New Articles posted to the Web #9

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

PMI Voices Post

My latest contribution to the PMI Voices on project management blog has just been published: Eliminate the Fear Factor – fear of being blamed can keep vital knowledge from the people who needed to know.

My earlier ‘voices’ posts are at: http://blogs.pmi.org/mt-search.cgi?blog_id=1&tag=Lynda%20Bourne&limit=20

New Articles posted to the Web #8

BeaverWe have been busy beavers updating the PM Knowledge Index on our website with White Papers and Articles.   Some of the more interesting uploaded during the last couple of weeks include:

And we continue to tweet a PMI style of exam question every day for PMP, CAPM and PMI-SP candidates: See today’s question and then click through for the answer and the Q&As from last week.

You are welcome to download and use the information under our Creative Commons licence

Understanding stakeholder theory

meetings2I have used the term ‘stakeholder theory’ in a couple of recent posts on this blog without taking the time to explain what it is.

‘Stakeholder theory’ is a particular approach to recognising and dealing with stakeholders, based on the concept of stakeholder developed by Ed Freeman in his 1984 books Strategic Management: a Stakeholder Approach (1984), and Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art (2010).  These ideas a central to the stakeholder management approach embedded in the Stakeholder Circle methodology.

The way in which organisations approach stakeholders, the tools and techniques used to engage stakeholders and at a philosophical level, the purpose of the organisation are all built on the view of stakeholders accepted by the organisation’s governing body. The traditionalist / Friedman view of stakeholders focused on the ‘owners’ of the organisation (in the commercial world shareholders) and a narrow focus on maximising profits. A range of public relations and physical disasters highlight the short term, self-defeating outcomes from this approach.

Stakeholder theory poses the deeper philosophical question: ‘can business leaders make decisions about the conduct of the business without considering the impact of these decisions on (all) those who will be affected by the decisions? Is it possible to separate ‘business’ decisions from the ethical considerations of their impact? I suggest ‘not’. It is not possible to build a sustainable organisation of any type, including a profitable business, if the organisation fails to meet the needs of most (if not all) of its stakeholders.

ed freemanR Edward (Ed) Freeman is considered to be one of the early proponents of this wider view of organisational stakeholders, writing that they could be defined as “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objectives”.  This broad view has been accepted by many other institutions, for example, the current PMBOK® Guide glossary defines stakeholders as: “Stakeholders are individuals, groups, or organisations who may affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project, program, or portfolio”.

Freeman, Harrison, Wicks, Parmar, & deColle, in their 2010 book trace the evolution of stakeholder theory from 1984 when was originally associated with the idea of business as being concerned with value creation and trade to the current times.

In 1984, economics assumed that ‘values and ethics’ did not need to be considered in economic theory. The limitations of this approach can be questions in a number of ways:

  • Can we really divide the world into ‘business realm’ and ‘ethical realm’?
  • Can business executives ‘do the right thing’: can they separate the ‘business’ decisions they make from the impacts of these decisions on everyone else (stakeholders)?
  • How can we combine ‘business’ and ‘ethics’ conceptually and practically?

Freeman et al. describe the artificial separation of business decisions and considerations of their impact as the ‘separation fallacy’, rejecting it by stating there can be no such thing as ‘value free economics’: “it makes no sense to talk about business or ethics without talking about human beings. Business is conducted by human beings, decisions are made by human beings, the purpose of the value creation and trade is for the benefit of human beings”. If business is separated from ethics there can be no moral responsibility for business decisions.

The starting point for a better approach to stakeholders is that “most people, most of the time, want to, and do, accept responsibility for the effects of their actions on others”. What this means is that:

  • People engaged in value creation and trade (in business) are responsible precisely to “those groups and individuals who can affect or be affected by their actions”.
  • This means at least: customers, employees, suppliers, communities and financiers (shareholders). And importantly, no one group can expect to profit at the expense of others over a sustained period – everyone benefits or ultimately no one benefits.

