The project management cup is not always half empty!

 A lot of what I’ve written has focused on the challenges of our profession that it can be easy to lose sight of upside which exists on nearly all projects.

While I still recommend that companies should hire project managers who have the wisdom to have learned lessons from the scars on their backs, the dark side of such hard experience gained is cynicism and the inability to exploit the upside on the risk curve.

I’m not advocating unfettered optimism – I’m sure you’ve worked with more than enough sponsors and team members who demonstrate that failing!

It’s always a good idea to assess and prepare for the potential down side of a situation, but unless you truly believe that you are cursed, you should expect that for every time your toast lands butter side down, it is also likely to land right side up once in a while.

The calluses which build up in battle-hardened project managers can, if left unchecked, result in outcomes such as delaying decision-making in the hopes of eliminating all uncertainty but resulting in missed opportunity, losing the trust of team membrs by crushing their creativity  during brainstorming or design sessions, and by infuriating key stakeholders by constantly pushing back on requests or changes.

So what are some ways you can overcome this?

  • Request a trusted colleague to let you know when you might be becoming too much of a curmudgeon
  • Start off team meetings by asking team members to share one positive thing which occurred since the last meeting
  • Keep an opportunities log – use it to record potential wins
  • Start with “why” instead of starting with “but” – be mindful of how much you use the latter word when someone asks you for something

We spend so much effort in building a case supported by the thousands of things which could go wrong that we ignore the ways in which it could be right. 

When a man is convinced he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen. The only one who can turn this around is you.” – Guinan


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

Is organizational PM maturity driven from without more than from within?

tongue-stuckWhen it comes to the use of generally accepted good project management practices, why do so few companies achieve even a reasonable level of maturity?

It can’t be through a lack of awareness as significant effort has been spent by associations such as PMI in evangelizing the benefits of the discipline. Dire statistics on the frequency and costs of project failure on organizations and national economies have been highly publicized so the truth is out there.

So what encourages this mediocrity?

In those markets where companies operate with razor thin margins or where there is fierce competition from both traditional and non-traditional firms, effective project management can be the difference between continued viability and filing Chapter 11. Similarly, for organizations which make the bulk of their revenue from project work, project management is no longer competitive advantage – it’s table stakes.

But in those verticals that are product or process driven, and where there’s enough revenue to go around, the costs of change outweigh the perceived incremental benefits of effective project management.

In addition to lacking a sense of true urgency, another contributing factor is the “we are different” (occasionally stated as “we are special”) hallucination.

While this is often evident in small organizations which have grown organically, it’s equally present in very large organizations that become isolated from what’s going on outside their walls (and don’t want to let the outside in). While industry benchmarks and inside intel from other companies in their industry might suggest the need for change, a culture of lotus eaters can be very difficult to disrupt.

They might hire talent from the outside in the hopes of bringing in fresh views, but if those newcomers aren’t encouraged to voice their opinions and challenge the status quo, evolution is futile. If the company’s press releases and sermons from Olympus claim that “all is well”, why would there be a need to change anything?

People usually learn more from mistakes or failure than they do through foresight.

For every child who has listened to his mother, there’ll be a few more who just have to see if their tongues really do stick to frozen poles.

Why should companies be any different?




Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

When will we reach PM 2.0?

futureDr. Harold Kerzner’s latest book, Project Management 2.0, provides a thorough comparison between the practices of the past five decades and those of the current one.

Many of the practices which Dr. Kerzner has identified as PM 2.0 are those which we are already intimately familiar with. These include governance by committee instead of by a single sponsor, moving beyond the triple constraint when evaluating project success, and eschewing rigid “one size fits all” methodologies in favor of those which are flexible and can be adapted to fit the needs of specific projects and organization cultures.

The book covers other practices which are still a work in progress for companies including the shift from generating large volumes of largely administrative paperwork as the only means of assessing project progress to objective, automated data-driven reporting as well as the evolution from narrowly focused enterprise project management measurement systems to ones which are value-based incorporating benefits measurement and assessing the impact of trade-offs.

However, there are others which seem very far off in the future for those companies who haven’t reached higher levels of organizational project management maturity.

These include:

  • Project dedication – while it is proven that multitasking reduces and setting up persistent teams increases throughput, functional dedication continues to dominate organization structures. While functional organization is good for operational work, it increases complexity for projects.
  • Effective project termination – the mindset that once a project has commenced it must be allowed to complete is still prevalent. The realization that project completion is meaningless if value is not generated is still not mainstream.
  • Executive recognition of the value of project management – while organizations invest in career paths for titled project managers and establish PMOs and communities of practice, this is often done grudgingly and without the recognition that effective project management creates competitive advantage and hence should be encouraged as a core competency to be possessed by the majority of staff.

One practice which stood out as clearly contrary to current practices is the involvement of project managers in project selection, evaluation  and portfolio prioritization and balancing activities.

In many of the companies I’ve worked with, a project manager usually gets assigned to a project once the decision has been taken to proceed. Occasionally, project managers get engaged during ideation to help sponsors articulate their project’s vision appropriately to satisfy entrance criteria. However, rarely have I witnessed a project manager who has significant influence over intake or priority decisions.

Some of this relates to leadership perception of the role of project management, but it also has a lot to do with a project manager’s focus on developing hard and soft skills which can reduce time available to master business processes. Without the latter, it will be difficult for a project manager to go “toe to toe” with a business stakeholder on intake or prioritization decisions.

Dr. Kerzner has painted an encouraging picture of the near future of project management, but the changes in behavior required to achieve that end state are significant.

A journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.” – Laozi

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

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