By Lynda Bourne
Organizational agility is being promoted as the silver bullet to create value and eliminate project failures. However, decades of research show that factors like methodologies and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are essential underpinnings of consistent success.
Are these mutually exclusive propositions? Or is there a more subtle answer to this apparent contradiction?
First a bit of background: There’s decades of research looking at various maturity models, ranging from the old CMM (now CMMI) to PMI’s OPM3. The consistent findings are that investing in creating organizational maturity demonstrates a strong return on investment. Developing and using a pragmatic methodology suited to the needs of the organization reduces failure, increases value generation, and outcomes become more consistent and predictable. These findings are supported with studies in the quality arena, including Six Sigma, which consistently show that good SOPs reduce undesirable variability and enhance quality.
But given that every methodology consists of a series of SOPs, where’s the room for agile? In fact, you can get the best of both worlds by embedding organizational agility into your procedures, methodologies and management.
Solid Standard Operating Procedures
Getting your standard operating procedures right is a good starting point. SOPs should define and assist project teams in the performance of standard processes. SOPs also should provide templates, guidelines and other elements that make doing the task easier and quicker.
Key success factors for SOPs are:
The enemy of useful SOPs is a dictatorial unit focused on imposing its view of how work should be performed in a bureaucratic and dogmatic way.
Methodologies combine various SOPs and other requirements into a framework focused on achieving project success. A good methodology must also be lean, light and scalable so it is fit for use in different circumstances. Every project undertaken by an organization is by definition unique, therefore the methodology used by the organization must allow appropriate flexibility—one size does not fit all, ever!
The PMBOK® Guide describes it this way: “Good practice does not mean that the knowledge described should always be applied uniformly to all projects; the organization and/or the project management team is responsible for determining what is appropriate for any given project.” A good methodology incorporates agility by including processes for scaling and adjusting the methodology to fit each project.
The final element in blending agility with sensible processes is an agile approach to management. But agile doesn’t mean anarchy. It means the flexible application of the right processes to achieve success.
The so-called military doctrine of command and control is outdated. The rigid, process-oriented concept was replaced by the idea of “auftragstaktik,” or directive command, in the Prussian army following its defeat by Napoleon at the battles of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806.
The core concept of auftragstaktik is “bounded initiative.” Provided people within the organization have proper training and the organizational culture is strong, the leader’s role is to clearly outline his/her intentions and rationale. Subordinate personnel can then formulate their own plan of action for the tasks they are allocated and design appropriate responses to achieve the leader’s objectives based on their understanding of the actual situation.
But the process is not random. SOPs define how each specific task should be accomplished, and bounded initiative allows team members to optimize the SOP for the specific circumstances to best support the leader’s overall intent.
Helmuth von Moltke, chief of staff of the Prussian army for 30 years, believed in detailed planning and rigorous preparation. But he also accepted that change was inevitable, famously saying, “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”
Projects are no different! Both the methodology and the project management plan need to encourage bounded agility to lock in opportunities and mitigate problems. Effective military leaders were doing this more than 150 years before the Agile Manifesto was published. It’s time for project management to catch up!
How much bounded initiative does your methodology allow?
The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches
Human Aspects of PM,
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Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Change Management, Communication, Complexity, Facilitation, Generational PM, Government, Human Aspects of PM, Innovation, IT, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Mentoring, New to Project Management, PMOs, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
by Dave Wakeman
Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?
It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.
I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.
But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.
Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.
So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”
Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.
Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.
During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.
Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.
No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.
This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.
In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.
What do you think?
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When Is a Project Actually Over?
By Kevin Korterud
As project managers, we spend a considerable amount of time mobilizing a project to ensure it’s set up for success. To realize value from projects, that same level of attention and focus is also required to successfully end a project. It is key for project managers to have a plan for closure that defines specific activities to wind down and complete essential functions that end the project on a high note.
Here are some essentials to help your project complete successfully so you can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done:
1. Complete the Project Adoption Schedule
Project managers need to have an objective indicator that signals completion of their projects. In some cases, project managers use indications that determine the completion of the project far too early.
These premature indications can include the installation of technology, signoff of key deliverables or perhaps a subjective decision by the sponsor that the project is over.
