Saturday, 18 April 2015

Project failure, a sermon

I'm writing this because @SusanneMadsen suggested that I should do it.  Susanne was talking on Twitter about why do projects continue to fail and what can we do about it?

I wrote my masters dissertation on project success, taking that success was the opposite of failure and post Chaos and others we seem to be pretty clued up about how projects fail.

So, Susanne posted and I responded with the following reasons:
  • ·       People and politics
  • ·       Rushing into delivery
  • ·       Lack of need
  • ·       Poor requirements
  • ·       Delivering a thing and not change itself

I will attempt to break these down further in the next few paragraphs.

This post is not a reflection of my masters research, or an in-depth response, but more about what I feel are some of the reasons why projects fail right now.


People and politics

People are necessary for projects to succeed.  They are also a major reason for failure.  When we embark on a project, we should only do so after having engaged with stakeholders. So, if you're engaging with stakeholders, nothing can go wrong, right? Actually, yes.  People in business are often like little warring tribes, all trying to score points off each other, battling out and messing each other around.  As the BA/PM you walk into all that and stir it up. So, people will sometimes misinform you, feed you false information and generally make nuisances of themselves.  They'll use control of resources at their command to pull the rug out from under you, tell tales to try and get projects stopped and generally just cause absolute mayhem.  In this respect, being a PM is sometimes an absolute nightmare. The only thing that I think you can truly do to ensure that this doesn't happen, is to change in such a logical way that no-one can really dispute it.  You have to have a really robust argument and be able to explain it fully.  You also have to communicate constantly throughout the change. People will always create waves (NIH, etc) but you can try and do things to reduce the effectiveness of their undermining.


Rushing into delivery

Often, once someone has "sold" the idea of the project to someone senior, it'll be a mad scramble to get on with things and show movement. It's at this point that we need to just pause and take a breath.

Sure, the idea is great...but should we really do it? We need to thoroughly investigate what we're doing and plan it properly. Only then should we get on with it.

I recently saw a pretty reasonable sized effort that had been wheelspinning for around 12 months for this very reason. People were just getting on with doing "stuff" that they thought would contribute, but really they were getting on with a number of disparate legacy stuff that aligned vaguely with where they thought it should go.

12 months on, and everything is only now starting to actually gain traction and move forward.

So, you might say "yeah, sure but at least they were moving forward". Indeed, but there was little link between things, and that meant that they were potentially investing without much thought. Benefits, benefits, benefits. Look at how things need to change structurally, then move things to suit. Don't just say "we need a new time management system", because you can probably do what you need with the old one and if you've not thought about what you're doing, then the new system probably won't be right either.

So you'll deliver on time and in cost, but it'll be the wrong thing and therefore you'll have 100% failed.


Lack of need

Often, people just buy and upgrade things without thinking "Do we need this?" We need to develop systems thinking.  Do we sweat the asset that we already have?  What benefits does upgrade bring?  Why are we changing?

Perhaps it all seems like I'd rather stay the same, with my bakelite TV, pipe and slippers.  No way, change can't happen fast enough for me...but it has to be the right change.  We can't just invest in things wildly, spray and pray.

We need to think what we need to be doing and ensure that we hang investment off that.


Poor requirements

The problem with this is often that stakeholders don't know what they want.  But why should they?  In my Business Analysis work, I ask people to talk about what they do and try to improve how they do things, then within that looking at how they interact with technology.  This is not shoehorning them into a solution - often it's about prototyping and getting them to work with simple systems to "mock up" an interim solution.  During that journey, they become a better, more informed customer for a final solution.

The other thing that has become evident is that the more you think about how to streamline things and mock up prototypes, the more that people start to get why we're trying to change things. They start to engage and get involved. The change that is finally implemented is much more successful because people have thought about it in depth.

So, rush ahead at your peril.


Delivering a thing and not change itself

Here, have some ICT.

6 months down the line, "why aren't you working better?".

Well, that new ICT didn't come with any training and you didn't explain why you needed us to use it, so it's over there in the corner under the pile of coats. We have some great video conference equipment.  The quality is fantastic.  But it doesn't deliver the benefits.

Why?  Well, in order to reduce travel, you have to cut out lots of travelling.  But video conferencing only cuts out about 5 meetings a day for the whole organisation.  Everyone else still has to travel.

Culturally, most people like to go and see the person that they're talking to, buy them a coffee and perhaps they also get chance to see some other colleagues for a catch up while they're there.  So video conferencing works for a small number of staff per day, but not the vast majority.  So, small benefits realisation.

If there had been some number crunching, you'd work out that having meetings slightly later in the day would save more money than anything else.  Also, giving people a connected laptop allows them to pull up the relevant info during the meeting and therefore have less meetings.

