Tag Archives: Risk

Four project management lessons from the BRIT awards

Listening to some of the coverage of the BRIT music awards and the problems that delays caused for star of the show Adele – and her reaction, reminded me of a conversation I had about project scheduling at the start of a major capital project.

The conversation involved me, experienced Project Manager Barry Ryan and our mutual client. In reality, I was a bit of a bystander but the message was valid. The conversation when a bit like this:

Barry: How does a project get to be six months behind schedule?

Client: I’ve done lots of projects but never got to the bottom of that one.

Barry: Well, its one day at a time.

Wise words!

So, what’s the message from this for project management [and time management and event planning for that matter]:

  1. You need to be vigilant from the start – especially if things slow down
  2. You need to understand what is important to all of the stakeholders
  3. You have to be clear about your objectives and
  4. You have to know what you can cut and what you can’t – understand the landscape of the project

If you don’t you’ll get no choice and will end up having to cut what comes towards the end – which may be the most important part.

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Project Thinking – not your usual 9-5!

This is the first of several postings on the issues and approaches that contribute to Project Thinking. It builds on the ideas in the “Think about it – 8 ways to enhance your thinking” posting. This issue has gathered a lot of attention as have some related postings:

Turning good ideas into effective action and

One small step – from good idea to effective action

So, I am publishing this material rather earlier than I intended.

There but for fortune …

Managing projects is not the same as managing production! Projects are not continuous; they have a start and [hopefully] an end. You only get one roll of the dice. This means that you can follow best practice, have a great team and do a good job of managing the project but still get a poor outcome. Your efforts influence your chances of success but you cannot rely on chance to even things out.

Conversely, sometimes the worst organised and managed projects will succeed.

The trick is not to be disheartened by the first case or fooled by the second!

It’s not personal, it’s business

Often project managers forget that their project, however important it is to them, is a means to an end, the owners do not want the project; they only want the outcome, asset or capability. This means that you need to maintain a focus on the business objectives as well as the project objectives. A project that meets its internal goals without meeting the business objectives cannot be a success – it may become a “White Elephant”.

Project and Business Objectives Matrix

All change!

We live in a highly dynamic world today and the business environment can change very quickly, so keep the business objectives under frequent review. Things will change dramatically over the lifetime of most significant projects.

As discussed in earlier postings, it is crucial that everyone involved is doing the same project. Without agreement on aims, objectives and scope there can be no concerted effort and factional pressures will hamper progress.

Don’t forget the process

Similarly, project managers are likely to focus on the content of the project: what is to be delivered or developed. To manage effectively, it is also necessary to focus some attention on the process and the context. In structured project management environments, the preferred methodology may set the process but a wise PM will keep this under review and keep evaluating whether the default approach remains appropriate in the light of developments.

Project Thinking First Steps

So, the first element of project thinking is:

  • Think about risk and probability – there is no average
  • Focus on objectives
    • Project
    • Business
    • Bear in mind the rate of change in the business environment
    • Think about
      • Process
      • Context and
      • Content

To catch a fish – you need to go fish!

Early in my career, I worked with an outspoken, verbose and loud senior Engineer from the Southern States of the USA. He had a machine gun delivery talking at 50 to the dozen and could be hard to follow.

He always started every day with the same question.

Are we going to cut bait, hook up or go fish?

It took me a while to catch his meaning but once I did, I realised it was an excellent way to start the day – preparation is necessary but at some point you have to take action. No action – no results.

So are you ging to:

  • Cut bait
  • Hook up or
  • Go Fish

Today?

Don’t just sit there!

In the Open University Business School MBA module I tutor [“Making a difference”], the students are expected to undertake an evidence based initiative in their own organisation. As they move through the process, we suggest that they use a mnemonic “CATUR” to assess the:

  • Complexities
  • Ambiguities
  • Tensions
  • Uncertainties and
  • Risks

associated with their proposals. As you might expect, there is quite a range in the skill with which these elements are applied.

There does however seem to be one reasonably consistent theme, which also echoes my experience with consultancy customers. Most students and businesses are very good at identifying the risks associated with the actions they are proposing. Sometimes, they even do some formal quantified risk assessments taking account of the probability and potential impact of a wide range of events.

Most, however, fail to consider the risks of not taking action and rarely weigh them against the possible benefits of doing something.

In the current uncertain times, it can seem appealing to take the low profile option and keep ones head down. This might seem the safest way to protect your job but it will hardly get you noticed either. There is always the danger that the company’s position will get worse without an intervention. The best policy may be to try something adventurous, be seen to be doing ones best and perhaps coming out with an enhanced profile in the business and beyond.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment… If it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.

Doing nothing might seem to be the easy option but it may not be the safest.

Don’t forget that it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission [Grace Hopper], particularly if it is demonstrably in the business’s best interests.

What can you do to make a difference in your business?

