The Project Notebook

Just Think of all the Money That We’ve Saved!

By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP
Copyright 2013, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved
No part of this article may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.

Organizations continue to enforce relentless cost reduction efforts in the face of global competition. Given the emphasis on minimizing costs, virtually every project manager has had at least one project budget that is woefully inadequate. After so many years of hearing “less is more”, “lean and mean”, and other well-worn clichés, project managers have come to expect that initial budgets will seldom be realistic to achieve expectations. This article explores some legal “creative financing” options to address the challenges of underfunded projects.

The “Right” People

Quantity and quality are not synonyms in the project management world. While selecting the right human resources for a project does not necessarily mean getting the most “expensive” personnel, acquiring those people with appropriate skills and relevant expertise does take concerted effort. It means taking time to carefully review resumes, to conduct meaningful interviews, and to ponder the potential effectiveness of the mix of people on the project team. Of course, the “right” people are typically in great demand to participate on multiple teams. Therefore, a project manager may need to rearrange activities and/or dependencies so that the appropriate people can participate. Typically, a few “good” people can outperform a large number of lesser talented resources in a shorter time period. Rescheduling is well worth the effort when it results in fewer personnel costs as well as a shorter time to implementation.

“Time is Money”

In an attempt to keep costs at a minimum project managers are often given completion dates that are unrealistic. Organizations believe that an aggressive timeframe keeps everyone motivated and does not allow for the cost overruns often associated with lengthy projects. Competitive pressures may also drive a tight time schedule. After all, being “second to market” is not a goal for most companies. In the face of this focus on time project managers need to assess what really needs to be accomplished on a project. This assessment needs to be made before developing the project schedule so that any tasks that are not essential to complete the core requirements can be eliminated. Too often project managers attempt to complete “everything” that is requested. In this futile effort the project may actually not accomplish anything concrete. In such situations the project either has to obtain more money in order to complete anything or has to be severely downsized or even scrapped. Any of the preceding three situations means that money has been wasted. It is better to complete a basic deliverable than to deliver only promises.

“We Can Fix It Later”

Every project includes some interim deliverables prior to the final deliverable that do not turn out as planned. The tendency is to say, “We can fix it later”. However, “later” seldom comes, and so the inadequate interim deliverables do not meet expectations. If an interim deliverable is part of a larger downstream deliverable, there can be a cascading failure effect. (Remember the Challenger’s “O” rings?) Even if the interim deliverable stands alone, its implemented version may not be used or worse yet, may result in a “work around”. The potential for interim deliverable failure needs to be a part of proactive contingency planning with scheduled backup tasks and resources to address those deliverables that truly need fixing now not later.

In summary, there are creative methods to stretch budget dollars effectively. While the tendency is to focus directly on costs, the concepts discussed in the above article represent some other types of actions that can be effective when project budgets are anything but realistic.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum advisory committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

Project Management and Joint Accountability

© 2013 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP

 

The Oz Principle was originally released around 1994, but the authors (Craig Hickman, Tom Smith and Roger Connors) felt an update was required in 2004 and also have a few sequel works that are much newer (Journey to the Emerald City, How Did That Happen?).  These books build on their original key principle – accountability.  In leadership roles such as Project Management, accountability is about assuming responsibility for actions and to be able to explain and be answerable for the resulting consequences.

This should sound familiar to project managers required to deliver project results.  Results can be achieved by looking within for cause, rather than in the actions of others. The authors suggest this is a great way to build leadership. The books are filled with great examples of how accepting accountability can pull us out of the “victim” thinking (e.g. it’s not my fault, I don’t know why this is happening to me, something or someone other than me and my actions made this happen) and achieve positive results. Some famous examples of leaders showing accountability include Jack Welch, Janet Reno, and Bill Clinton — embracing accountability helped them weather adversity and continue to get results.  Their past mistakes were left behind.

I had a recent example of this myself.  A “disruptive technology” solution was proposed by a client employee that could have diminished or even ended a long-time client relationship.  It would have been easy to “throw up my hands” and recommend going with what appeared to be an easy solution.  Instead, I looked at the problem from all angles, considered the client governance policies in place, and realized there were hidden costs in the proposed solution that would not have been discovered until the project was well down the wrong trail. I was able to put some talking points together for the client Project Director to successfully steer clear of the disruption.

To further show joint accountability, the client employee was invited to play a key role in a different approach.  There was no “blame”.  Everyone looked within and considered the best actions to create superior outcomes.

There is so much of importance in the Oz Principle for improving ourselves and our projects.  Accountability and project management complement each other. One immediate area that jumps off the page of the book is the notion of joint accountability. It’s the idea that in any team setting, when someone drops the ball, another team member is there to help put it in the goal. Many of the best practices we follow in project planning help contribute to creating an environment of joint accountability.

Pre-implementation Announcements and Messaging

Once the project charter is completed, it’s typical to get senior management to “stand up”, state some of the goals, and start the process of building the shared understanding of the work. Getting early and often messages out to the team members and other stake holders, almost like a public relations campaign, builds understanding. Where there is solid shared understanding, joint accountability can take place.

