These are my musings on project management and life and how they map onto Taoist philosophy based on my book "The Way of the Project Manager" (ISBN 978-1481076111), published by CreateSpace and available from Amazon in hard copy and on Amazon Kindle.
Last week I outlined my deployment road map and the first step was to establish the current level of project management capability maturity in your organization. Capability Maturity Model Most project managers will by now be familiar with the capability maturity model (CMM) and this is an example of the project management CMM (there are also program, portfolio and combined P3M versions):
If you want help with establishing your organization’s capability maturity the CMMI Institute have a self-assessment questionnaire you can adapt and use. You can find it at:
Next week I'll look at the second step of moving on up the maturity matrix.
At long last Agile Project Management in easy steps 2nd Edition is out in print. More pages and two more chapters (Feature-Driven Development and Agile at Scale) and now co-authored with David Morris, who was responsible for most of the additional content. And even better value for money as it is still only priced at £10.99 UK / $14.99 US.
So the four things we can do to stop projects going wrong are to consider the needs of the project manager; consider the needs of the organisation; select the right projects; and to review them regularly. So what do we need to do to ensure this happens? We need to start with the organisation. If an organisation is going to thrive in the current environment it will need to embrace project management as a crucial element of the business. The organisation will practice portfolio management and will have a project focus. They will value their project managers, support their development and see project management as a vital part of management development. Having implemented this in several organisations, I have developed a simple road map to that successful deployment Deployment Road Map Step 1: Establish the current level of project management capability maturity in the organisation; Step 2: Plan how the capability maturity needs to be developed and improved; Step 3: Define and document sound project management processes, with a project office to support and develop the processes; Step 4: Define and document sound program management processes (if you are going to implement program management) again with a program office to support and develop the processes; Step 5: Introduce a peer review (gateway) process for all projects and programs; and Step 6: Implement portfolio management at the highest level in the organisation. I will be looking at each of those six steps in detail over the next six posts. So until the next time: don't forget to enjoy your project management.
Step one was to consider the skills of the project manager, step two was to consider the needs of the organisation, and step three was to consider the projects and make sure they are business critical. But we can't just stop there, for even if a project is business critical it can still go wrong or cease to be business critical. The way we deal with these two potential problems is: Review the Projects So step four is to put processes in place to ensure that all projects are reviewed at set times during the project life-cycle. What is needed is some form of peer review process, where a small team (external to the project) or just a single person for a small project, carries out a quick review against a standard check-list. Ideally this would be at the end of each project stage. The process is sometimes referred to as a gateway review process and uses a Red, Amber, Green (RAG) traffic signal against each point on the check list. Red is critical and urgent: the problem must be addressed or the project will fail. Amber is critical but not urgent: the problem should be addressed before any further key decisions are made. Green: the project is on track on this point. This process is nice and simple and I like ‘simple’ processes. Used properly the process works as it ensures that projects that are going wrong get fixed or stopped before they can have a serious impact on the business. It also checks that projects still are critical to the business. So those are the four steps I believe we can take to stop projects going wrong. In the next post I will start to look at deploying them in an organisation.
Step one was to consider the skills of the project manager and step two was to consider the needs of the organisation. Consider the Projects Step three is to make sure that only projects that are critical to the business take place and that the projects that do take place are measured on the actual benefits they deliver to the business at the end of the project. Most organisations are currently failing in both of these areas. These decisions must be made at the highest level in the organisation and portfolio management provides the mechanism for this (although you don’t have to call it that, particularly in smaller organisations, where it might be considered overkill). When I’ve run project portfolios I usually work on a three year focus, with a quarterly review of the portfolio and a strict rule that nothing is bullet-proof. The most business-critical projects are always prioritised and anything else (including projects that are already under way) can be deferred or delayed. This way all projects are business critical and will get full top management support. Up to now, not many organisations have implemented portfolio management and of the few that have, many still suffer from what I call ‘project amnesia’. Some people call it the ‘approve and forget’ approach as once they have approved a project they seem to forget all about it. So there is one final important fourth step, which we will look at next week.
As we saw last week, step one was to consider whether the project manager actually has the necessary skills to manage projects and if not, to move them somewhere else where they can do less damage to the organisation. And speaking of the organization: Consider the Organisation Step two is to consider the needs of the organisation itself. Business today needs to be agile and able to change and adapt quickly, if not it will fail. Because of this the business environment today is becoming more and more project driven, which means the business must have a project focus. That means embedding project management into the business strategy and making sure the organization understands it. Then if we are going to do projects we need to do them right and that begins with putting our best people into the role (not just anyone who is available). Maybe as part of a career development process for a couple of years. Good managers will be stretched and will blossom in the role and be capable of taking on greater things in the future. But the organisation must support this and be fully committed to it, not just put anyone who is available into a project management role. Agile Project Management in easy steps And speaking of agile, the second edition of the book (now co-authored with David Morris) is due for publication in the next couple of weeks.
First of all we need to consider if a project manager actually has the
necessary skills to manage projects. A lot of people get thrown into project
management because they are available, with no thought about what skills they
need to carry out the role. I get a lot of feedback on this point so I know it
is still happening today.
So a good honest appraisal should clearly identify any areas of
skills shortage and development needs. But we need to be honest, not everyone
can become a good project manager. Not everyone will have the right temperament
or basic management skills. However, if they show promise then give them any
necessary training but more importantly I think we should provide mentoring for
them from an experienced (and therefore hopefully a wise) project manager.
But if they are not cut out for it, move them to somewhere else,
where they can do less damage to the organisation.
To recap: The Real Cause Earlier in this blog I listed the top ten ‘causes’ often cited for project failure and then examined them one by one. They all turn out to be just symptoms of poor project management or selecting the wrong project. But a wise project manager would also deal with the wrong project, so let's bite the bullet, the real reason projects fail is just poor project management. Wise project managers are aware of these symptoms as they will have learned about them the hard way from their own early projects. They take the necessary steps to ensure they don’t have these problems in future on their projects. But that still leaves us with the problem of what to do about the unwise project managers whose project run into problems or fail altogether. The answer is not to send them all on training courses. What I believe we need to do is develop the project managers, develop the organisation, select the right projects in the first place and then regularly review them. I'll be expanding on these topics again over the next few weeks.