I want to return to the topic of my last post, prioritisation, and I’m going to extend some of the thinking from it.
I briefly highlight this point to raise one of the major challenges with prioritisation. It is not the activity deciding of what you are going to do, but the decision not to do something. These may simply seem to be the inverse of each other. Perhaps. But psychologically it seems easier to say “yes I’ll do this”, than “no I will not do that”.
I’ve been interested for a long time in the relationships and differences between delivery and change. One way of exploring this is in the relationships and differences between project and change managers, a subject that always seems to generate a 100 different views from 100 different commentators. In this post I want to look at one specific aspect of that difference – working out the scope of an initiative.
Scope is a fundamental concept in the delivery of projects and change. Scope can seem a pretty simple concept to gets ones head around. I think scope has different meanings depending on the role one performs.
A couple of years ago I started looking for a way to help more people gain an understanding of project management. Not everyone wants to buy one of my books, and seminars have a limited number of places. A contact in the publishing industry had the great idea of connecting me up with Totem Learning. Totem Learning are a leading, award winning developer of simulations and serious games, (see www.totemlearning.com). It was a great relationship to build, and some months later the result of our join work was Unlock: Project Management.
I was in a conversation a few days ago, and I was reminded about an old phrase my grandfather used to say: look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. (I’m sure there is an equivalent phrase for other currencies).
I thought about this phrase sometime after listening to a speaker talking about the way they ran projects. They were strongly espousing a view that we should worry more about delivery and less about deliverables.
What makes successful project managers?
I have been interested in the way the best project managers think and behave for a long time. Back in 2005 I wrote the first edition of my first book The Project Manager, Mastering the Art of Delivery. The genesis of this book was an observation made from roles I had running large teams of project managers. The observation? There is limited correlation between how well qualified someone is as a project manager, and how good they are at project management.
I have been involved in projects and programmes for a long time. Long enough that I sometimes think I can smell the state of a programme when I am first engaged on it. By smell of course, I really mean pick up certain small aspects of behaviour that give me a feeling of confidence or concern.
Imagine you are working on a project and it is going to finish late. It is a scenario that many of us will be familiar with. Is the project a failure? That depends. There are many situations in which a project is late. There are many situations in which a project – or at least a properly defined and well run project looks late, but isn’t. This happens when we confuse aspirations with plans.
In the UK TV comedy Dad’s Army, Corporal Jones was a character who at regular intervals would run around shouting “Don’t panic! Don’t Panic!” The joke was he was always panicking.
It feels like this on many of the projects I am involved in. There is some pretence about being calm, but there are many signs of panicking. And what is everyone panicking about? Usually, time and money.
There are many reasons projects and programs get in trouble. Problems we are all familiar with include: poorly defined goals, lack of sponsorship, ineffective prioritisation and access to resources, and when there is no drive to make progress. I have been involved in lots of projects in my career, and I’d love to say every one of them was a success, but it would be a lie. Quite a big lie. I have been in projects with every one of these problems, sometimes all of them.