Solution to the Project Management Dilemma

So how can association sustain the benefits of project management, and avoid the problems?

Generally speaking, project management in many associations needs to be brought back into the fold. Although every organization has a unique set of circumstances, there are common high level actions to be taken:

  • Expand the current definition of project management to take a more holistic view of projects from the very infancy of an idea, through business casing and approvals, through the traditional domain of project management, to a deliberate post implementation review.
  • Tier your projects based on criteria that are important to your association, and right-size the project management process so that not all projects are created equally. The discipline and rigor applied to each initiative needs to be commensurate with the relative importance of the initiative.
  • Provide basic training for all the players in project management including sponsors, internal clients, and end users.

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Project management has come a long way, but we need to take deliberate steps to ensure that it continues to add value. Successful PM should create just enough process to meet objectives and present itself in the form of useful tools rather than bureaucracy.

When Project Management Takes on a Life of its Own

Any organization looking to make major changes, or add new products or systems, has found tremendous benefit in project management. Over the past decade, organizations have directed substantial resources to the project management discipline. The process and skill-set has matured and improved dramatically and has been so successful that project management has taken on a life of its own.

Through powerful Project Management Offices (PMO’s), the discipline has grown as an increasingly stand-alone entity disjointed from strategy, innovation, and resource allocation. Many of today’s PMO’s lack the organizational context to add additional value to their organization and its goals.

 

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As project management becomes increasingly disjointed from both strategy and operations, many organizations have experienced painful side effects. With project managers and PMO’s pushing for greater autonomy to practice their craft, internal clients treat them more like a supplier than an internal partner. This more distant relationship, coupled with ever increasing expectations to deliver more for less, has led to a growing phenomenon of game playing between internal clients and project managers.

There are a multitude of scenarios, this is just one:

  • An internal client or user group defines a need to execute a project
  • The client and PMO define a reasonable set of business requirements necessary to achieve the objectives of the project
  • The Project Manager uses available information and due diligence to provide a reasonable estimate of dollars and time to deliver the project as defined by the agreed upon business requirements
  • The internal client pushes back on everything but the deliverables, with the general threat that if the project can’t deliver all the scope in a shorter time and for less money, then there won’t be a project
  • The PMO capitulates, and the project proceeds
  • The project goes off the rails, and the deliverables are cut to keep the project within budget and on time
  • The PMO presses the issue of the original estimate, the internal client pushes back again, and the PMO capitulates again
  • The project continues to fall off the rails and functionality continues to be pared down to keep the project on schedule
  • The project is delivered on time and on budget with a fraction of the required functionality, and Phase Two is born

 

This scenario may be familiar if you have experience with large organizations. The other common side effect is when an organization can execute projects well, but those projects aren’t necessarily aligned to the strategy. This is at the heart of the planning/execution gap that we talked about in a previous blog; and a portion of the blame is often traced back to a project management process that is disjointed from the greater operational context.

Next we’ll take a look at how to maintain the benefits of project management and avoid the problems.

 

Continued Insight on Communicating Targets During the Financial Planning Process

This week we have some continued insight to guide you through the financial planning process for associations, and help improve your skills when communicating targets. 

So What/Do What

Throughout the planning process, do your best to provide some line of sight between the targets being communicated, and the work that people are doing every day. The communication must make it plain to each and every person why they should care, and what, if anything they can do about it.

The Importance

Your communication must answer these questions:

  • Why is it important that we achieve these targets?
  • Will something bad happen if we don’t achieve them?
  • Will something good happen if we do achieve them.
  • How will that affect me personally?

The Accountability

Who is accountable for achieving the targets? Many people may have a responsibility to do their part to reach these targets, however it should be clear who is ultimately on the hook for their failure or success.

The Plan

Most importantly, the communication should tell everyone what plans are in place to address each specific target. Be sure to point out any gaps in the plan, or where future planning will be needed.

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Deadly Planning Mistakes: Planning to a Calendar Year

Some planning mistakes can damage an association’s ability to grow, improve, and change with the times – planning to the calendar year is one of them.

Whether or not we’re ready to admit it, 2016 is quickly coming to an end and time is running out to meet end of year deadlines.

If there’s one lesson to take away from the turmoil of end year stress, its that appropriate project planning can make all the difference. Associations need to create strong but flexible plans in order to keep up with a constantly changing, and often uncertain playing field. A plan that empowers leaders and employees to strengthen the organization’s values and visions while allowing room for adaptation. But how can a planning process do that if its arbitrarily forced into a calendar year? Sure, structure and discipline are important factors, but we don’t need to let the calendar dictate strategy and execution.

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The Reality of December 31st

For many organizations, the majority of their execution happens in the fall due to the dreaded deadline of December 31st. But is it ideal for these projects and initiatives to have a late fall execution, and a completion date of December 31st? Of course not. Depending on the type of project, it would have made perfect sense to complete for February 15th, or April 30th, or July 1st…you get the idea. An organization’s plan should adapt to the most sensible dates for each initiative, not the other way around.

December 31st, or March 31st as a fiscal year end, is not a magic project execution date. On a stand alone basis, most projects would be better executed on any other date.

 

Keep December 31st Open for New Years’ Eve Parties

When you compound the problems by the fact that so many projects are being executed in late fall for a December 31st deadline, the issues are even more pronounced. There are a variety of reasons why choosing December 31st is a poor date for project deadlines:

  • It falls in between 2 major holidays; Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  • Most staff and managers would like to take some vacation time during the Christmas break.
  • Most large organizations put a freeze on system implementations for at least the last week of December.
  • Projects are competing with each other for all kinds of resources.

