Your business has survived COVID-19 – Now What?

As we slowly emerge to see what is left after the deadliest pandemic in a century has devastated lives and businesses across the world, many are asking what we should begin to focus on.

Step 1: Assess if the strategy you had in place before COVID-19 is still appropriate

The one thing the pandemic has highlighted was a distinct lack of humanity by many businesses. Some stood out for doing good, but most did not do a great job of looking after their stakeholders when it mattered the most. Make no mistake, good or bad, businesses will be remembered for their actions when the world returns to “normal”.

As a leader, if you feel your business could have done better, consider reviewing your strategy by applying the tenets of Conscious Capitalism (https://www.consciouscapitalism.org/). This will assist in moving your business from a purely profit-oriented culture to that of a “Conscious Business” which contributes positively to all its key stakeholders including customers, staff, investors, suppliers, communities, and the environment. Conscious Capitalism goes further to suggest that any strategy which fails one of these stakeholders, means that the business is possibly missing its “higher purpose” and it needs to find a way to address the imbalance, otherwise it will ultimately fail.

When a business considers all its stakeholders, it can define more meaningful business objectives that everyone in the stakeholder group can support. Examples of “Conscious Businesses” include Whole Foods Market, Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, The Container Store and Tata.

Step 2: Make sure the projects you select support your strategy

This is a key element to success and makes sure you do not waste money by chasing the wrong things. Every organisation has projects to introduce new products or services or improve on existing offerings. Every project uses resources including people, equipment, and money. It makes sense then that if you select the wrong projects to execute, you will be wasting resources.

Assess each project as to how it supports the business objectives. Implement a simple scoring mechanism to rank each project against the business objectives. The projects which have the highest scores are the projects to focus resources on. Once the resources have been allocated to the highest scoring projects, projects with lower scores must wait their turn until resources become available.

Step 3: Manage the projects you select properly

To be successful, projects should be managed by people with the relevant training and experience in the tools and techniques required. Assigning an untrained person to manage a project is often a recipe for disaster and normally ends up costing the business far more than a professional would cost.

Step 4: Implement objective and easily understood reporting to track projects

There is a wealth of tools available to keep track of all the projects in the business to make sure your resources are being well used, and to highlight issues as soon as they occur. A very popular choice is Microsoft Project Online (available on Office 365) as many project managers have experience with the tool and its related systems or Sciforma (www.sciforma.co.za) which is a specialist system for more advanced environments.

These relatively easy steps will help your organisation evolve into a Conscious Business you will be proud of, and all the projects you undertake will support that strategy.

McManus Notice: COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in South Africa, and the actions we need to take become clearer, McManus Consulting assures our clients, professionals, support staff and service providers that we have taken the recommendations of our President and his government to heart and have implemented the following measures:

  • It’s business as usual as far as possible and we’re here to assist you with your projects.
  • All professional and supporting staff are able to work from home.
  • We have empowered staff without laptops or internet connectivity with appropriate equipment to enable them to work from home.
  • We have provided staff who normally use taxis, access to our corporate Uber facility.
  • Our offices are closed, but we are available to assist.
  • Our professionals will – as always – adhere to the Health and Safety instructions of our clients.
  • We have suspended our outsourced cleaning service, while continuing to pay for the service during the suspension period.
  • We have instituted virtual mechanisms for workshops, interviews and project meetings wherever possible.

Forrester Research Inc. is a leading international research firm, and they have provided a COVID-19 content hub for business to benefit from their analysis of the unfolding impacts on business. Because of our involvement with Forrester in South Africa, we have been given permission to share this information with our clients to view the collection of blog posts, client content (noted as “Special Report”), vlogs and the latest podcast episode.

We remain ready to assist with your project needs throughout this difficult time and wish you and your loved ones well.

Government needs to create a culture of effective project management

 

One doesn’t need to wade too deeply into the quagmire of politics to acknowledge that South Africa is in dire need of infrastructure development (and maintenance) to ensure its future growth – yet billions of Rands are being spent on projects that are seldom, if ever, delivered on time, within budget and able to do that what they set out to do.

While “Fourth Industrial Revolution” are the government buzzwords of the year, Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, contends that there are far more pressing projects that government should be focused on. These mainly relate to infrastructure without which 4IR, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is known, remains a pipe dream. Take the example of Eskom: if the power utility isn’t brought back on track, how will 4IR even get off the ground? How will the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality and other technologies and trends that characterize the 4IR work without power? Quite simply, they won’t.

Thus, it’s time to go back to basics; instilling a deep culture of effective project management into the public sector could be a game changer.

Stakeholder interference (often driven by political expediency) can disempower project managers and derail projects. McManus dreams of a National Project Management Office (NPMO), providing strategic oversight for all the infrastructure projects underway in the country. That’s not to say that control of the projects should be centralized but rather than all projects should be subjected to the same stringent project management rules and controls. A centralized NPMO – starting at national level and branching out into the provinces – would provide government with an effective tool for aligning project activity with its strategic interests and objectives.

Integrated Project Management Across Government Operations*, a paper presented at the PMI® Global Congress 2010, should be mandatory reading for all government departments (and would make an ideal starting point for the NPMO of McManus’ dreams). The authors identify project management as a “lever of change”, able to address the unique challenges faced by projects in the public sector. “Projects can cut through the morass of politics and short-sightedness by delivering on clear objectives and bringing change through multiple channels:

  • A proving ground for new strategies. When government organizations innovate or take a new path in solving a problem, project management enables an efficient, concise environment for change.
  • Beyond the incremental. Highly bureaucratic institutions usually change slowly and incrementally. Projects offer a way to make quantum leaps in understanding and approaches to problem solving.
  • Better stakeholder management. Cross-boundary projects require innovative ways to address stakeholder needs. A project environment enables systematic stakeholder management.”

McManus believes that perhaps the single most important contribution that project management tools can make in the public sector is to enable government to embrace two of the key features that determine project success in the private sector: flexibility and innovation.

* Jaques, T. W. & Weinstein, J. (2010). Integrating project management across government operations. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2010—North America, Washington, DC. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

 © Tony McManus, McManus Consulting

Project managers must also be cybercrime warriors

Hacking and cybercrime are increasing at an alarming rate and experts agree that it’s not going to get better anytime soon. The cost of cybercrime shot up 93%, from $1.4 billion in 2017, to $2.7 billion in 2018. That’s according to the FBI’s annual Internet Crime Report.

IT project managers (PMs) wear many hats, none more important than that of cybercrime warrior. There are so many points at which projects can be vulnerable to cybercrime, from the most basic password cracking to more sophisticated network breaches; and the PM needs to “own” this risk, rather than assuming that it will be covered by the organisation’s general IT security umbrella.

“From the outset, PMs need to work closely with the organisation’s IT security specialists to identity the potential points of exploitation that the project might be exposed to and what security concerns might be unearthed; and then develop mitigating strategies,” says Tony McManus, CEO of McManus Consulting.

McManus says that effective cyber security for projects should start with the basics, including the often-overlooked elementary security building block of effective password protection. Using a reputable password generator like LastPass, rather than the same password for everything, is essential. Consideration should also be giving to limiting access to data to only those that need it, and encrypting files and communications.

The PM is also responsible for integrating cyber security into the culture of the team, making sure that every member of the team is up to speed on the cyber risks facing the project, and fully on board when it comes to protecting against breaches.

A report published earlier this year reveals a rather concerning “casual approach to workplace communications, and digital habits in general”; with 27% of employees admitting that they do not know their employers’ IT guidelines; one in four admitting to using their personal email to conduct business; and one in three admitting to using their personal devices for work.

The cautious PM will consider not only what information is being shared between the team but also how it is being shared.

McManus says that PMs must be both proactive and reactive when it comes to cyber risks and that lessons learned on each project must form part of reactive cyber risk assessment, creating a valuable “data bank” for future projects.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting. | Image created by Freepik.com.

Humans and AI – the perfect partnership in project management

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – which emphasises the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like human beings – will have a significant impact on the project management (PM) world. Forward thinking organisations will jump at the opportunity to maximise project success by making use of the distinctly different, and unique, characteristics that man and machines bring to the table.

Tony McManus, CEO of McManus Consulting, says that, increasingly, AI will gather, interpret and extrapolate project data, freeing up the project manager to focus on tasks that require more emotional intelligence (something that AI cannot currently replicate). But McManus emphasises that, while logic reigns supreme with computers, one can never do away with the caring, subjective reasoning that human beings bring to the table. Thus, both man and machine have a role to play in the PM world of the future.

This is confirmed by research and advisory company, Gartner, who say that 80% of today’s project management tasks will be eliminated by 2030 as AI takes over. “AI will improve the outcomes of these tasks, including the ability to analyse data faster than humans and using those results to improve overall performance. As these standard tasks start to get replaced, Program and Portfolio Management (PPM) leaders will look to staff their teams with those who can manage the demands of AI and smart machines as new stakeholders.”

One of the areas in project management that AI can have a major impact on is risk management. The traditional risk register is compiled by human beings, with all the advantages and disadvantages of the inherent subjectivity. Imagine how much more effective a smart machine could be using the hard data of risk and issue logs to predict project success or failures; and how much time, money and resources could be saved by using machines for this.

Project estimation is another area where machines can make a significant impact. Again, by crunching a vast amount of hard data quickly and accurately, a machine could make a precise estimate of the project, which could enable the PM to better calculate the investment needed for the project.

In the key area of progress updates, McManus expects to see the use of inference engines and “chatbots” to glean progress updates from team members, obviating the need for timesheets, which are a key resistance point for most organisations. Inference “engines” that deduce task completion are already being encountered.

Gartner predicts that, “over time, AI will have a significant and very positive impact on PPM leaders and the PPM technologies they use, as both strive to remain effective and relevant in the digital age. Therefore, Program Management Office transformation must include an evolving strategy that incorporates and takes full advantage of the benefits of AI, as AI begins to take root in the PPM software market”.

