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Nick Clemens, PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition Development Team member
As a project manager I find myself immersed in uncertainties and change. People roll on and off my program teams, my management chain changes frequently, and my customer base is in flux. I am a contractor for a larger US Federal Department and even within the US Federal bureaucracy change comes quick and often. I think for large bureaucracies the problem is not change, it’s here and must be dealt with. The problem is adaption and response.
The same is true for projects. Project leaders must adapt and overcome. Our response as project leaders must insure the on-time delivery of our products and services within project constraints. This is how we deliver benefits that create value for our customers and companies alike. And for those who like to deliver incrementally, I’m also talking to you. Implicit in the idea of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is the delivery of a benefit that creates inherent value for both the user and the supplying enterprise.
So how do we keep track of where we are going with everything changing around us? To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, If you don't know where you're going, any road can take you there. The answer is to go back to basics. Basic project management principles provide us with a framework to guide us when our projects are troubled. The PMBOK® Guide–Seventh Edition development team is taking just that approach in updating The Standard for Project Management. We are looking at a better way to guide project leaders using a principles-based approach that will allow flexible responses to an environment fraught with change and uncertainty.
So, what’s a project management principle that could help us to navigate our complex environments and keep track of where we are going? It has to do with “systems thinking” and is related to a management principle from the risk area, “work to balance threats and opportunities.” The principle I am thinking of is around the idea of Think Holistically.
Holistic thinking tells us to get out of the weeds, to see the forest for the trees. In other words, as a project leader have a vision for your project. That vision should include your project’s purpose, value to be delivered, impact to the business environment, and its effect on the people involved. Holistic thinking also includes understanding the trade-off space to ensure the team delivers outputs that will drive outcomes. It allows self-organization of work but keeps the pieces integrated. Holistic thinking challenges assumptions and mental models to broaden the possible solution space.
Whether managing a group of work packages to a project plan or integrating a couple of scrum teams to deliver a MVP according to a release plan, the challenge to the project leader is the same—keeping on track to meet our customer’s vision and expectations and delivering outcomes, even if the precise end goal is not fully defined at present. I didn’t say it would be easy. In most cases the days of the practically perfect project plans went out with the departure of Mary Poppins, not in the most recent Disney sequel, but in the original 1964 movie! To say the least, a principles-based approach to project management has been a long time coming.
So, think holistically to keep the focus of your project 100% aligned with your customer’s vision and expectations. Remember as the project leader your job is to deliver and create value for your customers and company. Everything else is in the weeds. The key is to recognize, evaluate, and respond to the dynamic circumstances within and surrounding the project delivery systems as the systems interact and react with each other.
by: Klaus Nielsen, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member
Did you know that many organizations have unsuccessfully tried to implement an off-the-shelf, or ready-made, project management methodology and found that it was unsuitable for their projects, their organization, and their level of organizational project management maturity?
This often results in a lot of money, time and effort spent with little return and a decrease in staff morale. The one-size-fits-all approach is not working, because no two projects are the same. Different people, clients, vendors, technologies, cultures, approaches, sizes and such require extensive tailoring.
Designing the delivery approach based on the context of the project, its objectives, stakeholders, and the environment is much more difficult than it may sound. Designing the delivery approach requires tailoring. We use tailoring to our project management methodology with the hope of buy-in from team members. In some cases, a tailored approach produces a more customer-oriented focus, centers on best-for-project approach, and reflects a more efficient use of project resources. It also helps to ensure that when the team agrees to use specific processes, tools, or ceremonies, everyone is aligned, and use is consistent.
But who has not experienced the damage from tailoring not done correctly? I have! It’s when project team members are not using the methodology, independently modifying the methodology, or following the process for the sake of the process.
When we tailor, we have a wide range of options. I tend to look at the processes and see whether it would work or not. Often, I have been faced with too many processes of little value. In some cases, inputs, tools, and techniques may be omitted or changed to make them work within a specific context. Also, when tailoring I examine the level of documentation required, as it’s often a great chunk of work. I want to make sure all project artefacts, documents, and plans provide value — not just documentation for the sake of documentation. Thinking back, if you had to apply everything the same way to all your projects for the last 20 years, that would be a nightmare. Firstly, I rarely do the same kind of projects the same way twice. Secondarily, if I had to do it all over, I would make a lot of changes (hopeful that I have learned something along the way). Think of tailoring as your opportunity to apply lessons learned.
I think it’s difficult to talk about tailoring without touching upon efficiency and effectiveness. Now it becomes slightly trickier. I don’t see one without the other. I know some of you may have concerns about the connotations of these terms, so let me try to explain my view.
Effectiveness talks to providing our customers with value through product delivery and producing the intended or expected result. It is also associated with the results from the actions of the team members and the project manager.
On the other hand, efficiency talks to how we are performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort. It is also associated with how things are done.
Who has not heard the following statement: “The fundamental reason why projects are late is because of inefficient use of resources. My job as a project leader is to move our expertise around to tackle as much work as possible, and to do so seamlessly?” In this case, efficiency means getting more work done with the least loss of time, which is done by maximizing utilization. In this case, efficient IS effective. In my native language of Danish, we use the same term for these two concepts.
For others, efficiency is a poison. For them it also means maximizing utilization, which requires that we overcommit and confuse our staff, leaving them no slack to breathe or innovate. To them, efficient is the OPPOSITE of effective. However, that was not the intention.
