Posts Tagged With: Project performance

So how’s your agile transformation going?

If your organization is in the midst of an agile transformation, ideally this change was justified through a business case which articulated expected benefits and the means by which those benefits would be measured. But we rarely live in an ideal world.

So how could you assess whether the initiative is delivering value or not?

You could look at a metric like average time to deliver scope but this has limitations. Averages by themselves mean nothing. If there is an overall reduction in the distribution of release times and ideally a shrinkage in the variation for these release times, that might be cause for optimism if a sufficiently representative sample was taken before and after.

Just because we are delivering scope sooner doesn’t mean we are reaping the full rewards of an agile transformation. A team might miss the mark by prioritizing schedule over quality and we would end up producing a product which the customer doesn’t want.

And, this says nothing about how we delivered that scope. Over short timeframes using Theory X-type behavior it is possible to whip a team into delivering quickly but we would usually see a corresponding reduction in quality and in team satisfaction.

Perhaps we could look at velocity across teams. While we know that velocity should never be used to assess performance between teams or at an individual level, surely an ongoing, incremental increase in velocity across the majority of teams would be a positive indicator? Unfortunately, without introducing other measures to add perspective, it would be relatively easy for a team to claim such improvements at the expense of quality, or delivery of real value to their customers.

In place of these vanity metrics, consider these:

  1. The distribution of lead time to deliver utilized features – by filtering out unutilized features, our time to market distribution will focus on true value add to our customers
  2. Features utilized/features completed – this ratio will assess how effective teams are at meeting the true needs of your stakeholders
  3. The distribution of defect severities and counts – this will assess whether quality is being sacrificed at the altar of speed
  4. The total number of high impact organizational blockers – assuming teams are surfacing and escalating organizational impediments to full agility, a reduction in the number of these blockers should translate into improved delivery outcomes
  5. Team satisfaction – this will keep a pulse on team morale to ensure that it is not suffering through the transition
  6. Customer or key stakeholder satisfaction – this will be another balancing measure like #5 to ensure that the end is not justifying the wrong means

Developing a balanced, holistic approach to measuring outcomes should help to sustain leadership support and to focus continuous improvement efforts on the right things but just remember:

…not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – William Bruce Cameron


Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

How effective is your benefits management framework?

Benefits management, like project risk management, is practiced poorly by most organizations. While project intake processes usually require some articulation of expected benefits, few companies effectively monitor and control the realization of those benefits over the life of a project and beyond. This is especially true with discretionary investments as the benefits from mandatory projects are usually related to risk reduction and are usually immune to changes in strategic objectives or external environmental influences.

So what are key elements of a holistic benefits management framework?

Benefits definition

Beyond stating the expected benefits of a project, an operational definition of how those benefits will be measured and a baseline against which performance can be measured needs to be provided.

It is also important to provide a conservative timeframe within which measured benefits can be directly attributed to a project’s outcomes. This can be quite challenging with enterprise portfolios containing multiple interdependent projects and programs where a single Key Performance Indicator (KPI) might be influenced by a collection of projects. In such cases, governance committees should determine whether expected benefits should be measured at a higher level and the contribution of individual projects pro-rated in some manner. It also helps to have individual sponsorship at the KPI level to avoid overlaps in benefits recognition.

The defense of a project’s business case needs to include a thorough analysis of projected benefits by an independent party. This analysis should focus on assumptions and risks impacting benefits realization. The business case should clearly indicate who is responsible for monitoring and reporting on benefits over the life of the project and for the portion of the benefits tracking lifecycle beyond the end of the project.

Finally, governance bodies should specify a “kill threshold” so that projects whose benefits erode below this threshold will be terminated.

Benefits re-forecasting

Once baselines have been approved, regular re-forecasting is crucial to avoid continued investment in projects experiencing significant benefits erosion. The specific frequency of these re-forecasts is context-specific, but a minimum cadence should be established at the portfolio level to support normal portfolio monitoring and reporting practices.

Releases, phase end gates and change requests should all include a benefits re-forecast and review.

For those projects where business value starts to accumulate prior to the end of the project, tracking and reporting of these benefits should be incorporated as part of normal project performance reporting practices.

A good project manager will influence factors affecting business value and is not afraid to call for a project’s cancellation if expected benefits won’t be realized.

Post-project benefits tracking

This is the weakest of the stages of benefits management as a project manager is no longer around to influence a business owner to track and report on realized benefits. Confirming ownership for these practices as one of the transition activities at the end of a project can help, but tying the quality of benefits management practices on their past projects to the evaluation of new project business cases is one way to build “skin in the game” for business owners and project sponsors.

The Sixth Edition of the PMBOK® Guide defines project management as “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” It would be ideal if the Seventh Edition enhanced this definition by modifying it to “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to achieve benefits by meeting the project requirements.” Doing so will provide a valuable reminder that project management has to be about more than stakeholder satisfaction and delivering within scope, schedule, cost and quality baselines.

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

Once upon a project time…

Storytelling is a powerful tool to educate young and old alike. When it comes to project management, we can draw upon multiple sources for learning so let’s try to identify the lessons we can learn from the popular fables we heard as children.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Aesop provides us this well-known fable of the mischievous shepherd boy who tricks his neighbours into coming to the aid of his flock on multiple occasions. When a real wolf arrives and starts to attack his sheep, he is ignored and his flock is devoured.

We expect our sponsor and other senior leaders to handle escalations. But if we simply pass the buck and don’t own those actions, issues or risks which we could have addressed ourselves, they are not likely to respond in a timely manner when we finally bring a legitimate concern to their attention.

The Scorpion and the Frog

This is the contemporary fable of the frog who is unwilling to transport a scorpion across a river. The scorpion attempts to allay the frog’s fears by saying that if he stings the frog while being carried they will both drown. Midway across the river the scorpion stings the frog and explains to the frog as they both sink below the surface that it was in its nature to do so.

Cost Performance Index (CPI) provides an objective assessment of financial health and is unlikely to substantially improve once a project is more than 20% complete: “DOD experience in more than 400 programs since 1977 indicates without exception that the cumulative CPI does not significantly improve during the period of 15% through 85% of the contract performance; in fact it tends to decline.

Project performance, like our scorpion, has difficulty changing its nature.

The Tortoise and the Hare

We’ve all heard this tale of the tortoise who challenges an arrogant hare to a long distance race. The hare starts the race with a comfortable lead over the tortoise but believing he can’t be beaten, takes a nap, during which time the tortoise catches up and passes him for the win.

Projects are usually more like a marathon than a sprint. If our team is working significant overtime to achieve early milestones, chances are they will burnout quickly and we’ll fall short of the finish line. Teams working a sustainable pace are able to do so indefinitely. In short, slow and steady wins the project race.

The Ant and the Grasshopper

In the summer, while the studious ants were busy foraging and hoarding food, the grasshopper was relaxing and enjoying himself. When winter finally came, the ants were well prepared and survived while the procrastinating grasshopper perished.

Student Syndrome often impacts project tasks when they have been excessively padded. Rather than use the excess time wisely, team members will get distracted with other work and when Murphy’s Law strikes, they have used up any buffer they had. Scheduling project tasks using aggressive estimates and consolidating buffers at a key milestone level provides one way to address the impacts of realized risks without becoming a starving grasshopper!

Willa Cather said “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.

Perhaps the same holds true for project managers!


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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