Project Risk Management – how reliable is old data?

One of the key underpinnings of risk management is reliable data to base probabilistic estimates of what may happen in the future.  The importance of understanding the reliability of the data being used is emphasised in PMBOK® Guide 11.3.2.3 Risk Data Quality Assessment and virtually every other risk standard.

One of the tenets underpinning risk management in all of its forms from gambling to insurance is the assumption that reliable data about the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future – there’s no certainty in this processes but there is degree of probability that future outcomes will be similar to past outcomes if the circumstances are similar. ‘Punters’ know this from their ‘form guides’, insurance companies rely on this to calculate premiums and almost every prediction of some future outcome relies on an analogous interpretation of similar past events. Project estimating and risk management is no different.

Every time or cost estimate is based on an understanding of past events of a similar nature; in fact the element that differentiates an estimate from a guess is having a basis for the estimate! See:
–  Duration Estimating
–  Cost Estimating

The skill in estimating both normal activities and risk events is understanding the available data, and being able to adapt the historical information to the current circumstances. This adaptation requires understanding the differences in the work between the old and the current and the reliability and the stability of the information being used. Range estimates (three point estimates) can be used to frame this information and allow a probabilistic assessment of the event; alternatively a simple ‘allowance’ can be made. For example, in my home state we ‘know’ three weeks a year is lost to inclement weather if the work is exposed to the elements.  Similarly office based projects in the city ‘know’ they can largely ignore the risk of power outages – they are extremely rare occurrences. But how reliable is this ‘knowledge’ gained over decades and based on weather records dating back 180 years?

World-Temprature

Last year was the hottest year on record (by a significant margin) as was 2014 – increasing global temperatures increase the number of extreme weather events of all types and exceptionally hot days place major strains on the electrical distribution grids increasing the likelihood of blackouts.  What we don’t know because there is no reliable data is the consequences.  The risk of people not being able to get to work, blackouts and inclement weather events are different – but we don’t know how different.

Dealing with this uncertainty requires a different approach to risk management and a careful assessment of your stakeholders. Ideally some additional contingencies will be added to projects and additional mitigation action taken such as backing up during the day as well as at night – electrical storms tend to be a late afternoon / evening event. But these cost time and money…..

Getting stakeholder by-in is more difficult:

  • A small but significant number of people (including some in senior roles) flatly refuse to accept there is a problem. Despite the science they believe based on ‘personal observations’ the climate is not changing…….
  • A much larger number will not sanction any action that costs money without a cast iron assessment based on valid data. But there is no valid data, the consequences can be predicted based on modelling but there are no ‘facts’ based on historical events……..
  • Most of the rest will agree some action is needed but require an expert assessment of the likely effect and the value proposition for creating contingencies and implementing mitigation activities.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it???? 

The challenge facing everyone in management is deciding what to do:

  • Do nothing and respond heroically if needed?
  • Think through the risks and potential responses to be prepared (but wait to see what actually occurs)??
  • Take proactive action and incur the costs, but never being sure if they are needed???

There is no ‘right answer’ to this conundrum, we certainly cannot provide a recommendation because we ‘don’t know’ either.  But at least we know we don’t know!

head-in-sandI would suggest discussing what you don’t know about the consequences of climate change on your organisation is a serious conversation that needs to be started within your team and your wider stakeholder community.

Doing nothing may feel like a good options – wait and see (ie, procrastination) can be very attractive to a whole range of innate biases. But can you afford to do nothing?  Hoping for the best is not a viable strategy, even if inertia in your stakeholder community is intense. This challenge is a real opportunity to display leadershipcommunication and  negotiation skills to facilitate a useful conversation.

New Articles posted to the Web #41

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 free 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’s Practice Guide for the Governance of Portfolios, Programs, and Projects

governance-of-portfolios-programs-and-projectsPMI’s newly released Practice Guide for the Governance of  Portfolios, Programs, and Projects, provides some useful guidance to organisations and practitioners on the implementation of the management of portfolios, programs, and projects, but very little on the governance of this important aspect of most organisations.

