Author Archives: Kiron Bondale

About Kiron Bondale

Measurable business value can be realized through the successful initiation, prioritization, planning & execution of strategic projects. Striking a pragmatic, value-based balance between people, process & technology is a key to achieving success with Project Portfolio Management initiatives. Effective change management is crucial when trying to improve PPM or PM capabilities. Having been involved with multiple capability improvement initiatives, what I've learned is that "it's easy in theory, difficult in practice"! Continuous improvement of hard & soft skills gained by assisting organizations in the achievement of their business goals through the execution of the right projects in the right way is my ongoing mission.

Keeping “Why?” front of mind

HBR published an article this week reinforcing the importance of purpose for building engagement and creating high performance with project work. Twelve years ago, Daniel Pink doubled down on purpose with his book Start with Why and made it part of his intrinsic motivation triad.

Making sure that a project’s purpose is clear, well understood, and shared by key stakeholders is critical but all too often that valuable information is hidden like the Ark of the Covenant in that secret government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark and it is left to each individual to locate it.

Kick-off meetings provide a good opportunity to remind attendees of the project’s purpose but those are normally just held at the beginning of a project or phase and our memories of what we had heard tend to fade with time.

While forgetting what was the purpose underlying our project is likely to sap our enthusiasm for continuing to work on it, there are at least two other risks that this amnesia generates.

  1. Without a clear understanding of why we are investing in the project it will be more difficult to convince stakeholders that a requested change is not needed to achieve the expected outcomes. As such, the potential for scope creep (or leap) increases.
  2. Worse yet, if there are environmental or other contextual changes which decrease or even eliminate the project’s benefits we might not be aware of this and hence are less likely to warn key decision makers that they may want to reassess the project’s viability.

This is why it is important that we keep the project’s purpose top of mind for our team and other key stakeholders. The more people who remain aware of it, the greater the likelihood that at least one of them will detect that one of these two risks is about to be realized.

But how should we go about doing that?

Using multiple complementary methods of reinforcing purpose will help as there are likely to be differences in how each stakeholder re-learns things.

Capturing it in a short but impactful information radiator such as a project canvas which could be posted in prominent locations online and in the physical world is one option, but so is having the sponsor, or better yet a real, live customer create a video or come and visit the team to talk about it regularly. Reminding everyone of the project’s purpose during key team events such as retrospectives or post-milestone reviews will help. Distilling it down to a slogan and printing that on t-shirts, coffee mugs or mouse pads will also help to keep it front and center.

Lewis Carroll might have said “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there“, but forgetting why we are doing a project is a good way to ensure that road leads to nowhere.

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)

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Trick or Treat – project management lessons from Halloween!

It is still more than three weeks till Halloween but stores have already sold most of their spooky selections and are starting to put their Christmas stock out on the shelves. This Halloween may generate more anticipation than in previous years since last year’s festivities were curtailed in many cities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Halloween holds a special place in my heart as it provides an opportunity for everyone to express their creativity. For the kids, they get a chance to dress up as their favorite heroes or villains while us adults get the chance to decorate our homes in readiness for the hallowed night.

To put you in the mood for October 31, here are a few project management lessons derived from Halloween.

Less is more

It can be tempting to go over the top with decorations in the theme of Clark Griswold’s lighting excesses in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation but resist. Remember that the best scares come from what isn’t seen but is implied.

When your stakeholders are trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into a project’s scope, help them to focus on the minimum required to achieve the expected outcomes. This will help to contain costs, reduce risks and deliver value sooner.

A little risk management goes a long way

It might be urban legend, but do you really want to bite into a piece of candy and find a pin or some other nasty foreign object inside? Waiting till we get home and have our parents’ check our loot is a safe, simple practice. Wear whatever costume you want, but make sure there are some reflector strips so that drivers will see you as you are running across the street.

To be effective, risk management needs to be perceived as adding value and pragmatic. If you have to do a hard sell to convince your stakeholders to respond to risks, it’s likely you who are doing something wrong.

Plan, but be willing to change your plans

Prior experience in a neighborhood helps kids to plan their trick or treating routes to receive the maximum goodies for the minimum effort. But it is also possible that over the course of a year, the treat supply dynamics can change as people move. As such, it is a good idea to stay in touch with our buddies so that if they are getting handsomely rewarded on their streets while ours is a bust we can head their way.

A plan is only as good as the assumptions supporting it. When those assumptions have been invalidated, we need to be egoless about the plan itself and change it to better reflect reality.

Follow these simple lessons if you’d like the project management Great Pumpkin to reward you this Halloween!

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)

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Does a fully predictive life cycle ever make sense for a project?

One of the misconceptions I like to clear up with learners in the project management fundamentals courses I teach is that there is no such thing as a “waterfall” or “agile” project. Stakeholders might choose to use a predictive or adaptive life cycle or specific methods associated with either of these approaches for delivering the scope of their project, but using these terms as an adjective furthers the erroneous perception that there are only two options available to us. In reality, there are an unlimited number of ways of delivering a project when you consider the wide variety of method, tool, role and life cycle choices available.

But let’s consider the purely predictive life cycle. A basic assumption of this life cycle is that when we have completed one stage of delivery there won’t be an opportunity to return to that stage again.

But projects are unique endeavors possessing uncertainty. Even operational processes which are in control will experience common and special cause variation.

And as the complexity of a project increases, the level of uncertainty does as well. How many times have you been on any moderately complex project where nothing substantially changed over its lifetime? Faced with change, if we don’t provide the opportunity to iterate back, the project is unlikely to meet all of its success criteria. Any project manager that stubbornly refuses to alter their plans to address the new reality they are facing won’t be in that role for long.

Even Dr. Winston Royce had provided this caution in his 1970 paper “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems” about a pure waterfall approach without iterations: “I believe in this concept, but the implementation described above is risky and invites failure.” As readers of the PMBOK Guide know, the processes in the PMBOK framework are iterative in nature. Finally, the term “waterfall” itself is inaccurate as going over one of those in real life is usually a one way trip!

So the question is not whether or not we will incorporate change into our plans, but rather about the level of effort which we should expend on planning up front. With projects where uncertainty is low, team member experience is high, and we are able to control many sources of variation, we can develop high confidence plans for the entire life of the project whereas with others, a rolling wave approach to planning is wiser with our time horizon for detailed planning being defined by how foggy the road is in front of our headlights.

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)

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

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