Budget owners and budget managers

Are project managers accountable for potential overruns in the costs of their projects?

This is a typical question that appears frequently in conversations between PMs. In my opinion PMs must:

  • obtain estimations of the whole costs of the project
  • determine the budget for the project
  • obtain the funds from the sponsor
  • agree with the sponsor on how to control the costs of the project
  • ensure that there is a system to track all the costs of the project and that it is properly used
  • inform periodically all the relevant stakeholders about the actual costs (vs the planned ones)
  • manage change requests and obtain approvals (or not) if additional costs are required

In big organizations there are usually sponsors and executive sponsors.

Executive sponsors are the ones who own the budget.

They provide the funds and guide the project in order that it delivers results according to the strategy. However these kind of people are usually very busy and is not easy to get access to them. It is important to ensure that thay delegate some functions in the ‘simple’ sponsors.

Sponsors are less senior people but frequently more prepared to understand technical details and with enough availability to dedicate time to the project in a regular basis. It is important to identify one of them in your project and to obtain their commitment to support you as a PM.

Sponsors do not own the budget but they have authority to manage it.

They are the ones that can follow with the PM the day to day of the project, read the updated cost reports and even approve some limited additional costs. They make the life of the PM easier and are crucial for the project success.

What is your experience with sponsors? Have you identified these 2 roles in your projects? Do you have this kind of sponsors in your organization?

 

Budget owners and budget managers

Leaders, managers and project portfolio

Have you ever been working in a project and asked yourself if doing this project was the best way to use the resources of your organization?

Have you ever been working in a project and asked yourself if that project had been correctly assessed before it was assigned to you as a PM?

Organizations, even the biggest ones, have limited resources and different kinds of opportunities. The leaders must decide which opportunities are the ones that their organizations must pursue. Managers job is to deploy those projects in the most efficient and effective way. And PMs are managers.

Organization leaders decide ‘that a road must be built’. Project managers do it the best way possible.

But even if the project that has been defined by the leaders is the best way to catch up an opportunity a proper assessment on organization capacities and capabilities is required before the kick off:

  • Do we have the required resources (profiles) for the project?
  • Will they be available when needed?
  • Is the organization ready to receive the deliverables of the project?
  • Are the stakeholders ready to support the project?
  • Is the organization ready to sustain the results of the project after the delivery?

It is frequent that organizations run into a project because of different reasons: business opportunities, pressures of internal lobbies, to follow the trends,… but it worths to loose some time before the beginning of a project to answer this kind of questions than noticing that the organization is not ready once you have wasted a lot of time and resources.

What is your experience regarding this topic? Do you feel reflected by this kind of situations?

Leaders, managers and project portfolio

3 ways to manage difficult Project Sponsors

The role of the project sponsor is key in the success of a project. The sponsor must ensure the alignment of the project with the strategy of the organization, he must champion the project in front of other senior managers and provide ongoing direction as the project evolves. And his responsibility does not end when the project finishes; he must also ensure that the client makes effective use of the project deliverables to achieve the results planned in the business case.

So the role of the project sponsor is strategic; she must be an enabler to create the conditions for the project team to work successfully and let the project manager the day-to-day execution.

However, many times project sponsors do not have the skills, the experience or just the awareness of their duties regarding the project and how they can affect its final outcome. What can we do as project managers to:

  • detect this risk for the project
  • help the sponsor to fulfil his/her obligations

Find out sponsor’s expectations on the project

In a subtle way, a communications and risk assessment strategy con be prepared so that the PM can adapt his/her approach and communication methods to obtain the maximum support from the sponsor. An effective approach is to ask open questions to the sponsor in your first meeting with him, like: ‘What are your expectations for this project? What kind of risks would you consider? What is the level of priority of this project in your strategy? This kind of approach will allow you to learn more than by asking closed and very focused questions.

Early discovery of the sponsor capabilities and capacities

During the first meetings with the sponsor it is important also to assess his capabilities regarding this role and also his capacity to assume the workload that it involves. It is common that  sponsors are very busy executives who have a full time ordinary activity and the sponsorship of a project is something added to their usual job.

