How to keep your programme schedule on the right track

Having created a useful project or programme schedule, how do you use it as a delivery tool? Here’s the approach I have used successfully on several recent programmes.

How to keep your programme schedule on the right track

Background

During the final delivery stage of a multi-year relocation and Change Management project, with a few weeks to go before moving ~800 people and their equipment between sites, I was managing the integrated programme schedule to confirm we were in a position to move on the planned dates (or not!).

The Steering Committee (SteerCo) and Internal Audit wanted reassurance (via a series of pre-move readiness meetings) that we would be able to move on the planned dates, to know that the Business and Stakeholders would be happy to move on those dates; and for the programme to take any appropriate action to enable this to happen.

Prepare

To enable this, I created a suite of intermediate “collector” milestones on the programme schedule:

  • “People ready” to move (reflecting the completion of Change Management activity, both “Must have” and “Should have”)
  • “Systems & Building ready” to receive the People ( both “Must have” and “Should have”)

I worked on the basis that in order to be in the “Must have” category, the absence of the deliverable had to be big enough to stop the move; otherwise it wasn’t really a “must have” but a “should have”. I made these intermediate milestones immediate predecessors of the first move (with any slack available between these and the first move date being explicitly shown as schedule contingency).  I obtained current information on forecasts and actual start/finish dates through weekly Workstream Lead (WSL) reports and regular 1:1 schedule review sessions, and updated the schedule with this information.

Monitor

I monitored the plan (and especially the critical path leading up to the first move) for the effect on the final deliverables of any updates. Each time I updated the plan with new information, I checked to confirm we were still on track to deliver the final deliverables on the planned dates, adjusting the contingency buffer if necessary.

In this way I spotted anomalies – for example, having updated the schedule with revised dates from weekly WSL reports, I noticed final delivery milestone had moved 2 weeks later than planned. Each WSL’s detail plan appeared to be on track in isolation, but taken as a whole programme (taking dependencies into account) the final deliverables were late.

Detect

My typical approach to finding the cause of an anomaly such as this is to trace the predecessors of the slipped deliverable, working backwards in time to find where the delay is ultimately coming from (usually this is from missing or outdated inter-workstream or inter-project dependencies, raising the need for greater detail or revised dependencies).

In the case of the example, I isolated the problem to the start of a technology Pilot, which in turn was dependent on an IT system becoming available following Technical Testing and User Acceptance Testing (UAT).

Re-plan, Recommend, Resolve

I then analyse the situation and propose some remedial options, in the case of the example these included:

  • Removing the IT system from the Pilot scope (introducing a quality risk)
  • Shortening the duration of the Tech testing before the UAT and Pilot (also introducing a quality risk)
  • Combining the Pilot with UAT by selecting UAT users for the Pilot, killing two birds with one stone (recommended approach)

The programme team opted to implement the combined UAT / Pilot approach I recommended, bringing the programme back onto schedule. The approach for Change Requests is similar:

  • Create a new version of the schedule (or insert new activities in such a way that they don’t affect the “real”, working schedule) to use as a “what-if?”schedule.
  • Make the changes as detailed in the Change Request, making or breaking dependencies as appropriate.
  • Assess the impact on the delivery dates, resource utilisation, financial forecasts, and make a recommendation to the programme director and ultimately the SteerCo to accept or reject the Change Request.

Result

As a result of using this approach:

  • The programme was kept on schedule, to deliver on time;
  • SteerCo and Internal Audit were reassured that the run-up to moving was in hand, as they were kept up to date on an ever-diminishing list of pre-move “must have” deliverables;
  • The Go/NoGo decision on moving was taken in the full knowledge that: all “must have” deliverables would be in place on day 1; most “should have” items would be in place on day 1, and the missing “should have” items would become available on specific dates post-move.

In this way, the schedule was transformed from a collection of dates and coloured sticky notes on the wall into a dynamic tool with which to proactively manage programme delivery.

So that’s my approach to keeping a programme schedule on track, learned through training and experience. It this approach useful to you? How do you keep your programme schedules on track?

If you would like to have the benefits of an approach like this but prefer not to have to worry about this sort of techy stuff, why not talk to us about taking care of it all for you on your next big project or programme?

How to create a useful programme schedule

How do you integrate the schedules of multiple projects into a single programme schedule that concisely conveys time-related information? This is the approach I have successfully used for several programmes.

How to create a useful programme schedule

I was brought into a programme which had only rudimentary programme spreadsheet-based plans, and which was therefore unable to forecast how delays in one part of the programme would affect other parts of the programme, or to assess the potential impact of change requests. Senior stakeholders needed a programme “road map” (to assess overall progress towards delivery deadlines, and to obtain some guideline forecasts for the annual budgeting cycle), and the programme director needed a detailed view of the activities leading up to delivery.

Purpose of the schedule

A programme schedule should not just be a pictorial representation of what we think will happen, or a rigid list of events to which the programme should slavishly adhere. Instead I believe it can and should be a flexible model of the programme’s activities that can forecast potential problems, be adapted to overcome those problems, and be used to enable on-time delivery.

Approach

Where they already existed, I used task lists and brainstorming session outputs as a starting point. I developed these by meeting with project managers (PMs) and workstream leads (WSLs), capturing their thoughts on the key activities of their projects directly into Microsoft® Project® (MS-Project), challenging duration estimates and dependency relationships as we worked. I refined the resultant draft schedules using stakeholder input before getting them agreed by all parties and baselining them.

Where there were no plans at all, I either held planning sessions or translated process flow diagrams prepared by Business Analysts into MS-Project plans, cross-linking these with dependences into an integrated and resourced programme schedule, with the critical path identified and highlighted.

I also worked with contributing PMs / WSLs to standardise elements of their plans (e.g. use of custom MS-Project fields) for easier integration into a programme schedule.

From this programme schedule, I prepared resource and financial plans for budgeting as required, custom filtered views (missed milestones, items due to start or finish in the next four weeks, etc.) for progress tracking, and highly summarised “road maps” for senior stakeholders.

I kept the schedule updated with progress and with the outcomes of approved Change Requests; I regularly reviewed forecasts against the schedule baseline to identify potential slippage; and prepared “what-if” plans showing the impact of proposed changes.

Result

In this way, the schedule was transformed from a collection of dates and coloured sticky notes on the wall into into a dynamic tool with which to proactively manage programme delivery.

Under this approach, the Programme Manager has a good forward view of the critical path to delivery (and the potential pitfalls along the way) and the Programme Board has a good overview of progress achieved so far, and the activities still to come.

But what about when things change? What do you do then? More about that in a separate post.

So that’s my approach to creating a useful programme schedule, learned through training and experience. It this approach useful to you? How do you keep your programme schedules on track?

If you would like to have the benefits of an approach like this but prefer not to have to worry about this sort of techy stuff, why not talk to us about taking care of it all for you on your next big project or programme?

® Microsoft and Project are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

 

When the Client wants to Pull the Plug

…a Case Study showing one approach to evaluating whether a project should be cancelled or completed.

When the Client wants to Pull the Plug

First, some context…

Some years ago I was managing a project to design and manufacture about 20,000 pieces of equipment for a household name client (let’s call them ClientCo) of the engineering manufacturer I was working for (we’ll call them MyCo).

MyCo’s project costs were to be factored into the selling price of the units (rather than invoicing ClientCo as we went along), and it was crucial to the financial stability of MyCo that we would sell the units at the end of the project.

Part way through the project, ClientCo restructured. Budgets were revisited, and question marks appeared over my project that was a “nice to have” for ClientCo but a “must have” for MyCo.

The challenge I was set by MyCo was to demonstrate to ClientCo why they should continue with the project and make their cuts elsewhere.

We needed them more than they needed us

Design-and-manufacture Projects deliver the benefits right at the end. There’s nothing to be gained from owning component tooling and assembly jigs – you have to make, and use the finished product in order to realise the benefits.

Calculate cost:benefit of completion vs. exit

I laid the finances on the line, preparing a breakdown of the cost to complete the project with a statement of the benefits to be gained, vs. the cost to exit the project early (comprising remaining project costs, plus costs to make the tooling for component manufacture, which had already been contractually committed to). I added this cost information to my (weekly) Project Status Reports.

Let the Client decide (after all it’s their money…)

Initially, the exit cost was considerably less than the completion cost, but exit would have been embarrassing for my customers at ClientCo as it would entail expenditure without benefits. I explained my ClientCo customers that as the project progressed, the completion cost would decrease in relation to the exit cost, and benefit realisation would draw closer. The project remained in funding limbo for a couple of months (with my ClientCo customers explaining the journey towards benefit realisation to their own Sponsors), but it soon became apparent to ClientCo that it was better to complete (and realise the benefits) than it was to exit, and the project continued right through to manufacture.

Have you been in a similar situation to this? What approach did you use? How did it go?

What does your PMO stand for?

(well OK, mostly the “P” part…)

All over the web you will see people asking or debating what the “P” stands for in PMO. The “MO” stands for “Management Office”, but the “P” can stand for Project, Programme or Portfolio depending on the organisational context.

Axelos use the term P3O® to cover all three, but this is also confusing as the insertion of the “3” makes many people think that the final “O” is actually a “0” (zero) rather than the “O” of “Office”.

This can of course lead to confusion, so I suggest making a small alteration to remove the ambiguity. In my own writing I use:

  • PjMO = Project Management Office
  • PgMO = Programme Management Office
  • PfMO = Portfolio Management Office

This makes it very clear which kind of PMO we are talking about. Simples!!

What do you think?

Processes are an organisation’s memory

Further to my post on Lessons Learned from project delivery, I’m going to take a calculated risk by standing up for the pragmatic application of process. Yes, that’s right, process.

Processes are an organisations memory

Now, people seem to enjoy a bit of process-bashing, and I get that: nobody wants to have their working lives organised for them to the point where they become a soul-less, heartless, brainless robot, but I am proposing the idea that processes are an organisation’s memory.

Let me illustrate this with a well-known story – the Fable of the Five Monkeys. If you don’t know this story, Eddie Obeng tells it beautifully in this very short (2½ minutes!) video.

Here is the story in a nutshell:

  • Five monkeys were kept in a cage with some bananas at the top of a ladder. Whenever one of the monkeys climbed the ladder to get a banana, all the monkeys were hosed down with cold water. Soon, the monkeys began to beat each other up to stop any other monkeys from climbing the ladder and getting them all hosed.
  • Eventually, the threat of cold water was removed, but the monkeys didn’t realise that and still stopped each other from getting bananas anyway.
  • Then, one monkey was replaced with a new monkey. This monkey didn’t know about the cold water, so when he tried to get a banana, the other monkeys beat him up to stop him.
  • One by one all the monkeys in the group were replaced, and all of them would stop each other from trying to get the bananas, even though none of the original monkeys were there, none of them had been sprayed with water and in any case the cold water had been turned off.
  • Effectively a culture had been created within which you get beaten up if you try to get a banana, but none of the monkeys understood why.

The meaning of this story is that to begin with, an organisation adopts a particular course of action – let’s call it The Process (e.g. ignoring the tempting bananas) for Sensible and Compelling Reasons – the result of lessons learned from a project perhaps (if you go for the bananas, you get hosed).

The organisation encourages everyone to use The Process (and beats them up if they don’t). However after a while, people change and no-one remembers what the Sensible Reasons for implementing The Process were, and all you have left is a secondary, cultural reason – because “we have always done it that way” (if we don’t use The Process, we get beaten up).

This situation has the following possible outcomes, each with their pros and cons:

  • The organisation carries on using The Process because “we have always done it that way”.
    • Pro – It may still be perfectly sensible to use The Process because the original Reasons for implementing it still apply (the person with the hose is still there, or the bananas were always poisonous). However,
    • Con – It may no longer be sensible to use The Process because the Reasons for creating it have disappeared (the hose person has gone). Using The Process may be at best inefficient, or at worst, dangerous (ignoring the handy supply of bananas may lead to starvation).
  • Someone new to the organisation cannot understand why The Process is being used, and implements The New Process, which they think is far more sensible.
    • Pro – It may be perfectly sensible to implement The New Process if the Reason for The Original Process is no longer applicable (the hose person has gone), or The New Process by pure luck addresses the original Reason. However…
    • Con – If the Reason still applies and The New Process doesn’t address it, then the organisation is in for trouble (we’re all going to get hosed!)

So, it seems to me that there is nothing wrong with having a process embedded into organisational culture so it becomes “the way we do things round here”, provided that the people that use the process know why that process exists, and the process is reviewed periodically to ensure that it is still appropriate.

Under this approach, the monkeys in the story would know that they must not touch the bananas or they will all get hosed. They would periodically review the approach to ascertain whether the Reason for The Process is still applicable (the hose person is still there), and to change the approach if the circumstances have changed.

By now, you are probably wondering how this applies to Project Management.

Whilst it may or may not be appropriate for an organisation to codify the management of an entire project as a process (there are many popular books and courses on the market that have done that already), I think there is a case for an organisation to document and manage any special ways they have developedof doing certain project stages (Start-up, Initiation, Execution, Closure, etc.) and often-repeated aspects of project management (e.g. Risk Management, Procurement, etc.) as processes, with a documented purpose, objective, and review schedule.

That way, someone (the PMO?) is responsible for looking after, say, the risk management process, and is periodically reviewing it with a view to improving it in the light of Lessons Learned by the organisation.

An approach I have used in a Portfolio Office role to embed lessons learned with some degree of success is to pre-populate the organisational Risk Register template with issues that have cropped up in previous projects, scored initially with a medium to high probability – this prompts the Project Manager to actively assess that risk in relation to their own project, and reduce the risk likelihood or impact if it is felt that it is either not relevant, or that the risk has been mitigated.

This approach makes it easy for the Project Manager to draw on previous organisational lessons (making it very clear why they might want to do things in the recommended way), and also puts the control and responsibility in the hands of the Project Manager, who can use their own (and the team’s) experience to judge whether a particular pre-loaded risk is relevant for the project in hand.

How does your project organisation ensure that people know why they do things, and that the organisational project management approach (or process, or methodology) stays up to date and relevant? Let me know in the comments.

How to make sure that Lessons Learned stay that way

I often wonder just how much project management organisations really learn from project successes and mistakes. I think we could all definitely learn better than we currently do.

How to make sure lessons learned stay that way

I will start by saying that we should not wait until the end of the project to learn lessons (both good and bad) – these will be happening all the way throughout the project and should be logged as they happen. Completion of a Stage (including the final one at the end of the project) present a convenient time to review lessons and take action (including communicating the lessons to the wider project community), but waiting until the end of the project to even identify the lessons represents a missed opportunity for continuous improvement. Having said that, the end of the project is where projects usually consider lessons learned (if they do this at all), in the form of a post-implementation review.

In my portfolio management office (PfMO) experience I have seen post-implementation reviews come up with the same lessons again and again (e.g. build contingency into plans; take more time and care to gather requirements; don’t Go Live without full sign off / back-out plans / user training, etc.), but I have seen even more examples where post-implementation reviews weren’t carried out at all because: the project was too small / too simple; the project finished too long ago / hasn’t finished yet; I don’t have the time; the project team is now working on something else / has all left the company; nothing happens with Lessons Learned anyway; I don’t think it’s worth the effort (delete as applicable!).

I think the PMO can help with Lessons Learned, and that the problems lie not only with identifying the lessons, but also with what to do with the lessons that have been identified to embed the learning into the organisation’s experience and memory. Here are some ways that the PMO can help, to make sure the Lessons are not only learned but also acted on:

  1. The PMO can add the lessons to the corporate PM methodology.
    Done well, robust PM processes and methodologies form part of an organisation’s corporate memory, and are built making intelligent use of the lessons the organisation has learned from previous projects. They are aimed at preventing the repetition of past mistakes without unnecessarily impeding delivery. But the more you add to the methodology, the more rigid and prescriptive it becomes, and the more likely it is to either be cheerfully ignored or blindly implemented in full (and you can bet it will be ignored on the big risky projects and implemented in full on the little simple ones!). The PMO should also avoid becoming the methodology police.
  2. The PMO could collect the lessons identified in a Big Database
    …but to be useful this relies on someone (PMs? the PMO?) reviewing new projects against all the lessons in the database, and identifying relevant points to note.
  3. The PMO could add the lessons to a checklist
    …but that relies on people (PMs)using the checklist and giving some serious consideration to what the items on the checklist represent (rather than just paying lip service and ticking the box). And there will always be the temptation for PMs to come up with a good reason why a checklist item doesn’t apply to the current project…
  4. The PMO can run Lessons Learned sessions
    where the PM of a completed project presents their Lessons to the rest of the Project Management community (but this relies on an open and honest communications culture, and/or bribing the attendees with cakes), or…
  5. The PMO could pre-load the Risk Register template
    with the risk of repeating mistakes made on previous projects – the mitigation for which would be to review the Lessons Learned Big Database for things to consider (and the PMO could add value by offering this as a service).

I think the last two approaches are the best, because one encourages the development of a learning community (this is the subject of a separate post) and the other places responsibility for reviewing past lessons (or not) with Project Managers, but supports them with a PMO service.

So that’s my approach to making project lessons “stickier”, learned through experience. What do you think? How do you ensure lessons from past projects are not just identified and logged, but learned and applied to new projects? Let me know in the comments.

If you would like to have the benefits of an approach like this but prefer not to have to worry about this sort of techy stuff, why not talk to us about taking care of it all for you on your next big project or programme?

Project reporting shouldn’t be “green side up”

Following on from my post on watermelon reporting, I wanted to share another, related, phenomenon with you – “green side up” reporting. This describes the phenomenon where the health of programmes and portfolios is reported more favourably the higher up the organisation the reports are circulated; that is to say that in the project world everything looks green when viewed from above.

As with watermelon reporting, it’s not my expression but I can’t remember where I heard it.

So what are the factors that might lead to this progressive greening of status?

  • Programme Managers want to be perceived as being in control of their programmes, so although the programme may contain one or two amber or even red projects, they want to avoid the unwelcome attention of the CxOs, and so they report the programme as green overall;
  • The amber or red status of one project is diluted by the green status of other projects in the programme: if a programme comprises say ten projects, how many of these need to be amber or red before the programme overall is considered amber or red?
  • As with watermelon reporting, the problem probably really should have been reported (perhaps as amber) some time ago, and to report it as red now would expose that it wasn’t as amber reported before;
  • Also as with watermelon reporting, there’s still an opportunity to turn it around before the next report and due and then no-one will need to know anything was ever red, will they?

Leaving aside factors shared with watermelon reporting, which I have covered in a separate post, Green Side Up reporting is a Bad Idea because:

  • The organisation’s executives (CxOs) will think that everything is always green (in the same way that VIPs and Royals think that the whole world smells of fresh paint all the time!). This could mean that CxOs only become aware of problems when it is already too late to do anything about them;
  • The organisation’s executives (CxOs) will not believe the reports they are receiving.

So what are the alternatives? Here are a few possibilities:

  • The RAG status of programmes could be calculated based on some sort of average of the contents (the calculation of which only the PMO will understand, and which in any case will result in all programmes and projects being amber all the time instead of green or red, which doesn’t really help the CxOs);
  • The status of programmes and portfolios could be reported in the form of a “RAG pie”, with slices showing the proportions of red, amber and green (more accurate, but not exactly simple!);

    Pie chart showing the percentage of projects that are Red, Amber and Green
    Pie chart showing the percentage of projects that are Red, Amber and Green
  • The health status of programmes and portfolios could still be based on the assessment of the programme managers (because they are paid to manage programme-level problems), but the Portfolio PMO could add an exception reporting mechanism that exposes any red projects and provides more detail on these separately so that the CxOs can dig into this if need be.

I think the last one is probably the most practical and pragmatic. What do you think? Have you seen Green Side Up reporting? How is the health of your programmes related to the health of their constituent projects? Do you have any options to add to my list? How do your CxOs stay informed about the real health of their programmes? Let me know in the comments.

Watch out for watermelons in project reports

How do watermelons get into project reports? and why should you watch out for them?

Watch out for watermelons in project reports

“Watermelon reporting” describes the phenomenon where according to a project status report things appear to be green on the outside (i.e. the project’s RAG status is reported as green, with no issues), but if you delve a little deeper and look inside, it’s actually red right through (i.e. there are serious issues). I can’t take the credit for coining this expression but I can’t remember where I heard it either [14Jul 16 update – I’ve found a 2011 article on DZone, so it would seem that the credit for coining the phrase is due to Marc Loffler – kudos to him!].

