Friday, May 27, 2016

Chose the Right Projects

Continuing the theme of what we can do to prevent projects failing: Step one was to consider if the project manager has the necessary skills to manage projects; Step two was to consider the needs of the organisation. Step three is to chose the right projects.

Picking the Right Projects
We need to make sure that only projects that are critical to the business take place. We also need to make sure 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. So what can we do about it? 

These decisions need to be made at the highest level in the organisation and portfolio management provides the ideal mechanism for this. 

Portfolio selection: by putting all projects (other than very small ones) through the portfolio selection process we ensure that only projects that are critical to the business are carried out. By regular review of the portfolio, we can ensure that only projects that remain critical to the business continue. 

Benefits Management: ensures that we recognise the actual business benefits delivered by every project.

Portfolio Management also addresses prioritisation, planning, risk management and stakeholder management, which also deliver benefits to the organisation. Organisations that have implemented portfolio management have a much higher rate of project success and far fewer project failures.

Next week I will look at the fourth vital step.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Organisation

So having established that our project managers have the basic ability to manage projects, and planned any development they need, the next step is to consider the needs of the organisation itself.

Project Focus
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 and supports 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 project management role (not just anyone who is available). In a project-focused organisation the selection and development of project managers should be a key part of management development and planning. 

The next step is to make sure we select the right projects and I will be taking a look at that next week.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What We Can Do

Just to re-cap, I am taking a deeper look into what we can do to prevent projects going wrong. But let's start with the reason why projects fail.

Why Projects Fail
covered this in a post in June 2015 but I need to add one bit of clarification on project failure. Stopping a project that is in danger of going badly wrong or failing is not a project failure, it is good project management. Allowing a project go wrong and fail is poor project management. I hope you can see the distinction.

Now projects may fail for a number of different reasons but all of these reasons can be addressed by a good project manager. If a project fails it is due to one thing alone: poor project management. So having addressed that, let's look at what we can do about it. I originally proposed four steps or areas we need to consider (I simplified it down to three steps in the white paper but will expand it back to four areas now) and these are: (1) the project managers, (2) the business, (3) the projects, and (4) project reviews. So this week let's look at our project managers.

Project Managers
In my experience an awful lot of project managers get thrown into it with little or no training, often because they are available and can be spared by the business. Now ask yourself if these people are likely to make good project managers. Surely if they were any good they would already be critical to the business and not available for running projects!

So we need to take a good look at all our project managers and identify whether or not they have the necessary skill set and basic ability to run projects. This means carrying out a thorough appraisal by someone who knows and understands what project management is all about, a good project manager, and that might not be the project manager's current line manager (we will address this when we look at the business next week). 

If we can establish that the project manager does probably have the basic ability to run a project, then we can identify any development needs and provide them with the required training. But more importantly we can assign them a mentor, who of necessity must be a wise (and therefore successful) project manager themselves. 

If on the other hand the project manager doesn’t have the basic ability to manage projects, then we need to move them to somewhere else in the organisation where they can do less harm. Sounds brutal but they should never have been moved into a project management position in the first place if they didn't have the basic ability. 

In a nutshell a successful project manager needs to have good planning, organisational, leadership and communication skills. These can be developed through training but they need to have the basic ability in the first place.

Next week we will look at the business and what it can do to make all this happen.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Effective Communication

I am indebted to Tom Hussey, who suggested I expand on the 'what we can do' section of my white paper on Why Projects Really Fail. So that's what I will be doing over the next few weeks. He also mentioned that poor communication has been a problem on many projects he has worked on so that's where I'll start.

Poor Communication
Communication is a basic leadership skill. If you can't communicate then you can't be an effective leader. Poor communication skills (in the project manager) was the third most frequent cause cited for project failure in my early research and I still believe it is relevant today. So that has to be the starting point. If a project manager has poor communication skills it is imperative that they get some skills development training. If you are that project manager then ask for it. If you are not, then tell that project manager (tactfully of course) that they would benefit from it. So what does good communications look like?

Good Communication
It starts with a communication plan and if you don't know what one looks like it's covered on page 136 of 'Effective Project Management in easy steps'. If you can't afford the £10.99 (or usually a bit less on Amazon), let me know and I'll send you a PDF of the chapter as a taster! But of course it's not just a question of producing a communications plan and then forgetting it. Good communications looks like regular and effective communication to each of the stakeholder groups, giving them just what they need to keep them informed, but with links provided to more in depth information (on DropBox or similar) if they need it. Most of all it looks like the project manager 'walking the floor', talking to team members and finding out how their work is going. Good communication is making time for talking to people and not burying yourself in an office or endless meetings. If you don't have time to communicate then you need 'Effective Time Management in easy steps' (sorry that's the second plug for one of my books in the same blog, but it's all in there).

Making time for people always pays dividends as not only will you learn about issues, problems and good news sooner, but it is actually fun. So get out there and do it, everything else can wait. It's one of the best bits of project management.