Tag Archives: Governance

Seeking a definition of a project.

Good definitions are short and unambiguous and are essential for almost every aspect of life. Even something as simple as ordering a snack requires a clear understanding of what’ required – this understanding is the basis of a definition. For example, doughnuts and bagels have a lot in common, they are both round and have a hole (a torus), and are made from dough but they are ‘definitely’ very different commodities! If you need a bagel for breakfast or a doughnut for you coffee everyone involved in the transaction needs to understand your requirements if your expectations are to be fulfilled.

bagel

donut

 

 

 

 

 

The simple fact is if you cannot define something precisely, you have real problems explaining what it is, what it does and the value it offers, and this lack of definition/understanding seems to be a key challenge facing the project management community (by the way, the bagel is on the left…… the other picture is a Krispy Kreme donut).

Definitions serve two interlinked purposes, they describe the subject of the definition in sufficient detail to allow the concept to be recognised and understood and they exclude similar ‘concepts’ that do not fit the definition. Definitions do not explain the subject, merely define it.

Way back in 2002 we suggested the definition of ‘a project’ was flawed. Almost any temporary work organised to achieve an objective could fit into almost all of the definitions currently in use – unfortunately not much has changed since. PMI’s definition of a ‘project’ is still a: temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. This definition is imprecise, for example, a football team engaged in a match is involved in:

  • A temporary endeavour – the match lasts a defined time.
  • Undertaken to create a unique result – the papers are full of results on the weekend and each match is unique.
  • Undertaken to create a unique product or service – the value is in the entertainment provided to fans, either as a ‘product’ (using a marketing perspective) or as a service to the team’s fans.

Add in elements from other definitions of a project such as a ‘defined start and end’, ‘planned sequence of activities’, etcetera and you still fail to clearly differentiate a team engaged in a project from a football team engaged in a match; but no-one considers a game of football a project. Football captains may be team leaders, but they are not ‘project managers’.

The definition we proposed in 2002 looked at the social and stakeholder aspects of a project and arrived at an augmented description: A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project. This definition would clearly exclude the football team engaged in a match unless everyone of significance decided to treat the match as a project but still suffers from a number of weaknesses. To see how this definition works download the 2002 paper from, www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P007_Project_Fact.pdf

 

Updating the definition

Since 2002 there has been a significant amount of academic work undertaken that looks at how projects really function which may provide the basis for a better definition of a project.  The key area of research has been focused on describing projects as temporary organisations that need governing and managing; either as a standalone organisation involving actors from many different ‘permanent organisations’ such as the group of people assembled on a construction site, or as a temporary organisation within a larger organisation such a an internal project team (particularly cross-functional project teams). The research suggests that all projects are undertaken by temporary teams that are assembled to undertake the work and then dissipate at the end of the project.

My feeling is recognising the concept of a project as a particular type of temporary organisation provides the basis for a precise and unambiguous definition of ‘a project’. But on its own this is insufficient – whilst every project involves a temporary organisation, many temporary organisations are not involved in projects.

Another fundamental problem with the basic PMBOK definition is the concept of an ‘endeavour’.  The definition of endeavour used as a noun is: an attempt to achieve a goal; as a verb it is: try hard to do or achieve something.  But, ‘making an effort to do something’ is completely intangible; projects involve people! Hitting a nail with a hammer is an endeavour to drive it into a piece of wood but this information is not a lot of use on its own; you need to know who is endeavouring to drive the nail and for what purpose?

Nail-Quote-Abraham-Maslow

Another issue is the focus on outputs – a product service or result; the output is not the project, the project is the work needed to create the output. Once the output is finished, the project ceases to exist!  A building project is the work involved in creating the building, once the building is finished it is a building, not a project. But confronted with the need to create a new building different people will create different projects to achieve similar results:

  • One organisation may choose to create two projects, one to design the building, another to construct it;
  • A different organisation may choose to create a single ‘design and construct’ project;
  • Another organisation may simply treat the work as ‘business as usual’.

The scope of the work involved in any particular project is determined by its stakeholders – projects are a construct created by people for their mutual convenience, not by some immutable fact of nature.

 

A concise definition of a project

Unpacking the elements involved in a project we find:

  • A temporary organisation is always involved, but not all temporary organisations are project teams.
  •  Projects cause a change by creating something new or different – this objective defines the work to be accomplished and usually includes constraints such as the time and money available for the work. These requirements and scope of work included in a project have to be defined and agreed by the relevant stakeholders at some point – there are no pre-set parameters.
  • The stakeholders have to agree that the work to accomplish the scope will be managed as ‘a project’ for the project to exist; the alternative is ‘business as usual’ or some other form of activity.

Modifying our 2002 definition to incorporate these factors suggests a definition along these lines:

A project is a temporary organisation established to deliver a defined set of requirements and scope of work, which the relevant stakeholders agree shall be managed as a project.

The definition originally proposed has been updated based on discussions with colleagues to:

Project:  A temporary organisation established to accomplish an objective, under the leadership of a person (or people) nominated to fulfil the role of project manager.

Project manager: A person (or people) appointed to lead and direct the work of  a project organisation on behalf of its stakeholders, to achieve its objective. The job title and the degree of authority and autonomy granted to the project manager are determined by the governance arrangements established by the project’s stakeholders.

Project management: The application of knowledge, skills tools and techniques to lead and direct the work of a project organisation.

This definition overcomes many of the fundamental problems with the existing options:

  • It recognises projects are done by people for people, they are not amorphous expenditures of ‘energy’.
  • It allows for the fact that projects do not exist in nature, they are ‘artificial constructs’ created by people for their mutual convenience, and different people confronting similar objectives can create very different arrangements to accomplish the work.
  • It recognises that projects are only projects if the people doing the work and the people overseeing the work decide to treat the work as a project.  The ‘always present’ factors are:
    • People decide to call the work a project (but just calling it a project is not enough)
    • The work is directed to achieving an objective that involves a change in something (new, altered, improved, demolished, etc)
    • The people doing the work are part of a temporary organisation (team / contract / ad hoc / etc) created to facilitate achieving the objective.
    • The work is led by a person fulfilling the role of a project manager and the work is managed as a project (PMBOK / ISO 21500 / Agile / etc).

