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.

‘Triple P’ – the new frontier in project management offices

As part of the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) initiative, the South African Bureau is currently defining professional project management standards. As project management takes its rightful place in the business world, as a profession in its own right, the project management structures within corporates are also becoming more robust.

So much so that mature organisations are now seeing their enterprise project offices (EPOs) evolving into project programme portfolio offices (PPPOs), with the emphasis on portfolio monitoring and performance management.

Most projects get the green light because of the benefits they will ultimately deliver, so management buy in is swift. Once the project is completed, and the money has been spent, the promised benefits need to be monitored; and the project manager – having completed the mandate to deliver within budget, on time and according to the required quality – moves on to the next project; leaving the portfolio office (which also monitors project costs) to track the benefits.

To the portfolio office falls the all-important task of measuring and monitoring projects’ return on investment (ROI) and, if the return is not sufficient, asking the hard questions of what went wrong and how can it be fixed?

The portfolio management office plays a crucial role in the project management structure. If there is no defined and concerted focus on portfolio management then the EPO might not add value to the organisation. It’s one thing to have projects reporting up to programme level and in to the EPO, but the fundamental, and all important, focus on benefit measurement and return on investment does not necessarily happen at EPO level.

That’s because the EPO essentially looks after the project life cycle; while the critical investment monitoring happens at PPPO level. It is here that ROI is tracked and fed back into the EPO, otherwise the organisation could be allocating resources to projects without measuring the results. Taking a bird’s eye view of all the organisation’s projects and the subsequent ROI, the PPPO can easily pinpoint problems regarding how the business approaches projects and whether business cases are robust enough.

With an effective PPPO in place, the business is able to tie projects back to the strategic business drivers that gave rise to the project in the first place.

But before you throw your hands in the air at the prospect of yet another structure within the project management hierarchy: the PPPO is not necessarily a separate structure; in fact, in most organisations it would simply be another name for the EPO, because the emphasis would now be on portfolio monitoring and performance management. At the end of the day it’s about putting in place the necessary structures to make sure that companies get the necessary ROI on the projects they undertake and a PPPO – essentially an EPO on steroids – can do just that.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

Project management in the clouds…

Cloud computing is the latest trend in the IT world. Corporates are excited, not only about saving money, but also about being able to concentrate on their core business, while leaving the increasingly complex world of IT to the experts.

While potential savings vary, it is estimated that using cloud software can save upwards of 40%. Once you figure in the cost of servers, operating system software, databases, data center space, network access, power and cooling, and other costs that accrue for onsite computing, the savings can go up to 77% when a company switches its entire IT solution to the clouds.

Essentially, cloud computing allows a user with just a screen, keyboard and internet connection to work from anywhere, any time. And its not just about saving money, productivity is enhanced because there is no need to ever update software, the latest version is always available.

With the responsibility of managing the service or application falling to the cloud vendor, companies no longer have to employ or contract people to install and update software, install and manage servers or run backups.

The concept of cloud computing is also a welcome addition to the world of project management. No doubt, one of the reasons that many companies still manage their projects in Excel spreadsheets is the high cost of professional project management software.

Project management software can cost anything from R10 000 per licence upwards. While discounts are available for companies buying multiple licences, this still translates to a significant investment when you have numerous people needing access to the software.

But there are some potential downsides to consider before switching to cloud computing.

The most obvious concern is that when you have no internet connection you are not able to access your stored software or data. But, while this is a significant consideration, it is unlikely in our ever increasingly mobile world that you would be without any connection at all for any length of time.

With certain products – like Microsoft Project Online, and Sciforma S4 – it is possible to work on your data when offline and then sync when back online.

The other obvious concern about cloud computing is security and many companies may be reluctant to commit their data to something as nebulous as a far off server, often in another country. That being said, established, reliable cloud computing vendors are well aware of this concern and have invested heavily in the latest, most sophisticated data security systems available.

And finally, before switching to a cloud solution, it pays to make sure that you are comparing apples with apples. Some cloud computer vendors offer a ‘pay only for what you use’ solution but, according to IT researchers and advisors, Gartner, this simply isn’t true because, in most cases, some degree of commitment to a predetermined contract independent of actual use is expected. So to be sure that you are really saving money, you need to explore the pricing plans and details for each application carefully.

Having said all of this, there can be no doubt that cloud computing is here to stay and it can offer significant benefits to business users.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.