Alternatively, help your association create an agile planning process based on a rolling 4 or 5 quarter horizon (or a rolling 12-15 month), that way execution can happen when it makes sense.

 

The Power of a Wiggle Proof Association Vision

Wiggle proof plans start with a vision for the association that is written as a guide for board and management rather than a marketing piece for your website. Every statement about the future must be challenged with the same questions:

  • How will we know we have arrived?
  • How will we measure success when we get there?
  • How will you and I be held personally accountable for the success or failure of achieving each part of the vision?

This is huge stretch for most associations and program areas because we have been trained to be vague about the future. We think visions need to sound good enough to put in a brochure or on our website. This isn’t true. We must endeavor to create a vision of the future that’s actionable and measurable. Whether it’s for yourself, your team, your program, or the entire association, your vision needs to compel people to do stuff and scare them a little at the same time. Whether it’s for your team or your entire association, building a bullet proof vision is the best way to start at the top of the pyramid to remove much of the permission that exists today for slow progress. Most people do not want to fail. If we make the path to a shared vision clearer, compelling and more measurable, most of us will follow that path.

Association Vision

Analysis Paralysis in Association Management: Caution or Curse?

Proceeding with no data can be careless, even foolhardy. Unfortunately, as you know, that happens all the time. That’s another kind of laziness altogether when we are just too lazy to perform reasonable due diligence to make an informed decision, so we make an uninformed one. We shoot from the hip. We’ll talk about that later.

Right now, I’m focused on the opposite thing. I’m focused on those situations where we keep asking for more data in hopes that the thing awaiting execution just fades away. Or like a court case, we create so much confusion that we sow reasonable doubt, and decision making is paralyzed.

Paralysis by analysis. Isn’t this really just another stalling technique? Isn’t this really just a form of high brow procrastination? Another way to keep backburnering something until it goes away? There are real fears hidden in this one. There’s the fear of making a decision that will turn out to be wrong. There’s the fear of making a well informed strategic bet. It’s a fear of relying on our experience and living up to our seniority to make an assumption. As association manager, as association executives, as the people running our organizations, this is what we get paid for. We are being paid to make well informed decisions, predict trends, make assumptions and take risks. We are being paid to make strategy.

Association Paralysis by Analysis

Association Risk Aversion: Is it Just an Aversion to Action?

Risk aversion. “We are a risk averse culture.” I hear this one on a regular basis.

I facilitate a lot of association strategy sessions with organizations of all size. Public companies, private companies, public sector, associations, and not for profits. A common occurrence in all those sessions is that I often find myself asking the same question: “why haven’t you tried this before?” At that point in the meeting when the clear objectives start to emerge, I might say something like: “This course of action seems like a good strategy for your organization and you are all in agreement. You have many of the skills and resources to accomplish what you are proposing.Why haven’t you tried this before?”

Someone will usually say: “That’s a good question. This is a very risk averse culture.” Big Pause. “We have never really dedicated the effort to figure out how to get started on this one.” Bingo. Let’s rename Aversion to Risk to “Aversion to Action.”

Association Risk Aversion

Fear of Failure or Fear of Hard Work?

Fear of failure is another one of my favorite euphemisms. Of course we are all afraid to fail and this fear could certainly be heightened in less enlightened workplaces where an overall culture of fear or intimidation is prevalent. In some organizations, people really are afraid to fail. That is not what I am talking about. I’m referring to situations mostly where the fear should be gone, but we just are not putting forward the effort to move ahead.

Let me give you an example. When I help associations define their strategy, we always try to identify a handful of strategic imperatives. Essentially, what are those 5 or 6 critical priorities that must be accomplished in the next 12 months if we hope to be on track to our vision? Invariably, most organizations define at least one or two strategic imperatives that start with the word “leverage.” “Leverage our member data.” “Leverage our XYZ system to maximize value.” This makes sense. We build systems and processes and practices and we just don’t use them effectively enough to get our value out. These things take time. But what would you think about a strategy where every single strategic imperative started with the work “leverage?” I know what I think. I think those organizations start a lot of things and don’t have the discipline to finish them and follow through to achieve their original objectives.

I suggest we rename fear of failure to fear of follow through.

Fear of Failure in Associations

Why do Associations Need Project Portfolio Management?

To ensure strategic alignment of Association Projects

The main goal here is to ensure that portfolios of projects truly reflect the association’s strategy; that all projects are on strategy, support the strategy, or are critical components of the strategy; and that the allocation of spending across projects, areas, and markets is directly tied to the association strategy.

To maximize the value of the portfolio for a given spending level.

That is, one selects projects to maximize the sum of the expected benefits of all active projects in the pipeline in terms of some business objective or strategic imperatives.

To see the right balance of projects … flows logically from the first goal, strategic alignment.

Right balance in terms of a number of parameters, e.g. long-term vs. short term, high-risk vs. low risk, across various markets, technologies, product categories, and project types.

To efficiently utilize constrained resources.

The organization is limited by the resources it can apply to the portfolio. PPM seeks to apply constrained resources to the projects providing the most value to the association.

Ultimately and most importantly, PPM improves chances of achieving strategic objectives and the association’s vision. Associations that recognize the need for disciplined planning also understand they need PPM to apply scarce resources only to projects that best help achieve their strategic imperatives.

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