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Project Management Blog
It should come as no shock to learn that some organizations are better than others at managing projects. There are probably no organizations that have a 100% success rate, and hopefully none have a 0% success rate. However, some organizations definitely perform at a higher level than others.

Have you ever thought about the factors that account for these differences in success rates? One possibility is that the people in some organizations are just smarter than others. However, think about that statement. Do you really think differences in project success rates are a matter of higher intelligence? Probably not. On the other hand, it may be true that some organizations do a better job training their project managers, so they may be more skilled and knowledgeable in the project management discipline. The way your organization deals with training is just one aspect of your overall organizational culture. There are a number of organizational factors that influence your ability to deliver projects successfully. Two of these factors are discussed below: your organization culture and your organization structure.

Culture has a huge impact on your success rate

Your organization’s culture has a lot to do with the success rate of your projects. This goes for projects throughout your organization, not just one particular project.

The term “culture” generally means “how we do things around here.” Imagine someone asked you how successfully your organization delivers projects. If you say “we’re pretty poor at delivering projects,” you are voicing a perception of one aspect of your culture.

There are a number of areas where culture comes into play on projects.

Process orientation. Many organizations have good processes in place, and people generally follow them. This is perhaps the biggest single factor in overall project success. If your organization follows a good, scalable project management process, you are more likely to be consistently successful on your projects. This means that the entire project team generally knows how to create and follow a schedule and can use standard processes to effectively handle risk, scope change, and issues.

Governance. Many organizations have processes in place, but no one follows them. This highlights a problem with management governance. In simplistic terms, governance is the management function having to do with making sure people do what they are supposed to do. Typically, if management is engaged and interested in projects, and if they make sure that your project management process is followed, projects will tend to be more successful. If every project manager is on his or her own and management support is haphazard, then projects will tend to be unsuccessful.

Training. As mentioned previously, some organizations do a poor job of training project managers. Typically, these types of organizations do a poor job of training in general. If project managers generally do not have the right skills (other than from the school of hard knocks), you will not be successful.

Roles and responsibilities. In successful organizations, people typically know the role they play on projects and what is expected of them. This includes active sponsors, interested clients, and engaged management stakeholders. For example, the sponsor needs to perform a quality assurance role, as well as be the project champion in his or her organization. If your organization starts projects and leaves the project manager in a leadership vacuum, projects are not going to be consistently successful.

Culture plays perhaps the biggest role in whether your organization is successful executing projects. If your organization has difficulty completing projects successfully, you cannot blame the project managers. They are only toiling within a culture that is not supportive of their efforts. Managers, including the head of the organization, need to step up and evaluate the project culture. Until the culture changes, project managers will consistently struggle to be successful.

Your organization structure can help or hurt project success as well

To a lesser degree, your organization structure can get in the way of, or help support, the overall success of your projects. This is a lesser problem because, to a certain extent, you can always change your organization structure. In fact, you can change the organization chart frequently, and some companies do just that. Culture, on the other hand, is not easily changed. It can take years for a large organization to develop a culture of excellence (although it does not take nearly as long to fall back into mediocrity).

Some organization structures can impair your ability to deliver projects. First and foremost are organizations where the project team is doing support work. If your project organization does support as well, it usually means that support issues will pop up that take the focus away from the project. A lot of multitasking and thrashing take place as you move from support work to project work to support work. It is usually very difficult to prepare good estimates, and it is difficult to meet your scheduling commitments. You may be forced into this structure if your staff is small.

Your organization structure may also impede the ability to share resources. For instance, if your project team needs a resource with a specific expertise, you may not be able to easily share that person with another functional area. Some of this is also related to your culture. You could ask yourself whether a different organization structure would help. If it would, you may have an organization problem. If it would not help, then your culture is probably not supportive of resource sharing.

Summary

There are a number of organizational factors that support or inhibit the ability of your project managers to be successful. Granted, “culture” is a broad term, but your organizational culture plays the biggest role in whether or not you are generally able to deliver projects successfully. You cannot attack a culture of mediocrity (or a culture of failure) one project at a time. You need to address it in a broad and multi-faceted way. Your organization structure can also help or hinder your success rate. Your organization structure can determine how well you focus on projects and how easy it is to share resources between different areas. If you attack the broader cultural and structural problems, you will have a positive impact on many of the barriers to project success.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at admin@TenStep.com.
Published in Blogs
Many project managers face situations where they are asked to meet fixed dates with very little, if any, margin for slippage. It is hard enough to manage that situation, but sometimes the customers do not meet their commitments. You have a big challenge already trying to hit a fixed date from the customer. Then the customer introduces additional challenges – for instance, not being able to define requirements fully. This can lead to inevitable delays and changing requirements.

There is a good solution to this problem from a project management perspective, but that does not mean you may not have to struggle to make it work. The key is to proactively utilize risk management, issues management, scope management, and proactive communication to your best advantage.

