Friday, April 18, 2014

60: Stirring Things Up

At long last we are getting some sunshine and spring is definitely here. The Topsham outdoor swimming pool opens tomorrow and I’ve got my first early morning stint at 05:30 Easter Monday morning! I have vivid memories last year of struggling to get the pool cover off in the dark and in the pouring rain. I wonder what this year will bring.

The Project
Silence from the publishers, which could be good or bad. I try not to pester them at these times as they will get back to me soon enough if they find any problems. The last thing I want to do is stir things up as my book is but one of many projects they have on the go.

A project manager needs to run his project delicately and allow the group process to emerge naturally.  A poor project manager will stir things up and release strong feelings and unwarranted pressure, which can result in the wrong things being done.  

The Way  
The wise project manager does not push, he allows things to emerge when they are ready and the time is right.  When hidden issues and emotions emerge naturally, they also resolve themselves naturally.  They are not harmful.  In fact, they are no different from any other thoughts or feelings.  

All energies arise naturally, take form, grow strong, come to a new resolution and finally pass away.  This is the cycle of life, processes, projects and everything else and the wise project manager understands this.  

Ruling the country as if cooking a small fish.  
Using the Tao in the world,  
And evil will have no power.  
Not that evil is not powerful,  
But its power will not harm men.  
Not only will it not harm men,  
But the sage himself will not harm men.  
As neither hurts the other,  
So virtue merges and refreshes both.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

59: Restraint

The Project
So at long last my final content for “Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps” has been uploaded to the publishers.  Now the waiting begins!  Will they like it?  Will they find any errors or typos?  There is always a strange sort of empty feeling when I finish a book or any other project, but in my case I have one or two more things in the pipeline, so watch this space.

As project managers, we need to be aware of what is happening and how things happen on our projects, so that we can act accordingly.  Poor project managers tend to bludgeon their way through a project, organizing everything and running everything.  They try and stamp their authority on the project and the project team.  But the project manager is no different from anything or anyone else, which means that he is ordinary.  Only by knowing and understanding this can he become a wise project manager.  

The Way  
The wise project manager uses restraint in his approach to everything.  He does not try and force his ideas onto the team.  He encourages the team to evolve their ideas and he nurtures these.  This way he can help to steer the project away from trouble and be effective.  

In governing men and serving heaven,  
Nothing equals restraint.  
Restraint begins with giving up one’s own ideas.  
Giving up one’s own ideas depends on preparedness.  
When you are prepared then nothing is impossible.  
If nothing is impossible, then there are no limits.  

Friday, April 04, 2014

PMI Netherlands Summit 2014

3rd edition PMI Netherlands Summit
Once again I find myself on the bloggers team for those good PMI folks in the Netherlands and following on from their very successful events in 2012 and 2013, the PMI Netherlands Chapter & CKC Seminars are organizing the 3rd edition of PMI Netherlands Summit on: 

Thursday, June 12th 2014 
The PMI Netherlands Summit is a unique event for Project, Program and Portfolio professionals to inspire and to be inspired. The central theme of this event is “The thin line between project success & failure”, something very close to my heart.  The full program is now available at:

The program provides a full range of topics addressing the central theme, presented by national and international thought leaders and experts. I picked out the following sessions that particularly appealed to me:

Making the Impossible Possible: Is there sanity and success in the midst of chaos?
The presentation will look at a current large successful project in an environment of many objectives to achieve with stringent deadlines to get to market. Amy Andrade will explore the elements inherent with this project which allowed it to be successful – though by best practice standards it was impossible.

Project governance Project Sponsor: Cross the Line Challenge
The project sponsor is an extremely important success factor for projects, in order to obtain better results, to improve teamwork and to ensure that the energy put into the project is effectively deployed and that the project remains focused to realise the benefits for the organisation. In this lecture, Bart Hoitink challenges you to cross the line towards excellent project sponsorship.   

How to recover a derailing project
Derailment is a subtle or sneaky process. Its symptoms are rarely visible in the standard project reports. Its causes are a combination of rational and irrational behavior. It is the irrational side of derailment which escapes the attention of project management standards. Learn how to recognize early and late symptoms of project derailment and how to deal with the dilemmas involved in setting up a recovery from Peter Storm.  