Tomorrow’s project managers will manage teams comprising both human beings and smart machines, each contributing their unique talents to the project’s outcome. While machines will always fare better when it comes to repetitive tasks, human beings have an advantage when it comes to complex tasks that require emotional intelligence for effective execution.

Smart PMs will embrace the technology and harness AI to make their projects more successful, while celebrating the freedom it gives team members to become more creative and productive in areas that machines cannot tap into. Yet…

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  | Image created by Freepik.com.

70% of IT projects fail – make sure yours isn’t one of them!

The statistics relating to IT project failure are scary. Consider this: up to 70% of projects fail; and 17% of IT projects go so badly that they threaten the very existence of the company. The latter is according to research conducted by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with the University of Oxford. They also found that, on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time, while delivering 56% less value than predicted.

According to veteran project manager, Tony McManus, the most common reasons for project failure are quite simple and often start with projects kicking off without a professional project manager at the helm. Simply put: project managers (PMs) are trained to look for certain things as set out in the 10 knowledge areas outlined by PMBOK®*; which line managers (who are often tasked with running projects) are not familiar with.

Poorly defined project scope is another fundamental problem. Organisations often undertake a project without getting their heads around the scope. McManus emphasises the importance of understanding and “unpacking” the project scope properly at the outset.

Often stakeholders, excited about the business case and the anticipated return on investment, are raring to go and do not want to “waste” time planning. They know what they want and they (think) they know what must be done.

At this point, an experienced PM will carefully unpack the activities needed to deliver the business case. This takes time but often the company just wants to get going and skimps on the planning phase. Yet the old adage, measure thrice, cut once is never more relevant than when it comes to project planning.

In the planning phase, the PM will conduct a project definition workshop before drilling down with the individuals involved to find out exactly what’s needed to deliver. Only once the PM has done this can the project plan, schedule and cost be accurately defined.

McManus’ favourite analogy for successful project management is building a house. “If you start building a two bedroom house, with one bathroom, a kitchen, lounge and dining room but decide halfway through that you need a third bedroom and a second bathroom the cost of reworking the building is huge – not to mention the wasted time and resources.”

Similarly, in project management, shifting the goalposts midway through (often because the scope was not properly defined at the outset) is a waste of time, effort and money.

But, while McManus is a fierce proponent of planning, he does offer a caveat: avoid analysis paralysis at all costs.

“Don’t get stuck in an endless planning cycle by become too granular. An appropriate level of planning is important, but so is progress.

“Understanding the project requirements and making sure that everyone involved is on the same page, right from the start, will save you time and money and greatly enhance your project’s chances of success; not only in terms of delivering on time and in budget but, most significantly, delivering the anticipated value,” says McManus.

*   The Project Management Body of Knowledge compiled by the Project Management Institute in the US, using the experience gleaned from hundreds of project managers in the international PM community.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by Freepik.com.

Effective risk management is the difference between disaster and disruption

Risk – both in terms of identification and management – remains one of the biggest challenges facing corporate South Africa in 2011; not least of all because the King 3 report on governance positions risk as a cornerstone of corporate governance and holds the board of directors directly accountable.

Risk means different things to different businesses. For some, potential risks border on the bizarre: if you’re building a seaside nuclear plant it could mean a tsunami breaching a sea wall considered impenetrable; and, if you operate an airline, it could mean a volcano in a far off land spewing ash into the air, which grounds your airplanes.

While risk is inherently unpredictable, if you have an IT project underway there are at two key risks – with a potentially catastrophic impact – that are easily identified and relatively easily managed: key personnel and data risks. Imagine if something happened to the individual in whose head the project’s code resides and there is no copy of the code? Or if the main server was stolen, or the building burnt down, and there was no back up?

A good project manager is part risk identifier/part risk manager and effective risk management calls for diligence and discipline.

Managing key personnel risk is integral to an IT project’s success and a few simple precautions can make sure that the project stays on track if fate trips up one of the key players.

Dissemination of knowledge should take place from day one and continue throughout the project. Technical people are notoriously protective of their turf, wielding their power through acronyms and ‘technospeak’; and, let’s face it, computer ‘geeks’ generally prefer to interact with their keyboards rather than their colleagues. One of the project manager’s most important roles is to get the information out of the heads of the various role players and into a format where it is easily accessible to all. It is critical that the project’s design is thoroughly documented from start to finish.

It is also important that the project’s code is checked into a computer code repository like Microsoft’s Visual SourceSafe at the end of each and every work day. It is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the codes are checked in nightly before shut down and – with every single procedure thoroughly documented – disciplinary action must ensue if procedures are not followed.

Key to the management of data risk is a well documented disaster recovery strategy. Simple, but effective ‘rules’ – like nightly backups to a tape device, with the tapes stored off site – can mean the difference between disruption and disaster. If budget allows the back up to be done electronically, it should be to a site that is situated on different Telkom and Eskom grids.

There may be little that the PM can do to protect key personnel and data from the fickle finger of fate, but a proactive PM, who takes an effective approach to risk, can ensure that the entire project is not derailed when something goes wrong and, sooner or later, it will.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

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