What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends
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critical success factors,
Managing for Stakeholders,
Categories: Project Leadership, Continuous Learning, Collaboration, Servant Leadership, Priorities, Value, Cultural Awareness, project management office, Project Failure, Best Practices, Project Delivery, Metrics, project management, critical success factors, Managing for Stakeholders, execution, Project Success, Culture, Project Dependencies, Business Transformation, Transformation, Disruption, Design Thinking, Project Management, Cost, Risk, Career Development, Stakeholder, Change Management, Leadership, Program Management, Benefits Realization, Complexity, Consulting, Decision Making, Business Analysis, IT Strategy, Business Case
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?
By Lynda Bourne
Every decision involves making a choice between alternatives, with the project leader picking from a number of options. This selection is influenced by information (albeit sometimes insufficient) and preferences rooted in values and ethics. In these circumstances, the modern trend of risk-based decision-making can be seen as a tautology: Every decision involves uncertainty and therefore incorporates an element of risk.
The worst option is to delay a decision until all of the necessary information is available—and, as a consequence, all of the opportunities have evaporated. So how do you make good decisions? The starting point is to accept there will be uncertainty in all true decisions—and the outcome matters. You have to choose between different options while navigating any number of obstacles ahead of you: incomplete information to support the decision, no clear best path and unknown outcomes of some options. The challenge is to make the best decision in the available timeframe balancing risk and reward. No process can guarantee a good outcome every time, but working through a pragmatic process can help improve outcomes.
Your decision-making process needs to:
Getting the weighting right is central to this approach. In some situations, particularly when safety is involved, dull, safe but expensive may be the best choice, particularly if the cost is not particularly significant in the overall project budget. Think about investing in the security layer for any on-line finance or ordering system, for example. In other situations where failure is only going to cause some embarrassment, innovative but risky solutions may be better, particularly if the cost is low. Case in point: No one can predict when a website will become ultra-successful (go viral), but you won’t be successful if you don’t try. Investing US$10,000 in an option that has a 10 percent chance of making US$1 million is a good investment (but prudent managers have plan B ready to roll).
There’s no way to ensure the best decision is made, and often no way of knowing if the decision you’ve taken was the best—you cannot re-run history. But you can measure bad outcomes; the worst decision is no decision. The next-worse option is a late decision. This always costs a lot of money and may result in opportunities being missed. And the next worse option after that are timely decisions based on a wrong premise—usually out of trying to avoid all risk.
If you avoid those pitfalls, you’re likely to be making a well-founded decision. This is the realm of competent managers. But you’ll also need luck on your side to be seen as making a “really good” decision. And for that, you make your own luck, to quote author Ernest Hemmingway. Deciding to make effective decisions is a choice you need to make.
What does your decision-making process look like?
By Lynda Bourne
Last November, my partner and I spent a lovely day in the country attending the Dunkeld Cup at Mt. Abrupt in Victoria, Australia. The location is very picturesque, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable day. To add to the pleasures of wining and dining, my partner developed a “foolproof method” that allowed him to pick five winners and a placegetter (among the top three) out of seven races with a total of eight bets.
So, should he give up his day job to exploit this newly discovered skill?
The Dunkeld Racecourse with The Grampians Mountains behind.
The horses he chose were not random picks: My partner used a selection method based on a guide that rated horses on their form from 0 to 100. Using a portfolio management approach, he first recognized that the difference between a 97 or 98 rating and a rating of 100 was too small to matter. Every assessment process has a range of error, and a difference of 2 to 3 percent is likely to be well within this range. This approach reduced the panel of potential winners to three or four horses in each race.
The second step in the selection process was to look at the variables. The form guide is printed well before race day, and it had recently rained. A soft track would benefit horses carrying a lighter weight. So out of the prospective panel, we placed our bets on the horse with the lowest weight.
Voilà! Six winners in seven races—a winning formula that would allow us to retire from managing projects and make our fortunes as professional punters … But not so fast.
The probability of repeating a six out of seven winning ratio in the future is very low. How much of our big day boiled down to effective process—and how much was pure dumb luck? That is a risk management question.
Step One: Consider the Probability: The first consideration is how likely was it that someone would pick six out of seven winners? There were several thousand people at the race, and it is highly probable, simply based on random chance, that someone would have a “winning streak” and back six winners using their own system. On this basis, there is a several-thousand-to-one chance of a repeat outcome. Someone will have a similar winning streak in 2020, but probably not us. There is a strong tendency for winners to ascribe the results of random chance to their skill. But pragmatic managers look deeper.
