Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Project Management Principles vs Practices

Project Management Principles vs Practices
After reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio for the second time this year I was thinking about what principles do I have in the area of project management? And how are these principles different from practices?

 We are always looking for simple ways to apply good principles (patterns of advice) with meaningful practices (specific actions). This is the crux of delivering consulting advice in most situations. So what is exactly the difference between principles and practices? Here is one example.

 The Boy scout motto – “Be prepared” – is a timeless principle.

 “Buy a plunger before you need a plunger” is a practice that applies this principle in a memorable way.

Principles are good ideas or good values stated in a context-independent manner. Practices are applications of these principles stated in a context-dependent way.

Project Management Principles

When you look at project management I firmly believe in the five principles of project success as defined by Glen B. Alleman in his excellent book “Performance-Based Project Management".

These principles are best stated in the form of questions. When we have the answers to these questions, we will have insight into the activities required for the project to succeed in ways not found using the traditional process group’s checklist, knowledge areas, or canned project templates.

1) What does “done” look like?

We need to know where we are going by defining “done” at some point in the future. This may be far in the future—months or years—or closer—days or weeks from now.

2) How can we get to “done” on time and on budget and achieve acceptable outcomes?

We need a plan to get to where we are going, to reach done. This plan can be simple or complex. The fidelity of the plan depends on our tolerance for risk. The complexity of the plan has to match the complexity of the project.

3) Do we have enough of the right resources to successfully complete the project?

We have to understand what resources are needed to execute the plan. We need to know how much time and money are required to reach the destination. This can be fixed or it can be variable. If money is limited, the project may be possible if more time is available and vice versa. What technologies are needed? What information must be discovered that we don’t know now?

4) What impediments will we encounter along the way and what work is needed to remove them?

We need a means of removing, avoiding, handling or ignoring these impediments. Most important, we need to ask and answer the question, “How long are we willing to wait before we find out we are late?”

5) How can we measure our progress to plan?

We need to measure planned progress, not just progress. Progress to plan is best measured in units of physical percent complete, which provides tangible evidence, not just opinion. This evidence must be in “usable” outcomes that the buyer recognizes as the things they requested from the project.

It does not matter what practices you use to manage and deliver your project. It also does not matter what kind of a project it is. As long as it is a project, the five principles of project success are valid.

Project Management Practices

Most often there is a principle, a truth, a reason, behind the practice you use. Are you aware of the principles behind the practices you have in your project?

- Why do you create a project plan and schedule?
- Why do you do risk management?
- Why do you create a stakeholder map?
- Why do you create RAID lists?
- Why do you use OKRs to define project success?

We must know why we do something otherwise we are just copying someone else.

If you just do something because someone, or some company, you admire is doing it you are following the practice. This will create a sense of legalism in your project team – just following a good idea, or even worse, making good ideas the rules, something you and all your team must do. When we do this we have no inner conviction to help us over the hurdles, when things get hard we’ll give up.

Instead of mindlessly copying we need to consider the principles, the truths we want to build our project on, and then carefully think through the best practices for our team to learn and grow in that truth.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

10 Leading Indicators of Troubled Projects

Leading indicators of troubled projects
In project management, we often talk about “lagging” and “leading” indicators. 

Lagging indicators are typically “output” oriented, easy to measure but hard to improve or influence. 

Leading indicators at the other hand are typically "input" oriented, harder to measure but easier to influence.

Let me illustrate this with a simple example. Let's imagine you are responsible for managing a customer support team, and your goal is to resolve any high priority incidents within 48 hours. Currently, you only succeed in 70% of such incidents.

The output is easy to measure: You either solve these incidents in 48 hours or not. But how do you influence the outcome? What are the activities you must undertake to achieve the desired outcome?

For instance: Make sure your team starts working on such incidents immediately when they occur. Make sure that incidents are assigned to the right people with the right skillset and that this person isn’t already overloaded with other work.

This could be translated into the following “leading” indicators

> % of incidents not worked on for 2 hours.

> % of open incidents older than 1 day.

> % of incidents dispatched more then 3 times.

Average backlog of incidents per agent

When you would start measuring these indicators on a daily basis and focus on improving these, I would think it is extremely likely to see an improvement in reaching your goal.

Lagging Indicators for Projects

As I have written many times before, it's essential to work actively with the organization that owns a project to define success across three levels before you start a project:

1) Project delivery success is about defining the criteria by which the process of delivering the project is successful.

Essentially this addresses the classic triangle "scope, time, budget". It is limited to the duration of the project and success can be measured as soon as the project is officially completed (with intermediary measures being taken of course as part of project control processes). 

2) Product or service success is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered is deemed successful.

For example, the system is used by all users in scope, uptime is 99.99%, customer satisfaction has increased by 25%, operational costs have decreased by 15%, and so on.

These criteria need to be measured once the product/service is implemented and over a defined period of time. This means it cannot be measured immediately at the end of the project itself.

3) Business success is about defining the criteria by which the product or service delivered brings value to the overall organization, and how it contributes financially and/or strategically to the business.

For example, financial value contribution (increased turnover, profit, etc.) or competitive advantage (market share won, technology advantage).

All these measures are so-called lagging indicators. A lagging indicator is a measurable fact that records the actual performance of a project. They all represent facts about the project, the resulting product/service and the benefits of it to the organization.

But things can start to go wrong in a project well before the performance measure turns the traffic light on the scorecard red.

Using metrics that measure past events is like driving while looking through the rear window. It’s easy to miss an opportunity or threat on the road ahead until you hit it.

Leading Indicators for Projects

A leading indicator is a measurable factor that changes before the project starts to follow a particular pattern or trend. Leading indicators are used to predict changes in the project, but they are not always accurate.

Examples of leading indicators for a project’s success:

1) Poorly defined (or undefined) done: Project failure starts when we can’t tell what “done” looks like in any meaningful way. Without some agreement on our vision of “done,” we’ll never recognize it when it arrives, except when we’ve run out of time or money or both.

2)  Poorly defined (or undefined) success: A project can only be successful if the success criteria are defined, ideally upfront. Therefore the lack of these definitions on the three levels as described above is a great leading indicator for project trouble.

3) Stability, quality, and availability of project team: a lot of change in the project team is a good leading indicator for trouble. The same for missing skills and experience. Also, team atmosphere is a great leading indicator.

4) Engineering practices: the practices that are implemented are a good leading indicator of engineering quality.

5) Risk management: the presence or lack of risk management is a great leading indicator of the impact of negative surprises.

6) Availability of up to date RAID lists: the quality of these lists are a great indicator for awareness of trouble. Especially your issue resolution time.

7) Engagement of stakeholders and Steering Committee: When the stakeholders do not care about your project, then why should you?

8) Runway: the burn rate of a project is a lagging indicator as it describes how many money is spent (or lost) for any period of time. The runway is a leading indicator as it predicts how long the budget would last with a specific burn rate.

9) Milestones: missing or achieving the deadline on a milestone is a lagging indicator. But it is also a leading indicator for following milestones.

10) Project size: the bigger the project, the higher the probability it fails.

All leading indicators can be used for identifying troubled projects before it is too late to do something about it. Just be aware that because a leading indicator is positive, it does not mean the final outcome will be positive. Nor will a negative leading indicator means automatically a negative outcome.

In a nutshell: Using metrics that measure past events is like driving while looking through the rear window. It’s easy to miss an opportunity or threat on the road ahead until you hit it.

When you need some guidance on how to define and measure project success, just download the Project Success Model by clicking on the image.

The Project Success Model

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