So, look at the change itself.  What do you need to achieve?  Plan the delivery to include training, staffing, communication and handover (with suitable service levels).  Then keep revisiting things post delivery to ensure that it's all getting used as planned.


So, with all that in mind, it's not really surprising that we don't have the success that we crave.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Mindfulness

I went to an APM seminar on 'Mindfulness' last night.  The speaker was Anne Parker.  I'd never heard of mindfulness per se before, but it's an interesting take on the whole neuroscience/stress/GTD/time management thing.

I use trains quite a bit and I've been listening to audiobooks while travelling, so I was familiar with some of the more mainstream work that Anne referenced, such as Dr Steve Peters, but there were some others which I'll look into further.

The basics of it all are this.  We (humans) don't function well when faced with constant streams of work, multitasking and interruptions.  It's no real surprise that in this connected world, we don't get that much uninterrupted time.  Mindfulness is the practice of doing things consciously, one thing at a time, with focus and no interruptions.  Turn off the e-mail notification and just make some thinking time.

I make no secret that I make time to think.  I have regular thinking breaks, make a cuppa, stare out of the window and just think.  Now some might say that this is just being lazy or procrastinating, but I'm a knowledge worker by day and it's how the knowledge is threaded together that's critical to the added value.  You can't really add the same value just by writing more, the thinking really has to be there, or it's just waffle.

The good news for everyone, is that the brain can rebuild itself into a more 'mindful' state over time and with practice.  Pretty much everything can be done mindfully, from eating to washing up.  It's very similar to the 'slow movement' that was popular a few years back.

If you think this is just about life in the slow lane, there are also things that can be done quickly and mindfully, such as driving.  IAM and RoSPA both effectively teach mindful driving and riding, deliberate conscious focus on the task, which gives a better outcome.  As I'd rode to the seminar on my motorbike, I was well aware of the concepts of focussing on the task in hand.  You can't really filter through miles of standing traffic the M6 unless you've got control of your focus.  The deep breathing techniques can also be built into driving or riding, with a quick mindful breath before launching into the 'red mist' to prove that your car or bike is faster than theirs or that you can overtake where they can't.

So, do I rate 'mindfulness'?  I general, yes.  I think it's a good thing to take time out to think, do things deliberately, avoid distraction and focus more.  I guess that I could say that I was always a practitioner, just didn't know what the practice was called.


Friday, 3 October 2014

Why I have a property maintenance company as a 2nd business

Q)  How does this fit in with Business Analysis and Project Management?

Well, every job is a project with requirements so I'm managing micro projects with very clear and defined requirements.  Smaller scope means that you either do what you're asked or you don't get paid - simple.

The great thing about small projects vs bigger stuff is that in a small project you see the end and the benefits very quickly, so it gives you confidence that some of the bigger ones are also going to pay off and be worthwhile - especially if you have a similar methodology and approach for both.

Even though I'm doing some small stuff in my spare time, I still apply some science to the work - e.g. I fixed a leak and took moisture readings before the repair so that I can check that the repair has been successful at a later date.  So basically pre and post metrics on benefits.

With the confidence to operate robustly at a small level - accounts, invoicing, contracts, scope, client management, communications, estimating, installation, etc. it all adds to the delivery on bigger projects, where I feel more confident on calling BS on people who don't complete tasks, paperwork, RAMS, etc.  It's not difficult, you're just being lazy!

Anyhow, it all adds up to a better PM/BA experience for people I work with/for, so what's not to like?

Please feel free to comment.  What do you do that improves your PM/BA role?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Why I can't stand social media posts that contain links

I believe that social media should be one of those rapid-fire, snappy, banter-y environments where everyone is chatting and bouncing ideas off each other.


People who just use Twitter and the like to keep spamming out their links are missing the point.  You could be having a conversation with your customers, or at least an argument.


The counter-argument is based around "I can't get the message across in a limited number of characters".  My response to this is "try harder".  I recall a essay task on my MSc where the task was to write a 1500 word piece on something or other.  Some of the students started griping about the lack of words but the lecturer replied "do you think that you'll have that luxury when you're out there?".  So true.  I've been asked for 1-page pieces, 100 words, 250 words, 300 words, three pages, etc.  You get the point.  It's about making use of what you've got access to.  But if I'd just written "have a look at x, here's the URL", I'm not sure how well that'd have gone down...well, actually, I know how it'd have gone down - badly.


So cut out the links and start to work to the limit you have.  If I want to find 30 ways to tie a knot, then I'll find it via Google.


Thursday, 15 May 2014

On having your own business, being an entrepreneur

I have my own business outside work. My wife is also fully self-employed. There are massive benefits to this.

When I'm getting thoroughly wound-up with the politics of public-sector projects, I bear in mind that my external work makes money, runs smoothly and follows similar principles to the main job.

