Monthly Archives: May 2014

Workflow Management

Many projects involve repetitive elements of work that take some inputs, run them through a series of processes and deliver an integrated output.  Standardising these elements of project work can create efficiencies and minimise errors.   A couple of examples include normal ‘sprints’ in an Agile project and the monthly updating of the plans and reporting in a major project. Workflow management sit one step above individual processes (particularly standard operating procedures) linking them into an optimum sequence of work.

Workflow management means to oversee the creation of a deliverable from beginning to end. The management aspect is to be able to identify the people who need to be involved in each process within the work flow and to ensure the ‘flow’ allows for input from all required parties in the right sequence. The key questions that need answering to create a productive workflow are:

  • What is the optimum sequence of processes?
  • Who needs to be involved in each process? This includes knowing what inputs are required to start the work and what outputs are produces to finish the work.
  • How to keep the momentum going within each process and the overall workflow (and the timely identification of blockages)?

A workflow can be simply designed on a piece of paper (or white board) to show the flow, who is responsible for each process and how the tasks are accomplished; or automated.


An example of an automated workflow management tool from

An example of an automated workflow management tool from

The key advantage of developing and using a workflow is you can expect similar results from the accomplishment of the work at each iteration, even if the people involved change. It reduces errors and provides consistent results.

Agile projects use the concept of ‘done’ at the end of a sprint. A common definition of done ensures that the increment produced at the end of sprint is of high quality, with minimal defects. Teams define the series of steps needed to reach ‘done’, and implement them routinely through each sprint. The steps to get to ‘done’ may include:

  • Code Complete
  • Unit tests written and executed
  • Integration tested
  • Performance tested
  • Documented (just enough)

Build these steps into a workflow and everyone benefits – particularly if the workflow is reviewed and updated to incorporate learned experience on a regular basis. The art is to keep the workflow as simple as possible but not so simple that it becomes simplistic.

So next time you wade through the tasks needed to create your monthly report or any other repetitive job within the overall management of a project think about documenting the work flow – it will pay dividends over time.

PMI Voices Post

My latest contribution to the PMI Voices on project management blog has just been published:  Fight or Flight? – the effect of emotions on disagreement.

My earlier ‘voices’ posts are at:

Getting value from an investment led policy

EU_FlagIf the Abbott/Hockey government is serious about an investment led recovery, they should take a leaf out of the EU’s book!  The European Union has approved regulations that increase the importance of applied project management skills as criteria for successful recipients of EU cohesion and structural funds. The new regulation describes the need for “building the capacity of local actors to develop and implement operations including fostering their project management capabilities.

The regulations see projects, program and portfolio management skills as part of the solution to the challenge of authorities getting projects completed successfully.

The new rules, will govern the next round of EU cohesion policy investment for 2014–2020. The purpose of the cohesion policy is to reduce disparities among the levels of development of the EU’s various regions by promoting economic growth, job creation and competitiveness and will make available up to €366.8 billion to invest in Europe’s regions, cities and real economy (the part that produces goods and services).

The intent of the EU policy is very similar to the 15% asset recycling bonus included in the Australian budget, designed to encourage Sates to sell assets and reinvest the money, plus 15% from the Federal government in new projects.  The question is will the Abbott/Hockey government also include a requirement for a commitment to fostering effective project management in the scheme?  We think it would be a great idea to adopt!

Stakeholders in complexity

The new CPM is ‘Complex Project Management’ and whilst most of the current project management tools and practices including risk management, scheduling and EVM remain important, they are not sufficient to successfully manage a complex project according to Stephen Hayes, from the Canberra based International Centre for Complex Project Management ICCPM.

ICCPM Ltd was established by Australian, UK and US government bodies and major defence industry corporations, and is now a substantial network of global corporate, government, academic and professional organisations committed to the better management of complex projects across all industry and government sectors focused on improving the success of complex projects.


Whilst all projects have a degree of complexity (see: Project Size and Categorisation) CPM is focused on the major projects undertaken in response to ill-defined and often mutually-incompatible stakeholder requirements and are subject to uncontrollable external influences and almost continuous change.

