Lets face it - Human beings have been running projects since "Pa fell off the bus". So why is it that so many projects across all industries, irrespective of size, complexity and risk exposure just dont hack it? I like to refer to them as the lumps of coal. And then we have the gems - the projects which meet the agreed KPIs and stakeholder expectations. The gems - precious stones rare and brilliant.
In this article I am going to share my views based on observations and conversations with numerous project teams and Execs over the years in terms of what differentiates the gems from the lumps of coal. In other words, those organisations that get it and the ones who dont. Allot of it is common sense... But the reality today is that common sense is not that common!
Executive Team and culture
Lumps of coal emerge in an environment where you hear the Executive say, I pay the Project Manager a high salary and they must just get on deliver. However the environment in which the project team operate in is not conducive for effective project management. The organisation still views the business and projects as two separate entities which often compete for resources albeit ;financial, people, technology etc. In addition, the project teams are unable to apply their skill as the Executive think it is okay that once the funding is secured, their job is done. The business is disengaged; dont pitch for project review or steering committee meetings and as a result critical decisions are delayed resulting in the emergence of lumps of coal.
Gems emerge in a culture where people at all levels are trained in project management techniques and principles and the Executive create an environment for the project manager and teams to apply their skills and operate effectively. There is seamless integration between the business and projects which is linked through a well-defined and understood strategy. There is no us and them syndrome. The project team is made of people across the internal and external organisation with the right project management skill and technical competence to execute the task at hand. People understand their role, irrespective of their line function and work together towards the common goal.
Governance, Methodologies & Best Practices
The word governance derives from the Greek word κυβερνάω [kubernáo] - meaning to steer. Lumps of coal emerge when this is misunderstood as the organisation adopts a one size fits all approach. The project is initiated and irrespective of the business drivers, project type, size, risk exposure and complexity, the project team is forced to follow a lifecycle and complete a menagerie of templates to keep some Project Director or PMO satisfied that all the right boxes have been ticked.
Another scenario which plays out in organisations that dont get it, is one where they follow the latest fads, chase the latest management trends as the solution to all their current problems without sticking to any of them.
Gems emerge where the organisation effectively applies a regular and objective project prioritisation process. Once a project be approved, the project team (remember this is made up of a cross functional team) selects the right project approach, understands and agrees the risk exposure should any process steps be omitted and adapts and tailors the organisations methodology accordingly.
The organisation has also adopted multiple methods and best practices and developed their own way of work based taking into consideration their culture, the types of projects they run and the laws and regulations imposed on their industry. The organisations project management methods are continuously adapted based on lessons learned.
In business today there are more problems, ideas and opportunities compared to the funding and organisational capacity to deliver against all of these.
Lumps of coal emerge when the organisation has too many projects at work, which exceeds organisational capacity resulting in unstable project and work schedules.
Gems emerge where the organisation effectively applies a regular and objective project prioritisation process and understand the concept of less is more what is going to give us the greatest return based on market opportunity? Everything is not important or a priority 1 project. When you assess their project prioritisation list you find that projects are ranked from 1 through to x number. You will not find, for example, 10 priority 1 projects, 15 priority 2 projects and the remainder are ranked priority 3.
The ones that dont get do not have enough metrics to make good decisions, have too many metrics, or have no valid cost data to make informed decisions. In addition, there are no ground rules established for effective decision making to ensure informed business decisions are made and not emotional or personal ones.
The ones who get it hold the Project Manager responsible and the Project Sponsor accountable for the project budget. They establish and agree the project metrics, project success criteria and ground rules for decision making at the outset of the project and understand the assumptions and constraints which are tracked and monitored throughout the project lifecycle. It is easy to spend someone elses money. But when you are held to account a different outcome emerges.
Organisations who dont get it typically initiate a project where the materials, equipment or technology carries technical debt. Time and money is spent on rework during the project resulting in delays and increased costs.
Organisations that get it first make the investment to eliminate the technical debt to ensure agility, reliability and adaptability. This enables the project teams to focus on delivering gems which meet the stakeholders requirements within the cost and timeframes specified.
People Measurements & Performance
Lumps of coal emerge when the traditional functional organisational KPIs, reward and recognition systems are imposed on project teams. People are also recruited into positions with the title of Project Manager without following a rigorous recruitment and selection process which includes a project management competency assessment, EQ and PQ assessment and Personality Profile assessment.
Organisations that get it establish project specific personal KPIs for each person participating on the project linked to a reward and recognition system which drives the right behaviours and project outcome.
For those organisations that dont get it, you cannot afford to settle for non-delivery and performance. Producing lumps of coal is demotivating, draining and will result in shareholder disinvestment. And for those organisations who do get it, I salute you. It has taken time, effort and pain to get where you are today.
By Karin Van Rooyen