Stakeholder theory, then, is fundamentally a theory about how business can work at its best. It is descriptive, prescriptive and instrumental at the same time. Stakeholder theory is more than just considering value for shareholders – it is more complex, because there are many relationships involved. For any organisational activity there will be a complex web of human beings with their needs and wants (stakes).

In answering the question ‘what makes business successful’? Freeman refutes Milton Friedman’s article in the New York Times (1970) which stated that for businesses to become successful they must focus on maximizing profits – a focus on shareholders and ‘shareholder value’.  However, to maximize profits there must also exist:

  • Products and services that customers want,
  • Good relationships with suppliers to keep operations at cutting edge,
  • Inspired employees to stand for the company’s mission and push it to become better,
  • Supportive communities to allow the company to flourish.

A focus on shareholders is counterproductive because it takes away focus on fundamental driver to value – stakeholder relationships. The only way to maximize profits sustainably it to satisfy all stakeholders.

Instead of the flawed shareholder value paradigm, developing a ‘stakeholder mindset’ in organisations and by extension in projects and programs is a better way to maximize profits, where:

  • Business is a set of relationships among groups which have a stake in the activities that make up the business.
  • Business is about how customers, suppliers, employees, financiers (stockholders, bondholders and banks), communities and managers interact and create value.
  • To understand business is to know how these relationships work.
  • The executive’s job is to manage and shape these relationships.

Within this framework the stakes that stakeholders have will include:

  • Owners or financiers (shareholders) have a financial stake in the business in the form of stocks, bonds – they expect a financial return.
  • Employees have their jobs and their livelihood at stake: They may have specialised skills for which there is only a small market – in return for their labour they expect security, wages and benefits and meaningful work.
  • Customers and suppliers exchange resources for the products and services of the firm. They expect to receive in return the benefits of the products and services – these relationships are enmeshed in the practice of ethics in business.
  • The local community grants the organisation the right to build facilities within its boundaries. The community benefits from taxes and the economic and social contributions of the organisation back into the community.

These relationships are interdependent and require balanced decision making:

  • The organisation will not be profitable unless is employees and suppliers work constructively to make goods or services the customers are prepared to buy.
  • The organisation has to pay sufficient money and create a culture that attracts the right type of employee, but if employees take too much out of the organisation in the form of excessive pay, the organisation becomes uncompetitive and the employees lose their jobs.
  • Organisations are expected to be good citizens – not to expose the community to unreasonable hazards in the form of pollution, toxic waste or substandard goods or services. But the community benefits from consuming the goods and services and it is impossibly to create things without some pollution.

The art of managing within stakeholder theory is to find ways to minimise the damage and maximise the benefits accrued by each of the stakeholder groups. This is a creative process and management teams that do it best create the most successful organisations.

There is great value to be gained in examining how the stakes of each stakeholder or stakeholder group contribute, positively or negatively, to the value creation process of a business; and what the role of the executive is in stakeholder relationship management. In this context stakeholders are defined:

  • Narrow: those groups without whose support the business would cease to be viable: categorized as ‘primary’ by Freeman and ‘Key stakeholders’ in mine.  Such thinking was also the basis of the categorization of stakeholders as ‘legitimate’ and ‘salient’ (Mitchell, Agle, & Wood, 1997), leading to a risky viewpoint that only the ‘important primary’ stakeholders matter.
  • Wider: those who can affect the business, or be affected by its activities categorized as secondary or instrumental (a means to an end).

The stakeholder approach preferred by Freeman is this: Executives need to understand that business is fully situated in the realms of human beings; stakeholders have names and faces and children AND they are not placeholders for social roles.

Stakeholder theory must address:

  • Understanding and managing a business in the 21st century – the problem of an organisation’s value creation and profitable trade.
  • Combining thinking about ethics, responsibility, and sustainability with the current economic view that the organisations that operate within a capitalist framework must ‘maximise shareholder value’ – the problem of the ethics of capitalism.
  • Dealing with the paradox that an over emphasis on creating shareholder value will destroy shareholder value.

