Easy in theory, difficult in practice

My musings on project portfolio and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organization change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog will contain articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

How do you onboard new project team members?

Pay Heed to the Four Horsemen of the Project Apocalypse

Can you prove that your PMO has improved project delivery?

PM tools must support decision making, not replace it!

Knowledge-based PM Certifications: Value Add or Necessary Evil?

Overcoming Newton’s First Law with Organizational Project Management maturity

A client of mine raised a concern that reminded me that Newton’s First Law applies to more than just physics – in the absence of net force, PM practices do not change.  The corollary is that inconsistency in PM practices tends to increase rather than decrease over time.

What sometimes contributes to this is the Broken Window (a.k.a. Monkey-see, Monkey-do) syndrome combined with the well intentioned desire to avoid imposing bureaucracy or micro-management on staff.

A challenge for many organizations is that they don’t have metrics in place to be able to justify improvements to PM practices by demonstrating quantitative improvements to profitability or other operational performance indicators.  This results in change reluctance as potential intangible benefits are offset by very tangible perceived risks.

However, one has to remember that the converse is also true – an outcome of successful change is a greater appetite for more change.  Organizations with a successful project management capability improvement program are able to foster a culture that abhors lethargy.

So how do you get your change pendulum swinging?

If you try to get the millstone of PM inertia to move through brute force, even with strong executive sponsorship and support you will fail.  On the other hand, if you adopt a strategy based on introducing incremental changes in a manner that offsets net new effort or costs on staff with “some” perceived benefits, and if you are able to reward early converts to the “new way” such that they become advocates, your PM change initiative can become self-sustainable.

(Note: this article was originally written and published by me in April 2010 on my personal blog, kbondale.wordpress.com)


Posted on: March 14, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

A Project Manager Should Always Keep an Eye on Benefits Realization

Managing to the triple constraint is table stakes – it’s past time for project managers to go further.

The natural concern which might be raised is that in many cases a project manager has moved on to their next project while the product owner and other stakeholders are still working on the change sustainment required to achieve benefits. The project manager might have had limited direct involvement with the staff who are required to successfully adopt the changes, or might have no influence over the external factors which could impact benefits realization.

This is all true, and yet, if the project fails to deliver the benefits promised, the project manager is likely to receive some of the blame.

This is not to say that project managers don’t attempt to lay the groundwork for success after they have closed out their projects. Sometimes, the fault might lie with protective product owners who may perceive such efforts by the project manager as crossing jurisdictional boundaries. However, this is no reason for a project manager to back off. If they have sufficient evidence to show that benefits realization will be impacted, it is their responsibility to ensure that this information is acted upon.

During the project’s initiation, the project manager should take the time to understand the business case supporting the sponsor’s rationale for investing in the project. This is one of the benefits of a project manager having domain expertise. A project manager who has only a cursory understanding of the impacted business processes may be less likely to understand if some fundamental assumptions are invalid or might miss threats which would impact successful benefits realization.

While a business analyst is usually responsible for requirements elicitation and should be ensuring that the requirements gathered directly tie back to the original business case and expected benefits, the project manager should also take the time to thoroughly review the requirements baseline as that acts as a key input into many downstream decisions which may impact project success. By doing this the project manager is better equipped to support the business analyst in facilitating appropriate decision- making when scope changes are brought forward later in the project’s life.

For projects which are expected to deliver financial benefits, the project manager should not only focus on the definition of the project’s one-time costs, but should also review the incremental ongoing costs and expected revenue projections estimated by the product owner and other stakeholders. If the assumptions underlying those estimates don’t appear to be valid or if the project manager believes that a key constraint might have been missed, they should not hold back on sharing their concerns.

Once work has begun on delivering the project’s approved scope, most project managers tend to focus their efforts on keeping project delivery on track and effective managing changes to baselines. To complement the normal project delivery assurance activities, the project manager should consider taking the time to revisit the business case periodically to identify changes which may impact benefits realization.

The project manager can help to facilitate benefits reviews with the product owner by identifying and engaging the right stakeholders who can provide input into the assessment process. If the project manager and product owner determine that there has been a significant reduction in anticipated benefits, this should trigger a review with the appropriate governance body to decide whether the project should continue to be funded to avoid incurring further sunk costs.

Scope changes provide another opportunity for project managers to go beyond their traditional project delivery role. While understanding the impacts to scope, schedule, cost, and secondary project constraints are important, impacts to benefits realization should also be identified to avoid unintended consequences.

Successful change adoption and sustainment is another critical input into benefits realization. The best project deliverables will generate minimal value if operational staff don’t modify their behaviors to take full advantage of the changes. Through regular stakeholder interaction, the project manager is in an ideal position to receive feedback from groups impacted by the change. The project manager can support change owners in stakeholder analysis and action planning and can ensure that priority is placed on securing the necessary change agents from each impacted area. They can review change plans and help to facilitate the risk identification and assessment sessions required to understand what threats may exist to successful adoption.

I am not discounting the effort and challenges required to bring in a project within approved scope, cost and schedule baselines, but that just isn’t enough these days. Like it or not, you will likely be assessed not just on project delivery, but also on whether your projects have achieved their expected benefits.

(Note: this article was originally written and published by me in June 2015 on Projecttimes.com)

Posted on: March 13, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Are your agile transformation blockers like agents in The Matrix?

Agile transformations are susceptible to a variety of impediments but sometimes these hurdles are not as high as we believe them to be.

In almost any company other than a startup, some or all of the following tangible blockers will not only be present at the beginning of the journey, they may continue to stymie teams years into their transformation.

  • The inability to dedicate primary roles (e.g. Product Owners, Agile Leads) to a single value stream
  • Geographic dispersion and distribution of team members
  • Legacy integration requirements which throttle the pace of continuous integration or continuous delivery
  • Complex compliance requirements
  • Onerous and inefficient procurement policies
  • Labor contracts or other constraints on developing generalizing specialists
  • The lack of comprehensive automated test suites or similar accelerators
  • Delivery and control partners who cannot be influenced to transform their delivery models

Are these likely to disappear quickly? Not likely. Some such as technical debt or legacy integrations can be eliminated over time with persistence and sustained investment but others are a natural by-product of a company's industry, the free market or globalization.

So when I hear teams complaining about these blockers during their daily stand-ups or in their retrospectives I recall Morpheus's exchange with Neo at the beginning of The Matrix.

Morpheus: To your left there is a window: open it... use the scaffold to get to the roof.
Neo: No way. No way. This is crazy.
Morpheus: There are two ways out of that building: one is that scaffold, the other is in their custody. You take a chance either way: I leave it to you.

Neo's fears and doubts are more crippling than the lack of a dumpster below his office building which he could jump into or a fire escape ladder close at hand to get to the roof.

As the movie progresses, Neo continues to struggle with overcoming these constraints and Morpheus continues to coach him: You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.

But Morpheus, like agile coaches, can only show the way.

Teams, like Neo must walk the path themselves. Once Neo understands the Matrix for what it is and embraces his place in it, his perception of limitations including agents evolves such that he no longer perceives them as great a threat as he and others make them out to be.

Once teams successfully adopt the right mindset, they can respect the impact of organizational blockers but continue to discover ways of being agile.

Posted on: March 11, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Lessons in change from The Matrix

It might not seem that long but The Matrix was released in theatres almost twenty years ago!  Beyond dazzling us with innovative special effects and reminding us that Keanu is the master of deadpan delivery, the movie provides good examples of how we deal with change as well as lessons in effective (and ineffective) change management.

Neo’s first reaction after the reality of The Matrix sinks in is shock & denial – “He’s gonna pop!“.  This reaction occurs in spite of the fact that he has been actively seeking the answer to the question “What is the Matrix?”.  This should be a warning to all of us that even those who we would consider are the early adopters for change may not be truly ready to absorb it when it hits.

Neo’s subsequent reaction highlights the sadness that many feel once they know the status quo is going to change whether or not they want it to “I can’t go back, can I?“.  However, over the remainder of the film we see Neo’s growing acceptance and finally commitment in both understanding the reality he is living in as well as his critical role in it. and , and finally his commitment to it.  He becomes the change advocate that Morpheus always believed he could be: “No one has ever done anything like this – That’s why it’s going to work“.