Moreover the interest in the project by the sponsor is critical an should not be taken for granted. Sometimes there are sponsors who are assigned to a project just because there must be a sponsor or because the project outcome is somehow related with their function. This situation will affect the project day-to-day and the involvement of the sponsor in the project.

The sooner the situation is detected the earlier the project manager can start preparing a plan to manage the risks. One possible option is helping the sponsor build his/her sponsorship competencies by framing possible solutions to the problems you escalate and explain the options.

The Project Sponsor as a facilitator

Finally, it is important to confirm that the sponsor understands that he should not interfere in the day-to-day  of the project. The project manager is responsible for this. The sponsor would better be a facilitator that helps the project manager and provides the necessary organizational support needed to make strategic decisions and create a successful outcome from the project.

What is your experience? Have you ever had to deal with a difficult sponsor? What was your strategy?

 

3 ways to manage difficult Project Sponsors

4 situations where the communication channel matters

Communications are the area where project managers spend most of their time. It is a complex and important area because interacting with people is complex and because it significanty affects the way others see the project, their perceptions.

Choosing the most appropriate communication channel in each situation is crucial to be successful in critical situations.

In general, we have synchronous communication tools, like phone, videoconference, personal meetings or just conversations in the corridors. And also asynchronous tools like email. Chat could be considered a mix between both; it is supposed to be synchronous but many people use it asynchronously.

Let’s analyze some situations now and get some insights about the prefered channels in each case:

  • There is a serious problem in the project. It must be solved urgently as it will affect seriously the delivery date or the quality or the costs of the project.
    • Direct conversation with the client or the project sponsor. Prefered channel: formal or informal personal meeting. If not posible, video conference (the posibility of seeing you increases the chances of success because it transmits also non verbal language) or phone call.
    • After the conversation write an email to confirm the agreements.
  • There is a misunderstanding with a remote collaborator related with specific details of a technical issue.
    • Email with the details followed immediately by a video conference or phone call to clarify.
  • A decision about an issue must be taken by a group of stakeholders. It is a very open point where different approaches could be valid.
    • Meeting with all the involved stakeholders, preferably in person. Alternatively a video or audio conference could be an acceptable option.
    • Follow up email with the minutes of the meeting and the summary of action points agreed upon.
  • One of the project stakeholders disagrees publicly with you and uses an email with many other recipients in the loop.
    • Call him, or better meet him in person, and try to solve the issue directly with him.
    • After the meeting go back to the email and share the conclusions with the rest.

What do you think about the approaches to these situations? Have you been involved in any of them or a similar one? How did you manage it? Did it work?

4 situations where the communication channel matters

Do’s and don’ts when taking over a troubled project

When you become a senior project manager there are more chances that your boss or other managers may trust you when they face a troubled project and need you to bring it back to the path of success.

If they trust you for such kind of mission critical tasks you must be proud. But, after the first moments of increased self-esteem, what do you have to do in order to not deceive the confidence they are placing in you? And what should you avoid?

The following list reflects some points I consider as we must do or avoid in these situations:

The Do’s

  • Set stakeholder expectations
  • Read, look and listen (contract, project requirements,…)
  • Talk to every team member individually and grasp its vision of how the project arrived to that situation
  • Formulate what must be changed
  • Work with the team with new baselines and deliverables definition
  • Reschedule
  • Follow-up the project continuously (advance versus estimations, costs, …) and act immediately in case of deviations
  • Be transparent with the team about the consequences of continuing with the previous  ways of working and get their commitment to apply the changes
  • Change any team member uncommited or who is in a negative mood about the project (that might be spread to the rest of the team)
  • Look for improvements in the project and praise the team for them
  • Catch immediately any undesired behaviour and correct it

The Don’ts

  • Do not make commitments until you have obtained the full picture of the situation
  • Do not badmouth the previous project manager. It is not professional and your client (internal or external) does not need to have transparency of your internal problems
  • Do not criticize publicly any team member (praise in public, criticism privately)
  • Do not exchange quality for speed

 

This is my list but I am sure it can be improved with your comments. I’d love to read your comments and update it with your personal experience.