Step Two: Assess All Available Data (Not Just the Highlights): We placed eight bets: Five came in first, one finished third and the other two were placed sixth and seventh, respectively. All we can say for sure is we were likely to select horses that would finish between seventh and first. But as there can only be one winner and two placegetters, horses finishing fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh mean a lost bet. The median position is 3.5—which also means a lost bet. The mean is 2.6, so we may have been slightly in front, but “place bets” do not pay much. Adding in the range options, no horse can do better than first place, but there are many more places between seventh and last. Factor this in, and the margin of success in our small sample becomes doubtful.
So, what are the lessons learned from our day in the country? My take is that good processes help build success—but you should not confuse luck with skill. When Napoleon Bonaparte was criticized for winning battles simply because of luck, he famously retorted: “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.” I think we were just lucky.
We may well return to the Dunkeld Cup in 2020. It’s a great day out, and more data is needed to round out this research. In the meantime, applying simple probability analysis to my partner’s winning methodology suggests he needs to keep his day job. That’s a safe bet.
As I am writing this article, the COVID-19 crisis is reaching a global scale, impacting projects and portfolios at different levels. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of noise and misinformation out there—people panicking and organizations reacting without deliberate rational thinking. Here are my thoughts from a project risk management perspective:
Should Project Risk Management Take the Pandemic into Consideration?
Considering we’ve endured pandemics before, this is, in theory, a known risk. But you likely did not include it in your project risk register, as it is very unlikely. In this case, the risk is unknown to you, because you and your team didn’t identify this risk.
Whether you agree or not, I believe that no one in the world was able to accurately assess the impact of COVID-19 before it happened—and there is still uncertainty about its impact moving forward. Consequently, in my opinion, this shouldn’t be part of project risk management. So what can we do?
Portfolio Risk Management
I’ve always maintained that risk management at the portfolio level should take into consideration events with a potential impact on the portfolio’s overall results. For example, if only one project depends heavily on vendor XYZ, then there is a risk to that project. However, if 80 percent of the projects in your portfolio depends heavily on vendor XYZ, this is a risk to the portfolio—and the threat should be treated as such.
We can add up management reserves at the portfolio level to rescue troubled projects. This is more effective than adding multiple reserves to individual projects, which makes them less attractive to the organization and to potential clients.
Contingencies, reserves and risk responses need to be evaluated according to effectiveness, cost, and benefit. In other words, it does not make sense to pay more for the risk response than the amount of risk exposure. Too much padding will destroy a competitive advantage.
The PMO’s Role in Risk Management
Now that we’ve differentiated project risk management from portfolio risk management, let’s talk about the role of the Project Management Office (PMO). A PMO is responsible for continuously monitoring the enterprise environmental factors that might impact the projects and the portfolios of the organization. On top of that, a PMO is responsible for creating a business continuity plan for projects and portfolios.
Working in coordination with other areas, including corporate risk management, the PMO must assess threats and opportunities, and develop a solid fallback plan. Some organizations have done really well during the COVID-19 crisis because their PMOs acted boldly and quickly.
Taking it a step further, many PMOs reevaluated all the projects and portfolios according to changes in the organizational strategy to minimize adverse effects.
Over the last two weeks, I attended various meetings and workshops with PMOs. Some were very innovative in their approaches. Others were more conservative. At the end of the day, the PMO is uniquely positioned to tackle issues that the project managers cannot solve themselves. And COVID-19 is a one-of-a-kind challenge.
How to Conduct a Risk Assessment on the Impact of COVID-19
We can divide the risk assessment into external factors and internal factors. For the external factors, you must assess your country’s or region’s exposure to the threat. According to the simulations, it seems that everyone will be impacted. A lot of people will become infected. And there are economic impacts on a global scale. On the other hand, some countries are better prepared to handle the situation, which means they will be able to recover faster.
Here are the key external factors you should consider:
You might also apply and combine SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and PESTEL analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal). Once you understand the external environment, it’s time to assess your organization.
Here are the key aspects you should evaluate within your organization:
Organizational assessment is already going on at all levels. Does your organization seem to be lost and confused? If people in your organization are seriously concerned, but still working diligently to evaluate and to create responses, you are on the right path. If people are panicking and confusion is growing, this is a bad sign.
Finally, let’s focus on individual portfolios and projects. It is possible that many projects will be terminated, canceled or at least paused as the organization tries to figure out how to survive.
Here are the key aspects by which you can evaluate your own projects:
To conclude, I would like to remind you that it is important to be proactive. People expect you to lead during a crisis. Use solid judgment, engage your team, document assumptions, constraints and risks and take action. Taking action is paramount.
Let me know your thoughts. How is your project performing during the COVID-19 crisis? Do you have any advice or lessons learned to share?