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Monday, February 23, 2009

Simple Planning Steps

One of the biggest reasons projects fail is because groups/organizations use an adhoc or random non-repeatable method to plan the work. Minor issues and details are overlooked in the “planning” phase that can turn into major problems down the road. It happens all the time. Combine the normal corporate bad communication with worker incompetency, mix in some management apathy, and you are setting yourself for disaster.

Poor planning, organizational miscommunication, and employee/employer errors mixed with a lack of training can be expensive and sometimes catastrophic (Think NASA).

What can be done? How about applying some basic project management processes to the work? Below are some very simple steps to get started. There are many more to consider depending on the size of your project, but we must realize that some organizations need to move away from today’s chaos and get back to basics right away.

Four Simple Steps

STEP 1 - Divide the work down into tasks that must be completed. Then continue to break the tasks down into smaller tasks. No task should take more than a day (two at most).

One reason that projects are delivered late is because project managers aren’t breaking down the work into smaller and smaller tasks (decomposition). Small tasks are easier to estimate and manage. Remember, good estimates are the foundation of on-time, on-budget projects.

STEP 2 - Sequence your tasks by dependency
If you don’t establish your dependencies you don’t have a timeline since dependencies help establish duration.

STEP 3 - Verifiable Milestones
What pieces of the project will you deliver and when. Remember the old saying, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

STEP 4 - Assign tasks to people not groups
Get everything on paper. Remember my favorite project management rule “what is not in writing has not been said”. Also, ensure everyone understands their role and responsibilities. No matter what you do there will always be somebody that can’t follow instructions or refuses to fall in line. These people need to be brought into line or moved off the project quickly.

Miscommunication is fatal to projects. Always communicate in multiple ways; – face-to-face, team meetings, status reports, e-mail (as a last resort). Monitor progress, give feedback continuously, and document, document, document.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Symptoms of Defective Strategic Planning

To be successful, organizations need to ensure that their projects and project outcomes support their strategic goals. Poor strategic planning leads to failed projects, and people working on projects that add no value to the organization’s bottom line.

I found the text below in the book, Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO– by Gerald I. Kendall, PMP and Steven C. Rollins, PMP. The book is an excellent resource for the seasoned project manager looking to move his or her Project Management Office to the next level.

Symptoms of Defective Strategic Planning (pg. 73)

Project and resource managers often fight over resources. The organization’s arteries are clogged with too much work.

Priorities of projects frequently change, with resources reassigned.

Senior managers have the authority to unilaterally approve and release projects

Projects are released as soon as approved by a senior manager, irrespective of the availability of the resources to do the work

Senior management frequently complains about how long it takes to implement change

Even when a strategic idea is implemented, the company sometimes does not achieve major or expected improvement

There is no comprehensive document or portfolio that links all of the organization’s projects to the goals and the strategic plan

There is significant turnover at the senior management level, right up through the president

The strategic plan is presented as a list of ideas or initiatives. There is no attempt to validate if those initiatives are sufficient by themselves to meet the organization’s goals. The cause-effect logic tying those ideas and the resulting effects to the goals of the organization is absent

The list of ideas in the strategic plan is not sequenced. Therefore, each executive assumes that he or she must try to implement all ideas simultaneously, and that his or her functional initiative must be the top priority.

The book goes on to talk about some of the problems that executives face when creating strategic plans. I have summarized some of the information below.

Root Problems of Strategic Planning Processes (pg. 75)

Executives don’t speak the same language. They tend to view the organization through the eyes of their experience and silo. They don’t understand the organization as a whole.

The organization has measurements and policies that are silo-oriented.

Executives lack the skill to build a strategy that has the commitment of the entire senior management team, meets the goals of the organization, and can be implemented with current or planned resources

Strategies ignore internal systems that are out of control. When executives attempt to improve something before bringing it under control, they often throw the entire system into chaos.

Closing Thoughts

Many organizations I have worked for experience the challenges noted above. As project managers we know that poor or ineffective planning can lead to failed projects. The challenges I currently face in the workplace can in many instances be tied back to the lack of an effective or poorly communicated strategic plan.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In Project Management, Criticism is Inevitable - Rewind

Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. Aristotle, Greek philosopher and scientist

Many of you probably know that every now and then I can be critical of a situation or type of person. Evidence of this fact can be seen in last week's posting or others regarding teams, executive apathy, etc. One thing we can all learn about criticism from others - "if you expect criticism, you will seldom be disappointed when you receive it" - Author unknown.

We know that not all criticism is constructive. Many types of criticism are destructive and that is what I want to talk about. Destructive criticism is something you receive that offers virtually no value, and comes from people that don't have your best interests at heart. Sometimes the criticism may have some merit, however when speaking about destructive criticism, the presentation wasn't communicated effectively or was only meant to do harm.

Remember, criticism is just an opinion, but if offered constructively it may be valid and helpful.

Keep an open mind when being criticized. Don't let the criticism control you or change what you think about yourself. Ask yourself, can I learn anything from the criticism? Can I change anything? Should I change?

I don't take criticism well, and I tend to discount those people around me that criticize others too much. I need to take my own advice and learn to be more accepting of criticism, especially when it is constructive.

Some rules we should follow regarding criticism:

Never criticize another behind their back. Keep in mind what Stephen Covey says and have "respect for the absent".