Manage Risks

When you start a project, the first thing you need to do is planning, including creating a Project Charter and a schedule. The planning process includes identifying risks and putting plans into place to mitigate those risks. If you do not think you can hit the imposed end-date, now is the time to say something. When you do, management starts to hear that the end-date is at risk before the project even begins. As part of the risk identification, you can ask the project team and your management for their ideas on how to mitigate the risk. Ideas might include extra staff, leaning heavily on users to get their requirements in on time, etc. Again, there is value in identifying the project risks and working with others on risk resolution. This process also helps from a communication standpoint to better manage expectations.

Manage Communication

The schedule and proactive communications also help the users better understand their role. For instance, do they really understand the need for timely feedback on requirements and the impact to the project if they are late? Do they understand the dates that they will be needed so that they can better plan their time? You can raise this as a risk and start to manage expectations for what will happen if the requirements come in late. It also gives you more foundation for the follow-up communications that may be required if the user’s dates start to slip.

Manage Issues and Scope

As the project progresses, continue to manage risks, issues, and communication proactively. For instance, if the users end up not meeting their dates in spite of your risk management plans, then you have an issue that needs to be addressed. Issues management (problem identification and resolution) needs to be performed. Again, get your team, management, and stakeholders involved. Ask your manager for input in resolving the problem that is now impacting your completion date. You do not have direct authority over the users. Get more accountability from your management and the business managers to help resolve project resource problems. Your managers and sponsors are also the ones in a position to manage priorities to get the work done. Again, if the problem cannot be resolved perfectly, at least you are continuing to manage expectations.

Continue this proactive project management in other areas as well. For instance, if a person leaves, you have an issue that could impact the end date. Communicate the problem and its consequences, and ask for help in determining the best options for going forward. If the users add more requirements, invoke scope change management and make sure everyone knows the impact to budget and schedule. Don't proceed with the changes unless the sponsor has approved the extra time and budget necessary.

Summary

Although it appears that you are being held accountable for events and circumstances that are not within your control, you do have control over the processes you use to manage the project. Manage risk, issues, and scope proactively, and utilize your manager and your sponsor to try to get everyone focused on meeting the aggressive deadlines.

You also have the ability to manage expectations through proactive communication. You should especially point out cause-and-effect relationships. For instance, you can describe the impact to the project if requirements gathering dates are not met.

When it is all said and done, you may, in fact, not be able to hit your imposed deadlines and budget. However, by utilizing disciplined and proactive project management processes, you at least have a shot of success, and you do a much better job of managing expectations and getting management to be a part of the solution, not just the problem.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at admin@TenStep.com.
Published in Blogs
When a project begins, you must gain agreement with your customer on exactly what you are creating. At a high level, this agreement is reached when the Project Charter is approved. At a low level, the agreement is reached through the approval of the business requirements. Once these two documents are approved, you have enough information to proceed through the remainder of the project.

However, change is inevitable. There are two reasons. First, it is almost impossible for anyone to define ahead of time exactly what the final solution should look like, and so the requirements may change as the solution evolves. Second, overall business conditions change over time. Some of this business change will force changes to the project scope in ways that are not known ahead of time.

So, what do you say when the inevitable changes start to come in? If you say yes without understanding the consequences to the project, you increase your chance of failure. If you say no, you may introduce conflict with the customer, and run the risk of delivering a solution that does not meet the customer’s needs.

Don’t Take It Personally – Use Your Process

When introduced with changes to the project, the best response is to follow a scope change request process. This process should include understanding the business value of making the change, as well as the impact on the project budget and schedule. You can then take this information to the project sponsor (or their designated stand-in) for an approval decision. Scope change management is really the art of letting the sponsor make the decisions once they understand all the facts and implications.

You should establish scope change procedures based on the size of the project. For small projects, you do not need to worry about scope change very much. The project will likely start and end before the business can change much, and most of the requirements are probably fairly well-known. The project manager can quickly evaluate a small change request and work with the sponsor to determine if it should be accommodated.

For larger projects, scope change is a big deal and must be managed accordingly. The entire team, including the customer, must understand when a scope change request is being made. The request should be documented and sent to the project manager. The change is then analyzed and the resulting information regarding the change, the benefit, the cost, and the impact of not accepting the change are brought to the attention of the project sponsor. The project sponsor then determines whether to accept the change. If the change is approved, then the budget and timeline are changed accordingly. If the change is not approved, it is noted as such and the project continues on its way. The funny thing is, if you let the project sponsor decide whether to accept a scope change, he will usually turn the request down. The sponsor understands the need to deliver something, even if it does not meet 100% of his needs. The final solution can be refined over time. In fact, the sponsor typically has a lot less patience for scope change requests than the project manager, and this will eliminate frivolous and marginal scope change requests immediately.

Summary

All projects need to first gain agreement on the scope and the business requirements before scope change management will stick. After that, the key to scope change management is to recognize that it is the process of letting the customer make scope change decisions. The project manager needs to make sure that the appropriate information is presented so that the sponsor can make an intelligent, fact-based decision. Many project managers do a poor job of managing scope because they do not want to offend the customer. However, that should not be a part of the equation at all. Instead, the project manager’s job is to make sure the scope change management process runs effectively, and that the project sponsor has the information necessary to make the best decision possible on whether the scope change should be accepted.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit www.TenStep.com or contact us at admin@TenStep.com.
Published in Blogs

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