Project Management is the Journey, Outcomes are Your Destination

After years of contemplation and introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that it IS About the Destination!  (See, I’m trying to retire before I hit the ripe old age of 85).

I came late to financial investing in my life.  I never really understood the value of the market and stock options.  I worked for Microsoft early in my career when stock options were plentiful and Microsoft wasn’t that big.  Needless to say by not understanding the value of the market and the stock options provided….I’m still working for a living.  See….I was focused on working for my money rather than having my money work for me.  I forgot about my long term goal (destination) and delayed my retirement by another 40 years.

So I learned, did my research and finally understood that the key part of success in investing is to define your goals and consistently work toward them.

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Mind you, this is not a lesson in investing.  Yet, I always look for similarities in different parts of my life.  For instance, my progression up the investment learning curve and how most companies manage their portfolio of strategic initiatives.

Let’s assume that most companies have goals that are defined in the strategic vision.  These strategic goals plan for their future growth.  Yet how many of these companies monitor their portfolio regularly?  How many companies align their portfolio with their strategic goals in order to measure whether they were able to successful reach their desired outcomes?   If they aren’t doing it, then why spend all this money to create a strategy in the first place?  It is a waste of resources both human and financial.

Unfortunately, I see this way too often.  I previously described this in my previous blog: Project Management is “Broke.”   By the time a project is kicked off, stated project goals are defined as on time on budget and within scope.  But what happened to the project purpose…. the strategic goals? Is the company spending money to check off the box or to solve a problem, grow the business, reduce or contain costs?  I contend that the reason many companies fail in reaching their desired business outcomes is because they aren’t aligning their project with their desired outcomes, monitoring them for changes, and working consistently toward those outcomes.  Implementing a new system or changing a process is great but what were you trying to address by putting in that new system or changing the process.  Don’t train everyone on a new system for 12 hours without understanding what your users need to know and target the message accordingly (actual recent case study with a prospective client)

Companies need to stop focusing on project management and begin to focus on Outcome Management.  Outcome management looks at the big picture.  Take the cartoon that shows two doctors standing over a patient.  The first doctor says, “The surgery was flawless”….the second says “too bad the patient died.”  What are you trying to achieve?  A perfect surgery or a healthy patient?

Outcome management focuses on four things.

  1. Solutioning. This is the alignment between strategy and execution. Are companies using their investment money wisely? Have they prioritized their project portfolio to ensure that they are spending their money on the optimal initiatives that have the best chance of getting them to their goals? Through a better understanding of the organization’s strategic goals, you can ensure that the project is both on point and aligned with strategy.
  2. Execution. This occupies the space where most place project management. But I contend that by today’s standard, not in the proper way. A mix between art and science (see Sept. 2014 blog), focusing on ensuring that the effort is on time, on budget and within scope while keeping a consistent focus on the prize is the only way to be truly successful. As an example, a large public company involved in a merger was looking for synergies in every department to help cut costs. However, early on in the project, they realized that the original goal had been met. By measuring throughout the life of the effort, it gave the organization an opportunity. They could continue cutting through every department or they could use the fact that they had already met their strategic objective to retain their employees to provide an even greater competitive advantage. They choose the latter. They made a course correction mid-way through the execution of their plan and were able to surpass their stated goal. My experience has shown that the typical organization would not have been measuring their progression to their strategic goals. They would have continued through their original plan and cut their employees to the bare minimum. Here is the important distinction. The merging companies could have decided to continue down that path but by measuring outcomes, they were able to create and take advantage of an unforeseen value that resulted from the formation of a new organization. They were able to make a business decision rather than have one forced upon them.
  3. Adoption and Adaption. This is the soft mushy side of making things happen that many organizations think is baloney. If you’ve been in business long enough (say 6 months), you will most likely live through an example of a project that completed and brought no discernable value to the company. This could be for many reasons but I would bet that the majority of reasons are based on a lack of buy-in from the necessary parties. I’ve been involved in a lot of mergers and acquisitions. It’s amazing how many of them (95.8% but who’s counting) have not focused on bridging the cultures. The companies’ focus on the integration of process, technology and people but not the culture. Some companies will attempt this in the form of change management but either that is cut or skimped on in the budget, or it is addressed at the tail end of the initiative. It takes seven times to hear a message for it to sink in. It takes 30 days of constant focus to change a habit. People don’t change easily and they resist it where they can (directly or indirectly). Adoption is about communication. Frequent, transparent and early. Keeping information quiet or sharing on a “need to know basis” never works out well. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, give your users an opportunity to hear about something from the beginning. They will feel like they had a part in their destiny. Getting people to adopt a new process or technology is not as hard as you might believe. Even if they don’t buy-in, understanding who might stand in your way is better to know early than it is after they’ve dropped a piano on your head.
  4. Last of all are the Metrics and Measurements. At the beginning of every effort, reengage your strategic goals. Ask two key questions. What does success look like? And, when is done done? From those questions, you can define the proper metrics to track from project initiation through implementation and into operational mode.   Measurements should start at the beginning of the initiative.   Think about your financial portfolio. Your financial consultant would be reviewing your investments and course correcting all along.  Many organizations don’t want to measure due to a fear of being held accountable. If they are found to be wrong, it brings eyes on what might be viewed as failure. But if you are focusing on all of this from an outcome perspective, this information will give you two opportunities. First, it will allow you to course correct earlier. If you aren’t going to meet your objectives, you will find out sooner (easier to course correct at the beginning than towards the end of an initiative). Second, if you fail and you’ve been measuring your progress to your strategic goal, chances are that the strategy might have some false assumptions. These metrics allow your company to integrate this knowledge to create a revised strategy for the future. How can that be possibly be a bad thing?