What do you think a good project definition may be that is concise and unambiguous?

The challenge is to craft a technically correct definition, and then apply the Socratic method of thinking outlined in our 2002 paper at:  www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF_Papers/P007_Project_Fact.pdf.

I look forward to your thoughts!

Stakeholders and Reputational Risk

trust-valueYour reputation and your organisation’s reputation are valuable assets. The willingness of others to trust you, their desire to work with you and virtually every other aspect of the relationship between you and your stakeholders is influenced by their perception of your reputation (see more on The value of trust).  But reputations are fragile: they can take a lifetime to build and seconds to lose. Some of the factors influencing them are:

  1. Reputation cannot be controlled: it exists in the minds of others so it can only be influenced, not managed directly.
  2. Reputation is earned: trust is based on consistent behaviour and performance.
  3. Reputation is not consistent: it depends on each stakeholder’s view. One organisation can have many different reputations, varying with each stakeholder.
  4. Reputation will vary: each stakeholder brings a different expectation of behaviour or performance and so will have a distinct perception of reputation.
  5. Reputation is relational: you have a reputation with someone for something. The key question is therefore: ‘with whom, for what?’
  6. Reputation is comparative: it is valued in comparison to what a particular stakeholder experiences or believes in relation to peers, performance and prejudice.
  7. Reputation is valuable: but the true value of reputation can only be appreciated once it is lost or damaged.

Estimating the ‘true value’ of your reputation is difficult and as a consequence decisions on how much to invest in enhancing and protecting your reputation becomes a value judgment rather than a calculation. Your reputation is created and threatened by both your actions and their consequences (intended or not).  Some actions and their effects on your reputation are predictable, others are less so and their consequences, good or bad are even less certain. This is true regardless of your intention; unexpected outcomes can easily cause unintended benefit or damage to your reputation.

Building a reputation requires hard work and consistency; the challenge is protecting your hard earned reputation against risks that can cause damage; and you never know for sure what will cause reputational damage until it is too late – many reputational risks are emergent.

Managing Reputational Risk in Organisations

Because an organisation’s reputation is not easy to value or protect, managing reputational risk is difficult! This is particularly true for larger organisations where thousands of different interactions between staff and stakeholders are occurring daily.

The first step in managing an organisation’s reputational risk is to understand the scope of possible damage, as well as potential sources and the degree of possible disruption. The consequence of a loss of reputation is always the withdrawing of stakeholder support:

  • In the private sector this is usually investor flight and share value decline; these can spiral out of control if confidence cannot be restored.
  • In the public sector this is typically withdrawal of government support to reflect declining confidence.
  • In the professional sector client confidence is vital for business sustainability; a loss of reputation means a loss of clients.

Each sector can point to scenarios where the impact of reputation damage can vary from mild to catastrophic; and whilst the consequences can be measured after the effect they are not always predictable in advance.  To overcome this problem, managing reputation risk for an organisation requires three steps:

  • Predict: All risk is future uncertainty, and an appropriate risk forecasting system to identify reputation risk is required – creative thinking is needed here! The outcomes from a reputational risk workshop will be specific to the organisation and the information must feed directly into the governance process if reputation risk is to be taken seriously (see more on The Functions of Governance).
  • Prepare: Reputation risk is a collective responsibility, not just the governing body’s. All management and operational staff must recognise the organisation’s reputation is important and take responsibility for protecting it in their interaction with stakeholders. The protection of reputation should also be a key element in the organisation’s disaster recovery plans.
  • Protect: A regular vulnerability review will reveal where reputation risk is greatest, and guide actions to prevent possible damage. Each vulnerability must be assessed objectively and actions taken to minimise exposure. Significant risks will need a ‘protection plan’ developed and then implemented and monitored.

Dealing with a Reputational Risk Event

When a risk event occurs, some standard elements needs to be part of the response for individuals and organisations alike. For reputation enhancing risk events, make sure you acknowledge the ‘good luck’ in an appropriately and take advantage of the opportunity in a suitably authentic way. Over-hyping an event will be seen as unauthentic and have a negative effect on reputation; but good news and good outcomes should be celebrated. Reputation threatening risk events need a more proactive approach

  • Step 1: Deal with the event itself. You will not protect your reputation by trying to hide the bad news or ignoring the issue.  Proactively work to solve the problem in a way that genuinely minimise harm for as many stakeholders as possible minimises the damage that has to be managed.
  • Step 2: Communicate. And keep communicating – organisations need to have a sufficiently senior person available quickly as the contact point and keep the ‘news’ coming. Rumours and creative reporting will always be worse then the fact and will grow to fill the void. All communication needs to be open, honest and as complete as possible at the time.  Where you ‘don’t know’ tell people what you are doing to find out. (see Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successfully).
  • Keep your promises and commitments. If this becomes impossible because of changing circumstances tell people as soon as you know, don’t wait for them to find out.
  • Follow up afterwards. Actions that show you really care after the event can go a long way towards repairing the damage to your reputation.

Summary

Reputation is ephemeral and a good reputation is difficult to create and maintain. Warren Buffet in his 2015 memo to his top management team in Berkshire Hathaway emphasised that their top priority must be to ‘zealously guard Berkshire’s reputation’. He also reminded his leadership team that ‘we can afford to lose money–even a lot of money. But we can’t afford to lose reputation–even a shred of reputation’ (discussed in Ethics, Culture, Rules and Governance). In the long run I would suggest this is true for every organisation and individual – your reputation is always in the minds of other people!