 

Do’s and don’ts when taking over a troubled project

4 bases to implement Kaizen in project management

Sometimes it is hard to stablish a system of continuous improvement in a project management office (PMO). A kind of discipline is needed to find out new ways of doing things better in a systematic way.

There are 4 bases that may help us in this challenging process: the use of foundational principles, a systematic approach, to become a learning organization and to be aware and overcome the obstacles.

Foundational principles

  • Let’s think about how can we make something happen instead of why it cannot be done
  • Develop a continuous change mindset
  • Use the 5-whys or other similar tools to find the root causes of the problems
  • Measure what you do to be able to notice if you improve

We must take the time to understand why things went wrong, measure successes and failures, and document them along the way. The wisdom must be accessible to others as well.

The Kaizen approach is to start the change, or the improvement, and build on it over time, rather than to expect perfection from the start. Project managers must focus on doing the job a little better each day.

 

Systematic approach to continuous improvement

It is not just about a mindset. To obtain results we must make changes, create new habits and do it in a systematic way. These six steps may be of help:

  1. Select opportunities. In your projects, set improvement milestones.  Chose the areas where less effort might have the greatest impact. Involve all the team in this point, in the second one and in the fourth one too.
  2. Find and analyze the root causes of the problems.
  3. Determine the required level of performance.
  4. Define solutions and plan tasks. Every task must have a person responsible of it and a deadline.
  5. Deploy the action plan and evaluate the results against the desired performance.
  6. Improve or change the solutions if the results do not provide the expected level.
  7. Find new opportunities.

 

Learning organizations

Learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. (Peter Senge)

Continuous improvement is strongly connected to learning organizations. To become a truly learning organization you need to continuously improve.

 

Obstacles to grow as a PMO

What kind of obstacles may limit our ability to grow as a learning PMO?

  • Isolation. Every project manager works in her/his projects disconnected from the rest of project managers. The improvement efforts are not coordinated.
  • Lack of reflection. The rush to move to the next project or to the next project phase or task.
  • Attitude. In this point we might include the lack of interest in improving the organization and also the systematic denial of problems existence.
  • Lack of support from the leaders. The leaders of the organization and the PMO Manager must not just support but encourage their teams to continuously learn and improve.

In order to support the improvement in project management it should be a duty of the PMO to provide a systematic framework to help the project teams to learn and improve.

What is your opinion? Do you have this kind of continuous improvement framework in your organizations?

 

 

4 bases to implement Kaizen in project management

Mixing Agile and Waterfall aproaches for projects

Many organizations have decided that there is no need to choose between Agile and Waterfall aproaches to manage projects. There is a sinthesys solution than can be tested in some environments.

The project management world has followed a triad evolution, as in Hegel’s dialectical method. Waterfall was the thesis, Agile the antithesis … and now there are approaches that try to be a kind of synthesis of both models. A logical evolution.

 

Mixed approaches

How can agile and waterfall be combined?

There are differents approaches to achieve the convergence of both mindsets:

 

Benefits of a mixed system

What are the benefits of these kind of approaches?

Probably there will be people used to work in ‘pure agile’ or ‘pure waterfall’ environments who will say that these approaches are just a perversion of the core values of their project management systems.

Nevertheless I think there might be situations where these options may be valuable:

  • Organizations who are transitioning from waterfall to agile and vice versa and need to remain in an intermediate step for some time instead of moving directly from one environment to the other one.
  • Organizations where the top management is used to deal with waterfall project managers and whose development teams have found that they achieve a better performance being agile.
  • Complex and big projects where there is part of software development and part of hardware or infrastructure deployment.

 

What is your opinion? Have you tried any hybrid approach to project management? What were the results?

Do you know any other hybrid approach to project management? I would like to know more about it, please add comment with your explanation.

 

 

Mixing Agile and Waterfall aproaches for projects