by Dave Wakeman
I recently came across some of management guru Peter Drucker’s thoughts on project management.
As often happens with Drucker’s writing, the lessons he wrote about many years ago are still applicable today.
In his thinking about project management, Drucker came up with the idea that it really came down to three ideas: objectives, measurements and results.
Let’s take each of these areas and think about how we should approach them today.
Objectives: Many projects get stuck before they even begin, due to a poor framing of the project’s objectives. We should be undertaking our projects only when we have moved through the project-planning phase to such an extent that we have a strong grasp of what we are hoping to achieve.
These objectives shouldn’t be fuzzy or wishy-washy. They should be solid and rooted in the overall strategy of the organization you are performing the project for.
This means you have to ask the question: “Does this project move us toward our goals?”
If the answer is “yes,” it’s likely a project that should be launched.
If the answer is “no,” it’s likely a project that needs to be fleshed out more, rethought or not undertaken at all.
Measurements: Drucker is famous for this adage: What gets measured gets managed.
In thinking about project management, measurements aren’t just about being able to improve project delivery. They’re also essential to ensure the project is headed in the right direction.
To effectively measure our projects, we need to have laid out key measurements alongside the project’s objectives.
The measurements should be specific, with expected outputs and completion dates, so you can affirm whether you are on schedule, behind schedule or ahead of schedule.
At the same time, the measurements should inform you of your progress as it compares to your strategic goals.
Results: Ultimately, projects are about results.
To paraphrase another great thinker, Nick Saban: If you focus on doing your job right on each play, you’ll put yourself in a position to be successful at achieving your goals.
Saban coaches U.S. football, but this works just as well for all of us in project management.
If we are focusing our energy on tying our projects to our organization’s strategy, through this strategy we focus our project efforts on the correct objectives in line with our strategy. Then we use those objectives to measure our progress against the strategy. We should be putting ourselves in a position to get the results that we need from our projects.
These results should be measured as positive outcomes. In Saban’s case, that’s wins. In your case, it might be a new technology solution, a successful new ad campaign or a profitable fundraising effort.
To me, reviewing Drucker’s thoughts on project management is a reminder: Even though there is a constant pull of new technologies, never-ending demands on our attention and a world where change feels accelerated, sometimes the best course of action is to step back, slow down and get back to the basics.
Keep These 3 Priorities In Focus
by Dave Wakeman
In today’s project environment, it can be difficult for project managers to know where they should—or shouldn’t—focus their time and energy. Stakeholders, team members, and sponsors, all with their own agendas, pull project managers in different directions.
That said, I think all project managers can gain a great deal by focusing on the following:
1. Opportunities within the project. I’ve never seen a project that’s set in stone. In truth, almost every project I’ve worked on has changed so much throughout the course of its existence that it often becomes unidentifiable with the initial scope.
This can be frustrating, but to maximize your success as a project manager, you should embrace the change process because it allows you to search for and capture opportunities that will enable you to have the highest impact.
Think about this simplified example: Let’s say you are working on a web project. The scope of the project calls for you to build a responsive website that can handle a certain amount of traffic, and you have three months to do it. That’s pretty clear-cut, right?
It is. And, you could definitely go right through the project and deliver. But what if you discovered a more cost-effective way to host the site with a better load speed? Wouldn’t that be identifying an opportunity and creating a better outcome for you, your team and your client?
2. Development of your team. One challenge we often face is resource uncertainty. Essentially, will our human capital sufficiently meet the project’s demands?
This is an ongoing challenge in many organizations. Staff members are often overburdened, and they’re not always up to speed on the newest ideas, techniques, and tools.
To maximize your impact, it pays to spend time thinking about and developing your team. Consider ways you can help build up your team’s skills in a way that will make your life as the project manager easier. It may be as simple as identifying a skill crucial to your project and providing some type of consistent coaching, information or feedback each week that helps improve that specific area.
3. Testing as you work your way through a project. Does this part work the way it should? Did that segment of the project produce the outcome we needed? Are people reacting the way we thought they would or should?
Pay attention to each step in the project and spend time testing your assumptions and your results against the work produced. It’ll pay off in the end.
In some cases, things will work out exactly how you thought they would. But in the cases where that doesn’t happen, testing can be the difference between the success and failure of your project.
Is there anything else you consistently remain focused on during your projects?
Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance
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Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance
By Peter Tarhanidis, MBA, PhD
There are three common maturity levels in developing project management leadership:
It takes many years to cultivate the skills necessary to execute complex initiatives of all sizes and types. And project leaders may find gratification in the personal development to sustain their performance, as well as their project achievements.
However, over time, it’s not unusual to lose sight of that passion, excitement and engagement for executing initiatives. Instead, the project leader may default to simply providing the project management administrative activities of project execution. This reversal of development is a leadership pitfall and creates a chasm between high performance and exceptional performance.
One way to bridge the chasm is to be purpose-driven. A defined purpose distinguishes oneself as a distinctive as a brand. A brand is underpinned by one’s education, abilities and accomplishments. By identifying what is central to your interests and commitments, project leaders can re-engage with purpose and unlock exceptional performance. This can be broad or can be very specific in a subject expertise.
I have use the following method to find my brand and define my purpose:
Having used this approach to define my purpose, I learned I enjoy the macro view of the firm. I regularly coach leaders and help them develop their teams. Therefore, I like to simultaneously drive toward exceptional performance to achieve a firm’s mission and to advance the needs of society.