One effective means of determining the end of a project is for a project manager to create a schedule for the complete adoption of what the project is creating, e.g., new technology, processes and products. An adoption schedule defines the details around the timeframe, functions and geographies by which the outputs from the project are to be assumed by the various stakeholders.
In essence, a project adoption schedule is a structure that provides an outcome-based path to how the project is supposed to end.
For example, one form of an adoption schedule would be to define the number of users or stakeholder groups that are to use a new technology solution. The adoption schedule would present which geographies would use the new technology over a certain timeframe.
2. Measure Against the Project Business Case
As project managers, we sometimes become so obsessed with on-time, on-budget delivery that we can neglect the rationale that shaped the need for the project. As part of closing out a project, it is important that progress toward the original business case is measured.
The best way to do this on a project is to have business case checkpoints defined from the start to the end of the project. These checkpoints identify and measure the project’s key outcomes. By starting the business case measurement process at the beginning of the project, you eliminate the last-minute rush to determine whether the project was successful from a business perspective.
3. Assure Regulatory Compliance
Even if we do a great job with delivery as well as producing business outcomes, what we do in the area of regulations and other legal mandates is also key. A project that does not comply with regulatory needs stands the chance of diluting its success by requiring additional effort and time to mitigate issues.
As part of project closure planning, schedule timely completion of deliverables required to meet regulatory needs. The effort and schedule allocated for this type of deliverable needs to be given equal importance with other project deliverables.
For example, a project that involves the chemical industry may require material safety data sheets to be filed when a new type of material is introduced into a chemical plant. Even if the introduction of the new chemical material was successful, the project cannot be truly closed until this regulatory deliverable is created.
4. Pay It Forward
Project or program managers sometimes miss out on the opportunity to leverage the fine work we have done to help others in our profession. While it is typical to have a lessons-learned session at the end of the project, quite often those newly created assets, practices and other valuable content are filed away and not leveraged for other projects.
To unlock this potentially untapped source of project management value, work with the Program Management Office or other delivery assurance group to review the completed project and capture artifacts that might assist other projects. This group can take what has been created by your project, refine it and publish the artifact so it can immediately assist other projects.
Have unique activities proven valuable for completing your projects? Perhaps others can benefit from your insights while finishing their project journey. Please comment below!
by Dave Wakeman
If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been focusing on strategy a lot lately. The reason is simple: The alignment between projects and strategy tends to be a significant driver of organizational success.
For this post, I want to focus on a crucial figure when it comes to alignment: the sponsor. In working to align projects and strategy, the sponsor really is the key to whether or not your efforts will be successful.
For this reason, it’s essential that project managers candidly communicate with sponsors. You need to understand how the project fits into the organization and how you can position your project in a way that will deliver on your organization’s strategy.
Here are three tips for optimizing sponsor relations.
1. Keep Pushing for Answers: We’ve all dealt with projects and clients that give us some variation of the classic line from our parents: “Because I said so.” That may have worked for our parents, but it won’t work too well for our careers.
As a proactive leader in your organization, you need to work with your sponsor to understand how the project fits into the organization’s strategy. For some of you, that may seem difficult, but if you frame the questions around wanting to understand where you may be challenged for resources or time, you can usually get the conversation started.
Other questions that will help you discover how well your project aligns with the organization’s goals are:
2. Communicate Consistently: One of the big challenges of aligning strategy and projects is that you’re busy, your sponsor is busy, and your team is busy. This is no excuse for not communicating consistently. In fact, a constant stream of demands is a reason you should be communicating consistently—that way you ensure that no one’s efforts are wasted on something that is no longer relevant.
To make sure you communicate consistently with your sponsor, use the following framework:
3. Embrace Change: I’m sure that at one time or another we’ve all felt humiliated and downtrodden because our most dear project has been shut down for no discernable reason and we can’t get an explanation from anyone.
These situations are challenging. But you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsor to embrace change. You also need to proactively address the change, positive or negative, with your sponsor. This will help you gain information that will allow you to make better decisions. But it will also encourage an open dialogue with your sponsor.
Also, proactively dealing with change can be extremely helpful in assisting your sponsor on new courses of action based upon the new information and the new realities that your projects face.
To accelerate your ability to embrace change, ask questions like:
I’m curious to find out how you handle these kind of strategic communications with your sponsors. Let me know in a comment below!
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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?
By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never don't miss it, sign up here or send me an email at email@example.com!