Category Archives: Communication

Posts focused on communication theory

The Yin and Yang of Integrated Data Systems

yin_yangIntegrated project management information systems (PMIS) are becoming more common and more sophisticated ranging from ‘web portals’ that hold project data through to the potential for fully integrated design and construction management using BIM[1].  The benefits derived from using these systems can be as much as 20% of the build price on complex construction projects using BIM.

pmisThe advantages of this type of information storage and retrieval system include:

  • Ready access to data when needed via PDAs and ‘tablets’ significantly reducing the need for ‘push’ communication and the existence of ‘redundant data’[2].
  • One place to look for information with indexing and cross-referencing to minimise the potential for missed information.
  • Audit trails and systems to ensure only the latest version of any document is available.
  • Cross-linking of data in different documents and formats to assist with configuration management, requirements traceability, and change control.
  • Controls on who can ‘see’ the data, access the data and edit the data.
  • Workflow functions to remind people of their next job, list open actions, record actual progress, etc[3].
  • A range of built-in functions to validate data and avoid ‘clashes’, including locking or ‘freezing’ parts of the data set when that information has been moved into ‘work’.

These benefits are significant and a well-designed system reduces errors and enhances productivity leading to reduced costs, but the ‘yin’ of well-designed PMIS comes with a ‘yang’!

People increasingly tend to believe information produced from a computer system, this is true of ‘Facebook’, Wikipedia and flows through to more sophisticated systems. There also seems to be a steady reduction in the ability of younger people in particular to critically analyse information; in short, if it comes from the computer many people will assume it is correct. Add to this the ability of many of the more sophisticated PMIS tools to transpose and transfer information between different parts of the systems automatically or semiautomatically and there is a potential for many of the benefits outlined above to be undermined by poor data. This issue has been identified for decades and has the acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

The question posed in this blog is how many projects and project support organisations (PMOs, etc.) consider or actively implement effective data traceability.  Failed audits, overruns from scope oversights, and uninformed or ill-informed decision-making are just a few of the consequences project teams suffer from if they do not have full traceability of their project management data. This issue exists in any information processing system from basic schedule updating, through monthly reporting to the most sophisticated, integrated PMIS. If you cannot rely on the source data, no amount of processing will improve the situation! And to be able to rely on data, you need to be able to trace it back to its source.

tracabilityTraceability is defined as ‘the ability to trace the location, history and use of each data element’. This sounds simple but in reality can be very challenging, and the results of poor visibility can be devastating to a project. Some of the key questions to ask are:

  • Where did this data or these actuals come from?
  • What is the authorizing document and when did it get signed/approved?
  • Has everyone approved the change request or action item?

Traceability does not happen by accident! Project management information systems have to be designed with traceability as a key element in each of its aspects.  As information comes into the system the author or the origin of the information has to be recorded (preferably automatically). Depending on the nature of the information it may need to be quarantined until appropriate checks have been carried out and/or approvals have been obtained and then there needs to be traceability of any subsequent changes. The foundation of traceability is the combination of processes (people) and data management.

Therefore, the ‘yang’ of a sophisticated integrated project management information systems is that as the systems become more integrated and sophisticated people will come to rely on the information provided and ‘trust it’ whilst the source and veracity of the data used becomes less obvious.

Resolving this is partly process and partly people. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has produced the Time and Cost Management Contract Suite 2015 focused on complex construction projects using BIM.  This contract defines a number of key support roles (largely independent of the parties) focused on managing the information flows into and out of the system to ensure its accuracy and validity. Similar roles and responsibilities are essential in any effective PMIS.

My latest post on the PMI ‘Voices blog’, From Data to Wisdom: Creating & Managing Knowledge highlights the importance of data as the underpinning of all reporting and communication.  So the question is, how much focus does your project team or PMO put on ensuring the data it is using is timely, complete, accurate and traceable?