The understanding of project management, program management and portfolio management is well developed and easily accessible to all organisations, many of which have well developed capabilities in these areas, but most still see their projects and programs fail on a regular basis.  Our 2012 post Project or Management Failures? highlighted the issues.

The source of many of these failures lies in the organisation’s ability to manage the overall function of ‘doing projects’ – defined by Professor Peter Morris as ‘the management of projects’ to differentiate this area of middle and executive management from traditional ‘project and program management’. The overall domain covered by the ‘the management of projects’ concept is outlined in our White Paper WP1079 The Strategic Management of Projects.

Despite confusing the governance function and the management function, this PMI Practice Guide is a valuable contribution to this area of management and to a lesser extent the governance of projects, programs and portfolios.  As previously mentioned, the major weakness in the PMI Practice Guide is its failure to differentiate and understand the different functions of governance and management.  Whilst this confusion is common in documents prepared by practitioners and academics focused on IT management and project management, it is rarely seen in any other area of management.

Governance is the exclusive responsibility of an organisation’s governing body; in corporations this is the ‘board of directors’, in other types of organisation, their equivalent.  The governing body is responsible for setting the objectives, culture, and ethical framework for the organisation, employing the organisation’s senior management, oversighting the organisation’s management functions and providing assurance to external stakeholders the organisation is operating effectively and conforming to its obligations (for more on this see: WP 1096 The Functions of Governance). Elements of some of these functions can be delegated to management, particularly in the areas of surveillance and assurance, but accountability remains with the governing body. Importantly in a well governed organisation, the governing body does not interfere in or directly undertake the management of the organisation – it is impossible to govern your own work!

The functions of management were defined 100 years ago by Henri Fayol in his book Administration Industrielle et Generale.  Management involves planning, forecasting, employing other managers and workers, and organising as in creating the organisation; then coordinating, controlling and directing the work of suppliers and subordinates to achieve the organisation’s objectives; whilst working within the ethical and cultural framework set by the governing body (for more on this see: WP 1094 The Functions of Management). A key function of every management role is ensuring subordinates and suppliers conform to the ‘rules’ set by the governing body.

In short, the role of governance is to set the objectives and rules; the role of management is to manage the resources of the organisation to achieve its objectives, working within the ‘rules’. This approach to governance is clearly defined in ISO 38500 the international standard for the corporate governance of information technology, and ISO 21505 the draft international standard for the governance of projects, programs and portfolios.  PMI has completely failed to understand this distinction and as a consequence invented a range of meaningless definitions in the Practice Guide along with a framework that defines basic management functions such as providing resources to undertake work as ‘governance’.

The simple fact of life is the governing body employs managers to undertake management functions and this involves allocating resources, deciding on priorities and making decisions within the strategic framework approved by the governing body. The basic functions of management were clearly defined by Henri Fayol in 1916 had have stood the test of time and the rigours of academic scrutiny.

The tragedy of the decision by PMI to ignore legislation, international standards and a range of governance authorities ranging from the OECD to Cadbury and try to invent its own definition of governance, is that in the PMI model, virtually every management role above that of the project manager is turned into a ‘governance role’.

The proposition made by PMI that every manager responsible for organising and coordinating the work of subordinate managers is engaged in governance is simply untenable – good effective prudent management is simply good effective prudent management!

The role of governance is to create the environment that allows good effective prudent management to occur; ensure the organisation employs people capable of implementing good effective prudent management and to oversee the working of management so the governors can provide assurance to the organisation’s stakeholders that their management team is in fact providing good effective prudent management. The actual work of providing good effective prudent management to achieve the objectives of the organisation is the role, responsibility and duty of managers

Strangely enough most people in real governance positions know what governance is and know what management is.  Alienating this group is a real pity because once you get past the problem of describing almost every management role as a ‘governance role’ the Guide contains a lot of very useful information focused on improving the abysmal performance of many organisations in the complex area of the ‘management of projects’.

