Posts Tagged With: improving project management

Control partners should have skin in the game!

I finally completed reading Nassim Taleb‘s book Skin in the Game which I had written about in a recent article.

In that piece I had applied his principles when comparing the benefits of a product-centric orientation to the project-centric model which is still found in many organizations. But after finishing the book, I realized that there is a much more compelling example of the challenges experienced with risk asymmetry in many large organizations, namely with those staff who are responsible for developing the policies, standards and methods used by teams for delivering projects or products.

In small companies, how a product gets developed and delivered is usually defined by a “Big Brain” (e.g. a solution owner or similar role) or developed collaboratively by those actually building the solution. But as the size of the organization increases and stakes get higher, control partners emerge to influence not only what but how production occurs.

Where things get difficult is when these control partners do not experience first-hand the downside of their decisions.

For example, in some companies, project management standards are set by a centralized department such as a PMO. While some delivery roles such as program or project managers might report in to the same PMO, there are staff whose sole focus will be to define and maintain standards. As those staff are not in a project delivery role, even if they possess years of practical experience, as they won’t themselves have to use the templates and tools which they have developed, they don’t have true skin in the game. Delivery staff may complain to control partners about how onerous or non-value add specific practices are, but there is little direct impact to them.

There are a couple of ways to rectify this situation:

  • Serving in such control functions could be a rotational responsibility. After someone has spent a reasonable amount of time in a control role, they should be required to spend an equal amount of time in a delivery role. This will also help them better identify patterns and anti-patterns specific to a given context.
  • Introduce performance measures and incentives for control staff which are tied to the impacts created by their work as opposed to just the completion of this work. For example, quantifying the cost of control or conducting regular satisfaction surveys with delivery staff are two methods in which we could bring back skin in the game.

Method makers and framework formulators – practice what you preach!




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

Kano and perception minus expectations

For many years, my personal e-mail signature has been a quote from David Maister’s book on professional service management: “Customer satisfaction = Perception – Expectations“. This formula simply but elegantly captures how we feel when our expectations are either exceeded (or the opposite) when acquiring a product or receiving a service.

The Kano model provides a theory for product development and customer satisfaction. In an earlier article, I tried to connect this model and project management, but having just experienced an example of how past experiences can impact expectations and perceptions, I felt a follow up piece on Kano was warranted.

As a refresher, Kano’s original model provided four broad categories for product features: Must-be, attractive, one-dimensional and indifferent. I will describe these and provide examples from the personal automotive industry.

  • Must-be attributes are sometimes referred to as hygiene factors as they must be part of a product or service but gold-plating won’t result in greater satisfaction. Seat belts on a car are one example of these.
  • Indifferent features are those which don’t positively or negatively impact customer satisfaction regardless of their presence or absence. Fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror would likely fall into this category for the majority of car owners.
  • One-dimensional attributes are those which demonstrate a linear relationship to customer satisfaction. Seating surfaces in a car are one example of these. While I will be happier having leather seats than cloth seats, I am not likely to be exponentially happier.
  • The final category is attractive which are often referred to as delighters. These are those attributes which are unexpected but will excite or delight a customer. Heated steering wheels for purchasers in colder climates were an example of these a couple of years back.

While this categorization is helpful and can be used to support product feature decision making, the theory also suggests that over time, attributes we used to find attractive become one-dimensional and might even drop into the must-be category.

I spent the past week relaxing at a Caribbean resort. This was my third trip to the same resort and a contributing factor in the decision to return a third time as well as the reason I had strongly promoted this resort to others was the magnitude of recognition I had been shown upon my second visit last year. This recognition far exceeded any expectations I might have had so the specific nature of the recognition clearly fell into the attractive category.

Given how far my perceptions had exceeded my expectations on my second visit you can understand why I would have similar expectations for a third visit. The attractive had now become a one-dimensional. Unfortunately, reality fell short of expectations and while my overall experience at the resort was pleasant, I still felt let down.

Past perceptions set expectations.

If you delight your customers once but fail to do so on subsequent transactions, don’t be surprised if they are dissatisfied with otherwise acceptable levels of service.

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Justify yourself!

A project manager asked me this week whether I was aware of any studies which could be used to justify the assignment of a “real” project manager to manage a project as opposed to having this function performed by someone else within a team. While I’m sure PMI and other project management associations have researched this thoroughly, I felt this would be a good topic for an article.

In some companies, such justification is not needed on a project by project basis. Organization policies or standards might require that projects exceeding a given estimated total cost or those that are over a certain level of complexity must have a project manager assigned. However even in these companies if perceptions fester that the role isn’t adding value, standards owners may be pressured to raise the thresholds at which project managers are required.

But in those companies where such standards do not exist, the battle might need to be fought at an individual project level. Convincing the funding authorities for these projects that a project manager is needed could be done in a couple of ways.

A fear-based approach might be used. This requires creating a sense of urgency by highlighting data from project failures or by communicating the personal risks to the stakeholder if something were to go wrong as a result of not having a project manager assigned. A decision tree could be used to compare the expected cost outcomes of both sides of the decision. While this might seem to be a reasonable approach, unless you are dealing with a particularly risk averse stakeholder, optimism bias is likely to cause the sponsor to ignore your arguments.

A different approach might focus on promoting the upsides of using a project manager. While this approach will be much harder to justify using financial projections, it doesn’t put the sponsor in the uncomfortable position of having to imagine their pet project failing and the emphasis is on showing the incremental benefits which they might achieve by having a project manager. Increased outcome predictability, improved communications, better focus by other team members on delivery, higher levels of stakeholder and team member engagement are just some examples of the advantages which could be communicated.

Regardless of a company’s level of organizational project management maturity, ensuring that the costs incurred by a project manager are providing some value in return is important otherwise it shouldn’t be a surprise if sponsors push back on the need to assign one.

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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