As a PM, I'm used to criticism. I've had people telling me "You're rubbish" when they really mean "I'm threatened by your thorough analysis and understanding of the problem". What I know now is that I can successfully run my own business that they aren't involved in the politics of and don't influence. It works great for me in the wider world, so what's different here that makes our projects a nightmare and prone to failure? Oh yeah...it's them.

I also understand much more about the financial side of business and how little things like setting out the deliverables, cashflow, payments, reconciliation, and completing the work that the customer asked for impact the business in a big way.

My business also gives me a calm clarity. If the main job sacked me or made me redundant, I'd be able to scale up the external business in a few days. So that allows me to make decisions without being scared about what people in the organisation can do to me. I can force best practice, recommend the best solutions and call people out on their politics because the worst thing that can happen is it'll end the thing that I believe passionately in but also gives me the most grief!

Location:Manchester, UK

Rush!

I recently had a meeting with a load of people that spoke quickly and seemed to be very switched onto the programme and work that needed to happen. I'm not convinced that they actually knew what was going on. I'm not convinced that what was being done was the right thing. I definitely got an idea that they'd slipped into "deliver stuff quickly, now, rush, hurry, oh hang on...that's the wrong thing". They certainly had a big timeline of in-flight stuff that didn't necessarily fit in with the direction that the operations side needed to drive.

The problem with this is simple. We need to re-assess what needs to be done and then it may be the case that we need to cull some in-flight stuff. If we're culling a £1m project that's 1/4 through, we're not wasting £250k but saving £750k overall. We have still spent £250k but that's better than spending the whole £1m on what's now the wrong thing. These are tough choices.

We need to consider how we're going to implement the new model. Perhaps the new model is wrong...we need to test that's right before we implement anything, otherwise cash is wasted. We then need to run a pilot or at least walkthrough using different scenarios, or perhaps run some more complex analysis, or we're just running into the dark.

Location:Manchester, UK

Monday, 11 November 2013

Juggling Leadership (continued)

In the previous blog, I was asked some questions on leadership in projects.  There were some follow-up questions and here they are, with answers:

1. You write that it's important to "continuously improve". Do you have any good tips for how to do that? After all it's a bit of a mind-set shift for many PMs right? How can they start to do it and encourage their team to always be learning and thinking? Giving the team permission to make mistakes is part of the answer; but how do we strike that balance of experimenting and ensuring it has a purpose?

I think that you have to be continuously listening, reading and learning in general.  I've met a few PM's that seem to think that just doing things is enough.  HSE (Health and Safety Executive) say that competence = learning x experience, so I like to balance the two.  I've studied best practice and then gone out to try and deliver it, thereby embedding it in the mind and experience.

Projects are great, because you can apply the learning from this one to the next.  Keep building from one to the next, but remember that you need to have an input that helps you to improve.  You have to remember though, that projects are complex systems and unlike operating a chemistry set, you can't just do things the same each time and get the same results.  Get mentoring from inside and outside the organisation.  Ask questions and really take time to listen to the answer.


2. You write that "If I'm being briefed up and the Business Case isn't obvious, then I'll ask if they'll let me test the Business Case first". How do you do that? How do you test it? What is the secret to writing a good business case?


I think you have to look at the benefits and see that they're there.  If not, why are we doing it?  That's not to say that we can't do things if there aren't obvious benefits, but where there aren't enough funds to do everything, we have to be selective and do the things that give the best bang:buck ratio.  The secret to writing a good business case is to start with the benefits of what you're trying to achieve and work back from there.  Make sure that you have a User Requirement and also make sure that you're aligned to the organisation's goals.

It's worthwhile getting a copy of "Business Analysis" and reading the section on Business Cases, because that's a great primer on writing them.  I also like to remember who I'm writing the Business Case for.  It's not for you, it's for them, so write in a way that they want to read.


3. How do PMs avoid taking on a project which is just about "delivering technology"? What tips do you have for how they can start to "look at the change holistically"?


It's not about avoiding things, it's about ensuring that you have the ability to add the cultural change aspects that you need, in order to ensure that the benefits are delivered.


Keep your eye on what delivers the benefits and then make sure that you include modules in the project that ensure those benefits will be delivered.  No good installing a new computer system if it doesn't get used!!  I have people working right now to ensure that the features in our projects are actually facilitated into use through training and closely mentoring people who will be using the systems.


4. Do you have any tips for PMs who feel overwhelmed by it all like you initially did?


Be patient, and remember that it won't happen overnight.  Get some learning, speak to people in your management and get a good mentor.  Talk through problems and ask loads of questions.  Discuss things and be honest about what you do/don't understand.  Ask for help.  Only idiots don't ask for help when they need it.