____________________

[1] BIM = Building Information Modelling, see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1082_BIM_Levels.pdf

[2] For more on planning project communication see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/ESEI-09-communication-planning.pdf

[3] A discussion on how these capabilities can enhance project controls is at: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2016/11/26/the-future-of-project-controls/

Are you a workshop leader or facilitator?

workshopWorkshops are a routine feature in many projects. They are typically used either to find a solution to a problem or to develop and integrate knowledge needed for the work (eg, requirements gathering and prioritisation).

Effective project managers know that every workshop is a meeting and many of the rules for running effective meetings need to be applied including:

They also know that unlike normal meetings workshops are a creative process that needs the active contribution of the attendees to craft the best answer to the problem or question being posed…..  This means time is needed to ‘break the ice’ so that the people in the workshop feel comfortable working together and the facilitator needs to act as a host welcoming and engaging people as they arrive.

The job of the facilitator is to ensure the workshop ‘works’ and produces the required outcomes. The facilitator (or workshop leader) only needs sufficient knowledge of the subject under discussion to allow them to ask pertinent questions and summarise discussion – the core skills of facilitation lay in ensuring everyone is engaged and participates, all points of view are heard, the group works towards a consensus or conclusion efficiently and the outputs are agreed.  For more on facilitation see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1067_Facilitation.pdf

Facilitation is a very useful skill for a project manager to acquire and use, however, to organise and run a successful workshop there are a two key questions that need to be asked very early in the planning stage – unfortunately both of these are frequently overlooked!

Question 1 – Will I be a key contributor to the process of developing the workshop’s output? If the answer to this question is ‘yes’ the project manager should consider engaging someone else to act as the facilitator for the workshop.  The role of the facilitator is to make sure everyone contributes, all of the ideas are brought into discussion and the best solution is reached; it is nearly impossible to do this if you are also contributing significant input to the discussion.

Question 2 – Do I want to lead the workshop towards a predetermined conclusion or do I want the workshop to have free reign to explore and develop its own solutions?  While a degree of flexibility is needed in both situations, if the workshop is focused on getting buy-in to a concept that is already in mind (quite common in problem solving mode) the approach to managing the workshop will be quite different to an open discussion looking at all of the options.

Based on your answers to these questions there are four quite different types of workshop that require different approaches to deliver successful outcomes:

workshops

The best way to approach the planning and running each of these workshop types varies significantly.

You facilitate. In situations where you have no particular input to contribute and no predetermined outcome in mind (beyond the fact you need an outcome) facilitating the work of the group participating in the workshop can be a good way to build credibility and enhance your leadership position. Provided you are comfortable in the role, facilitating the workshop to achieve a useful outcome is a valid role for the project manager.  If you are not comfortable in the role, there is nothing wrong with using an experienced facilitator, your objective is simply to get a useful outcome from the process (for example a prioritised list of requirements).

Others facilitate. Where you are going to be a key participant in the workshop process and have significant input to contribute as a subject matter expert, but do not want to drive to a predetermined conclusion, the use of a neutral facilitator is essential.  The job of the facilitator is to ensure all of the viewpoints in the room are heard and the outcomes from the workshop incorporate the views of the participants, either based on a consensus or by applying an impartial selection / decision making process. It is virtually impossible to simultaneously be a participating expert and an impartial facilitator.

Briefing sessions. Have a very different focus, the purpose of the workshop is to explore and understand a predetermined proposition.  The role of the facilitator shifts towards making sure everyone’s questions are heard and answered, and there is a full understanding of the proposition being put. The outcome from the workshop is focused on creating understanding and buy-in from the participants rather than crafting a free-form solution – depending on the nature of the proposition being discussed, there may, or may not, be opportunities to adjust or fine-tune the concepts. However, provided someone else is the primary source of the concepts being discussed, the project manager can usefully take the role of facilitator.

Sales sessions. Have a similar focus to briefing sessions but the concept being ‘sold’ is primarily ‘owned’ by the project manager.  In this situation if you want genuine buy-in from the workshop participants it is essential that the workshop is facilitated by someone else!  The facilitator’s job is to make sure everyone is heard and to help lead the group towards a common understanding and consensus. Your job is to answer the questions and ‘sell’ the proposition (and where appropriate adapt your proposition based on the feedback received).