Control in a changing world
Studies show that in industry, more than half of all projects do not deliver on the promises they set out to achieve. Failure of such a project can sink a company. So what happens? Dick Wynberg will discuss the role of project managers in a complex project. Do they really manage HSSE, cost, schedule, quality, or are these merely the outcome of a failure to manage risk? 

What every waterfall PMP needs to know about agile but was afraid to ask
In this workshop it will be explained that Agile Project Management differs from conventional waterfall and that it should be regarded as a different PM method. The concept of the Agile PM life cycle is introduced and the consequences of it will be discussed. Finally Frank Hendriks introduces PMI’s PMI-ACP certification as a way to manifest oneself a competent Agile Project manager.

Taming Tigers
Finally Jim Lawless (author of Taming Tigers) will give a unique presentation based on his experience of carrying out an “impossible” change twice to prove that his principles work. Taming Tigers is Jim’s metaphor and he will present his Ten Rules as practical tools to overcome any barrier. As a bonus delegates will receive a free copy of his book during the Conference.

Do check out the full program and if you go enjoy the event. Unfortunately I am not able to attend this year’s event due to other commitments but I’m sure it will be great.

Friday, March 28, 2014

58: Facilitation

The Project
Had some more excellent feedback from Graham and David for the book. A few typos and a lot of helpful suggestions. Final proof reading over the weekend and submit it to the publishers on Monday. All being well it should be published by the end of April. It is great to have friends and former colleagues that you can rely on for help, support and facilitation.

Poor project managers try to control their teams and the processes they use.  But by doing this they interfere with the natural process and end up by making it chaotic.  The team process should evolve naturally and be self-regulating.  If the project manager interferes or tries to control the process, it will usually fail.  

The Way  
The wise project manager learns to trust what is happening in the project team.  If there is silence, let it grow and something will emerge.  If there is a storm, let it rage and it will resolve itself into calm.  If the team is unhappy about something let it sort it out.  The wise project manager facilitates the unfolding team process.  He knows how to have a profound influence without making things happen.  

When the country is lightly governed,  
The people are genuine and honest.  
When the country is ruled with severity,  
The people will know deficiency. 
Therefore the sage is: 
Sharp but not cutting,  
Incorrupt but does not injure,  
Straightforward but not showy,  
Enlightened but not brilliant.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

57: Interfere Less

Some project managers need to feel that the team is dependent on them.  In order to do this they interfere with the work of the team and make all the decisions themselves.  This reduces the freedom and responsibility of the team members.  The more coercive the project manager becomes, the more resistant the team members become.  Manipulation breeds evasion.  This is not the way to run a project.  

The wise project manager establishes an open and honest climate for the team and as a result the team acts in an open manner.  The project manager’s job is to facilitate the work of the team and keep them informed about what is happening on the project.  He interferes as little as possible because interference, no matter how brilliant, creates a dependency.  

The Way  
When the project manager practices silence, the team remains focused.  When the project manager does not impose rules, the team discovers its own goodness.  When the project manager acts unselfishly, the team simply does what is to be done.  Good leadership consists of doing less and being more.  

When there is much to fear and much forbidden,  
The people become poorer.  
When people have many sharp weapons,  
The state and country become confused.  
When people become cunning,  
Strange things occur.  

The more rules and regulations,  
The more thieves and malefactors abound.  
Therefore the sage says:  
I am without motive and people reform themselves,  
I enjoy peace and people correct themselves,  
I have no personal agenda and the people enrich themselves,  
I have no desires and people return to the natural state.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

56: Consciousness

The Project
The final chapter has passed first scrutiny and now awaits feedback from my peer reviewers. They are really great and have given me excellent feedback all along so I eagerly await their comments on the last few chapters. 

There are some project managers who are easy to deal with and some who are so bloody-minded it’s unbelievable.  Prevarication and technical jargon are their stock in trade, but all they succeed in doing is confusing their team and everyone else around them.  They do not understand the way.  

