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)