Archive for the ‘Effective Project Management’ Category

Resistance to Change

Monday, April 9th, 2007

We have typically promoted three types of resistance to change: fear, embarrassment, and loss.  These have their roots in people’s innate desire to be successful. They are probably built-in very deeply to our survival mechanisms from when being successful meant staying alive.

Fear deals with uncertainty about the future. A person may realize that there is potential to do things better than they are currently doing it. But if the way they are doing it isn’t getting them fired and they aren’t completely certain they can be at least as successful in a new way, they will resist the change until their fear is addressed.

The important thing about addressing fear is that fear is in the perspective of the person who is facing the change that matters, not the people initiating the change. Historically, we keep doing what we have always done because it kept us alive.

Embarrassment deals with admitting that the way we have done things isn’t the best way to do it. People have a very strong drive to be right and to be appreciated. When you point out that they aren’t doing things the best way, they tend to become defensive. You don’t understand how things got that way. It sure is easy to come in after the fact and point out the problems. You must think they are stupid if you think they don’t understand the flaws in how they do work.

Embarrassment is dealt with by letting people tell their story. Let them know it is clear that they made the best choices they could over time. Its ok that things got the way they are because the got the way they are.

Loss is much broader. People have made an investment into developing the competence that they have been rewarded for and that gives them influence. Any of these points can be an emotional sticking point, loss of investment, competence, rewards, or influence.

Explaining how things will be better for the business on the new .NET platform doesn’t help the guy who spent the last 20 years becoming the absolute expert in the COBOL application. Explaining the focusing benefits of social marketing techniques doesn’t make the sales person who spent the last 20 years developing relationship more valuable. The manager who has thrived in chaos and been rewarded for it will resist the effort to put in standard processes.

When we change the way we do things, we can’t replace the investment made by individuals in developing the competence that has led to reward and influence. We pull that out from under them. Loss is the most difficult challenge to deal with. We can commit to supporting a new investment, although it is difficult to replace 20 years of experience. People want to be valued. Try treating them with a great deal of respect and recognition for what they have accomplished. This will help with the transition, but won’t necessarily set them up for a complimentary level of success in the new way of things.

The bottom line is that overcoming resistance to change is critical to the success of most strategic changes. Typical change management approaches teach us to communicate, communicate, and communication again. But, notice how of the sources of resistance are all at a personal level. Explaining how the change will benefit the business, or the manager, or even the customer isn’t sufficient.

Next time you are facing resistance to change, don’t push – listen. The person resisting understands the benefit to the business. It is fear, embarrassment, or loss that is motivating the resistance. Often it is a combination. Spending time understanding and addressing resistance at its root may seem like an unneccassary investment. However, the investment is almost always less than the cost of the resistance itself.

What will you be doing in 10 years?

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Once again, Tom Peters provides inspiration for what we are trying to do at Synaptus. In his post yesterday Now Don’t You Worry Your Little Self…,  he raises the alarm about 40 million jobs moving out of the US in the next 10 years.

40 million jobs, is that a lot? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are about 150 million Americans in the work force. 40 million jobs moving overseas is over 25% of the jobs in the US. What could cause this to happen?

China has 798 million people in their labor force. India has 509 million workers available in their labor force. Their real wages are far below the US and Europoe. As education rises in these countries and communication technology improves, businesses will move work to where it can be performed well-enough at the best cost.

Stop and think about what this means. The way companies do work is going to change.  We are just entering the knowledge-based, or project-based, or information-based world. My kids will be entering the job force as this world becomes predominant. It took 50-100 years to get really good at managing industrial based organizations. The businesses and individuals that figure out how to thrive in this new world of work are the ones that will survive and grow.

Aligning a dynamic organization with strategy, understanding and improving processes across your business (regardless of your organizations boundaries), productive collaboration, talent management, and project management become key skills to build and manage organizations that will thrive now and survive in future.

The ability to gain competive advantage from these shifts, both for you and your organization, is there today. On the other hand, 10 years is a long way away. You can wait for someone else to figure out how to run businesses profitably and manage the new workforce. I chose not to wait. What will you be doing in 10 years?

Organizational Project Management

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

My organizational project maangement presentation at the Magic City Technology Council went well yesterday. It was well received and almost everyone wanted more information later. You can see the slides here

Almost everyone agreed with the idea that it is important to think about how other aspects in the organization impact project maangement. But, it is also obvious from the feedback that organizations have a difficult time looking at themselves from a bigger perspective.