Successfully managing this type of project needs outcome focused leadership that is capable of developing context specific innovative approaches to issues backed by the tenacity to deliver ‘no matter what’!

The latest report facilitated by ICCPM in conjunction with Global Access Partners and a range of leading public and private sector organisations is entitled “Complex Project Management: Global Perspectives and the Strategic Agenda to 2025” (available from

This report has developed a framework for on-going research into CPM under six broad themes:

  • Delivery leadership – the ability to navigate through uncertainty and ambiguity to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Collaboration – working as one team to a mutually agreed goal and equitable reward (including operating the entire supply chain as a single entity).
  • Benefits realisation – understanding and delivering through-life product value.
  • Risk, opportunity and resilience – taking good risk, seizing emergent opportunity, and successfully responding to the unexpected.
  • Culture communication and relationships – maximising the effectiveness of the human asset by understanding and responding to human behavioural need.
  • Sustainability and education – continuous learning, maintaining currency in leadership capability and knowledge transfer across generational boundaries in order to sustain through-life capability.

Against each of these a basic set of policies and actions have been developed to define the future work and research agenda of ICCPM, its partners and academia.  To this end ICCPM is working to develop a permanent, co-ordinated global specialist research agenda for CPM.

With support from the UK Cabinet Office, the Australian Government, universities including QUT and DAU, professional associations including IPMA and APM, and companies such as BAE Systems and Thales (to name but a few) this initiative may prove successful.  Two glaring omissions from the list of supporters though are the AIPM and PMI –maybe this blog will trigger some action.

Certainly the emergence of stakeholders at the centre of complexity means stakeholder management and engagement will be a topic of increasing importance which is only to be encouraged.

Note: The contents of this post are based on the executive summary of the ICCPM – GAP CPM Task Force report:

Getting to done!

AllemanGlen Alleman’s new book, Performance-Based Project Management: Increasing the Probability of Project Success is focused on the practical steps needed to get to ‘done’ – the project’s deliverables out there and working.

Performance-Based Project Management shows readers how they can increase the probability of project success, detailing a straightforward plan for avoiding surprises, forecasting performance, identifying risk, and taking corrective action to keep a project a success. Glen has distilled the practical essence out of the complex project management processes defined in a range of standards to focus on what works starting with the Five Immutable Principles of Project Success.  The five key things to know about any project are:

  1. What do we want ‘done’ and what does ‘done’ look like when we’re finished?
  2. What work do we need to do to get from where we are now to ‘done’ (by who, when and how)?
  3. Do we actually have enough skills (capability), money, people and other resources to do this work in a sensible timeframe?
  4. What problems and issues are we likely to encounter getting to ‘done’ and how can we manage them?
  5. How will we know we are making progress towards ‘done’ and how will know when we have arrived (refer first point above)?

The next step is to apply the Five Practices to refine and deliver the project’s scope:

  1. Define the needed capabilities
  2. Define the technical and operational requirements needed to implement those capabilities
  3. Establish a Performance Measurement Baseline for performing the work needed to implement the requirements (plan the work)
  4. Implement the work defined in the Performance Measurement Baseline (work the plan)
  5. Perform continuous risk management on everything you do on the project.

And then managing the work requires five processes:

  1. Organise the project work with a WBS and an OBS to show what is being delivered and who is responsible
  2. Plan, schedule and budget the work
  3. Account for the time and money used to implement the deliverables
  4. Analyse the variances that occur between the ‘actuals’ and the plan and understand the cause and the corrective options.
  5. Maintain the integrity of the data.

There’s a lot more in the book derived from Glen’s 30 years of experience as a program manager and performance management consultant in the aerospace, defence, and enterprise information technology fields. He is well known in the project management community through his Herding Cats blog.

To preview the book see:

PMI Voices Post

My latest contribution to the PMI Voices on project management blog has just been published: Stakeholder Victory, Without Battle … this is a theme we will be returning to.

