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My Latest Client

May 24, 2006

I just had my final pre-engagement meeting with a prospective new client – a major player in the telecom infrastructure arena. I was brought in to do an analysis of the current state of their Project Management to determine why they were experiencing difficulties in several key areas. Their problem statement to me was, “We can’t seem to consistently and accurately estimate our projects, we aren’t seeing problems around the bend, our PMs are having difficulties predicting cross-project impacts with matrixed resources and management isn’t able to forecast 6 months to a year down the road.”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear these very same complaints from clients and prospects alike. On one hand this fact is a good thing since it keeps me employed and the root causes are almost always the same so it is familiar territory and I can fairly quickly identify the causes, define a solution and put together a plan to help my clients resolve these issues.

On the other hand, however, the fact that many organizations are experiencing the same project management problems is very frustrating to me. If one does a search on Barnes and Noble’s website for books on Project Management one will be presented with 5,570 results. My frustration comes from the fact that despite this wealth of literature on the subject, organizations and the people in them continue to suffer from the same project management malaise that has plagued the industry for the past 20+ years. Why is this?

There are a number of reasons:

1) Buying a book doesn’t solve your problems – if it did therapists would have been put out of business a long time ago, global warming would be a thing of the past and George Bush would have been impeached a long time ago. By and large books talk about problems and pose solutions in the abstract. It is very difficult, especially with subjects of a technical nature, to apply abstract solutions to specific problems and achieve meaningful results. This is why consultants are in demand; we provide specific expertise for specific solutions to very specific problems – at least the good ones do.

2) Even if a book has specific information or advice that applies to the reader’s specific situation the reader has to act on that information and usually not alone. Troops must be rallied, information disseminated, plans created, measures put in place and then there must be execution. Typically it is very difficult for one person to accomplish all of this after having read a book. Again this is why consultants are beneficial – if an organization is spending money on an outside resource there is usually motivation to act on the fruits of that investment.

3) In almost every instance it is nearly impossible for an insider to see the root causes of an organization’s project management issues. This is the ‘forest for the trees’ scenario wherein someone in the middle of a forest has a hard time distinguishing one tree from another. Yet again this is why consultants are so important. We bring a fresh and objective perspective to the situation and we have, in most cases, no encumbrances which will cloud our vision.

4) Finally, and this one really bugs me, most of the books that have been written on the subject of project management talk about process and checklists and methodologies. Don’t misread me these are important topics but they are NOT what ultimately makes a project successful or unsuccessful. At the end of the day no matter what kind of project you are faced with it is NOT the technology, the process or the tools that make it happen. It’s the people. This is where the problems start and stop and this is what the majority of the books on the subject of project management fail to address.

 

Let’s return now to my prospective client the telecom infrastructure company. Their problem again is:

Projects are either grossly under or over estimated and no historical data is being collected and used for repeatability or future process improvement.

When planning future projects PMs have no consistent method for determining potential cross-project impacts.

Risks and issues are not being tracked and managed effectively and consistently.

PMs are fighting fires instead of proactively managing.

 

 

 

And as a result of all of this the PMs are stressed out, overworked and not enjoying their jobs.

So what’s the solution you ask?

 

My proposal to them has two parts one technical and one non-technical. From a technical perspective, because of the size of the organization, the matrixed and distributed nature of the resources and the complexity of the projects, they need an Enterprise Project Management tool. It just so happens that they already have Microsoft Project Server 2003 and all of its components in house, installed and paid for. So it was an easy recommendation for them to use this tool. Of course they need to ensure that it is installed and configured correctly, it needs to be customized for their specific environment and they need role-based training on the tool. Good thing I’m an MS Project Server expert.

The second part of the proposal, the non-technical part, involves analyzing the way in which the staff does their jobs. Not just their internal processes but their interactions with other departments and external resources. Areas for improvement need to be identified and an improvement plan created. Once that’s done the staff needs to be shown how to implement the plan, monitor results, adjust/correct the course and develop and foster an environment that supports continuous improvement. Sounds easy but this is the hard part because it involves changing the way people approach their jobs and helping them learn to objectively evaluate themselves and each other without fear of judgment.

