Author Archives: Pat Weaver

Phronesis – A key attribute for project managers

Phronesis (Ancient Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis) is a type of wisdom described by Aristotle in his classic book Nicomachean Ethics. Phronesis or practical wisdom[1] is focused on working out the right way to do the right thing in a particular circumstance. Aristotle understood ethics as being less about establishing moral rules and following them and more about performing a social practice well; being a good friend, a good manager or a good statesman. This requires the ability to discern how or why to act virtuously and the encouragement of practical virtue and excellence of character in others.  But in a post-truth world, the ability to use ‘practical wisdom’ to discern what is real and what is ‘spin’ in rapidly becoming a key social and business skill. So prevalent is this trend, the Oxford English Dictionary named ‘post-truth’ its 2016 word of the year.

This problem pre-dates Donald Trump and ‘Brexit’, but seems to be getting worse. How can a project manager work out the right way to do the right thing in the particular circumstance of her project when much of the information being received is likely to be ‘spun’ for a particular effect.  There may be a solution in the writings of Bent Flyvbjerg.

Professor Bent Flyvbjerg, Chair of Major Programme Management at the Saïd Business School, Oxford University, has a strong interest in both megaproject management and phronesis. A consistent theme in his work has been the lack of truthfulness associated with the promotion of mega projects of all types, worldwide and the consequences of this deception. To help with the challenge of cutting through ‘spin’, and based on his research, he has published the following eight propositions:

1. Truth is context dependent.
2. The context of truth is power.
3. Power blurs the dividing line between truth and lies.
4. Lies and spin presented as truth is a principal strategy of those in power.
5. The greater the power, the less the truth.
6. Power has deeper historical roots than truth, which weakens truth.
7. Today, no power can avoid the issue of ‘speaking the truth’, unless it imposes silence and servitude. Herein lies the power of truth.
8. Truth will not be silenced.

There is, of course, a book, Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice[2] that goes into more detail but just thinking through the propositions can help you apply the practical ethics that underpin phronesis.  Being virtuous is never easy, but regardless of the power brought to bear, sooner or later the truth will be heard.

The problem is which ‘truth’, understanding and perception will influence what people see, hear and believe to be the truth. Nietzsche, a German counter-Enlightenment thinker of the late 19th century, suggests that objective truth does not really exist; that objective absolute truth is an impossibility. The challenge we all face is the practical one of understanding enough about ourselves and others (we are all biased[3]) to achieve a reasonable level of understanding and then do our best to make the right decisions (see more on decision making), and to do the right thing in the right way.

___________________

[1] From Practical Wisdom, the right way to do the right things by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharp.  Riverhead Books, New York 2010.

[2] See: https://www.amazon.com/Rationality-Power-Democracy-Practice-Morality/dp/0226254518/

[3] See,  The innate effect of Biashttp://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1069_Bias.pdf

The problem with project controls….

Preparing two presentations, one to the PMI Virtual Scheduling Conference last month, the other for ProjectChat in Sydney this week has started me thinking….  Why do so few project use effective project controls as a core input to project management decision making?

Most projects that have project controls staff seem to use them for forensics, claims and to meet client imposed obligations rather than as ‘trusted advisers’ to the project manager and project decision making teams.  Many more, probably a significant majority, don’t employ project controls staff at all and either rely on part time external agents or expect the project manager to do everything!  There are many and varied reasons for this I’m sure, but developing these two presentations suggests to me that at least one of the root causes for this situation is the simple fact project controls processes are ‘bolt-on’ extras rather then core elements in the overall information flow used to run the project.

For example the project schedule currently resides in a specialist tool (Primavera, Microsoft Project, etc.) that needs a trained expert to operate; the scheduling tool is not part of the work authorisation and allocation processes (at best schedule reports are used to inform these decisions) and it is not part of the progress recording system; update information is gathered separately after the event and reported even later. The scheduling functions are separate activities that may assist management but can equally be ignored by management, or can be not done at all. A foreman does not need a schedule to tell a work crew where to go next, he just has to point to the next work area he thinks needs attention, the instruction may be based on a schedule report, based on intuition or experience, or just a whim.

