Posts Tagged With: PM compliance issues

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

So you think your company has high organizational project management maturity?

worldclassI’ve written a lot about the criticality of organizational project management maturity in increasing the likelihood of complex projects delivering expected value within approved baselines.

Without a modest level of organizational support, the most capable project managers will find themselves hamstrung by weak project sponsors, turf protecting resource managers and distracted, overwhelmed team members. On the other hand, organizations at a higher level of maturity will enable novice project managers to succeed by giving them the right tools, support and guidance to develop.

But what does a higher level of organizational project management maturity look like?

If we took the approach used by many maturity model-based assessments, we’d be checking for the existence of higher level processes. But existence of processes doesn’t prove capability. So perhaps we need to look for some more compelling evidence.

Project management onboarding

It’s common for companies to provide onboarding for new project managers on methodology, governance or tools, but how many provide a primer on project management for all staff? Organizations which have fully institutionalized quality practices ensure that everyone has a solid grounding in quality principles so why wouldn’t the same hold true for project management?

360 degree project manager evaluations

In strong matrix or projectized organizations it is common for project managers to provide a formal evaluation of the performance of their team members as those resources are released from projects. But requiring that project managers also get evaluated by team members and peer-level resource managers can provide valuable feedback which could improve both servant leadership and stakeholder management skills.

One source of truth for project & portfolio status

Lower maturity organizations usually have multiple views on the status of a given project as demanded by different stakeholders. The effort to produce and reconcile these incurs significant effort and frustration on the part of project teams and PMOs. In higher maturity organizations, project status is reported once and the informational needs of different stakeholders are met through automation and not through administration.

Practice & governance is recognized as adding value not overhead

At lower maturity firms, practice and governance functions are either absent or are process cops. Without these functions, detection of troubled projects may occur too late to enable effective recovery. In the latter case, project failures might be rare but the cost of delivery is so high and time to market so long that business value is as much at risk as it is in the former.

Effective use of lessons learned

Favoring quality over quantity, higher maturity companies will fully exploit lessons identified in projects by baking them into their standard practices, focusing training on behaviors which need to change, and having their executive teams own the removal of major organizational or process impediments.

True portfolio risk management

Project management risk management practices are right-sized and are deemed to deliver value by preventing or reducing the impact of issues. But in higher maturity companies, contingency reserves are managed at a portfolio level to ensure a cost effective hedge against risks and the interdependency between operational and project risks is constantly monitored.

These are just a few of the signs I’d look for – which other ones can you come up with?



Categories: Process Peeves, Project Management, Project Portfolio Management | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

When will we really Lean In to good project management practices?

longclimbWhile watching Sheryl Sandberg’s December 2013 TEDWomen follow-up to her ground-breaking 2010 presentation, I thought of organizational project management maturity.  While most of the interview is inspirational and uplifting, during the last minute Sheryl indicates that in spite of the tremendous interest that her presentation and subsequent book has generated, the wage gap between women and men in the U.S. has not changed over the last three years.

This got me thinking about why many organizations don’t appear to have learnt lessons in good project management.  Yes, depending on which industry survey you follow it does look like project success rates are improving, but my concern is that they are not improving fast enough.  Given the significant real and opportunity costs avoided with improved predictability of project outcomes, one would think that there would be a burning desire for leadership teams to not add to any negative statistics.

Similar to the global interest generated by Lean In, project management is riding a wave that has been rolling for almost two decades.  And yet, we continue to see the same tired root causes for project failure occur such as the inappropriate tailoring of practices to fit the needs of a project, poor stakeholder engagement and management, ineffective sponsorship or governance and lip service given to critical knowledge areas such as project quality and project risk management.

Project-driven organizations are more likely to learn from their mistakes as it becomes a question of economic viability for them.  However, for companies where the majority of their work is operational or transactional, mediocrity often passes for good enough when it comes to project management capabilities.

There are a few root causes for this lack of improvement:

  • There is insufficient disincentive to force leadership teams to fully embrace and champion the behavioral changes which are critical to implementing and sustaining project management capability improvements.
  • Grass roots-driven tactical improvements do occur but project management practitioners who have left higher maturity companies to join organizations at lower levels of capability usually have two options: resist (and leave) or serve.  A snowball effect can happen, but it does require a significant concentrated group of mature practitioners.
  • Improvement initiatives driven by individual executives also frequently meet the same fate as few have the fortitude to push for sustained behavioral change at all levels of the organization.
  • And finally, the “it won’t happen to us” myth.

Capability improvement IS happening but at a glacial pace compared to what one would expect based on effort spent.  Perhaps we all just need to Lean In further!

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

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