Arras People 2015 project management census

Now in it’s 10th year, it’s time again for the Arras people project management census.  This is surely the most important and informative guide to PM trends IN THE WORLD.    If you’re a practising project, programme or portfolio management bod then I encourage you to spend a few minutes filling in the survey.  You’ll definitely want to check out the report when it’s published – here’s the 2014 one.

Advanced project management

I had the honour of guest hosting this week’s #pmchat.  The subject was Advanced Project Management.  Ever wondered what advanced project management is?  How to become an advanced project manager?  Tips and tricks of advanced PMs?  Let the #pmchatters fill you in!

Setting up a shared service: Step one

Shared services are all the rage.  Want to save money, grow service resilience and maintain (enhance?!) standards, well my friend, come this way.

The first step:  a business case, right?  Wrong.

When you bring two or more services together, the likelihood is that you wont want all of the senior managers in the new organisation. Guess who has the power to drive or block the creation of the shared service?  Turkeys voting for Christmas.

So before you do a whole pile of work, sit down with the senior leaders and ask them ‘How do you see yourself fitting into the new organisation?’ It’ll be worth your while.

Getting tough

I used to believe in empowering staff, setting broad goals and letting them find their own way there.  This was fine on projects where time was not critical however with austerity, time has become much more important.  So my style has changed.  In the past people would say I’m too nice – giving poor performers too much slack.  Not any more.  That approach landed me in deep sh*t.

** Cliche alert **

It’s taken a while but I’ve finally realised I’m not here to make friends.  I’m here to get business done.

Project management TV: Doing more with less

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.

Book critique: Playing the project manager by Charles Smith

Charles has produced a very interesting book in ‘Playing the project manager‘ in which he asserts that PMs take on a number of different persona.  He describes character traits, tactics and strategies of his PM types and draws on real world examples to shine light on these modes of operation.

While I agree that there are many ways to play the project manager, I disagree with Charles’ assertion that there is a hierarchy of effectiveness among these roles.  The number one trait of an effective PM is adaptability.  The successful PM will adopt the persona appropriate to the needs of the project, at that time.  The PM may well adopt differing persona throughout the course of a project as new phases are entered, and as the team moves through the Stormin’, Normin’, Performin’ cycle.

Charles describes the foot soldier PM as an ‘enforcer’.  This is the guy who sets clear goals (often at task level) and gets on everyone’s backs to ensure that these are delivered on time.  Charles classes this as an entry level approach.  He contrasts this with more empowering styles where PMs set broader goals and give the team the space to creatively arrive at the final destination.  Charles implies that PM’s ought to aspire towards the latter.

While PMs may wish to operate in the empowering mode, this will fall flat on its face if the team are not able to  play along – consider a newly formed team which contains junior staff who are not sure how to approach the project, or a project being conducted in a ‘command and control’ organisation.   In these instances playing a light touch servant leader will not get the job done.

I really value Charles’ book and commend it to all of my PM friends.  It offers fascinating insight into the different ways of being a project manager… I just take issue with the idea that some roles are more valuable than others.   All are equally valuable – the key is applying the right mode for your circumstances.

#PMFlashBlog Project management around the world – UK public sector

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.

Difficult people: too busy and too important to do actual work

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!

Earth 2.0 programme approach

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.

Earth 2.0

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

Ramblings of a project management geek

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