However, the world is changing ‘big data’ and integrated systems are becoming mainstream and these trends are starting to affect project management.  One example (used in the presentations) is the evolution of BIM (Building Information Modelling), 5D BIM integrates a 3D model of the project with time (4D) and cost (5D) information.  If this type of model becomes ‘fully integrated’ not only will time and cost information be part of the model, but the tools that process schedule, cost and earned value information will be integral to the model – ‘built-in’ rather than ‘bolted-on’.  And importantly the work crews use PDAs to access the model to understand what to do next (what, who, how and when all in the same place), and to record progress in real time.

When you read these presentations, don’t believe he BIM concept is limited to building projects – with very minor changes the BIM concepts can be applied to any ‘three dimensional’ engineering project.  And whilst ‘soft projects’ don’t typically operate in 3D the same approach can be applied to any system that can be mapped as a functional architecture or as a work flow.

The PMI presentation Projects controls using integrated data – the opportunities and challenges! looks at these concepts from the perspective of schedule controls, download from: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P200_Projects_controls_using_integrated_data.pdf

The ProjectChat presentation Earned Value Management – Past, Present & Future looks at this from an Earned Value Management perspective. Download from: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P201_EVM_Past_Present_Future.pdf

These ideas (or something similar) are in all probability coming to a project near you sometime soon.  And when they do the challenges outlined in the presentations will present grand opportunities for those open to change.

Read the presentations and let us know what do you think?? – if you are lucky enough to be at ProjectChat I will be here for the duration!

Two ‘Not-to-be missed’ Conferences in May

The PGCS program for 2017 is now complete and offers two overseas speakers as well as Professor Peter Shergold – author of the landmark project management report to government “Learning From Failure”. To see what’s on at PGCS in Canberra between the 1st and 4th May go to:  http://www.pgcs.org.au/program/

In the USA you can attend the Annual Project Management College of Scheduling Conference in Atlanta from May 7th to 10th.  They have a terrific program, with speakers and panel discussions, prepared to give everyone a chance to participate.  In addition, we’re planning something special every evening.  Sunday night is the vendor reception, Monday night is our Gala Dinner and Tuesday night is a night to explore Atlanta.  For more details see: http://www.pmcos.org/

New Articles posted to the Web #58

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 Exam Scoring Information – Improvements are on the way.

For many people, the information currently provided by PMI on their exam performance has been less than useless. Being told you are ‘not proficient’, ‘moderately proficient’ or ‘proficient’; with the added helpful advice these terms mean ‘below average’, ‘average’ or ‘above average’ tells you nothing.  No one outside of the PMI enclaves has any idea what average means or how wide the average band is.  All you really know is you have passed or failed the exam.

The good news is after years of complaint, PMI has listened and will be rolling out a vastly improved Exam Results Report over the next few months.  The passing score and your actual score remain confidential to PMI for exam security reasons, but with this limitation, the new report will provide candidates with a much better understanding of their performance in relation to the examination pass level.

The headline report shows your overall performance with the performance by domain also categorised into one of the four groupings.  On its own, this is a vast improvement on the old report!!

Click here to see a sample of the Exam Report

However, of even more value, backing up this summary will be a detailed report highlighting your performance against the various domains and topics, accessible from within your CCR portal on the PMI website. Below is a preview of this part of the report (provided by PMI):

You still won’t know the exact number of questions in each domain or how they are divided into each of the Tasks within the ‘domain’, but the report will tell you where improvement in your knowledge will be valuable and help you plan your continuing development as a project professional. This additional information will also help training design and deliver better courses based on feedback from our clients all round a win-win-win development.

