By Lynda Bourne
As you may know, any monitoring and control process has three components. The first is establishing a baseline that you plan to achieve, the second is comparing actual progress to the plan to see if there are any differences, and the third is taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective actions fix existing problems, while preventative actions stop problems from occurring in the future.
This post looks at the middle phase. Before taking action to bring performance into alignment with the plan, make sure the variance you are seeing in the control systems is real. Corrective and preventative actions take time and usually involve costs, and there is no point in expending effort where it is not needed.
The variance is the difference between two imprecise elements: the planned state and the actual situation. The plan is based on estimates and assumptions made some time ago about what may occur in the future. All plans and estimates have a degree of error built in; it is impossible to precisely predict the future of a complex system such as a project. Similarly, the measurement of the actual situation is prone to observational errors; key data may be missing or the situation misinterpreted.
So how do you decide if the measured variance is real and significant enough to warrant corrective action? I suggest considering the following:
1. Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
2. Is the variance significant?
3. Is a solution viable?
Let’s explore these in depth.
Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
Try looking at a couple of different monitoring systems, such as cost and time. Do the two systems correlate, or are they giving you very different information on the same group of activities? If they correlate, perhaps your expectations are misplaced. If they are giving you different information, there may be data errors.
Is the variance significant?
If the predicted slippage on the completion date for a key milestone over a series of reports is bouncing around, any single measurement within the noise factor is likely to be insignificant.
Trends, on the other hand, highlight issues. Sensible control systems have range statements that indicate the variance is too small to worry about if it is inside the allowed range. This general rule is modified to take trends seriously and to require action to correct negative variances close to a milestone or completion.
Is a solution viable?
Other situations are simply not worth the cost. There is no point in spending US$10,000 to correct a -US$5,000 variance. However, this decision has to take into account any effect on the client and your organization’s reputation. Cost overruns are generally internal, whereas late delivery and quality issues may have a significant reputational cost, affecting stakeholder perceptions.
Where a viable option exists to correct negative variances, corrective and preventative actions need to be planned, prioritized and implemented. There is no point wasting time on a controls system that does not generate effective controlling actions.
Second, implementing corrective and preventative actions requires the resources working on the project to do something different. Variances don’t correct themselves, and simply telling someone to catch up is unlikely to have any effect. Sensible management action, decisions and leadership are needed to physically change the situation so there is a correction in the way work is performed. This is a core skill of every effective manager.
I’d love to know: How do you deal with variances in your projects? Please share below.
by Kevin Korterud
Once upon a time, projects were just projects. They were simple, had small teams and quite often finished on time. Projects were viewed as a path to operational improvements that reduce manual labor and free up people for other tasks.
As time marched on, the notion of a project began to increase in scale and complexity. Technology projects, for example, began as modest hardware and software initiatives. Over time, the technology project landscape has changed to include network, servers and cloud infrastructure. Software projects began growing into systems, software packages and complete end-to-end solutions.
As the quantity and business focus of project work increased, they became packaged into programs. Programs were created to help orchestrate myriad projects into cohesive outcomes. These were governed by an expanding slate of waterfall methods designed to both enable and oversee delivery.
With the advent of agile, a different form and pace emerged. Product delivery moved toward quicker and more frequent outputs, with delivery cadence driven by what an organization believed was best for customers and consumers.
Today, organizations have a delivery ecosystem of project, program and product delivery work based on internal and external dynamics. As the ecosystem changes over time, the balance of projects, programs and products does as well.
With project, program and product delivery all moving in different directions and at different speeds, how can an organization prevent these efforts from crashing into each other? Here is an approach I follow to help define, oversee and enhance the natural delivery ecosystem:
First, ensure that definitions are in place. These should be clear and concise portrayals of the work to be performed. Having these definitions commonly understood will go a long way in matching the correct policies, processes, controls and people to the form of work.
Here are some sample definitions:
These definitions also serve to identify the portfolio proportion of these different types of work, which helps determine the right people and supporting structures for success.
The ecosystem can change and flow to meet the needs of organizations, market forces, suppliers and people. Given this ebb and flow, one practical reality of this ecosystem is that any one form of project, program and product work cannot exist as 100% of the work.
2. Govern the Ecosystem
Any delivery ecosystem left to its own resorts will result in chaos with teams having different perceptions of how project, program and product delivery should be executed. This chaos will result in delays, additional costs and sometimes stalemates as teams negotiate over the execution of work efforts.
There needs to be balancing forces in place that help direct delivery. A delivery ecosystem governance model sets the boundaries for delivery work from ideation into formation and through execution. The governance model implements policies, processes and enabling artifacts that create predictable and repeatable attainment of desired results. This governance model is typically overseen by an enterprise delivery management office.
