Tag Archives: project management

Provocation: Managing What?

As a project manager, your job is to manage your project; right?

Well, sort of, I suppose.

There is one circumstance where that is nearly true, and we’ve all been there. You know… those projects where you are the project manager, the project team, and you have to make your own tea or coffee. A solo project.

Even then; you still have to manage yourself, your time, your energy, and your discipline.

But let’s say you’ve gone beyond solo projects. What should you be managing?

  • The scoping negotiations
  • The planning and programming
  • The budgeting and business case
  • The specification and change control
  • The pilot
  • Delivery
  • The risk register
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Testing and remediation
  • Handover and sign-off
  • Project review and closure

Do you see the picture yet? You cannot manage all that, no matter how good you are. It’s too much.

Your job, as a project manager, is to manage the people of the project.

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Three Factors Common to All Projects

I’ve worked on projects for a diverse range of industries – including government, third sector, and global businesses, and in a recent interview, I was asked if there are any commonalities I came up against.

I think there are more things in common than not; after all, projects are a human enterprise and people are pretty much the same anywhere.  I would highlight three main themes.

The Need for Control

Wherever there are projects and project managers, the central concern is always to bring control to a complex and uncertain environment.  Project managers have found numerous ways but increasingly, I am seeing a strong desire for the organisation to improve its governance procedures to seize control at a strategic level.  This can only be right, ensuring precious and limited resources are properly deployed to build valuable assets for the future.

One of my signature phrases in keynotes, seminars and training is that what project managers crave, above all else, is control. I see the discipline of project management as being about imposing control on a large, unfamiliar, complex and novel environment. This is why all of my training and writing emphasises the need to create control – including my latest book: How to Manage a Great Project, in which I the eight simple steps to do just that.

Risks and Mistakes

I also see similar risks and the same mistakes being made across all sectors. The biggest difference here is the lesser ability of the statutory and regulated sectors to hide their mistakes under the carpet.   Good example is the sunk cost trap – the implicit political (with a small p) decision to keep going with projects that are no longer viable or just no longer valuable.  The fear of losing face dominates the waste of future resources.  The private sector can more effectively hide the unwanted assets in the back of a cupboard, and lose the wasted expenditure in large, amorphous budget headings.  For all the right reasons, the public sector’s mistakes are subject to greater scrutiny.

Blogger and project manager, Glen Alleman, describes risk management as the way grown-ups manage projects and I agree. Risk management needs to be far more clearly recognised in the project management community as a sophisticated and valuable discipline. This is why I wrote Risk Happens!– to provide a resource for everyday project managers (not just those managing the mega projects that can afford a risk specialist) to learn more about practical day-to-day project risk management tools and techniques.

The Importance of Stakeholders

In all sectors it is stakeholders and stakeholder engagement that need to take centre stage, along with risk management, in a mature project management culture. Too often, project managers are still over-immersed in the technical and programmatic details of their project and then wonder why users, bystanders and even customers don’t like the outcomes.

I am committed to seeing this change, which is why my next book, The Influence Agenda (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2014, will be about project stakeholder engagement. In this, I include sections on creating a stakeholder engagement culture and on ethical stakeholder engagement.   At its heart, however, just like in Risk Happens!, I have tried to create a core of practical day-to-day tools and techniques to act as a resource for project managers and project team members who do not have a communications background.

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton.Risk Happens! by Mike Clayton.The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

The Monitor and Control Cycle

A short (around two and a half minutes) video blog, introducing the monitor and control cycle, the beating heart of your project during the delivery stage. It is fully described in my new book, How to Manage a Great Project.

How to Manage a Great Project

Go to the How to Manage a Great Project website

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon.com

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

The Risk Management Process

A short (under two minutes) video blog, introducing the simple four step process for managing project risk, fully described in my new book, How to Manage a Great Project.

How to Manage a Great Project

Go to the How to Manage a Great Project website

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon.com

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

10 Things you can do, to Get Project Governance Right: Part 2

Last week, I started my look at ten simple and highly time/cost-effective ways to strengthen your project governance. Here are numbers 6 to 10.

6. A Regular and Comprehensive Status Report

This can be expensive and time consuming, but you need to consider that overhead against the benefits a short, well-structure, current and incisive report can give to you the project manager, to your sponsor and to all decision-makers and stakeholders.

Always build your reports bottom-up starting from the data. This is the best way to avoid ‘confirmation bias’. Confirmation bias happens when you start with your Project Manager’s Assessment summary and then cherry pick the evidence to support your reading of the situation. You are far too unlikely to spot and consider the one piece of deviant, dis-confirming evidence.

7. Real Authority

Make sure that your project team as a whole has real authority to make changes in your organisation, backed up by a powerful governance hierarchy. If the change is important, that authority is merited. If the change is not important, then the project is not merited: cancel it. Only this way, with sufficient authority, can your project management function rise above the petty ‘local politics’ that most organisations suffer from..

8. Project Validation Reviews

If you were surprised last week to read that I have only been commissioned by four organisations to train their project sponsors, then I have only been commissioned once to train project reviewers. And then, I was commissioned not by a project, programme or change management function, but by a senior internal audit manager.

