Sunday, May 3, 2009

Help! My project has gone pear-shaped

How often as a project manager have you had to pick up the pieces of a project that has become a disaster zone?

Let’s look at some figures:
In 1997 KPMG Canada surveyed public and private sector IT organizations. Over 61% reported project failure and more than three quarters overshot their schedules by 30% or more.

Similarly, The Chaos Report by the Standish Group found that 31% of projects get cancelled before completion. 53% of projects will cost over 189% of their original budget and only 16% of software projects are completed on-time and on-budget.

What makes a project go bad?
Projects can go awry for a whole range of reasons. Our experience tells us that the main reasons are not technical ones – they are more an element of ‘the human factor’ such as:
• inadequate planning
• lack of skilled resources at the right time
• unclear lines of communication
• conflicting priorities among project team members – usually between 'project work' and their normal job

How can you bring a project back on course?
It sometimes seems like an impossible task to get a project back on the right track with everything seemingly against you.

Don’t despair – there are a few steps that help you get the project back on track in a coordinated manner, without throwing an endless pool of people or money at the project.

First – don’t panic! Stop and take stock of the current state of the project’s performance against its outcomes.
o What was the original scope and how does this relate to what has been delivered to date?
o What is the budget versus the actual spending on the project to date?
o Review project plans – are they still appropriate? Have there been contextual changes you need to account for?
o What resources do you have? Do people know what they should be doing? Are they working efficiently and effectively?
o What are the issues that have brought the project unstuck? Are there appropriate governance and controls in place?

Second – report the current state to the project sponsor, executive or manager. People often don’t want to acknowlege bad news. They may be embarassed or ultra-sensitive. However, if you don’t get support – at this critical time – to take corrective action, the project may be unrecoverable. This is the time to use your good communication skills and be assertive.

Third – devise a recovery plan. Treat it as if you are planning the project from the beginning. The only difference is that much work will have already been done. To do this:
o Identify what deliverables need to be produced
o State what processes and QA checks need to be put in place.
o Reprioritise and focus on the important issues and drop the 'nice to haves'

Fourth – identify resource requirements. Be realistic – otherwise you will end up back where you started. Re-establish individual priorities and what each person needs to do. Devise ways to keep team members accountable for the outcome. Most importantly, include ‘time out’ in the plan so team members don’t have to work 24/7.

Fifth – measure progress! Schedule regular status update and briefing sessions (not more than 15 mins) with all key project team members. This may need to be one or twice a day initially.

Sixth – lead the team from the front. Demonstrate your own commitment and the team will follow.

Avoid trouble through sound planning
The best advice or course is to take advantage of industry best practice and utilise a tried and tested project management methodology such as ‘Prince 2’.

Of course, there is no substitute for good planning up front including a risk assessment and treatment plan so you are ready for all eventualities. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Do you take risks or manage them?

What is Risk Management?

The Australian and New Zealand Standard for Risk Management AS/NZS 4360:2004 defines risk management as: “the culture, processes and structures that are directed towards realizing potential opportunities whilst managing adverse effects”.

Why manage risk?

Managing risk is not just about going completing the (often prescribed) Risk Management Plan then putting it in your bottom drawer and forgetting about it. Ongoing Risk Management is a business activity of vital importance for all organisations – Government and private.

Organisations that effectively manage project risk have a greater likelihood of achieving their objectives and desired results. Done well it minimises losses from negative outcomes and identifies opportunities to improve project results.

No matter what the size, every project will at some time be exposed to risk. Risks can be direct, physical problems such as illness, floods or fire damage, theft or vandalism. But risk can also be less obvious and direct such as poor decision making, poor recruitment processes or investing in inappropriate technology.

Risk Management Workshops

There are many ways to consider risks to your project but an efficient, tried and tested method frequently used is that of the Risk Management Workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to identify, assess and prioritise risks and plan appropriate treatments. The workshop is usually conducted with representatives from the project team, key stakeholders and clients – in fact anyone who can offer constructive insights into likely project risks and their possible treatments.

Types of project risk

An efficient risk management workshop uses models and processes to identify and assess risk. Both internal and external risks should be identified and examined. One model used to assist in identification of external risks is P.E.S.T.L.E – an acronym for: Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Legal, and Environmental.

Project teams should first conduct some research to identify the extent to which any of these external elements might impact. A good example (of political) would be the impact of the recent election on Government project spending.

A model for identifying internal risks consists of:
  • Benefits Delivery,
  • Project Delivery,
  • Corporate,
  • Design and
  • Critical Success Factors.
Benefits Delivery asks the question: "What are the threats to my project successfully delivering the benefits expected?" This might include: How well known is the project’s 'big picture'? How well is the need for change accepted by those impacted by it? Has a compelling case for change been made – is there commitment? Are unions involved and are they supportive? How well is the organisation primed for change? Are the support functions -- HR, Finance, IT, etc - actively involved and supportive?

Project Delivery risks are risks to the project processes being successfully implemented. They are subject to frequent change. They cover: understanding of the business and knowledge of business requirements; availability of design and development skills; knowledge of technology; timeframe (is it sufficient) and consequences of failure.

Corporate risks relate to the client organisation and include: financial risk (eg debts or revenue); security – especially of technology; the ‘risk appetite’ of the organisation (some industries are typically more tolerant of risks than others); existence of formal risk structures; customer/staff loyalty risks; competition risks.

Design risks deal with unintended results of project solution. Throughout the project, staff will join and leave. These might be managers, analysts, trainers, consultants or others. They may not have been in place when key decisions were made regarding project solution and implementation. Design risks include: assumptions, contract changes, rule breaches, training lapses, lack of understanding of what things mean.

By their very nature, critical success factors are a key source of risk. The are those factors that need to exist or go right for the project to succeed which are outside the control of the project manager. They include project funding and resource availability (such as the right staff at the right times).

Assessment, Prioritisation and Treatment

Once all project risks have been identified the workshop will work through all the risks first assessing the likelihood of occurrence and impact of each risk on project outcomes. From here teams are able to prioritise risks in terms of urgency and importance. Some risks will be deemed to be acceptable while others will require action to either reduce the likelihood or the impact of the risk, or both. From here a Risk Treatment Plan can be developed and actions brought into the Project Plan for completion.

Reviewing risks

It’s not enough to just hold one workshop, prepare the plan and be done with it. Both internal and external factors are subject to change – sometimes without warning. For this reason risks need to be reviewed on a regular basis. It is suggested there be a core sub-team specifically convened to keep an eye on project risks. For complex projects this should be done fortnightly, for smaller projects monthly or quarterly is sufficient.

Become a Risk Manager

Organisations world-wide are recognising that effective risk management is good business. For project managers experienced in successful risk management, there is now a certification that acknowledges skills in and knowledge of risk. The Risk Management Institution of Australasia (RMIA) now offers a Certified Practicing Risk Manager that PMs can undertake that will add to their capacity to attract interesting, challenging and high paid positions to strengthen their careers.

6 Success Factors for Managing Project Quality

Commentators have differing views on what constitutes a quality project. The generally agreed parameters are that it delivers the desired outcomes on time and within budget. Through our long experience, the Transformed team has identified 6 key factors that improve project quality.

See the full article here

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Welcome to the Transformed Blog!

Hi everyone. Welcome to the Transformed Blog. Over the coming months we will be adding a range of answers to Frequently Asked Questions that are encountered by project managers.