Please share your purpose and any examples of exceptional performance you achieved toward that purpose.
by Kevin Korterud
The technology found in today’s automobiles is simply amazing. Front and side traffic radar units, anti-dozing head movement detectors, driving timers that alert drivers when they should stop for a break — all good examples of accident prevention mechanisms.
Projects to some degree are like automobiles: They are on a journey to deliver passengers (the project team and stakeholders) to a pre-determined destination. However, despite the introduction of many modern project management technologies, research shows that we continue to experience project accidents. These accidents result in extensive and costly rework to get a project back on track.
I think part of the solution to avoid these potential problems is to borrow from recent automobile technologies as a way to detect troublesome signals. These signals are not readily perceivable from traditional project management methods.
Here are a few examples of anticipatory signals that portend the onset of a skid that often leads to a project accident.
A core competency of a project manager is to determine the schedule, budget and progress trajectory of a project. The project forecast is essential to determine where the project will finish for these measurements. Schedule, budget and progress forecasts from team members that exhibit great degrees of change over prior reporting periods are indicative of trending to an accident. This downward spiral is exacerbated when the forecast measurements come with great uncertainty; e.g., “I don’t know what this will take to finish.”
Several techniques can be employed to reduce the volatility of forecasting. Some of these techniques include initiating a peer review of the forecast with another project manager or supplier subject matter expert, as well as pausing the project to recalibrate the forecast in a dedicated working session. Taking time to implement these and other techniques to mitigate forecast volatility will get the project back on track before an accident.
2. Static Project Status
Project status reports can offer a tremendous amount of value to a project manager. They accumulate both qualitative and quantitative data that sheds light on the current project state. But, despite the visibility status reports provide, they’re just a snapshot. That limits their ability to show progress trends. In addition, a project status report that does not show content changes week over week indicates that the project is likely stalled and headed toward an accident.
To increase the anticipatory value of a project status report, introduce trending and predictive data for risks, issues, deliverables and milestones. This allows the project team to determine what level of progress has been achieved, as well as what progress to expect. It also better positions the project manager to escalate mitigations to avoid an impending project accident.
At the beginning of a project, stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm is typically high. This is not unlike the start of a road trip. But, as time passes on a project, the level of enthusiasm and engagement can begin to wane. Stakeholder engagement over time will face tough tests from project risks to resource challenges to dependency conflicts. Each can sap the energy levels of stakeholders. This leads to passive engagement at best and complete disengagement and absenteeism at worst.
To keep stakeholder engagement at the proper level, stakeholders need to be treated like any other resource on a project. Their time needs to be managed in work plans to avoid oversubscribing their capacity. In addition, their work should be focused on higher value activities that promote project progress. Providing the team access to project support staff to maximize productivity also helps further stakeholder engagement and leads to persistent engagement.
Perhaps one day in the future there will be technology solutions that provide anticipatory signals for projects headed for an accident. Until that day comes, however, project managers still need to think organically and look for hidden signals of dangers to project budgets, schedules and progress.
What do you see as the leading indicators that a project is trending toward disaster?
Lead With Value
by Dave Wakeman
Where do you stand on the value vs. benefits debate?
As someone who spends most of my time managing projects in marketing and revenue-generating roles, I likely see the idea in a much different way.
To me, value is the most important thing that you can sell to your sponsors, stakeholders and your team.
I think it’s pretty simple: If you are selling benefits, you have allowed yourself to slip into the world of commodity.
As the need increases for project managers to advocate for resources and execution in projects, it’s important that we don’t give weight to commodity thinking. If we allow ourselves to become a commodity, it becomes much easier to ignore our project, cancel the project or not give the project the resources it needs to be successful.
Value, on the other hand, allows you to explain your project in terms of impact. And if your stakeholders, sponsors and team see the impact and the improvement of what your project will mean to the organization, community or stakeholders, it becomes much easier to sell the importance of the project, the need for resources and the benefits.
Here are a couple ideas on how you can prioritize value in your projects.
Lead with impact. Think about how the work you are doing is going to improve people’s lives, the success of an organization or some other high impact measure that will get people excited.
Here’s an example: In working on the New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York’s Times Square for several years, I could have easily said my main job was to make sure that I expedited people’s access to the restricted areas, hastened the process of getting people in and out of Times Square and ensured that the primary entertainment events went off in a timely manner.
That would be missing the point. The impact that I created was that I ensured that the logistics of the ball drop didn’t stand in the way of people having a safe, enjoyable New Year’s Eve experience.
In the first example, those are just commodity activities.
But if I do the job of selling the value the right way, it’s much more likely that the project is going to go through in a way that I hope for.
Don’t just think of the tangible benefits; think of the intangible benefits too. The core of the benefits argument is that tasks are the only thing people value in business or project management.
As someone that started out my career working in entertainment exclusively, I recognized pretty early on that what people view as a benefit often is independent of what they are actually getting from physical goods.
For all of you thinking about value over benefits, this boils down to tangible versus intangible value.
If you are selling the value of your projects, and you want to increase the impact of your conversation, focus on impact. Think about it from both the tangible and intangible angles.
The tangible value in your project might be how much more money they are going to earn, how much money they are going to save or how much more efficient something will be.
Your sponsor or stakeholders might really be much more excited by less stress from commuting, in the case of a mass transit or road project. They might find that the reduction in time allows them to spend more time at home with their family.
Or, the intangible might be something else entirely.
The key is to not allow your project to just become a checklist of activities. If you do, you are likely dealing with commodity status and no project team does their best work in that situation.