10 signs your project is in trouble

I was just reading a study of Project Failures which got me thinking about the warning signs. The following are true warning signs and issues I have had or witnessed in my Project Management career.

Project Frustration

You know your project is in trouble when:
1. The project team was just assigned but the customer wanted this 6 months ago. And the deadline isn’t changing from the original.
2. Your project team is very unhappy because the project has this overly aggressive schedule.
3. You have some team members that don’t like each other – to the point they are acting like 5 year olds asking you to remove the other team member. Time to provide a lecture on being a good team member (and acting like a grownup).
4. Your sponsor is nowhere to be seen – has completely dropped his or her sponsorship of the project.
5. One of the team members has developed a mantra: “I will have that done tomorrow”. This task was due last month!
6. The project contract has a specification that is tighter than the spec your team felt they could meet.
7. Your designer has kept a secret from you: that he doesn’t have a clue how to design the solution.
8. Your stakeholders selected the software – very thorough analysis of alternatives involving tons of people and tons of hours. They selected the application that will work much better than any alternatives. Unfortunately, that is not the application you are implementing. At the last minute an executive informed you that you were to buy one of the alternatives. He claimed that, as a company, we only purchase from this major software vendor.
9. Stakeholders are not happy about this change but they are happy to tell you they don’t want this change.
10. You day-dream a good deal about changing careers.

Men Rowing on Placid River

Some ideas around these project issues:
• Good risk management is important. At the beginning of the project work to determine what can go wrong and what you will do about each risk. This is not just for the PM to do but the entire project team will be valuable in working on this.
• Thorough stakeholder analysis and management will help avoid users that don’t want to use the new system or process.
• Research has shown that a project with no sponsor is more likely to fail that a project with a strong sponsor.
• Communication, communication, communication – with the project team, the sponsors, the stakeholders
o This includes communicating problems – along with what needs to be done to solve the problems.
• If faced with aggressive schedules make sure this is included in your list of risks. This is a difficult issue. The customer always wants it asap and meeting all goals and high quality and in budget. That is a daunting task!
What signs of project trouble have you had? And what did you do about it?

Super Sizing works for Fast Food – not business!

“Lean” organizations are so common today. Doing more with less is such a popular slogan. While the Portfolio of projects, initiatives and tasks is “super-sized”, the staff to complete all of this work is not big enough to get it all done. If resource demand is much higher than capacity, some things just aren’t going to get done, projects will fail, mistakes will be made and people are going to be very unhappy. This is a sure way to lose the best people.

Your organization will always have tons of ideas for improving business, improving processes or buying the latest technology. But you can’t do it all! However, you can stick to a very solid corporate strategy and prioritize what gets done based on the strategy.

Right-sizing the Portfolio of Projects and Initiatives:
1. Develop a clear, solid Strategy based on your organization’s core competency.
2. Communicate the strategy so that everyone knows how to translate the strategy into what gets done.
3. Develop a method to determine value of projects and initiatives (relate to strategy and other benefits to be realized).
4. Prioritize the portfolio of projects and match resource capacity and demand.

While your organization certainly is made up of superstars, they aren’t super human. There really are only 24 hours in a day and you really do have finite resources.

Are you achieving your Strategy? Lifecycle Process Management can help

The Business Need

Sound strategic planning is fundamental to achieving business objectives. Execution of the strategy is difficult and the complexities created by out of sync and competing activities, processes, functional groups and systems across the organization create many obstacles on the road to success. Constant change, corporate politics, functional silos and many other factors affect progress toward business objectives.

A sound business plan and clearly defined goals are essential, but the key to successful execution is understanding how to accomplish those goals. This paper looks at process relationships and information flow across the business from strategic planning to achievement of the strategy, from great ideas to benefits realization. To ensure the business efficiently and effectively achieves its strategy; the organization must optimize the outcomes from their processes across the entire life-cycle.

