Images of Projects (Book Review)

This book recommends that project practitioners should consciously view projects through multiple “lenses” or “filters” to gain different perspectives. This approach directs attention to project aspects that might not otherwise be considered, which will affect the action taken, and hence the results obtained.

Considerable repetition of the principles and case study content (mainly to make it easier to use for reference), and overlap between the images caused me to have several déjà vu moments in reading it straight through, but the approach should be useful to PMs (on projects and programmes) and PMOs (to challenge PMs on their view of projects, and to think about portfolios) at all career stages. Continue reading “Images of Projects (Book Review)”

Managing Business Transformation – a Practical Guide (Book Review)

by Melanie Franklin, IT Governance Publishing, Ely, 152 pages,  £24.95 RRP (review copy provided free of charge by the author)
Pragmatic PMO Rating: ****

This book is intended as a practical guide to understanding and managing change that will benefit your business. It covers the differences between change management and project management, and how to integrate the two.

It starts by loosely defining change management (making a large change to a business that involves a large proportion of the organisation), and breaking it into four stages (understanding; preparing; implementing and embedding). Each chapter of the book deals with one stage before finishing with a look at the alignment of change management with the project management that underpins it.

Chapter 1 (Understanding) suggests reviewing the business case to understand the drivers for change, and comparing the “from” state with the “to” state to understand its scale. It recommends cultivating support using a vision statement as early as possible to increase participation and reduce resistance.

Chapter 2 (Preparing) proposes producing a road map to the desired final state, listing what will stop, what will continue and what will start as a result of the change. This “paves the way” for the change and smooths the transition. Plans should be built constructed in both top-down and bottom-up directions, and will not need many updates. Plans should be communicated to stakeholders often enough to ensure the message gets across, and tailored to their needs.

Chapter 3 (Implementing) describes building the change team and ensuring various team roles are represented. It discusses potential emotional reactions to the change, and offers ways to address these to help those affected to move through the change smoothly. It maintains that change managers need more “friends” than average, and offers ways to cultivate this.

Chapter 4 (Embedding) describes how the change progresses from “new” to “normal”. It recommends measuring adoption, and dismantling the old ways. This can be encouraged using financial incentives, celebration, coaching for stragglers, and a managed exit for those who cannot or will not adapt.

Chapter 5 (Alignment with project management) highlights that whilst project teams generally deliver change enablers (e.g. a new IT system), it is others that take these enablers and embed them into organisational culture. Thus the change life cycle is related to and analogous to the project life cycle, but distinct from it.

Conclusion

This book draws useful parallels between change management and project management whilst highlighting differences. The use of voices from people who have “been there” makes the advice real, and the liberal use of diagrams helps to explain the various concepts. At 152 pages this book takes <2 hours to read; with a RRP of £24.95 it is likely to pay for itself many times over with application of just a few principles. Recommended for project managers who want a better understanding of how their projects fit into the bigger picture.

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Business-driven PMO setup – Practical insights, techniques and case examples for ensuring success (Book Review)

by Mark Price Perry, 2009, J Ross Publishing, USA. ISBN 978-1-60427-013-6, 494 pages, RRP £60
Pragmatic PMO Rating: ****


The stated aim of this book is to show the reader how to create and maintain a business-driven PMO, because PMOs that are driven by the needs of the business succeed, whereas when PMOs are driven by other motivations fail.

The book sets this out in a pattern of alternating chapters – one explaining a point from a theoretical or academic perspective, which is then supported by a shorter chapter or two demonstrating that point working in practice.

Rather than go through summarising each chapter, I thought it might be more helpful to list some interesting points or “Aha!” moments that I found in this book (and there were many).