For example, one process within this model sets the venue to identify, confirm and release for execution the proper delivery process for a type of work. A portfolio review board based on input from the sponsor would analyze the characteristics of the work and determine whether it is a project, program or product. The outcomes from this portfolio review board promote consistency, ensure impartiality and avoid costly re-work due to poor decision-making.
Even an effective delivery ecosystem needs to have a “tune-up” every once in a while. As changes in business strategy, support for new regulations, market expansions and technical innovations come into play, the delivery ecosystem needs to change accordingly. These drive the need for a function to continuously harmonize and improve the delivery ecosystem. An EDMO will be the primary vehicle to both harmonize and improve the delivery ecosystem within an organization.
Improvements can include initiatives to reduce mobilization time, avoid resource contention and improve supplier integration. These initiatives are universal in nature and can be consistently applied to improve project, program and product delivery.
With the increased complexity of work and differing approaches for projects, programs and products, you need a means of harmonization to prevent misalignments, conflicts and collisions between work efforts. Harmonization processes can include release, dependency, data integration and test environment management.
Embrace the New Normal
Organizations need to recognize and embrace the different forms of delivery that are now the new normal. By adopting a structured approach to the definition, oversight and enablement of projects, programs and products, they can be delivered in a synergistic manner to lower costs while improving time to market and quality.
How do you balance the project, program and product initiatives at your company to avoid weather problems?
By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP
Over nearly two decades in project management, I’ve learned a number of strategies to make my voice heard and advance in my career. Much of that success has come by “leaning in,” as Sheryl Sandberg advocates.
As a woman in project management, I believe the following are key:
International Women’s Day is March 8, and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Please share your thoughts on how we celebrate the achievement of women while we continue to strive for balance for women socially, economically and culturally around the world.
By Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
As a woman who’s worked for the past 18-plus years in project, program and portfolio management, as well as building and leading enterprise project management offices for Fortune 500 companies, I wanted to address the topic of women in project management.
In the United States, women hold 38 percent of manager roles, according to a study conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org. And while women have made gains in some STEM fields, particularly healthcare and life sciences, they are underrepresented in many others. U.S. women hold 25 percent of computer jobs, and just 14 percent of those in engineering, according to the Pew Research Center.
In project management, as in other professions, women earn less than men. For project managers in the United States, men earn an average US$11,000 more annually than women, according to PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey.
Historically, women have been pigeonholed in project administrative or project coordination roles instead of project management roles, and the key question is “Why?”
We’ve all heard that we need to “think differently,” and as Sheryl Sandberg advocated in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, women need to raise their hands, project confidence, be at the table and physically lean in to make themselves heard. The dictionary definition of “lean in” means to press into something. So when faced with an overwhelming force such as wind, you need to lean toward the force rather than away in order to not be blown away.
“Lean in” can be a metaphor for asserting yourself as a leader in project management. As women, we may be held back by self-doubt, our speaking voice or body language that conveys a lack of self-confidence. The advice here is not limited to women; people of color can “lean in,” too.
There are three key cognitive biases that may hold women back in project management. The key is to recognize that these exist, and work to build awareness while overcoming them:
By understanding and recognizing these biases, we can work to defeat them. I’ll explore these topics more in my next post, which will coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8. How do you combat biases in the workplace?
By Ramiro Rodrigues
Among consultancies it’s common to reward project teams for good results with financial incentives.
The question is: Does this practice lead to better results? There’s a clear difference in position depending on which side the respondents are on. The dilemma is easy to understand.
When you’re in the position to be rewarded for the results achieved, it’s natural to see the positive side of this approach. But when you are responsible for delivering the bonus, some doubt will naturally exist. After all, what guarantees that this strategy will lead to projects with better results (regarding time, cost or quality)?
Many feel these rewards act as great incentives for project teams, thus leading to better performance. But one should also consider the concerns of those who fear that, in the name of this search for metrics, some values—such as professional ethics, transparency and lawfulness—may be compromised.
To find out if the bonus strategy should be implemented at your organization, have a look at the following four steps:
Step 1: Evaluate your organization's values.
More aggressive companies that encourage internal competition tend to favor this strategy. Knowing your organizational environment well will help you determine whether to adopt the financial incentive strategy or not.
Step 2: Define quality metrics.
Interpreting success only by the results related to project time or costs may lead to short-sightedness regarding customer satisfaction. Therefore, develop templates for satisfaction surveys that can help measure the quality of the delivered product and the opinion of the customer who receives the final result.
Step 3: Encourage mutual collaboration.
Dividing the bonus between specific members or projects creates a great risk of dissatisfaction among those who have been excluded. Thus, sharing the bonus between all team members, depending on the results of the overall project portfolio of the organization, is an interesting idea to consider.
Step 4: Start slowly and measure results.
Treat the implementation of this assessment as a project and aim to progress gradually, so that you can evaluate any impacts of this strategy on the culture and value perception of your company.
Good luck and much success!