Implementation/Planning Meeting

This is the first time the identified project team is brought together as a whole to hear the objectives again and begin forming the initial project phases and requirements. Once again, clear and consistent communication about the goals and objectives brings everyone together.

Work Breakdown Structure

This is an area that many software, IT, or technology projects “skimp” with the belief it is too time consuming. This is an activity which builds capacity. Everyone works together to identify the work and understand how the work is building to meet the goals and objectives of the charter. More time spent in thinking through the work will assure all the tasks are identified and the team will know what needs to be done.

Other Planning Activities

Whether it is to develop a communications plan or a human resources plan, this is more team and capacity building activity. As common understanding of the project work emerges, the team is positioned for joint accountability.

Project Execution

Like the building crescendo of a symphony, project managers that spend time on the previous steps will have a bold and capable team. Everyone knows what needs to be done and is occupied by doing it.

The phrase “herding cats” refers to the impossibility of controlling a situation dominated by chaos. Rather than herding cats, the project manager is mentoring the team and helping with problem solving. Problem solving is not the same as moving from emergency-to-emergency (more chaos). With joint accountability, team members know what needs to be done, are doing it, and helping out others who are not helping the ball to the net. Sure there are sometimes “bumps” in the road, but the team works around them.

Creating an environment of joint accountability builds focus too — other peripheral tasks are now clearly second to meeting the promised deliverable. Now I’m sure many will scoff at the time these activities take. My assertion is that in the long run, these steps are very worthwhile. Taking some time on each will provide superior results in the long run.

It might be overly bold to say I never managed a project with lots of good planning that didn’t come in on time and on budget, but my record seems to speak for itself. So next time you are about to start a project, make sure you avoid herding cats and create an environment of joint accountability.

Transition and Succession Planning for Project Managers

© 2013 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP

 

You arrive at work on Monday morning and find that your key software engineer did not show up.  You subsequently learn that he was arrested over the weekend for tax evasion for the past 8 years.  The week is tense and you hope you will get your key engineer back – after all, he should be able to make bail and get out of jail.

So he makes bail and returns for a week.  The following Monday he’s gone again.  This time you learn he fled to another country seeking asylum and abandoning his wife and children to avoid prosecution.  Looks like the key engineer won’t ever be available again! Your other engineers tell you he single handedly designed 60%+ of the system and they don’t really know what or how he did it. It’s going to take them months to figure it out.

This example was taken from a real-life. Project failure was imminent as several other major risks became issues.  What’s more, the failure led to a chain of events that effectively put the company involved out of business.

Compounding the issue is the low ranking resource risks typically get on projects.  Yet underlying almost every risk is the element of human behavior. And availability of required skills and talent accounts for a large portion of the human resources risks.  How can this be avoided?

The answer is transition and succession planning.  This human resources process, like budgeting, is often not a direct responsibility for the project manager.  As with budgeting, good project managers that want to deliver quality projects on time will keep an eye on the process.  This is especially important for longer, more complex projects.

Outside of the project environment, this might go by several names such as business continuity planning or professional development.  The key ideas are the same: you want the right people on your project, you want to be sure they are not irreplaceable, and you want to make sure that if a new resource comes on board, they hit the ground running.

The first step is to be sure your project team has clear roles and responsibilities.  For large complex projects, these need to be in writing and more detailed than a simple job description. Having this information is key to effective transition and succession planning.

Transition Planning

Think of transition planning as the on-boarding and exit process for your project team members. When a team member exits for any reason, you generally want to:

  • Make sure you understand the skills that need to be replaced
  • Understand the status of the work in progress and promised deliverables that need to be fulfilled
  • Discuss with the individual how their role may have changed over time
  • Update the roles and responsibilities as necessary
  • Collect any company property (these items should be on a checklist)
  • Get access to any passwords, codes, etc. (these items should be on a checklist as well) that may be needed to carry on work and have the remainder changed or deactivated
  • Depending on company customs, organize a departure gathering or celebration

Depending on how your company operates, you may or may not have an opportunity to participate in the hire or assignment of a new team member.  But when that new team member comes on board, you need to be able to:

  • Introduce them to the team; be sure they become an integral part of the team quickly
  • Describe their actual roles and responsibilities
  • Organize any training or professional development they may need to come up to speed
  • Be sure they have all the tools they need to perform their work (e.g. laptops, application access)
  • Set expectations for initial deliverables and timelines

Smooth transitions, along with scheduling techniques such as crashing (adding more resources) and fast tracking (doing more work in parallel) will help assure the timely and efficient delivery of your project.

Succession Planning

While succession planning at a corporate level can be complex, I like to think of the project version as having only two processes – talent evaluation and talent development. Let’s look at each of these individually.

Talent Evaluation

For project managers, this should not be your standard HR performance review, which can often be based on subjective measures.  The best measure to keep your project on track is based on deliverables.  For each role and responsibility on the project, you expect certain tasks to be completed.  Develop a check list of these tasks and check them off.