  • Section 2 describes organisational project management and the tailoring management practices to meet organisational needs; the essential relationships and considerations; roles and responsibilities; and domains, functions, and processes. It describes how ‘the management of projects’ can be implemented as a program or project for integrated portfolio, program, and project management.
  • Section 3 describes portfolio management, its links to governance and its central role in the ‘management of projects’.
  • Section 4 describes program management and Section 5: management at the Project Level.

In summary PMI’s Practice Guide for the Governance of Portfolios, Programs, and Projects is a good attempt to focus attention on the vital executive and middle management roles that routinely fail to properly support the delivery of projects and programs; the Practice Guide is spoiled by the delusion that middle level managers and executives undertaking their normal management responsibilities are somehow ‘governing’ the organisation.  As a consequence, the governing bodies of organisations and corporations will tend to dismiss the Practice Guide as an irrelevance.

The key element missed by PMI is the understanding that good management practice is an outcome of good governance, and bad management practice is a symptom of governance failure. The role of governance is to ensure its organisation’s management structures and systems are ‘good’. The fact PMI have completely missed this important distinction in their Practice Guide and as a consequence significantly reduced its value to organisations is an opportunity lost! In most organisations both the governance of projects programs and portfolios needs improving and the overall management of projects programs and portfolios needs improving – these are both important, but require very different improvement processes!

Some ideas for making project management effective and efficient in 2016

SuccessIt’s a New Year and by now most of us will have failed to keep our first set of New Year resolutions! But it’s not too late to re-focus on doing our projects better (particularly in my part of the world where summer holidays are coming to an end and business life is starting to pick up). Nothing in the list below is new or revolutionary; they are just good practices that help make projects successful.

Most projects that fail are set up to fail by the organization and senior management (see:  Project or Management Failures?).  80% of projects that fail don’t have a committed and trained project sponsor. An effective project sponsor will:

  1. Give clear project objectives.
  2. Help craft a well‐defined project scope.
  3. Remove obstacles that affect project success.
  4. Mediate disagreements with other senior stakeholders.
  5. Support the project manager.

The role of the project or program sponsor is outlined in: WP1031 Project & Program Sponsorship.

Customers or end‐users are critically important to the success of ‘their project’. Unfortunately there is an extreme shortage of ‘intelligent customers’.  A ‘good customer’ will:

  1. Help refine the project scope – no one gets it 100% correct first time.
  2. Convey requirements fully and clearly
    (see: WP 1071 Defining Requirements).
  3. Avoid changing their minds frequently.
  4. Adhere to the change management process.

Every project team needs expertise – this is frequently provided by external experts. Subject‐matter experts should:

  1. Highlight common pitfalls.
  2. Help rather than hinder decision making.

The work of the project is done by ‘the team’. A committed and motivated project team will:

  1. Buy into the project’s objectives.
  2. Identify all of the required tasks and ensure the schedule is complete and accurate.
  3. Provide accurate estimates.
  4. Report progress and issues truthfully.
  5. Deliver their commitments.
  6. Focus on achieving the intended benefits
    (see: WP 1023 Benefits and Value).

Finally, the project manager

  1. Recognises that there is no “I” in project and works with the team and stakeholder community to create a successful outcome
  2. Resolves issues and risks that may arise from the 18 items above quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Making Projects WorkAlmost all of the items listed require action by people other than the project manager – this highlights the fact that projects are done by people for people and the key skill required by every project manager is the ability to influence, motivate and lead stakeholders both in the project team and in the wider stakeholder community.

For more on Making Projects Work see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#MPW

ICL 1900 PERT – 50th Anniversary

1900 PERT, the definitive version of the ICL mainframe PERT software systems, was released on the 11th January 1966 by a team that included Raf Dua.

 

ICL 1900 Computer

ICL 1900 Computer

British Tabulator Machines (BTM) one of the forebears of ICL (and Raf) were involved in the earliest days of the PERT development in the USA, providing tabulating machines used to process the punch cards that held the schedule data.

ICL2

The computer I used at college was an Elliott-Automation Mainframe.

