I’ve raided the archives and dug out the first ever episode of project management TV, featuring #pmchat A-listers Bernardo Tirado, Hala Saleh, Robert Kelly, and Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina. We discuss ‘How project managers can do more with less’ – great stuff for those of us still battling through the age of austerity. In this 30 minute episode, our experts give their top tips on getting the most out of staff in difficult times, and how to avoid personal burnout. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what they have to say.
Project management in the UK public sector has changed in response to the austerity agenda. The need to maintain service quality and breadth while reducing expenditure has led to reduced headcount alongside increased efficiencies. With no sign of any change of direction, organisations are planning for continued public sector contraction up to 2020.
Reduced headcount and a continued need to deliver complex services at high quality, while simultaneously managing unprecedented levels of change is no mean feat. Public sector PM’s are managing more projects concurrently than before, which means that they’ve needed to streamline their own processes. They don’t have time to produce copious amounts of documentation. While echoes of Prince 2 can still be detected, Prince 2 document bloat has gone out of the window. Written records focus on the fundamentals – tasks, risks, issues, decisions – much of the other stuff is superfluous. Those PM’s that were paralysed by analysis have fallen by the wayside – austerity requires swift and pragmatic decision makers. In a Darwinian struggle, only those that have consistently and efficiently delivered results have survived. Other qualifications such as the PMP haven’t really got a foothold, which is likely to be a consequence of reduced training budgets and the continued ‘early to market’ advantage that Prince 2 holds. The APM is the dominant CPD body in the UK, and their Registered Project Professional qualification is slowly beginning to register on the public sector radar.
The need for rapid project delivery under stressful conditions means that PMs have had to up their game with respect to interpersonal skills. PMs must concisely communicate the right information, at the right time. Stakeholders don’t have the time to wade through lengthy communications, and if you fail to consult them at the appropriate time, there’s no chance of backtracking or delaying the project to let them catch up. Comms must be right first time. PMs must also be capable of developing rapport with colleagues, and fostering team spirit. This is not easy when everyone around the table knows that the transformation project will lead to redundancies.
UK public sector PMs have had to become more customer focused. Commissioning approaches have led to the fragmentation of the sector, with large local authorities, health trusts and government departments deploying a combination of outsourcing, mutualisation shared sevices techniques to achieve efficiencies. Consequently PMs find themselves being commissioned to work for departments now sitting outside of the commissioning hub. This leads to a more robust approach to recharging, and so the cost of project management is more transparent than before. In turn, this means that project managers must clearly demonstrate value for money, and ensure that they impress those commissioning them in order to obtain repeat business.
Fragmentation of the sector has also led to the need for smarter approaches to collaborative working. With more geographically dispersed partnerships being created, PMs need to manage teams across a wider area. This has led to increased use of video/tele conferencing and file sharing platforms. The lack of face to face opportunities is another driver for the sharpening of PM communication skills.
In summary, austerity has meant that UK public sector PMs have had to up their game. The increased challenge can create extra stress as well as increased reward and opportunities for PM’s that are up for it.
As pm, you’ll encounter many different kinds of difficult people. In this post I’ll focus on the person who is too busy and too important to do any real work on the project, but is very keen to critique the work of others. There are two ways of looking at a person like this: 1) the person is dead weight on the project, dragging the team down with their criticisms 2) the person is providing a valuable project assurance service. How you respond to that person will depend upon where they sit on your stakeholder matrix – how senior and influential are they within the organisation? How interested are they in the project? How much damage could they do if you fall out with them?
Its never beneficial to make enemies within an organisation, so I’d recommend trying to view the person’s contribution in a positive light, especially if they are senior and influential!
If you read the definition for earth 2.0, you’ll have noticed that it’s an ambitious programme. Ambitious programmes require well thought out approaches. I’ll outline the basics of the approach in this post.
The programme will be collaborative, open source, democratic and agile. The programme ethos is ‘challenge everything': it’s not going to be an easy programme to deliver so we’re going to need some critical thought.
The agile bit is really important as earth 2.0 will not be delivered over night. We therefore need to beak it up into a series of sprints to start delivering real value early.
A collaborative, democratic and crowd sourced approach is required because I do not possess all of the resources and expertise required to deliver the programme. I also believe that the best programmes receive input, steer and participation from diverse stakeholder groups. A one man/woman dictatorship will not deliver earth 2.0
Open source is important because of the need for transparency regarding motives, aims and methods. Open source brings additional benefits around increased rates of innovation and participation.
Finally we need some solid communication channels for the team. Face to face meetings are ideal, and given that this is a global enterprise, web conferencing fits the bill. We’ll therefore utilise Skype, Google hangouts and equivalents. This will be complimented by twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media apps.
I want to scope out a new project. Actually its going to be a programme as the scope is quite broad. The vision statement expressed as succinctly as I can is that ‘Every man and woman is born equal’ – equality of opportunity, equality of quality of life, equality of security. All of this irrespective of geographical location.
