I have recently read a non-fictional book entitled “The Invested Investor”, written by the successful UK-based investor Peter Cowley. I strongly recommend the book to anyone that wishes to learn the basics of angel investing. The author covers the life cycle of an investment, from the first round of investment (seeding) until the startup closes shop (most frequent case), is turned into an operational medium-sized business (sometimes) or is acquired by a big player (rarely).
Most of concepts explained throughout the book are related to the art of investing: funding, valuation, venture capital, options, shares, CLV/CCA ratio, etc. However, some other concepts are also applied in the project management arena. In fact, the author claimed that an invested investor must have good project management skills in order to succeed. I selected and described below the top three concepts that are shared in both disciplines.
Everything starts with the Team. Without a team, there is no startup and there is no project. But not any team will do the job. The features that a project manager or an investor look in their teams are actually the same: passion, drive, knowledge, willingness to learn and listen, transparency, honesty and ability to inspire. In other words, whether is developing a new phone app in a startup that has not reached breakeven or carrying out multimillion dollar projects to transform a city landscape, goals will not be met unless there is a strong and committed team behind them.
Pivot is when a company changes direction and its fundamental offering because the original business model is not working. Pivots are expensive and difficult because they usually carry along more investments and a modified vision. It is important to note than pivoting is not a sign of failure. In fact, most businesses pivot on their way to optimizing the model. Pivoting can also occur – and actually quite often – during a project’s life cycle. At the end of the day, project management enables the translation of a company’s vision into reality. A change in environmental factors or regulations, a shift in consumers’ habits, the release of a novel competing technology… all of these are factors that could pivot the project. Pivoting is carried out by modifying project’s triple constraint – more funding, extended/modified scope, additional resources and/or time – or by killing it straight up. The same concept could be extrapolated to program and portfolio levels, where pivoting the company strategy will inevitably pivot the value stream represented by its portfolio of projects.
Writing cheques is not something that can be done lightly. Funds are transferred from the angel’s account to another account without the certainty that it will ever produce a return. Before the money is kissed goodbye, two documents are set in place; the term sheet which is a mostly non-binding document that sets out the deal to be completed between investors and founders. And the shareholders’ agreement, which is a legally binding document signed by the investors and founders defining how ownership of the company is distributed between the parties. This gated approach resembles the two gates typically found in the initiation and planning phases of a given project. In this manner, the term sheet is equivalent to the project charter – with the difference that the latter is binding – and the shareholders’ agreement is comparable to the project plan.
I have recently completed the lecture of a book entitled "Management without tears. A guide to coping with everyday organizational problems". It was written by James O. McDonald almost 40 years ago, in 1981 to be precise. The book sets forth some managerial problems likely to be encountered during the career of a manager. For each problem, the author provides a solution based on his expertise. Although it is intended for managers - line managers, production managers, operations manager and functions alike - as a project manager I could relate to a few of the problems listed in the book. It is worth noting that most of the issues we face in our everyday work are nothing new, they have been there for a long time and will probably still be there when we retire.
My blog followers know that I always like to break things down in three, or pick up the top 3, or make lists of 3 items. Number three puts a spell on me - I guess since the time I learned at school that the compositions had to contain an introduction, a "knot", and an ending. So this time around will not be any different. I have picked the top 3 issues, and summarized the author's view on a proposed solution.
Get things off your chest
The author refers to the manager's secretary and her frequent tardiness. The manager decides to not bring this up to her to avoid losing his "nice guy" reputation. As you can imagine, this approach did not work out and she kept arriving late to the office. The manager decided to confront her. She said that she was not aware that her tardiness was such an issue, and from that moment on she was on time. In projects the same approach works; when something gets off tracks, avoid sending a memorandum sitting behind the computer. Politely confront the team - or whichever stakeholder - and get it off your chest. Being a pleaser can easily end up backfiring.
Know your job
It is frequent that an engineer, a software developer or a researcher gets dragged into project management. Becoming a project manager presents then a challenge. The technical knowledge in these domains become less relevant; instead, planning, personnel, budgets, purchasing, negotiation and a wide array of administrative tasks make up the new life. Getting this mental fix is essential for a successful new career.