The most important question was how do we drive advocacy from management for organizational project management. I believe the answer is to identify those organizational capabilities where breakdowns are costly to the project. Identify some metrics on the capability and the cost of low performance to the project.

Present the data to management looking for help or improvement on projects. If it is presented in a its-not-my-fault way, it won’t be well received. You have to set the context that you are not deflecting blame by showing how capabilities external to the project negatively effect your project. You need to show up with an answer on how that capability can perform better and how it benefits them.

If you can expand the project management context a little bit. You will begin to improve the ability to deliver projects. Then show the next person how to expand the context. Maybe over time, the organization is working together to deliver project results. Take the presentation. Ask questions. Help spread the word about organizational project management.

Magic City Technology Council

Monday, March 26th, 2007

I will be presenting on OPM3 to the Magic City Technology Council meeting tomorrow at 2:00 pm at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center. The subject for the conference is Dynamic Software Development in the 21st Century. I will be discussing how project management doesn’t exist in a vacuum and how project management success is dependent on the aspects of Organizational Project Management (Portfolio, Program, and Organizational Enablers). OPM3 is an existing standard to identify where and how to improve these other aspects in support of improving project management.  I will include my slides on the Synaptus resource page on Wednesday. Please come by if you can make it.

Diversity in Project Management

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

I have had discussions in the last week with managers at three different global companies. All mentioned that outsourcing was in their future in one way or another. Their companies are looking for Project Managers to support this outsourcing. I started to think about the skills of the project managers in their organizations. Technically competent, bottom line results oriented, masters of Microsoft Project and documentation.

We like to define the Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes that are best suited for people performing capabilities. Knowledge is the body of facts and information that a person acquires. Skills are the capacities that people develop through training and experience. Attitudes are beliefs and opinions that support or inhibit behavior.

Attitudes are important. I might not be a good candidate for an administrative support role in a doctor’s office. The attitudes that I have about what I like to work on would make coding insurance forms everyday feel tedious. I would not enjoy that job. Although I am capable of developing the knowledge and skills to do this job, there is no learning or training that can change my attitudes about what I want to do for work. There are people that probably would not enjoy studying organizational journals and management literature all the time or who do not enjoy going into new companies and facing new challenges every month or so. They could develop the knowledge and skills to do what I do, but they do not share my attitudes about what makes work fun.

I believe that the KSA’s for the project manager of today will be different from the KSA’s of the project manager needed where organizations have outsourced overseas. The biggest gap I see is that the attitudes needed to operate as an internal driver and administrator are different from the attitudes needed to facilitate the diversity that arises when organizations outsource. If these project managers fail, it will take a terrible toll on the organizations performance. We can train on the knowledge and develop the skills. However, we need to be selecting project managers that have an attitudes aligned to handle diversity and collaboration needed in an outsourced business model. Has your business thought about this? How is your business addressing this issue?

What are the new key skills for IT

Friday, March 16th, 2007 points to an article on that talks about the rise of relationship management skills over technical skills in IT organizations. This is driven by the automation and outsourcing of IT capabilities. The IT employee of the near future will be more likely to be handing customer service requests and managing vendor relationships than plugging in hardware, installing or configuring software, or writing code.

“Morello said IT organizations will become increasingly automated and outsourced. As a result, IT employees will be asked to fill multiple roles, rather than just focus on a single job. And one of their most important roles will be managing "points of interface" with other parts of the business. “

“IT employees will need to speak the same language as business stakeholders. This means less demand for specialists (IT employees with a deep understanding of specific technology) and generalists (IT employees who have a broad set of relatively shallow technology skills). IT will still need technical skills, but the most valuable technical employees will know how they can apply those skills to different situations in different parts of the business.“

So project management, collaboration, and customer service will be the key capabilities of IT. And new capabilities to create a common business framework to focus and align a distributed organization will be necessary. How many of your key employees are being hired or developed with these skills in mind? What framework are you putting in place today to create a common understanding of what the business actually does?

Are you done yet?

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

Project managers often fall into the percent complete trap when running projects.  Percent complete gives the feeling of making progress, but provides no value to the managing the project. In There is no such thing as percent complete, Johanna Rothman says:

"Percent complete makes no sense. Features are done or not done. You can count done features and see how far along you are. You can’t reliably count any percentage done."