With portfolio management, ROI is paramount

Most companies have more than one IT project on the go at any given time, each with its own objectives and planned outcome. Then, after a while, especially in silo managed organisations, it becomes obvious that elements of the various projects overlap and some projects may even be combined.

In an ideal world, project management kicks off with a cohesive end in mind; an end that ties directly back to the business’ strategies. In other words, start with what you want to achieve and work backwards. If you begin with individual projects you are immediately in a reactive position, dealing with piecemeal initiatives.

Simply put, projects have a defined start and end, deliverables, budget and resources. A programme is a collection of projects and a portfolio is a collection of programmes (and their individual projects). A company could even have different portfolios serving different sectors of the business.

Companies that work from the bottom up seldom have a portfolio concept, or even a portfolio manager. This means that they could invest millions with no underpinning strategic intent.

Perhaps the best way to underscore the importance of portfolio management is to understand the different skills sets required to manage projects, programmes and portfolios.

In this context, the project manager (PM) is essentially a ‘gun for hire’, only interested in and focused on the project; ideally with predominantly technical skills, as opposed to business skills.

The programme manager is juggling oversight of more than one project and needs a bigger picture view, and much more business than technical skill.

The portfolio manager – who functions as the project investment manager – needs to understand project management but business skill is what this role is all about. To the portfolio manager falls the task of overseeing the two most important aspects of IT project management: cost versus benefits and Return On Investment (ROI).

Portfolio management is essentially a measurement of the business benefit derived from projects undertaken and involves the identification of candidate projects; and the prioritisation, oversight and measurement of ROI of these. One could argue that there is always, by default, a portfolio of projects but the differentiator is whether they are managed as such.

It takes a very mature business model (as opposed to individual ‘fiefdoms’ each protecting their own turf) to judge all projects equally, using ROI as the all important yardstick. Those organisations brave enough to go this route, will certainly reap the rewards.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

You can put a price on successful project management

Probably the first question out of most stakeholders’ mouths when it comes to an IT project is “how much is it going to cost?” And the spotlight on cost does not let up from the moment the project is conceived until it is delivered. Deservedly so, if you consider that, according to an industry study by the Standish Group, 71% of IT projects go over budget.

Essentially, IT project managers deal with two important cost components: human resources (labour) costs and non-labour related costs; and the project manager that understands and keeps firm control of the budget will have a definite advantage from the get-go.

It is vitally important to understand exactly how much each phase of the project is going to cost. And, in order to do this, you need to plan carefully; identifying exactly what must be done, who will do it, how long it will take and how much it could cost.

If this sounds simplistic, consider for a moment that a single project could encompass many ‘work packages’, each dealing with a different aspect of the project and involving different people.

The fact that the project manager is also juggling different aspects of the project adds to the challenge of managing the financial side of the project. Almost inevitably some slippage starts to creep in along the way and it may be necessary to invest more money to get the project back on track by, for instance, bringing in more people or paying extra for overtime work.

One way that the project manager (PM) can contain costs and keep to the project’s baseline (that is, the agreed duration and cost) is to juggle resources. A smart PM will explore creative (and non-monetary ways) to get the project back on track – like rewarding team members with time off once the pressure eases, instead of paying overtime; or letting a more junior team member, that earns less, take some of the load off.

A somewhat complicated, but valuable and underutilised theory that helps manage costs is “Earned Value Analysis”, which effectively provides a crystal ball for the project.

Earned Value Analysis ties the budget to the project schedule; establishes measurable means to track the project status; accounts not only for the money being spent but also for what is being accomplished with the expenditure; and allows in-process cost and schedule corrective action in time to favourably influence the project outcome.

Other tools that help with cost management are the Cost Performance Index and the Schedule Performance Index; but it is important that the proper tools are used. For instance, tracking cost performance management in an Excel spreadsheet will show you that you’re over budget but it won’t show you exactly where or how it could possibly be remedied.

At the end of the day, delivering a project within budget is a balancing act that requires keeping a close eye on both the baseline and the costs, and finding imaginative ways to ensure that these two important elements never shift too far apart.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

How to get your IT project off to the best possible start

When it comes to IT and business project management, one of the biggest challenges is that most people find it easy to see the ‘big picture’ but tend to overlook (or simply don’t understand) the complexities involved in taking the project from concept to delivery.

