Project Management is “Broke”

You might know the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, it’s definitely broke, but no one is fixing it. Just look around. Overall, most organizations have a terrible track record of delivering their strategic initiatives successfully (on time, on budget and within scope). But even when it is delivered successfully, that doesn’t guarantee success. Success includes getting the organization to adapt and adopt the new results. How can you legitimately deem a completed project a success without those two things? The fact of the matter is that the practice of project management as it currently stands fails to meet the objectives of an organization. SO … what are we going to do to fix it? Executives should be clamoring for a change.

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When I first started in this field, project management was not a common title in the business world (other than engineering and construction) so we made it up as we went along. We had a broader role. The role of delivery focused on the big picture. We asked questions to figure out objectives, map out a roadmap and execute it. But we didn’t stop there. We built the training, communication and change management right into the plan. It was not treated as separate entities but as part of the outcome. We broke down the strategy and saw it through.

Fast forward 25 years … project management has been commoditized. Project manager titles are everywhere and are in big demand. A career path has become “project management for a job well done.” Even when the job “well done” didn’t require any project management skills.

And even though there is a proliferation of discussion around project management, there is still a lousy track record of successful project conclusions. The Standish Group has been reporting on project management since 1992 in its Chaos report. Back then, project management only succeeded 28% of the time. We are now up to a measly 36%. Long timeframe … poor progress.

There is plenty of need for good project managers but the process of using this title as a catch-all has diminished the perceived value and commoditized the discipline. Project management is now perceived as procuring someone to check off boxes on a plan, create issue logs and take meeting minutes. Following direction has become the key focus of this title.

I don’t know … maybe too many people diluted the role by using it as a certification vehicle. But honestly certification does not let me know that a project manager knows how to deal with people, manage stakeholders with their own agendas, “herd cats.” We seem to have lost the purpose of project management … the reason we are managing something in the first place.

All this leads to the fact that project management (in its commonly held understanding) fails more often than it succeeds. So, until corporations pay attention and set higher expectations, nothing will change. Here are the biggest myths to overcome:

  • The correct gauge for Project Management success is delivering on time and on budget. Do you consider yourself successful when you finish the project or when you reach your objectives? When the only focus is finishing the plan without focusing on where you want to be, there is a problem. The medical field understands this well. For example, curing cancer doesn’t stop at surgery. You may need radiation or chemotherapy. Following all of that, you may need physical therapy or additional medication. Getting to a desired outcome in project management should include a similar thought process. Completing a project (meeting timeline, budget, scope) does not mean that everyone has adopted the new process or system or even that they understand what’s expected. We have not completed the project until we have gauged our effect on the organization impacted. The more meaningful measure considers the achievement of the desired outcome.
  • Quarterly results will drive the project budget. At Peritius we are expanding into the public sector. A vendor asked me why I would want to get into government work. He said that government agencies are not held to following a specific strategy as they are in corporate America. He pointed out that priorities change frequently and going over budget is not an issue. I told him that, unfortunately, the private sector acts in a similar fashion. Companies often make their decisions based on quarterly results. Often resource decisions are based on price alone. Procurement departments are measured on procuring the lowest priced resources. As a result, staff augmentation firms have been able to drive resource price down in the market to secure the business, often with less qualified contractors. Shouldn’t company procurement departments be reviewed for the overall success of an effort? If a more senior level resource costs more but delivers the effort in less time than a junior level resource, is anyone evaluating that dynamic? The more expensive senior resource may in fact cost less over the life of the effort, yet by focusing on short term quarterly results, organizations are leaving long term savings on the table.
  • Project Management is a commodity skill. If it were a commodity, two-thirds of projects wouldn’t fail. The difference between the project managers delivering the two-thirds of failing projects and the one-third successful is soft skills. Average to poor project managers manage plans. Good project managers and program managers manage teams to a plan. Strong project managers are leaders. They know how to interact with people … people with all different styles, culture and personalities. In my experience, projects rarely fail due to the tactics required in creating a plan. They fail because of people related issues.
  • The right project management methodology can resolve our corporate issues around delivery. Most PMOs in different organizations are designed around process and reporting. In the 25-plus years that I’ve been in this field, I’ve seen more versions of methodology than I can count. Yet, projects still fail. It’s not the methodology that makes a difference. It’s the discipline around it. Half of it is the squishy, soft skills that people feel funny talking about. PMOs need to stop making their mission to report on the projects in a tactical manner but proactively work with the project managers to help programs go from “red” to “green.”
  • It’s normal for projects to get delayed or go over budget. This one confuses me. I find that when I’m talking to executive management, many build into their thought process that things will go poorly the first time around. Why should that be acceptable? Executive management has become so accustomed to failures that they view it as part of the norm. It is amazing that executive management isn’t in an uproar about two-thirds of their initiatives failing of which most can be prevented. Would you get in an airplane that has two-thirds of a chance of failing?
  • Failure of delivery can often be a self-contained problem. Failure begets failure. If something is delayed, is anyone tracking the lost opportunities that can no longer be funded because the other project ran over budget or the project timeline ran over? Or is the project delayed long enough that the ROI of the project itself is in question? Companies continue to put good money after bad by adding additional budget or time to “fix” a troubled project. The hardest thing for most organizations to do is to stop a project. It can be a career-limiting move in some organizations. Yet it is a practice that should be used as needed. When you get past the issue of dealing with failure, you will often see that it frees up the organization to do what’s right and end the continued cycle of poor project spend.

My biggest angst with this topic is that even with all of the discussion around improving project management practices over the last 20-plus years, there have not been enough consistent improvements. In fact, I think that with the “commoditizing” of project management, it’s actually gotten worse. If you’ve read this far and have been able to get past the poor grammar in my title, I want to leave this final thought: Organizations must start thinking of project and program managers as subject matter experts in knowing how to manage teams toward a plan. There are specific skills in knowing how to successfully manage people towards a specific goal. Until we change expectations and perceptions, we will continue to throw good money after bad.

Laura

What do you do when your sponsor is an A-Hole?

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Face it. You’ve been in that position before. That A-Hole may have even made you decide to move on and get a new job. Are there ways to play this to your favor? Absolutely. Will it make you want to eat crow? Possibly. But it will make you a better person if that’s any consolation.
Step One: Get to know them.
Everyone works off their own agenda. And don’t believe it when they say that they don’t have one. Everyone does. Whether it’s getting promoted, getting noticed, getting that corner office or getting wealthy enough to quit and work on their hobbies…there is always a driver for people’s actions. Figure it out. It means diving into developing a relationship to better understand that individual.
Step Two: Take them to lunch.
Although I am someone that prefers chocolate and desserts to an actual lunch…the concept is still the same. Food is way more powerful than most people give it credit. Case in point, bring donuts to a meeting and see who shows up. The meeting may be no less boring but you have donuts.
I digress…..There is truth in “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Invite your sponsor to lunch. It works. Repeatedly, we’ve used that technique on sponsors, clients, cohorts that weren’t playing nice. “Smother them with kindness” works.
Taking them to lunch gives you a chance to get to know them. It opens up a dialogue. It gives them a chance to tell you if there is something that you are doing that is part of the problem. It may not be fun but it will get better. It is hard to be an a-hole to a friend or someone that you know well. Get to know the a-hole better. They are less inclined to treat you poorly if they know you well. Build that relationship. It isn’t easy at the beginning but it will get easier as you build that relationship.
Step Three: Confront them on their behavior.
Some of the time it is safe to say that people doesn’t always realize the effect of their words. Tell them. Tell them when you are alone with them so that you don’t embarrass them (and if they are truly an a-hole, they won’t embarrass you when they respond back). It shouldn’t be done confrontationally but more like this….”I would assume this wasn’t your intent but when you called me out in front of the team, I was uncomfortable. Your message was accurate but can I ask that you discuss this with me one-on-one in the future?”
It isn’t easy to confront an a-hole regardless of their level. I have a whole support system around me. When I’m being an a-hole (or a jerk or insecure or overbearing)…..my support system will call me out. If the a-hole doesn’t know, they may not ever realize unless someone tells them. So you have a whole year before the next National A-Hole day (February 27th) but it’s never too early to think about what you are going to do next time.

Lemons verses lemonade

When life gives you lemons….make lemonade.  Yeah… Yeah… Yeah.  But It is so much easier being a sourpuss!

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As a consultant I often try and focus on ways to resolve my clients’ problems.  Yet often I find that the problems that they face are exacerbated by their own team, the corporate culture or even in some cases, themselves.

Making change is hard.  No one will ever deny it.  I use a small experiment to prove it.  Fold your arms in front of you like you’re mad.  Now fold them with the other arm on top.  Doesn’t feel right to you, does it?  If that is so hard, think about making bigger changes in your life. I’m convinced that is why  people complain.  Because complaining about the situation and doing something to change it are two very different things.

Complaining is easier.  Think about it. You complain to someone and get them to agree to “come to the dark side.”  You have succeeded in getting someone else involved. Everyone knows that misery loves company… Bring the drinks and you have a party (pity).  Not particularly useful, huh?

Next time….start making suggestions to make changes.  Try to engage your colleagues to get involved to help…  Chances are the majority of people you ask will scatter to the wind. They may want the change but change takes work and it’s a thankless job.  My experience has shown that while every corporation wants change agents, once those change agents attempt to make change, lemons are thrown their way.  They are sometimes reviled in the organization.

The more set in our ways we become, the more we seem to push back on change.  When we are young, we can do anything; whether it be running  for President or running the waves on a surfboard…We can do it because we are fearless and flexible. When we get older, our perspective seems to change. This change keeps us from doing the things we are most capable of doing.  We look for precedent. Want to do more analysis. Become fearful of leading the charge…stepping out…These excuses (yeah, I said it) just reinforce the box that everyone is always trying to get us to ‘think’ our way out of…LOL

So in tribute to Einstein’s definition of insanity…the next time you catch yourself complaining about something at work, stop yourself.  Use that energy to become a catalyst for change.  Start by thinking about what would make it better….What can you do to make it feel less “stinky?  Use this as an exercise in strategic thinking.  Try and come up with a working solution that both addresses the problem and provides a solution that you can live with.

Then just go do it.  Don’t be part of the problem,   be part of the solution.  Make lemonade….and make sure to add a little sugar.

Laura

Getting Back to Basics

I recently finished Good to Great by Jim Collins.   I know, I know…OLD NEWS.  Why did it take me so long?  After reading it, to be honest, I’m not sure why.  What a great book!  It should be a must read for every high school student. This is not just a business book.  I wanted both of my daughters to read it though I found out that they are way ahead of me.

There are many lessons to be learned from this book but the one that stood out is “find your passion.”  I’ve tried to live that my whole career.

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I come across so many people just “doing their job”, not fulfilling their passion.    In Good to Great, Jim Collins makes the point that those who follow their passion (among other things) will find a way to make a living.  I believe that.

The mantra that I live my life by is that “life’s too short”.  If I stop loving what I do, I’ll stop doing it.  I’ll just do something else.

I have always loved ‘getting things done’…making order out of chaos…solving problems (it’s the math major in me).   I found my passion and at the same time I found that it happens to be the thing that I am great at doing.

So I’ve marked off one chapter in the book.  8 more chapters until I reach greatness.  I intend on tackling this passionately.

Are you following your passion? If not…why not?

Laura

Out Of My Comfort Zone

Recently I went to Zimbabwe and I experienced things I never expected. See…I’m a city girl thru and thru. I didn’t plan on a safari because the thought of being with exotic animals was foreign (and a little bit unnerving).

I was visiting my daughter in Cape Town and took her to Zimbabwe. Under duress, I took the Lion Walk with her. That was on our last day before flying home. I was pretty sure my travel insurance wouldn’t cover me if the lions decided that I looked like breakfast. You may believe that the Lion Walk is herding of the lions while you watch from a distance in an enclosed space (that was my hope).  The truth is that the Lion Walk is walking alongside the lions in their habitat.   I went anyway.

Pride of Lions on the move

I was the one in the group that everyone was making fun of, “You look scared…you’re sweating a little.”  I was sweating.  I kept thinking of that old joke about two campers coming upon a grizzly bear.  You know the one…. Camper A saying ”I don’t think that we can outrun the bear.”  Camper B yelling back, “I just have to outrun you”.  I was a goner…. Everyone else was more fit.

Yet…. with all of that….It was amazing. Lions are truly magnificent creatures and I actually walked with them.

It made me start thinking about stepping outside of my comfort zone in other respects, too. My business, for instance…how many times do people stick with their routine and never venture outside of their norm?  Isn’t that what growth is all about?  We know that people gravitate to what they are comfortable with…. their routine.  Changing that routine and trying something else may go against your instincts at first, but we all know what they say about doing the same thing and expecting different results, right?  Granted, businesses strategize all the time on new ideas and continuous improvement but how well do they execute? Perhaps the failure comes down to the mindset of each individual tasked with making the change. If people are fearful about venturing into new territories, strategic objectives won’t be met with fresh ideas and innovation.  Managing growth or encouraging change in your business is a lot like scheduling for the lion walk. It sounds petrifying but once you try it, you see that you are capable of adjusting and possibly even enjoying the process!  So the next time you’re asked to try something that makes you uncomfortable, do it.  You may find that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities that you enjoy.

Laura

Giving And Happiness

I love my team.  No really.  I think that the people that I work with are the best.  I have to say that I have never been more proud of the team that I have today.    As part of our organization’s Values and Beliefs review at the end of the year, they wanted to do something to give back to the community.  We viewed a TED Talk online which discussed how people get happier when they spend their money on others rather than themselves. We decided to prove it out.

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Given that, within a couple of days and a matching challenge, we were able to raise enough money to fund different projects under DonorChoose.org.  This organization focuses on helping teachers in impoverished areas within the US to raise money for specific programs. For example, we are helping one public school buy the books needed to focus on legal cognitive thinking, an iPad in a school that has no technology and another school that needed a drum set to finish the band in a school without a music program. We’re even helping one teacher teach math and science with LEGO robot technology!

I am proud to work with these people that step up to the plate to help others.  I guess that is what this time of year is all about.   So wishing you all happy holidays and a happy, healthy, prosperous new year.

Go to www.donorchoose.org to grab a bit of happiness for yourself.

GET HAPPY!!!

“City Driving”

I’m thinking of a new way to interview my job candidates but I’m a little concerned about the legal liability. I want to give them a driving test….  In Chicago rush hour traffic…not the crawling pace but the “it’s starting to open up” pace.

I have a theory that a person’s driving and business style are directly correlated.  So, I want to explore this potential correlation.

night drive ,shoot from the window of speed car, motion blur steet light.

The Granny driver. You know the ones.  They are methodical about the rules of the road.  They drive the speed limit; they stop and look both ways before proceeding through a stop sign.  They are meticulous about safety.  They drive s-l-o-w-l-y and don’t pull out in the middle of the intersection for a left hand turn.  Instead of waiting for a yellow light to give them an opening, they wait for a GREEN!!  This is the team resource that is a stickler for detail.  They know the process and will follow it to a tee.  They will work to ensure that things are done and done right.  They typically need a process to follow and can’t make it up themselves.

The Reckless driver.  You know who you are.  These are the drivers that weave in and out of lanes quickly to get ahead only to get stopped behind a slower car.  I love watching those types of drivers.  They are fun to watch.  All this effort to get ahead.  They speed up and get stopped behind traffic; they cut to a different lane.  The whole time, they aren’t making any progress, but that doesn’t stop them. They can keep that up the entire ride.  This is the “just do it” team member.  The one that doesn’t like rules.  This team member doesn’t like project management process or methodology.  They want to just try something, back out if it doesn’t work and then more forward on another path etc. etc.  In an entrepreneurial company, this individual will take the risks necessary to make things happen.  They are willing to try new ways of doing business or take the risks necessary to try another service offering.  Their logic is that the worst that can happen is that they throw the results away and try something different.  These individuals may struggle in a more established environment where taking risks in the business is scrutinized closely before moving forward.

The Horn Blowers.  Traffic infuriates them. They honk their way to their destination blaming everyone else for the slow ride.  In business, this may be the “Negative Nellys.”  This is the team member that is always complaining about change.  They are never happy with change so they complain about it frequently.  While it can often be difficult to stay motivated when working with a horn blower, there is often some truth buried in their complaints.  Horn blowers need to feel like part of the results.

