what’s round the corner (be it positive or negative) and review lessons learned so you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.
Fifth, manage your risks. Risks that aren’t managed cost you money. Risks that aren’t exploited miss you opportunities. Everyone needs a Plan B because you can never be too prepared, especially when you have a lot of time and money tied up in delivering transformational change.
All of these are basics, but they don’t need to be unwieldy or fully documented to be done well. The most important thing is talking about them. As the survey authors write:
“Whilst reviewing a risk register or ensuring a benefits tracker is up to date need to happen, what is most important is that the conversation around a particular risk is had with the right people to drive mitigating action.”
What other project management practices do you consider to be ‘the basics?’ Let me know in the comments below.
I really liked what Carlos Serra had to say at last month’s PMI Global Congress EMEA about managing the project management benefits processes and I have a few more titbits from his presentation to share with you today.
One of the things I find the hardest about project management methods is that often they specify what to do without actually giving you practical steps for how to do it. Stakeholder management falls into that category (and is one of the reasons I wrote my book, Customer-Centric Project Management). Benefits management is another. I think benefits management is so hard to codify because project managers don’t really know if it falls to them or the senior managers or operational teams or someone else, so it disappears through the cracks and isn’t given the attention it deserves.
Hopefully these bits of advice will help address that.
Tools for benefits realisation management
What practical tools have you got at your disposal for benefits realisation and managing those processes? Carlos discussed several:
Roles and responsibilities for benefits realisation management
Carlos covered the roles and responsibilities expected from a benefits realisation exercise within a company.
If you want to implement successful benefits realisation management in your own business then this is what you should look to get set up:
Programme and project governance
This covers the normal governance functions of any project management activity including having the work aligned to overall strategy. You should also make sure that you have the work prioritised and that there is executive leadership in place to support you.
Done by: Project Sponsor
Programme and project management
Here you’re looking to be able to deliver the required outputs, ensure everyone knows what success looks like and manage stakeholders’ expectations with that in mind.
Done by: Project Manager/Team
Finally, you want someone to take responsibility for owning the benefits when they are delivered. They are the people who receive the outputs and whisk up their magic to turn outputs into tangible business value.
Done by: Project customer
All this strikes me as vastly similar to the rest of the project management techniques that we have available to us. That’s good news, because it means that benefits management is not difficult or scary and that project managers have the transferable skills to be able to put all this into practice already.
The presentation reassured me that much of what I am doing to ensure my projects deliver tangible benefits is good and solid practice. The theme of value ran throughout the Congress and it’s great to see that (finally) project managers are waking up to the idea that delivering value is not something that someone else does.
Prioritising projects is pretty easy when you can look at the business case and see which one is going to bring you the most return financially. Whether you’re looking at sales, profit, return on investment or some other cost benefit analysis the great thing about money is that it is tangible and numbers-led. So the comparisons are straightforward. Many execs would opt to work on the projects that bring in the most financial return with the least effort. Simple.
Why projects don’t use financial prioritisation
Organisations don’t use financial methods for prioritising for several reasons, including:
In reality, projects don’t just deliver financial tangible returns. Some projects would struggle to put any money-related measures down on paper. They simply don’t compute that way.
In those situations it is a much harder job to compare projects and choose which ones to work on first. Prioritisation becomes more of a shouting match: the manager who shouts the loudest wins. You also risk priorities changing quickly because someone had lunch with someone else who is influential in deciding these things and suddenly your resources are pulled and given to another team.
Without clear prioritisation, it’s impossible to establish which project is the most important. Let’s look at ways that you can prioritise projects when it’s not about the money.
Other ways of prioritising
By the need to stay in work
The main category of project that I’ve worked on that does not have an easy monetary value is the ones that revolve around staying in business. Examples are:
Projects that allow you to continue to operate should be considered high priority. However, they might not be urgent if you can put the work off a bit. So that’s a YES the project must be done but a NOT NECESSARILY NOW for the work schedule.
By the value added
If you can’t compute value in monetary terms, this categorisation of project becomes quite difficult to measure and therefore compare. Narrative is good: have the discussion and thrash it out but use objective questions to force ‘enthusiastic’ project sponsors to fully justify where the value will be added.
Typically you’ve got two choices:
You can see that there is likely to be some overlap – is a new process adding value to existing team members or creating new value? – but I think you get the picture.
Why not do the easy projects? They can fit in around the larger, more strategic pieces. To be able to prioritise the easy work and slot it in to the programme, you need to know how easy it is going to be. Subjectivity comes into play here as well, as you will have to take a relatively educated guess about what’s achievable for your business.
If you have done something similar before, you have clear goals, the skills are in-house and the risk profile is low, then that sounds straightforward enough for me.
These three prioritisation options gives you different ways to look at the portfolio of projects and align the work with strategic priorities. If it’s easy and adds value, do it. If it’s important to keep the business functioning, do it. If it looks really hard and you won’t get much value from it, ditch it. It’s not rocket science.
As with anything that is not based on numerical, statistical analysis, you have to be careful that people don’t game the system. Ideally you want to create a questionnaire that is completed by an objective party in consultation with the sponsor. Give each criteria a ranking and then calculate the overall total. Then you can put your projects in order and work on them as they reach the top.
Project prioritisation is something that you have to go back to regularly. The order you set for your team today won’t be the same in a few months as business priorities will have shifted. The NOT NECESSARILY NOW projects may be at the top of the list then.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts when you have no way of using monetary criteria to prioritise projects. How do you do it?
In this video I talk about the 5 things that you should consider before you start a new professional deal or relationship with a vendor.