Monthly Archives: August 2009

High Performance Project Management

I have just seen some information on a 2007 survey undertaken by the PMO Executive Council (part of the Corporate Executive Board: http://www.executiveboard.com/). This snapshot survey, Attributes of a High Performance PM – 2007, found very little correlation between project management certification and project management effectiveness, or the number of years a person has been in project management roles and project management effectiveness.

The survey found the drivers for project management effectiveness were behavioural attributes such as problem solving and the ability to relate effectively with key stakeholders. Whilst many people may initially want to disagree with these findings, they are consistent with many other trends and on reflection quite logical.

Firstly, the survey did not look at the PM’s track record, merely the time the PM had been in project roles. It is reasonable to assume highly effective PMs will have a relatively short PM career and then move on and up the organisational hierarchy. Less effective PMs are likely to stay in their PM role focused on process and technology.

Secondly, whilst PM credentials such as PMP remain very effective tools in the job market; passing your PMP does not make you an effective project manager (see more on PMP). The PMP knowledge framework gives you the knowledge to be an effective project manager. Being effective requires you to become a competent project manager.

Competency has three aspects, knowledge, skills and behaviour:

  • what you know,
  • your ability to apply the knowledge (essentially personality traits) and
  • your willingness to use the skills effectively (essentially behavioural traits).

Qualifying project managers based on behavioural competencies is in its infancy. The Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) has recently moved its professional certification program (RegPM) from a procedural view of competency (eg, do you have a project schedule – the artefact?) to a behavioural view of competency (how effectively do you manager the schedule on your project?). This is ground breaking work.

PMI have adopted a different, but similar approach in their program management certification (PgMP) with a 360 degree review testing how effective the candidate is in the workplace. These trends have a long way to go but are likely to be the next step in project certification.

Of more direct interest in the short term is the demonstrated link between how effectively a project manager engages with his/her key stakeholders and high performance outcomes. These skills are a core element in a number of workshops we run including Successful Stakeholder Management and The Science and Art of Communicating Effectively, and are supported in part by our Stakeholder Circle® methodology and tool set.

Learning how to apply the skills in the workplace though is not quite as simple as attending a workshop or buying a set of tools. Soft skills are very hard to acquire and use. My feeling is they are called ‘soft’ because they change shape and texture depending on the environment they are being applied within. The calculations for EV or CPM are universal; the best way to engage a senior stakeholder is totally dependent on the culture of the organisation. Some elements remain consistent (eg, the need for an effective relationship) but the way this is achieved varies.

Developing these advanced skills that are the attributes of high performance project managers requires context sensitive coaching and mentoring rather then formal courses (see: Executive PM Coaching & Mentoring). Ideally organisations seeking to develop high performance PMs will move beyond certification towards implementing internal mentoring systems – it’s the best way to ensure they are contextually relevant.

However, where we differ from the survey findings is that we believe certifications such as PMP are still relevant. Passing a PMI credential such as PMP or CAPM (see more on the PMI credential framework) is a positive demonstration of the initial knowledge component of competency; it’s just that knowledge alone is not sufficient.

Achieving this next level of high performance PMs will also require organisational competence in at least two domains. Process competence measured by tools such as PMI’s OPM3® framework and relationship management maturity measured by tools such as my SRMM® framework.

These are definitely interesting times for our profession.

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PMI Updates its PDU Recording System

PMI is replacing the existing system that manages data and processes for the Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) system with a new solution developed and maintained by PMI. The new System is designed to provide an easy-to-use graphical interface as the entry point for credential holders that will deliver a more seamless, improved customer experience.

The PMI CCR is a mandatory requirement for all holders of the PMP, PgMP, PMI-SP and PMI-RMP credentials (the CAPM credential lasts for 5 years and then has to be renewed by re-examination).  People who fail to achieve the required level of CCR specified for their credential are removed from the list of credential holders and can no longer use the designation [see more on PMI’s CCR requirements].

The new CCR System will handle all of the functionality that the current system manages in addition to introducing new efficiencies. These improvements will ensure that PMI keeps pace with the needs of the growing number of credential holders.

Credential holders will find it simpler and more efficient to:

  • Select activities (courses/events)
  • Report PDUs – View transcripts
  • Maintain multiple credentials

The new CCR System is incorporated into PMI’s single sign-on technology [www.pmi.org] enabling system users to log in once to gain access to all PMI systems and avoid the inconvenience of responding to additional prompts and entering additional passwords.

The improvements are definitely needed, as at 31st July, PMI membership has exceeded 300,000 and there were over 370,000 current credential holders. The breakdown of statistics is:

PMI membership: 306,111 – an overall increase of 11.2 percent for the year.
Total Project Management Professionals (PMP)®: 360,662
Total Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®: 9,126
Total Program Management Professionals (PgMP)®: 307
Total Scheduling Professionals (PMI-SP)®: 164
Total Risk Management Professionals (PMI-RMP)®: 192

Agitating Agile

I have been involved in a series of posts on both my SRMM Blog (see post) and the PMI Voices on Project Management blog (see post) that have stirred up sections of the agile software development community.

Despite the Agile Manifesto focusing on providing excellence to stakeholders, many Agilists seem intent on advocating their rather extreme view of agile including no documentation, little planning or architectural design and less control. The mantra is ‘give the software developers free reign and you will get better software’. Whilst this may be true (although I somehow doubt it in anything but the smallest and simplest projects) it ignores the needs of the project’s key stakeholders.

Most IT projects exist to enhance the capability of the organisation. Consequently the software development is only one part of an overall project to change the organisation, deliver new capabilities or similar. In these typical circumstances, the IT component needs to meet predetermined requirements; any change in the IT capability delivered requires changes in other parts of the project. In fact the best IT solution may turn out to be an unacceptable business solution.