Just to wrap it up: Design the delivery approach based on the context of the project, its objectives, stakeholders, and the environment. Maximize value, manage costs, develop flow and enhance speed by utilizing just enough process. I think there might be a principle or two in there.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year at PMI! Global Conference is just around the corner, and with this year’s exciting 50th anniversary celebrations, we are certainly counting down the days! If you will be in Philadelphia for the conference, please stop by the ProjectManagement.com Community booth and say hello. We would love to meet you!
In this month’s look at what’s currently happening around the community, we’ll let you know how to keep up with all of the excitement at Global Conference – from near and far – as well as the other great community activities occurring in the final months of 2019!
Register for PMI® Business Analysis Virtual Conference 2019: Registration is open for the PMI® Business Analysis Virtual Conference 2019 which will be held on Wednesday, November 13th. This virtual event will explore the latest trends in business analysis and provide you with the insights, resources, and tools to advance your career and enhance project success. Register today! This year, we welcome:
PMI® Organizational Agility Conference Available On-Demand: If you were unable to attend the recent PMI® Organizational Agility Conference on Evolving Approaches to Resilient Value Delivery, you can view all of the sessions on-demand here.
Ask the Expert at PMI® Global Conference: Ask the Expert is back by popular demand at PMI® Global Conference 2019! These one-on-one sessions allow you to discuss your project question or problem, get advice about navigating the project management career path, or talk through issues currently facing the profession from a trusted and established ProjectManagement.com expert. If you are attending Global Conference, sign-up for a session here.
For those who will not be in Philadelphia, you can follow our Experts at Conference through the PMI Global Insights blog where they will share their experiences and insights from the event.
Industry Discussion Threads: This year, PMI launched a new initiative focusing on four industry segments in the fields of IT, Finance, Government and Construction. As part of that focus, we have been highlighting some existing PM Network content on ProjectManagement.com in order to engage the community and learn more about specific industry needs. Check out the industry discussion threads in Project Management Central!
Discover PMI - Ask Us Anything! Series: Learn more about PMI’s Job Board by viewing the latest session on-demand - Powering Your Career with PMI: Explore the PMI Job Board to Power You Career - featuring Ansley Stauffer.
Project Health Framework: Join fellow community member, Uri Galimidi, as he discusses A Billion Dollar Project Health Framework in his eight part webinar series. You can now access Part 1 through Part 5 on-demand! Check the Live Webinars calendar for the remaining sessions.
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to a member of the Community Engagement team – we’re happy to help you. As always, stay tuned to the Critical Path for your community news!
By: Nader K. Rad, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member
Once Upon a Time!
There was a policy in one of the companies I used to work for about 20 years ago: “Every procurement activity should be done in the headquarters, rather than in projects’ construction sites”. They believed it was more cost-effective.
One day, I realized that in one of the attempts at cost-effectively purchasing material for covering the joints of concrete sections, the process was so prolonged that the critical concrete work was paused in one of the sites for four days. I was the project planner at that time and I immediately went to the project manager, who simply told me that organizational processes should be respected! I went to the procurement department and realized that we just didn’t speak the same language. So I went back to my desk, called the project site, and asked the technician responsible for that section whether they could buy the material locally. He said they could do it in one hour. The cost? Only about €250 for two weeks’ supply!
I sent them €250 from my own pocket to buy the material and resume work. The company reimbursed me but asked me not to do something like that again, and of course, I kept doing that.
I’m sure you’re thinking about many problems in this scenario: They needed a more proactive project manager, they needed to use “manage by exception”, etc.
One aspect of the problem was that they cared about money (which is fine), but not in the correct way. It’s not only about the money we spend, but also about the money we [can] gain. What we want to optimize is not the cost, but the “benefits ÷ cost” ratio – given that we consider all types of benefits, short-term and long-term, and direct and indirect (e.g., reputation, market reach, and knowledge).
This relatively subjective “benefits ÷ cost” ratio is what we usually call business value, or value for short. We can always ask ourselves whether our selected choice is the one that contributes most to the value of the project/product.
Do you consider value in your decisions?
The other problem is that they were not adaptive enough.
When we talk about adaptation, it’s usually about adapting the product of the project to the environment, which is what happens in adaptive (Agile) projects and is very important and interesting. However, that’s not the only type of adaptation; there’s another one that applies to every type of project: adaptation of our delivery and management approach to their environment.
In my example, those problems could have been prevented if proper planning and risk management were in place. However, for some reason, that level didn’t exist. In such a case, when we see that we can’t fix our planning and risk-management system in order to have the ideal procurement method, we need to change our procurement method to adapt to this situation and prevent bigger problems.
Do you stick to your ideal methods or adapt to the environment?
Another issue with concrete work in that project was that the concrete was going to be exposed in the final product, and therefore, we needed to do some extra work to make sure the surface was clean enough. One day, someone suggested a simpler way of doing that; according to experienced engineers, the quality was much lower, but it was a lot faster and less expensive. So we decided to experiment with something!
The project was for building a central library in a university, and we had access to thousands of end-users! We offered €30 to any student who wanted to join our experiment, and we picked the first 100 volunteers. We had two walls finished, one with each of the two methods, and we asked the students to tell us which one was better. In the end, we found no significant difference in the number of votes for the two methods, and we concluded that the new method was as good as the old one for our end-users, and so we decided to proceed with it.
It happens a lot: Either we spend too much money on an element of the product that doesn’t make any difference for the end-users, or we make it in a way that doesn’t satisfy them.
Isn’t it a good idea to focus on outcomes before outputs and activities?
It doesn’t matter what type of project we have; it seems like we can always ask these three questions in our activities and decision-making process:
If these have the potential to help us in all or most projects, then maybe we’re talking about principles for running projects! Perhaps those principles could be summarized as: