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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