This doesn’t apply to just software development, this is true in an type of project. The only questions about completion that matter to coordinating and managing the project are:

1. Are you done? Done means that the consumer of what you were working on knows you are done and you don’t owe them anything else for them to use it. You should mark the task as 100%.

2. If not, are you working on it and when will you be done? This allows the consumer of whatever you are working on to get ready to work on it.  You should mark these tasks as 50%.

3. If you don’t know, what do I (the project manager) need to do to help you answer #2? Are you short of resources, do you have unclear requirements, are you waiting on someone else’s work, have you even started on it? You should mark these as 0% done. You aren’t working on it until you are have the resources, requirements, prerequisites, and intention to work on it.

If tasks are too long, then the only way to show progress is to update percent complete on tasks. Try to keep tasks to verifiable pieces of work that are relatively short, probably two to three weeks. Reflecting a percent done just to demonstrate progress doesn’t provide any insight into the status of the project, doesn’t help coordinate work through the project, and artifically demonstrates progress. As project managers or executives with projects reporting to you, are you keeping track of percent complete or what is done?

Is a standard a best practice?

Monday, February 26th, 2007

I spent the last week at a Project Management Institute (PMI) standards meeting where I serve on the OPM3 second edition standards team. There was a very interesting conversation that took place over the weekend regarding whether PMI standards should be considered best practices. The answer in general is no. A standard is considered to be a generally accepted good practice. In an emerging discipline, it is likely that there are best practices not in general use yet – so they won’t be part of the standard. This introduces two interesting questions. Are standards worth pursuing and what role does PMI play in thought leadership around Project Management?

First, standards are good practices. If you aren’t up to the level of the standard yet and project management is important to you, you should be working to achieve the standard. Just like you can’t learn advanced financial analysis until you understand adding and subtracting, if you don’t understand or aren’t can’t achieve even the standard, you probably aren’t very good at project management. I just hope that your business isn’t dependent on being able to implement projects to achieve their strategic or operating goals. Most of the project management disasters I’ve been involved in have involved people trying to skip the basics to jump to an approach that involved implementing some new practice. The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) helps you figure out where you stand relative to these standards and helps you develop a roadmap so you can work on improving your ability to effectively perform projects. At the end of the day, a lot of PM is still blocking and tackling, you just can’t get past it.

Secondly, PMI has people on staff and thousands of active volunteers that probably spend to much of their time thinking about project management. There is a full time research staff looking into project management and exploring best practices. I believe I heard that there were 50 research papers published by PMI last year (2006). So, while the standard doesn’t reflect emerging best practices there are conferences and local chapters that explore and promote advanced thoughts about project management. As I just experienced this weekend, if you want to sit around and discuss the merits of emergins best practices in project management there isn’t a much better community than PMI.


Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I am heading up to Philadephia today to meet with PMI’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) update team. OPM3 is for organizations that recognize the need to improve the results they achieve from project management across the organization. The knowledge foundation identifies Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Management, and Organizational Enabler best practices neccessary to align strategic goals to the successful completion of projects. Using the assessment tool, an organization can identify their level of maturity in these capabilities and develop a roadmap path to improving the maturity of these capabilities.

A recent poll in at indicates over 65% of businesses intend to wait at least a year before performing this type of assessment. 30% don’t intend to perform an OPM3 assessment at all. Only 4% intend to start this within the next 6 months.

While this indicates an reasonably high level of interest in performing this Organizational Project Management assessment (70%), it leaves me wondering why the interest is so far out. Is it that the pain of performing project poorly isn’t high enough in these companies? Is it that the financial return of performing this type of assessment aren’t clear? Or is it that Project Management Organizations can’t get the executive support needed to perform an assessment like this?

The Organizational Project Management disciplines that ensure organizations are working on the right projects (Portfolio Management), coordinating the projects well (Program Management), and performing the projects effectively (Project Management) are critical to any company that is facing pressure to change their business for any reason. If the capabilities required to accomplish these are not subject to purposeful improvement, the organization will suffer in its attempts to achieve its strategic and operational goals.  Unless your organization is in the 10-20% of organizations that feel they perform project management successfully, it seems to me that now would be the time to start understanding how to improve the maturity of your important organizational project management capabilities.