Meeting the needs of the businesses key stakeholders demands discipline and communication not just within the ‘scrum’ or XP team but to the customer’s managers. This needs at the very least a minimum of documentation to prove the IT team and its immediate customers understand their scope of work and other constraints and know how they will achieve the outcomes needed to support the business. Adequate documentation and effective communication are essential.

This post is not suggesting a return to Waterfall or other heavily documented software development process (they don’t work very well anyway – refer the Standish reports) but rather for an appropriate level of documentation to meet the genuine needs of senior management stakeholders. Saying ‘trust me’ is not enough and is not good stakeholder management.

Identifying the key stakeholders, assessing their requirements and expectations and then managing these key relationships so the stakeholders realistic expectations can be realised definitely involves up-front planning and effort, needs tools and methodologies such as the Stakeholder Circle® and involves on-going monitoring and control but is, I would suggest, worth the effort. Your project is unlikely to be seen as successful if the stakeholders expectations are not realised!

In most aspects of life the long term enjoyment of real freedom required a significant measure of self discipline. The agile extremists may do well to consider this and focus on meeting the needs and expectations of all of the stakeholders involved in their work.

Project Planning

The Association for Project Management (UK) released it is ‘Introduction to Project Planning’ last year. This is a high level overview of all of the planning processes needed for a successful project outcome including scope, risk, cost, schedule, quality, procurement, resources and earned value (the subject of another APM standard).

The authors of this guide feel the discipline of planning is undervalued, its value is not recognised and the overall process is misunderstood by many in the project management community. I tend to agree!

The guide is a useful adjunct to both the APM BoK and the PMI PMBOK® Guide and is focused on the whole of the planning process. The first key message is planning has the most to contribute early in the project:

Planning Leverage during the Project Lifecycle

Planning Leverage during the Project Lifecycle

The second is the sequence the key questions good planning should answer, are asked in. If you don’t know ‘why’ the project is being undertaken it is nearly impossible to deliver valuable benefits at the end.

Planning2

One element missing from the guide (but implicit in the way the guide is structured) is the very different skills needed by the planner during the concept phase of a project compared to the detailed planning and the maintenance phases. This is discussed in The Roles and Attributes of a Scheduler’.

Overall the Guide is a useful addition to most libraries and fills a gap between the main BoKs and the specific scheduling and earned value guides.

PMOZ Update

We have had three intensive days at the 6th Annual Project Management Australia (PMOZ) conference http://www.pmoz.com.au.

Despite the GFC induced slow-down delegate numbers were surprisingly good, everyone seemed to enjoy the program and the conference dinner lived up to its reputation as a great party. There was lots of interest in Lynda’s new book, our various papers and workshops were well received and planning for PMOZ 2010 in Brisbane, in August has started.

Links to our main inputs to the conference are:

Now all we have to do is catch up with our backlog of work…….

More later

Mathematical Modelling of Project Estimates

I have just finished reading a very interesting paper by Dr. Pavel Barseghyan; Problem of the Mathematical Theory of Human work the paper is available from the PM World Today web site.

Dr. Barseghyan’s key message is the unreliability of historical data to predict future project outcomes using simple regression analysis. This is similar to the core argument I raised in my paper Scheduling in the Age of Complexity presented to the PMI College of Scheduling conference in Boston earlier this year. Historical data is all we have but cannot be relied on due to the complexity of the relationships between the various project ‘actors’. As a practitioner, I was looking at the problem from an ‘observed’ perspective it’s fascinating to see rigorous statistical analysis obtaining similar outcomes.

A counterpoint to Dr. Barseghyan’s second argument that improved analysis will yield more correct results is the work of N.N. Taleb particularly in his book ‘The Black Swan’. Taleb’s arguments go a long way towards explaining much of the GFC – models based on historical data cannot predict unknown futures. For more on this argument see: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/taleb08/taleb08_index.html 

Personally I feel both of these lines of reasoning need to be joined in the practice of modern project management. We need the best possible predictors of likely future outcomes based on effective modelling (as argued by Dr. Barseghyan). But we also need to be aware that the best predictions cannot control the future and adopt prudent, effective and simple risk management processes that recognise each project is a unique journey into the unknown.

I would certainly recommend reading Dr. Barseghyan’s paper.

Project Controls Don’t

Lynda Bourne has published an interesting post on the PMI Voices of Project Management blog. She suggests describing scheduling, Earned Value and financial management as ‘project controls’ is dangerous! The steering mechanism on a car is a control system, you move the steering wheel and the front wheels turn; and if the car is in motion its direction of travel is altered. Real control systems cause a change.

Altering the duration of a task in a schedule, or calculating the current CPI and EAC for an Earned Value report changes nothing. All you have is new data. If the data is going to cause a change three things must occur. First the data needs to be communicated to the right people. They need to receive, understand and believe the data (this changes the data into information). Then they need to use this new information to change their future behaviours.

Project plans are only useful if they are being used! If your plans are not regularly used by the project team I would suggest they are largely a waste of time. No one can change the past and it is always too late to change the present. The only value a ‘project control tool’ can offer is influence future actions and decisions. This requires relevant, focused information to be communicated to the right stakeholders at the right time – voluminous reporting is not communicating! Fantastically accurate, detailed reports will not be read by anyone important, they are (or should be) too busy doing useful things. To see Lynda’s thoughts on how to resolve this problem read her next Voices post (due in a couple of days).

For a more comprehensive analysis read the last part of Scheduling in the Age of Complexity, starting from page 17 – the role of a scheduler.

What do you think? Do project controls control anything??