Project Governance and Controls Symposium 2016.

miracle2We are only a few weeks out from PGCS 2016 and this year’s  Symposium is shaping up to be the best yet.  The Symposium will be held in its usual ADFA, Canberra venue on Wed. 11th and Thur. 12th May 2016.

Governing for performance was the key theme of the AICD’s Australian Governance Summit held in Sydney last month. But organisations cannot perform sustainably if they cannot govern and control their projects effectively.  Unfortunately as the Shergold Report has highlighted (consistent with the findings of many other surveys), most organisations struggle to achieve the full potential value from their projects and programs – literally $billions are wasted annually by poorly governed and controlled projects.

PGCS was created to focus on the gap between intention and delivery – and to help build Australia capability in the governance and management of projects by providing a forum for the exchange of ideas between international experts, leading Australian practitioners, the people responsible for governing projects within their organisations, and the people responsible for making the governance and controls systems work.

The 2016 program is on target to fulfil this ambitious objective 100%:

  • We have speakers from the UK National Audit Office and the Australian National Audit Office, both of who lead the push for improved performance in government projects.
  • Controls and surveillance of projects is well covered with both international and Australian experts. Lisa Wolf’s pre-symposium Masterclass ‘A Practical Guide to Project and Contract Surveillance’ is a sell out, fortunately Lisa is also one of our Keynote Speakers.
  • The needs and expectations of organisational governors is covered by among others, Ms. Jane Halton the Secretary of the Australian Department of Finance who will be outlining her perspectives on improving the performance of major projects.
  • AIPM, PMI, IPMA and ICCPM are all supporting the Symposium and providing high quality speakers.
  • We have our inaugural Academic Stream – this aspect of the Symposium will become increasingly important as we direct any surplus funds towards Australian based research into the governance and control of projects and programs.
  • And there’s more – click through to our program page to download the full event program.

Thanks to the ongoing support of our Platinum Sponsor, The University of New South Wales (UNSW), Canberra, the cost of the symposium, including 2 full days and our reception at the ADFA Offices Mess is only $990 (early bird available prior to the 25th April).

To make the learning opportunity provided by the Symposium available to more junior staff, we also have a unique 2-for-1 offer in place with a number of ‘supporting organisations’; each senior manager who registers can nominate a more junior staff member to attend the Symposium at no additional cost (We are always happy to extend this arrangement to new organisations).

PGCS is designed to be a very different type of event compared to the traditional, and well loved, annual conferences run by the major associations – we are very focused on accessing and creating knowledge focused on ‘governance and controls’ – as part of this process all of the available papers from previous years are also made available to attendees and others via our on-line library.

The open question is can you afford to miss this world class event?  For more information visit our website at: http://www.pgcs.org.au/

Note: Patrick Weaver is a member of the PGCS Organising Committee.

Ethics and competition

EthicsThe report of The Senate Education and Employment References Committee report: A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders; released on the 17th March highlights a major National problem.

The report consolidates and affirms issues raised in some of our earlier posts including:

In a nutshell, the report confirms that large numbers of unethical employers are routinely exploiting 1000s of temporary visa holders to inflate their profits.  The report is worrying reading and hopefully will result in proactive government action to stamp out the worst of the excesses.   It’s in the government’s interest, many of the exploited visa holders in work are preventing an unemployed Australian from obtaining work; this is equally true in the unskilled categories and in skilled categories where skilled, older workers are frequently discriminated against.

What is more worrying, and the focus of this post is the ‘Coalition Senators’ total failure to understand business and competition.  One of the major areas of malfeasance with some of the worst exploitation of temporary workers is the Labour Hire business.  The committee recommendation #32 is that:

9.309 The committee recommends that a licensing regime for labour hire contractors be established with a requirement that a business can only use a licensed labour hire contractor to procure labour. There should be a public register of all labour hire contractors. Labour hire contractors must meet and be able to demonstrate compliance with all workplace, employment, tax, and superannuation laws in order to gain a license. In addition, labour hire contractors that use other labour hire contractors, including those located overseas, should be obliged to ensure that those subcontractors also hold a license.

In an annex to the main report, Coalition Senators state that they do not agree with this recommendation on the basis ‘it would punish those labour hire firms which are already complying with relevant laws’; and that the actions of a ‘minority of labour hire firms which are doing the wrong thing, in most cases, is already illegal’.

No one likes additional ‘red tape’ so superficially the Coalition Senators position is understandable.  What the Coalition Senators ignore is the effect the illegal activity is already having on the honest firms they purport to support!  The owners and operators of the dishonest firms using illegal and exploitative practices do not expect to get caught, and if they are caught expect the profits they make from their activities to significantly outweigh the penalties. Unethical is not synonymous with ‘stupid’ – the people making the decision to act illegally expect to make large profits. However, as a consequence of their illegal actions:

  • Honest labour hire firms cannot compete on price with the dishonest firms exploiting temporary workers and suffer as a consequence. The honest operators either make far less profit or go out of business.
  • The users of ‘hired labour’ from labour hire firms are also in competition and need to minimise input costs. They are incentivised to accept the low-cost offerings from the dishonest firms exploiting temporary workers and not to look too closely at their practices to compete within their market.  The alternative is to pay more for the workers and be at a competitive disadvantage to organisations that ‘turn a blind eye’ to the problem.

A licensing scheme will increase the cost of compliance for all of the businesses in the labour hire market, but if implemented properly, it will have the effect of largely eliminating the unfair competition created by the unethical exploitation of temporary workers.  Which will be hugely beneficial to those ‘honest’ businesses that are acting ethically and already fulfil their legal and moral obligations; both within the labour hire industry and the wider community.

