Witnessing so many unsuccessful projects these days, I keep asking myself why execution continues to fall through the cracks while organizations apparently grow in project management maturity.
If organizations are more mature in project planning, why aren’t we reaping better results? It’s easy to see we have an execution gap.
I think this is because some project managers are so immersed in the minutia of best practices that they don’t understand the big picture.
They don’t understand that project management processes, tools and techniques are only a means to an end. The final goal of every project is to jointly create value by engaging stakeholders to build a unique result under constraints (scope, time, cost and more). In other words, a successful project delivers benefits and satisfies stakeholders.
Execution demands proactivity. Project managers should embrace change, keeping their eyes wide open to take their project plans out of the paper. Making things happen is easier when you have a good plan, but it still demands a lot of energy and motivation.
Practitioners sometimes put their well-crafted, detailed plans on a pedestal as trophies of great project management. In fact, planning is only half, or less, of the way to the finish line.
To paraphrase the boxer Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The real world is volatile and complex; missing and incomplete information is the norm. Will your plan survive the challenge? It depends on how well you execute. As many in the military learn, strategic, tactical and operational plans need to be executed with maximum agility. Adjustments, adaptations and unexpected decisions must be made along the road to project completion.
To execute well, you need clear goals, resilience, flexibility and a high degree of “alertness.” The OODA loop, created by John Boyd, revolutionizes goal-centered execution by adding flexibility and velocity in the decision-making process. Here are the four steps.
Figure 1- OODA loop (Source: Defense and the National Interest)
Next time you start execution on your project, put the OODA loop to work for you. It will guide you through the project plan as a series of linked decisions to help you make sense of the environment, update the plan and observe results.
If you have any comments—or perhaps a negative or positive story about execution—please share below. Thanks!
By Wanda Curlee
Some would say the Internet of Things (IoT) is still so embryonic and amorphous that there aren’t many job opportunities. But there are already project managers working on the IoT—which refers to a growing network of physical objects embedded with sensors, such as Wi-Fi-connected thermostats you can control from anywhere with your smartphone.
And there will be many more IoT projects in the future. McKinsey Global Institute researchers estimate the potential economic impact of IoT technologies to be USD$2.7 trillion to USD$6.2 trillion annually by 2025. Think of Amazon’s plan to deliver packages via drones. Those drones will need to communicate with customers, employees, the corporate office, and maybe at some point, air traffic controllers. All of this requires a project manager, starting in the research and development stage and going through development and upgrades. This is a never-ending cycle.
All of these projects create the need for programs. Many companies will have a large overlap of IoT projects. A program manager is needed to drive the strategy of the IoT program to benefit the company’s bottom line. In fact, I would venture to say there will be sub-programs and maybe even more than one IoT program. The Internet of Things is so broad, it will be the program managers who define the benefit realization plans and roadmaps and may even decide their program is too broad and needs to be subdivided or spun off into new programs. It will take years for companies and internal business units to determine what IoT will do and how they will drive it.
The company’s CEO will set the IoT strategy, which will then become the portfolio manager’s responsibility to execute. Let’s say the CEO wants to modernize delivery. The portfolio manager should meet with the CEO to have a better understanding of what this means. The portfolio manager will scour the enterprise to determine what needs to be in the portfolio (such as drones) and what should be stopped. The governance committee will assist the portfolio manager. There will be many IoT portfolios throughout many different industries and organizations, including not-for-profits and militaries.
IoT will drive the next opportunities for many in the decades to come. Fasten your seat belts, and hold on for the new adventure and wave of jobs. These projects will be different, but as in many other fields, the project management discipline will drive job creation.
By Dave Wakeman
Last month, I wrote about how you can become a more strategic project manager. This month, I want to continue exploring the topic by focusing on a few ways to make sure your projects have strategic focus.
1. Always Ask “Why?”
This is the essential question for any business professional. But I am aware that asking the question can be extremely difficult—especially in the organizations that need that question asked the most.
Asking why you are taking on a project is essential to the project’s success or failure. Using the question can help you frame the role that project plays in the organization’s goals. It can also allow you early on to find out if the project is poorly aligned with the long-term vision.
This can make you look like a champ because you can make course corrections or bring up challenges much earlier, saving you and your organization time and money.
When asking about a project’s strategic value, you may find it helpful to phrase it in less direct ways, such as: “How does this project fit into the work we were doing with our previous project?” or “This seems pretty consistent with the project we worked on several months back—are they connected?”
2. Bring Ideas
As the focal point of knowledge, project managers should know where a project is in meeting its goals and objectives. So if you know a project is losing its strategic focus (and therefore value), generate ideas on how to make course corrections or improve the project based on the information you have.
There is nothing worse than having a team member drop a heap of issues on us with no easy solutions and no ideas on how to move forward. As the leader of your projects, don’t be that person. To help you come up with ideas to move the project toward success and strategic alignment, think along the following lines:
· If all the resources and effort expended on the project up to the current roadblock were removed from consideration, would it still make sense to move forward with the project?
· What actions can we take that will help alleviate some of the short-term pain?
· Knowing what I know now, would I suggest we start or stop this project? Why?
3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
On almost any project I work on, more communication is a good idea. This is because the more the lines of communication are open, the more likely I’m to get information that will be helpful to me and my ability to achieve the end results that I’m looking for.
As with most things in project management, communication is a two-way street and loaded with possible pain points and missteps. As a project manager looking to deliver on the strategic promise of your projects, your communications should always be focused on information you can use to take action and move your project along.
To effectively communicate as a strategic project manager, ask questions like these:
· What do I need to know about a project that will have a material impact on its success or failure?
· What can I share with my team or stakeholders that might help them understand my decisions?
· What information does my team need to take better actions?
