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,
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.

Related articles

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.

Related articles

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.

Related articles


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)

by Jake Holloway, David Bryde, Roger Joby, published by Gower Publishing Ltd (Farnham, Surrey) as part of the “Advances in Project Management” series, ISBN 978-1-4094-0737-9, 122 pages, £26.50 RRP (review copy provided free of charge by the publishers)
Pragmatic PMO 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.

When the Project Sponsor is just too important to be effective

As a project manager, there are a few things you want in a project sponsor:

  • A genuine interest in the success of the project
  • Sufficient “clout” and credibility to argue for the project’s priority against other projects
  • Availability to give ad hoc direction, sign off key documents, etc., as and when required

Failure on the part of the sponsor to fulfil any of these criteria can cause the project serious problems.

Photograph of a door with

You might think that the sponsor’s interest in the success of the project could be taken as read, but this can be lacking, especially if the sponsor did not initiate the project but was “volunteered” for the role (usually by their boss). If there are multiple potential sponsors for a project, the most enthusiastic supporter of the project is likely to be the one that has the most to gain from project success, or the one who would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat if the project was not done!

Clout” usually comes from the project sponsor having seniority, or at least from having good connections with those in seniority, so from this point of view the more senior the sponsor, the better.

Availability sounds like a simple requirement, but the lack of it can seriously affect the successful delivery of the project. A sponsor who is too busy to give ad hoc direction on the best business approach to take in a crisis, for example, risks the project going down a blind alley. A sponsor who cannot give the time required to review and approve a business case will not get their project started; a sponsor who cannot devote a little time to removing project roadblocks will not get their project delivered.

It could be argued that a lack of sponsor availability to the project implies a lack of interest in the project, but this is not always the case. Sponsors who hold very senior positions may get bogged down in “Business as Usual” matters, particularly if they are detail-oriented people or adopt a “hands on” management approach with their BAU roles.

One approach that I have used successfully is to anticipate the sponsor’s potential lack of availability, and persuade the sponsor to delegate a significant chunk of their role to a deputy (ideally a right hand man/woman) who can handle the day-to-day sponsorship duties, with the more senior sponsor only being called on when unblocking is required or when the project is fighting for survival. The deputy will have better access to the sponsor than the PM, and thus the sponsor can influence the project through their deputy.

The senior sponsor is then called upon only when they are really needed, and the project benefits from the sponsor’s oversight, albeit through their deputy.

Are your sponsors just too important to be effective, and if so how do you handle it?

Related articles

Lessons Learned: Specific or Universal?


At a recent PMO FlashMob event, I got chatting with a few FlashMobbers about what can be done with the Lessons identified in project closure reports. There were split opinions in the group:

  • Some thought that Lessons are usually specific to the Project concerned, and are only useful in later stages of the same project, or in running future projects that are very similar to the one from which the Lessons were learned;
  • Others (including me) thought that it is possible to extract more generic learning from at least some Lessons that can be implemented across many projects (even those that are different from the project that identified the Lesson), perhaps by adding or making a small change to a checklist, template, approach, BAU process or corporate PM methodology, or by including the Lesson in PM training or coaching.

I have written before about Lessons Learned and my ideas on how to use them, but I thought it might be fun to try an experiment, with which I would be grateful for your help.

I have written a web survey containing a number of Lessons learned from projects (some very loosely based on my own experience, and some completely made up) – please take a look at them, and for each one let me know:

  • Whether you think it is possible is to draw any learning from the Lesson that can be applied to projects beyond the same type as the original project, and if so
  • What learning you would take from that Lesson and how you would apply it.

On completing the survey (which should only take you about 5-10 minutes) you will see a summary of all the coded responses so far (the survey doesn’t allow respondents to see the free text responses). I will also give you the password to a follow-up article outlining my own thoughts on the examples, which I will update periodically with the best quality outputs from the survey.

So why not make yourself a cup of tea, take the survey and find out how closely your approach to applying Learning from Lessons compares to that of others in the PMO Community?