Workshops (and meetings of all sorts) are often fobbed off as time wasters, keeping people from the ‘real’ work that needs to be done.

A project definition workshop (PDW) gets a project off to a good start but often the company doesn’t have the in-house skill to run the workshop effectively. A PDW facilitated by a professional project management practitioner can, in essence, be distilled down to the old tailor’s maxim: measure thrice, cut once.

Even, and perhaps especially, companies intending to manage their projects internally can benefit from an externally facilitated PDW. The facilitator would brief participants beforehand on what preparation they would need to do prior to the workshop so that time at the workshop is spent proactively and productively.

The professional project management practitioner would start with the client’s output from a strategic point of view, taking the project from its high level vision to a well-structured project plan, based on the nine areas of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®). The time and money spent on such a PDW will be recouped many times over and the benefits include:

  • Development of a well-structured project schedule and documented project management plan including integration; scope; time; cost; quality; human resource; communication; risk management and procurement management plans.
  • Transfer of knowledge to project managers and other participants on how to run a successful PDW in future.
  • The introduction of good planning principles from the word go.
  • Clarifying the expectations of all stakeholders and adjusting these if necessary.
  • Identifying and allocating the proper resources needed for the project.

And it could not be simpler: at the end of the process the client could receive the project documentation in any number of formats; including Microsoft Word (project plan) and MS Project (project schedule). These documents can also be provided in XML format, which can be used in the client’s project planning tool of choice.

If the client doesn’t have the money (or desire) to hire a professional project manager, the workshop facilitator can be involved in the project on an on-going basis, reviewing the project and mentoring the in-house project manager. The value of an unbiased ‘monitor’ who is not affected by internal politics and pressures simply cannot be over stated.

There is no doubt that a professional project planning workshop reduces the risk, saves money and gets the project off to the best possible start. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.

The devil is in the detail…

Successful project delivery depends directly on the project manager’s ability to build an executable project plan that goes down to the requisite detail.

According to the PMBOK® (Project Management Body of Knowledge, issued by the Project Management Institute) definition, the project plan defines how the project is executed, monitored, controlled and closed. A key element of the project plan is the project schedule.

Believe it or not, there are still many organisations that think that a project schedule is little more than a sophisticated list, which can be set up on an Excel spreadsheet. While a spreadsheet can certainly list and detail the deliverables, it cannot calculate the impact of delays, extensions and changes along the way.

Undoubtedly, one of the key components of successful project management is the delivery of agreed outcomes, within the agreed time and cost. To achieve consistency, it’s vital to figure in the effect of delays, extensions or changes to the project schedule because even seemingly minor adjustments can have a domino effect, impacting on one or more deliverables and even the project’s ultimate outcome.

Using the appropriate project management software puts the project manager (PM) in the driving seat, providing a bird’s eye view of the schedule every step of the way, even as delays, extensions or changes come into play, which allows the PM to adapt and adjust the project schedule accordingly.

But, even with the right software in place, there are some key pitfalls to avoid when it comes to putting a project schedule in place:

  1. The project team – not the PM – must define the activities required to deliver a successful outcome. The PM doesn’t need to be an expert on what is being delivered by the project because a good PM will use subject matter experts on the team to build a comprehensive project schedule. However, it is helpful if the PM understands the subject matter to enable him to ask the right questions during the planning process.
  2. Wherever possible, progressive elaboration / task decomposition must continue breaking down assignments to the point where individual responsibility can be identified. When tasks have resources assigned down to individual level there is no confusion as to who is accountable.
  3. Keep up the project’s tempo with regular progress meetings and, as a rule of thumb, limit activity duration to a maximum of five days. If necessary, activities can be broken down into sections, with appropriate review points included along the way.
  4. Try to link all tasks to the project’s end date – either directly or via other tasks – otherwise progress cannot be properly tracked and something can get out of hand without the PM even knowing.
  5. All tasks must have a baseline – in other words, the agreed duration and cost – before the task is started.
  6. The project schedule must include the full scope of activities required to deliver the project including reviews, approvals and meetings.

In Alice in Wonderland, when Alice asks the Cheshire cat which way she ought to go, even though she doesn’t much care where she gets to, he sagely replies, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”.

Project management’s a lot like that: without an effective project schedule in place you probably won’t be heading in the right direction. Get the project schedule right and you’ve taken the first – and most important step – to a successful project.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.