Three things to ask yourself before leaving a project…

The end is in sight, deliverables have been approved, the team is starting to eye their next assignments, and your sponsor is likely breathing a huge sigh of relief.

But before you shut the door and move on to your next gig, here are three questions to reflect upon.

If we did not deliver the expected business outcomes, what could I have done different?

Projects fail to achieve their original expectations for a variety of reasons, many of which are outside of the control of the project team. But just because external factors or shortfalls from team members or other stakeholders might have been key contributing factors doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do some soul-searching to envision what might have been if we had taken a different course of action.

This reflection should happen frequently over the life of a project. Waiting till the end of a project to consider our own performance means we’ve likely missed some important learnings, but this final reflection provides the opportunity to consolidate the micro-lessons into one or two key calls for personal action.

Would I have wanted to work with me?

This second question moves us from the “what” to the “how”. The project may have been deemed a success by our customers, but do we have evidence to prove that team members or stakeholders enjoyed the journey? If not, was that related to how we treated them, especially when the going got tough?

Our ability to forge and grow positive relationships is the secret sauce towards our success as project managers, and if we left bruised egos and morale issues in our wake, we’ve lost the long game.

Did I further any of my personal goals through my work on this project?

We don’t manage projects just to get paid well or to have a fancy title. Many professions pay better and provide more glory if that is all we wish to achieve.

What higher purpose of ours did we progress through the project, and if the answer is “nothing”, isn’t that reason enough to question our choices? Perhaps this is an opportunity to identify specific outcomes that are aligned with our long term aspirations which we’d like to achieve in our next project.

Introspection will establish your personal continuous improvement from one project to the next.


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

PPM and Agile transformations are two birds of a feather…

At first glance you might think that there couldn’t be two organization transformations with greater difference than the adoption of project portfolio management (PPM) and the transition to agile delivery. After all, when problems occur, the former is often perceived as bureaucracy gone mad whereas the latter is negatively stereotyped as just do it chaos.

Both transformations have a lot more in common than you might think.

Both will fail if fundamental mindset and behavior changes don’t occur. Neither can succeed with just introduction of new practices or tools. The best portfolio prioritization scoring model or the most integrated sprint planning and reporting tool suite will merely provide evidence of dysfunction if behaviors don’t change. The shift for PPM requires staff at all levels to elevate organization strategy over personal pet projects and to recognize that optimizing the whole sometimes requires sub-optimizing a part. Agile requires a similar shift in thinking from centralized decision-making to embracing empowerment and self-organization. But once the right mindset has been cultivated, a parallel introduction of new procedures with appropriate supporting tools can increase the effectiveness of the change.

Both transformations require vigilance and ongoing coaching to ensure that backsliding does not occur. Without this, cargo cult behavior will be seen from both portfolio governance participants and agile teams. Re-emergence of stealth and zombie projects or multi-level decision-making and chronic over commitment and under delivery sprint-after-sprint are clear signs that discipline is lacking.

Top down and bottom up commitment is critical to both. Without the former, it is not possible to overcome political and financial obstacles and skipping the latter will usually be reflected through the reporting coming out of implemented tools as garbage in, garbage out.

You will be forced to evaluate organizational policies and structure beyond the obvious points of impacts. New roles such as portfolio managers, agile coaches and leads will emerge, and performance objectives and incentives will need to shift from individual achievement to portfolio or team achievement.

Finally, both transformations are journeys, not just destinations. No matter how efficient a company’s delivery practices or portfolio management practices get, there’s always room for improvement and instilling a culture of continuous improvement is superior to focusing on a few major changes.


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

Are you just following up or are you micromanaging?

Today’s Dilbert comic strip provides us with a good reminder of the fine line which exists between reasonable oversight of activities and micromanagement. Dilbert has allowed sufficient time to pass before seeking an update on a colleague’s assigned task only to find that it has been neglected due to a lack of following up. When Dilbert attempts to get commitment on a revised completion date, he’s accused of micromanaging the activity.

What is deemed a reasonable amount of oversight by a manager may be perceived as micromanagement by team members.

While some teams might possess sufficient psychological safety to embolden team members to voice their concerns, the culture within other organizations or teams might actively discourage this sort of straight talk. In such environments, the frustration felt by the team members festers resulting in impacts to their productivity and slowly poisoning team morale.

And this can become a vicious cycle as team members become progressively more disinclined to share updates with their leaders which results in even greater degrees of oversight.

So how can we avoid this?

It has to start with the leaders and team members collaboratively developing work management practices. If these practices get imposed by leaders or solely developed by team members they will never satisfy the needs of both parties. Early in the life of a project if the objectives for both sets of stakeholders are put on the table and an honest, frank discussion is held about principles governing how those objectives can be met, a set of practices which both sides buy into can be developed.

It also helps to make the oversight process as seamless as possible. Use of visual work support tools such as physical or online Kanban boards can shift the model from assigning work to team members to team members signing up to complete specific work items while simultaneously providing transparency into what’s done and what’s left to be done.

Finally, reducing cross-initiative multitasking can enable staff to complete tasks quicker and with higher quality while eliminating the need for managers to have to constantly follow up with team members to ensure that priorities haven’t shifted.

Micromanagement is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of the threshold test for obscenity : “I know it when I see it”. Given this subjectivity, it’s better to avoid getting being accused of it to begin with.


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

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