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I’m guessing that at no point did corporate America decide that “Our key strategic goal is to get all of our projects completed on time, on budget and within scope.  If that goal is accomplished, we will reach our desired business outcomes”

Managing to desired outcomes brings companies back full circle to their overall strategy.  Outcome management is changing up the way things are done.  It creates accountability (a whole different blog), and a focus on adoption for which the benefits are huge! Better returns, better information yadda yadda.

I bet my Microsoft earnings (if you can find them).

Laura

Having It All

There are times that I feel old.  I know, I know…you are as young as you feel, yet there are times that my age is thrown in my face…like when peasant shirts and bell bottoms are back in style again.

And the whole discussion of Women’s rights.  I just finished reading one more story about Women’s Rights and the need to be Superwoman.  It is interesting to me since I have two daughters that are launched and at the beginning of their careers.  They have both started out recently, and I started to think about what they have to go through as they progress in their career.

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When I started out, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing and I proudly wore that trademark.  I was a bona fide women’s libber.  I admit it. Even when it was considered a bad thing to be a women’s libber.  I was not going to let any person tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted.  I dressed like a man (even had those ties that women used to wear that “supposedly” looked cute); I had aspirations like my male counterparts, and I started my career in a male dominated industry (IT).  I ignored obstacles and kept pushing.  Later in my career, I made a life choice and decided to open my own consulting practice when I got pregnant the first time.  That was 25 years ago.

The other day I read article on the age old question, “Can women have it all?”  I have to say that I got a little melancholy when I read it.  The topic of women in the workforce doesn’t seem like it’s progressed much.  The young women of today are claiming that their issues aren’t the same as the previous generation, yet the article seemed like same topic….different spin.

There is still the ever present problem around gender pay equity. Women still get paid less than men for the same job.  Women have been fighting that fight for 40+ years.  Women are still trying to move up the corporate ladder and not get derailed when they choose to have children.    And the most painful topic is about women having it all.  I would hope that this topic would have been resolved by now.   I would love to see this generation figure it out once and for all.

Back when I decided to have children, I was forced to address it. I lived in a bedroom community where the majority of households consisted of stay-at-home Moms.  So when I got pregnant, I decided to leave my job at Microsoft to get off of the road.  When I had my first daughter, I started a consulting practice, and once my second daughter started school full-time, I took the opportunity to work on growing my business.

It was hard.  I felt guilty on a regular basis.  If I didn’t feel guilt on my own, my girls would innocently pile on the guilt when they wrapped their arms around me when I left.  I had a few friends that worked but we were not the majority.  Therefore, I didn’t have the working Mom network that I think is much more prevalent for the women in this generation.

Yet, I learned early on that I was not as “put together” when I wasn’t working.  I was a better Mom for my children working than I would have been as a stay at home Mom. Work was important to me and made me a happier person.   So I decided that I had to figure out what was most important to me and stick with the highest priority items.

I kept my office out of the home so I could still be around for my daughters as often as possible.  I made time and volunteered to be room parent every year for both kids as they grew up.  I took them out to children’s plays, playgrounds and museums every weekend.  And I avoided women networking events.  Back when I started, it seemed like all of the women networking events focused on how to figure out work/life balance.   I figured that with my limited time, I was better able to balance my life if I stayed at home with my kids in the evenings.

Fast forward today, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Both of my daughters are wonderful, smart, beautiful young women making their own way in the world and I couldn’t be prouder.  I believe I “had it all.”

So, after reading that article, I realized that this never-ending topic of women “having it all” is missing the point.  I believe I did have it all and I’m not superwoman.  The real question that we should be asking is….what is your definition of ALL? What does it mean to you personally?  Not every man ends up as CEO and neither will every woman.   I felt that I had it all because I defined “all” at the beginning.  I wanted to have children and be there for them but I also wanted to continue working.  Staying in a corporate role wasn’t right for me since I was a little more of a renegade.  By starting my own business, I was able to manage my own time.  Once the kids became school age, I focused on growing my business.  I still wanted to be a room parent so I made time.  By making time, my business didn’t grow quickly.  That was okay for me at the time.  It gave me a chance to better fine tune the company and myself as a leader as well as fine tune my skills as a parent.

Be aware that I made compromises (on both accounts).  My “all” did not include housecleaning, cooking and I never did learn how to sew from my Mom.  I had to prioritize and those things weren’t high on my list.  I had someone there to help with my children, which makes me more fortunate than many, but I also gave up other things so that someone could in fact be there for them.  I didn’t do “all” by the textbook definition.

Did I miss out?  Maybe… When my oldest daughter first came back home after going away to college, I was so excited, I told her that I would make her a home cooked meal….anything she wanted.  Her response was, “It’s not as if you cooked enough for me to have a favorite.”  I will not deny that her comment cut me hard.  In fact, I still find that I am pulling out the blade years later.  But in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t part of my “all.”  My children didn’t starve, they both have a healthy work ethic and I know that they can do anything they set their mind on and they will always be able to take care of themselves.    To me…that’s having it all!

Let’s stop agonizing over theory and start being practical.   Men don’t have it all and neither will women.  You make compromises in your life and you live with them.  If it is important enough, find a way!  If it’s not that important, let it go!  I could never have stayed on my path in corporate America and had my all.  So I came up with a different plan.  Let’s change the conversation and start talking about having MY ALL.   Whether your ALL is to stay home and take care of children full time, or skip having children and have the career you want or trying to mix the two, define what it looks like to you.  Then stop beating yourself up over not having it all!  It’s ALL relative.

Laura

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