Project Management

Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
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Supercharging an Organization’s Performance to Achieve its Mission

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

There is a dramatic increase in the strategies corporations implement to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Driving value from all parts of an organization and its functions may seem like repetitive exercises—and even feel more like a medieval gauntlet with only a few successful programs. HBR (2021) wrote that by 2027, about 88 million people will be working in project management—with economic activity reaching $20 trillion USD. Also noted: Only 35% of projects are successful, leaving immense waste of resources.

There are many reasons projects fail. HBR (2021) states of the 70% of failed projects, and after exhaustive root-cause analysis across all industries, one can identify common themes such as undervaluing project management skills and methods, and poor performance. Yet organizations that apply project management methods recognized their performance had a 2.5 more times chance to be successful, and organizations can waste 28 times less resources. As such, when applied, the implementation of PM methods works.

Yet in a world filled with a variety of project taxonomies, many organizational boards are now contemplating the need to implement environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Forbes states the benefits of ESG and CSR initiatives include:

  1. Advancing organizational culture, empowering staff to do social good, and welcoming diversity.
  2. Encouraging partners and investors who are interested in long-run strategy to manage risks and opportunities by emphasizing the organization’s ethics.
  3. Raising an organization’s staff confidence and productivity, creating a workplace that achieves the business mission.

Therefore, to ensure success for ESG and CSR programs, an organization’s top leaders need to prioritize and align across all the organization’s businesses. Leaders can use the balanced scorecard to achieve this alignment, and can extend its use across the entire project portfolio.

This theory was developed by Kaplan and Norton, which state the balanced scorecard method converts the organization’s strategy into performance objectives, measures, targets and initiatives. Linking the concept of cause and effect, the balanced scorecard covers four perspectives:

  1. Customer: How do customers see us?
  2. Internal: What must we excel at?
  3. Innovation and learning: Can we continue to improve and create value?
  4. Financial: How do we look to shareholders?

Marr (N.B.) reported over 50% of companies have used this approach in the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe and Japan. One clear benefit has been to align the organization’s structure to achieve its strategic goals.

In conclusion, applying project management methods and aligning an organization’s performance through the balanced scorecard can unlock ESG and CSR benefits that can supercharge a company’s efforts to achieve its mission.

References

  1. HBR: The Project Economy Has Arrived
  2. HBR: The Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance
  3. Project Management Statistics: Trends and Common Mistakes in 2023
  4. Forbes: Three Reasons Why CSR And ESG Matter to Businesses
  5. Balanced Scorecard: How Many Companies Use This To
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: June 14, 2023 04:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Social and Environmental Awareness is Becoming Confusing

By Lynda Bourne

It is important that both professionals, and the organizations that employ them, are socially and environmentally aware—and act responsibly to protect the rights of others. The financial consequences of failing to be socially aware started to be felt in the 1950s. Around this time, investors started excluding stocks, or entire industries, from their portfolios based on business activities such as tobacco production or involvement in the South African apartheid regime.

These considerations developed into the concept of environmental, social, and corporate governance. Today, ESG is an umbrella term that refers to specific data designed to be used by investors for evaluating the material risk that the organization is taking on based on the externalities it is generating.

The term ESG was popularly used first in a 2004 report titled Who Cares Wins[1], which was a joint initiative of financial institutions at the invitation of the United Nations. Then the UN’s 2006 report Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) required ESG to be incorporated into the financial evaluations of companies.

Under ESG reporting, organizations are required to present data from financial and non-financial sources that shows they are meeting the standards of agencies such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, the Global Reporting Initiative, and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. The data must be made available to rating agencies and shareholders.

Corporate social responsibility is the flip side of ESG. CSR is the belief that corporations have a responsibility toward the society they operate within. This is not a new idea; it is possible to trace the concerns of some businesses toward society back to the Industrial Revolution and the work of primarily Quaker business owners to provide accommodation and reasonable living standards for their workers.

However, it was not until the 1970s that concepts such as social responsibility of businesses being commensurate with their power, and business functions by public consent, started to become mainstream. Today, CSR is a core consideration for most ethical businesses.

These concepts were turned into a structured set of guidelines in 1981, when Freer Spreckley suggested in Social Audit - A Management Tool for Co-operative Working[2] that enterprises should measure and report on financial performance, social wealth creation, and environmental responsibility.