The Coalition Senators do ‘support the prosecution of these illegal operations’ (as does everyone) the problems with implementing a clean up strategy focused on prosecutions alone are:

  1. The damage is done before the prosecution can take place.
  2. No prosecution stops illegal behaviour in the future. In an unlicensed regime the same unethical people can set up other businesses and carry on indefinitely through a series of ‘phoenix companies’.
  3. As suggested above, no criminal expects to get caught – deterrence is highly overrated.

Licences may not be ideal, but they do offer a practical way to support ethical behaviour that ‘prosecutions’ cannot. Good governance at every level is getting the balance between rules and flexibility right – the balance needs to support ethical behaviour without constricting innovation and growth. No one except the criminals benefits from the situation exposed in the Senate report that allows virtually unfettered unethical behaviour.

The art of ‘practical ethics’ is to develop systems that disadvantage unethical behaviour and encourage people to do the right thing. The combination of a beefed up ability to prosecute offenders and a licensing system that will make it difficult for unethical operators to remain in the labour hire business is the best way to drive the culture change needed in this industry, and in the businesses that rely on labour hire firms for their staffing needs.

Practical Ethics 2

EthicsA couple of weeks ago I posted Practical Ethics discussing the undue reliance governments and others  place on other people’s ethics, Through naivety, undue optimism, or laziness, they set up situations based on blind trust in the ethical standards of others which have resulted in deaths, injury and the loss of $billions.

In this post I want to look inside an organisation and discuss reason why Determining the ethics of the organisation is at #2 in my Six Functions of Governance and Creating the culture of the organisation is at #3.  #1 in the list is Determining the objectives of the organisation.

The underlying approach I’ve taken, founded in stakeholder theory, is the presumption that the best way to achieve an organisation’s objectives is to work with the organisation’s full spectrum of stakeholders so they contribute to the success of the organisation and everyone benefits. This requires a strong ethical foundation and an outwardly focused culture. The role of the governing body is to set the objectives and create the organisation’s culture and ethics, the role of management is to work within this framework to achieve the objectives. Whilst many aspects of governance can be delegated to a degree, setting the ethical standards of the organisation in particular is non-transferable. It starts and stops at the top – with the governing body.

The ethical standards of an organisation are created in two ways:

  • The way the organisation’s leaders act;
  • The ethical standards the leaders are prepared to tolerate in their subordinates.

This post will look at both of these aspects, using the example of the current scandal surrounding Comminsure (the insurance arm of the CBA bank) to highlight their importance – see more on the scandal.

 

Leaders set the standard.

Generally speaking, the top managers in an organisation create a ceiling on ethical behaviours. Leaders at the next level down tend to be rated lower than their managers on every leadership dimension including their honesty and integrity, many may rate equally but it is very rare to find a subordinate acting more ethically than the organisation’s leaders (for more on this see Ethical Leadership).

The key here is the word ‘act’ – leaders set the ethical standards of the organisation by their actions, not their statements. It more than ‘walking-the-talk’, talking is almost irrelevant.

One glaring examples from the Comminsure scandal will serve to demonstrate the issue.  The CBA’s CEO said that he placed a high value on transparency and open communication; this included both encouraging and protecting ‘whistleblowers’ within the bank. A commendable and highly ethical position; and from a practical perspective essential for the minimisation of wrong doing in a workforce of 55,000.

However, actions speak louder than words! In November 2014 the chief medical officer of Comminsure, Dr Benjamin Koh, disclosed his concerns over “an improper state of affairs” concerning aspects of Comminsure’s business to key independent directors at Comminsure including the chairman Geoff Austin. Two months later Comminsure began to investigate Dr Koh and he was sacked by the managing director of Comminsure, Helen Troup, for ‘misconduct’, in August 2015. He is now suing Comminsure and the CBA for unfair dismissal.

The appearance is that the bank’s management won’t fire you for whistle blowing but they will find some other excuse. The bank virtually admits as much, in this statement which states: “Commonwealth Bank encourages all employees to speak up if they see activities or behaviours that are fraudulent, illegal or inconsistent with our values. We provide a number of different safeguards to ensure that there are no negative consequences for raising concerns. We have thanked Dr Koh for raising concerns that led to the CMLA Board conducting a review. Dr Koh’s employment was not terminated for raising concerns. It was terminated primarily for serious and repeated breaches of customers’ privacy and trust involving highly sensitive personal, medical and financial information over a lengthy period of time.”  What they fail to mention was one of major issues raised by Dr. Koh was the manipulation, alteration and loss of information from the records he is accused of mishandling.

The perception may be incorrect, but to anyone looking on from outside of the organisation it would seem the person running Comminsure preferred to sack a whistleblower rather than deal with the problems he raised.

The CEO and the Directors of CBA can talk until they are blue in the face about the ‘ethical standards’ they purport to uphold, their actions speak louder. The person running Comminsure and responsible for the issues raised by Dr. Koh is still in her role, the ‘whistleblower’ is out of a job. If the board really meant what is says, the whistleblower would have been protected and the manager attacking him disciplined. Everyone else in CBA will clearly understand the message.

It really does not matter what the final outcome of all of this is; the actions of CBA and Comminsure management have made it clear to every one of their 55,000 staff that if you raise concerns within the banks ‘whistleblower’ processes you will be fired!

Given this perception, is it any wonder that the leaders of the CBA seem to be continually in the dark about what’s really going on in their organisation……..  Unfortunately for those in governance role not knowing is not an excuse.

 

Tolerating unethical behaviour.

Ethics2The second plank underpinning an ethical organisation is the degree of unethical behaviour it is prepared to tolerate. If an organisation is prepared to tolerate a person increasing his or her bonus by not paying out an insurance claim to a dying person for 3 or 4 years, everyone else in the organisation will understand the acceptable level of behaviour.