The Way  
The wise project manager knows that words cannot capture the true nature of events so he does not try to use them.  The wise project manager knows that what cannot be said can still be demonstrated, if he remains silent and conscious.  Consciousness sheds light on what is happening.  It clarifies conflicts and harmonises agitated individuals or groups.  His consciousness is not idealistic; it rests on a pragmatic knowledge of how things work.  There are no obstacles on the way, the obstacles are the way.  

He who knows does not talk.  
He who talks does not know.  
Close the mouth.  
Shut the door.  
Dim the cleverness.  
Untangle the knot.  
Join the dust.  
This can be called consciousness.  
This is the highest state of man.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Project Management around the World: Exeter (UK)

Here in the soggy South West of England the projects foremost in our minds are the ones concerned with drying out the Somerset Levels, repairing the destroyed sections of coastal railway line and even closer to home repairing the storm surge damage to Topsham’s famous (well famous in these parts) Goat Walk on the River Exe Estuary.

But looking wider afield I still see the continuing saga of failing projects particularly in the public sector. Those of you who have been following my blog will know that I am currently writing a book called “Project, Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps” due for publication in April this year. I would like to share my observations on two particular types of disaster projects from the book, I call them Leviathans and Vanities.

Leviathans were enormous, mythical all-consuming sea monsters which sounds awfully like some of the recent high-profile failed or struggling projects reported in the media:

British Broadcasting Corporation: Digital Media Initiative, to improve efficiency and allow better management, but underestimation of the complexity, poor governance, organizational immaturity and continual changes resulted in the contract being abandoned in 2013, at a cost of £100m (but they are currently having another go at it using an Agile approach so the final number may be even bigger!).

BSkyB: Customer Relations Management system, where the supplier failed to resource the project properly and was seriously late. When the project was finally scrapped, very little had been done but the cost was still £318m.

UK Government Regional Fire Control Centre project, which was flawed from the outset and scrapped as the IT systems could not be delivered. I actually trained the Fire Service project managers who were going to have to implement this one in the South West and every one of them knew it would be a total disaster! Fortunately they never had to implement it but the regional centre that it was going to be run from has been built and is standing empty. The cost was £469m at the time of cancellation but the costs are still on-going.

US (OK this is not local but I thought it worth including) Department of Defence: Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS), an integrated supply chain and logistics system (at one time the largest project in the world – which should have rung a few alarm bells!), finally scrapped as they couldn’t get it to work at a cost of $1b.

Airbus SAS: A380 commercial aircraft development project, delayed by nearly two years due to design faults caused by the use of different computer aided design (CAD) software in different parts of the organization at a cost of $6b.

The problem with these leviathan projects is they become like out of control giant tankers, almost impossible to stop until they hit a rock and flounder. Many more projects end up like this than get reported in the media, as they get hushed up by the embarrassed organizations responsible for them. 

So what can we learn from them? Effective Project Management in easy steps (one of my earlier books) defines 20 laws of project management. The most pertinent of these is this:

“A two year project will take three years;
a three year project will never finish.”

The basic problem is that the world will change, often quite dramatically, over a two to three year period. As a result of this, the business requirements are also likely to change in line with it. With the passage of time, what the project initially set out to achieve will no longer be what the business now requires. Changing the project’s requirements (scope) on the fly will seriously impact on the project’s time, cost and quality. This will add the risk of it falling further and further behind until, eventually, it gets abandoned. The larger the project is, the greater the risk of failure.

The second type of problem projects are vanity projects, promoted by proud men (usually senior executives) with whom no-one likes to disagree. These typically have poorly defined objectives and no sound business justification. They may eventually get completed but they produce little or no real benefit to the business despite using precious resources. Even worse they prevent those resources being used for projects of more value to the business. 

The problem is that without proper project, program and portfolio management processes in place each individual project is considered in isolation. It doesn’t matter if the project is necessary or not, as long as the person sponsoring it can make a convincing case for it. In fact it might not even need corporate approval if the sponsor has sufficient finance in his own budget to fund it. 

In the book I (naturally) go on to explain how program and portfolio management can fix both problems.

You might be forgiven for thinking that some recent projects (Olympic Games and Football World Cups come to mind) actually manage to tick both boxes!

Enjoy your projects, I do.
John Carroll (a.k.a. P M Blogger)