I’m not going to manage the entire programme definition in this post, but i’ll begin with some key aspects of the business case.
The main driver for the programme is guilt. Let me explain. When I was a kid I spent my time playing with friends, at school, and with my family. I did not work in a sweatshop. I did not serve as a child soldier. I always had plenty of food. I went to university, got a great graduate job, married a beautiful intelligent compassionate woman and have basically had a ball.
But it takes more than a driver to justify a programme. Let’s develop the business case. I need a shorthand phrase to describe the vision – so let’s just call it Earth 2.0
The benefits of Earth 2.0 include: reduced terrorism; a more productive planet; a greater rate of global development. The costs include: some redistribution of wealth from the first world to 2nd and 3rd world countries; possible environmental damage if the growth is not Eco friendly.
In the next post I consider the programme approach
I’ve got a great plan to get us out of this double dip recession… let’s scrap local government. This brings big advantages. Each household will save approx £1000 per annum taking brits above the poverty line. Sure there are some cons however we can get by:
- we can bury our dead in our gardens
- we can take our own rubbish to the tip, or quietly dump it somewhere more convenient.
- we can home school our kids
- we can do away with all that planning consent nonsense.
Doing away with local gov will stop pesky bureaucrats from interfering in our private lives, will encourage entrepreurship and the big society and will rescue the economy – don’t forget, its big government’s fault we’re in this mess in the first place.
- payment of tax is compulsory
- the council has the monopoly on local service provision, therefore council staff are lazy and don’t care as they don’t need to compete for our custom.
- the council interferes with the rights of the private individual (nanny state)
- the council has no commercial awareness and fritters money away. Besides the council doesn’t earn its money, so why should it care how it spends it?
- council staff are incompetent and only work there because they couldn’t get a job elsewhere, and because they couldn’t cope with the stress of a real job.
So what does this mean for the local government project manager? Many things but most importantly that you’d better make sure your project does not run over budget else the press will eat you for breakfast!
At the small to medium size end of the public sector organisational scale (around 500 employees), software projects typically have budgets in the order of £150,000 over four years – excluding internal resource costs. Such systems may serve around 100,000 customers.
Software project budgets for blue chip companies are often much larger as the workforce and number of customers affected is on a different order of magnitude e.g. 50,000 employees scattered around the globe, with perhaps 5M customers. Budgets for comparable business systems are therefore in the order of £3M over 4 years in this sector.
PM’s often manage up to five projects at any given time, so when we compare the project portfolio of a medium size org public sector PM to that of a blue chip PM, from a purely financial point of view (£750k vs £15M), the public sector PM project portfolio looks somewhat trivial.
But is the blue chip PM job really more challenging, and worthy of the higher pay packet?
Both PM’s are responsible for delivering their projects on time, on budget and to the desired quality. The reputation and financial health of their respective organisations depend upon the success or failure of the project. Both PMs work with a variety of stakeholders – technical and non-technical to deliver the project.
The crucial difference in my opinion is the level of resourcing that each PM can enjoy. The public sector PM’s that I see work with skeleton crews to deliver their projects – for example there is often no project support team to produce and maintain GANTT charts, meeting minutes, and perform all of the other essential admin tasks. The public sector PM has to do all of this on top of the leadership / strategic work that a PM fulfills. I put it to you that public sector PMs have to do more for (and with) less. Love to hear your thoughts.
I was honoured to guest on Robert Kelly’s #pmchat pre-game show on Friday 11th May. The subject was ‘Intro to agile’, and in case you didn’t catch it, I’ve embedded the show below. If you’ve never heard my voice before, this is your big chance We talked about:
- our experiences of agile to date
- the state of agile in the UK and the US
- what advice we’d give to project managers switching from a waterfall environment to an agile approach.
As always I’d love to hear your take on things. I also produced this mindmap while prepping for the show.
Full tweet stream below:
You need a thick skin to be a project manager.
Don’t expect to be adored. If you do the job well you’ll get some colleagues’ (often very senior colleagues’) hackles up by probing into areas where things may be going pear shaped.
Don’t expect any thanks. You’ll end up doing all sorts of tasks from writing business cases to arranging tea and coffee for meetings and everything in between. You may be disappointed if you’re expecting any thanks for this stuff, even when the jobs you are completing are outside of your remit.
Don’t expect others to treat you as you treat them. You may have an internal code of conduct that says something like, ‘I will never bitch about someone else without first taking the issue up with them directly in a diplomatic kind of way‘. Not everyone shares your values, and you may find colleagues sharing their opinions of you with your boss without them first addressing their concerns to you!
If you do your job well, nothing will go wrong and people will assume the PM role is easy and possibly superfluous. Conversely, if you make a dogs dinner of it, you can wow colleagues with your calmness under pressure and heroic, stoic side. Perverse huh.
Despite all this, you couldn’t possibly tempt me to do anything else