What are some of the underlying causes of ineffective project risk management?

Since I first started to learn about project management, risk management has always fascinated me.

That characteristic of uniqueness which separates operations from project work introduces uncertainties which, in turn, generate risks. Most mega-project case studies give credit to an effective risk management approach as a key contributor towards their success. But in spite of this, risk management continues to be one of the weakest practiced knowledge areas in the PMBOK.

If eternal optimism is the prevailing mindset within a company, it can be difficult for risk owners to envision things not going according to plan. What has always intrigued me is how the same leadership teams which can be moderately effective at implementing operations or business risk capabilities will be so much weaker when it comes to project risk management.  A risk averse culture will take a long time to change for an overall organization, but a project manager should be able to influence it within the ecosystem of their projects.

Unhealthy levels of multitasking by project teams and stakeholders result in those practices perceived as unnecessary being jettisoned or being given lip service only. If a team barely has time to deliver the scope of their project, how can they or equally busy risk owners be expected to expend any real efforts on considering or responding to potentialities which may never be realized? And, if we combine this limited availability with “one size fits all” approaches to project risk management, it is no wonder that many teams will do the absolute bare minimum required to meet onerous governance requirements.

If team members and other stakeholders don’t know what effective project risk management looks like, how can they be expected to improve? If there are no coaches to help teams improve their capabilities, improvements in risk management will rarely happen organically. Competent risk management requires exceptional interpersonal skills in addition to some basic technical skills, so hands-on practice with feedback from seasoned practitioners is needed to improve.

Finally, there might not be a realization of the positive correlation between effective risk management and successful project outcomes. In the absence of supporting internal empirical data or strong pressure from the outside to create a valid sense of urgency, senior leaders and project teams will be unwilling to sustainably invest in the required behavior and practice changes.

Providing practitioners with risk management training or evolving project delivery standards might help in some small way, but real improvements will only come when these root causes are addressed.

 

 

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Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

PMI plus Disciplined Agile might be a marriage made in Heaven

The announcement of the acquisition of Disciplined Agile (DA) by PMI is almost a month old so I thought I would share my thoughts on it.

There is no doubt that PMI has been flirting with agile progressively over the past decade. The launch of the PMI-ACP credential, the addition of adaptive life cycle considerations to the PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition and the release of the Agile Practice Guide were all signs of this growing interest.

However, PMI suffers from being perceived as a champion of bureaucratic, traditional approaches to business value delivery which has generated a fair bit of cynicism from the agile community. The partnership with the Agile Alliance which led to the development and publication of the Agile Practice Guide were viewed by some as a unhealthy dalliance or a marriage of convenience.

Correcting perceptions and developing sufficient intellectual property (IP) would have taken PMI many years to do organically so acquiring legitimate thought leadership, credibility and IP was the better strategic move. A key decision was to choose either a method-centric (e.g. SAFe, LeSS) or method-agnostic (e.g. Disciplined Agile, Modern Agile) organization. Given the need to address a global market with varied needs, agnosticism won out.

There are a number of potential advantages to PMI, DA and practitioners.

PMI now has the ability to incorporate the significant intellectual property of DA within their knowledge base and by doing so, enhance the value proposition of their standards and practice guides. While tailoring considerations were minimally explored in the PMBOK® Guide, Sixth Edition, they can now go much deeper by leveraging the DA process decision-making framework. PMI can also expand the breadth of their credentials and by doing so, will add credibility to the existing DA ones. Given the strategic relationships which PMI’s senior leadership has forged with major global corporations, this acquisition will open doors for DA which might not have been possible otherwise which in turn might accelerate the evolution of DA. It is also an opportunity for the DA framework to go beyond technology delivery.

But there are some risks, including the dilution of thought leadership, the obsolescence of existing credentials and the risk of PMI actively competing with partners (e.g. Registered Education Providers). PMI might also make the mistake of not fully integrating DA into their offerings which would limit the benefits realized from this acquisition.

If there is a single piece of advice I’d like to pass along to PMI & DA, it is from Audrey Hepburn: “If I get married, I want to be very married.

 

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

How open are YOU to changing your launch plans?

During the last week PMI announced that, based on the feedback they had received from stakeholders, they would be delaying the significant changes to the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam which had originally planned to be launched in mid-December 2019 to July 1, 2020.

When I first read this, I felt a burst of vicarious relief for those exam candidates who were likely experiencing a lot of stress with the original date.

I have no doubt that this was the right decision for PMI to take.

The proposed changes to the exam are likely to be more significant than others made over the past decade. With the last batch of changes to the exam having been implemented in March 2018, a significant update within two years will not only cause candidates angst but will also reduce the return on investment for the study materials which training companies would have so recently updated.

After further reflection I realized there are some good lessons in change management with this decision:

  • As a not-for-profit association, stakeholder satisfaction may be more crucial to PMI than if they were a for profit entity, but regardless, they have been very proactive at communicating both the rationale and the scope of proposed changes even though these announcements were likely to upset certain the stakeholders. Often, while considering a disruptive change, our temptation might be to avoid communicating anything until there is a full understanding about the impacts but that usually won’t give stakeholders sufficient time to react to the information.
  • They were open to hearing negative feedback about the changes. It’s easy for leaders to say that they are willing to hear criticism about a change they have championed but much harder to take it when it happens.
  • PMI decision makers were willing to make a change late in the game for the right reasons. I’m used to seeing leaders’ appetite for change drop drastically as a proposed implementation date draws near. This makes sense as change deliverables need to be sufficiently stable before a launch date, but if there is evidence that the benefits of sticking to a date will be outweighed by the impacts of a premature launch, leaders should be willing to accept some near term embarrassment in order to realize a more sustainable outcome.

I have no idea who was the decision maker at PMI who pushed for this delay to the launch date, but this demonstrates the sort of good judgment which we should demand from change leaders.

 

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

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