For once PMI is to be highly commended for listening to their members and delivering a great initiative.

Scheduled roll-out

Anyone taking the PMI-PBA®, PfMP® or PgMP® certification exam on or after 28 April will receive the new report and explanation pages. The new report will then be rolled out to the remaining certifications over the next few months, ending with the PMP® on 28 August. Key dates for the launch of the reports for courses we teach:

PMI-SP – 25th May
(for more see:  http://www.planning-controls.com.au/ )

CAPM – 22nd August
(for more see: http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/index.php?cID=175 )

PMP – 28th August
(for more see: http://www.mosaicproject.com.au/index.php?cID=173 )

Project scheduling Update

1. A new paper looking at the origins of CPM has been uploaded to our PM-History page – http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/P037_The_Origins_of_CPM.pdf looks at where the concepts that evolved into CPM and PERT originated. All of our papers can be found at: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-History.html

2.  The PMI members’ only Scheduling Conference 2017 is going to be great! Over 17,000 people are registered already – I’m the last speaker for the day (which means I only have to get up at 6:00am Australian time to participate…..) More information see: https://www.projectmanagement.com/events/356123/PMI-Scheduling-Conference-2017  My topic looks at the effect of the data generated by BIM, drones and other technology on controls.

3.  PGCS Canberra is on in early May – too good to miss, see: http://www.pgcs.org.au/

Setting up a project controls system for success

A couple of hour’s hard thinking can make the difference between project success and failure!  Far too many projects are simply started without any real thought as to the best strategy for delivery and what control systems are really needed to support the management of that delivery – one size does not ‘fit-all’ and simply repeating past failures creates more failures.  Similarly, far too many control systems are implemented that simply generate useless paperwork (frequently to meet contractual requirements) when what’s needed is effective controls information.

Remembering that all project controls documents have to be used and maintained to be useful; the three key thinking processes needed to help build project success are:

  • First the big question – how are we going to do the work to maximise the opportunity of success and optimise risk??  This is a strategic question and affects procurement as much as anything – off-site assembly needs a very different approach to on-site assembly. This does not need a complicated document but the strategy does need to be agreed; see: www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1038_Strategy.pdf
  • From the strategy, the project management team structure can be designed to best manage the work as it will be accomplished and these people (or at least the key people) can then contribute to the planning process. Pictures are as useful as anything to define the overall flow of the work; see: www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1039_Project_Planning.pdf.
  • Once you know the way the work will be accomplished and the overall flow/sequence of the work you are now in a position to plan the project controls function aiming to apply the minimum amount of ‘controls’ necessary to be effective.  Excessive controls simply waste money and management time. My approach is always to do a bit less then I think may be needed because you can always add some additional features if the need eventuates – it Is nearly impossible to remove controls once they have been implemented.
  • Then you can develop the schedule and other control tools needed for effective management working within the framework outlined above.

This area is what PMI call Schedule strategy and Schedule planning and development. Getting this ‘front-end’ stuff right is the best foundation for a successful completion of a project; this is the reason these elements of project controls have a strong emphasis in the PMI-SP exam.

Conversely, stuffing up the strategy in particular, means the project is set up to fail and implementing control systems that do not support the management structures within the project simply mean the controls people are wasting their time and the time of everyone they engage with.

However, creating a project that is based on a sound strategy supported by a useful project controls system will require some cultural changes:

  • The project manager and project executive will need to take some time to look at strategic options and develop an effective delivery strategy.
  • The organisation and client will need to allow the project controls professionals to work through the challenges of developing a ‘light-but-effective’ controls system and then review/approve the system – this is more difficult than simply requiring every project to comply with some bloated standard controls process that no one uses (except for claims) but should deliver massive benefits.
  • The organisation will need skilled project controls professionals……….
  • And the project management team will need to be willing to work with and use the project controls.

The problem is easy to outline – fixing it to enhance the project success rate is a major challenge.