On projects and project management generally:
  • Involve operations early in projects. Document operational concerns and deliver against them. Get handover documents signed, and exit project staff as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t use part time operations staff on projects, as their primary loyalty will always be to operations. Make dedicated project people accountable with project-specific targets, contracts, etc.
  • Project managers should focus more on managing relationships and taking action, and less on managing RAID logs and keeping documentation up to date. Aim to produce the desired result rather than the planned result (although if these are the same then so much the better!).
On PMO setup and development:
  • A PMO should articulate its business value at or before inception, or expect to defend the additional cost.
  • Don’t “sell” the PMO to Management. Ensure the PMO delivers real business benefits, and let these speak for you. The main source of inadequate Senior Management buy-in to PMOs is probably the result of them having been “sold” a PMO they didn’t really want or need.
  • Most PM methodologies are geared towards large complex projects, but these often make up a tiny percentage of the PMO’s project portfolio. A PM methodology needs to be flexible and scalable to suit the size and complexity of the project being managed.
  • Methodologies should only be used at all if they improve results – “Best Practice” may not be a good fit for your organisation and its projects.
  • Not really an “Aha!” moment but one I very much agree with (see my posts on Watermelon and Green Side Up reporting) – if a project continually reports green RAG statuses across the board, then the budget and timescales were probably inflated – you should expect to see a range of RAG statuses in the lifespan of any project.
  • Project KPIs should reflect the needs of the business, not some internal, myopic, PM-specific measures. As people work to targets, you may as well direct their efforts to truly desirable outcomes.
  • Measure quality not in terms of how closely the plan was followed (it may have been the wrong plan), but how satisfied the customer is with the deliverables.

To sum up, some books once read get passed on to a colleague or put on the shelf and never looked at again. For me, this is not one of those books. Now that I have finished writing this review I will be reading this book again from the start, but this time with a highlighter pen in one hand and a pad of sticky bookmark tabs in the other!

I didn’t pay for this book (it was a gift – not from the publishers!) but I think it is well worth the cover price.

A Project Prayer

The programme team I have been working with has a daily stand-up meeting that has acquired the “morning prayers”. It got me wondering – given the opportunity, what should a project or programme team pray for? Here’s what I came up with…

Our Sponsor, who art in the executive suite
Hallowed be thy business case.
Thy vision come
Thy mission be done
In actuals as it is in the forecast.
Give us this year our annual budget
And forgive us our delayed milestones,
As we forgive those who delay our inbound dependencies.
And lead us not into scope creep,
But deliver us from change requests.
For thine are the deliverables,
The outcomes and the benefits,
From Go Live into BAU,
Amen.
What would your project or programme team pray for? Let me know in the comments.

SharePoint for Project Management – How to Create a Project Management Information System (PMIS) with SharePoint (Book Review)

by Dux Raymond Sy, O’Reilly Media Inc, 232 pages, £25 RRP
Pragmatic PMO Rating: ****

This book is intended as a “how to” guide for setting up a Project Management Information System, aimed at the practising Project Manager (PM) or Project Management Office (PMO) Manager. In this it is completely successful. The book (safely in my view) assumes a reasonable level of familiarity with both standard office use of computers, and a reasonable level of familiarity with PM principles and techniques, taking this to build a PMIS, so often referred to in PM textbooks as an essential resource but rarely explained or explored in any depth.

Chapter 1 deals with what SharePoint is (a system that enables individuals in an organisation to easily create and manage their own collaborative websites), what a PMIS is (a standardised set of PM tools available within an organisation and integrated into a system), and whether you need one (if you are running anything more than the smallest and simplest projects then you probably do).

Chapter 2 deals with the structure and hierarchy of SharePoint sites, and takes the reader through the creation and customisation of the most basic elements of a SharePoint site (as a practical exercise if you have the necessary resources handy).

Chapter 3 builds on this foundation by adding PMIS elements such as a shared calendar, contacts list, risk list, and document library, using these as opportunities to explain how these SharePoint features work.

Chapter 4 covers the introduction of stakeholders, managing their access to information using groups with varying permissions.

Chapter 5 gets into the use of SharePoint’s document and collaboration features, with a good description of how document check out / check in saves us from playing “whoever saves last keeps their content”, and an overview of SharePoint’s native version controlling approach and whether you need it (you probably do!). This chapter also covers wikis, document workspaces, and discussion boards (with examples you can try out), all of which are intended to promote team collaboration.

Chapter 6 goes into the use of SharePoint’s built-in features to track project progress, with a warning against using the too-basic Project Task list as your only Gantt chart tool. There is a good detailed section on customising lists to use as fairly well-featured Risks and Issues Registers, and a section showing how to manage the items in these lists with SharePoint’s built-in Workflow capabilities. This chapter even goes so far as to show you how to build a pretty serviceable Change Control system using the workflow feature with a customised list.

Chapter 7 takes a look at the Reporting options available. This chapter helps the reader to learn how to set up special views and web parts to create a Project Dashboard, and how to set up alerts to stay informed about what’s happening in the PMIS.

Chapter 8 deals with the integration of Excel with SharePoint, showing how to achieve bidirectional information exchange. Unfortunately direct synchronisation with MS-Project is not possible, but the book suggests an alternative approach to minimise the pain (keeping the management of the MSP plan in the hands of the PM, but allowing the Project team to report updates using a task list).

Chapter 9 rounds off the book by explaining how to shut down a project and its associated SharePoint site, even capitalising on what you have learned from your experience by saving your site as a template.

The issue of how to get users to interact with and properly use a SharePoint site is dealt with in just two pages right at the end of the book. I guess that is not surprising in a book that is really aimed at the technical rather than people aspects of creating a PMIS in SharePoint, but I still found it a little disappointing as this is crucial to adoption and uptake.

Overall, if you implement all the practical exercises in this book then you will end up with a very usable PMIS for very little outlay. You will still need to convince your team members that this is a Good Thing and that using the PMIS facilities is better than storing copies of documents on their Desktop before emailing them to multiple reviewers for comment, but you will have the tools for them to pick up and use.

In a PMO role on a Programme of over 100 team members that uses SharePoint as its document repository, I have referred to this book as my SharePoint ”Bible” most days; as a result it has quickly become well-thumbed! I would recommend this guide to anyone wanting to set up a low-cost, practical PMIS and who wants guidance on how to do this without getting bogged down in technical minutiae.

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What has the PMO ever done for us?

What has the PMO ever done for us

With all due acknowledgement (and apologies) to Monty Python’s Flying Circus, whose film The Life of Brian inspired this post.

THE INTERIOR OF A DIRTY CITY PUB. A SHADY BACK ROOM WITH A CONSPIRATORIAL ATMOSPHERE. We join a meeting of the Project Managers’ Revolutionary Front, where Brother Reg (the chairman of the meeting) is proposing a motion to the members (all Project Managers), and a CxO guest.

REG (gesticulating at a complex diagram on a flip chart): …So we break into the PMO, set fire to the methodology and sabotage the automated status report reminder email! Who’ll second me so we can take a vote?

[Apathetic silence]

BRIAN (a project manager): Are you sure we should actually be ransacking the PMO, Reg? I mean, some of the stuff they do is really quite useful…

Reg: Useful?!  Don’t make me laugh! What has the PMO ever done for us?

Brian: Well, the project management methodology makes sure we all talk the same language; before we had a PMO we didn’t know whether we were using PRINCE2® or the PMBoK®!

NIGEL (another project manager): That’s right Brian, and they update the methodology with Lessons Learned so it’s relevant to our projects and not over-bureaucratic…

SISTER SUSAN (another project manager, under her breath): Unlike these meetings…

[Sniggers all round]

Nigel (quickly): They do health checks to identify where our projects may be at risk, and help us to bridge the gaps.

Susan: And they develop user-friendly document templates to save us time

Reg: OK, so there are two things the PMO has given us…

LORETTA (a CxO): Well, they distil all the project reports into concise, executive-friendly information so that we know what’s going on.

Brian: …and they build project plans that we can actually use, rather than just stick on the wall and ignore like we used to…

Loretta: …and they prepare exec-specific views of the plans…

Reg: Well yes obviously planning, but what else?

Nigel: They keep an eye on the details for us…

Brian: And that’s where the devil is, isn’t it people?

[Nods and murmurs of general agreement]

Nigel: Yeah, like actions for completion; risks for review…

Brian: Exactly! They liberate us to manage our teams to deliver on time, to quality, and within budget.

Reg: Alright, I accept the PMO vitally underpins delivery of the project portfolio, but apart from methodology management, terrific templates, intelligent information, practical planning, and monitoring the detail, what has the PMO ever done for us?

Susan: Well, remember those “zombie” projects that we should never have started but that just wouldn’t die? They got those stopped…

Loretta: And that freed up some budget for projects that actually deliver benefits!

Reg: Hmm, this meeting isn’t really going the way I planned it.

Susan (just loud enough for everyone except Reg to hear): Maybe he should have got the PMO to run it!

[Amused guffaws. Reg looks frustrated. The laughter fades into awkward silence; the meeting seems to have rather lost its purpose]

Reg: All those in favour of going for a curry?

Project Psychology (Book Review)

by Sharon De Mascia, Gower Publishing Ltd, Farnham, Surrey, ISBN 978-0566089428, 181 pages, £60 RRP (review copy provided free of charge)
Pragmatic PMO Rating: ****

This book addresses a gap in the Project Management literature – how people and their behaviours contribute to project failure, and shows the reader how psychology can improve the chances of project success.

Chapter 1 begins by looking at the skills and attributes needed by the project manager and the project team members. It covers how these might differ from those needed by Business As Usual (BAU) teams and managers, and how to factor them into recruitment or team member selection using psychometric tests.

Chapter 2 covers project leadership, exploring how successful leaders use emotional intelligence to build relationships and trust with colleagues, furthering their engagement and motivation.

Chapter 3 explores the nature of teams, from the roles that people adopt within them to the relationships that form and that can help or hinder project success.  It covers the characteristics of high-performing teams, and how to foster a vibrant team culture.

Chapter 4 describes how team leaders can develop and motivate team members through coaching, and the skills needed in order for this to be successful.

Chapter 5 looks at the importance of stakeholders and how to engage them effectively. It covers how to negotiate with them and even coach them whilst maintaining good relationships.

Chapter 6 examines the methods of communication now available to project teams, and how emotions and non-verbal communication affect the transmission and perception of messages. It gives practical suggestions to improve communications with team members and other stakeholders.

Chapter 7 examines the psychology of risk, covering human behaviours to be considered alongside formal risk management. This includes the effect of single personalities within a team, and effects arising from the team itself.

Chapter 8 covers conflict, offering techniques for using it positively; for example using a coaching approach to understand the reasons for conflict and to facilitate a win-win outcome.

Chapter 9 looks at change management, and this can be used in project management to ensure that change is sustainable through winning “hearts and minds”.

Chapter 10 examines ensuring the project board provides sufficient levels of appropriate challenge to ensure that the project steers clear of “groupthink”.

Chapter 11 looks into why organisations find it so difficult to learn from mistakes, and how to improve this using public wikis or learning logs, and reducing defensive behaviours.

Chapter 12 covers project closure, describing measures that may help with this emotional time, especially if the project was not a success.

The book closes by summarising what has gone before, identifying the underlying principles and suggesting some behaviours that project manager can use to improve their own results.

I would not have thought of buying this book, but am glad I have read it. It gave me several “Aha!” moments (of understanding) which I am sure others would have too. It offers a good balance between psychology theory, and practical techniques to improve project results. Recommended for all project managers seeking to improve their people skills.

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Gower Handbook of People in Project Management (Book Review)

by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott, Gower Publishing Ltd, Farnham, Surrey, ISBN 978-1409437857, 908 pages, £100 RRP (electronic review copy provided free of charge)
Pragmatic PMO Rating:  ***

Let me start by saying that this is BIG book. As it would take me a very long time to read the whole thing (and I doubt that the book is meant to be used that way) I will base my review on a selection of chapters that appeal to me rather than the whole thing.

