Friday, October 31, 2014

Right Solution, Wrong Problem

So you got selected for this great Director-level job, and you've been given the task of "implementing Project [or Portfolio or Program] Management.  It's our top priority this year". Straight from the horse's mouth, which is to say a very senior executive.  Yeah.  Congratulations, or something (h/t Glen Kessler, Washington Post). Now don't go all Messianic, and don't let your head swell.

First off, any organization whose top priority is to implement a fundamental supporting process is probably in big trouble.  Hopefully their top priority has something to do with the mission, or making money.  Is your sponsor really trying to snow you on Day One? Now this is not to say that PPFM wouldn't help; but we need to be very clear about what problem it is exactly that they think will improve through PPFM.  That will be your ticket to success.  

Here's your bedrock principle in the PPFM world: a PPFMO cannot be effective by trying to force an organization to change. It can only facilitate a change for which there is already a consensus (at least among the key influencers).  Remember "RTP" when you were preparing for the Big Test (whatever it was)?  Why wouldn't this be true in real life too?  Make sure that you Read The Problem; then your PPFM solution may turn out to be the right answer.

Unless you've invented an entirely new theory of business, you're not bringing to an organization that can afford to hire you anything that they don't already know about.
In the organization you are joining (or that has promoted you to this assignment), key people know perfectly well how to do alternative analysis, how to do scheduling, how to do budgeting and so on and so on.  You're not really there to show them how to do this.  You're there to implement something that until now they have chosen not to do.

So your number one question, beginning with the hiring interview if you get the chance, is to ask "what's different today?"
Until today, the organization has not needed or wanted to do structured decision-making or planning, nor hold people accountable.  Now it does.  What's different?
Be very skeptical of answers like "We want to be completely compliant with [XYZ standard]".   Really?  So what's changed to make that a priority?
Keep drilling until you get an answer that either makes sense or at least seems sincere.

"We had an inspection and they say we need to buck up our project management".  Sorry, not good enough.  Doubtless this sort of inspection has happened before.  What is different this time?  Perhaps the unit has a new manager, but unless there is something more behind it, the business inertia will overcome the new manager's enthusiasm.

What sort of answer would be acceptable?  One that sounds honest enough as to why they would feel a powerful need to make a change in the culture.

  • Our customers are losing confidence in us because it's obvious we are totally disorganized.
  • We are having a lot of turnover because our staff feels like they are just getting jacked around and they never can get anything accomplished.
  • Our investors are hesitant because they say they are nervous about our ability to deliver
The answer doesn't have to be totally, bet-the-company dramatic.  They can have a narrow scope as long as it is clear that the speaker really wants a real problem to go away.

  • "As the CxO, I am very frustrated that I never can find out what is going on.  I need better visibility.
  • We have work piled up in this one process and those guys just flounder back and forth from one thing to another as the senior execs yell at them.  I wouldn't mind waiting if I knew the work was going to get done eventually, and when".
Now you have an idea of what the scope of the PMO should be, at least initially. Solve a problem that people want to have solved, and they'll support you as you seek to extend your mandate to a more complete service.  Over-reach in the beginning and you'll remind people why they resisted this program management thing the last 4 times we tried it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

4 approaches to dealing with impossible budgets and deadlines

All too familiar? "We are going to do [fill in the lofty goal] and all we got was [barely enough for a Happy Meal]. There is not a moment to lose!" If you've been around the block at least once, this is a pretty familiar situation; take comfort in the idea that it isn't only happening to you.

This problem occurs just as much at the program or portfolio level as at the project level. This era of "Do more with less" has been going on since at least 1990, and it doe snot seem to have an end in sight. So we'll just ahve to deal with it.

Here are some approaches one could take.

(1) "You'll have to find someone else". That probably works fairly well for a business; a business can't afford to sign a contract that cannot be fulfilled. I can't say I actually know any individual PMs who have had the financial independence to risk trying this approach. Comments from those who did pull this off are very welcome.

(2) Stick to your guns. You've done the research into comparable work. You know that it will cost twice as much as the sponsor has been given, and it will take three times as long. get away been able . Given your research you can probably come up with a semi-decent estimate of an answer that is, if not right, then at least somewhere in the right ballpark. Now here's the problem: even if your sponsor agrees with you, even if you make the greatest business case presentation in the world, if the governance board has already divided up the money that it has, where is the extra tens of thousands you need going to come from? Now you're wasting the executives' time asking for something that just is not going to happen,, and as a result you won't get something you could have had.

(3) Roll over like a puppy.  Well, we did just say that standing up for your estimates wasn't going to work. "Maybe", you think to yourself,  "if we can just get this thing going then as we go along we can squeeze the numbers we want".  Good luck with that.  "You signed up for this", they will say.  And so they should.  If you try to do the impossible your team will just start losing interest.

None of these sound too good.  the last one better be a doozy.

(4) The Hybrid: Oh, come on, that what every consultant suggests? Pretty much.  But this one doesn't just split the difference.  First, work out what you can do with the money you think you're going to get.  Make it something useful.  Promise to deliver that, and only that, within the allocated time.  If you focus on what you will deliver, people won't dwell on what you will not do yet.  Now that you've got them in a good mood, tell them all the constraints and all the risks and the possible bill for all this if many of the quite-possible risks do occur.  Now your conscience will be mollified and you'll be able to concentrate of getting the job done rather than on reasons why it will not.

Anyone else had this experience?  Any better or related ideas that you've tried?