If there is nothing to be learned when you are criticized it is best to ignore it and move on with your life.

Responding to criticism that has no value will only reduce you to the level of the person doing the criticizing.

Don't let deceivers deceive YOU!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Political Sharks and Projects

In the past, I enjoyed reading the book, "Power and Politics in Project Management" by Jeffrey K. Pinto (and still review it periodically). I have learned over the years that playing politics is a skill set that needs to be constantly refined. As mentioned in the book, we need to be aware of all political behaviors (Naive, Sensible, and Shark) and react to them appropriately if we are to keep ourselves from getting in to trouble.

One behavior I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing lately is that of the Political Shark. These types of people have certain character traits that if not recognized can negatively impact our careers. These sharks know how to play the self-serving political "game" and don't mind leaving blood in the water. They are experts at manipulating the system to get their way and have no interest in serving anything but their own desires. They have loyalty only to themselves and their own goals.


To quote from the book, "work with them (sharks), and one is likely to be used and manipulated; get between them and their goal and their behavior becomes utterly amoral." "The only cause these individuals espouse is their own."

The author goes on to make an important point; Sharks "enter organizations with the express purpose of using politics and aggressive manipulation to reach the top."

As summarized in the book, Sharks are:

* Opportunistic

* Self-serving and predatory

* Manipulators that will use fraud and deceit when necessary

* Bullies that will misuse information and use others to service their own means

Do you know or work with or for a shark? What can a project manager do to ensure these types of individuals don't negatively impact their projects?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

* Be aware that sharks exist in your organization

* Know who the sharks are and avoid them whenever possible

* When working with sharks, be very careful not to become their prey

* Learn to be politically "Sensible"

* Be a good negotiator

* Expand your network and be fair and honest in all of your dealings

* Be comforted in the fact that Sharks will eventually move on to new feeding grounds

It is unfortunate that political sharks are so prevalent in organizations. They offer little value to the organization other than to serve their own means. Occasionally sharks do good things, but the cost of their behavior will always be a disruption to the organization. The benefit is rarely worth the cost.

Don't trust a shark. Don't turn your back on them and don't take them lightly. Remember they are self-serving and will stop at nothing to satisfy their appetite. I have seen the damage they can do first hand and I know they are indiscriminate in the way the feed. Even though we have to swim with the sharks, we don't have to become their victims.

Keep your friends close, but the sharks closer.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Weekend Photo - BIG Gator in Florida

Note the wild boar hanging out of the alligator's mouth.  If you look close you can see the boar's tusks by the gator's front left foot.  


Thursday, February 05, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Project Teams (Re-run)

Project teams can be a project manager's greatest resource or can be a huge impediment to getting things done. I have a lot of opinions about project teams and most people would find them to be controversial. I will state them here and hope for feedback.

My general theories about project teams follow:

Project teams tend to waste a lot of time, and like to blame others (outside the team) for lack of project process

Project team members are rarely on the same page

Internal politics doom many project teams from the start

Project managers usually don't have the ability to reward or punish bad behavior

One or two "bad apples" can spoil the whole bunch

Many functional managers don't believe they have to support project teams, and at times they do all they can to undermine the team approach to managing projects

A team "visionary" is a person that is usually disengaged from everything and accountable for nothing

Lack of leadership, direction, and follow-up from top management is the number one cause of project team failure

If you have a member of your project team that would rather be doing something else, do everything you can to grant their wish

Most project managers are wimps when it comes to managing individual members of their teams

Lots of organizations talk a good talk when it comes to project management and teams, then go about managing change using the same old failed processes

Many project team members are loyal to their functional departments, not to the project

Teams by nature are dysfunctional, and because of this fact the project schedule and estimates should reflect this

Dysfunctional project teams are the fault of senior management because of their refusal to attend important project team meetings

Many project teams are composed of the wrong people doing the wrong things at the wrong times.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Eight Stage Process of Creating Major Change (Re-Run)

I like the process below for creating major change. It was taken from the book "Leading Change" by John P. Kotter (see source information at the end of the posting).

1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency
a. Examining the market and competitive realities
b. Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities

2. Creating the Guiding Coalition
a. Putting together a group with enough power to lead the change
b. Getting the group to work together as a team

3. Developing a Vision and Strategy
a. Creating a vision to help direct the change effort
b. Developing strategies for achieving that vision

4. Communicating the Change Vision
a. Using every vehicle possible to constantly communicate the new vision and strategies
b. Having the guiding coalition role model the behavior expected of employees

5. Empowering Broad-Based Action
a. Getting rid of obstacles
b. Changing systems or structures that undermine the change vision
c. Encouraging risk taking and non-traditional ideas, activities, and actions

6. Generating Short-Term Wins
a. Planning for visible improvements in performance, or “wins”
b. Creating those wins
c. Visibly recognizing and rewarding people who made the wins possible

7. Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change
a. Using increased credibility to change all systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit together and don’t fit the transformation vision
b. Hiring, promoting, and developing people who can implement the change vision
c. Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes, and change agents

8. Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture
a. Creating better performance through customer and productivity-oriented behavior, more an better leadership, and more effective management
b. Articulating the connections between new behaviors and organizational success
c. Developing means to ensure leadership development and succession

SOURCE: Adapted from John P. Kotter, “Leading Change,” Harvard Business School Press 1996