Project Management in Practice

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

Tag Archives: New Zealand

Is there any value in classroom style training?

I was talking to some of my peers about our experiences in undertaking various project management related certifications. Some of us had classroom based training; others had done it through e-learning courses. I thought it is useful sharing some of that. In the main, the discussion is relevant is relevant not only for project management, but any industry certification.

Classroom style learning allows you to concentrate for a good amount of time on a single goal – completing the certification. This is especially useful if you are very busy. The fact that you are out of the office for the week, or at least good part of it, there is likely to be less disruption from daily work. However, if you are an escalation point, you must hope things go reasonably well at work.

I have seen people hauled off from the middle of the training course to attend to urgent matters. For some people it is simply not possible to commit to a solid week out of the office at certain times. Or is it true? These same people take holidays at different times of the year. They manage to organise that successfully. Is it a matter of planning better and taking the course at the right time? The course may not be offered when you can afford to spend solid time.

Classroom trainers are usually very good at pointing out obvious mistakes people make in the exams and give you hints about reading particular styles of questions that help you pass easily. That however can come at the cost of good learning in some situations. I find some trainers focus very little on discussion of the particular topic and solely focus on how you would pass the exam. While this can be helpful in you have another acronym at the end of your name, your professional development will suffer because of not understanding the content as well.

The best thing about classroom based training is the interaction you can have with your peers. If you get a trainer that is good in facilitating discussion that is the best form of learning you can have. This does not preclude the trainer from giving you some specific hints about passing the exam. However, on occasions you end up with career trainers with little industry experience and unwilling to engage in any meaningful dialogue. That can be a disappointing experience. There is also the risk of one or two of the attendees hijacking the course by trying to show how knowledgeable they are.

Dedicating a week is fine if you are single. If you have a family, especially little children, they do expect a bit of interaction from you. Generally the courses are packed and expect you to do up to 4 hours of personal learning every night. If you think you will make up the time later in the evening, think if you will have any brain cells left for the content the next day. Costs can also be a factor. As an example, a PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner classroom based training costs around $3500 in New Zealand. An e-learning pack from the same provider costs around half of that at around $2000.

The challenge with e-learning I have seen is the discipline of putting the time regularly to get to a stage where you have understood the content and are ready to sit the exam. If you end up having gaps between your study times will mean you forget many things you had learnt, due to lack of continuity. You do not have the ability to bounce ideas off others and validate your learning. I know of people who have purchased e-learning material but have never got round to sitting the exam in time. You can always try just purchasing the text, studying yourself and sitting the exam when ready.

I prefer the classroom style primarily because you get the opportunity to bounce ideas with others. This type of learning is easier to internalise and will give you a higher chance of success. You also get to sit the exam while things are freshest in your memory. What is your experience of training? Happy to hear contrary views.

Major Image Credit: Rebus Training Ltd.

Australasian trends in MSP and impact on PRINCE2

The Wellington PRINCE2 User Group met last week at the Deloitte House. The guest speaker at the event was Geoff Rankins, a programme and project management professional with over 35 years of experience across ASX50 organisations, Federal and State Governments in Australia and international not for profit organisations. He is also a contributor to PRINCE2 2009, MSP 2011, ISO 38500 and ISO 21500. Usually the user group has a format of three seven minute presentations followed by Q&A and networking on a single event. Due to the calibre of the speaker the committee adjusted the format to have only a single speaker with interactive Q&A with the speaker. Three main threads of discussion centred around trends in Australasia, MSP implementation lessons and co-existence of MSP and PRINCE2.

There were some interesting insights from Geoff regarding the pattern of adoption he has seen in Australasia. Consulting firms are using MSP to manage company mergers and state wide eHealth programmes. One of the largest construction companies is using MSP to manage building of 800 building in an 18 month period across the state of Queensland. The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is promoting the use of MSP to the Federal Government Departments. The Capability Development Group of the Department of Defence in Australia already use both MSP and PRINCE2. There is also a trend in the various State Government Departments using MSP to deliver strategic programmes. In Australia not for profit organisations are using MSP to deliver process re-engineering and coordinating national mental health programmes. In New Zealand telecommunications and hydro-electric companies are taking up MSP as well as the national rail company and the Department of Corrections. Internationally, UNDP has adopted MSP to deliver aid programmes across 160 countries and in the UK the London Olympics is delivered through MSP. If you were ever wondering why so many examples on the MSP text appear from the London Olympics, this is the reason.

Like any other change initiatives, there is different between deciding to use MSP and adopting it. Some of the implementation challenges Geoff shared has a ring of familiarity. The biggest issue he highlighted was not treating adoption of MSP as an organisational change project on its own. Unless the organisation changes the culture of its programme delivery, success is going to be limited if at all attainable. In the same manner PRINCE2 has to be tailored to suit the organisation, so should MSP. That leads to implementations not challenging the existing environments and the necessary organisational change is not achieved. Using consultants was also identified as a limiting factor. Consultants being used must have implementation expertise, rather than simple certifications. At the same time the organisation must invest in internal capability building. In many case consultants move and and all the knowledge is lost. Consultants can help implement, but not maintain and evolve the framework as the organisation changes.

There is also a tendency to jump to a solution mode too quickly, what Geoff called inadequate “optioneering” and resulting in sub-optimal business cases. Organisations where programme management is less mature there are tendencies to treat a set of projects as a programme and not using it a vehicle for achieving organisational change. This also leads to focus to too much detail at programme level – defaulting to project management mode. The senior management in the organisation have to focus on the bigger picture of the programmes, rather than details of individual projects. Intervening too low results is focus on outputs rather than benefits and threats to them. There also needs to be a realisation that programmes are inherently more uncertain than projects and some element of learning is expected. The benefit an organisation can derive from having a well defined MSP framework are providing quick start to project business cases, oversight in project governance, escalation path to the senior management, lessons capture and dispersal across many projects. The biggest benefit of all is the focus on benefits realisation – something a PRINCE2 project is tasked with considering, but not well placed to achieve as the project is long finished before the benefits are scheduled to be achieved.

