What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends
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By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.
In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate strategic planning, organizations face the perpetual dilemma of choosing between capital spending for growth—and optimizing operations for efficiency. Striking the right balance amidst economic trends and leveraging organizational strengths becomes paramount when navigating through strategic projects. Meeting shareholder and stakeholder needs, while aligning with the organization's mission, presents a constant challenge.
To anticipate potential initiatives, project managers must consider global macroeconomic conditions and CEO outlooks. A preliminary assessment based on the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects and OECD Economic Outlook reports for 2024 reveals a projected global economic growth slowdown from 2.7% to 2.4%. This trend suggests a delicate balance between slow growth and regional divergences. Key considerations include:
Examining the corporate landscape, a survey of 167 CEOs in December 2023 indicated a confidence index of 6.3 out of 10 for the 2024 economy—the highest of the year. The CEO upsurge assumes inflation is under control, the Fed may not raise interest rates and instead reverse rates, setting up a new cycle of growth. Furthering the CEO agenda, McKinsey & Co. identified eight CEO 2024 priorities:
As project managers, navigating the uncertainty of economic shifts necessitates staying vigilant. The year may bring variables and predictions that impact the execution probability of strategic projects. Shifting between growth plans and efficiency drivers demands different preparation. To stay prepared, consider the following:
In an environment of perpetual change, proactive monitoring, adaptability and strategic collaboration will be key to successfully steering projects through the dynamic economic landscape.
How else can you stay prepared as the demands shift on you and your team?
Business Transformation in Disguise
By Jess Tayel
In the quest to uplift capabilities, better serve customers, improve the bottom line or acquire market share, organizations rely on a mix of projects and programs.
Some projects are scored as critical and complex. Some organizations have a clear and defined scoring system of what is critical and what is not, while others settle for a subjective measure.
But even after you’ve determined a project is critical, there’s more to consider.
Is it Change or Transformation?
When it comes to big, critical projects, ask yourself: Are you delivering a change initiative or a business transformation initiative?
Why is this distinction important? Because they both have different characteristics that dictate how they should be brought to life.
Change initiatives execute a defined set of projects or initiatives that may or may not impact how things work across the entire organization. Examples include introducing a new payroll system, moving into a centralized shared services model or executing an office move.
Business transformation, however, is a portfolio of initiatives that have a high level of interdependencies, leading to change across the organization. They’re focused not just on execution but also on reinventing and discovering a new or a revised business model. That model is based on a significant business outcome that will determine the future of the organization.
With that in mind, business transformation is more unpredictable and iterative, and it’s about a substantial change in mindset and ways of doing business. The “how” may not be as defined as it is in change initiatives, which means you need to try different methods and be more experimental.
Set Your Organization up for Success
Because of these distinctions, business transformation should never start with finding a solution, i.e., bring in this technology, hire this firm, change model X to Y. It should instead focus on the following:
You may say that these questions can be part of the initiation phase. But in my 20 years of experience around the globe, I have rarely seen the above steps executed diligently from a customer centricity point of view before teams start to dig for a solution.
That said, time spent clearly articulating those elements is well spent and directly contributes to the success of the transformation, while reducing rework and change fatigue. It’s like spending time to sharpen your saw before starting to cut the tree.
In my next post, I will talk more about what is required from the leadership and internal transformation teams to facilitate and create success.
Feel free to comment below and send feedback; I would love to hear about your experiences with business transformation
By Ramiro Rodrigues
Recently, an acquaintance pointed out to me that the projects environment is susceptible to chaos. In his view, all it takes is a lack of effective leadership. If leaders aren’t constantly focused on solving the problems that occur in an environment of resistance and change, chaos will take place. After 20 years of professional work on corporate projects, I couldn’t disagree.
Obviously, the forces that pave the path to chaos in projects are not exact, but rather derived from human factors. Without adequate leadership, distinct interests, personalities and priorities will drive any corporate enterprise to disorder and, consequently, failure.
But if chaos has already taken hold, is there a way to reverse it?
In order to determine an effective solution, you’ll need to research and analyze the environment. Here, I present a practical and relevant framework for projects in this situation:
Step 1: Investigate carefully and critically all the variables that are exerting power in the project. These could include the political context, governance, financial and operational applications, organizational models, skills and the human characteristics of those involved.
Step 2: Based on these investigations, develop a list of items that are bringing negative interferences to the success of the project and seek to prioritize them with the support of the project sponsor. Consider all the layers of issues that are creating turmoil on the project.
Step 3: With the list in your hands, develop a proposal of actions aimed at the effective recovery of the items. The tip here is that one should be attentive so that the proposed actions to recover the specific items do not divert at any time from the ultimate goals of the project.
Step 4: Validate whether the project sponsor is truly engaged and committed to making the proposed recovery plan viable. Without their engagement, the effort will be worthless.
Step 5: Execute the recovery plan as a parallel project, albeit one related to the original project. In this stage, it is important to implement best practices of project management, such as status meetings with the analysis of obtained results and clear communication with those involved.
It’s obvious this process will require more effort from the leadership, but if the sponsoring organization is committed and interested in project recovery, the investment is justified. And in this context, the project manager will have a great opportunity to demonstrate his or her resilience and ability to overcome challenges.
Have you turned around a project in chaos? Share your experiences below.
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.
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?