Organizations can deliver projects that are on time, are within budget, and produce the results they are intended to -and it starts with project managers. Author Michael J. Bettigole, who has painstakingly studied the patterns and circumstances surrounding project success and failure, shares strategies to help project managers on the front lines accomplish their objectives.
In a clear, concise format, he shares best practices so project managers can demonstrate their expertise and distinguish themselves as leaders in the field. He also explores how project managers can
• improve communication with members of the team;
• keep team members accountable;
• provide assistance to fi x problems; and
• pick the management style that works best.
Organized by the topics that most directly affect project delivery-accountability, transparency, communication, governance, control, leadership, and tools-the advice is simple and easy to put into action. Numerous case studies on projects that succeeded and on those that went wrong help organizations duplicate victories and avoid pitfalls.
Whether you're a project manager or someone higher up in the organization, you can gather the tools you need to help your team get the job done right with A Pocket Guide for Project Managers.
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A Pocket Guide for Project Managers
Maximize People, Process, and Tools
By Michael J. Bettigole
iUniverseCopyright © 2014 Michael J. Bettigole
All rights reserved.
The Problems that Cause Projects to Fail
My life has been largely spent in affairs that required organization. But organization itself, necessary as it is, is never sufficient to win a battle. —Dwight D. Eisenhower
In many industries, including government, no matter what the economy is like, no matter how many hours are devoted, and no matter how bright the people on the team are, a certain percentage of projects will fail to realize the success of on-time, within-budget delivery. Many may terminate without reaching the (originally) intended goal.
What is it about all these ventures that causes such disappointing results?
I have studied the patterns and circumstances surrounding project success and failure for over twenty years, mostly in the financial services industry. I looked at big projects, small projects, global projects, multimillion-dollar projects, and mission-critical projects. What I found was a specific set of characteristics linking those undertakings that deliver on time, come in within budget, and achieve what's anticipated at the project's inception.
Accountability among project team participants is essential.
End-to-end communication must remain open and flow without extended downtime.
Achieving a proper level of transparency for all levels of management is a must.
A consistent governance and compliance model is key to repeatable success.
Proper project control is always needed to provide early assistance to troubled areas.
Active leadership is essential, combining an effective style with proven tactics to understand how to unlock the talent and expertise of the team in cohesive fashion.
The right tools can make all the difference, but there is no silver bullet. Understanding how to employ the right toolset, including methodology, is a critical component to success.
Accountability is maintaining responsibility for all aspects of delivery for a project, a program, or the effectiveness of a project management office. We all like to think that our team of professionals—most of whom carry impressive certifications—are and remain accountable to the mission, the sponsors, and the overall initiative. Most project management offices (PMOs) have little choice but to rely on said professionalism or on threats to ensure that everyone maintains their accountability.
The underlying reason for this lack of choice is that most project participants don't feel a sense of urgency to communicate their statuses. When and if they do, the updates are sanitized to ensure nothing is communicated or published that could reflect negatively on themselves or their group. There isn't a great conspiracy at work. It's human nature, but that doesn't remove the need to achieve the highest degree of accountability from all project team members throughout the life cycle.
Communication is conveying necessary information to needed parties at the right time and in a way that leaves little room for misunderstanding. Many years ago—and it may still hold true today—one of the two hundred questions on the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam was "Which percentage of a project manager's day is spent on communication?" Ninety percent was the correct answer.
When executing a project of any size or importance, it's difficult to overcommunicate to the project team. When everyone is aware of the big picture, knows what's going on, and feels connected to the decision makers, there is simply better participation and teamwork. However, when project members feel out of touch or out of the loop, productivity and morale suffer.
Most projects are managed through e-mail and spreadsheets. Ironically, many believe this is the very epitome of communication, when in fact these are some of the most inefficient methods to manage a project or a team. It is the project manager's job to ensure communication remains open and available to all the project participants. This includes access to appropriate documentation, such as the project plan and schedule, as well as meeting minutes and risk action plans. E-mail is a wonderful tool, but it does not replace the need for well-run meetings, a central repository for project documentation, and informal, personal interaction among project team members to share ideas.
Transparency, in the context of project management, refers to the ability of project participants, including sponsors and stakeholders, to maintain awareness and understanding of project details (issues, risks, dependencies, and constraints) as the project is executed and circumstances change. Without adequate transparency into the day-to-day operations of a project, project managers are at a disadvantage. They are unable to monitor items closely enough to ensure corrective action is taken early, when it is needed most. Senior management, as well as sponsors and stakeholders, are also at a disadvantage because their reliance on the project manager to raise risks and issues is compromised. Most PMO staff react to issues and manifested risks because they did not have sufficient forewarning of developing issues to position the team to take proactive action.
The benefit of increased transparency is the ability to take corrective action early, when it has the best chance of positively impacting project results. No one enjoys reporting bad news, but as the adage says, bad news early is good news. PMO staff, stakeholders, and managers need a better strategy to ensure everyone has the necessary transparency, rather than hope project team members provide all the needed details in a timely manner.
Governance is sometimes a scary word. In this context, governance refers to a set of standard practices, procedures, rules, definitions, and nomenclature that everyone within a team, logical unit, business area, or organization agrees to adopt. The benefit of a governance model is standardization, which permits everyone to speak the same language across different businesses, departments, or geographical regions.
Project managers, especially the seasoned ones, are sometimes reluctant to adopt a new governance model for fear it will introduce different, untested tools or methodologies that offer nothing more than a lot of overhead and little assistance to get things done. Fair enough. Most governance models do seek to impose standards, but this doesn't mean governance is a bad thing.
When properly administered, a good governance model is as simple as standard values. For example, Green = No Issues, Red = Major Issues. A governance model allows different project managers to use different tools but maintain an agreed vocabulary that doesn't require translation from one project to another or one region to another. Setting up and documenting standards allows everyone, no matter their geographic location, to operate independently while knowing their process, methodology, vocabulary, and definitions are understood by all. A well-defined governance model allows project managers to take over different projects with seamless transition in shorter time periods, thus ultimately reducing overhead on training and knowledge transfer. A good governance model can help us move closer to that Holy Grail of doing more with less.
Control is the ability of those in charge to take necessary action or make important decisions in order to provide course corrections when needed. It's not as daunting as it might sound. Sure, images of the PMO monster dictating policies and practices to the project managers may pop into your head when you think of project control, but this issue is much more subtle.
Every project is subject to ever-changing risks, scope creep, and issues that have potential to take matters in the wrong direction. It's the project manager's responsibility to present "actionable intelligence" to the appropriate people at the appropriate time. Maintaining control of a project requires the ability to drill down and spot problems before they become major issues.
The mantra "The higher you go, the fewer details are needed" highlights the need to be careful with the details you provide as you go up the chain of command. Senior leaders don't need to concern themselves with the nitty-gritty particulars of every task. However, if management doesn't have a mechanism to ensure accountability, transparency, and communication, supported by a proper governance model, then the ability to control a project is certainly lost.
Perhaps the most recent example of a project without adequate control was the failed launch of the Healthcare.gov website in October 2013. Despite the participation of talented people and a respected firm with plenty of experience, plus an impressive budget, the cross-functional project team lacked the necessary control to avoid a major disaster.
If a project manager does not know how to properly escalate problems to senior management, fails to understand the different types of escalation, and cannot determine when escalation is appropriate, then the ability of management to take necessary action at the proper time is further compromised. Knowing how, why, and when to escalate is fundamental to project control. There is more on proper forms of escalation in chapter six.
Leadership and Style
Leadership is the ability to create a vision, convince others that the vision is the right one, and coordinate disparate activities into a common cause through motivated commitment. I always imagine a project leader as a symphony conductor, responsible for making a wide breadth of instruments work together in harmony to produce pleasing music. A good leader knows how to coordinate the talents of many into harmonious collaboration. One's leadership style is a function of personality, experience, and mind-set.
Years of experience suggest that project managers are born and not made. Certainly, anyone can learn the essentials and practice the discipline to achieve a project manager position, and perhaps become very successful. However, not everyone can elevate the practice to new levels of effectiveness, efficiency, and leadership in a given organization. In the 1945 film Rhapsody in Blue, Oscar Levant, a contemporary and friend of George Gershwin, and a very accomplished musician himself, contrasted the early success of Mr. Gershwin with his own by saying they displayed the difference between genius and talent.
Project management requires a mixture of skill and talent. (Of course, genius doesn't hurt.) No matter how thoroughly you master project management methods, if you do not have the proper personality to deal with people, often at very chaotic times, then you will fail to coordinate them to act in harmony toward a common goal. Instincts play an important role when dealing with people, because so often the motivational factors that drive them and their behavior are already defined. The job of the project manager—or any leader, for that matter—is to uncover those motivational factors in order to create the best environment for individuals to succeed.
Every leader must develop his or her own management style, and that style is rooted in one's personality. There are many approaches and philosophies (McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y, Ouchi's Theory Z) that can assist with better and more effective management. The approach you choose, however, will have direct bearing on how people interact with you and whether or not they will take your call at five o'clock on a Friday.
There is a saying, "You can judge the character of a man by the size of the things that make him mad." This highlights the virtue of keeping focus on the most important things. Wisdom lies in knowing what to overlook and realizing that how you treat people is far more important than any project or deliverable.
There are quite literally thousands, if not millions, of project management tools available, and in most cases the right tool can make all the difference. Available in a variety of sizes, packages, and offerings, some are databases, some are calendars, some are task trackers, and some are collaboration portals, such as Microsoft's SharePoint.
With so many tools to choose from, selecting one that is appropriate, cost-effective, and accepted by the entire project team is often an intimidating task. Most tools come with the promise to erase organizational challenges, master scheduling, promote collaboration, open communication, and more. How do you pick from the plethora available? Are free tools less effective than those you pay for? Does success in one situation guarantee success in another?
Understanding how to evaluate project tools is the first step in selecting one that will help you prove to be a more effective project manager and leader. Fundamentally, there is no "right" or "wrong" tool. Tools are, rather, useful or not useful, and their usefulness can change as you move from project to project or from one organization to another.
The lack of accountability, communication, transparency, governance, control, and leadership are not the only problems that affect the success or failure of a project or a project manager. However, practice demonstrates that they remain at the top of the list.
Project teams often believe that sponsors are too disengaged from project execution and remain in ivory towers, unable to understand the trials the team must endure to make progress each day. There is a trickle-down effect of this belief that can manifest as disenchantment and a loss of alacrity. Addressing these problems with the right principles, values, and techniques, in any manner that works for your unique situation, will certainly add integrity to your efforts and usually result in delivery that is more successful.
The following pieces of advice were born from real-world situations spanning many, many years, extracted from many multimillion-dollar projects executed in Fortune 100 companies. They are based on observing people in different situations at different times in their careers, under wide-ranging circumstances, and applying age-old wisdom. In each case, the lessons learned helped deliver a more effectively managed project and distinguish individuals as leaders.CHAPTER 2
A leader is best when people barely know he exists. —Lao Tzu
Accountability, in the context of project management, means maintaining responsibility for the delivery of a project and the effectiveness of a project management office. It also means being answerable to those who hired you and depend on you. It means you're in charge. The project relies on you and your management. Here are some tips for managing accountability.
1. A project manager must organize, centralize, communicate, and execute the details of a project in order to chart the course to successful delivery.
2. A project manager's job is not necessarily to do the work, but to make sure the work gets done. Project sponsors and senior management rely on the project manager to be the single point of contact for all participants to ensure that work is completed. Coordination of the activities of different teams is part of a project manager's job description.
3. As project manager, you are responsible for everything that happens within the project. This means when things go wrong—and they will—you must accept responsibility and lead the recovery effort.
4. The project manager must do whatever is necessary to give each team member the greatest opportunity to accomplish his or her individual tasks. This means accepting a job description that might include things you have never associated with project management. At the end of the day, it is the project manager who assumes accountability for the outcome of the project, much like a captain on a ship. It is therefore essential that the project manager remain thoroughly engaged.
Excerpted from A Pocket Guide for Project Managers by Michael J. Bettigole. Copyright © 2014 Michael J. Bettigole. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Problems that Cause Projects to Fail, 1,
Chapter Two: Accountability, 10,
Chapter Three: Communication, 40,
Chapter Four: Transparency, 74,
Chapter Five: Governance, 91,
Chapter Six: Control, 111,
Chapter Seven: Leadership and Style, 131,
Chapter Eight: Tools, 165,