What is the real value of a professional PM?

Organisations often consider a professional project manager (PM) to be an unnecessary expense, choosing instead to entrust their projects to someone that does not possess the necessary skills and experience to successfully manage the project. But no matter how well-intentioned an individual is, if he does not have the proper project management skills he could scupper the entire project.

IT projects are inherently expensive and a professional project manager will certainly add to the project’s cost but it’s shortsighted to see only the cost, without considering the many benefits.

It’s difficult to put an exact figure to what a project manager will add to a project’s cost because there are so many variables but one thing is certain, the benefit of having a professional PM in charge of your project will almost inevitably save you more (much more) than you’re paying for these services.

No doubt one of the most challenging aspects of successfully managing any project is the ability to deliver the finished project within budget. And this is one of the key contributions professional PMs can make, because that is exactly what they are trained to do. Any PM worth his salt should bring the project in within 10% of approved budget and schedule.

Consider the stats provided by global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company and the value of a competent PM is patently clear: on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time. They also say that the longer a project is scheduled to last, the more likely it is that it will run over time and budget, with every additional year spent on the project increasing cost overruns by 15%.

Sobering though these stats are, when considering the value of a PM it’s not just the money and time saved that should be figured in. The calculations should also take into account the value of the long-term business benefits expected from the project. For instance, if a project is going to provide a return of R500m over a period of five years, that’s R100m a year that the business is losing out on if the project is delayed. Take that a step further: an annual R100m return on investment equates to around R8m a month – compared to a senior PM earning around R1m a year – and the value of a professional PM is patently clear.

So, project delays not only cost more in terms of going over budget, they also cost in terms of delayed revenue to the business and, in determining the value of a professional PM, it’s important to evaluate the cost of the PM against the expected business benefit of the project.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Is your team with you or against you?

Every savvy business knows that retaining talent is fundamental to the business’ long-term success and sustainability. This is especially important when it comes to the project management arena, where tight deadlines and a pressure cooker work environment makes it even more difficult for new team members to hit the ground running.

But, in today’s market place, you need to do more than retain team members, you must get (and keep) them engaged.

In a nutshell, employee engagement means just how connected the employee is to the business’ mission. And, when it comes to project management, it’s even more difficult to establish and keep that connection. Let’s be honest, most project managers are on a mission all of their own – they want to work on exciting projects and move on! But, as the song goes, no man – or woman – is an island and there is no doubt that the most successful project managers lead engaged teams.

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2013 report defines three employee categories:

Engaged employees who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.

Not Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.

Actively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

According to the Gallup report, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work and closer to home that figure drops to 9%. While 46% of South Africa’s workers are not engaged, Gallup says that an alarming 45% are actively disengaged.

The report suggests three ways to accelerate employee engagement: select the right people; develop employees’ strengths; and enhance employees’ well-being and each of these suggestions warrant a blog in their own right. But, for now, let’s focus on how to engage the project team.

Every HR guru has their own list of essentials for engaging employees but they all agree that engagement works top down. Leaders shape engagement and while, as a project manager, there is only so much you can do because the overall engagement strategy comes from the organisation and its leaders, it pays to view your team as a mini organisation with its own engagement plan emanating from you, as team leader. And here are some suggestions on how to engage your team:

  1. Communication – especially face to face – is essential. Talk to your team, often.
  2. Planning is paramount. Team members need a thoughtful, committed strategic plan.
  3. Encourage proactive self-improvement.
  4. Define roles and develop relationships – take care to create the balance of developing team members that are empowered to act independently, but still operate within the boundaries of their role.
  5. Empower team members to make decisions and have their backs when things go wrong.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

The harsh reality of project restarts and interruptions

One of the major causes of both cost and time overruns on IT projects is project restarts and for every 100 projects that start, there are 94 restarts. That’s according to a Chaos Report prepared by the Standish Group, a research advisory organisation that focuses on software project performance. But it is important to note that this does not mean that 94 out of 100 projects will be restarted, some projects can have several restarts.

Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, says that project restarts routinely happen when there is a change in project manager or sponsor, a restructure within the company or the project has gone off the rails and the decision is taken to stop, replan and restart. A project is also likely to be restarted when it has been deprioritized, which typically happens when there is restructuring within the organisation.

Unfortunately, the project manager is often the first casualty when a project is not going according to the project sponsor’s expectations. But changing the project manager poses a major risk to the project and must be managed very carefully. The best case scenario is for the outgoing and incoming project managers to work side by side for a while, and to create security for both the business and the PMs by having a standard two month transition clause in PMs’ contracts. Overlap during the transition period may result in duplicate costs but, if it doesn’t happen, it can exacerbate the very problem that led to the change in the first place.

When the restart is due to the project having gone off the rails it often comes down to poor scope management. This results in a significant change management issue; team members are traumatised and demoralised and, at this point, there is a very real risk of losing key subject experts.

Mitigating project interruption is one of the project manager’s key responsibilities, and biggest headaches. The cause of project interruption can be diverse and often difficult to preempt like the team simply being burned out due to unrealistic demands or suppliers removing equipment from the site because of unpaid invoices. And, of course, there’s also the harsh reality inherent in IT projects: technology changes so quickly that 18 months into implementation of the project the rules can change completely.

One thing though is certain: project restarts are part of the project management landscape and – like so much in project management – it’s wise to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

Here’s how to minimise the negative impact of project interruptions and restarts?

  • Make sure there’s a comprehensive business case, linked to a clear business strategy, for the project.
  • Make sure the project has the right sponsor.
  • Make sure that the project steering committee is made of up the relevant decision makers.
  • Make sure that every phase and stage of the project is comprehensively documented – the successful restart of a project is largely dependent on the shutdown procedure.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

The importance of having your ducks in a row cannot be overstated in project management

Considering that IT projects often involve many millions of Rands, and can entirely change a company’s strategic trajectory, the propensity for litigation should not be underestimated.

And, should you ever have to defend your actions in court, you had better have followed the correct processes to the letter because, when it comes to giving evidence, the importance of having all your ducks in a row cannot be overstated. No doubt, this notion would serve us all well, regardless of our line of business. But project managers, accountable for projects worth many millions of Rands, would be especially well advised to manage their projects as if they had to defend them in court (or at least to an auditor) one day.

In essence, project management is as simple as it is complicated and, if you stick to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) knowledge areas, you won’t go wrong.

One issue that accounts for many project managers’ headaches is the very real threat of Scope Creep. Simply put, Scope Creep relates to undertaking work not included in the project plan. This is very common and has been the downfall of many an otherwise sound project and diligent project manager.

IT projects are inherently dynamic – technology changes, needs change and perspectives change along the way and it makes good business sense to be responsive to these changes; but not at the expense of the entire project. The simplicity of effective project management is clearly illustrated by an equilateral triangle with the three equal length sides representing time, cost and quality. A shift in or change to any one of these aspects of the project automatically affects at least one, and more often both, of the others.

So what is a project manager to do to keep the triangle in balance and avoid scope creep derailing the project? First and foremost, the team should quite simply not be working on any activity that is not on the project schedule. And, taking it a step further, no activity should be added to the schedule without a duly approved change request.

But this is not always quite as simple as it sounds. It’s often not easy for project managers to stand their ground when senior executives issue instructions (or colleagues call in favours) that fly in the face of the project’s best interests. So, despite the simplicity of just needing to follow the correct policies and procedures, dealing with scope creep also takes guts from the PM, and respect for the project management processes.

To take the emotion – and politics – out of the issue it is vital to have in place a formal Scope Management Plan that has been agreed to by senior management. Then, once a Change Request (or Variation Order), comes in, the PM needs to sit with the team and define what’s involved, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Only once this information is presented and approved can the changes be added to the project schedule, the project cost and the team’s activities.

Sign-off on a project plan is often delayed because stakeholders want to be sure that they’ve covered all possible bases. An effective Scope Management Plan can provide the added advantage of speeding up sign-off because it provides comfort to stakeholders that additions and changes can be accommodated if the need arises.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Stakeholder management is paramount because people make businesses (and projects) work

Stakeholder management is vitally important in the world of project management because stakeholders can have a major influence on the project’s outcome.

In fact, stakeholder management is so important that the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) now separates it from communications management, where it was previously embedded, recognising it as the 10th knowledge area.

Managing stakeholders is essential because unhappy stakeholders can use their influence to scuttle the entire project. Similarly, well managed stakeholders can be a project manager’s greatest asset, clearing organisational red tape and providing vital support every step of the way.

Organisational Change Management (OCM) – which is a specialist area in its own right – sets out to analyse all the stakeholders and identify the resisters and the adopters. It’s important to remember that stakeholders are far broader than the project’s initiators who are often, by definition, its most vocal supporters.

Every single person that will be impacted by the project is a stakeholder, to a lesser or greater degree. The fact that human beings inherently resist change often provides the project manager with the biggest challenge. A smart PM will be aware of the changes the project will bring about and seek to manage the impact of these on all the various stakeholders.

These days companies spend millions on engaging staff, making sure that they feel part of the organisation in the truest sense of the word, rather than merely workers following orders. And the days of putting a project into motion, regardless of how users feel about it, are long gone. So, getting people, at all levels, to buy into the project goes way beyond the actual project’s outcome; it talks to the heart of the company’s engagement with its staff.