5. In which ways do you go about building trust with your stakeholders?


I think you've got to talk to them and listen to what they're saying.  If you're honest about what you're trying to achieve, you have a good User Requirement and compelling benefits case, then people will come along with that.


6. You write about the PM Masters (MSc) that you did and the impact it had. What it your approach to projects that changed, was it new tools and techniques you learned, was it people skills or all of the above? What is important in order to make it a success? I suppose it was important that you could go back to work and directly try out the things you learned? What is the advantage of doing a master as opposed to PMP for instance?


I think the Masters route first teaches you how to think critically and then asks you questions designed to give your brain a good workout on some key topics like outsourcing, cultural change, user requirements, benefits, scheduling and planning and many more!!  You have to be able to back up everything you write, so you need to know what the key arguments are and both sides of it.  Thinking about both sides makes you understand why best practice is best practice.  I'm not sure that other qualifications do that.

I really recommend doing a masters (MSc), especially if you consider yourself a 'deep thinker'.


7. What's the best way of learning soft skills? Other than learning over the years through experienced, is there something more proactive PMs can do?


I think you've got the language right there, because some suggest that you can't learn soft skills and I really disagree with that.


Active listening is one of the best soft skills that one can learn.  If you don't listen properly, why would others listen to you?  Doing loads of requirements interviews helped me to learn that, but I'm always learning.  As an ex-technician, I tend towards giving answers and it was really difficult for me to put the 'answer mode' on hold so that I could fully understand the problem.


8. What do you mean by "I see people who've 'learnt the rules' on a daily basis and you can spot it a mile away."?  What is it that PMs do wrong? What's the best way to get "beyond the rules"?


By 'the rules' I meant that people sometimes try to shortcut the pain of learning.  Go out there, observe what others do badly or well and build your own skillset.  Don't try to manipulate people, just be honest with them.  There are no ninja mind tricks. 


9. Regarding "benefits management" - do you have a top tip on that? 


Yes, I would recommend that people read Gerald Bradley's book on Benefits Management - it's £70, but it's an excellent book!  Luckily I reviewed it for Gower and got it free.  Basically, my top tip is to make benefits maps which are aligned to the organisational strategic objectives.  If you can't see the benefits in what you're being asked to do, it's probably best to think about whether it's worth doing the project or not - and certainly worth thinking about which bits to do in either case.

Gerald talks regularly at Project Challenge Expo (UK) on this topic, so if you get chance to attend, it's certainly worth making the effort to get the techniques from the horse's mouth (so to speak).  Gerald contributed to the benefits work in MSP and other books, so it's worthwhile getting on top of these techniques.  Portfolio benefits management seems interesting and a great way to work out which projects to do and which to drop.


10. Do you have any particular ways in which you learn from the past? Do you have a certain way of running post project reviews or other great techniques that work for you?


Start each project with looking at lessons learned from other projects.  End each project with a lessons learned review.

Accept that you're going to get criticised by people, that's inevitable.


11. How do you communicate to the team on day one "which behaviours are good and bad from your perspective"?


Talk with them!  I generally know much of the project team and they know what I'm about, but in the case of new people you need to be specific about what you expect and how they fit into that.  Having regular meetings is worthwhile but you don't always have that luxury.

Juggling Leadership

I was recently asked to answer a few questions on leadership for a book. I thought that it would be good to share these and see if people had any comments. I don't profess to be a great leader, but I do like to think that I inspire others to perform well.
So, here are the questions I got asked and the associated answers:

Which attributes, thinking patterns and actions would you say distinguish an outstanding project manager, or project leader, from an average project manager?


I think that an outstanding project manager has a need to understand how people and projects work. They're not just thinking about the old 'time, cost, performance' thing, but also about how to continuously improve, how they can help their teams better and how they can deliver things better next time. I'm constantly reading, seeking new information to fill in the gaps and I really care that I'm doing things in the best way possible.

When I'm managing staff, if we're doing new things, I'll tell them that we're breaking new ground and we're probably not going to get things just right from the outset. We plan, and then we change that plan as we go, as circumstances change and we learn new things about how we work and how the project environment works. I expect that both me and the team will do things wrong, but they often need need that room to explore as they're doing things. As time goes on, we tighten things up and by the end of the project, we're running like a well oiled machine - but you have to go through that initial learning curve to get to the end point.


Where do project managers most often go wrong? Which mistakes do they make?


Personally, I don't really like delivering anything where there isn't an obvious Business Case. If I'm being briefed up and the Business Case isn't obvious, then I'll ask if they'll let me test the Business Case first. If there's nothing obvious and I'm not allowed to test the case, and they're not running a pilot then I'll flag up that perhaps they really need to have a think. Generally those type of projects go to someone who doesn't ask the questions, but that doesn't bother me too much. Only a very brave executive that would force me to deliver something that they're just doing on a whim, because I've spent years building up a good reputation as a safe pair of hands and I'm not going to risk that by agreeing to deliver an absolute pig.