In the process, you should observe what other tasks the individual you are evaluating may be capable of completing.  Once a quarter, it will be helpful to sit down with each team member and discuss:

  • Your vision for the future of the project
  • Other roles this individual might be interested in exploring
  • What they hope to gain from the work
  •  Tasks they might complete to grow their capabilities

Completion of talent evaluation (and the identification of talents to develop, will lead you to the next step of the process.

Talent Development

To me, this is the best part of the job.  No matter what industry you work in or what type of work is performed, I’ve always noticed that the real high performing teams address the “what’s in it for me” question with personal and professional development.

As the project progresses, watch for opportunities to shift assignments that may build talents and satisfy needs. As new skills are required for successful project completion, consider carefully who will get that training.  And hopefully, you will network with other project and program managers in the company to see where opportunities for your team may lie.

As a related matter, also ask what roadblocks you can remove and make them more productive.

At one point in my career, I was faced with the challenge of managing a group that was perceived to be underperforming, unmotivated, and a major obstacle in the engineering process.  In less than a year, I was able to affect a complete turnaround, building a highly effective work team and culture, by the following:

  • Identifying roles and responsibilities
  • Identifying key behavioral ground rules for internal and external interactions
  • Forming a team vision with the help of the team
  • Reigning in chaos, but not to the point where innovation was stifled
  • Letting the team know their promotion was a goal
  • Identifying and removing road blocks and speed bumps (inefficiencies)
  • Providing essential professional development opportunities
  • Building work objectives that grew both the individual and the team
  • Cross-training the team – every critical skill had a backup

In less than a year:

  • Team efficiency increased many times, and it was noticed by those we worked with
  • Multiple cost savings were identified and enacted
  • One individual was promoted to another group
  • Everyone loved to come to work every day

References:

PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition; PMI 2013
A Diagnostic Approach to Organizational Behavior (Fourth Edition); Gordon; Allyn and Bacon 1993
Identifying & Managing Project Risk (2nd Edition); Kendrick; AMACOM 2009

 

About the Author:

Ray W. Frohnhoefer is a hands-on executive with strong project, program, and portfolio management skills; a methodologist; and a creative inventor and “intrapreneur”. His leadership qualities have enabled him to save companies millions of dollars by efficiently making complex decisions, solving complex problems, and getting things done, even under pressure. Ray is currently EDmin’s Senior Program Manager for the Student Success Dashboard, a Project Management Instructor at UCSD Extension and a member of PMI’s Chapter Member Advisory Group. As a PMI affiliate, Ray makes project management indispensible for business results. You can contact him at RayF123@aol.com.

Finding the “Silver Lining”

 By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP

Copyright 2013, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

No part of this article may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.

Often a project manager and his/her team only hear criticism about the level of effectiveness of their work. It’s always easy to criticize. There are media personalities who make quite comfortable salaries filling the air waves with nasty remarks, sarcasm, and cynicism. Seldom, if ever, do these same people offer constructive, realistic solutions or even provide alternatives. After listening to so much negative chatter, we can find our own mental attitudes going sharply into a slump. The same is true for project managers and project team members who may feel that they are constantly under attack at every turn.

What can project managers do to promote a realistic sense of perspective about how projects are proceeding? The first step is to focus on the goals for the project outcomes. For example, if one of the goals was to improve the design of an existing product, what specific improvements have been achieved? If it’s early in the project and the improvements are not yet evident, perhaps there has been demonstrated progress with major customers in regard to innovative design strategies.

A second step is to recognize that many projects are lengthy. “Planning successes” in the form of small, tangible deliverables at appropriate intervals can provide positive focus for team members. This technique also aids the project manager in monitoring overall performance in order to take corrective action before major disasters occur.

Finally, it’s perfectably acceptable to let people know that progress is being made. Team members can get buried in details and deadlines. They may need to be reminded that the project is actually making strong progress. Those outside of the project also need to be informed of progress in terms that they will understand. The board of directors may not be excited that a “deliverable” has been accomplished, but they will take notice of what the project is doing to promote stockholder confidence. The project manager can translate the accomplishment of a deliverable into more understandable, non-project terms.

It is important to remember that there needs to be a balance between positive and negative project “news”. We’ve all seen projects that had much fanfare and seemingly no problems but actually ended in disaster once the clouds of euphoria disintegrated. Much has been written about the need to plan project parties and to always provide food and drink at project meetings in order to bolster morale. However, most team members recognize these tactics as superficial and meaningless if the team is not proud of the project’s progress and achievements. If there truly is little “good news” on a project, it may be time to either substantially modify the project goals and/or the approach or terminate the project before its planned completion. However, before taking such drastic measures the project manager should assess the accomplishments in contrast to the problems in order to make an informed decision.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

 

Past Articles

Links and Buttons

Add to Technorati Favorites



Blogging Fusion Blog Directory

San Diego Blog News

Submit Express Inc.Submit Express - SEO Services

Disclaimer

All opinions on this blog are those of the site owner and do not reflect the opinion of any other entity. Information on this site may contain errors or inaccuracies; The Project Notebook does not make warranty as to the correctness or reliability of the site's content. If you believe something on this site is inappropriate and should be removed, please contact the site owner at sdcapmp at aol dot com.

Notices

"PMP" is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute.

Copyright

© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP