Project Psychology (Book Review)

Full title:Project Psychology - Using Psychological Models and Techniques to Create a Successful Project
Author:Sharon De Mascia
Publisher:Gower Publishing Ltd, Farnham, Surrey
ISBN:
978-0566089428
Pages:181
RRP:
£60 RRP (electronic review copy provided free of charge)
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.

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Gower Handbook of People in Project Management (Book Review)

Full title:Gower Handbook of People in Project Management
Author:Edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott
Publisher:Gower Publishing Ltd, Farnham, Surrey
ISBN:978-1409437857
Pages:908
RRP:£100 RRP (electronic review copy provided free of charge)
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!

Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders – A Practical Guide (Book Review)

Full title:A Practical Guide to Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders, as part of the “Advances in Project Management” series
Author:Jake Holloway, David Bryde, Roger Joby
Publisher:Gower Publishing Ltd (Farnham, Surrey) 2010
ISBN:
978-1-4094-0737-9
Pages:122
RRP:
£26.50 (review copy supplied free of charge by the publishers)
Rating:****

This book aims to improve Project Managers’ understanding of their projects’ stakeholders, and in doing so to improve the quality of engagement and hence project outcomes.

It starts by stating the obvious (but easily forgotten) truth that project stakeholders are all human beings (hmmm, not sure if I can say that applies to all the stakeholders I’ve dealt with…) with all the emotions, personal agendas, hopes and fears that entails. It crucially points out that they may not care about or really support the project (even if they say they do), and that behind the scenes they may even be working really hard to ensure it fails.

The book analyses the various motivations for this type of behaviour (which differ according to the stakeholder’s relationship to the project, and their position in the organisation). It deals with each type of stakeholder in turn (Sponsor, Team, internal/external Clients, internal/external Suppliers), using psychological and business research to explain various ways in which that type of stakeholder may behave. It then suggests practical ways in which these stakeholders can be engaged to improve their interaction with the project and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. It adds colour (and spice!) by illustrating these approaches with real examples drawn from the authors’ experience.

Here a few key “take-aways” that resonated with me and my experience:

  • Accurate reporting may be suppressed or prevented if they differ from the perceptions of a powerful stakeholder (I have seen this in the form of Green Side Up reporting)
  • Changing stakeholder attitudes may not be possible; focus instead on changing their behaviour
  • The most successful approaches for dealing with project saboteurs are generally those in which the saboteur appears to win (or at least not to lose)
  • Project Team members are also stakeholders, with their own motivations, agendas, and objectives. Make sure they are motivated to deliver the project! (the book contains approaches to deal with everything from one or two uncooperative team members to all-out mutiny)
  • When delivering a project for an external Client, make sure they understand you are only delivering the product; it is up to them to use that product to realise the benefits.
  • Enlist the project’s End Users, give them a voice, and use it to influence the Sponsor and Project Board.
  • Pay attention to project Gatekeepers (PMO, Finance). Engage with them, provide what they ask for and follow their procedures as far as possible, and they will be more sympathetic if (when?) you need to do something that breaks The Rules or doesn’t fit inside them.

At 90 pages of actual text, this is not a long read, and is easy to follow and understand. It gave me several “Aha!” moments (NOW I understand why that person behaved that way on that project, and how we could have handled it better…)

I would say that this book is probably most likely to be useful to someone who has a few projects under their belt, and wants to understand and relate to their stakeholders better.

Price per page may seem a little high, but at £5 or less per actionable insight I would say it represents good value for money.