Although the actual change management activities will inevitably be undertaken by an OCM specialist – especially when it’s a large, expensive project with far reaching consequences – the PM needs to be aware of the challenges and how they will be dealt with, and the role that they themselves can play in the process.

Here’s a simple checklist for stakeholder management:

  • Identify all stakeholders
  • Determine the degree of impact of the change on stakeholders
  • Assess if they are resistant to or adoptive of the change
  • Work out a strategy to reduce resistance and gain acceptance from resisters
  • Take steps to ensure that all stakeholders feel empowered and involved

    In the rush to deal with the more technical issues of project management such as cost, scope and risk management, “softer” issues like communication and managing stakeholder expectations are often swept under the carpet, but PMs  ignore these at their peril. People make businesses (and projects) work. Identifying the adoptive ones and making them change champions can make the PM’s job that much easier and have a major influence on the project’s long-term success. After all, a truly successful project is not only delivered on time, within budget and providing the desired functionality; it also needs to stand the test of time and be embraced by people across the business.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Hitting send does not constitute communication

We all know that sinking feeling when you follow up on an outstanding deadline (that’s now overdue and urgent) and the person says “I never got the email”. While emails are probably less likely to disappear into the ether than they are to be ‘lost’ in a bulging mail box, the all-important question remains: does sending an email constitute effective communication? The answer is simple: no, it doesn’t – hitting send does not provide any assurance that the message was received, understood or acted upon.

No doubt, email remains the go-to form of communication in the business world and, according to recent research by The Radicati Group there are some 929 million business mailboxes in the world. The Radicati report says that, in 2013, the majority of email traffic came from business email, which accounted for over 100 billion emails sent and received per day. It also predicts that email will remain “the predominant form of communication in the business space”, with over 132 billion business emails sent and received per day by the end of 2017. That’s a lot of messages.

And who can dispute the ease and convenience of email, not to mention that it provides proof that the sender initiated a message, and it will stand up in court as a legal form of communication. But firing off an email is no guarantee that the message has been received and, most importantly, understood, or that the required action has been taken.

When we put expediency ahead of efficiency by simply hitting send and hoping for the best, we do ourselves and our business a grave disservice. And, in the project management world, where success is inherently dependent on a group of people, with often diverse skills and personalities, each contributing their sum of the part to the whole, effective communication is more essential than ever.

So much so that project communications management is one of the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) ten knowledge areas.

Let’s take a step back and consider the time-honoured communications model: effective communication happens when the ‘sender’ conveys a message to the ‘recipient’, and the recipient’s feedback indicates that the original message was received and understood. And therein lies the challenge, and the danger, of email. You cannot simply hit send and then tick the item off your to-do list.

Some simple tips for effective email communication:

  1. If possible, use email communication to confirm/reinforce your message rather than as the primary form of communication.
  2. If you send an important email, follow up with a phone call to ensure that the recipient has received and understood what you require.
  3. Inundating colleagues with email is counterproductive – your important messages will get lost in the ‘noise’ of the volume of messages you send.

    There is no doubt that, when used properly, email is a great business tool but, like any tool, the way the workman wields it makes all the difference.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Don’t be a project management jerk!

All project managers know the joke about the PM, the software engineer and the hardware engineer who stumble across a lamp from which emerges a genie to grant them each a wish. The software engineer asks to be sent to a beach in Hawaii – Puff! – he’s gone in a plume of jasmine scented smoke. The hardware engineer asks to be sent skiing in the Alps – Puff! – he too disappears in a plume of jasmine scented smoke. The PM considers the situation and says to the genie “I want them both back after lunch”!

But hidden in that old joke is a truth that cannot be denied: good PMs are inherently focused, driven individuals who like to get the bit between their teeth and keep going, resentful of anything or anyone that obstructs their progress.

So, as January comes to an end, why not make just one more resolution for this year: let’s put humanity back into project management. You may not find consideration listed in PMBOK’s ten knowledge areas but maybe it should be because at the end of the day people make projects happen.

Quite simply, if you’re a jerk that refuses to take into account the cultural and lifestyle needs, beliefs and expectations of your team (especially in a country as diverse as South Africa) you’re likely to find yourself with a stressed team and regular over-runs on your projects.

This year why not make time for regular coffee and muffin sessions with your team, get to know what really makes them tick and you’ll soon see how to get the best out of them. These sessions are not only about the personal side of project management, they are also a great opportunity to realign project objectives and strategies, learn about risks and set goals.

Years ago someone told me a simple marketing truth that I’ve never forgotten: people do business with people they like. This could just as easily translate into: people work harder for people they like. So, this year, make time to get to know your team better, be responsive to their needs and show them that you recognise them as human beingsnot just resources – and I guarantee that you’ll soon be reaping the benefits.

© Tony Mc Manus,McManus Consulting.