Understanding the objectives of the workshop and the best way for you to participate in delivering a successful outcome lays the foundation for success.  Then the hard work starts……..

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.

A New Force in ADR.

leadr-IAMA

At the beginning of 2015, Australia’s two major organisations focused on delivering ADR services merged.  LEDAR was the larger of the two with a strong emphasis on mediation and conciliation.  IAMA (Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia) was the older body with a history based in Arbitration and Expert Determination, more recently expanded to include Adjudication and Mediation.

Merger talks had occupied the latter part of 2014, culminating in a large majority of the members of both organisations approving the merger which was formalised by the merger and then the hard work of integration began…… A ‘working name’ of LEADR&IAMA was adopted for the merged entity until a process to define a new brand image for the organisation could be worked through.

As readers of this blog will now one of our major themes is stakeholder engagement, change management and communication.  I must say, for an organisation that largely consists of lawyers, augments with engineers, builders and assorted mediators from many disciplines the path to a new name and brand image has been remarkably well managed.

For any organisation, its name and logo are cornerstones of presenting professionally and connecting business, government and the broader community with its members. Dispute resolution through any of the options offered by the merged entity is no different. But rather than jumping to a ‘name’, the board took its members on a journey to find a name that will enable the organisation to promote excellence in dispute resolution and provide an identity for members, the organisation and current and future clients. Professional help was engaged from Uberbrand to help on the journey.

The Board began by brainstorming and collecting 34 different potential names, some contributed by members (including a couple from me). When reviewed, the 34 names varied in their relevance, their effectiveness in conveying the function and purpose of the organisation and their potential appeal to members, the public and allow an appropriate domain name (URL) to be registered.

The next step was a survey of the joint membership looking at opportunities, values and services and growth opportunities. The survey encouraged involvement in the process as well as helping derive a consensus.

From all of this input, the Board members distilled core features of the organisation as follows:

Our members

  • Have extraordinary depth and range of experience and expertise
  • Work across the full suite of dispute resolution types
  • Have reputation, influence and status
  • Are highly professional

Our values

  • Integrity
  • Innovation
  • Excellence
  • Collaboration
  • Diversity

Our methods

  • We champion the practice of dispute resolution
  • We support members
  • We promote excellence in dispute resolution

Our purpose

  • Through our members, we provide people with the means to resolve disputes

Our aspiration

  • For people to think of the members of our organisation
  • For resolution to be embedded in the way that people settle disputes, manage conflicts, make decisions and grow collaborative relationships

From all of this the new name and logo emerged:

Resolution-Institute_Logo_Horizontal_RGB

The name Resolution Institute was chosen for the following reasons:

  • the name as a whole, focuses current and future users of dispute resolution to think highly of our members, and conveys the gravitas of both resolution and of the people, our members, who practise dispute resolution
  • it contributes to ‘resolution’ being fundamental to the way people settle disputes, manage conflicts, make decisions and grow collaborative relationships
  • the word “institute”  encompasses different features of the organisation. Its meanings include, an organisation that is established to promote a cause and also that delivers educational programs. The Board noticed that it is also sometimes used by not-for-profit organisations which have a membership base. In addition, the word “institute” connotes gravitas. For these reasons, the Board chose this word, rather than others such as “association”, “society” or “council”.

The logo was chosen as it represents coming to a resolution from different starting points. The arcs, as parts of a circle, suggest inclusiveness and belonging. As well as resonating with our values:

  • the pattern of woven lines reflects collaboration
  • the colours represent diversity
  • the modern, forward movement conveys innovation
  • the clean crisp lines align with integrity, and
  • the blend of colours on a clear white background suggest excellence.

The dinner to celebrate IAMA’s 40th anniversary in a couple of weeks time will be an interesting transition celebrating 40 years of history (for me 30 years of membership), the passing of IAMA and the opening up of a new and interesting future in the development of ADR in Australia. There’s certainly a new and distinctive ‘brand’ in the marketplace.