While organizations put emphasis on improvement of individual processes, improvement across processes and systems is often neglected. This big picture transformation is more difficult to tackle. Over time, standalone systems, functional stovepipes and constant change cause issues around data, communication, processes, systems and performance. While this task of analyzing and improving the full life-cycle is difficult, the results are very valuable to the organization.

The Life-cycle Answers:
• Strategic Planning – How can the organization succeed?
• Portfolio Management – What should we be doing to achieve our strategy? How do we maximize ROI?
• Project Management – How do we best achieve these things we should be doing?
• Operations – are we effectively putting the plans in place for ongoing operations?

The Business Issues

Virtually every organization has information fragmented in multiple repositories and enterprise applications. Many obstacles keep organizations from meeting their basic needs for efficient operations, strategic alignment and profitability. Common business issues include:

Process Issues:
o Inefficient
o Duplication of effort and disconnected processes
o No standardization, documentation or understanding of process
o Poor metrics and poor performance
Data Issues
o Insufficient or bad data
o Difficulty in obtaining data
o No authoritative source of data, duplicate entry
Technical Issues
o Insufficient applications and infrastructure to support best practice processes
o Disparate applications and systems

The Holistic view of the full life-cycle
Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Project Management, Program Management and Operations make up the life-cycle from concept to benefits realization. These processes exchange critical information. All of these processes contribute to achievement of strategy, thus are critical to business success.

Weaknesses in any of these areas will result in problems in the other areas as there is information feeds and dependencies between these functions. In addition, the processes in each of these major areas must be efficient and must provide quality information to the other areas.
Typical Process Area Issues:
• Strategic Planning – Objectives may not be clear and not understood by the organization and the Organization may not be able to interpret the strategy into what needs to be done.
• Portfolio Management – Many organizations don’t use objective criteria for investment selection which results in a Portfolio that is not optimized. The Portfolio may not be sized correctly to match resource capacity to demand.
• Project Management – There may be overlapping and redundant projects. There may be resource conflicts, priority conflicts and poor performance.
• Operations – Transition process may not be sufficient for a smooth roll-out. Rush to get to production can result in problems after roll-out.

The strategic goals are meaningless to the organization unless they are clear, understood by all and interpreted into the activities (Portfolio Management: selected projects) required to achieve the goals. This means that executives should not throw high-level strategic goals out to the organization with the directive to make it happen. Instead, they should have a clear idea of the major activities designed to meet the strategic objectives to ensure the organization is headed in the right direction. Leaders in Strategic Planning and Portfolio Management can work together to clearly connect the strategy with the required tactical activity.

Is it working? – Performance Management
Performance Management is an element in each of the processes as metrics and analysis are required to ensure each area is achieving its goals and to ensure benefits realization from the system as a whole. For decision makers, Portfolio Management will provide benefits realization metrics including financial benefits. Portfolio Management measures progress toward corporate goals based on the metrics for each goal and reports this information to Strategic Planning/Executives. For each Project, metrics will be established to ensure the project team is meeting the project goals. Project Performance is measured and analyzed to develop corrective actions and ensure risks are managed. This Performance information is reviewed in Project and Program reviews to ensure Project Management performance is optimized. Performance information is fed from the Project Management system to the Portfolio Management system (and/ or the Program Management system) to allow decision-making for the portfolio and programs. In Portfolio reviews, project performance is taken into consideration and failing projects may be stopped.

Where has this solution been applied and what were the results?

A division of a government agency required an analysis of all applications, systems, processes and data across life-cycle management. The analysis showed they had legacy systems that were no longer supported, high maintenance homemade tools (requiring frequent coding), applications that only had a handful of users, standalone applications for each process, data entered manually in more than one application and manual processes. The analysis led to corrective actions to eliminate or retire systems, automate and streamline processes and data feeds and implement a more robust infrastructure. An IT/ Process Roadmap was developed to provide the needed solution concept and plan.