What is stopping you from making a start?

If I have to tell you …

The knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that get you a particular job are unlikely to be the ones which mark you out for promotion to the next level. You rarely get promoted because you just do what it says in the job description [however well you do it!]. This is particularly true for management jobs.

As you progress up the management ladder, there will come a point where your boss is looking for you to take the initiative and start making decisions and changes for yourself; for you to demonstrate initiative and leadership.

You need to step outside of both your comfort zone and the strictures of your official role and demonstrate that you can move to the next level. And here’s the rub – if you have to be told to do it, you haven’t got what it takes and are unlikely to be seen as being capable of making the grade!

Yesterday’s Dilbert strip played on this concept – in this case, it is the manager who is out of touch but you should get the idea. http://www.dilbert.com/2011-03-06/.

This struck a chord with me because a lot my work is with professional service organisations who want their managers to work more effectively in customer relationship building and business development.

So if you want to move up in the organisation, you need to be seen to be making a difference.You need to balance the risks of taking action with those of not acting. The latter may be more difficult to see but they need to be thought about and be taken into account.

Remember also  that it is usually easier to ask for forgiveness than permission – especially if what you do demonstrates that you have the organisation’s best interests at heart!

If the culture makes it difficult to change things for the better then you might ask where both the business and you are heading!

Getting the right budget – its more than just cost cutting

A few days ago, I got a reminder about what seems to be a very useful meeting being run by my engineering institution [Institution of Chemical Engineers] and the Association of Project Managers entitled “Budget, what Budget”[http://www.icheme.org/pdfs/BudgetWhatBudget2PMSGAPM10Dec2010.pdf] in London on 10th December. This focuses on the issues around getting the best budget for your project.

Whilst this is critical, I think it only tells part of the story.

I’ve worked on the front end of projects for many years and know that the initial budget is usually considered to be too high – the costs outweigh the benefits.

So it tends to get reviewed downward thorough a cost cutting exercise – Balancing the costs and benefits by reducing the costsI also know that much of the scope removed in this process tends to creep back in during or after the project – suggesting that it was really needed.

This got me thinking about whether projects are too costly or whether there is just not enough effort put into the justification process.

Balancing the costs and benefits by making the benefits more overt.There needs to be a balance between the two. Here are 10 tips to help you get the right budget for your project by paying attention to the justification process.

1.    It’s all about business

However technologically based the company is they only do projects to gain a business advantage. It may be to cope with changes in the business environment, to respond to competitor action or to meet their own objectives. If you are going to win support, it will be because of the strength of your business case, not the technological.

2.    Understand the process

Your business will have a set of policies, rules and procedures to authorise projects. These are designed to make sure that the right projects get approved and the right ones get rejected. If you don’t understand [and are not prepared to criticise] the process then you will struggle to make a winning case.

3.    Yours is not the only view

Projects involve many different groups, operations, maintenance, marketing, engineering etc. Each has a different perspective on what is important. If you are to win the support of others, you need to understand their perspective.

4.    See the big picture

Your project will be designed to contribute to one or more strategic objectives but may also contribute to other objectives. This may be intended or may be unintended. Make sure that all of the benefits of the project are allowed for in the analysis.

5.    Check sensitivity / assumptions

Virtually every project goes through a cost cutting stage in the justification phase but it is important to note that other assumptions contribute to the assessment of the feasibility of the project. Make sure you understand the contribution to each assumption on the feasibility of the project. Then concentrate your efforts on the right parameters.

6.    Understand the risks

Projects convey us from the present to the future; as a consequence they all involve risks. How you allow for the uncertainties has a big bearing on the outcome of the project. What you know is not that important, it is critical to understand what you don’t know and allow for that. Ideally, you should be using a structured risk identification and management technique.

7.     Don’t open the bidding too low

When the opportunity for a project opens up in our area of interest we naturally want to do all we can to ensure that it is approved and the investment comes our way. This tendency can lead us to suggest a low initial figure for the capital cost. The danger is that this will be cast in stone particular as the “± 30%” caveat we add is missed. It would be better to quote a higher figure and point out that there will be opportunities to reduce the costs. That way you are not painted into a corner.

8.     Value not cost

It is easy to focus on the cost of the various features of the proposed future asset and it is very easy to be drawn into drastic cost reductions to meet the approval hurdles. It is however much more important to concentrate on value and using creative approaches to achieve the desired results more economically.

9.    Market your ideas

However good your ideas are, they will only be accepted if you sell them to the other interested parties. This means spelling out the benefits in business terms [Tip 1] and tailoring your message to the audience[s]. You may need to use a different approach for each group. [Tip 3] You need to lobby for your ideas to be adopted; it won’t happen unless you take action.

10.   Don’t forget WIIFM

The easiest way to get people’s attention is to show them what is in it for them, so make sure that your message to each person or group is focused on “What’s in it for me”