 

If more organizations would bring me or someone like me in to do this kind of work we really could revolutionize Project Management in the US and take back control of our projects.

What this blog is about

April 18, 2006

 

Over the past 10 years many studies have been conducted which show conclusively that the majority of IT/IS projects do not meet the standard definition of success. In fact, according to several studies conducted and updated by the Standish Group, less than 30% of IT/IS projects are successfully completed within the proposed timeframe and budget and/or with the requisite functionality. This same study states that jeopardized projects, roughly 70% of all IT/IS projects, cost US companies and the Government upwards of $154 Billion annually.

I recently conducted a search on Barnes and Noble’s website for books on Project Management. My results included nearly 4000 current titles. I was amazed that there were so many recently published books on the subject. But I was more amazed at the fact that in spite of all this available information less than 30% of projects are successful. To me it seemed clear that either no one was buying the books, a doubtful conclusion since they probably wouldn’t have been published if there wasn’t a verifiable audience waiting to purchase them, or the information contained in these books did nothing to help projects succeed. So, while I certainly didn’t review each title, I did a random sampling and found that the majority of these books talk either about the process of project management and the tools that are used or the methodology of the month that seems to be generating the most buzz. These topics are what I refer to as the Science of Project management.

What these many books fail to talk about is what I call the ‘Art of Project Management’ or the softer side of project management. It is this “Art of Project Management’ that I believe, based on over a decade of experience, separates the ‘Truly Great Project Manager’ from the mediocre or accidental project manager.

When I refer to the ‘Art of Project Management’ I am talking about inter and intra departmental relationship building, political savvy, interpersonal assessment skills, ownership orientation, personnel motivation, strategic influence and open-honest communication.

It is these softer skills which differentiate the artisans of the trade of Project Management from the average workaday practitioners. As far as I’m concerned, there doesn’t even need to be formal training in the science part of project management since there are so many references available – not just books but websites, newsletters, multi-media presentation, etc. However, there is a seriously pent-up need for training in the softer skills of PM. It seems that somewhere along the way, we forgot that while IT/IS projects certainly deal with technology and its development or application to solve problems, ultimately projects are made up of people.

Technology is relatively easy to control, you tell it what you need it to do and it either does it or it doesn’t. Either way technology is fairly binary. People, on the other hand, don’t come pre-programmed to do what they are told when they are told. It is dealing with, leading, motivating and developing people that is the biggest challenge for Project Managers and the most important aspect of the job. Sadly, it is also the most overlooked aspect of Project Management texts, classes, and seminars.

Most IS/IT projects require the input from and interaction with multiple departments or groups within a company or organization. As project managers it is our responsibility to bring these disparate groups together and focus them on a single goal. This can be an enormous challenge especially in organizations where different departments have different or competing priorities. It is our responsibility to instill in all the members of the project team a unified sense of mission.

These skills are not taught or even mentioned by the Project Management Institute or the Software Engineering Institute. They are not part of the process of certification as a Project Management Professional and they are mentioned only in passing, if at all, at the many seminars offered on the subject of Project Management.

Emerson said that, “Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can.” The most integral part of any project is the people who are involved in doing the work whether it is writing code, performing analysis, providing requirements, giving approval, testing, planning or marketing the end product. Yet the skills needed to bring all of these people together, to get them to accomplish more as a team than they could on their own, to get them to accomplish more than they thought they could, these crucial skills are not taught. No wonder so many projects fail. It is a wonder that almost 30% of them succeed.

This blog will talk about these softer skills and how they have helped me bring myriad projects to successful completion for my customers and clients. I am committed to helping revolutionize the ‘practice’ of project management and, in turn, returning some of that $154 billion to the shareholders of American companies.