In 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe' (Douglas Adams) – which some of you will know is one of my favourite reads – there was a race called the Belcerebons of Kakrafoon Kappa who had a very unhappy time. Once a serene and quiet civilization, a Galactic Tribunal sentenced them to the powers of telepathy solely because the rest of the galaxy found that peaceful contemplation a contemptuous thing. As a result Ford Prefect compared them to humans because the only way the Belcerebons could stop transmitting their every thought to each and every other Belcerebon was to mask their brain activity by talking endlessly about complete and utter trivia. Recently I have spent a few long hours on the train in to the London (and home again).
I have decided that the Belcerebons now inhabit a new home in the universe, that of the standard class coaches of the inter-city train that I am forced to share with them.
Now, of course, I own a mobile phone and, of course, I have the phone switched on but apart from the occasional text it remains unused, and on ‘silent’. Others it seems, even at 7am in the morning, have the need to exchange monumentally unimportant trivia about their personal and working lives through the medium of shouting in to a mobile phone.
To the lady I had the delight of sitting near, actually 2 seat rows away, on my last journey I feel I know all about you, your fiancé, the complex wedding plans you are in the process of making, why you are a cat person and not a dog person and why you love Nando's so, so much - thank you for sharing!
What has this to do with project management you may well ask (and probably do ask)?
Well I am constantly going on about communication being the key differentiator that makes for good project managers, as opposed to competent project managers.
Good communication comes from the perfect harmony of the right message delivered the right way and at the right time. Much of this timing comes from planning for such communication, and more than that it is the filtering out or removal of unnecessary communication that delivers no value and distracts others.
And good communication comes also from thought and reflection, often through periods of silent contemplation. If everybody on a project attempted to communicate out to every other person at the same time then very little, or perhaps no, communication would really occur. Now of course there will always be some occasions that urgency dictates the exchange of information at a moment’s notice but for the most part this is not the case, it can wait, in fact it is often far more effective to wait.
I think that, instead of one ‘quiet’ coach on each train for those that wish to have peace on their journeys that there should be one coach allocated solely to those few who lives are far more important than the rest of us and whose every thought must be conveyed immediately (and loudly). Let them all sit in one place and out-loud each other, they will probably enjoy it.
For the rest of us travelers let there be peace with the acceptance that the occasional important call might take place for very good reasons.
Perhaps I am becoming a grumpy old project manager but hopefully not; I just feel that in project management (and life in general) less is most definitely more especially when it comes to communication. And don’t get me started on the soon to be with us use of mobile phones on a plane…
I saw something for the very first time the other day, and it was one of those ‘why on earth have I never seen this before it is so obvious…’ moments.
There is some background to this I have to admit; I have a new book out called ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’ (Management Concepts Press) written with two fellow authors, Ron Rosenhead and Vicki James. As a result of this I am tending to think ‘sponsors’ at every occasion and this one was no different.
I was reviewing a portfolio dashboard at a software vendor and they, as I have seen many times in the past in many systems, offered me views by project manager, business unit, location, value, phase and so on. But then I asked, and was delighted to see (after a simple sort edit) a view of the portfolio by… yes, you guessed it, by sponsor. And why not. Portfolio management should be much more than just a prioritisation of projects and resources exercise. It should be the representation in projects (and programs) of the competitive strategy that will allow business executives to convert their intentions into reality.
So this is pretty serious stuff then.
All of this is placed in the hands of project managers, and they need to be held to task and held accountable but in the words of Standish ‘The most important person in the project is the executive sponsor. The executive sponsor is ultimately responsible for the success and failure of the project’
So to me, these days anyway, for the executive team to be able to view their portfolio also by project sponsor and to see who of these ‘ultimately responsible’ people are performing (and who are not, thereby putting the business strategy at risk) should be a ‘no-brainer’. When it comes to financial accountability, it seems—at least anecdotally—that projects often go over budget, deliver late, and deliver less than was expected . . . and there are absolutely no significant consequences at sponsor level. No one appears to be accountable and no one gets removed. Now, if something goes wrong in the ‘real’ side of the business—sales down, profits falling, share price dropping—then it seems like something will be done and someone will be held accountable.
Maybe this is because this is seen as ‘real’ business and ‘real’ work and as such has to be taken seriously.
Project sponsorship needs the same strength of focus and importance of status.
The success or failure of a project is a direct reflection on the sponsor as the keeper of the organisational vision.
A ‘sponsor’ view of the project portfolio is an absolute key to this in the future I believe.
Executives; demand this today!