Shareholder value is a component of stakeholder value, organisations that innovate and create great stakeholder value, will also drive shareholder value.  And the first step in creating stakeholder value is understanding your stakeholders, their attitudes and their expectations.  The Stakeholder circle® tools have been designed to help you resolving this problem!

The numbers in your calendar

PMWJ-CoverHave you ever consider the odd collection of numbers that make up the standard western calendar, 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and varying numbers of days in the months and years. The origins of some of these numbers and the basis of the modern calendar go back over 6000 years.

The origins of the different numbers and how they became the modern calendar is told in my featured paper published in the July edition of PM World Journal.  To read the paper and sign up for the free monthly e-Journal go to: http://pmworldjournal.net/article/the-origins-of-the-coordinated-universal-time-utc-calendar/

For more papers on the history of project management see:  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html

Scope for improvement 4 pt2

Scope-for-Improvement-2014This post is my second discussing Ashurst Lawyers fourth report in the ‘Scope for Improvement’series looking at the management and delivery of mega projects in Australia; focused on the interlinked topics of productivity, innovation and training (read the first post).

This ‘Scope for Improvement’ report identified productivity and skills shortages as a key problem for the sector but failed to offer any real options for improvement.  The report also acknowledged productivity in Australia is significantly worse than many other developed economies, and whilst skills shortages are less of an issue now that the demand in the resources sector has returned to more normal levels, many participants expect it will again become a major issue in the near future. Some of the more significant observations from the report (with my thoughts in italics) are:

  • Major inhibitors are the heavily regulated labour market and restrictive work practices. This is a management failing, enterprise bargaining has been part of the Australian industrial system for nearly a decade.
  • Inadequate or insufficient training, and lack of experience, particularly in project and risk management of large projects, have been evident. . This is another management failing, skills don’t magically develop in ‘the market’ organisations need to invest in training.
  • There is a generational shift in talent and experience at project director level. Developing ‘young talent’ needs career planning – largely ignored in the construction sector.
  • There is not enough talent in the market to adequately cover the step shift in project scale (typically up from $800 million to $2billion) that occurred in the mid-2000s. Long term skills development has been largely ignored in this sector.

More depressing, was the complete absence of any meaningful discussion on BIM – Building Information Modelling.  BIM is now mainstream in the UK construction industry and gathering pace in the USA, China, Europe and many other countries (many of which have contracting footholds in the Australian market).

The reason the rest of the world is focusing on BIM is productivity and profit.  BIM reduces risk, increases efficiency and substantially reduces cost. BIM has a similar enabling capacity to EFPOST in the retail industry. The development of fully integrated data, driving efficiencies right through the supply chain – with EFTPOS, the suppliers know how many stock items have been sold today to arrange restocking overnight; JIT with a vengeance. BIM offers similar opportunities to radically reform and update the construction industry and drag it from its medieval craft roots into the modern era.

Implementing BIM will be a cultural revolution in the Australian context, making the optimum use of BIM will require skilled staff working as permanent members of the construction business’ supply chain. Successfully implementing BIM will require investment, training, staff development and a major shift in workforce management and supply chain management. The challenge facing Australian companies in all parts of the industry is to either catch up with their global competitors or face extinction.

The problem is a unlike the UK, there is no government leadership and we do not have the market size that allows innovative investments in Europe, China and North America. Solving this conundrum is where the real ‘scope for improvement’ lies.

To understand more about BIM and access a wide range fo free resources (mainly from the UK) see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1082_BIM_Levels.pdf

The Scope for Improvement reports can be downloaded from: http://www.ashurst.com/publication-item.aspx?id_Content=10561&langId=1

Scope for improvement 4

Scope-for-Improvement-2014A couple of interesting things happened on the 1st July,  the first was being invited to a wonderfully old-fashioned business lunch by Ashurst Lawyers with Champaign and fine wines – a far too frequent event in these days of OH&S liabilities……  The second was attending the preview of the Bell Shakespeare’s interpretation of Henry V.  You may wonder what the connection is.