These ideas have become the triple bottom line (TBL), which is considered essential to effective organizational governance these days. Most of the major corporate governance frameworks require the TBL to be included in corporate reporting.

In his foreword to Corporate Governance: A Framework – Overview (prepared by the World Bank in 2000), Sir Adrian Cadbury summarized these objectives in his statement: "The aim is to align as nearly as possible the interests of individuals, corporations, and society."

Similar concepts to the TBL also form a core component of most codes of ethics and professional conduct. For example, the current version of PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct incudes:

  • 2.2 Responsibility: Aspirational Standards: As practitioners in the global project management community:
    2.2.1 We make decisions and take actions based on the best interests of society, public safety, and the environment.
  • 4.3 Fairness: Mandatory Standards: As practitioners in the global project management community, we require the following of ourselves and our fellow practitioners:
    4.3.4 We do not discriminate against others based on, but not limited to, gender, race, age, religion, disability, nationality, or sexual orientation.

So far, so good. There has been a simple set of unambiguous requirements in place for 30-plus years that are straightforward and easy to understand. These simple (if difficult to achieve) concepts have been refined to make consideration of environmental (sustainability), social and financial outcomes important in every decision-making process, including those affecting the organization’s projects.

However, having become a hot topic for boards, investors and managers alike in the last couple of years, these ideas seem to be disappearing into a blizzard of acronyms that appear to be more about differentiating a consultant’s services than adding value. Some of the newer acronyms include:

  • 3Ps: People, Plant, Profit
  • DEI: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (alternatively EDI)
  • DIB: Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
  • D&I: Diversity & inclusion
  • JEDI: Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
  • RAP: Reconciliation Action Plan
  • SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals (published by the UN)

My concern is that while the concepts defined by each of the acronyms above are of themselves valuable (once you work out what they mean), and a few—such as the UN’s sustainable development goals—add substantially to the TBL framework, most are either sub-sets of the overarching objectives defined in PMI’s Code of Ethics and Cadbury’s simple statement, or essentially cover the same concepts.  

Do all of these extra acronyms add to the core objective of improving outcomes for people and the environment or not? What do you think?

 


[1]     Download the 2004 repot from: https://www.unepfi.org/fileadmin/events/2004/stocks/who_cares_wins_global_compact_2004.pdf

[2] Spreckley, Freer (1981). Social Audit: A Management Tool for Co-operative Working. Beechwood College.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: December 07, 2022 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Project Management Is The Great Equalizer

In my project management career, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on different projects all over the world. As with most things in life (like having a flat auto tire or forgetting to pay the electric bill), projects mirror the practical realities of life. One of the takeaways from those experiences has been the commonality of successful project management approaches no matter the geographical location of the projects.

A key characteristic that I have observed over time is how projects and project management resemble a meritocracy independent of personal bias. Projects need to be complete with desired outcomes in a specific period of time. As one completes ever more large and complex projects, one grows in their career as a project manager. This career growth occurs regardless of the race, gender or other characteristics of the project manager.

As with many other merit-based professions such as healthcare, aviation, athletics and science, the introduction of personal bias with project management would be detrimental to the completion of any project. That’s why project management as a profession is a great equalizer given its heavy dependence on the skills and capabilities of a project manager.

In thinking about how project management is a great equalizer, I offer the following thoughts:                                                           

1. The project doesn’t know who is managing it. Projects are an interesting construct that is hard to categorize under the typical laws of physics; they don’t have weight, exhibit motion or temperature. Projects do have the characteristic of being a collection of activities and assets that need to be brought together to produce desired outcomes.

In this regard, a project by definition is immune from any personal bias; it’s a matter of solving a three-dimensional problem using people, process and technology. A project manager needs to be skilled at resource, schedule, dependency and stakeholder management in order to solve for desired outcomes. The project itself does not prefer the personal background of the project manager; it awaits the proper project management disciplines to be employed in order to complete its required objectives.

2. Successful project managers find the best people. People represent one of the key factors in any project. When compared against process and technology components, the acquisition of the best people plays a more significant factor in the success of any project. However, the acquisition of people for a project also poses the possibility for personal bias. As a project manager, you have to be able to find the best people for the project independent of subjective perceptions.

A CEO of a global company once said it took him 20 years to get a point where he could identify good people more than half the time. My observations of project managers early in their careers bear this out; they tend to be more subjective in selecting resources that they like and perceive would work well on their team; read this behavior as easier to manage. The more experienced project managers more discreetly evaluate competencies than subjective factors; this is key, as no matter the personal affinity or how easy (or difficult) the person is perceived to manage, the most critical dimension of people for a project is their competencies. 

3. Project management metrics show no bias. One of my favorite quips about project metrics, especially when they are not favorable, is “You can’t beat the laws of physics.” If metrics show a project to be over budget or with late milestones, those are intractable project “laws of physics” that need to be addressed by the responsible project manager.

To a great degree, project metrics are designed to not show any personal bias. They are a physical expression of project reality that can’t be influenced by personal factors of the project manager. Metrics are equal in every regard to serve as an unbiased foundation from which remedial project actions are taken.

In my early years as a project manager, I have to admit I made every possible project management judgement error on my projects. Over time and with some valuable guidance from experienced project managers, I grew into leading ever larger initiatives. As part of that growth path, I observed that the most experienced project managers had left any notion of personal bias behind in their project management execution. Their focus on the core dynamics of a project, finding the best people and anticipating conditions that would lead to unfavorable metrics were key factors in their success.

I welcome any commentary on the concept of project management being one of the purest forms of meritocracy that by design can’t rely on personal bias to achieve success.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 19, 2021 05:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Reflections on a Personally Influential Project

Categories: Social Responsibility

My interest in project management started long ago. When I was a kid my family would visit Kolkata, where my grandparents lived, on holidays. It was a busy city and a big change for someone growing up in a small town.

As much as I loved all the shops and eateries, the main attraction was the metro. Opened in 1984, it was the first of its kind in India. I had heard many stories about how you would travel underground. The thrill of my first ride as a kid was unimaginable. 

It was amazing to see how the metro touched the lives of so many. It made travel so much easier and faster. The impact that a project could have stuck with me.

After I’d grown up and was a newbie stepping into the world of project management, I wanted my own project—something where I would be in charge. 

One morning my prayers were answered, and I was offered an opportunity. That said, the work on this project was negligible, it would last just a few weeks and the money wasn’t much. 

Even so, I jumped at the chance. I worked on the project with a small team of mostly fresh grads, and we made sure every detail was covered. We checked and double-checked everything. We communicated with the stakeholder regularly and started sending her updates and snippets of the work as it was happening. This was way before agile was a norm. 

She came back with feedback and changes, and we were quick enough to get it back to her ahead of schedule. 

The work kept on coming, and this tiny project slowly became one that everyone started to notice. It was the project that established me as a project manager. 

I knew I wanted to work on something that would make everyone’s lives easier. I knew that a project could create an impact. In a lot of ways that first ride on the metro had sealed my basic philosophy in my life journey and career. 

I want to hear from you. What was the first project you remember as a kid?

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: October 27, 2019 01:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

3 Tips to Enhance Your Leadership IQ

By Peter Tarhanidis

The boards I serve have common opportunities and challenges revolving around promoting a brand, balancing the operating budget and growing capital. Yet, while flawless leadership is expected, in actuality it is difficult to sustain.

As I reflected on why many organizations were challenged around execution, I realized that executives must improve their leadership intelligence around three key factors to enable success:

  1. Improve speed and quality. When leaders struggle to make quick or quality decisions, it’s often viewed as not having the right team in place, or not having enough intelligence on the matter or the specific responsibilities related to the decision. One can increase cognitive abilities through investing in formal education, training and access to subject matter experts to gain the necessary knowledge.
  2. Repair team alienation and restore loss of confidence. Building trust in teams can improve leadership intelligence. Commit to a path of restoring relationships by understanding yourself and others. Assess emotional intelligence techniques to gain self-awareness and rationale for team motivation.
  3. Become aware of stakeholders on social media. Thanks to social media, a large audience judges every executive decision. Expand stakeholder relationship management to include communication and change management via social media channels. Seek out team members who are knowledgeable in social media so that they can proactively engage stakeholders and integrate feedback to reduce blind spots.

In my experience as a mentor and leadership coach, these tips can help align decision-making, leader accountability and stakeholder engagement to the needs of the customers, and improve the overall culture of the organization. As a result, the brand will come to life.

How have you improved your leadership intelligence?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 06, 2017 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)
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