So what are the factors that might lead a PM to report a project as green when it’s really red?

  • It’s embarrassing for a PM to admit that “their” project is not going as well as it could/should be;
  • It increases the risk that the project will be cancelled (and we all know what happens to a PM whose projects get cancelled…);
  • The problem really should have been reported (perhaps as amber) some time ago, and to report it as red now would expose that it wasn’t reported amber before;
  • There’s still an opportunity to turn it around before the next report is due and then no-one will need to know it was ever red, will they?
  • “We don’t have red projects in this organisation” (oh yes you do!)

Looking at these reasons, you can see that most of them come from the assumption that red is a Bad Thing, and that this is the PM’s Fault – i.e. the organisation has a “blame” culture. Unfortunately, concealing red status inside a green status report is seldom a good idea, for the following reasons:

  • The sooner a problem is identified, the cheaper it is to rectify;
  • The sooner the PM escalates problems to the Sponsor, the more likely it is that the Sponsor will hear about it from the PM (rather than from another senior stakeholder with an axe to grind, for example!);
  • The sooner the Sponsor hears about the problem, the more time they have to perhaps mobilise resources to help, pave the way for a resolution, or manage the message;
  • The consequences of the concealment being discovered get worse the longer the concealment persists (and this is more a case of when rather than if, a bit like when children lie to their parents)
  • If the project really is red enough to be cancelled, then doing this would be in the interests of the organisation, and no PM will win friends by keeping a bad project going longer than it should be.

Of course the PM should not be flagging every little issue and running to the sponsor every half hour (they are paid to sort most things out) but they should be flagging the project as red when any of the constraints (i.e. budget, schedule, quality, benefits) are seriously threatened, and feeling no shame in doing so.

Red should not be seen as an indicator that there is (or should be!) blood on the corporate carpet; instead red should be seen as the colour of the distress flare that the PM is effectively launching to alert stakeholders to the fact that there is trouble, and some tough decisions may need to be taken.

As a PMO, wherever I see watermelon reporting, I encourage the PM to be brave and honest enough to ask for help. Have you seen watermelon reporting? Do your project managers “keep calm and report it as green”? If so, how have you dealt with it? Let me know in the comments.

Project data in, portfolio insight out

How do you give senior management a “helicopter view” of all the change that is going on in an organisation, so that they can make informed decisions on how to spend their change budget? Here’s how I tackled it…

Data in insight out

What I found…

I came to a new Portfolio Management Office (PfMO) in which status was being reported in various formats. Reports were consolidated but this was based on low-value-add copying and pasting of information into lengthy reports. Pretty much every project proposal was being approved, with no view of the organisation’s capacity to implement them. This resulted in projects getting in each other’s way, competing for resources and overloading Subject Matter Experts (SMEs*).

The Goal

The COO tasked me with developing an integrated view of the portfolio to enable sensible prioritisation decisions to be made, and with developing a resource view looking up to one year ahead.

There was neither the appetite nor the budget to invest in a software tool, so the solution needed to be home-grown.

What I did

Standardise and integrate

I ensured that project data was being collected in a standardised way to enable automated collation into a portfolio view by developing an integrated “Project Status Workbook”. This is effectively a multi-page spreadsheet combining RAG Status reports, Risk, Issue, Dependency and Change Registers into a single recording and reporting document for each project, with a stakeholder dashboard showing key pieces of information in a simple graphical format.

Then I developed a consolidating spreadsheet, using VBA macros to collate project data in various categories.

Analyse and interpret

I analysed the data to provide management information to the Portfolio Board (e.g. % of Projects Red/Amber/Green; % of projects Delivered on Time/to Budget; Portfolio focus on Run/Grow the Business, etc.).

I charted trends to provide insight into project management effectiveness.

I introduced simple Demand Management, using a simple spreadsheet to compare resource demand (from active and proposed projects, on a FTEs per month basis) with planned supply in various categories (PMs, BAs, Developers, BAU SMEs, etc.) to enable the Portfolio Board (C-Level executives) to assess the viability of the planned project portfolio within the prevailing (tight!) resource constraints.

Whenever a new project request was received, I added in the forecast resource demand to show the effect on the “deliverability” of the portfolio as a whole.

I used a derivative of this approach when carrying out the annual financial planning exercise. This started with the annual portfolio budget figure, and showed how the projects (prioritised by the portfolio board using a weighted scoring approach covering factors such as complexity, benefits, risk, strategic alignment, etc.) chip away at the portfolio budget until it runs out at “The Cut”, beyond which lower priority projects would need to be put on hold, delayed, rejected or stopped.

I overlaid the resource view onto the financial view to see how the scheduling of the chosen projects affected the resource demand.

…and the result?

The Project Portfolio Board received a concise, consistent and informative view of Portfolio Status, and were able to consider project proposals against the context of the organisation’s capacity to implement them. Projects were better prioritised and scheduled so that difficulties related to resource bottlenecks were reduced.

So that’s my approach to generating portfolio insights, learned through the experience of getting it wrong and coming up with a better way. It this approach useful to you? Let me know in the comments.

If you would like to have the benefits of an approach like this but prefer not to have to worry about this sort of techy stuff, why not talk to us about taking care of it all for you?


*I use the term SMEs to mean people from the operational business who are subject matter experts in the processes or business areas that are to be changed. They do not necessarily contribute to the change itself or form part of the core project team, but their contribution is invaluable in shaping the changes that are made and how they are to be made.

How to create a streamlined project management methodology

How do you develop a project management methodology that isn’t too heavy or too light, that respects the experience of project managers, and that is accessible? Here’s how I approached it…

How to create a streamlined PM methodology

I was made the PMO Manager of a department of about 20 project managers. Although I didn’t have responsibility for the project managers or the portfolio of projects, I did have responsibility for the methodology they were working to and for the reporting of project information to the project portfolio board (comprising most of the organisation’s senior management).

Review the “As Is” methodology

At the time I was appointed, I assumed responsibility for managing the methodology – this was a comprehensive rulebook, spanning over 125 pages and including over 30 document templates, that was updated roughly quarterly. This rulebook was generally either blindly implemented in full (by the less experienced project managers, potentially impeding project delivery) or cheerfully ignored (by the more experienced project managers, potentially increasing the risk to delivery).

Seeing that this was not an ideal situation, I reviewed the methodology to identify the key control points and templates that delivered the most value, either for the project managers or for project and portfolio stakeholders.

I involved the project managers, who helped me to identify where things were inefficient and could be improved. I asked some of them to help me develop and test-drive new improved multi-purpose templates and more efficient ways of reporting, that removed the old cut-and-paste consolidation.

Develop the “To Be” methodology in consultation with stakeholders

To improve ease of use (and uptake) I represented the entire project management approach as a process flow diagram or “framework” on a single A4 page, with hyperlinks to the latest templates for each section. I identified the steps and documents that would always be required for the type of projects generally undertaken, and made these items part of what I called the mandatory “backbone” of the new approach. Everything else I made either conditionally mandatory (depending on project dimensions such as size, risk, complexity, etc.) or fully optional elements. These optional elements could be selected from the “toolkit” or not, as the result of a discussion held early on in the project between the project manager and their line manager (who typically was responsible for the project management of a section of the project portfolio). I designed a document to record the choices made and the reasons why any optional element was though not to be relevant or useful to the project; this empowered the project manager to make choices, but also made the project manager accountable for those choices.

Implement the solution and train users

I trained the project managers in the new approach and published it on the organisation’s intranet. I encouraged project managers not to print paper copies of the guidance or templates or to re-use old completed documents, instead pointing them to the intranet site so that they would always be using the latest versions of the PM approach and the templates.

Review performance, and tune the methodology

I carried out regular post-implementation surveys and facilitated review meetings, and integrated the lessons learned into the framework. I abandoned quarterly releases of a weighty manual, instead making changes to templates and guidelines as often as these were appropriate (and informing stakeholders of the changes and why they had been made).

The new framework gave increased flexibility to project managers whilst ensuring their accountability for their project management approach. The project management community bought in to the framework as they had been closely involved in its development.

So that’s my approach to refreshing a project management methodology, learned through experience. It this approach useful to you? Let me know in the comments.

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