Imagine a World Where All Projects Succeed

PM ChangeAgent Commentary by Stacy Goff.

I have used this article’s title as my kick-off phrase at a half-dozen project-related keynotes and presentations over the last few years. Most audiences immediately “lean into” the thought, and its ramifications. For example, in Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing, Tianjin, Brussels, and in the USA, my audiences immediately took notice, became engaged, and were eager to hear more.

This August (2015) was the first exception I’ve had to that typical reaction: As I voiced the introductory statement, I immediately detected disbelief among many in my audience. This was at one of the USA’s best PM Symposiums: I think this is one of the best because of the high-level audiences, the speaker selection process, and excellent event organization.

When I sensed this audience’s disbelief, I immediately asked the question, “How many think this (for all projects to succeed) is even possible?” Less than a quarter raised their hands. So I launched into an extended introduction, pointing out that …

  • Project managers cannot improve project (and business) success just by working harder. Most of us are already working our hearts out;
  • Nor can we improve performance by sending people to still more training;
  • Our team members? They are not only committed to our projects—they are over-committed;
  • And our stakeholders? They are engaged, and expect us to continue to make miracles happen.

No, (I asserted) it is our layers of managers, from first-level to the executive suite, who hold the keys to higher levels of success. And (I said), the purpose of this presentation is to identify  seven key insights that can help our organizations to improve PM performance—and business success. The paper that supports that presentation will be posted at PM World Journal (and later, at IPMA-USA), but the purpose of this article is to further explore this question of disbelief.

Actions In Practice

A handful of actions differentiate high-performing project organizations from those that have room for significant improvement. Most of these have been strengths of high-performing organizations, since the 1980s, and (given executive commitment) it is relatively easy to massively improve pm performance by diagnosing, correcting, coaching, and evaluating the right actions.

In fact, these actions have been a key part of some of the most effective PPM consultancies for over 35 years. The actions are also part of the mandate and role of many successful Project Management Office (PMO) organizations. Those actions include organizational shifts such as:

  • Moving from a flawed “doing more with less” mentality to a managed portfolio mentality;
  • Coaching in smarter expectations for talent interchangeability and development;
  • Improving prioritization processes, while minimizing rapid change of priorities;
  • Moving from random resource assignment (who’s available) to prioritized assignment;
  • Isolating project work from interruptions from ongoing process work and fire-fighting;
  • Rapidly communicating (up and down) leading information rather than lagging data;
  • Improving cost and time estimating, rather than relying on artificially imposed, tight, unrealistic deadlines and budgets–which nearly always delay projects and increase costs;
  • Increased effectiveness in measuring and evaluating workload and performance;
  • Keeping commitments in assigning all the right talent, the right amounts of time, to projects.

By the way, we do not consider these to be “PM Best Practices.” This is consistent with our posting several months ago, when we critiqued the blind use of other organizations’ “best practices.” No, as we stated in that article, these are potentially, competitive, smart practices, that allow some organizations to consistently excel, compared to others that do not yet appreciate the potential gains.

Who, in your organization, can affect or influence these actions? Can project and program managers affect them? Our answer: Yes, to some extent. But in many organizations it is the two-to-twelve layers of managers and executives above the project managers, who have the most control over the consistent use of these smart practices.

For years, my company has offered overviews, seminars and workshops that cover these practices–and  their benefits–for Executives, and for Managers in the Middle: These include the managers who manage the project team members, and others in the management chain all the way up to those who report to the executive suite. The aha! “moment of discovery” is powerful in these sessions, and is part of institutionalizing smarter practices.

One Smart Move Forward

And now, a new option is available for those who are ready to improve PM Performance. It is based on a multi-year effort of GAPPS, the Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards. As with GAPPS’ other performance standards, it consists of Units of Competency, each having Elements, and each Element having Performance Criteria. The Units include (where the PSp prefix refers to Project Sponsor):

  • PSp01 Take Accountability for the Project
  • PSp02 Support the Project Manager
  • PSp03 Support the Project

You can download and review this GAPPS Standard For Project Sponsors from the GAPPS website. And, you can find out a bit more about the Standard from a 2014 PM Podcast interview of Bill Duncan. Duncan has been a key participant in the development of this standard, and most other relevant PPM standards over the last 25 years. In fact, he was the primary author of PMI®’s original 1996 PMBOK® Guide, was the initial project manager for IPMA’s ICB4 (4th edition of the IPMA’s Individual Competence Baseline) and helps to lead IPMA-USA’s certification program.

The purpose of this Project Sponsor Standard is not necessarily for assessors to certify project sponsors; few might ever consider that action, But, it presents a smart way to assess—and respond to—early-project risks. You probably have experienced project sponsors in less-project-savvy organizations who do not fully understand their responsibilities, time commitments, and expected/needed actions and results; note that in Duncan’s podcast, he urges judicious use of the standard: Sponsors need to be treated with consideration of their position, and many other responsibilities.

We are supporters of this initiative, and in IPMA-USA’s application of it in our market. Of course, a logical extension should be to establish a similar assessment framework for Resource Managers, those managers in project-performing organizations who make prioritization, staffing, and talent development decisions.

Perhaps, as a result of this great new GAPPS standard, together with other actions that IPMA-USA and our friends take to support it, today’s great project and program managers can aspire to a day soon when organizations commit to the actions needed to consistently achieve that success. Then, we truly can show measurable progress towards our vision: A world in which all projects succeed!

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