Starting with Chapter 17 – The Project Office Environment, this is not as I was expecting about the business context of the Project Office, but all about the physical aspects of the office (lighting, desk layout, even carpet!) and how they can affect a project team’s performance. Most of this would apply to any office environment of course, but the chapter makes mention of special factors (such as the visibility of the project manager or director) that have special significance for projects. Some useful points are raised – for example the provision of a dedicated, lockable meeting room that can be used as a “War Room” for a particular large project or programme.

Chapter 6 – Project Management in the Private Sector outlines that projects in the private sector could be run according to a variety of methodologies (as opposed to PRINCE2® which is commonly used in the public sector), and in many cases also using the bare minimum of documentation required to get the project done quickly but in a robust manner – these documents are often made pre-requisites to obtain project funding. Private sector PMOs are also more streamlined than their public sector equivalents, and are often tightly focussed on budgets and delivery. Private sector PMOs will prioritise new projects based  on financial return, and the seniority of the sponsor (although these people will see project sponsorship as a relatively low priority). Project managers are likely to get caught up in organisational politics, and may find themselves the scapegoats for projects that have “gone wrong”.

Chapter 16 – People in Supporting Roles covers those roles that do not involve directly managing projects, and that may not be dedicated to a single project or programme – typically these roles find their home on the PMO. Amongst other things, the PMO is interested in: ensuring a consistent approach to the management of projects; development and provision of PM templates; development and maintenance of corporate PM methodology; training of PMs; demand / capacity management; estimation; planning; project control and administration. In a large PMO these functions may each be performed by one or more dedicated people, or in a smaller PMO each person may cover a wide range of roles. This chapter also covers some of the functions in the wider organisation that will support project activity.

This book has 63 chapters that average at about 13 pages per chapter. Each chapter has an introduction, some discussion and a conclusion, and is written by a current practitioner. I think that rather than being read from cover to cover, this book should be treated more like an encyclopaedia – it could be the first place you would go to in order to research a topic, to be followed up in more detail if need be. In this application, the book does a good job across a wide range of subjects. The £100 RRP is high enough to cause a sharp intake of breath, certainly, but it should be borne in mind that for this price you are getting at least 3 times the content of a more standard-sized book. This would be a good book to have on the shelves of a university, an organisational PMO, or a PM practitioner looking to develop their knowledge of the people aspects of PM.

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Spontaneous teamwork – the best kind?

Spontaneous teamwork - the best kind

I recently saw a great example of spontaneous teamwork. I was making my way up one of those very long escalators you find in London tube stations. Some way above me and ahead of me, a woman took off her hat and put her hand on the moving hand rail, but without realising it let go of her hat. The hat slid quickly down the steeply sloping polished surface next to the hand rail. It slid past several people but a man about ten rows behind the woman caught the hat. The hat was then passed forwards by various people and within little more than ten seconds was returned to the delighted and grateful woman, who until then had not even realised it was lost.

I noted several observations from this little scene:

  • This team formed completely spontaneously – no-one was assigned roles or organised from above (but then this was a very simple little task)
  • Nobody told the team what to do – they saw there was something that needed to be done, and they did it
  • No-one in the team had anything to gain from their actions, except the satisfaction of doing something good, and of seeing the woman’s smile when her hat was returned (although granted they were there anyway and it was very little trouble to them to help her). She was positively beaming – I think it was an expensive hat!
  • The recipient was delighted with the result because she got something she wasn’t expecting.