Validate your project by getting a fresh pair of eyes to look over the basics of what you are doing and the quality and performance that are the result. This need not involve calling external resources like your friendly neighbourhood auditors or consultants – nor even by calling me. Find an experienced project manager in your organisation and invite them in to help. If you are feeling daring and want the best value, challenge them to find:

  • three examples of bad practice
  • three sources of significant waste
  • three defects or accidents waiting to happen
  • three examples of exemplary performance
  • three things you should be celebrating
  • three people you should be talking to

9. Attention to Stakeholders

This last point reminds me that you should always give more attention to winning over your stakeholders than you would expect. And this is not because stakeholder engagement will be the subject of my next book (sneak peak). Think about the governance benefits of:

  1. Wider consultation and therefore stronger scrutiny of your ideas
  2. Higher levels of support for what you are doing
  3. Formal approval from a wide range of non-mandatory stakeholders

10. Remove Bureaucracy

Yup, I did say ‘remove bureaucracy’. Inexperienced project managers often assume project management involves a lot of bureaucracy and form-filling. It should not. Remove all bureaucracy that has no value for your project or programme. The only reason to keep an element of form-filling is either:

  • it will help you to deliver your project on budget, on target and on time, or
  • it will help you do so in a transparent and accountable manner

Stakeholder Triage

A short (under three minutes) video blog, introducing the stakeholder triage tool that can help you understand, prioritise and prepare a strategy for how you engage with your stakeholders. It is fully described in my new book, How to Manage a Great Project.

How to Manage a Great Project

Go to the How to Manage a Great Project website

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon.com

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

10 Things you can do, to Get Project Governance Right

You may feel that strong project governance is not for you. After all, it’s not that big a project, and setting up governance structures is time-consuming and maybe costly too. But there’s an old adage:

“If you want to really understand the cost of doing something properly, look at the cost of doing it wrong”

Okay, so I may have made that old adage up myself, but I am pretty sure there is one quite like it that I couldn’t find (if you know it, I’d welcome the help in the comments section below).

Anyway, size of project is a poor indicator of the value of good governance: a better one is the impact of success – or failure. High impact projects and changes merit greater scrutiny to ensure you get them right.

And I don’t accept the assertion that good governance needs to be either expensive nor heavily time-consuming. It is a matter of choosing the right components of governance for your project and your culture. Here are ten simple and highly time/cost-effective ways to strengthen your project governance.

1. Start with a Business Case

Ensure that the business imperative and investment appraisal are properly documented and signed off. If you will rely on directors, managers or officers of your organisation to deliver some of the planned benefits from the changes or products your project creates, state this explicitly in your business case:

Mr/Ms A is responsible for these actions […]
and therefore for creating this [£xxx] benefit

Now create real commitment: print off a specimen copy and have each Mr or Ms A sign against their responsibility. Make this a Board paper at the highest level of your organisation and schedule dates at which the Board will review outcomes.

2. High Calibre Project or Programme Sponsor

My friend and colleague Ron Rosenhead is a co-author of Strategies for Project Sponsorship – the first book I am aware of to start to examine the roles of project sponsors in practical way. There is lots of good advice for sponsors and project managers, but the whole topic needs to start with organisations valuing projects enough to allocate the best people to oversee the most important projects, and to support and train them to discharge their role. To date, only four (very fine) organisations have commissioned me to train project sponsors – among many hundreds for whom I have trained their project managers. What does that tell us?

3. Decision-making and Oversight

The two core project governance roles are decision-making and oversight (choosing the right things to do and making sure they are done right). For bigger projects, no one sponsor has all of the skills to carry out all of this. There are two scenarios, depending upon the way your organisation chooses to impose accountability:

  1. The sponsor carries all of the responsibility for these two, but needs to draft in a governance body (project board, steering group, executive committee) to support them
  2. The sponsor does not have the clout to exercise full responsibility and sits as one member (maybe the chair of) a governance body (project board, steering group, executive committee) that makes the decisions and carries out oversight

Either way – select the members of your governing body with care, to ensure all of the skills you need are present and everyone has the time and commitment to put in the work. The illustration below is taken from my recent book, How to Manage a Great Project.

Project Governance Roles

4. Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Every key player or governance role needs documented and agreed roles and responsibilities. For a small project, this could simply be a short listing, emailed from the Project Manager to the Sponsor, for their agreement by email. There are sample role descriptions for you to download from the resources page of my Manage a Great Project website, under Step 3.

Sample project management role descriptions

5. A Structured Induction for Team Members

Oh, how I hate the word induction in the context of what we should just call ‘welcoming’ team members. (Let’s save the word induction for use by electrical engineers and obstetricians). Whatever word you choose, welcome new team members, set out their responsibilities, show them the ropes and set-up any training they need. If this does not sound much like governance to you, remember, that governance means steering: the kubernator of an ancient Greek trireme was the steersman.

6. …

Hold your horses; that’s enough for one week. The next six things you can do to get project governance right will be next week.