This topic is particularly interesting. It is quite common to find opinionated colleagues regarding how a project manager should behave. Some would say "Stand tough, or they'll walk all over you" whilst others would advise on the opposite direction. Leadership tone has to be decided by the practitioner, and the practitioner alone. It is up to the practitioner whether to be tough, soft or somewhere in between. In words of the author "effective management requires integrity, conviction, knowledge, courage, awareness, timing. These qualities determine how you react in any situation".
Project staffing, not begging!
Categories: Project Communication
One of the challenges typically faced by a project manager in a matrix organization arises during project staffing. A quest to allocate resources to the projects begins! Although a process should be in place to ensure a smooth and efficient project staffing, in several occasions there are external and internal factors that make this important task a real nightmare. Below I list three tips that describe how PM soft skills might get around this challenge.
1. Be always in good terms with Line Managers (or Functional Managers)
At the end of the day, line managers will authorize the resources under their responsibility to work in the project. Getting along with them does not guarantee to obtain the preferred resources but will definitely help.
2. Keep line managers informed (and inform them well!)
Line managers do not appreciate when someone’s requests their resources in a blunt email, i.e. “I need XYZ for three months to work in ABC Project”. Instead, provide insight about what the project is about, why the project requires resources from their departments, how their resources will contribute to achieve project’s goals, etc. Ideally, do so as soon as it is known that the project will be approved. Making line managers aware at an early stage will facilitate posterior discussions and negotiations.
3. Do not cut communication after resources have been granted
Okay, resources have been granted, project is staffed and may now start! This is fantastic news, but it is important to ensure that line managers do not feel left out after that. Ask them how they would like to be informed during project execution, plan brief catch-up meetings, provide feedback on the performance of their resources, etc. These are good ways of ensuring satisfaction with line managers and thus generating a positive atmosphere for upcoming projects.
The first blog I posted (https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/29357/Successful-projects----predicted-) dealt about whether a reliable model could be developed in order to predict project success. The motivation of this second blog is to share a few thoughts about a project that will be soon completed in Amsterdam, where I relocated almost two years ago. I take this opportunity to encourage everyone to discover this wonderful gem in Western Europe. Also known as the Venice of the north, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer aside from the well-known coffeeshops and windows populated with women in skimp lingerie.
Every since I moved here I heard the story of a new metro line, Noord-Zuid lijn, which completion was planned for 2011 and that will be finally opened in July 2018. Not only that; the original budget exploded from €1.46 bn to €3.1 bn! I had to read more about the reasons that caused the massive delay. The list below summarizes the main findings:
A poor management of project procurement, risks and requirements, just to name a few, seem to be the most obvious causes that led to the massive delay and budget overrun. This is a good example of how important is to follow what Abraham Lincoln stated already on the XIX century “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.
In 2009, Alex Sheerazi was hired as Head of Communication Officer. His first mission was to fix project’s reputation. He stated “A very strong reputation is like a mattress, a cushion that can soften a blow. Small incidents then have a negligible impact. But in 2009 the reputation was down the drain. Every small incident was blown out of proportion. We needed to get some air into our reputation mattress again”.
Sheerazi saw transparency as key. First off, he admitted that the project had turned out badly on several levels. However, also some positive and interesting aspects were worth sharing with the media. By placing positive images next to the negative ones, balance was created. In addition, by involving the media in every event, the project gained a better reputation. Next to it, Sheerazi connected the project to the city by engaging the Amsterdammers. For instance, excavation boxes were opened regularly for public tours and an underground lookout point was set up, with a great success (over 200k visitors in two years). Project managers and engineers changed their ways of communicating by creating project co-ownership with the citizens, or, as Dale Carnegie would put it, by providing them a feeling of importance.
Several questions may arise, now that the project is about to be closed off. May the project be considered a success despite of the colossal deviations in budget and schedule? Did the communications strategy make up for the project shortcomings? What could have been done differently? I look forward to your comments in the section below.