Many projects just focus on technology delivery, and that seems to be a bad thing. If you're not delivering cultural or procedural change with a technology support, then you're on a road to disaster. I've got enough theoretical knowledge to back up what I'm saying and that tends to be respected.


What are the most severe consequences of these mistakes? Can you provide examples?

I've seen some projects that have been just about delivering technology and they either never achieve the claimed benefits, or end up getting culled because there is no user requirement. Some senior managers develop ideas that don't look at the change holistically - they're just looking at delivering technology. I'm aware of a fairly high value (nearly £100m) project that isn't really used properly and this is because there wasn't really a robust need for it in the first place, and they didn't change the organisation to suit it's introduction.

I've been quite lucky avoiding this kind of thing because I tend to ask some really searching questions and that often means that the main culprits will steer well away from me when they're looking for a PM. I'm not negative, we just have a really honest discussion and perhaps their plan has to be thought about some more.

Do you have any examples or stories you can share where you (or someone else) felt overwhelmed with a project. You didn’t have enough time to do all your tasks, you were fire-fighting, didn’t have anyone to delegate to and as a result you de-prioritised some of the important parts of the project. It may be that you didn’t have enough time to plan the project properly, understand the overall vision of the project, connect with and motivate people, or manage the stakeholders’ expectations? You were simply too busy with the urgent to focus on that which was really important.

In the early days, I felt overwhelmed by everything!! Now I'm a lot calmer because I know that I can do it. I have got into some productivity traps from time to time though. The main one is when I've been really busy and inevitably someone starts to make trouble and I've sometimes ended up making tons of phone calls to sort things out and/or calm them down. 

There's one guy I know that will just throw up a massive red flag and circulate it to everyone under the sun and sometimes not even me. Luckily I've learned to cope with this kind of thing over time and I realise that the managers expect that from him. I keep them all informed and I'll flag up anything risky myself - building trust, so they know that anything coming in from left field is probably just mischief. My phone is always on and I don't mind getting asked to verify things.

Can you remember any AHA moments or Eureka moments from your own career where you suddenly ‘got it’? You stepped up, shifted gear and started applying yourself as a leader of people, rather than a manager of events, tasks and processes? Please describe that moment and what it was that made you shift.

I don't think there was ever a true 'Eureka' moment, but there have been many small incremental changes over the years. I've done quite a bit of training: management, project management, business analysis and every one of those has added more tools to the box and made things easier. If I had to really put my finger on one thing that changed the playing field, it would be when I did my PM Masters (MSc).

There was so much in there and I was just spending hours reading things and soaking up the knowledge. That was a great time because I was learning about all kinds of things, but it wasn't done at an overwhelming pace because I did it part-time. I know that during that time, the managers at work really started to notice what I was doing and that there was a big change in how I was working. I paid for that myself and the savings had to take a hit, but I'm glad that I did it.

The best bit was getting a distinction and winning the Dissertation of the Year prize and at that point people really started noticing because they started realising that what I'd learned was really respected and in demand externally.

I now have bigger budgets, more staff and I'm certainly doing things much better than I was before.


Can you think of anyone else who you believe experienced such a shift?

I know that others doing those type of courses saw a big change, because when I was debating whether to do the course, I asked a question on the LinkedIn APM group. Loads of people said that doing an MSc had been really good for them and they'd learned loads. It's not for everyone, but if you're one of the 'deep thinkers' and you can commit a huge amount of time, then you'll do well and learn a lot that will set you up for the rest of your PM career.

In which ways do you feel that the recent economic crisis has impacted projects and the required capabilities and expectations which companies have of project managers? Have you seen any evidence that PMs have to pay more attention to business cases, expenditure and identifying innovative ideas for how projects can provide more value to the customer for less money?

I work in the Public Sector and I know that the budgets have been impacted severely. Many resource budgets that were previously available aren't there anymore. Business Cases have to be much better and I know that the ROI through benefits is looked at much more seriously than it used to be.

I've always said that austerity didn't really worry me because I made sure that my projects had sufficient benefits and a good user requirement. As other people have struggled, my business cases have still worked well because they were robust before and the new ones are equally robust. The difference between other Business Cases and mine is that I've got several years of writing good ones under my belt, even though I could have just dropped the quality a few years ago. I'm not gold-plating, just doing things right.

In which ways do you feel that the emphasis on hard skills in schools and the rational ways in which most westerners have been brought up is impacting project manager’s ability to lead people and deliver successful projects? Are we generally poor at leading people because we haven’t been taught how to inspire and motivate others and how to build great relationships?