Comminsure has been shown to have withheld legitimate payments to claimants for years to boost profits and bonuses (only rectified after the national broadcast was imminent).  As far as I can tell everyone responsible from the managing director down are still in their jobs.

Previously the CBA was shown, courtesy of a Senate enquiry, to have misrepresented information to clients and falsified documents.  Again, most of the people responsible still work for the CBA and the ethical benchmark has been determined by this fact.

If the behaviours were ethically unacceptable people would be fired or moved into roles where they cannot adversely affect customer’s lives. The fact most people are still in their roles and still have their bonus payments from previous years indicates to everyone the CBA believes these behaviours are ethically acceptable and will continue to reward people for placing profits ahead of customers (see The normalisation of deviant behaviours). Management’s actions speak far louder then PR announcements and so called ‘public apologies’ that only eventuate after adverse national publicity.

 

Culture

Culture is ‘the way we do thing around here’ – one of the key elements of culture is the ethical standards people see as ‘normal’; another is the learned experience of how to behave within the organisation. As outlined above these settings are very different from the rhetoric.

But, ethics and culture are always shades of grey; the CBA’s culture is clearly flawed if the bank claims to be concerned about its customers. However, if the CBA is really only concerned with short-term profits, the culture, ethics and PR spin may be appropriate. In the last 6 months, the CBA achieved a remarkable return on equity of above 17 per cent, and a $4.8 billion half-year profit. And, despite the scandal, its shares have increased in price today. The cost is the damaged lives of some of its customers; the unresolved question is what are the acceptable limits? Maybe a Royal Commission will let everyone know.

Legal implications aside, the challenge facing the CBA is that changing culture and ethical standards is a massively difficult task and the people who created and thrive in the current culture are unlikely to be willing participants in changing it.  There’s no easy answer to this dilemma.

 

Conclusion

The real measure of an organisation’s ethical standards are set by the way people behave when no one is looking on – there will always be mistakes and unethical actions by a few, others within the organisation will correct these deviations and being behaviours back inside the culturally acceptable norms of behaviour of the organisation. This has undoubtedly been occurring within CBA and Comminsure on a daily basis, unacceptable behaviours will have been corrected or sanctioned; desired behaviours rewarded. What’s acceptable and unacceptable is determined by the culture of the organisation and its ethical standards.

The ethical standards of an organisation are set by the actions of its leaders. What they do themselves sets the ceiling and what they tolerate in others the floor. The rest of the people in an organisation will generally find a position between these two limits and the culture of the organisation will adapt to see this level of ethical behaviour as acceptable. The problem the governors and leaders of the CBA face is the simple fact that changing the ethics and culture of an established organisation is extremely difficult.

Comminsure Scandal – just more of the same……

ComminsureThe Directors of the CBA Bank and Comminsure would appear to have a lot to learn about basic ethics.  You do not set the ethical standards for an organisation by:

  • Saying ‘we are focused on ethics’,
  • Confusing ethical intent with outcomes,
  • Meeting with people screwed as a consequence of unethical behaviour within the organisation,
  • Saying sorry and/or making belated payments years too late.

This approach is at best second rate PR and the belated payments may be necessary restitution (but rarely compensates for the pain an suffering caused by the CBA’s unethical behaviours extending over years). But none of these actions has anything to do with setting ethical standards – ethics are about doing the right thing when no one is watching and proactively correcting errors as soon as you are aware of them. Ethical standards have nothing to do with implementing a pathetic PR exercise after your extensive wrong doing has been exposed to the full glare of publicity and then only paying parsimonious compensation to a few of the victims.

The ethical standards of an organisation are set by the minimum standards of behaviour its managers condone.  CBA Directors and managers have condoned highly unethical behaviours and the CBA continues to employ many of the same people who have been responsible for the creation and sustainment of this unethical culture over many years. This is a fundamental failure of organisational governance.

The only real measure of CBA and Comminsure starting to cut out the unethical rot in its management systems will be the number of people in senior management ranks fired or otherwise sanctioned for either:

  • Condoning the behaviours outlined in the previous Senate enquiry and the latest ABC 4 Corners / Fairfax report, or
  • For incompetence in not knowing (or not wanting to know) the unethical practices were on-going.

A number of Comminsure Directors should be resigning for exactly the same reasons!

CrisisThe root cause of the Comminsure scandal highlighted over the last 24 hours is identical to the earlier CBA banking scandal (discussed in several previous posts) – CBA management designed incentive systems that paid its staff bonuses to screw their clients and inflate profits. The consequences may not have been intended but nothing was done to correct obvious problems once they became apparent, probably because the managers responsible for oversighting the behaviours were on exactly the same incentive structure. And, the bank continued to pay for behaviours that focused on short term profits over the needs of distressed clients for years. Simply leaving the same group of people who created the mess to clean it up is stupidity of the highest order.

As defined in our White Paper: The Functions of Governance, two of the most important aspects of governance are establishing (and enforcing) the ethical standards and culture of the organisation. These functions cannot be delegated for reasons outlined in Dr. Bourne’s post from last week Practical Ethics.

The question is what are the CBA Board going to do about the core problem?

Practical Ethics

EthicsA string of disasters over the last couple of years suggest many business and government leaders simply do not understand ‘practical ethics’.  Through naivety, undue optimism, or laziness, they have set up situations based on blind trust in the ethical standards of others resulting in deaths, injury and the loss of $billions.