Henry V has a number of memorable speeches focused around battling insurmountable odds to overcome adversity…… ‘Once more dear friends unto the breach let us block the gap with [engineering] dead’‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother …..’.  Stirring stuff given the character assassination most of the Plantagenet Kings suffer at the hands of the Bard. Which brings me back to the lunch.

Ashurst were launching the fourth report in the ‘Scope for Improvement’ series looking at the management and delivery of mega projects in Australia.  And unfortunately it really was a case of ‘once more dear friends……’  The title of the original 2006 report was derived from its major finding that scope was routinely omitted from tender documentation for mega projects.  The second report 2008 identified the consequences from scoping inadequacies. Survey participants attributed cost overruns (61%), delayed completion (58%) and disputes (30%) to scoping inadequacies. Further, scoping inadequacies had resulted in 26% of the $1 billion+ projects surveyed being more than $200 million over budget.  In 2006 and 2008 there was definitely ‘scope for improvement’; in 2014 the situation remains fundamentally unaltered.

The research for the 2014 report used a qualitative approach starting with discussions over lunch with some 130 executives (primarily from the organisations involved in the Australian Contractors Association), the discussions were documented and the emerging hypotheses tested in focused one-on-one interviews. This methodology has undoubtedly generated some interesting and important insights to the challenges faced by the major projects industry; but unfortunately the methodology prevents a precise trend analysis on this major area of concern. All we know for sure is it remains a major area of concern.

Probably the most telling insight in explaining the reason for the continuing omission of scope is the imposition of unreasonable time pressures to complete the work.  This pressure comes in part from the lack of any overall strategy on the part of the clients that defines the need for the project, meaning there is no ‘master plan’ to provide a framework for developing the project’s scope in a sensible timeframe.  This is a fundamental governance failure – very few mega-projects need to undertaken in ‘panic mode’.

The second insight is the effect of perceived ‘political imperatives’ that push governments and/or organisational executives to simply demand the work be accomplished in an unreasonably short timeframe. For some reason a completely unnecessary need for speed seems to have come to dominate executive decision making.  This demand for excessive speed will always drive up cost, increase risk and reduce quality.  This is equally true of a small $50,000 IT project as it is of a $multi-billion infrastructure project such as the National Broadband Network.

The only option to achieve excessive speed without compromising quality too much is to employ highly skilled people with direct experience of the work.  But as another section of the ‘Scope for Improvement’ report highlights, skills are in very short supply and only half the people in any group can be ‘above average’ – you simply cannot achieve ‘above average performance’ all of the time.

Certainly there will always be a limited number of projects where speed is an imperative, for most a combination of better strategic planning so the work is started at the right time and/or simply allowing adequate time will produce far better quality outcomes at a significantly reduces cost. Getting this balance right, and requiring management to have the right systems in place to avoid unnecessary ‘time pressures’ is a key governance imperative.

Simply having an immovable deadline is not an excuse. The London Olympics infrastructure was started ‘early’, properly resourced from the beginning, used appropriate procurement systems and finished a year ahead of the opening ceremony with no fatalities. Contrast the success of this project to similar ones in New Delhi and Rio de Janeiro where strategic decisions were not made at the right times, pressures to ‘increase speed’ developed and cost, quality and safety all suffered (or in the case of Brazil, are suffering).

The current ‘Scope for Improvement’ report identifies a range of solutions to this problem:

  • Clearly identify the project objectives.
  • Education on the importance of scoping.
  • Allow sufficient time allowed to prepare the scope
  • Employ sufficient personnel of the right quality to prepare the scope. Including providing adequate training for the personnel involved in preparing the scope.
  • Choose the right delivery model and the right method of describing the scope (performance based where appropriate).
  • Get the right people involved, with a collaborative process to obtain input from key stakeholders (including the end users).

Another area of the report that will be discussed in a later post is the interlinked topics of productivity, innovation and training. In the meantime, the Scope for Improvement reports can be downloaded from: http://www.ashurst.com/publication-item.aspx?id_Content=10561&langId=1