The re-branding work has a way to go,  contact details:

Making Projects Work: Effective stakeholder and communication management

Making Projects WorkMy third book, Making Projects Work is now generally available in hardback and Kindle editions.

Making Projects Work: Effective Stakeholder and Communication Management focuses on the skills needed by project management teams to gather and maintain the support needed from stakeholders to make their project successful.

The underlying premise in the book is that projects are performed by people for people. The key determinants of success are the relationships between people in the project team and between the team and its wider community of stakeholders. This web of relationships will either enable or obstruct the flow of information between people and, as a consequence, will largely determine project success or failure.

Making Projects Work provides a framework for understanding and managing the factors required for achieving successful project and program outcomes. It presents guidelines to help readers develop an understanding of governance and its connection to strategy as the starting point for deciding what work needs to be done. It describes how to craft appropriate communication strategies for developing and maintaining successful relationships with stakeholders. It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing project controls and outlines effective communication techniques for managing expectations and acquiring the support required to deliver successful projects on time and under budget.

Features – the book:

  • Provides a framework for understanding and managing factors essential for achieving successful project and program outcomes.
  • Facilitates an understanding of governance and its connection to strategy as the starting point for decisions on what work needs to be done.
  • Describes how to craft appropriate communication strategies to develop and maintain successful relationships with stakeholders.
  • Supplies an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of existing project controls.
  • Outlines effective communication techniques for managing perceptions and expectations and to acquire the support necessary for successful delivery.

For links to more information on this, and my other two books, start at: http://www.stakeholdermapping.com/stakeholder-management-resources/#Books

For Stakeholders, 2×2 Is Not Enough!

The world loves 2×2 matrices – they help make complex issues appear simple.  Unfortunately though, some complex issues are complex and need far more information to support effective decision making and action.  The apparent elegance of a 2×2 view or the world quickly moves from simple to simplistic.

One such situation is managing project and program stakeholders and convincing the stakeholders affected by the resulting organisational change that change is necessary and potentially beneficial.  As a starting point, some stakeholders will be unique to either the project, the overarching program or the organisational change; others will be stakeholders in all three aspects, and their attitude towards one will be influenced by their experiences in another (or what others in their network tell them about ‘the other’).

The problem with a simple 2×2 view of this complex world is the assumption that everyone falls neatly into one of the four options and everyone categorised as belonging in a quadrant can be managed the same way.  A typical example is:

power-interest

Power tends to be one dimension, and can usually be assessed effectively, the second dimension can include Interest, Influence, or Impact none of which are particularly easy to classify.  A third dimension can be included for very small numbers of stakeholders by colouring the ‘dots’ typically to show either importance or attitude.

The problem is you may have a stakeholder assessed as high power, low interest who opposes your work, who you need to be actively engaged and supportive – ‘keep satisfied’ is a completely inappropriate management strategy.

The Salience Model developed by Mitchell, Agle, and Wood. (1997) introduces the concepts of urgency and legitimacy.

Salience

Urgency refers to the degree of effort the stakeholder is expected to expend in creating or defending its ‘stake’ in the project, this is an important concept!  However the concepts of ‘legitimate stakeholders’ and non-stakeholders are inconsistent with stakeholder theory[1] and PMI’s definition of a stakeholder – anyone who believes your project will affect their interests can make themselves a stakeholder (even if their perception is incorrect) and will need managing.  This model also ignores the key dimension of supportive / antagonistic.

The three dimensional Stakeholder Cube is a more sophisticated development of the simple 2×2 chart. The methodology supports the mapping of stakeholders’:

  • Interest (active or passive);
  • Power (influential or insignificant); and
  • Attitude (backer or blocker).

Ruth_MW

This approach facilitates the development of eight typologies with suggestions on the optimum approach to managing each class of stakeholder (Murray-Webster and Simon, 2008[2]). However, the nature of the chart makes it difficult to draw specific stakeholders in the grid, or show any relationships between stakeholders and the activity. However, as with any of the other approached discussed so far, the classifications can be used to categorise the stakeholders in a spreadsheet or database and most of the key dimensions needed for effective management are present in this model. The two missing elements are any form of prioritisation (to focus effort where it is most needed) and the key question ‘Is the stakeholder in the right place?’ is not answered.