For more on this see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html#HistoryControls

The 1900 PERT code was later used to develop the Micro Planner range of software, the first version being released on the Apple II in 1980 I managed the Australasian part of the Micro Planner business from 1987 to 1999. For more on the history of Micro Planner see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Company_People_MPI.html#history.

1900 PERT lives on in the current range of Micro Planner software, with Raf still involved as the owner and Managing Director of Micro Planning International: http://www.microplanning.com.au/index.php

I will be presenting a session on the latest version of Micro Planner X-PERT at the Construction CPM conference in New Orleans later this month: http://www.constructioncpm.com/.  If you’ve got the time I look forward to seeing you in the Big Easy….

New Articles posted to the Web #40

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 free 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

How to succeed as a PM in 2016

On-the-busProjects are done by people for people and through the medium of social media, people power is growing.  Successful project managers know this and use it to their advantage; they create a team culture focused on working with other stakeholders to create success.

Project managers know when they get this right because their project team will challenge, follow and support them, and each other, in order to get the job done. Not only that, but word spreads and other people inside the organisation will want to join the team or be associated with its success. When a PM achieves this, they know they have created something special and paradoxically are under less pressure, can get a good night’s sleep, and as a consequence are fully refreshed each day to keep building the success. This is good for the people and great for the organisation!!

Developing the skills and personal characteristics needed to develop and lead a committed team needs more then technical training. Experience, reflection, coaching and mentoring all help the project manager grow and develop (and it’s a process that never stops). Five signs that they are on the path to becoming a great team leader are:

  1. They’re well liked. Great leaders make people feel good about themselves; they speak to people in a way that they like to be spoken to, are clear about what needs to be achieved[1], and are also interested in their lives outside work and display a little vulnerability every now and again to demonstrate that they are human. They’ll always start the day with a ‘good morning’, the evening with a ‘good night’ and every question or interaction will be met with courtesy. When the team picks up on this the project area will be filled with good humour and great productivity.
  2. They put effort into building and maintaining teams. Designing great teams takes lots of thought and time – you need the right people ‘on the bus[2]’ and you need to get the wrong people ‘off the bus’. A great project manager doesn’t accept the people who are ‘free’ or ‘on the bench’ unless they’re the right people and they’ll negotiate intensely for the people that they really need, going to great lengths to recruit people into the vision that they have. Once the team is in place, they never stop leading it, building it, encouraging it, performance managing it and celebrating it.
  3. They involve everyone in planning. Or at least everyone that matters! The PM identifies the team members and other stakeholders that need to be involved; creates a productive, enjoyable environment, and leads the process. They want to ensure that they get the most out of the time and at the end have a plan that the team has built and believe in.
  4. They take the blame and share the credit. Great project managers are like umbrellas. When the criticism is pouring down they ensure that the team is protected from it. They then ensure that the message passed down is presented as an opportunity to improve not a problem to be fixed. Similarly, when the sun is out and the praise is beaming down, they ensure that the people who do the real work bask in it and are rewarded for it. When they talk about how successful a project has been, they talk about the strengths of the team and the qualities they have shown, never about themselves.
  5. They manage up well. Stakeholder engagement, particularly senior stakeholder engagement is the key to project success[3]. Great project mangers know they need senior executive support to help clear roadblocks and deliver resources and know how to tap into the organisation’s powerlines for the support they need.

Great project mangers are also good technical managers; they have an adequate understand the technology of the project and they know how the organisation’s management systems and methodologies work. But they also know they can delegate much of this aspect of their work to technologists and administrative experts within their team. And if the team is fully committed to achieving project success, these experts will probably do a better job than the project manager anyway.

Projects are done by people for people and the great project managers know how to lead and motivate[4] ‘their people’ to create a successful team that in turn will work with their stakeholders to create a successful project outcome.
[1] For more on delegation see:  http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1091_Delegation.pdf

[2] In the classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “…to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.”

[3] This is the focus of my book Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders, see http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#Adv_Up

[4] For more on leadership see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1014_Leadership.pdf