As you can see, adjusting your vision to become more strategic isn’t too far removed from what it takes to be an effective project manager. The key difference is making sure you understand the “why” of the project. From there, you need to push forward your ideas and to communicate openly and honestly.
What do you think? How do you bring a strategic focus to your projects?
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By: Rex M. Holmlin
Have you ever sat in your office and wondered whether anyone would notice if you disappeared? Whether anyone has noticed work you’ve done recently? At one point or another, practically all of us have felt that way.
One of our most important tasks as project managers is to recognize and reward team members. PMI’s PMBOK Guide acknowledges the importance of doing so by listing recognition and reward of team members as a tool and technique in the Develop Project Team Process section, which is part of the Project Human Resource Knowledge Area.
I teach project management to both undergraduate and graduate business students. When I bring up the topic of team member recognition to MBAs, who typically have several years of work experience, I always find it interesting to note how many of them feel they really can’t recognize people’s contributions.
Even experienced project managers often believe they don’t have the power to recognize or reward their team members. The hang-up seems to be that in many people’s minds, recognition and reward are synonymous with money. Since the authority to give raises typically rests with functional managers, this perspective makes sense.
But in my view it is very, very wrong.
In fact, project managers have a variety of significant tools at our disposal to recognize and reward our team members. The easiest, and perhaps the most powerful, is to thank them for something they have done. Going by someone’s office and thanking them for something specific is phenomenally impactful. Many team members are almost bowled over to discover that someone noticed what they’ve done.
All of us like to be part of something bigger than ourselves, like an exciting project. A certificate recognizing membership on a project team and contribution to the team effort can be very gratifying.
I have been involved with a number of natural disaster recovery efforts. One government agency I have worked with provides project members with 8.5-by-11-inch certificates noting their role in the disaster response and recovery effort. The certificates cost a few pennies, yet as you walk down the hallways you see them in small frames in nearly every office and cubicle.
With the advent of social media, the tools at our disposal for recognition have greatly increased. We can post a thank you to a Facebook page or endorse or recommend someone on LinkedIn. These are easy but meaningful ways to recognize someone.
You could also institute a “Player of the Month” award. Not everyone played sports when they were younger, and you may be surprised to learn how many of your project team members have never felt they were on a team. Being designated as the Player of the Month can sometimes be a life-changing event.
I believe very strongly that recognizing and rewarding team members is central to our role as project managers. If you agree, please share your favorite nonmonetary ways of rewarding team members—or ideas for doing so! I’ll collect them and make them available to our readers.
How to Make the Jump From PM to Delivery Lead
By Kevin Korterud
As project managers, our career paths typically involve increasing levels of delivery responsibility on larger and more complex projects. As we grow, many of us have the opportunity to take on delivery responsibilities that focus more on enablement and orchestration of multiple projects in a program manager role.
Beyond that level of responsibility, there is a need for people capable of overseeing multiple programs that can contain many projects. Concurrent multiprogram/project delivery involves the need for a new set of skills that transcends traditional project and program management competencies.
In my company, Accenture, people who serve in multiprogram/project delivery roles are called delivery leads. I think of them as “super program managers”—they’re not as high-level as portfolio managers, but they also don’t get caught up in deep project delivery activities.
One of the most frequent questions posed to me is how project and program managers can “graduate” to delivery lead. Here’s some advice I’ve offered in the past to budding delivery leads.
1. Adopt A ‘Big Picture’ Delivery Mindset
By the nature of what they do, project and program managers immerse themselves in the details around schedule, budget, scope and other project essentials. Their day-to-day roles involve processing a lot of information that enables them to make effective project management decisions.
Delivery leads, on the other hand, need to stand back from program and project management to broadly view the delivery landscape. This perspective gives a delivery lead the ability to see the interconnected delivery “big picture” that enables him or her to take strategic action to keep all programs and projects on track to success.
2. Don’t Manage Projects, Guide Them
In the course of typical project duties, effective project and program managers strive to resolve risks and challenges. They spend a significant amount of time reacting to unforeseen situations.
Delivery leads, on the other hand, should resist jumping into specific delivery details and instead focus their efforts on preventing situations that cause project and program managers to spend all of their time reacting to situations.
Delivery leads accomplish this by providing people, budget, tools, processes and assets to project and program managers in advance of their need. In addition, delivery leads also set policies, governance and other forms of delivery guidance that effectively orchestrate the overall delivery process.
3. Acquire Business Knowledge
Project and program managers invest a large amount of energy and expense in becoming well-versed in practices that enhance their project management skills.
Professional development for delivery leads, on the other hand, assumes a foundational knowledge of project management that needs to be balanced with industry domain knowledge related to the organization’s projects and programs. Delivery leads don’t have to be subject matter experts, but they should be able to communicate effectively with all forms of stakeholders.
For delivery leads, making an investment in business domain knowledge such as supply chain, oil refining, equity trading or other specific industry knowledge enables them to be effective communicators.
4. Manage for Business Outcomes
For project or program managers, success most often comes in the form of achieving key project metrics such as schedule variance, budget variance, planned versus actual progress and other key elements of project delivery.
As a delivery lead, the measures of success change dramatically. Effective delivery leads must be able to translate project results into cost savings, increased sales and improved customer satisfaction as well as other measurements that don’t necessarily fall into traditional delivery activities. This shift in success criteria to business outcomes comes about from delivery leads being accountable for the business rationale behind executing projects and programs.
The journey from project or program manager to delivery lead is best characterized as relieving oneself of common managerial habits in favor of broader leadership activities.
Areas such as governance, orchestrating the schedules of multiple programs, complex resource management and external dependencies become new competencies needed to handle larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, you will also serve as a visible leader to project and program managers who are starting on the same journey.
Does your organization have delivery leads or something like that role? What advice would you offer to help project and program managers who are starting this journey?