Neo’s final words demonstrate how far he has evolved in becoming a change advocate “I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

With other characters, change reception is not as positive.  Cypher’s interpretation of his removal from the Matrix is that he has lost his freedom instead of gaining it: “All I do is what he tells me to do. If I had to choose between that and the Matrix, I’d choose the Matrix.”  Cypher’s behavior shows how easy it can be for someone to slide back from acceptance to fear and anger if change is not properly managed.  Just think what might have been avoided if Morpheus had done a better job of either managing Cypher’s expectations or recognizing that he would never fully embrace the change.

Morpheus’ comments to Neo about those who remain plugged into the Matrix also demonstrates how people can actively resist poorly managed change even if it is in their best interests “You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

So what does Morpheus do to ensure that Neo embraces the change?

  • He doesn’t candy-coat or mask the truth. “I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.
  • He gives Neo choices. “After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
  • He repeatedly demonstrates that he believes in Neo. “You see, you may have spent the last few years looking for me, but I have spent my entire life looking for you.
  • He progressively introduces the change to Neo providing support along the way through discussion, training simulations and finally reality. “Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?
  • He unwittingly provides Neo with a stretch assignment to help accelerate his change adoption: “Morpheus believes in something and he was ready to give his life, I understand that now. That’s why I have to go.
  • He and his colleagues try to inject as much fun as possible into the change “Ju jitsu? I’m gonna learn Ju jitsu.

Apply these practices the next time you are faced with leading a major change and you won’t need to worry about someone saying “Good bye, Mr Anderson!”

(Note: this article was originally written and published by an unplugged version of me in June 2014 on my personal blog, kbondale.wordpress.com)

Posted on: March 06, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Don’t forget the two T’s of successful change management

When we think about what facilitates successful organizational change, we tend to think of visible sponsorship, active engagement of those involved in the change, and incrementalism.

However, I was reminded of two other important pieces to the change jigsaw puzzle after reading the book Agile Change Management: Trust and talent.

You might take exception to the first one and say that trust is necessary for any business interaction or transaction to succeed.  While that is true, there is a greater need for trust when people are being asked to leave their comfort zones and adopt new processes or tools.  When there is a high level of trust that the leadership team is looking out for them and acting in the best interests of both the organization and its people resources, there is a stronger likelihood that staff will take a leap of faith.

When staff distrust the intentions or actions of their leaders, they may say that are going to embrace a change and might even begin to adopt it.  Unfortunately, their commitment to staying the course is likely to be brief, especially if they hit the inevitable challenges which come with trying something new.  When this happens, they will regress to previous practices defending their behavior by saying that they did give the changes a fair try.

We’ve seen this happen frequently in the world of politics – citizens will blissfully vote against their self interests simply because they don’t trust the person who is pushing a platform which is beneficial to them.

Melanie Franklin, the author of the book, references talent in relation to those implementing the change – this is obviously important since the change will not be implemented as effectively or efficiently by those lacking necessary skills and further, the perception of the change will be sullied in the eyes of those impacted by the change.  Her logical assertion is that when we work on things which we are good at, we tend to derive more satisfaction and are more engaged in the work.

I’ll go one further and say that talent is an equally important consideration in those who are expected to adopt the change.  Nearly all change implementations including a communications and training component to help adopters learn new practices.  However, many times the change team does not consider whether the necessary prerequisite behaviors and skills are in place to ensure that the training they are providing will achieve the desired objectives.

My favorite analogy is that of teaching a caveman how to use a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.  You might educate him on the importance of a firm stance to absorb recoil, but without foundational understanding, he is as likely to fall to the ground and worship the weapon as he is to use it properly!

So the next time you are managing a change initiative, add these questions to your impact assessment checklist:

  1. Do those about to be impacted by the change trust those who are implementing and championing it?
  2. Do those who will be impacted by the change have the necessary foundational skills to successfully adopt it?

(Note: this article was originally written and published by me in May 2014 on my personal blog, kbondale.wordpress.com)


Posted on: February 13, 2018 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."

- Henry Kissinger