Saturday, August 29, 2015

The job

I recently reread a number of articles on management as I prepared for an interview for a role in a senior exec team of a med sized business ($200m annual revenue). The job advert talked about project skills, which I think I have in spades, but the panel obviously saw better elsewhere.

Nevertheless the articles I looked at also have a bearing on the management of projects. I commend them to you.

They are all by Henry Minzberg: Rounding Out the Manager's Job (Sloan Mgt Rev Fall 94); The Five Minds of a Manager (Havard Business Review Nov 2003) and The Role of the CEO, which I think was a Harvard publication, but I found it on DesignIntelligence Update.

I'm familiar with the first two, as I give them to the managers who report to me (and staff who are on a management pathway) to read. They both open up the world of management with more reality than most texts do.

One of the ideas that I like in Minzberg is that he talks about the role as being an integrating role; a role that brings lots of active plays to rolling conclusions. Much like a PM; however most of what I read about PM breaks the role into analytical approaches to PM 'tools' and techniques, but rarely integrates in into a flow of information, activity and people's commitment to produce a performance outcome.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Guiding Principles 9: Cost efficiency

Calibrate resource use and project management costs with project needs and expected returns.

Clearly essential to the sustainability of the project; but too easy to forget when an executive is going for broke to show that he or she has the goods.

If costs and their effect are not managed, the executive responsible could end up looking for other work.

Notice I’m not talking about the PM here, but the executive responsible. I take it the PM is keeping track of every cost account in the project and doing some sort of ‘earned value’ management, even if only informally.

An informal EV process won’t give reliable information, but with a skilled PM it will enable some objectivity in assessing progress and delivery against the expected value that will be produced; and in project delivery, business value is the only game in town.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

PM training

How to train non-project staff in project management?

I have access to short courses sponsored by my employer that could be used, but from what I've seen of them they are what I call 'lock-step' or recipe courses. A collection of 'do this then that' courses rather than invitations to think through projects.

One course that I did like, also a short course, is the one at Stanford University. Looks good, but pricey!

I would steer away from courses aimed at a qualification: Prince2 and PMBoK (so called) as they train to the qualification; again, not for thinking about projects.


Of the longer courses I think I'd lead towards Adelaide Universities' masters degree. It seems to be pitched at an appropriate conceptual level, but that's for longer courses.

What do I want in a course?

  1. The business context of projects: the financial and competitive environment and how projects arise and are handled in organisations.
  2. Projects as systems that respond over time to their own evolution effecting resources, information, capability (both the input capability and the performance capability sought).
  3. Structure of projects: getting to details of the WBS as the central driver, and working back through dependency relationships. This would touch on the low level tools of scheduling, tracking (earned value), delivery methodologies and handling risk. I'd be loath to handle 'risk' as a separate category as risk should be incorporated in the project plan through offsetting activities, and scheduling adjusted for delay risk on a probabilistic basis, or at least using Goldratt's buffer system.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Project principles

I like the approach that Adam on Projects takes to project management. I've placed his blog in my list on the RHS of my blogsite.

He has five principles to guide project work. I might discuss them at some time.

His diagrammatic representation of them is below.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What is PM?

From time to time I put my mind to the characterisation of project management. What, I ask myself, is it? This usually occurs when I consider approaches to training staff to think about projects, rather than simply learn a few techniques absent a theoretical structure that will orient them in the practice.

Is a project a choice reduction machine, a transformation machine, or as Koskela puts it a means of managing flow. Flow I like, as long as the flow includes information, its creation and management.

My starting point is the people who form the project: at the start they constitute a 'community of intent'. What's special about that, you ask. The special thing is that it is free agents coming together form different perspectives to contribute to an outcome. All management is about this, I suppose, but in project land, the community is for action that will take an organisation from a dissonant  relationship with its business environment to one in equilibrium. The dissonance might be a problem, a deficiency or an opportunity. The dissonance provides impetus for action by bringing the business to a a more stable relationship to its environment that produces the sought benefits.

Equilibrium doesn't mean smooth sailing, but that a point of dissonance has been dealt with: a new product, capability or investment available that deals with an opportunity or deficiency in the previous relationship with the environment.

Not yet a theory, of course, but that's how I think about it. Without a theory we have merely a collection of techniques with no home. We need the home.

BTW, list of Koskela's papers.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Something lost...something found

The Pretenders' song Hymn to Her was mentioned at a recent Economic Society of Australia symposium that I attended on Cost-Benefit Analysis. It was cited as a quintessential economics song: opportunity cost sprang to mind. But to my mind it is more of a PM song (well, its even more than that: one of the great ballads of the 80s): "something is lost--something is found" in day out for busy PMs!

Old time

Sorting out my library recently I bumped into a little known classic in project management: Modern Project Management by Claude Burrill and Leon Ellsworth.

Flipping through the pages I was a little surprised to see that the sound principles that this pair laid down over 35 years ago still have made little headway in project management.

For example, they wrote about probabilistic risk estimating; most people are naive about this and plan their projects absent of any realistic incorporation of either schedule risk or budget risk. So, of course, too many project slide over one or both to the surprise of the project team and the anguish of the investor.

The corollary of this is that most people embark on a project with a risk management 'ceremony'. They have a chat about risks (no fault mode analysis, no dependency risk analysis based on the project WBS, if there is one) involving making a cute matrix of coloured cells that pretend to represent risk appraisal. Of course, it does not.

For your risk management edification, a useful post on an analytic approach that can provide useful case study input to considering risk.