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20 March 2017

Victory: Sun Tzu and the art of Project Management

the art of warThe Art of War, a 13-chapter masterwork written in the fifth century BC, is referred to even now, two-and-a-half millennia later, as one of the definitive texts on military tactics and strategy. Some things never change…. Sun Tzu, its author, may not even have existed, or may be a composite of different strategic geniuses, but ‘he’ remains an exalted figure, and reading it today, as a project manager, it’s easy to see why.

You may think that this is a strange book to reference in the pursuit of better project management. But what project manager can honestly say that at times, getting to the goal of a completed project doesn’t sometimes feel like a battle at best, if not at times like a war.

Countless books have been written on the parallels that can be drawn between this work and business management, but none have examined project management specifically. To save you reading 200 pages, we have narrowed the key points down to the six below. Sun Tzu says: read on.


“In war, the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this…. To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”


How to win over everybody, without even fighting? Happy stakeholders mean a happy project, and in turn make you look better. Equally, leading by force, and alienating people in the process may lead to a positive outcome, but the damage done to yourself and the project in the mean-time is destructive. Leadership takes many forms, but project managers need to focus on the non-hierarchical leadership needed to win people over, without them realising they’ve been led. Let’s distil this down to the timeless adage: ‘more carrot, less stick’.

“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”


Too often, project managers pay too much attention to the project and problems facing them, and too little time taking a long, hard look at themselves. Self-understanding, and an appreciation of their own emotional intelligence (or blind spots therein) are what sets great project managers apart from average ones. If you understand yourself, you understand how people will react to you, and you’re already one step ahead of the game.

“He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.”

Stakeholders, anyone? It’s not just about impressing the senior ones. Often, it’s the guys on the front lines who need the most encouragement, and you need them to trust you. Don’t focus on impressing your paymasters. You may not get paid if you alienate the troops!

“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues. Those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.”

Risk – ignore it at your peril! Know what’s coming down the track and be prepared for every eventuality. If you know intimately every risk you face, then you can deal with them before they arise, or at least be the first to deal with them, before you lose control.

“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”

Change is difficult, and when tasked with implementing huge change, you must leave just enough room for manoeuvre. When you box people in completely, they are much more likely to take the ‘nuclear’ option, and you are more likely to fail, or at least end up with egg on your face. Change is inevitable, but always give people the room to take the right path by their own volition.

“When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders. Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.”

Leadership – how to run a project when you can’t pull rank over anyone? Understanding, trust and graciousness are the answers. The better you treat people, the better they will treat you, and the more they will want to work with and for you. Never, ever, stop listening. Sometimes, letting people have their say is more valuable to you than talking. You may not agree with them, but once you’ve given them the chance to talk while you listen, your currency rises.

8 March 2017

Uncertainty – why it shouldn’t be a bad word to a project manager

Embracing uncertainty can lead to all kinds of positive changes.

Nothing in life is more reliable than the constant of uncertainty. It’s inevitable.

uncertaintyAnd in managing projects, even the most brilliant project managers struggle with uncertainty. We use milestones to anticipate outcomes, and risk management to prevent disasters, but what about those unseen, unknown issues we can’t manage until they land on our plate?

We need to start to understand the complexity and uncertainty of a project in order to control and manage it.

Project managers have two main functions: managing tasks and managing relationships. However, all the focus is too often placed on the formalised areas of management, planning and task management, and not enough on the softer relationship-management side, and this softer side is generally where the uncertainty lies.

‘Critical path’ is too often our God. But critical path only makes sense in a perfect world, and critical path thinking can make the uncertainties that exist into more of an issue than they need to be. Strictly enforcing the discipline inherent in critical path thinking can all too often lead to issues, which would be less damaging if we instead adapted to a more ‘conditional’ style of management. Different projects call for very different approaches. Uncertainty is all around us, and sometimes the uniqueness of a situation is just that – unique. We need to embrace it, rather than mitigate against it.

Not all methodologies work for all projects, not all tools are universally suited, and individual project characteristics need to be carefully considered. Too often we decide to place an ill-fitting framework on a project, hoping it will order things, and too often this fails – how often do projects overrun, miss budgets, specifications and schedules?

While uncertainty is sometimes a bad word to a project manager, it doesn’t need to be. Embracing the uncertainty can lead to all kinds of positive changes. Sometimes, the best way to run a project is just not the ‘critical path’ way. Deviation from this way of thinking can sometimes reap real rewards. Remember that every situation is unique, every project is unique, and each brings its own particular brand of complexity and uncertainty.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to do things a little differently when planning a project? How about taking the time to determine the uncertainty profile of the project first, before assigning tasks and timelines?

By doing this, we embrace the uncertainty a little bit more. And that isn’t a bad thing. Remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

‘If life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavour’.

1 March 2017

Time – A Most Valuable Resource But Always Fleeting

As project managers, we all know that there is never enough time – but are we right? Is it conceivable that there is usually enough time, but we just don’t manage it well?


“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

We also know that feeling – “I didn’t see the time going”, “I didn’t realise it had got so late”, and “I have so many things to finish before close of business”. At the same time, we all know effective people who get through their work within the normal working day, and still manage to lead a hectic social life as well.

It is time to take control of your own time.

To quote Drucker again: “Know where your time goes”.

Do you know where your time goes?

Do you even know what your time today was spent on?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then you should! You owe it to yourself, and as a project manager you owe it to your profession.




For the next 5 working days, keep a record of how you spend your time in 15 minute blocks, throughout your day. Keep it in your phone, or on your laptop, or in a notebook. At the end of the 5 days (and not until the 5 days have elapsed!), analyse your time under the following categories:

  1. Very productive
  2. Marginally productive
  3. Barely worth doing
  4. Waste of time

Having done this, if you find yourself mainly scoring 3s or 4s, then you have a time management issue. If this is so, continue this recording of your time into the future until you have sorted out the problem. If you apply yourself to this exercise, the problem will sort itself.

Do this privately. Don’t let anyone else see the results. That way you can be totally honest with yourself. It is only for your own benefit.

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” – Winston Churchill

As a result of applying this you will:

  • be far more productive
  • be a much more effective Project Manager
  • feel more in control of your life
  • have a better work/life balance
  • be less stressed, less worried
  • be better company socially
  • be a nicer person
  • be more likely to improve your promotion prospects


“Heck, by the time a man scratches his behind, clears his throat, and tells me how smart he is, we’ve already wasted fifteen minutes.” – Lyndon B. Johnson


Article by Peter F. Drucker

24 February 2017

Project Management as a Service… the new black!


We live in a service economy. These days more and more things come as-a-service – cars, software, bikes, paper, food, news content…. So why not Project Management?

At The Project Foundry, we believe in Project Management as a force for good in every business, not a necessary overhead. We also believe that ‘PMaaS’ can help your business grow, save you time and money, and take away some of the growing pains of rapid expansion. And we’re well placed to know!

So let’s say you’re running a rapidly growing SME. First off, that’s a great complaint. But sometimes success brings its own unique set of challenges. In the past, you’ve been able to oversee every internal project personally, because you could just about make time for it. But when an organisation gets to critical mass, managers need to manage the business, not get bogged down in the weeds.

That’s where we come in. And that’s where Project management as-a-service from The Project Foundry delivers. We operate an in-house, virtual PMO, so when we come on-board with your business, you get the benefits of a fully functioning Project Management Office right from day one, complete with established project management best-practice and methodologies, and carefully chosen Project Managers with the perfect blend of skills to run your projects.

Better still, you get the oversight of our team of senior programme managers, who have seen it all before, and are always just a call away when the most difficult situations arise. You get all the support and governance of an enterprise-level Project Management Office, without any of the headaches involved in setting up and maintaining it.

And the great benefit of PMaaS is that you can turn it on and off when you need. Implementing a new IT system? Moving office? Finally putting in the infrastructure you need? No problem. You just pay for what you use.

Call one of our team today to see how our Project Management services can help get your business moving in the right direction.

17 October 2016

Why is a failing project like boiling a frog?

If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is put in cold water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

Similarly, projects don’t go wrong overnight, but gradually and under the radar, until they are cooked to death.

The lesson here? You need to check your frogs….

two frogs

Watch out for the tell-tale signs:

  • Late working – one or two days is okay, but if sustained…
  • Re-planning – “every project is on time according to the last plan written”
  • Re-Scoping – features being removed – especially easy to hide in an Agile project
  • “It will do” mentality – perhaps accepting poor performance of some code rather than fixing it
  • “We will catch up” mentality – denial can waste valuable recovery time, don’t leave it too late to review and call for help
  • Surprises – we identify technical risks and deal with them up front or in a Proof of Concept project

Two or more of the above and your frog is cooked!

Each of the below should be considered as turning up the heat on your frog!

  • Increasing management involvement – can be overdone
  • Preoccupation with bug counts and burn down charts – Not all bugs are created equal
  • Requesting additional staff – pulling from other projects – Natural team size for work, adding cooks can actually slow things down…
  • Stakeholders missing meetings – lack of engagement/interest
  • “Don’t bring me bad news” culture
  • Presence of a “Project Monitor” rather than a “Project Manager

Two or more of the above and your frog is cooked!

Now – have a look around you – are there any frogs slowly cooking?? 

12 October 2016

Budget 2017 – an overview from The Project Foundry and Noone Casey

3 October 2016

Leading a Self-Organising Team

Mike Cohn on Team Leadership

At the Norwegian Developers Conference 2012 Mike Cohn presented another great talk, this time on how to lead a self-organising team. Important viewing for all project managers and team leaders!

28 September 2016

Agile and the Seven Deadly Sins of Project Management

A talk on Agile by Mike Cohn

At the Better Software Conference in June 2008 Mike Cohn presented this talk on Agile entitled ‘Agile and the Seven Deadly Sins of Project Managing‘. It’s a great talk and still absolutely relevant, exposing the ‘sins’ that we are all guilty of often.

28 September 2016

Innovation in RegTech – Christopher Woolard speaks at London Fintech Week 2016

In this video Christopher Woolward, Board Member and Director of Strategy and Competition and the Financial Conduct Authority speaks at London Fintech Week 2016 on the subject of innovation in RegTech.


30 August 2016

Managing change in the workplace positively

change management

Bill Howat at the Globe and Mail has come up with this great mnemonic checklist to keep in mind during the process of change management:

C – Can’t continue the way things are. Something has occurred that has influenced leaders to make some type of change. The root cause is driven by a defined risk or opportunity that creates the motivation to take action. This defines what needs to change and why. The vision, benefits and urgency have been established.

H – How much change will be needed, by when, and how long the change will take from start to finish. The facts shaping the change are to be verified, along with the exact degree of change, how success will be defined and measured, the timeline and speed the change will need to happen. The expected outcomes need to be stress tested to ensure they are realistic. The purpose of this step is to remove assumptions and guessing and to create the conditions for how the change will be properly monitored and measured. This step frames the change and the desired outcomes.

A – Answering how the proposed change may impact employees, leadership, customers and, when necessary, shareholders is a best practice before making a final plan. Factors such as human capital, labour agreements, key stakeholders, policies, procedures, environment, resources, equipment and sensitivity are a few examples of the factors to be considered in the planning process. The degree of change (for example, minor, medium, major), as well as what industry and sector will shape what factors to consider. This is a diligence step to assess risk and factors that need to be considered before making a plan. This step anticipates the what-ifs.

N – New direction and a final game plan for how change will be done need to be defined. Every plan needs to consider specific needs such as communications strategy, training needs, staffing, resources, and measurements to lead the change. Once the plan is finalized and the launch date is defined, the next step is to initiate the change. The plan is to have a clear beginning, middle and end. The final game plan is written and the leaders who are accountable and responsible are clearly defined in the plan.

G – Go time is when the plan becomes live with the workforce and other key stakeholders. This is the implementation stage where the change initiatives go from a plan to reality. It’s common that once a plan goes live to get some degree of resistance. Not all employees will respond the same to minor, medium and major changes. This step is when the work begins to move a change plan from an idea to reality. There may be additional issues that need to be dealt with that were not planned for. Seldom is a change plan perfect, so there may be a need for some adaptation if feasible. This step requires attention to detail, monitoring and follow-through.

E – Evaluating the success of the change from its beginning, middle to end is an important step to ensure the change gets done as planned. It can provide important lessons as to how to best facilitate change in the culture. There will be a next time, and the more leaders learn, the better they will be at successfully leading change.

If you enjoyed that you should read his full column here, it’s part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series.


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