Project Management for SME’s [Book Review]
I often hear that it’s too expensive, bothersome or simply pointless to introduce project management into small companies.
Owning a small company myself, I know that is categorically not true. When you have limited time, limited resources and above all limited funding, you absolutely need to be confident that you are investing them in the right initiatives.
OK, I don’t call everything that I do in my company a ‘project’ because it’s just what I do when I turn up to work. But I do have a plan, a task list, goals and – new this year in my growing firm – a colleague who uses the same project management software as I do so that we stay on the same page.
So I was delighted to get a copy of Gren Gale’s Project Management for SME’s.
The premise of the book is good. Gren writes:
To deliver a high-quality product to time and budget requires leadership, skill and – as importantly – demands that your whole business is set up to support delivery.
There is a lot of good common sense advice: the kind that isn’t common everywhere such as why you should let your team set estimates (because if you don’t, they’ll end up not believing the schedule).
The book is organised to take you through the project life cycle. Each phase is a chapter starting with inputs, actions and outputs. Once you’ve got through the life cycle, Gren covers governance and soft skills.
At the end of the book are helpful document layouts and links to free online versions, which makes it easy to put any of this advice into practice and get started quickly – important factors for small businesses making the decision to move to a formal project management approach.
There are recommendations for software that work well for small firms, which might end up dating the book in the future. Overall, it’s angled towards service and client organisations: the kind of small businesses that run as consultancies or agencies and important points related to what it is like to work in those businesses are called out when it’s relevant.
There are some interesting stories shared that really point to the fact that the author knows his stuff. He’s definitely been there and done that and knows what works in real life.
Having said that, the book isn’t without problems. PMP, for example, is not a methodology but it’s referenced as one quite early on. I know that many PMI members and others would probably just use ‘PMP’ as shorthand for ‘the way PMI recommends projects are run using the PMBOK® Guide as a reference’ but it might confuse someone else who is newer to this whole project management thing.
Equally, I missed the references. The CHAOS report is cited but there is no reference to which year. The original report is now extremely old and not something that is worth citing any longer (in my opinion) as a reference to how things are today. But there have been other CHAOS studies. It’s not clear which one Gren is referring to, which is a shame.
It’s a slim book, easy to read, and convincingly makes the case for why project management should be adopted by small and medium-sized businesses. There’s a clear return on investment, and this book will help you make the case to your colleagues.
In his book, Business Leadership for IT Projects, Gary Lloyd goes into Earned Value in some depth – enough for business leaders to understand what it is and how it can be used to provide a reality check on project performance.
He warns against ‘earned value complacency’, which is where the exercise of pulling together the EV statistics and producing the graph lull you into the sense of security that you know all you need to know about the project’s performance and expenditure.
If you’ve used EV, you’ll know that the numbers only tell part of the story, so Lloyd recommends that you use it as a tool to enable further discussion about performance. So much of what EV tells you is down to how it is applied. If you’re a supplier organisation using EV on your client projects, you could be using it in a different way to how the sponsor is used to seeing it.
Not radically different, of course – the formulae are the formulae – but just different in terms of base assumptions or presentation. Even small changes in how the data is calculated or what’s included might change how someone interprets performance.
Lloyd recommends that these are the questions that project leaders should be asking of the people putting together their EV charts for projects, whether they are internal or external. As a supplier project manager, a canny customer could end up putting you on the spot if you don’t understand the exact calculations behind the data. Even if it is produced by your company’s Project Management Office, you still need enough of an understanding to be able to answer questions from your client with credibility and accuracy. It’s reasonable of them to be asking you and a good client should want to challenge and understand the numbers. Besides, that process of challenge is good for everyone so don’t take it as a personal affront. Leaders don’t take numbers at face value; it’s not what makes them good leaders.
9 Questions Project Leaders Should Ask About Earned Value
As a project sponsor, if you’re going to choose something in the EV reports to dig into, try to pick something that you have a reasonably good understanding of where the data points are significantly large so as to help the calculations be transparent. Trying to work out whether a particular task is half a day ahead of schedule or not isn’t going to help you understand the model.
Here are the questions to help you delve into what is really going on.
Could you answer these questions about your EV reports? If not, who are you going to get to explain them to you so that you can adequately explain them to someone else?
According to recruitment company Robert Half, interim project managers are in high demand. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, interim is a bit like contract but generally longer term and more invested (contractors, feel free to call me out on that if you don’t agree!).
The Robert Half team asked 200 UK CFOs and Financial Directors about how they evaluate the success of an interim manager, and it isn’t all about the successful delivery of a project (although that comes in at 34%). I put this infographic together to explain how the survey respondents measure the success of one of their interim managers. They were allowed to respond to several answers, which is why the results don’t add up to 100%, and you can see the full survey results here.
In this video I talk about what to look out for when you are hiring someone. It can be expensive to bring people on to the team, so it's definitely worth getting it right first time! Here are some tips for making sure that your recruitment efforts don't go to waste.
3 Ways To Reduce Complexity
Categories: complex projects
Experienced project managers will agree that complex projects are a headache for lots of reasons. Complexity adds all kinds of challenges and cost. But if you can reduce that complexity then you can take some of the stress out of your project.
“If you can understand it, you can move on to reduction.”
Here are 3 ways to reduce complexity, once you know what is making your projects complex.
1. Resolve It
Just fix it. Make it go away. Use a different technology that is tried and tested. Add more time to the schedule. Throw money at the problem. Whatever it takes.
Unfortunately, many project complexities can’t be resolved like this, but it is definitely worth a try in the first instance.
2. Reduce It
Make the complexity less severe, with less of an impact on your project. This really does rely on you fully understanding what’s behind the complexity so that you can unpick it and come up with some strategies to chip away at it.
Harvey Maylor gave a presentation at a PMI Global Congress where he shared the results of some work he had done in this area. He talked about running 43 workshops with 1100 managers and in those sessions they were asked what percentage of the identified complexities in their projects they would be able to resolve or reduce.
I was surprised that they reported that they could reduce 82% of project complexities. Even if they were wrong by a factor of 2 that’s still 40% of complex issues that could be managed down.
What’s left when you reduce complexity is residual complexity (like residual risk). That might need a different approach or strategy to address, but it’s likely to be less of a headache to put in place than having to deal with the complexity in its entirety.
Having said that, the third complexity reduction technique isn’t really a reduction technique at all…
3. Live With It
You’ve identified it. You can choose to manage it and run with it, working out a practical response to dealing with rather than passively doing nothing.
One strategy that Maylor talked about is actively choosing the right person to sponsor and lead the project when complexity is involved. Different types of complexity issues require different skills at the top.
For example, a project that is complex for socio-political reasons needs a charismatic leader who can work with stakeholder groups to share the vision and sell the benefits. A project that is structurally complex needs a sponsor with great technical skills, someone who can juggle multiple parts and bring them back together as a whole. A project that struggles with emergent complexity requires a strategic thinker, someone who can see the bigger picture and make connections.
Getting the right team in place and framing their involvement in the project in the right way can help mitigate the impact of complexities if you can’t manage them out in any other way.