So how can we apply these observations to teamwork in project management? Here are my thoughts:

  • If you are lucky enough to have an experienced and mature team, let them organise themselves as far as possible – show them what needs to be done and then hold back, only stepping in if it looks like it’s not going to work.
  • Explain to the team what the end goal is and that you need their help. They will feel more motivated to contribute if:
    • they can see what the goal is and agree it is worthwhile
    • they can see how their actions contribute to reaching the goal
    • they will receive recognition for achieving the goal
  • If you want to delight your sponsor, you can deliver a little something extra that they didn’t know about (but that is easy and cheap for you to provide, that the sponsor finds desirable and that they didn’t have to pay any extra for!). B.Be careful here though, as they may expect similar extras in future that are difficult and expensive for you to provide, and providing too much as free extras could lead to your sponsor undervaluing the delivery they did pay for.

What do you think? What PM lessons occur to you from this little scene?

The Agile PMO – Leading the Effective, Value Driven, Project Management Office (Book Review)

by Michael Nir
Self-published by the Author as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.com, 46 pages (estimated, 10,400 words), £2.65 RRP (review copy supplied free of charge)
PragmaticPMO Rating:  ****

This book leads with a single central principle – that a PMO’s sole reason for existence is the creation of value for the organisation, and that the single most effective way it can do that is by managing the allocation of resources to projects. Of course, tools, methodology and processes are all good things to have, but identifying how to deploy resources for the best return on that investment is where a PMO really comes into its own.

I initially found such a forceful statement a little hard to swallow, but the book shows (using example scenarios drawn from the author’s consulting experience) several ways how the PMO can fail if it chooses to focus its efforts in other directions.

If a PMO fails to establish the necessary authority and credibility with the Project Manager (PM) community at a sufficiently early stage, it becomes relegated to performing only supportive, administrative work. This is so time-consuming that there is no time to develop more useful services, value delivery is limited and the PMO will be cut as soon as funding decreases.

If a PMO focuses on methodology, the PMs may superficially complete templates and processes just to keep the PMO quiet, but the completed templates and processes may bear little relation to reality. Unless the methodology is focused tightly on improving project delivery, this type of PMO merely increases administrative burden on PMs without enhancing value. Again, the PMO will be cut as soon as funding decreases.

PMOs that function mainly as a home for PMs do little to create value (other than managing the PMs as resources). Despite this it can persist for a long time as business value is not even considered, and the PMO duties are usually carried out by fairly junior (cheap) people.

PMOs that try to implement everything (resource management, methodology, templates, etc.) at once can appear to PMs as dictatorial rather than collaborative. This results in resistance to change and ultimately wasted effort in a failed implementation.

PMOs that focus on software tools before methodology, processes and templates spend a lot of time and effort customising the tool to accommodate the variety of approaches in the organisation. This is a very labour-intensive and expensive activity!

PMOs that implement an unsuitable methodology risk creating unnecessary barriers to implementation that slow down project delivery and upset customers.

So then, having covered several interesting (and familiar!) ways in which the PMO can fail, how is it to succeed? By treating the implementation of a PMO as a Change process, it is possible to increase the likelihood of success. Steps include: creating a sense of urgency; Creating a coalition of supportive stakeholders and engaging them to avoid surprises; Creating a vision with SMART short and long term objectives to instil pride; Communicating the vision regularly and consistently to instil trust; Empowering people to contribute and help to remove obstacles; Generating quick wins to gain support; and Embedding the changes in organisational culture.

Doing all this while focussing effort and new initiatives on the areas that will deliver the most benefit to the organisation soonest (and it helps if these also have influential and vocal stakeholders!) brings the best results.

The value created can be measured in terms of increasing the number of projects being delivered in a given time (since completed projects create value). As the availability of resources (people and/or money) is usually the single largest barrier to delivering more projects, increasing project delivery is often best achieved by creating a view of project and resource status to enable the most effective utilisation of resources across the project portfolio.

This is not a heavyweight book – you can read it from cover to virtual cover in about half an hour. Although it doesn’t go into detail describing the ideal approach (which in any case would differ in the detail from organisation to organisation), for me just as much of the real value in this book comes from the examples of what not to do and how that leads to failure.

Well worth the purchase price!