Don’t fear project governance!

imageOne of the traits of a good project manager is their ability to make effective use of governance processes and structures – both those setup specifically for their projects and those that operate over all projects.

So how can you do that?

Know the rules!  One of my favorite quotes from The Matrix is Morpheus’s guidance to Neo about the rules within the Matrix when they first square off within the training construct “Some of them can be bent, others can be broken“.  Just like Neo, it will take you some time to learn where flexibilities exist with organizational standards and policies, but you can reduce this duration by being well apprised of the written rules and knowing what flexibilities exist.  One example of this might be a progressive project funding model – while that is usually instituted to reduce sunk cost, there is also an incremental cost to the project team for submitting progressive funding requests, and on smaller projects, it might be better to explore whether the governance committee is willing to approve full funding up front. 

Remember Goldilocks!  Too little project governance isn’t desirable.  Decisions might get made fast, but they will also get reversed just as quickly, and you are likely to run afoul of one or more influential stakeholders.  Too much governance will mire your project in bureaucracy and will generate unnecessary waste.  Just as a well designed solution architecture is critical to having a successful agile technology project, spending the effort up front to design a well thought out governance process and supporting structure will avoid unnecessary rework later on.

Change is the only constant in the universe.  Just as your relationship with a pet dog will evolve over time as it matures from a puppy to an adult, governance practices and groups also should change.  A highly involved steering committee might be necessary in the early stages of a project as scope, approach and key structural decisions are being made.  But once the team is busy delivering to approved baselines, there may be no further need of such a steering committee and it might be perfectly reasonable for them to disband.  

You might be wondering how should I apply these suggestions?  

When in doubt, seek counsel from other project managers in your organization who have a successful delivery track record – chances are, a key contributor to their success was the ability to effectively leverage governance.

Effective project managers are able to exploit governance like a guard dog to protect them and to keep their projects healthy.  It doesn’t attack them or lead them astray because they understand it, respect it and know how to work with it.  Weak project managers are afraid of it – instead of focusing on how it can help them, they end up letting it dictate where they go for a walk instead of their providing that direction.  Be a governance whisperer!



Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Portfolio risks are not just the sum of all project risks!

basket of eggs isolated on the white backgroundCongratulations – you’ve organized your projects into a portfolio and have introduced standard practices for populating, evaluating and fine-tuning the portfolio.  You might even have acquired a tool to organize all that data and to help support your governance committees with their portfolio balancing responsibilities.

But what are you doing to address portfolio risk management?

If you are just gathering the high severity risks from across the active projects within the portfolio and reporting those in a consolidated fashion, then you are not really managing portfolio risk!

Just as a project risk is an uncertain event which could positively or negatively impact the expected outcomes for your project, a portfolio risk could affect the realization of overall portfolio benefits.  While there can be project risks which can impact portfolio outcomes, there are also portfolio-specific risks which transcend the context of all individual projects.

What are some examples of portfolio-level risks?

Investing in the “wrong” project – opportunity cost is a significant threat at the portfolio-level as the wrong funding decisions will have a greater impact on realizing a company’s strategic objectives.  This is a risk both during project selection and prioritization but also for ongoing evaluation of active projects.  An inability to effectively write off sunk costs and overcome optimism bias increases the likelihood of this risk being realized.

Ineffective talent planning – financial resources might be available to fund project investments, but if the right team members are not available at the right time, business value realization is delayed or could be lost altogether when faced with “first to market” situations.

Extinction events – while a single project always has some potential to irreparably hurt the company, executing the wrong strategic plan could result in much greater damage.  Portfolio managers need to assess the overall financial, regulatory or reputational risks from their investment decisions.

Poor portfolio balance – achieving the right balance between risk and reward and diversifying investments across investment categories is not an easy task.  Over-conservative investments will not only yield low returns, it may also doom a company’s future.  On the other hand, too aggressive investments or a predominant focus on one sector is equivalent to going all in on a poker hand.

High-level processes for portfolio risk management might be similar to those for project risk management but it involves different inputs, participants and practices.

Ignore portfolio risk management and you may find that the whole is less than the sum of the parts!



Categories: Project Portfolio Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Tell me a story if you’d like to convince me!

imageAnalogy can be a powerful method of getting a point across. Many ancient tales such as Aesop’s Fables found a way to educate the reader while they were being entertained.

Think back to your own childhood – some of the best teachers you had were probably the ones who were able to make learnings come to life through storytelling. This trend continues today and is seen in the business writings of Lencioni where parable replaces dull preaching.

I’ve used the technique a number of times myself in this blog to share my views on project and change management, and I have found that the beauty of the approach is that there is an unlimited number of sources that can be drawn upon for inspiration.

But do we leverage its power effectively in our project interactions?

I’m sure you’ll agree that one of the more challenging facets of project management, even in projectized organizations, is the management of stakeholders who are not positively inclined towards your project.

Normally, when trying to align these stakeholders towards the project’s expected outcomes and approach, it can be tempting to overcome their resistance with analytical or logical presentation of benefits.

While this approach might sway a neutral stakeholder, it won’t usually work on an antagonistic one. If anything, such a direct approach is likely to make them strengthen their position. They will need to feel that you understand where they are coming from and then they need to come to the same understanding as you have without feeling like they are being pushed.

This is where the power of storytelling might help out as you might be able to find the right analogy to establish common ground.

However, there are two prerequisites for this to work.

You need to have taken the time to learn about the stakeholder (as an individual, not as a group!) including an understanding of their needs and values.

You also need to have a broad base of content to draw upon – the more your read, and the more diverse the range of topics you learn about, the easier it will be to find that analogy.

So the next time you are having trouble convincing a tough stakeholder, tell them a story!

Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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