Sometimes organisations spend too much effort to identify if something they need to achieve is a project or programme. The key message from Geoff was to start with either and change the approach if necessary as the business case gets refined. Integration of PRINCE2 and MSP should happen on the basis of roles, assurance requirements and governance strategies.  The idea that resonated with me was there is nothing stopping cherry picking parts of MSP into projects if the organisation is not mature enough to handle MSP implementation. There is no reason why stakeholder engagement strategies, benefits profiles, blueprint and transition planning concepts of MSP cannot be used in a PRINCE2 project. In fact those should be transferable to any project. Right tools for the right environment.

Adoption usually comes because of governance and accountability reasons. For that reason frameworks like MSP and PRINCE2 usually are adopted by Government entities first. This then forces all service providers to comply. It appears there is substantial acceptance of MSP and PRINCE2 as Programme and Project Management frameworks in Australasia.

How do I manage a distributed team?

As the world becomes smaller due to more efficient communication, distributed teams are becoming quite common. If you ring a customer service line in any country, the odds are you will end up being serviced by someone in Manila. Your latest Microsoft software was most likely developed in Bangalore. I have been managing projects with teams and clients  scattered in different parts of the country, and in some cases spanning multiple continents. I have been thinking about some of the challenges I face and how best to overcome them.

The biggest and most obvious challenge faced in managing distributed teams is the fact that you are not where they are. Even with all the new technologies, talking face to face remains the best form f communication. There are many forms of communications in projects – the truths, the half truths and the outright guesses. When you are managing the deliverables, you need to be on top of what is what. While this is not an insurmountable obstacle, it is a rather expensive one to mitigate. People work best with people they have known personally. They are more likely to be upfront with realities, than someone they find hard to relate with.

Working in different time zones also amplifies the problem. As an example, I work out of New Zealand and work with people in the west coast of the United States. During the southern hemisphere summer, it is reasonably workable, with abou 5 hours overlap. However, we lose a day. So we get about 20 hours during the week. In winter, during the Pacific Daylight Time, the overlap is as little as 12 hours. Our other base is in India, which starts work as we are leaving for the day.

Work cultures vary in different parts of the world. That plays a significant part in bringing a team together. New Zealand has a very relaxed working environment and an excellent work life balance. This is not to say, Kiwis are lazy by any nature. A lot of our innovation comes from this part of the world. I find Americans are much more intense with their work and put in significantly longer hours. Consequently there is always possibility of conflict if the teams perceive each other to be too pushy or too relaxed. Work cultures also vary in how people communicate bad news (or how they do not). While you do not want bad news in projects, if it does  pay to get it early.

If you are indeed managing people from all the different locations, the likelihood is you are not their direct line manager. They are each likely to have their own line managers to keep happy. This in itself is not uncommon in a project scenario. Temporary assignments from operational teams is a routine occurrence. It is quite different when you are not there to ensure the story you get is the reality, rather than the party line.

You can alter your usual working hours to accommodate additional collaboration between the teams. You can utilize advanced telecommunications to give a feeling of co-location and one team culture. These are all good measures, but intermediate ones. The more the teams are isolated, your picture will be less realistic and you will struggle to enforce uniform processes across the teams. The only way to bridge that gap is to ensure regular face time.

If it s important enough to have distributed teams, it is important enough to ensure effective management.

How do I make sense of chaos?

Snowfall around Beehive (NZ Parliament) - courtesy

Snowfall around Beehive (NZ Parliament) - courtesy

I’m sitting in a transit lounge while I write this post. I’m heading to Los Angeles to undertake programme planning for three major pieces of work we’re delivering to our clients over the next twelve months. I was supposed to leave Wellington last night. If anyone has seen the news recently, Wellington has been hit by once in a 50 year snowfall, which has unravelled my travel plans. As I sit here in the lounge and kill plenty of idle time, it occurs to me, actually this is not too dissimilar to projects and programmes. How you may ask … read on.

If you think about it, going to LA is not really a task, it is an activity undertaken to achieve some outputs (planning for the programme of delivery). Any time you travel, one of the risks you must take into account is disruptions. In effect, it is just a project risk that I need to take into account. The fact that weather was going to be marginal, wasn’t obvious at the time of planning. However, as the travel was nearing, it was looking likely that I needed to actively monitor the risk and set out some responses. In order to transfer some of the risk, we had purchased travel insurance (corporate). At the same time, I was thinking of mitigation plans, in case disruption happened.

It appeared everything was on track, until about an hour before my flight out of Wellington. A sustained period of heavy snowfall whitened the runway and Air Traffic Control had closed all landings and take-offs. I knew I had no chance of catching my connecting flight out of Auckland even if the runways were opened again. I was straight on to the reservations to ensure I was first to get re-booked on to connecting flights for the following day. I also wanted to mitigate a further risk of not making the connecting flight again, thus rendering the travel less beneficial. This time, I ensured I took an earlier flight to Auckland, allowing me plenty of opportunity to re-book if necessary.

All done, it is now time to head back home for the night. As I come out, gale force southerly were lashing outside. There were thousands of people queued and not a shuttle or taxi in sight. I had to make a quick decision, to ensure I got home in time to get a decent sleep, so I could start my travel again in the morning. I decided to hire a rental car for the night and head off. This is no different to projects, where you have to take decisive action to ensure success.

All the planning that I do for projects and programmes, is to ensure that I don’t have to wade through this amount of chaos 🙂 Wish me luck.

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