Project Management in Practice

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

Tag Archives: Project and Program Management

Managing Projects Better

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.

What do I do in a failing project


I was reading a report from Keith Ellis from IAG Consulting that only one in three software development projects in the US actually makes it to completion. Larger the organisation, higher the chance of cancellation. Regardless of the reasons behind the cancellations, it means as a project manager, time will come when you will have to deal with a project that is headed south. What do you do when you find yourself in such a scenario?

In my experience, the first casualty of any project going in the wrong direction is documentation. This is the most fatal mistake of all if done with project management artefacts. Once things start going downhill, you as the project manager is the one under the gun, regardless of reasons. You are the easiest scapegoat.

The only way to protect yourself is to ensure that you capture all decisions made in the project. The odds are, many of them will have been made by people under or over you, for operational and strategic decision. While you can influence decisions made by people under you, you may or may not have decisions coming from above you. Get into the habit of building a dashboard early in the project and update each week with actuals. Use a standard repeatable technique to analyse the health of your project. I use the Earned Value Analysis technique. Use something that you trust.

If you are in a project where resources are contested, clearly outline the resources that you require to deliver within the tolerances afforded to you in terms of time, scope, budget, risk, quality etc. If resources are pulled from your project, clearly articulate the affect of that in delivery terms. Measure that to time delayed or cost added. I find if you can equate it to a dollar value, it clearly gets the attention of management.

Run a strong and vigilant risk and issue register. Make it visible and encourage your team to actively participate in it. In my view lack of focus in this area is usually a cause of many projects sinking. While you cannot foresee every risk, a good project culture will ensure your team will pick up more than you think.

Remember, cancelling the project is not always a failure. There can be many reasons why the project may no longer be desirable now. Things may have changed from when the project started. If you have done your job well, you can be really successful by ensuring a project does not continue to meander along, wasting time and money when there is no possibility of achieving the benefits it was conceived to achieve.

Big obvious cock-ups will claim its victims in spectacular fashion. Those are highly visible and unlikely to take your scalp. It is the slow bleeds that you need to prevent. No one remembers those and when a scapegoat is required, you’ll be wearing the cross-hair.

The project management religion


I was talking to a fellow project manager today discussing how our projects are run. During the discussion it was apparent that I was speaking to someone that had very clear views on how projects should be run. So much so, that all things needed to run in a very prescribed manner.

I was intrigued at such a dogmatic nature of his management style. So I probed more about some of his reasons behind his approach. To start with, my intention was to understand if I was missing something by not following a methodology in such a strict manner. Suddenly the shutters went up and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was a discredit to my profession for having the temerity to ask questions of such nature.

The project manager I was following PRINCE2, something very close to my heart. I pointed out that one of the principles of the methodology is to tailor it to the project. That was indeed the last straw and the end of the discussion. This whole episode reminded me of people that preach religion. If you ask any questions, they look at you as if it is so obvious and you should be so grateful to receive the message. If you ask a legitimate question, they start getting defensive. If their particular argument has merit, they should be able to articulate that.

All the major religions in the world teach the same things – love for others, consideration for all, humanity, rights of people, taking care of the ill, poor and the less fortunate etc. Each have their own way of getting there. Similarly, project management practice has many methodologies. Mostly they provide similar guidance. Treat project management zealots in the same way you would treat the religious zealots. PRINCE2, PMI, agile … these are equally appropriate methodologies to meet your objectives.

Tailor the methodology to suit the project, don’t shoehorn the project to fit the methodology. That will be utter madness!

What impact does modern communication have on project management?


Yesterday, I was looking at the PRINCE2 manual for a highlight report content for a project. As I was doing my reading, I found myself going through some other topics before I got to the specific topic I was looking for. Suddenly,  occurred to me that I could just use a Google search to quicken the process. That got me thinking … how does technology and modern communication methods impact project management practices?

I am one that prefers reading books as a way of learning. A good thing about books is that you don’t necessarily find what you are looking for at the first glance. In search of highlight report content, I ended up reading some other materials within the manual. This is knowledge I gained or refreshed, which I did not set out to. Using a search engine like Google would have meant I would never had the reason to learn what I did. Downside is that it took me longer to get to my objective. Depending on your point of view, this could be a good thing or bad.

The odds are if you have found this blog post, you have come through a search engine. What that opens up is access to a range of opinion that was previously only accessible through your professional networking. In the case of new project managers it was a significant barrier to professional development. While you now have a significant resource pool, it is difficult to verify the track records of the bloggers. The key here is to use your own judgement. Do not take any particular opinion as gospel.

New media has also changed the mindset of consumers. People no longer expect to be fed information. Projects are much more collaborative and agile than ever before. People need to feel they are engaged, rather than being dictated to. This enables opportunities for a lot of delegation of responsibilities to ensure appropriate handling of project execution. This however has introduced additional challenges in monitoring and control. At the same time, it makes it much more practical to manage the projects through real time logging and tracking of issues and risks.

Like all other aspects of life, new communication media is changing the way we manage projects. People do things differently now than they used to previously. The pace of change is quicker now than ever before. As project managers, we manage projects and by extension people within them, to get a successful outcome. We need to be adaptable to ensure we run with the times.

It is neither better nor worse … it is just different.

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