Just a few examples:

  • The ‘Home insulation program’ of 2008/9 resulted in 4 deaths, numerous house fires and many well established businesses being destroyed. The naive assumption by the Government seemed to be that with $millions of government funding easily accessed, businesses would still act ethically, train staff and comply with occupational health and welfare standards. The failure by businesses to meet this expectation has resulted in numerous prosecutions after the damage was done.
  • The outsourcing of technical and further education training (TAFE) to the private sector. Private providers under the VET Fee-Help scheme are paid for students signed up to courses, not for students qualified from courses – the naive assumption by the Government seemed to be that with $millions of government funding easily accessed, businesses would still act ethically and only sign up students that could benefit from the courses and would deliver good training outcomes. $hundreds of millions of public funds have been wasted – most of which can never be recovered.
  • Downer EDI’s Board of Directors appear to have blindly trusted their management to run the disastrous $3 billion Waratah train project. Normal governance feedback seemed to have been ignored to the point where the Directors were unable to get information on the project when needed, blowing a $20 million loss into a $200 million loss.

In each of these cases the government and business leaders seemed to have either assumed everyone would act ethically or relied on Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible hand’ (a flawed theory much loved by the rabid right, particularly in the USA). Unfortunately ethics is not that simple!  Writing a code of ethics[i] is a relatively simple process; encouraging people to live up to the code is far more difficult. There are several factors needed:

  • First, the organisations leaders need to lead by example. The ethical standards of the organisation and its supply chain are unlikely to exceed the standards set by the leadership (see: Ethical Leadership).
  • Second, the expected standards need to be clearly and unambiguously articulated. Saying you require one standard of behaviour and then paying people to perform differently will inevitably lead to the organisation getting what it has paid for (see: The normalisation of deviant behaviours).
  • Third, the governance and management systems need ‘real-time’ feedback to both encourage the desired standards of behaviour and to detect any ‘slips’ very early in the process so corrective actions can be implemented before there is a major issue (see: Self Correcting Processes).

Unfortunately governments in particular are reasonably good at enforcing standards years after the breach took place and seem to assume that the ‘deterrent effect’ will suffice to maintain ethical standards – this assumption patently does no work!  I doubt the £2.25m fine imposed on UK consultancy Sweett Group[ii] for bribing a prominent United Arab Emirates (UAE) businessman in return for work will have much effect on other unethical business people contemplating paying a bribe – for a start, no one expects to get caught. The ‘pink batt’ prosecutions occurred years after the scheme was closed, prosecutions under the VET Fee-Help scheme are still to eventuate (and rip-offs are still continuing). The simple fact is the fear of a potential prosecution in a few years time compared to the opportunity to make $millions now has very little effect on unethical people.

Conversely, over policing ‘ethics’ and watching every move can be as destructive as ‘blind trust’. If people feel they are not trusted, there is no incentive for them to act ethically.  Micro management is a major de-motivator and will inevitably lead to suboptimal performance with people doing ‘just enough’ and seeing how much they can get away with[iii]. This approach stifles innovation and creativity.

Practical ethics requires pragmatic trust. You need to trust the people you are working with, governing or managing, but have agreed processes that provide feedback and monitoring, that demonstrates your trust is being honoured.

  • In my ‘Six functions of governance’ management control functions are expected to provide feedback to the governing body that allows it to hold its management accountable and ensure conformance by the organisation being governed. Had these functions been implemented effectively EDI-Downer would be in a much better position today.
  • Demand feedback – even if you do not want to hear bad news! The recent announcement by CSIRO that its climate division will be virtually eliminated may be a pragmatic response to government initiatives and cost cutting but serves no one in the long term. Governments and business rely on climate science to make billion-dollar decisions. Without it, they will be relying on guesswork. Shooting the messenger simply means everyone is ‘flying blind’.
  • Build feedback into management systems. In the various government debacles mentioned above (and others) simple changes in process could have reward desirable outcomes rather than rewarding unethical behaviour. The purpose of any TAFE course is to educate a person and demonstrate learning by success in an exam.  Why not pay most of the money on completion of the course? Then make sure audit processes are in place to validate the exam performance is genuine – these exist and are easily applied.

Pragmatic trust is a graduated process – as people demonstrate their trustworthiness and ethical standards less oversight is needed (but less does not mean no oversight); the challenge is to design systems that reward desirable behaviours and outcomes creating a win-win, people who demonstrate high ethical standards are rewarded.

This approach is the antithesis of the current government approach which seems to rely on blind trust, assumes everyone is ethical, and as a consequence directly benefits unethical behaviours (at least in the short term). Not only have the $millions paid out in VET Fees to unethical providers resulted in minimal return to the government; they have actively encouraged unethical standards and have damaged businesses and organisations that do offer quality courses. A lose-lose outcome in which the only winners are the unethical businesses that have ripped off the system – the Pink Batts Royal Commission found a similar effect on the insulation businesses.

Slippery-slopeEthics are by definition based on the standards of behaviour considered acceptable by a group[iv].  When a significant proportion of the groups members start to let standards slip, they will tend to drag the rest of the group with them down the slippery slope – it is very hard to stand out against the normally accepted behaviours of your group. And as with any slippery mountain slope, it is far easier to slide towards the bottom than to keep your footing and climb towards the top.

The role of ethical leaders is first to set the ethical standards, then live up to the standards themselves, and finally require their followers to conform to the standards using pragmatic trust and encouragement rather than after the event punishment.


 

[i] The PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is a good example: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PDF/PMICodeofEthics.pdf

[ii] See: http://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/sweett-group-must-pay-32m-bri7bery-a7bu-dh7abi/

[iii] For more on motivation see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1048_Motivation.pdf

[iv] For more on ethics and leadership see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1001_Ethics.pdf

Australian Defence White Paper requires a major increase in project delivery capability.

DEF-WPThe Australian Defence White Paper 2016, released today, will require a major increase in project delivery capability across defence.   For the first time, an integrated approach to capital investment planning is being used which will provide the framework for a more coherent and efficient approach to managing the development of future Defence capability. However, whilst a single investment program will reduce the risk of incomplete or fragmented approaches to investment, there will be a corresponding need to seriously ramp up capabilities in program[1] and portfolio management.

Coupled with a more complex (but potentially beneficial) management environment, there is also a major increase in the volume of projects and programs with an expenditure of approximately $195 billion (in today’s terms) planned for the next decade. Some of the projects and programs in the pipeline include:

  • Increasing the submarine force from 6 to 12 regionally superior submarines with a high degree of interoperability with the United States.
  • Three Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers (under construction).
  • A new class of nine future frigates.
  • New replenishment vessels.
  • More capable offshore patrol vessels,
  • New manned and unmanned aircraft for border protection.
  • A new large-hulled multi-purpose patrol vessel, the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Protector.
  • The F-35A Lightning II program.
  • Twelve E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
  • More air-to-air refuellers will be acquired to support future combat, surveillance and transport aircraft.
  • New personal equipment for soldiers.
  • A new generation of armoured combat reconnaissance and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as new combat engineering equipment.
  • A new long-range rocket system to further enhance fire power,
  • Armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft to enhance surveillance and protection for the land force.
  • Extending the life of and acquiring new weapons and equipment for the amphibious ships.
  • New light helicopters will be acquired to support Special Forces operations.
  • Upgrades to ADF bases and logistics systems, including fuel and explosive ordnance facilities.
  • Upgrade training and testing facilities, health services and information and communications technology.
  • Air lift capability will be increased to comprise 8 heavy lift C-17A Globemasters with additional heavy lift aircraft to be considered in the longer term, 12 upgraded C-130J Hercules, 10 C-27J Spartans and 10 CH-47F Chinook helicopters. Sea lift capability will be strengthened by extending the

Add the White Paper’s commitment to Australian industry involvement in most of these projects and the volume of work that will require effective project governance, management and controls becomes apparent. To download the white papers see: http://www.defence.gov.au/WhitePaper/

Fortunately Australia already has an effective forum focused on improving the capability of government and industry to govern and control its projects and programs.  The Project Governance and Controls Symposium, hosted by the University of Mew South Wales Canberra (ADFA), is focused on developing this capability and providing a forum for exchanging learning and ideas.  The 2016 Symposium is scheduled for May 10th to 12th, see: http://www.pgcs.org.au/

The Australia government has laid out the plans, its up to the project management profession to realise the intent, effectively and efficiently[2].   Watch this space…….


 

[1] Where the term ‘program’ is used to mean a series of projects (of very different types) managed together to achieve benefits that would not be available if they were managed separately. See: www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1022_Program_Typology.pdf

[2] Improving the project delivery capability of Australian government departments is the focus of the separate Shergold report, see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-shergold-report-calls-for-better-governance-and-better-project-controls/

The Shergold Report calls for better governance and better project controls!

Shergold2The recently released report by Professor Peter Shergold, ‘Learning from Failure: Why large government policy initiatives have gone so badly wrong in the past and how the chances of success in the future can be improved’ (the Shergold Report), sets out a framework designed to improve the delivery of major Australian Government programs.  But the framework is not limited to government; the concepts can be usefully applied by any organisation seeking to initiate a major program of works.

The report focuses on making practical recommendations to enhance the capacity of the Australian Government to:

  1. Design and implement large public programmes and projects;
  2. Develop robust and effective governance and accountability arrangements for such programmes and projects;
  3. Understand the broader environment in which programmes and policies are designed and implemented;
  4. Identify, understand and manage risks; and
  5. Provide accurate, timely, clear and robust advice to ministers and within the APS.

Substitute ‘organisation’ for ‘Australian Government’ and ‘senior stakeholders and governors’ for ‘ministers and within the APS’ and the value of the document to the wider community becomes apparent.

The Shergold Report does not make specific recommendations to the government; rather it reaches a series of immutable conclusions based on the narrative in each section and is intended to spark public comment and discussion from a wide spectrum of people both within and outside of the Australian Public Service.

The Shergold Report contains 28 proposals for improvement; the key conclusions are reproduced below are reformatted as recommended good practices for any organisation planning to undertake a major program of works:

Ensuring Robust Advice: Good governance is founded on good policy, and good policy depends on good advice. To this end, executives and managers should be held accountable for the quality of advice they provide. Significant advice should be provided in writing and records maintained.

Decision Making: The importance of decision-making, and the circumstances under which it occurs, underscore the need to have well-functioning support systems in place.

Creating a Positive Risk Culture: Moving the organisation from reactive, defensive risk management; to proactive, performance-focused risk engagement. The major challenge is to embed the new approaches within a strong risk culture. This requires: understanding appetites for risk on individual programs and across the portfolio, appointing a Chief Risk Officer, at a senior executive level, proposals should be supported by an endorsed Risk Management Plan, and preparing a bi-annual whole-of-organisation Risk Assessment for the governing body, analysing the system-wide impact of operational, financial, strategic, legislative and procurement risks faced by the organisation.

Enhancing Program Management: Program and project management are too often seen as control activities; they are actually creative processes!  They require discipline and professional expertise to maintaining single point accountability while being open and flexible to the opportunities of networked governance structures. To achieve this requires:

  • Defined standards of proficiency for project and program managers, with active support through career development opportunities, continued education and participation in professional communities of practice such as the upcoming Project Governance and Controls Symposium.
  • For each project or programs[1], a clear understanding of who accepts end-to-end responsibility for managing implementation (typically the Sponsor[2]), wields delegated authority and where accountability resides.

Opening up to diversity: A diversity of perspectives in the workplace and the boardroom improves performance. Diversity increases critical analysis of information, results in better decision-making and challenges ‘groupthink’. Program advisory groups should be established that include representation drawn from outside the organisation in order to capture a broader diversity of perspectives and knowledge.

Embracing adaptive governance: Organisations that thrive are flexible. They seize opportunities, learn rapidly and recognise that partners will be needed to deliver long-term goals. When they enter uncharted territory they respond fast, start small, test new approaches, watch market responses, learn from doing, scale-up their activity or, if necessary, try again.

Most importantly, they are honest about failure. They recognise that mistakes happen, interrogate why they occurred and set in place remedial measures to ensure that they perform better next time. Failure and its lessons are an inevitable part of entrepreneurial life but are also central to maintaining organisational competitiveness. This means (where possible) new proposals should include a trial or demonstration stage, allowing new approaches to be developed fast and evaluated early. Large projects should incorporate staged decision-making[3].

Conclusions

Good governance is focused on creating good outcomes, not developing a straightjacket of impenetrable and restrictive procedures – the person or organisation that has never made a mistake has never made anything! The art of effectively using project and programs to create a new and desirable future is effective governance, backed by prudent risk management and effective, adaptive delivery and change management processes. The Shergold Report concludes that:

  1. Policy is only as good as the manner in which it is implemented
  2. Policy advice can only be frank and fearless if it is supported by written argument.
  3. Deliberations, oral and in writing, need to be protected.
  4. Deliberative documents need to be preserved, whether written on paper or delivered by digital means.
  5. It is up to ministers (the governing body), not officials (management), to make policy decisions.
  6. The effective management of risk is just as important in the public sector as in the private – perhaps more so.
  7. As the public service fully commits itself to measuring results by outcomes, program management needs to be accorded far greater professional status.
  8. Good governance increasingly depends on collaboration across sectors.
  9. The APS needs to be further opened up. Diversity and external inputs to the organisation.
  10. An adaptive government (organisation) can respond rapidly to changing circumstances without taking unnecessary (and unforeseen) risks.

The one area missing from the Shergold Report is recognition of the importance and difficulty of implementing organisational change (and the disciplines of change management and benefits realisation). The concepts are implicit in many aspects of the report but would have benefitted from direct discussion.

These limitations aside, the Shergold Report is a very deep and well considered document, well worth the effort of reading by both private and public sector mangers and governors. It highlights failures and the learning that can be taken from the experiences to improve future outcomes. To quote Confucius “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest”. Learning from other’s experience may not be the ‘noblest’ option but is far preferable to repeating avoidable mistakes.

We will be commenting further on this report in future posts and I’m sure it will feature prominently in discussions at the upcoming Project Governance and Controls Symposium that is being held in Canberra in May.

Shergold1

The full report can be downloaded from: http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications-and-media/current-publications/learning-from-failure

From a completely different source, the Australian Infrastructure Plan Priorities and reforms for our nation’s future (Feb. 2016), recommendations under Chapter 9 – Governance calls for very similar processes to the Shergold Report.  These reports, and many previous, have consistently promulgated the same message.  We know what needs to be done, understanding why its not being done is the real challenge.


 

[1] To understand the difference between a project and a program see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1002_Programs.pdf

[2] For more on the role of the Sponsor see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1031_Project_Sponsorship.pdf

[3] For more on ‘gateway reviews see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1092_Gateways-Scorecards.pdf

Construction CPM -v- PGCS

We have just returned from a very enjoyable and successful trip to New Orleans for Construction CPM and now its time to focus on making our Project Governance and Controls Symposium (PGCS) in Canberra equally successful!

Construction CPM is probably the world leading event for project scheduling tools and advances in the field of major project scheduling. There were nearly 300 delegates, speakers and partners attending events over 7 days (the Construction CPM conference was 3 days in the middle).  The papers we presented were:

The emerging trends in New Orleans were firstly risk, new tools and many papers on the challenge of uncertainty and surprisingly ethics and stakeholders (more on these later).

Project Governance and Controls Symposium (PGCS) is designed to enhance the connection between governance and project controls in government department and corporations. It’s too soon to identify the trends that will emerge in May but we already have an impressive line up of Keynote Speakers. See more at: http://www.pgcs.org.au/

Both events have an emphasis on building knowledge through networking and social events.  However, the PGCS program, which includes a reception in the ADFA Officers Mess pales in comparison to Construction CPM.

Some of the things you will not see or experience in Canberra include:

Plated hot breakfasts starting at 6:30am with the first presentations at 8:00am (we run a more ‘civilised’ program starting around 9:00am……).

Our own Mardi Gras Parade……

NOL1NOL2

 

 

 

 

 

The Konstruction Krew consisting of 250+ project controls professionals following a jazz band (complete with police escort and waving umbrellas) in their own Mardi Gras Parade through the French Quarter to Bourbon Street.

Burbon-St

Last drinks and a locally rolled cigar at the Bourbon Heat from 9:00pm to 2:00am (if you have the staying power) When I bailed out at midnight, Bourbon Street was still going strong!!

Float

A totally different definition of ‘Float’ – several of the official Mardi Gras Parades – each organised by a different ‘Krew’ passed in front of our hotel in Canal Street.

CharmaineCharmaine Neville and her band playing inthe conference ‘Jazz Club’ from 9:00pm……..  PMOZ was renowned for its parties – Construction CPM is at least as good! In total there were 11520 ounces of alcohol consumed at the official events (plus cash purchases).

NOL3One final ‘only in New Orleans’ – ice cream daiquiris in the place they were invented……

Add  4 Keynote Speakers, 79 Breakout Sessions a mock trial, pre-arranged dinners with ‘5 new friends’ each evening and you have an intensive enjoyable learning experience.

The next Construction CPM is earlier then usual, December at the Swan Resort, Walt Disney World, Orlando Florida.

Our PGCS Symposium in Canberra will be a bit more subdued (after all there is only one ‘New Orleans’).  Where we will be as good, if not better, is in the quality of the speaking program.  PGCS speakers already confirmed include Lisa Wolf of Booze Hamilton Allen, Melinda Penna of Telstra, and Kim Terrell of Department of Human Services.  For regular updates on the progress of PGCS  see:  http://www.pgcs.org.au/