A large company had merged many other companies into the organization. There were many scattered databases, duplication of effort, re-packaging of information for different levels of the organization, different databases, processes, and reports across the same functions. Excessive time was spent manually generating reports in preparation for management decision-making meetings. There were no standard project performance metrics across the enterprise. Portfolio management had been developed using a very complex process involving numerous Excel spreadsheets. A new life-cycle was designed to standardize and automate Project Management, Portfolio Management, IT Governance and Financial Management across the merged businesses. This solution brought all the data for these processes into a centralized database, providing greatly improved efficiency, improved data accuracy, cost and labor savings and elimination of non-value added work.

Building the Holistic Life-cycle Solution

How do you build the holistic life-cycle process to optimize sharing information across processes, eliminate duplication of tasks, and improve each process while optimizing across all processes? First, ensure high-level sponsorship with a clear understanding of the value of this effort from the top down. As this solution provides both strategic and tactical benefit and provides significant financial benefit, this holistic approach should be an easy “sell” to the leaders of the organization. However, the new life-cycle design may require breaking down barriers between functions and may bring major changes in governance and decision-making. Good Change Management planning can help ensure success of the new solution.

By mapping the current processes, systems and data flow, you will reveal gaps, duplications and problem areas. Analysis of this current situation will determine required improvements to establish the optimized life-cycle. Keep in mind that the goal is to improve individual processes as well as tying the processes together and developing good information flow and process coordination across the life-cycle.

This improved life-cycle will provide benefits of strategic achievement, a portfolio of investments with the highest ROI and improved efficiency across the organization. The transformation effort is not easy to achieve but well worth the effort.

Ten Factors that contribute to the Success of a Business

1. Good Strategy: Sound business strategy tied to organization’s core competency. Strategy is interpreted into what gets done in the organization and the benefits are being realized!
2. Good Employees. They are empowered to do an amazing job and always finding better ways to do things. The employees are good at solving problems. They like to come to work and you aren’t even bribing them with free stuff!
3. Outstanding Leaders. They inspire, they motivate. They know what they are doing and keep up with and handle change brilliantly.
4. Corporate Culture is healthy. People collaborate, brainstorm, share knowledge. People care about their work. Not too much politics. Performance metrics measure the right things – to ensure the organization achieves its goals. For the most part, people get along together well and they are positive, glass half full types.
5. The leaders are on top of things: The business thrives in its industry. Leaders understand their market, stay on top of the industry trends and changes. They understand how to deal with the issues of the industry.
6. The organization can handle constant change. The business has the structure in place to change strategy (and associated execution) when major change occurs in the market. The organization is flexible and adaptable. The organization is agile because it has processes, procedures and standards that are just right – not over done (too much rigidity and processes causing inefficiency) or under done (everyone just does whatever!).
7. The company is proactive, not reactive. Issues are anticipated. Risk is managed. The business is quickly solving problems and making sound, rapid decisions as required to succeed.
8. The organization has creative thinkers and innovators. They are coming up with better ideas than the competition.
9. There are no silos. The functional areas work together!
10. The organization has the information and data they need to make the best decisions at all levels of the organization.

This is my brainstorming on what contributes to corporate success. I would love to hear your ideas. And if some of them sound a bit idealistic, they probably are. I am in a positive mood so that’s where the idealism comes in.

From Concept to Benefit – Achieving Corporate Strategy

The Business Need
Sound strategic planning is fundamental to achieving business objectives. Execution of the strategy is difficult and the complexities created by out of sync and competing activities, processes, functional groups and systems across the organization create many obstacles on the road to success. Constant change, corporate politics, functional silos and many other factors affect progress toward business objectives.

A sound business plan and clearly defined goals are essential, but the key to successful execution is understanding how to accomplish those goals. This post looks at process relationships and information flow across the business from strategic planning to achievement of the strategy, from great ideas to benefits realization. To ensure the business efficiently and effectively achieves its strategy, the organization must optimize the outcomes from their processes across the entire life-cycle.

While organizations put emphasis on improvement of individual processes, improvement across processes and systems is often neglected. This big picture transformation is more difficult to tackle. Over time, standalone systems, functional stovepipes and constant change cause issues around data, communication, processes, systems and performance. While this task of analyzing and improving the full life-cycle is difficult, the results are very valuable to the organization.

The Business Issues
Virtually every organization has information fragmented in multiple repositories and enterprise applications. Many obstacles keep organizations from meeting their basic needs for efficient operations, strategic alignment and profitability. Common business issues include:
• Process Issues:
o Inefficient
o Duplication of effort and disconnected processes
o No standardization, documentation or understanding of process
o Poor metrics and poor performance
• Data Issues:
o Insufficient or bad data
o Difficulty in obtaining data
o No authoritative source of data, duplicate entry
• Technical Issues:
o Insufficient applications and infrastructure to support best practice processes
o Disparate applications and systems

The Holistic view of the full life-cycle
Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Project Management and Operations (with many processes under operations). All of these processes contribute to achievement of strategy, thus are critical to business success.

Weaknesses in Strategic Planning, Portfolio Management, Project Management or Operations will result in problems in the other areas as there are information feeds and dependencies between these functions. In addition, the processes in each of these major areas must be efficient and must provide quality information to the other areas. The table below provides the typical issues for each of the processes.

Function/ Process
Typical Process Issues
Strategic Planning
• Objectives not clear, not understood by the organization
• Organization is unable to interpret the strategy into what needs to be done
Portfolio Management
• Not using objective criteria for investment selection
• Selection criteria not clearly related to strategic tie and benefits realization
• Not sizing the portfolio correctly to match resource capacity to demand
Project Management
• Overlapping projects, redundant projects
• Projects not aligned with strategy and not meeting customer needs. Projects working at cross purposes
• Resource conflicts, poor project performance
Operations
• Transition process not sufficient for smooth roll-out
• Rush to get to production can result in problems after roll-out

The strategic goals are meaningless to the organization unless they are clear, understood by all and interpreted into the activities required to achieve the goals. This means that executives should not throw high-level strategic goals out to the organization with the directive to make it happen. Instead, they should have a clear idea of the major activities designed to meet the strategic objectives to ensure the organization is headed in the right direction. Leaders in Strategic Planning and Portfolio Management can work together to clearly connect the strategy with the required tactical activity.

Portfolio Management will determine the optimized Portfolio of investments based on analysis, valuation and prioritization of the business needs. To prioritize investments, a scoring model is developed based on the organization’s definition of value. The model will provide strategic alignment and will represent the benefit provided by the investment.

Portfolio reviews and analysis require up-to-date information from Strategic Planning, Finance, Enterprise Architecture, IT Governance and Project Management. Finance provides available budget information to be used in determining how many items in the portfolio can be funded. Enterprise Architecture provides capabilities and Enterprise Architect requirements used in Portfolio Management selection process while Portfolio Management provides portfolio performance to capabilities and requirements to Enterprise Architecture. In some organizations, IT Governance will utilize the investment scores to prioritize and grant funding to investments.

When funding decisions are complete, approved projects move to the Project Management process in the life-cycle. Project Management is complex and key to achievement of the business needs. Therefore, best practice processes are key to achievement of the corporate plans.

Performance Management

Performance Management is an element in each of the processes as metrics and analysis are required to ensure each area is achieving its goals and to ensure benefits realization from the system as a whole. For decision makers, Portfolio Management will provide benefits realization metrics including financial benefits. Portfolio Management measures progress toward corporate goals based on the metrics for each goal and reports this information to Strategic Planning/Executives. For each Project, metrics will be established to ensure the project team is meeting the project goals. Project Performance is measured and analyzed to develop corrective actions and ensure risks are managed. This Performance information is reviewed in Project and Program reviews to ensure Project Management performance is optimized. Performance information is fed from the Project Management system to the Portfolio Management system (and/ or the Program Management system) to allow decision making for the portfolio and programs. In Portfolio reviews, project performance is taken into consideration and failing projects may be stopped.

Building the Holistic Life-cycle Solution
How do you build the holistic life-cycle process to optimize sharing information across processes, eliminate duplication of tasks, and improve each process while optimizing across all processes? First, ensure high-level sponsorship with a clear understanding of the value of this effort from the top down. As this solution provides both strategic and tactical benefit and provides significant financial benefit, this holistic approach should be an easy “sell” to the leaders of the organization. However, the new life-cycle design may require breaking down barriers between functions and may bring major changes in governance and decision-making. Good Change Management planning can help ensure success of the new solution.

By mapping the current processes, systems and data flow, you will reveal gaps, duplications and problem areas. Analysis of this current situation will determine required improvements to establish the optimized life-cycle. Keep in mind that the goal is to improve individual processes as well as tying the processes together and developing good information flow and process coordination across the life-cycle.

This improved life-cycle will provide benefits of strategic achievement, a portfolio of investments with the highest ROI and improved efficiency across the organization. The transformation effort is not easy to achieve but well worth the effort.

Your opinion/ feedback please

I am working on ideas for a webinar and would appreciate feedback on topics that interest you in the areas of Project Management, Project Portfolio Management, Lifecycle Management and Process Improvement. I admit I am tempted to build on topics I have written about such as the full lifecycle management from concept to realization of benefit or how Portfolio Management can improve project or PMO performance. I also appreciate ideas for blog topics. Thanks for your feedback!

How Project Portfolio Management leads to Project Success

The IT PMO of a large organization was suffering from failing projects.  The issues facing the organization were:

  • Continuous mergers and acquisitions resulted in stove-piped, independent businesses with no incentive to work toward common goals,
  • Division between Business and IT,
  • Resistance to change,
  • No application/ systems standards (multiple solutions for the same capability),
  • No view of resource capacity/ demand,
  • No single view of all projects,
  • Failing projects.

The problem:

Important projects were not getting done.  With no prioritization and no view of true resource demand/ capacity, low-value projects were gobbling up resources needed by high-value projects. This caused the more valuable projects to be stalled or stopped in mid-implementation. This also resulted in corners being cut when project managers tried to shotgun projects through the lifecycle to ensure they did not lose precious resources. Project planning was one key phase that was shortened or skipped altogether , leading to a higher rate of project failure.

Projects under a certain budget limit could be submitted and were automatically put in the project queue to be resourced within a week. Anyone could submit a project request and provide very minimal supporting information.

What didn’t work:

The organization had tried different methods for prioritizing (such as having the head of finance label projects as high-, medium-, or low-priority). However, these methods yielded only top-priority rankings for virtually all projects.

For higher cost projects, IT Governance did exist. In the fall of each year, the IT site directors would provide business case information for projects they wanted to implement in the coming year. The regional leader would review and accept the projects he or she deemed priority for the site; and an oversight committee eliminated additional projects from the plan to lower the total site budget to match what they could allocate. The results of these meetings determined each site’s budget. In the following year, the sites were free to substitute other projects for those that had been approved, making this an exercise in obtaining funding, not in proper portfolio planning.

The Fix:

The PMO leaders determined that the two main issues to be resolved were lack of resource management and prioritization. They concluded that implementing project portfolio management could resolve both issues and result in successful planning and project management.

The goals for the Portfolio Management implementation were as follows:

  • Tie projects to the corporate strategy,
  • Develop business cases for all proposed projects,
  • View projects across all sites to determine opportunities to combine efforts,
  • Improve project planning,
  • Develop solutions standards:
    • Catalog accepted applications for specific capabilities.

They developed a model for scoring project requests which would serve as the basis for prioritization. The model was based on research of best practices in the industry and tied to the organization’s strategy. Once the model was in place, it was used to prioritize the projects submitted for the yearly budget to demonstrate to the decision makers why they should fund the proposed projects. They now had clear insight into what should be done (prioritization) and what could be done (resource management). Including portfolio management in the project lifecycle greatly improved the organization’s ability to successfully implement projects. It is well known that Portfolio Management is intended to maximize the benefit from an organization’s portfolio of projects; but it also helps ensure project success by “sizing” the portfolio to fit the available resources.