Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Category Archives: People

Is productivity gains the answer to improved business outcome?


Is productivity gains the answer to improved business outcomeI recently ran into an old school friend. At the time we were nearing the end of high school he was the coolest dude with a job at a fast food place. He had disposable income and an old second hand car. What else do you need in life? Those of us that were planning further studies or apprenticeships got plenty of advice from him on the futility of our endeavours. When someone mentioned better prospects and better pay, he simply said if he ever needed more money he can simply work a few extra hours.

All these years later I was surprised to see him holding training materials. I was intrigued with this change of attitude. At the time some of us were thinking of investing in our future and as a result consciously taking on a few more  years of hardship, he had no appreciation that his circumstances could change. He shared with me his predicament in working harder and harder to support his family. This larger than life character was backed into a corner. It is great to see him sorting his life out.

What has this got to do with business outcomes you may ask? It occurred to me how many organisations take a similar approach to making money. Everyone is in a mad rush to squeeze yet another billable hour out of staff, minimise non-utilised time. The only certainty is that the environments we operate in will change. As my friend found out eventually, there is only so much difference you can make using this approach.

True sustainable change comes when you have the commitment to review your methods, acknowledge the failings and change accordingly.

Image Credit: under30ceo.com

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Can you get the right reaction with the occasional verbal spray?


I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review regarding the appropriateness of yelling at employees. It was quite an interesting article in which Michael Schrage gives examples as Steve JobsBill GatesSir Alex FergusonVince LombardiArturo Toscanini in various professions as those not averse to a bit of verbal spray. He makes an interesting point that while yelling does not make one a better manager, at the same time it does not necessarily indicate managerial weakness or failure of leadership.

Can-you-get-the-right-reaction-from-the-occassional-verbal-spray

Scharge seems to have taken quite a hammering if you read some of the comments on the article. However, I am sure he was playing the devils advocate and wrote the piece precisely to get this reaction. Indeed in some cases managers or leaders get away with the occasional hair dryer treatment. Let us have a think about what it is that their employees are letting them get away with and why. I will use some of the gentlemen mentioned in this very article.

The likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built or ran organisations that generated a lot of wealth within its employee ranks. These are also organisations that employ some leading minds and have made a lot of employees rich through stock options. People work in these organisations for various reasons. Some are after the intellectual fulfillment, others for monetary reward, some purely to enhance their resume. Same is true for the likes of Ferguson and Lombardi. Players play for their teams for a mixture of lure of winning trophies, play with other great players, the salary or adulation from the fans.

For every Gates and Jobs there are multiple Kevin Rudd, Mark Pincus. For every Ferguson and Lombardi there are many more Buck Shelfords. The Shelford example is quite striking. He was known as the hardest rugby player. He once played on against France despite an act of foul play resulting in his scrotum being split. Bring back Buck signs are still visible today from fans cherishing his demeanour. Yet, when he took to coaching, he relied on the same “hard man” persona and foul mouth. His teams were unmitigated disasters.

What does that tell us. It is not these leaders’ yelling at their charges that got the results. Instead it was their other attributes of vision, planning, development of individual capabilities and sense of pride in work that were the key contributors for their success. In my view their sometimes tempestuous behaviour actually got in the way to diminish their other qualities. There would be a level of tolerance for everyone. Exceeding those would lead to people abandoning even the most decorated leaders.

Most people are not the special ones mentioned here. If leaders are to take cues from these well known figures, they should instead concentrate on their other qualities. I have found even small things like acknowledging good efforts from individuals and thanking them for those goes a long way than anything else. I struggle to think if yelling would ever give me the same reaction. Everyone is different in how they react to volleys of verbal spray. You have to make sure you get the right reactions from people.

Yelling is a sign of control lost. More credibility you have built over time will dictate how soon your people abandon you as a result. Even if you find it works from time to time, don’t get too fond of it.

Image Credit: Daily Mail

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Friday rant … inventing process for HR / finance


Friday-rant-inventing-process-for-hr-financeI remember having to study Accounting 101 when I studied Information Systems. At the time I had wondered what the purpose of it was. The rationale given was that 80% of software is written either for or because of bean counters. More time goes by, I am seeing businesses becoming agile and learning new ways to deliver services faster and in a more competitive way.

Sadly, the accounting and HR systems seem not to have caught up with this. When you and a customer can commercially agree a mutually beneficial business model, it becomes a chore to then translate that into the internal system. More often than not, It cannot be done, as the processes have not thought about these ‘revolutionary’ possibilities. These are systems that are sticklers for process and you end up working your existing systems to somehow shoehorn these new models.

Organisations must realise they can only be as agile as their least agile part of the business. Otherwise you get into a tangle trying to respond quick with your front office, but end up inventing process to placate your back office.

Anyone else grapple with similar issues?

Image credit: dwmbeancounter.com

The value of stakeholder management


Mosaicproject's Blog

One of the questions I’m regularly asked is to outline the business case for using stakeholder management in a business or project. This is a difficult question to answer accurately because no-one measures the cost of problems that don’t occur and very few organisations measure the cost of failure.

The problem is not unique; it is very difficult to value the benefits of an effective PMO, of improving project delivery methods (eg, improving the skills of your schedulers), of investing in effective communication (the focus of my September column in PMI’s PM Network magazine) or of better managing risk. The costs of investing in the improvement are easily defined, but the pay-back is far more difficult to measure.

There are two reasons why investing in effective stakeholder analytics is likely to deliver a valuable return on investment (ROI).

  • The first is by knowing who the important stakeholders are at any…

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What the Americas Cup teaches us about management


It has taken a few days for the Kiwis to recover from Team NZ‘s slow strangling at the hands of Oracle Team USA in the Americas Cup. In the space of 8 days, they went from 8-1 up to losing 9-8 with skipper Dean Barker visibly distressed. This collapse has been on par with what the national rugby team the All Blacks and the South African cricketers have managed throughout their history. Now that the cup is over, I was thinking if there were any parallels to take away from a management point of view. It appears there may be a few.

What the Americas Cup teaches us about management

Keep improving or perish

In the beginning of the regatta, Team NZ seemed to be sweeping all before them. They won the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series by a country mile. It was obvious that Oracle started the Americas cup proper undercooked. Oracle struggled to match Team NZ, but kept improving throughout. They were even ruthless enough to drop John Kostecki and bring in Tom Slingsby in the afterguard. It is no different in business. Getting ahead is sometimes the easy part. Staying there is often more difficult.

Resource matters

As I read today about the automatic ‘Herbie’ foiling system Oracle perfected towards the end of the regatta, it appears access to funds does help. While Team NZ itself was funded to the tune of $36 million by the New Zealand government, sponsored by Emirates and plenty of other corporate interests, Managing Director Grant Dalton spent significant time in securing some of these. Interestingly, he was also part time member of the sailing crew. On the contrary, having a single benefactor being able to drop a millions when needed does appear to have helped here.

Survive to fight another day

What made the defeat more hard to take for Barker and his crew is the fact they were only minutes away from winning the cup. Leading 8-3 and within sights of victory, opposition skipper James Spithill decided to take an unexpected route in the third leg of the race. While Team NZ seemed on course for victory, they followed conservative match racing mantra of covering the opposition, so they could not pass them. While Oracle could not pass, it resulted in Team NZ not being able to complete the racing within the time limit. While Spithill could not win that race, he made sure he got the next best outcome. He managed to put enough pressure on Team NZ to force them into mistakes on other occasions as well.

Keep cards close to the chest

The history of the Americas Cup is littered with litigation at every turn. Even Oracle itself had won the cup in court. They promptly changed the deed of gift to prevent the challengers going to court. Despite that, when Oracle was penalised 2 races for skulduggery in the AC45 racing series, everyone expected them to head to court. By not making public their position, they made a very wise decision. Having already won the cup they have no reason to go there. To top it off, they can now take the moral high ground that they would never have gone to the courts in the first place.

For me at least, it seems following some of the cup had some positive after all.

Image credit: TVNZ

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