The Calculated drivers.  Those that will keep an even pace and look at the whole picture.  Instead of weaving to move ahead, they bide their time and wait for an opening in the other lane when they can break out of the bottleneck.  They are strategic. They have a longitudinal view

These candidates bring a big picture perspective to the table.  They are willing to take “calculated risks”.   This team member is a planner that is focused on the endgame.

Hmmmm….Do you think that I need my driver’s ed certification to try this out?

Laura

Battling my demons…..City squirrels

I recently moved to the city from the suburbs of Chicago.  I’ve been waiting for most of my adult life to be back in the city.  I have always loved it!.  As a matter of fact,  when I used to drive into the city, I felt a surge of excitement just  seeing the skyline in the distance.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved my suburban life.  I raised two wonderful daughters there and wouldn’t change anything about those years.  I had a nice home with a healthy, productive peach tree that gave me fruit, birds and squirrels that would eat the fruit and leave the pits all over my lawn.  Mind you…while the squirrels were pests that ate my fruit, I lived rather “harmoniously” with them.

Fast forward to my city life.  I have turned into the screaming, mad woman of the neighborhood.  I HATE squirrels.  City squirrels are mean little things.  It turns out that we have the only food source for squirrels in the entire Chicago Metro area.  Our chestnut tree feeds more squirrels than you can possibly imagine.  They run between the front of my house, back of my house and over our roof (I’m insisting that they are stopping on our roof and depositing the nuts in my attic).  When we are out on our deck, (which happens to be the highway for all Chicagoland squirrels), they will sit there and scream at you until you move off the deck so that they can pass through.  Did you know that squirrels make an annoying screeching noise? Have you heard this??

My new neighbor must hate me.  Twice now, I was screaming at the squirrels to, “Get the &*^@! out of here!”  While that might sound crazy to some, please note I didn’t see my neighbor both times (and of course she didn’t see the squirrel).

We resorted to buying an owl with a rotating head to try and scare the squirrels.  Yes…we have an exorcist owl.  I don’t know if it has managed to scare the squirrels but it does make for interesting dinner conversation when friends come over. 

 So I’m trying to take the situation a little lighter.  As I’ve gotten older in my business, I have done some self-exploring and have come to understand that I can’t manage everything and sometimes, I have to learn to pick my battles.    When having troubles at work, I try to put things into buckets.

  • Things that I can change and what I am  going to do to make change happen
  • Things I can’t change and what I am going to do to deal with it

So, unless I buy a lot more owls with rotating heads and place them strategically around the house, I think that I am just going to have to share my space.

A few weeks ago, I spent 4 painful hours sweeping all of the chestnuts and their shells from the sidewalk and lawn.  Mind you, I am not a gardener and didn’t enjoy it, but it was getting hard to walk on the sidewalk.  As I finally finished the last scoop into the 5th bag, I looked behind me and the lawn was covered with chestnuts and shells again……It seems that the squirrels have a sense of humor too.

Oh, by the way did you know January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day?

Laura

ENDORSEMENT = POPULARITY …. I LOSE?

I learned better manners as a kid.  I am well overdue on thanking everyone for endorsing me on LinkedIn.  For those of you that are looking at my profile, I am not a loser because I don’t have any endorsements (my kids will give you plenty of OTHER reasons as to why that might be the case).  I have lots of endorsements so you don’t have to feel bad for me.  I have just chosen not to make them visible on my profile.

I’ve received endorsements from people that I barely know.  They have told me that I’m good at things that I would not consider my niche or a particular strength of mine.  So why do people feel the need to endorse? Why did LinkedIn feel that this is a worthwhile service in the first place?

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I understand the benefit of recommendations.  To make a recommendation, someone has to take the time to write the recommendation and think about the work/relationship.  That’s valuable!! Please….feel free to write a recommendation for me.

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. If you have a million endorsements out there that you feel you’ve earned, by all means you should feel proud.  But to me, endorsements seem a little like Facebook friends.  If you believe that the more Facebook friends you have the more popular you are, does that mean that the more endorsements you have the more competent you are? In my experience the former is no truer than the latter. So I’m going to hold off on accepting these endorsements for the moment. BUT… I reserve the right to change my mind.

In the meantime, I have been weighing my “fight for the cause” and may break down and display those endorsements.  I’m beginning to feel a need to prove that I’m not a loser without friends…I mean endorsements.

Laura