I don't feel that schools are teaching the right things for business, or they weren't when I left school in 1988. There was a real emphasis on things like History and English literature, and it didn't rock anyone's world from what I can remember. Computing hadn't really taken off and computers couldn't really do very much. People didn't have the slightest idea what was going to happen over the next few years. The funny thing was that they could have taught more basic things in maths about running businesses and people probably could have seen the point of that. I've never had to use a 'simultaneous linear equation' since leaving school and I probably won't ever need to!

I think that there's a big barrier out there, because many people think that you can't learn soft skills and you've either got it or you haven't. It's a total myth - people change throughout their life.

What are your top tips for project mangers who want to step up, become a authentic and impactful leaders who add real value, build great teams and get results?

My advice is quite simple:

1) Be a servant leader

As a PM, you're either helping or you're in the way. If you're getting in the way of the team's productivity, or they're raising issues and you're not sorting them, then you're chaff and not really contributing to the overall picture.
One of my pet hates is managers who treat their staff like slaves. Staff hate managers like that, and will go to the n'th degree to make their life more difficult. I always remember the line of a song that keeps me focussed "and you just say that 'he just works for me', doing things that you can't do. So grease my palm with a hatful of currency, 'cos I don't belong to you" (Del Amitri, Hatful of Rain). With that sort of advice, how could I take the team for granted?

I think of myself as the oil that keeps their machine going, and sometimes that means that I end up doing things that I don't want to do, in order to make their life easier and the project run better. I clear the politics, barriers, lend a pair of hands where necessary, set equipment up, sort ordering or delivery problems out and generally try to make things work well. I wouldn't ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn't be prepared to do myself. People tend to notice that kind of behaviour and react well to it.

2) Always be learning

When I left college, I thought 'well, that's it for learning'. How wrong I was! After another 20+ years, I've got a degree, masters, professional qualifications and read literally thousands of articles on management, project management, leadership and strategy. I can't see a point where that will change, because my mind is still like a sponge. Sure, it's a sponge that doesn't remember things first time some of the time, but it is still sponge-ish and I take great delight in reading all sort of materials that I can apply to real-life.

3) Always act with the best intention of the organisation in mind

I've seen so many managers who are seeking to feather their own nests. Bigger teams, bigger budgets, often to fuel big egos. I have a small team that works well. I have a modest budget, but it's carefully managed to run the projects that I have. I work hard to try and benefit the organisation, sharing new learning and helping to build the staff. I won't support anything that is 'selfish' and teams see that and understand what's going on. It's fairly simple advice really - if you're acting in the best interest of the firm, then I'm happy.


Do you have any other tips that can help project managers achieve any of the following; 

o become a better people manager


Act as you want others to act. Set an example that can be followed by observation.

Tell people when they're behaving how you want, don't just criticise the bad stuff. People want to do the right thing and get praise.
Do some management training. You may think you know it all if you've got experience, but only 25% of managers are trained and almost everyone thinks they could do a better job than their boss. Go figure.


o build better client relationships

Talk to them, find out what they need and want. Try and discover why they need it, understand their business and their teams. Really make an effort to do that, but don't just go through the motions. I see people who've 'learnt the rules' on a daily basis and you can spot it a mile away. I won't deal with those people unless I can't avoid it, and your customers will be the same.

o deliver business benefits that add sustained value to the client

Do benefits management. Get good User Requirements. Really take time to understand the customer and you'll get good requirements. Deliver those and you'll be on the right track.
Some of the best advice I ever had was this: I was working with a manager who used to quote the old Ford-ism "If I have asked the users what they wanted, they'd have asked for a faster horse". This suggested that the customer didn't know what they wanted, and of course led to development of a whole range of 'innovative' stuff that the customer didn't want. I was discussing this with my friend Dr Penny Pullan who is a well respected Business Analyst and she said to me "In those situations, I always ask what delivering a faster horse would have given you". Penny didn't give me the answer to her question, but I'm convinced that 99/100 times, the answer would be 'happy customers'.

People often quote Apple as being successful, innovative but not consultative. Strange then, that there are often loads of 'product leaks' of all sorts of iterations of their products which then get ripped to shreds by the public. If that's not been carefully orchestrated, then I'd be extremely surprised.

o continuously improve, take risks and innovate

Always be learning! Keep up to date with the best practice, academic stuff and anything else you can get your hands on. Try stuff on a small 'pilot' scale and see if it works. If not, why wasn't it successful? Keep thinking, reviewing and asking questions.
Look at what you did and ask yourself and others if it was the right thing to do, or could you have done things better? Give the team permission to make mistakes, but keep an eye out for real howlers. If/when things go wrong, make sure it's positive and not that you've given them rope to hang themselves.

o avoid fire-fighting and instead focus on what is most important

When you've put out all (or most) of the fires, have a look at what you can do to prevent fires in the future. When you've got a spare moment, work on improving things so that those fires aren't happening in future. Learn to prioritise on an urgent/important basis and do, defer, delegate or drop as appropriate.
A lot of that is taught on management courses, so if you're rushed off your feet, but haven't been formally trained, then perhaps you need to go and get some more tools in the toolbox.

o become more visionary and inspirational

Develop a vision and be inspiring! Act like the best leaders do. Be the best that you can be, be clear about what your game is, and communicate that. As Reginald Harling said, "Get ahead, then give others a helping hand to catch up".


o become more assertive and impactful and learn to say no

I think that much of this is about communication. If you say "look, I can't do this without affecting other things that I'm working on. If you want me to do it, I'll make it happen, but I'll either need to delay or stop doing something that I'm currently doing, or I'll need x, y, and z". Give them a range of options and they've had a conditional yes, rather than a no. 9/10 times you'll get the job and more assets to achieve it. They have asked you to do something because they like how you do it, so 'No' was never really going to be a viable option anyway, but you do have to protect the quality of your output, or the reputation will suffer.

o be authentic and honest

Actually be authentic and honest. It's much easier to do that than to live an elaborate lie that will catch you out and then you'll lose respect. If you have to learn how to do this, all is lost!!

o get better at motivating and empowering a global team (virtual, multi-cultural, matrix team)

I always remember that the team's successes need to be attributed back to those individuals. Without the team support, I'd just be a 'team of one'. Make sure that the team know which behaviours are good and bad from your perspective and they'll start to do the good things because they want the praise. You need to set that out from day one, but it's OK to communicate it if you see anything that you don't like. Then give praise when they do the good things. Focus on the behaviour and not the person.
Cultural differences are always difficult. My partner is from Hong Kong and I was given this advice when over there "you're a polite and nice person, just act that way and you'll be fine". You might end up committing the odd cultural gaffe, but generally you'll be OK if you just try to be nice.

Is there anything else you haven’t already mentioned which you feel is an important capability or behaviour to project leaders?

Get some training and then follow it. Be nice to people. I think that I already said all that ;-)

If someone makes a mistake, try to view it as a learning experience and then move on. If you can't do that, then sack them, but don't keep them and then keep punishing.


What is the best way for project managers to grow and develop into leaders?

Get stuck in, make mistakes, admit the mistakes, move on and get better. Lead by example and give people all the support and chances that you had. Don't cover up your mistakes, because everyone will be aware of them.

How can organisations and line managers best support their project managers to step up and become leaders?

Support formal management training, whether it be line management of project management training.

Encourage people who are clearly trying to lead and don't keep slapping them down.
Never believe that your staff don't have anywhere else to go, because I've rarely met anyone that wouldn't move.
So, that's it from me - what do you think?

Friday, 4 October 2013

Process improvement interviewing over the phone

Some things are better done face-to-face.  Process mapping is one of those things, but when your wife is a week overdue, then you're probably not going to risk being at the wrong end of the country.

So I spent a fairly frustrating couple of hours discussing reworking of a V1.0 process map that I'd done a week or so ago.  It was only a draft, came from a meeting that I'd had with the chap doing a review of their department and clearly was never going to be right first time.

So, it took a couple of hours and may be closer this time than last time, but again it most likely won't be right.  That's not a problem really, the idea is to get towards it being right and map the actual 'as is'.  What is really obvious is that the current process is really complex.  I'm not sure if we can make it better, but I'm fairly sure that there are a few tweaks that can be made here and there.

My initial take is that the process is too complex and there also needs to be some more formal QA in the system.  In a way, it's OK if the process is complex, but if it can be simplified then that makes sense.  The lack of QA is clearly more disturbing.  I'm sure that there is QA in there, but it wasn't obvious from what I was hearing today.

I think of an old-style photographic printing lab here.  They get photos in to process within 24 hours and also ones that only need to be back within a week.  The 7 day ones fit around the 24 hour ones, but even the slow lane is being checked to ensure that it's running at sufficient speed to complete everything within the correct timescales.  So they have monitoring processes and sufficient additional capacity to ensure that the backlog of work can still be done within reasonable timescales.  Even then, they can still run faster and for more hours if they need to catch up, and they can even outsource if something really bad happens, like a machine breakdown.

So, more QA and perhaps the ability to work a few more hours if they get a backlog and need to catch up?  Hardly groundbreaking really.  Well, no...but then it is 'improvement' and not 're-design'.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Workflow for baby MK2


In a few days, I'm due to become a father for the second time.

I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of the learning from last time, so I read my original "Can you Project Manage a baby?"