My earlier ‘voices’ posts are at:

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

ForecastingNiels Bohr’s quote, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” neatly encapsulates the challenges facing project control’s professionals every working day if they are actively contributing to a successful project outcome. The question posed in this post is how accurate do we need to be with our projections to be useful? On one measure at least accuracy of 98% is not sufficient!!

The starting point is understanding what has occurred on the past and the ‘current status’ project. This is relatively easy, but is also a complete waste of time unless the data is interpreted in a model and use to provide useful information that helps the project management make decisions about future actions. This challenge applies to most aspects of planning and controls from strategic planning at the corporate level through the full spectrum of project controls (for more on this see: Project Controls).

Virtually every project has a cost plan and a time plan (schedule) and many have other ‘plans’ designed to model future outcomes. The way project controls work is to build a ‘model’ of the project in a software tool focused on one or more aspects of the project and then use insights from these models to help management make better choices. To be useful the plans need to be dynamic and built to respond to inputs on both the progress achieved to date and future actions so the effect of proposed or anticipated changes can be modelled and the information derived from the model used to inform management decisions. Unfortunately this is where the problems occur.

As a starting point, as Professor George E.P. Box succinctly stated several years ago; ‘all models are wrong’! This is a risk for management using any model but as Thomas Knutson and Robert Tuleya said; “If we had observations of the future we would trust them more than models, …… unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.” The ‘model’ is all we have.

Therefore to be useful, the model needs to provide insights at are practical and reasonably reliable. The challenges are:

  • Firstly building a realistic, dynamic model (eg, a dynamic schedule),
  • then validating the model which can be difficult given the unique nature of each project, and
  • then having management make use of the insights derived from the model’s information.

In a project this largely boils down to the skill of the scheduler or cost planner and the confidence management have in their planners and their processes.

In the wider world, a similar debate is occurring around climate change. One of the first debates was around the depletion of ozone levels in the atmosphere caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other halogenated ozone depleting substances creating the ‘ozone holes’. Sherwood Rowland, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the chemistry that led to ozone depletion, asked this question: “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” Fortunately over time the world’s governments listened, CFC have been largely eliminated from society at large and the ozone is on a ‘bumpy road to recovery’.


A similar consensus to make difficult decisions about climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions has not yet happened. The scientific view is virtually unanimous (at around 99%) the modelling is accurate and validated but for many politicians short term personal ‘political advantage’ overrides the need to make hard decisions focused on the long term good of society at large. There is a very interesting TED talk on the modelling of climate change: view the talk.

This TED talk highlights the destructive stupidity of the new Australian Government in the way it is ignoring both economics and science to attempt to cancel virtually all of Australia’s current climate change initiatives on ideological grounds – particularly given our position as one of the worst emitters per capita in the world.

At a more fundamental level though is the ‘controls’ question. How do we develop, use and promote effective modelling in the form of schedules, cost plans and other techniques and then use them to enable managers to have the confidence to make hard decisions based on the predictive information we create? No schedule or cost plan is going to achieve the 98% certainty achieved by the current climate models. If politicians and some business leaders can dismiss a 98% certainty of climate change as being unreliable to facilitate short term personal gains and avoid making prudent decisions that are needed to save lives; what chance do we stand with project management when the accuracy of our models is lower, the opportunity for validation almost non-existent and the consequences of ‘not deciding’ far less traumatic??

Studies consistently show good use of project controls makes for significantly improved project outcomes! They also show most projects, and virtually every ‘failed project’ did not make good use of project controls. There seems to be a wilful desire to create failure based on some perceived short term benefits achieved by not investing in effective control systems (people and processes). My question is how do we change this????

New Articles posted to the Web #4

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

Effective Communication = Effective Project Stakeholder Management

A small group of project manager s spent an enjoyable 90 minutes in an ‘un-conference session’ during the Project Zone Congress  earlier this month discussing the biggest single challenge to project success – stakeholders!  Depending on the type of project, between 50% and 90% of the risks in the risk register are associated with stakeholders.

Agreement was quickly reached by the group on the proposition that ‘stakeholders’ are a very wide and diverse group, some supportive and useful, others negative and obstructive and all with different needs and aspirations; so the conversation quickly moved onto the management of stakeholders and the proposition that ‘effective stakeholder management = effective stakeholder communication’.   But what does effective mean?  There is probably not a lot of point in communicating if you do not want an ‘effect’.

To be effective, the project’s stakeholder engagement and communication planning needs to develop an overall strategy for these two closely linked processes and then identify appropriate tactics to maximise the probability of achieving a successful project outcome.


Effective communication is the key, and there are three general classes of communication; reportingpublic relations and purposeful communication.

Reporting fulfils two useful purposes; firstly it demonstrates you are running your project properly, project managers are expected to produce reports and have schedules, etc., issuing reports shows that you are conforming to expectations[1].  Secondly, copying a report to a person keeps you in touch with them for when more significant communications are needed.  Reporting may not be communication but it is useful[2].

Public relations (PR) cover the broadcast communications needed to provide information to the wider stakeholder community to market the value of the project and to prevent information ‘black holes’ developing that breed misinformation and rumour.  The power of social media to amplify bad news is massive and it is nearly impossible to kill rumours once they have started even if the information being circulated is completely false.  Effective PR using a range of available mediums including web portals and social media can mitigate (but cannot eliminate) this type of negative influence on your stakeholders, both within the organisation and externally.

Developing an effective PR campaign is a skilled communications process but well worth the effort on almost every project. It is far easier to create a good first impression than to try to change an already formed bad impression among your stakeholders. This aspect of project communication is probably the most underrated and under used.

Purposeful  communication is hard work and needs to be focused on the important stakeholders (both positive and negative) with whom you need to cause an effect. Purposeful communication needs to be planned, which means you need to know precisely what effect you are seeking and then work out how to achieve the effect. This usually means you want the stakeholder to start to do something, do something differently or stop doing something.  Some of the tactics that can be used to make your communication effective include:

  • WIFM – ‘what is in it for me’ – try to align your needs with something the stakeholder desires (this is called Mutuality).
  • WIFMF – ‘what is in it for my friend’ – if there is no practical WIFM is there something the stakeholders friends of colleagues may benefit from?
  • Build peer pressure through the stakeholder’s network of contacts.  It’s hard to hold out against a group.
  • Use your network to develop persuasive pressure.
  • Delivering information incrementally in a carefully planned way with different people playing different roles in the communication plan.

Final thoughts:
Effective communication needs to be designed to be effective within the stakeholder’s culture. This means leaning how the person operates and what is normal for them – you need to communicate within their paradigm.  And you need regular testing of the overall communication process to make sure it’s working effectively.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because everything in your stakeholder environment is currently peaceful and productive. A ‘big mission’ or crisis can override culture for a short time and make a group seem like a homogeneous team but once the pressure is off people revert to their normal behaviours and unexpected issues can emerge – constant vigilance and maintenance of key relationships is critical to achieving final success

Constant surveillance and routine reassessments of the stakeholder community and of the effectiveness of your communication strategy and tactics is essential to understanding how your stakeholder community is evolving and to monitor the effectiveness of the communications[3]. Based on these assessments you can adjust the strategy and tactics you are using to ensure on-going effective stakeholder engagement.


[1] For more on the artefacts needed to be ‘seen as a proper project manager’ see:

[2] For more on the difference between reporting and communicating see ‘Beyond Reporting – The Communication Strategy’:

[3] For more on prioritising stakeholders and assessing the effectiveness of communications see:

Trends in Project Controls – AIPM Update

Last night I gave a presentation to the AIPM Project Controls SIG in Melbourne summarising some of the key ideas and thoughts I brought away from the Project Governance and Controls Symposium in Canberra and the Project Zone Congress in Frankfurt.


The presentation covered three main areas:

  • Predicting project completion
  • Governance and usage of controls, the ROI
  • Communication, complexity and the ‘soft stuff’! CPM and EVM are not sufficient in the increasingly complex world of mega projects.

You can download the presentation from:

I’ve also published several other posts covering specific aspects of these two events: