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18 May 2016

Matrix organisations – Become Neo to succeed as a Project Manager




1. isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others.

“most companies have expensive IT systems they have developed over the years, but they are siloed

Silo is often used to describe large organisations structured around functional areas. The analogy is particularly apt given the strong (tower-like) vertical structures in place and variously tenuous or missing horizontal connections. Typically functional managers direct these silos and these fiefdoms can be impregnable or penetrated. In this kind of structure any project that crosses the boundaries of the functional silos has to breach these intangible but powerful barriers.

Picturing a project manager in a weak matrix structure, what comes to mind is a glorified administrator who reports on projects but has little influence over them. We’ll call this project manager Anderson. More administration than management and little or no action put the chances of success very low.

Some reasons for this prognosis:

  • People contributing to the project change their commitment in terms of capacity or schedule or more usually are directed to change their commitment, leaving Anderson to continuously readjust the project around their flip-flopping. 
  • Stakeholders impose unexpected changes while the schedule and budget remain unmoveable. Anderson can only say yes, and update the project plan in order to accommodate the change, however unrealistic. 
  • People don’t engage or don’t seem compelled to engage. Typical passive-aggressive behaviour includes not answering emails, not returning phone calls or even not attending meetings, leaving Anderson wasting his time chasing them. 
  • People elude responsibility or avoid work but Anderson must keep them on the team. 
  • Despite all of the above Anderson is accountable for the project’s results.

In a weak matrix organisation these situations are not uncommon and if Anderson escalates such an issue to management, the latter will usually protect his people and disregard Anderson’s request because let’s face it: in a weak matrix organisation Anderson has no power.

NeoThankfully all is not lost.

Anderson worked as a hacker. He took the name Neo, after he was freed from the Matrix.

There are ways to overcome the project management challenges in a weak matrix structure.

Build good relationships with functional managers

How? How can Neo collaborate with the functional manager to keep control over the project and make it successful?

Agreeing on who does what between Neo and the functional manager is critical to avoid conflicts that may arise from overlapping responsibilities. Neo should focus on high-level activities and deliverables and monitor progress. The functional manager, on the other hand, is responsible for translating these high-level objectives into actions that will be performed by his/her teams.

When dealing with multiple functional managers providing information at various times and in diverse formats, assessing project status and keeping a realistic plan up-to-date is an incredibly challenging task. Setting up flows of information early on will make the project manager’s job considerably easier.  Avoid bringing cumbersome project management artifacts to the table. Instead, use simple communication materials that provide the right level of detail for functional managers.

Neo should take the lead to establish these rules. It helps keeping control over the project as well as demonstrating his added value. The functional manager will appreciate that Neo takes the initiative to organise collaboration as long as it’s not done in a directive fashion.

Power by influence

Neo has limited authority. Instead he leads by negotiation. He does not direct but coordinates.

Power by authority is overrated. Real, lasting power comes from influence, which in turn leads to trust. Trust depends on (1) respecting the stakeholders’ roles and interests (2) understanding the functional and technical aspects enough to coordinate activities (3) genuine interest in the project’s and the organisation’s success.

Reporting is a great influencing tool. By choosing which (objective) information to show, when, and to whom, Neo can exert powerful influence.

Understand the matrix

Neo has to develop deep organisational knowledge to identify and digest relevant information. This is called situational awareness. In a weak matrix organisation where dilution of roles and responsibilities exist, over-communication is a necessary evil. Neo is at its centre.

On the flip side it places Neo in an ideal position to represent not only the interests of the project but also of the organisation.

In conclusion, although Anderson has little formal authority in a weak matrix structure, Neo has considerable power in the form of influence. Neo develops unique strengths over time. First, he has broader organisational knowledge than any stakeholder taken individually. Second, he has corporate-level credibility because he is apolitical and not aligned to any specific department. Third he is the only one mandated to report at project-level.

5 May 2016

Leadership: a dangerous path –from the A-Z of Project Management series


Do you feel lonely as a leader? Forbes asked its readers that question in an article (published 23 February 2012 “Do You Feel Lonely As A Leader? Study Says You’re Not Alone”) The authors cited survey findings that “half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness”.

While not experiencing the rarefied air of the ivory towers that CEOs inhabit, the role of the project manager as a leader can also be a lonely and sometimes treachourous one.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
Studying leaders in history shows us what happens when leadership goes awry and allows us to examine the consequences that might start in a local (controlled or relatively controlled) environment but reverberate out.

As project managers, there is much to learn from great, significant, effective, failed but always inspirational leaders. While not directly in our milieu there is much, upon reflection, that is relevant and useful.

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
Studying leaders in history shows us what happens when leadership goes awry and allows us to examine the consequences that might start in a local (controlled or relatively controlled) environment but reverberate out.

In his eBook, 365 Inspirational Quotes: Daily Motivation For Your Best Year Ever, Kevin Kruse shares the quotations that have (in his words) “inspired me as I’ve launched my companies, written books and raised my children.” Below are his top 100 leadership quotes of all time.

  1. A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
  2. Where there is no vision, the people perish. —Proverbs 29:18
  3. I must follow the people. Am I not their leader? —Benjamin Disraeli
  4. You manage things; you lead people. —Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
  5. The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. —Max DePre
  6. Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. —Warren Bennis
  7. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way. — General George Patton
  8. Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch
  9. A leader is a dealer in hope. —Napoleon Bonaparte
  10. You don’t need a title to be a leader. –Multiple Attributions
  11. A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. —John Maxwell
  12. My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence. —General Montgomery
  13. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. —Peter Drucker
  14. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. —Margaret Mead
  15. The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground. —Sir Winston Churchill
  16. The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders. are made rather than born. —Warren Bennis
  17. To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less. —Andre Malraux
  18. He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander. —Aristotle
  19. Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position. —Brian Tracy
  20. I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. —Ralph Nader
  21. Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. —Peter Drucker
  22. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. —Publilius Syrus
  23. A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together. —Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  24. The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it. —Theodore Roosevelt
  25. Leadership is influence. —John C. Maxwell
  26. You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case. —Ken Kesey
  27. When I give a minister an order, I leave it to him to find the means to carry it out. —Napoleon Bonaparte
  28. Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better. —Harry S. Truman
  29. People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. —John Maxwell
  30. So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work. —Peter Drucker
  31. The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. —Tony Blair
  32. The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. —Reverend Theodore Hesburgh
  33. The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. —Kenneth Blanchard
  34. A good general not only sees the way to victory; he also knows when victory is impossible. —Polybius
  35. A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position. —John Maxwell
  36. A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. —Rosalynn Carter
  37. The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. —Jim Rohn
  38. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. —Sam Walton
  39. A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. —Douglas MacArthur
  40. A ruler should be slow to punish and swift to reward. —Ovid
  41. No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. —Andrew Carnegie
  42. Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. —General Dwight Eisenhower
  43. The leader has to be practical and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist. —Eric Hoffer
  44. Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems. —Brian Tracy
  45. A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd. —Max Lucado
  46. Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. —General George Patton
  47. As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. — Bill Gates
  48. All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership. —John Kenneth Galbraith
  49. Do what you feel in your heart to be right–for you’ll be criticized anyway. —Eleanor Roosevelt
  50. Don’t necessarily avoid sharp edges. Occasionally they are necessary to leadership. —Donald Rumsfeld
  51. Education is the mother of leadership. —Wendell Willkie
  52. Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. —Stephen Covey
  53. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. —General Colin Powell
  54. Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths. —John Zenger
  55. He who has great power should use it lightly. —Seneca
  56. He who has learned how to obey will know how to command. —Solon
  57. I am reminded how hollow the label of leadership sometimes is and how heroic followership can be. —Warren Bennis
  58. I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody. —Herbert Swope
  59. If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities. —Maya Angelou
  60. If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing. —Benjamin Franklin
  61. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams
  62. In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. —Thomas Jefferson
  63. It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself. —Latin Proverb
  64. It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. —Nelson Mandela
  65. Lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead. —Ross Perot
  66. Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. —Vince Lombardi
  67. Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them. —John C. Maxwell
  68. Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. —John F. Kennedy
  69. Leadership cannot just go along to get along. Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day. —Jesse Jackson
  70. Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise. —Woodrow Wilson
  71. Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy. —Norman Schwarzkopf
  72. Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. —Colin Powell
  73. Leadership is the key to 99 percent of all successful efforts. —Erskine Bowles
  74. Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better. —Bill Bradley
  75. Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing. —Tom Peters
  76. Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. —Stephen Covey
  77. Never give an order that can’t be obeyed. —General Douglas MacArthur
  78. No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. —Abraham Lincoln
  79. What you do has far greater impact than what you say. —Stephen Covey
  80. Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow. —Chinese Proverb
  81. One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency. —Arnold Glasow
  82. The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on. —Walter Lippman
  83. The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision. —Ken Blanchard
  84. The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. —Harvey Firestone
  85. To do great things is difficult; but to command great things is more difficult. —Friedrich Nietzsche
  86. To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way. —Pat Riley
  87. True leadership lies in guiding others to success. In ensuring that everyone is performing at their best, doing the work they are pledged to do and doing it well. —Bill Owens
  88. We live in a society obsessed with public opinion. But leadership has never been about popularity. —Marco Rubio
  89. Whatever you are, be a good one. —Abraham Lincoln
  90. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. —Eleanor Roosevelt
  91. A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops. —John J Pershing
  92. A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. —John Maxwell
  93. There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage. —Fuchan Yuan
  94. I am endlessly fascinated that playing football is considered a training ground for leadership, but raising children isn’t. —Dee Dee Myers
  95. A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men. —Stephen King
  96. My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. –Unknown
  97. A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. –George Patton
  98. The supreme quality of leadership is integrity. –Dwight Eisenhower
  99. You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership. –Dwight Eisenhower
  100. Earn your leadership every day. –Michael Jordan

I would like to add one if I may. The worthiness of inclusion is… debatable.

  1. I’ll keep it short and sweet – Family. Religon. Friendship.. These are the three  demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business. – Montgomery Burns (The Simpsons)

20 April 2016

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Project Management


If you are a regular visitor to this site and are (I hope) encouraged by its content then you will be familiar with what we believe to be the ideas worth spreading. The stuff that matters! For that reason I will not labour the point and risk becoming redundant or diluting the message through (exhaustive) repetition.

Speaking of redundant there is a view that KPIs are redundant, worse still, that KPIs are dead. While an extreme view it is worth considering.

Ross Gittins (The Sunday Morning Herald’s economics editor) writes, “Are KPIs a fad? The problem with key performance indicators is that it’s easy to measure how many jobs you did, but much harder to measure whether you did them well.” I’d go further. Will KPIs tell us if they were even the jobs we should have been doing? “Measurement can be a trap.” Ross warns. He quotes Einstein. “Not everything that counts can be counted.” He concludes that the modern pre-occupation with metrics is an attempt to over-simplify by confusing quantity with quality. So I ask the question. Are KPIs (on their own) redundant and dead?

I want to come up with a sound approach for KPIs that will help us to use KPIs for management not just measurement and to ensure that we can buy into KPIs because they work!

  • Set business objectives.
  • Each KPI should be aligned with a specific business objective.
  • Use the KPIs for business management, not just measurement.
  • Translate the KPIs into actionable plans.

Projects and programs that are aligned to an organisation’s strategy are completed more often than projects that are misaligned. We proposed this argument in an earlier blog posting (Delivery Maturity Assessment: The Song Remains The Same?). It is hardly a stretch then to state that bad KPIs are detached from business context and as a result are pointless. In contrast winning KPIs start with an analysis of business context, thus making their KPIs successful as a business tool.

The actionable plan is (in our view) the magic sauce. An action plan should be aligned with a business objective and a KPI. Where there is no actionable plan associated with the KPI, then why measure it?

Back to Ross Mitten and his warning. Measurement can be a trap. Metrics can also be misleading. KPIs can be something to hide behind. All true but maybe it is unfair to pin all our hopes on KPIs and apportion all the blame at their door also. Maybe KPIs need a friend to share the load?  CSFs!

Before I get accused of being that person everyone abhors – the jargon junkie – I promise there will be no additional acronyms from here on in.

Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are frequently used interchangeably or confused. They are in fact two totally different concepts and are (if used appropriately) complementary.

The easiest way to understand them singly and in contrast is by understanding that CSFs are the cause of your success, whereas KPIs are the results of your actions. Thus, there’s a tight relationship between them: cause and effect. If you’ve properly identified your CSFs and have been executing against them AND you’ve properly identified what your KPIs are AND aligned them to your business objectives you will be getting close to meeting your performance targets.

Reminding myself that everyone hates a jargon junkie let’s speak plainly. Ask yourself “what must we do to be successful?” (CSFs) and “what indicates that we’re winning?” (KPIs). Always, always remember to do the stuff that matters to your customer. Otherwise why are you doing it? If it doesn’t matter to your customer then who is going to buy it and who is going to pay for it?

6 April 2016

J – Don’t be a Jargon Junkie!

The next time you feel the need to reach out, touch base, bake it in, circle back or leverage cloud platforms, by all means do it. Just don’t say you’re doing it.

If you need to ask why then I’m afraid it’s too late. You are a jargon junkie.

jargon1You may be well-versed in all the jargon that surrounds the technology industry or recite PMBOK in your sleep. You’re living and breathing cloud computing, balanced scorecards, virtualisation, swimlanes and blades. Good for you! A word of advice. You might want to keep the jargon to a minimum if you want the executives on the business side to understand what the hell you are talking about. Ok, a bit harsh. It is challenging to make the transition between the different languages of project management, technology and the business world. When it comes to talking things over with your company’s leaders and sponsors, remember that there are some words that will make their eyes glaze over, other phrases will bog you down in endless explanations, and some are guaranteed to cause panic.

Why do you do it? “Jargon masks real meaning,” according to Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give to others.” In other words it’s laziness. Or you should want to sound clever. Whether it is laziness, some bloated hubris, over-indulgence or ignorance the impact on the project is negative.

Good communication is central to the success of any project but the key is effective communication. It the project organisation does not understand what you are saying you have failed.

Find a common lexicon that all parties understand and are comfortable with. As project managers, we need to strive to understand the specific language of our customer and be able to translate and speak in the domain of the project rather than in our project-speak. We (all) benefit by communicating better with our customers and colleagues without losing the advantages of the project management discipline.

Remember we are custodians not dictators. We are empowered to champion or be the agents of change not the owners of it. Let someone else have the spotlight.

No-one likes a jargon junkie. Kick the habit! You don’t want to become one of these guys?!



See you next time! If you have liked what you have read please like and remember to share.

23 March 2016

Influencing the Influencers

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy meets with advisors in his office at the Department of Justice. Photo credit: Department of Justice Archives

Robert Kennedy’s influence in the administration extended well beyond law enforcement. Though different in temperament and outlook, the President came to rely heavily on his brother’s judgement and effectiveness as political advisor, foreign affairs counsellor, and most trusted confidant.

The Influencer is a strange bird. It wields power often in a hidden, Machiavellian way, often serving its own self-interest.

To begin, let’s define influence as “the power to affect, control or manipulate something or someone; the ability to change the development of fluctuating things such as conduct, thoughts or decisions; an action exerted by a person or thing with such power on another to cause change; a person or thing exerting such power or action.” The key point in all of this is power! Infleuncers might not be able to direct people to do something – but they exert a different type of power which is equally, if not more, important. Projects are much more likely to succeed when backed by clear, active support from other influental people in the organisation. Simple? We need to identify the influencers, right? Yes, we do need to identify them but first we need to categorise them.

There are four types of Influencer birds in an organisation:

  • Advocate: can persuade others about the benefits of a project. It’s important to work with them early in the process. You need to plant ideas with them and turn them into early adopters.
  • Connector: help you reach others in the network that you might want to influence. They help you find allies and enlist support. They can also help you develop a critical mass of key people in favour of the project.
  • Controller: control access to people and information. They need cultivating and they need to understand how they can help you.
  • Expert: recognised as being technically credible by others. Remember they may not actually be technical experts; it’s just that others regard them as so.

Next you need to identify and understand the role that each of the influencers plays. For this I’d recommend Michael Lennon and Eva Schiffer (Discovering hidden influencers that make or break project success) business “paper-and-pencil” drawing tool. It is a simple and smart “Net-Map” which helps people to interactively identify influence networks and depict the information in an intuitive and quantitative manner.

Put simply, you have to pay more attention to some people than others. When you stop and think about it, you already know that some people in an organisation have more influence than others. You know this instinctively and need to bring this knowledge into the project to initiate effective leadership.
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Influencers have the power to help or harm you. In order to responsibly manage your influencers, take time to identify and evaluate them. Know that influencers get things done. They effect change. They make things happen. You need to know you can leverage them for maximum impact. Lead influencers to your expected outcomes. Influence the Influencers! Know them. Understand them.

“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”  Niccolo Machiavelli

9 March 2016

5 Key Abilities of an IT Project Manager

Painting by Ralph Steadman

Painting by Ralph Steadman

In an earlier blog post “Why IT projects fail (and organisations go nuclear)” we used the analogy “dog with fleas” for project failure. In it we listed a number of early warning signs that will help you recognise and address the problems before things go nuclear. We did caveat those listed as only some of the early warning signs. It is a lucky thing too because we did not include the helicopter view.

Though there is a whole host of skills, knowledge areas and methodologies to consider, being a successful project manager comes down to an ability to do a few key things very, very well:

  • Communicate: communication doesn’t mean talking. Whether your audience is your team, an executive, a customer you need to be able to communicate your ideas and ensure they are understood, rather than simply heard.
  • Organise: you need to be a good juggler. You need to be able to keep track of multiple things at once and in an organised manner. The trick is not to find yourself in a state of overwhelm.
  • Solve problems/make decisions: you need to keep the “big picture” in mind while also working on the specifics. To coin (someone else’s) phrase the project manager must be “the general” and the foot soldier. We’ll return to Sun Tzu later in this article.

Back to problem and decision. When faced with a problem work at really analysing the problem and compile a list of alternative solutions. When trying to solve the problem remember to focus on the problem you are trying to solve then you will not get lost in “the forest or the trees”.

  • Build teams: your project team defines (your) project’s success. You don’t always get to choose your team but you do get to choose how to manage your team. Get good stuff out of them. Engage your team. Motivate them. An engaged and motivated team will perform at a higher level. How? Share your vision. Paint a clear picture of the outcome. Empower them to build their own paths to success. Develop the project’s critical path with your team. Involve them. Make the project real to them!

Back to The Art of War, Sun Tzu states that aleader should be wise (in making decisions), trustworthy (should inspire trust), caring (taking care of the team), courageous (to make tough choices), and strict (in ensuring compliance).” Sometimes however the general (the project manager) needs to get into the trenches to inspire his or her team. To set an example, the project manager should roll up his or her sleeves. When you work with the team in the areas where you can contribute, you send a strong message because you are showing that you are part of the team with your actions not just managing and directing. To quote Thomas Edison “vision without execution is hallucination.”

See you next time! If you have liked what you have read please like and remember to share.

24 February 2016

Project Governance… works except when it doesn’t

An exceptional certainty if you will.

1984In last week’s blog we identified why IT projects fail and included such reasons as lack of user involvement, scope creep, communication, controlling budget and time. We also included poor governance as a reason.

For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?(1984 by George Orwell).

For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?(1984 by George Orwell).

Despite all the literature and evidence, the one thing that is clear is that organisations are not learning from previous lessons. When it comes to learning lessons is it better to learn from why projects fail or why projects succeed? The answer is from both.

When you analyse the reasons why projects fail and there are many (those identified in last week’s blog are by no means all of them), it is difficult (maybe impossible) to pinpoint one overriding factor that causes project failure. The issues (reasons) mentioned above (and in last week’s blog) are interlinked and are not really ‘technical’ issues, but rather ‘human’ issues that relate to management and training.

When it comes to fixing the issues (reasons project fail) where do you start? There are a number of formal models available for assessing organisational maturity in project management, each with its own set of advantages and limitations. Personally I am an advocate of the P3M3 maturity framework used for portfolio, programme and project management but canvasing support for it is thought food for another day. For now let’s say we have five seconds to choose an issue to tackle? Clock ticking. I choose poor governance and my weapon of choice to fix it (poor governance) is risk management. It is my view that an effective risk management approach to project governance can be used to ensure the maximum benefit and potential.

A survey conducted by the UK Government in 2013 listed “decision making failures” as one of the top five reasons for project failure. Although the discipline of risk management has matured, we continue to see projects failing to deliver successfully and by this we mean failing to deliver the expected outcomes as per their business cases.

The same study listed governance and stakeholder management as the second and third most common drivers of project failure.

What does good (effective) governance look like?

  • Informed decision-making.
  • Ability (and authority) to provide appropriate
  • Appropriate (“custom-fit”) and understood project management methodology or framework.
  • Skills and capability (knowledge and experience) of those governing.
  • True
  • Transparent (notlip service” or token) information exchange and communication.
  • Common, clear outcomes universally understood and
  • Invested

So risk management? Risk management, along with other knowledge areas of project management, contribute to a decision maker’s ability to make decisions.

My recommendation is that you develop and implement a risk management framework (driven by metrics) that examines risks in light of potential threats’ potential to effect the strategic goals of the project. Note: early posts on Benefits Realisation, Change Management and Delivery Maturity Assessment where I ask the C-suite executives (those cured of the dreaded C-ostrich, Do-ostrich affliction) to align all projects’ outcomes to their organisations’ strategic goals, otherwise why… why… why do the project?

