PMI just released the Benefits Realization Management practice guide this month which provides comprehensive but still easily consumable coverage of a benefits management framework covering principles, practices and roles. There is no doubt that benefits management is a critical competency for any company whether they are for profit or not-for-profit but it is also not well implemented in many organizations.
Overly optimistic business cases might be one reason for this as I'd covered in an earlier article, but there are other potential causes including:
For leaders looking to improve benefit realization from their project investments, doing some root cause analysis to identify why projects aren't generating expected benefits can help them to focus their improvement efforts.
Mohamed El-Erian - "Investors have to ask themselves two questions. How much can we grow our investments? And, can we afford our mistakes?"
I attended a thought provoking session at PMI’s 2010 Research & Education Conference which covered factors necessary for project managers to successfully manage multiple concurrent projects.
The research was done based on a single large financial organization focusing on their IT project portfolio. However, the findings from the research align very closely with anecdotal evidence from past clients and industries I’ve worked with.
The top two factors (in order of priority out of a set of five in total) identified as contributing to effective multi-project management were:
The second factor is no surprise – good staff can overcome bad processes and tools to deliver expected results so long as they are pointed in the right direction and suitably motivated!
The first factor is less obvious, especially since it trumped other factors including consistent PM process & methodology, sufficient & sustainable people allocation and consistent practices for selecting & assigning PMs to projects.
However, think about the challenge of managing multiple projects when you DON’T have a good teamwork oriented culture. There will likely not be individual commitment to work products, reward for performance, open communication & team work. If these attributes are not present, a PM spends a significant amount of time escalating people performance issues, trying to motivate disengaged team members and chasing after “invisible” stakeholders and sponsors. While this is aggravating on even a single project, a PM with sufficient experience and influence can still succeed. However, when managing multiple concurrent projects, the PM does not have the luxury of time to focus on this and this will impact their overall effectiveness.
Understanding that the need for concurrent project management is not likely to go away anytime soon, organizations need to ensure that they increase their PMs odds for success by fostering a suitable organizational teamwork oriented culture. This could start by introducing team member evaluations tied to performance on projects, providing basic PM training for all team members, and requiring commitment to accountability for all staff.
(Note: this arrow was originally shot in July 2010 towards the target of kbondale.wordpress.com)
Long-time readers of my blog will know that I support the concept and principles of objective project prioritization. However I am pragmatic and recognize that a significant percentage of the organizations who aspire to having objective rankings of their active and pipeline projects can’t get there overnight, and even as their practices mature, they still must successfully deliver multiple parallel projects with constrained skills and capacity.
If this sounds like your organization, what can be done to meet commitments while not ignoring the practice improvements required to achieve a more manageable active project portfolio?
Juggling multiple balls might seem like an impossible feat to an untrained novice but just as jugglers develop techniques and practices to do this, it is possible for organizations to improve their ability to manage multiple concurrent must-do projects.
However, even expert jugglers eventually tire, and if the volume of concurrent work doesn’t subside to more manageable levels in time, inevitably one or more critical project “balls” will drop along with a side order of skilled staff attrition.
(Note: this article was originally published in August 2013 on kbondale.wordpress.com)
Whether your company is operating at a low level of organizational project management maturity or is world class, one of the most critical points in the lifetime of a project is when it is initiated. Start too soon and valuable resources and time will be wasted while people are figuring out what needs to be done. Wait too late and work on the project may have already commenced in stealth mode and without involvement of key stakeholders.
Designing and rolling out a consistent project intake process helps, but good process rarely compensates for poor execution.
Here are three questions which can tell you if the project is ready to be started.
Why are we doing this now (and what are we saying “no” to)?
If there’s no one who can clearly articulate the rationale in investing in this project instead of the myriad other initiatives which could have been funded it might be best to go back to the drawing board. Beyond that, it’s important to understand why now is the right time to kick it off. Is there a committed deadline of some kind which will be missed if work doesn’t commence immediately?
Who’s backing this project (and can they afford it)?
If there’s no one who is ready to commit resources to the initiative, there’s little point in getting started. Even if there is a sponsor identified (both in the funding and executive support perspective), if they are at too low a level of political influence to be able to effectively align stakeholders, create a coalition of the willing and knock over hurdles in the path of the team, with even a moderate level of complexity, the project will likely get and stay in trouble.
Do we have everyone we need to start (and keep going)?
Even in the first few weeks of a project, a sponsor and a project manager can accomplish very little without active involvement of key stakeholders and team leads. If that critical mass of resources is unavailable, your project will burn time and money without making much progress. In some organizations, if the core team is not assembled, a project is not permitted to start. Faced with a hard completion deadline, that can help increase the sense of urgency across the organization to staff up the project rapidly.
The simplest way to avoid having a project fail is to stop it from getting into trouble from the beginning.
(Note: this article was originally published in January 2015 on kbondale.wordpress.com)
The quote attributed to Thomas Edison of “Vision without execution being hallucination” is one side of the coin. As Roger Martin wrote in a 2015 HBR article, execution without vision is mindless.
A good analogy I’ve used to express how tightly integrated the two need to be comes from organized sports.
Head coaches usually have the vision of taking their team to the playoffs or even winning the overall championship. The first failure occurs if that vision can’t be translated into strategies adopted by the management & coaching team including how they will get the right players, how those players will be forged into a cohesive, efficient team and which plays are likely to stymy their opponents. A subsequent failure may happen when they try to execute those initiatives. In either case, the head coach may end up looking for a new gig come the end of the season.
Pre-school soccer presents the opposite problem.
Small children have unlimited energy and lots of enthusiasm, and when they are able to make contact with the ball they can usually deliver a solid kick. Unfortunately, they possess limited attention spans, get easily distracted and require frequent gratification. Their rudimentary execution skills are good, but they are just as likely to kick the ball into their own net as they are to score on their opposition.
While most executives I know would not like the comparison to pre-schoolers, in the absence of an overall vision for a company or division, and without that vision being distilled into strategy, the compass guiding the decisions for those executives usually points to either their own ambitions or their assumptions on what is best for the organization.
Pet projects flourish within such environments.
Here are some of the warning signs which indicate your organization may be suffering from mindless execution.
My favorite expression from the Daleks of the popular television show Doctor Who, is what they’d say when their eye stalk was damaged: “My vision is impaired, I cannot see!“. This was usually followed by the Dalek in question being destroyed. If your company’s vision is impaired it might be your company that is Exterminate-d!
(Note: this article was envisioned and executed in March 2015 on my personal blog, kbondale.wordpress.com)