If you've not seen this and are a new parent or are thinking about becoming one, have a look here:  http://juggling-sand.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/can-you-project-manage-baby.html

The key message that I would like to convey to new parents, is that parenting shouldn't scare you, after all people have been doing it for years!  You will undoubtedly be worried that you're going to kill the child accidentally, but it is really unlikely that this will happen.  Having said this, if you don't want to die of tiredness yourself, there are some basic things that you do need to pick up quickly.


For us, one of the most difficult things was that we couldn't figure out what exactly made the baby cry at any particular time.  It took a while for us to figure this out, but that was stressful and I thought that it would be easier to publish something quite simple to assist new parents.

In my professional life, I'm also messing around (learning) BPMN2.0 for some of the more 'Internal consultant-y' work that I do, and this was a great opportunity to get some hands-on experience using the process tool.

The idea was to do something that was tongue in cheek, rather than something overly serious.  Trust me though, this flowchart does actually work!!





So what is this all about?  Babies are primarily interested in sleeping, but they get really grumpy if they're wet/dirty, hungry or have wind.  So you just need to run though a simple process to sort things out - essentially a workflow.  When you're winding, 'more is more' because babies seem to find a little wind really nasty, but they also seem to release loads of it in tiny parcels.


That's the sort of thing that you need to be stencilled on the fridge door when it's 3am, you've not slept for 9 days, and you're contemplating if it's actually possible to die from tiredness.

If you're reading this and thinking "that guy doesn't take thing seriously enough and probably makes a really bad dad and husband", you'd be wrong.  I'm really committed to the role, but I was so uptight before I became a parent and I want people who are just becoming parents to realise that you're probably going to have to go with the flow a bit more.  You can't really control a baby - just like in life, control is an illusion!!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

What does Project Management mean to me - #pmflashblog


I am writing this article for #pmflashblog , which is a collection of Project Managers around the world, writing on a single topic at a specific time (or reasonably specific time anyway)

The topic of this first #pmflashblog is “What does Project Management mean to me?”



Well, for me being a PM is pretty much about professionalism.  Everything else falls out of that.


Professionalism:

A professional seeks to be at the top of his/her game.  They keep up to date with the industry, actually follow best practice (may take some time to get right) and they generally do the right thing in the right way.

I’m not suggesting that a professional gets it right all the time, because I’ve made some absolute howlers.  Neither am I suggesting that their personality is perfect, because I don’t know anyone who fits that bill.  What I’m suggesting that they actively try and do things better each time.

I’ve been walking this path for some time now.  It leads to a lot of thinking, some real breakthroughs and a whole lot of pain - but it is worthwhile to keep putting the effort in because it does pay off in the long run.

So what PM skills do you need to develop in order to make this happen?


Control the main project killers, Pareto style:

As a PM, you need to know that a few things are project killers.  There is a list as long as your arm (or leg) of things that can cause issues, but the key things are these:

1)  Top Management Support
2)  Undefined Success Criteria
3)  Project Stakeholders/Clients have not been interviewed for Project Requirements
4)  Lack of Resources/availability of personnel
5)  PM cannot communicate effectively with clients

These sound really basic.  The simple truth is: yes, they are simple, but they’re the most common project killers and if you keep controlling those, you’re going to be on a better track than those who don’t.

You’re always going to get stuck at some point in a project, but if you control those things then you’ve got a far better chance of success.


Manage the benefits and everything else will come:

Most project managers think in terms of time, cost and performance but the truly enlightened know that a project is all about delivering benefits.  Trust me that no-one will care that you came in under budget if the house has no roof because you de-scoped it in a bid to bring everything in under budget and on time.


Be a servant leader:

Be there to clear blockages for your teams.  It sounds simple, but the only reason that you’re there is to make things easier for them - otherwise you’re chaff.  Be a servant leader, and seek to make things better and easier for the team and they’ll not just support you as the Project Manager, but they’ll make you their God.


Work for the best of the organisation, not yourself:

If you work in the best interests of the organisation, then that will be noticed.  People will try to do you over from time to time (think daily) but if you’re working in the best interests of the organisation, then they’ll be seen for what they are.  Be clear that’s what you’re doing because people need to know that.  It’s about setting a good example, and doing the right thing.  It will seem thankless at first, but you will be noticed in time.  Play the long game.


Don’t take yourself too seriously:

Seriously, don’t.  If you can’t find some time to have a laugh and a joke even when things are getting really bonkers, then go and work in a supermarket or anywhere but here.  Life is too short to be too serious and people don’t really like folk who aren’t approachable.  Many people think that Project Management is about being serious.  Well it is a serious job, but don’t let it get you glum, chum.


Anyhow, hopefully that’s given you an idea about what PM is to me.  Some days are great and others aren’t.  You’ve got to remember that you’re the Rock Star and the Tea Boy, so get in there and make a cuppa.  Mine’s a tea, milk no sugar!!