The risk management framework will help organisations better identify, assess and respond to business threats in alignment with overall business goals. The method consists of three steps: identify, assess and action. This method is based on the fundamental principles of The Project Foundry’s 3As Maturity Model (read more here!):

  • Step one: establish goals for the risk management framework
  • Step two: align risk management framework with key business objectives and operations in order to develop key risk indicators.
  • Step three: design/define the risk management framework rules, principles and guidelines including when to involve the various levels of the organisation including C-suite executives, lines of business and IT.

In summary I am a dummy so I always like to follow a dummy’s guide. If you follow this dummy’s guide I think you will have more successes than failures:

  • Align projects to organisation’s strategy.
  • Define measurable success criteria for your projects.
  • Develop a risk management plan based on these metrics.
  • Align your governance plan to the triggers defined in your risk management plan.
  • Don’t forget to talk! It makes things so much easier.

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.” (1.3.18)” (1984 by George Orwell).

Finally for this week, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s not being done right, change it or leave!

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it: in Newspeak, “doublethink.” (1.3.18)”

(1984 by George Orwell).

See you next week! If you have liked what you have read please like and remember to share.



15 February 2016

Why IT Project Management Fail (and organisations go nuclear)

Why IT Projects fail

For any organisation project failure is like a dog with fleas. It costs a lot of money to treat and the fleas come back making the life hell for the organisation and the dog. Sometimes the only thing to do is to put the dog out of its misery.

Before going to such extremes why not find out what the underlying problems are and fixing those? Best for everyone especially the dog.

Organisations often ignore or fail to read the signs of imminent failure until it’s too late. Early warning signs will help you recognise and address the problems before things go nuclear.

F1 F2 F3


The Project Foundry can help you with your project management initiatives (and with advice on how to de-flea your dog).

Call us now on 01 697 8248.

16 November 2015

Project Management Excellence: Is it a Utopia?

In last week’s post I asked how mature your organisation is in terms of project management and if it even mattered? If your organisation is delivering value to your customer then where’s the problem? After much deliberation I concluded that a balance of focus on both maturity and value is probably going to be right for most businesses. To return to my satirical profile of C-suite executives in last week’s post I must remind you (before we proceed) of the (all too real) C-ostrich, Do ostrich affliction. This (three wise monkey) syndrome is not just whimsy and this week’s content should be footnoted with it (the wise monkey syndrome).

ex¦cel|lence /ˈɛks(ə)l(ə)ns/

Definition of excellence in English:


1. The quality of being outstanding or extremely good: awards for excellence

a centre academic excellence


This week’s poser: can excellence in project management be achieved or is it a utopian (impossibly idealistic) state? How realistic and achievable is it? Is excellence definable and if so can it be measured? Finally, is good… good enough?

In case you are new to my blog I should probably pin my colours to the mast as it were. If you take your projects seriously, then you should take project management seriously. Taking it seriously means you (your organisation) need(s) to adopt a project management mind-set. Build project management into the organisation. If you baulk at this then you should stop reading now and keep winging it. But I will remind you of (another) poser. Harold Kerzner posed it in the first chapter of his book (In Search of Excellence in Project Management). “Try to name one company, just one that has given up on project management after implementing it.” Ok, Harold, I hear you ask, but do we really need to be excellent? Is good not enough? I’d like you to answer the question but before you do let’s do a short multiple-choice quiz… you know for fun?

Are people the most valuable asset of any organisation? There could be buildings, machines and assets worth millions of euros but if the talent is not available, organisations could never scale the pinnacle of success.

A survey (by CTPRD 2013) involving 780 CEOs revealed that talent- shortage is the priority over any other consideration when it comes to productivity.

In conclusion good is great but excellent is better. Albert Einstein said: “strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value. “ A recurring theme but (customer) value should be at the heart of everything we do (as a project manager and as an organisation). Driving excellence through people will drive excellence in project management and transform daring utopias into reality (Miller & Lessard, 2000, p. 1)

… But first you must cure the C-ostrich, Do ostrich sufferers. Remember what Sun Tzu said: “The enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution.

16 November 2015

Project Delivery Maturity Assessment

Just how mature is your organisation at project management or does it even matter? If you deliver value to your customer then where’s the problem?

Where’s the problem? Before we ask that question maybe we should ask the question is there a problem? Do we all agree that the answer is yes? Let’s look at what you say.

The PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance (February 2014) claims that all of an organisation’s strategic initiatives are projects and programs, which inevitably “change the business”. It further claims that “most C-suite fail to realise this simple truth.” Is that a problem? Is that our problem? Is that the most worrying problem? What is the reason for it and how do we solve it?

C-ostrich Do-ostrich is the medical term for our problem! Don’t despair C-ostrich, Do-ostrich is not terminal. There is a cure. What is the cure? Part of the cure is culture change.

Projects and programs that are aligned to an organisation’s strategy are completed successfully more often than projects that are misaligned (The aforementioned PMI report has the figure at 48% versus 71%). Perhaps an obvious (or silly) question but one I’d like to direct to the C-ostrich, Do-ostrich sufferers. Why? Why would the C-suite executives (the rulers) approve projects and programs that are not aligned to an organisation’s strategy?

Ok, let’s keep things simple. Try this (www.dummies.com) definition for strategy for a moment (http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/business-planning-strategy-defined.html). The fine points of strategy are:

  • Establishes… different and tailored value to customers

Eureka! We should be providing value to our customers. Simple. Do we? Do we know? Do we know what our customer looks like? Has anyone ever seen one? Has anyone ever met one? Part of the cure is value to customer. We’ll come back to value… and the customer.

Let’s assume for a moment that we have value to customer nailed. Bear with me! Why are 44% of strategic initiatives failing (source: PMI’s Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance)? You’ll have to bear with me again. Close your eyes and imagine you are in work and a particular project or program has failed (or is perceived to have failed). Ask yourself why? Try to be objective. Would you agree with these reasons?

  • C-suite executives are often missing in action
  • Rather than micromanaging, C-suite executives should identify and focus on the key initiatives and projects that are strategically relevant.
  • A majority of companies either lack the skills or fail to deploy the personnel needed for strategy implementation.

Is your answer yes to the above? If so would the two elements we have identified as part of the cure go some way to (not solving the disease but) putting us on the road to recovery? The two elements are (namely) culture and value? Is the mist clearing? OK, let’s go on.

We want to include a third (magic) ingredient to the cure. Talent. If you have been following these blogs you know we are (the biggest) proponents of talent (People) and the role it (they) play. Everything starts and ends with people. We need to go back to basics.

55% of PM professionals say that their organisation provide too little time for PPM training and development.* A project staffed with uniformly very low-rated personnel on all capability and experience factors would require 11 times as much effort to complete the project as would a project team with the highest rating in all the above factors.** *Source: 4th Global Portfolio and Programme Management Survey, PwC 2014 **Source: Software Engineering Economics, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, p431,Boehm B (1981)

Capturing the Value of Project Management, PMI (February 2015) claims that there is a direct correlation between effective talent management and better project performance: their research shows that organizations need to focus on the development and training of their talent in order to achieve superior project performance, successful strategic initiatives and become high performers.

Talent leads to success. I’d paraphrase this. Without talent there can be no success. A vital ingredient of the cure is talent.

Is talent enough? I say obviously(?) no. Organizations realise significantly more successful strategic initiatives when mature project management practices are in place.

three wise monkeysBack to strategy and the C-suite C-ostrich, Do-ostrich sufferers. Re-iterating what we just said organisations realise significantly more successful strategic initiatives when mature project management practices are in place. Assumption warning! This assumes that the organisation is working on projects and programs that are aligned to an organisation’s strategy. Full circle. Thankfully!

Why would there be a misalignment? The C-ostrich, Do-ostrich disease is worse than we thought? This medical term for this strain of the disease is three wise monkeys.

Wait. There is no flat-line yet. It is recoverable. How?

  • Culture: Understand the value of project management.
  • Talent: Focus on talent.
  • Process: Support project management though standardised practices
  • Strategy: Align projects to the organisation’s strategy.
  • Value?

How do we calculate customer value?

  1. Step 1: Calculate the profit contribution of each customer in the current year. …

Stop! A simpler way to do it might be to just ask. Your customer will tell you what they value.

Align your strategy to this and measure it.

In conclusion a balance of focus on both maturity and value is probably going to be right for most businesses and will give you the breadth of professional practice on which to build a great delivery team.

I’ll leave you with this… if you are suffering from C-ostrich Do-ostrich or know someone who is don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s the first step to recovery

For help go to: www.theprojectfoundry.com and also to find out about the stuff that matters!

                         Rebooting one cube at a time!

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