Information needed for a full assessment

The factors needed for effective stakeholder management fall into two general categories, firstly the information you need to prioritise your stakeholder engagement actions; second the information you need to plan your prioritised engagement activities.

The two basic elements needed to identify the important stakeholders at ‘this point in time’ are:

  • Firstly the power the stakeholder has to affect the work of the project. This aspect tends to remain stable over time)
  • Secondly the degree of ‘urgency’ associated with the stakeholder – how intense are the actions of the stakeholder to protect of support its stake? This aspect can change quickly depending on the interactions that have occurred between the project team and the stakeholder.

I include a third element in the Stakeholder Circle® methodology[3], how close is the stakeholder to the work of the project (proximity) – stakeholders actively engaged in the work (eg, team members) tend to be need more management attention than those relatively remote from the work.

The next step is to assess the attitude of the important stakeholders towards the work of the project.  Two assessments are needed, firstly what is the stakeholder’s current attitude towards the project and secondly what is a realistically desirable attitude to expect of the stakeholder that will optimise the chance of project success?

Attitudes can range from actively supportive of the work through to active opposition to the work. The stakeholder may also be willing to engage in communication with you or refuse to communicate[4].  If you need to change the stakeholder’s attitude, you need to be able to communicate!

From this information you can start to plan your communication. Important stakeholders whose attitude is less supportive than needed require carefully directed communication. Others may simply require routine engagement or simple reporting[5].

If this all sounds like hard work it is! But it’s far less work then struggling to revive a failed project. This theme is central to my new book, Making Projects Work, Effective stakeholder and communication management[6]. You generally only get one chance to create a first impression with your stakeholders – it helps to make it a good one.

Making Projects Work

[1] For more on ‘stakeholder theory’ see:
https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/understanding-stakeholder-theory/

[2] For more information see www.lucidusconsulting.com

[3] For more on stakeholder prioritisation see: http://www.stakeholder-management.com/shopcontent.asp?type=help-4

[4] For more on assessing stakeholder attitudes see: http://www.stakeholder-management.com/shopcontent.asp?type=help-6

[5] For more on the ‘three types of stakeholder communication’ see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Mag_Articles/SA1020_Three_types_stakeholder_communication.pdf

[6] For more on the book see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Book_Sales.html#MPW

If you screw-up, own-up

Screw-upOne of the traits that strong leaders and credible advisers have is the willingness to ‘own up’ to mistakes they’ve made.  No one operating effectively as a project or program manager, or for that matter any type of manager making decisions can expect to be correct 100% of the time.

If you do something new some mistakes are inevitable. If you accept risks, some negative outcomes are inevitable. And time pressures increase the probability of error. And given project management is all about accepting and managing risks to create a ‘new’ product service or result under time and cost pressures – we probably have more opportunity to ‘get it wrong’ than most.

The generally accepted way to deal with ‘your mistake is:

  • Acknowledge it (“my mistake”)
  • Make restitution if needed (eg apologise)
  • Learn from it
  • Move on, only people who have never made anything have never made a mistake.

Conversely if someone makes a mistake involving you look for the best outcome rather than blame of revenge. We have discussed these concepts in a couple of posts:

https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/mistakes/

https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2008/12/13/learning-from-your-mistakes/

What is rare is a really good example of the basic steps outlined above being implemented.  This changed with a publication on page one of yesterday’s Age (also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald). What could have been a bitter and dragged out defamation case – you probably cannot be more insulting these days than incorrectly accusing a Muslim of being a terrorist – both The Age and the aggrieve person applied common sense and resolved the issue in a way that would appear to have left everyone ‘feeling good’ and with a sense of closure, not to mention thousands of their readers.

If you missed the item, you can read the story at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/fairfax-media-says-sorry-20150303-13ttpd.html

Mistakes are inevitable – strong people deal with them in an appropriate way, The Age’s example being exemplary.  This is a salient lesson we can all learn from.