07 septembre 2016

A personal insight in Project Management, presentation to Master's Degree students in Agricultural Engineering, Lille.

Pascal’s short resume:

I have been leading initiatives and projects from 6 to 6000 persons-days.

I have trained over 1,200 people responsible for initiatives and projects

since my certification as a professional Project Manager in Year 2000 (PMP®).

I am a Prosci certified change management practitioner since 2014. 

Pascal’s beliefs:

I believe that this Earth is the best we have!

I believe that we have all that is necessary in the here and now to improve our working methods.

I believe we can succeed in our initiatives by applying the basic essentials, and

I believe we can save time and energy which can be dedicated to other aspects of our life.

This is why I spread the word about project management, this is why I train people as project managers, this is why I woke up this morning, not to teach you about project management tools and techniques, but to tell you about 7 lessons we project managers have in mind as we’re leading a team.

In one word : NEW

Project is about delivering something NEW.

Story. At Prisunic, in 1992, I was assigned the task of installing a brand new payroll application to replace an in-house 25 year-old program. The payroll rules would not change at all. Just the application. I started studying the existing program with its sole conceptor/designer/programmer/maintenance specialist. This man was a dinosaur, he had been developping and maintaining the whole program alone for the last 25 years. I was impressed by his fait: a whole payroll program, no bug left... However, this man would retire within 6 months and his retirement put the payroll operations at risk: no more evolution would soon be possible. I was about to replace his program by another one, a program that could be taylored to accomodate future changes in regulations or business rules. That was « new », the only thing I was there for.

Image: an old man, alone, is starring at his achievements and he is about to leave. Up to his followers to take care of the old stuff!

So, project is about delivering something EW.

Delivering the same thing with the same people working with the same routines, this is what operations are about.

New to whom? Not necessarily new to everyone.

How new? 100% new? No, not necessarily entirely new.

So, NEW. And so what?

Is it something that we can do now?

What sense does it make to design, develop, deploy something new to people?

In two words : REDUCE UNCERTAINTY

I guess that nobody is delighted with uncertainty.

Story. This time I was presenting the IBM application to the sales managers of Volkswagen dealerships. The project was about putting a computer on the salesmen’s desks to help them sell cars and loans. The audience was not happy with that project : they were supposed to sell the computer aided sale process to their salesmen. That day, they couldn’t see any reason why they would succeed. The product was not making sense to them, the project was bringing a lot of uncertainty into their relationships with their salesmen, on their performance to come. I was soon like a child in the lions’ den, about to be torn apart. Then my correspondant on the client’s side, a respected professional, jumped on stage and took the lead: everyone was calm again within a minute.

Image. A worried old woman. Nobody is delighted with uncertainty.

We, actors, aim at reducing our own uncertainty. By which means, usually?

            By organization

            By routines

            By alliances

A project starts with more uncertainties, it raises the uncertainty level

            Whom for? Stakeholders!

            Who are the stakeholders?

            Which uncertainties are relevant for them?

We as professionals are supposed to reduce relevant uncertainties for anyone involved in the project.

            Why? To have some power; to be recognized as value actors

            How? Let’s start with listening, and then let’s write down a project CHARTER.

                        Document needs, constraints, objectives, everything that matters to reduce uncertainty on the client’s side and on your own side.

In three words : GOOD , FAST, CHEAP

Project management typically is about managing 3 parameters: scope, time and cost.

Story. It was back in the late 1990’s. I was proud of my project plan. It was about training 10.000 people about how to use Windows 3.11. Most people had never been exposed to PCs. I’ve been working on the training plan with 4 specialists. After I presented the plan to the steering committee for validation, I was expecting many a remark but I only got this one: Pascal, you said you would do it for 7 million Francs, do it for 5. All I found myself able to do was to answer: yes. On my way back to the office, I was devastated: how would the team react? I told them. They just said: OK, Pascal, let’s clean expensive things out of scope until we hit the 5 million limit. So did we. No more color prints, no more on-site coaching, but more participants in the training room, shorter sessions, handouts focused on the mere essentials. At the end of the project, people were able to use Windows 3.11, not as quick as we imagined, but they did. Facing a shortage of budget, we had arranged a new  scope and a new timeframe. As one side of the magic triangle was redefined, we had to redefine the two others as well.

Image. On the forefront, people lying on the grass reading books and victorian houses in San Francisco, all about old technology. Well, let’s question ourselves : how better, faster, cheaper do we actually do with nowadays technology?

So, project management typical 3 parameters are scope, time and cost.

Very soon we are asked to evaluate how good, fast, cheap the product will be;

Very soon we are asked to evaluate how good, fast, cheap the PROJECT will be.

Can a project be (absolutely) good, fast and cheap?

What is it for a project to be good?

            Relevance to users, relevance to business

            Scope is grade. A Rolls Royce is a high-grade car. Logan is a low-grade car.

            Quality is conformance to requirements. Better a 100% functional used Logan than a Rolls-Royce of which the air-conditioner is out of order.

What is it for a project to be fast?

            The right time. Time-to-market. Time-to-implementation.

What is it for a project to be cheap?

            Who said it was the expected cost from the beginning?

                        About estimates? Accuracy versus precision.

            Who pays for the project costs?

Can a project be simultaneously good and fast and cheap?

This magic triangle will evolve.

Anyway, just pick two parameters, and prepare your sponsor to accept the rest.

In four words : DELIVER TOGETHER WITH METHOD

Story. As a project manager, I was chairing my first core-team meeting in that project. My so-called Technical Director, somebody new to me as I was new to everyone around, started with « we cannot proceed with the roll-out as long as the Microsoft patch XYZ-666 is not installed on server 5, 7 and 9 ». I said to myself, What is he talking about ? who cares about that detail not relevant until we roll-out in 6 months ? does he want to impress me ? I started heating up inside, I was about to retaliate, when a light bulb went on in my mind. He was showing how detail-oriented he was, whereas I was helicopter view-oriented: just the opposite ! I laughed at myself and cooled down. Had I not been aware of the cognitive differences, I could have hurt that colleague, I could have looked like a jerk, and I could have put the project at risk, and I could have lost my job.

Image: passers-by and their shadows, late in a sunny afternoon. People come to the project with their past history (of failure and success), and with their cognitive capabilities. All those things are like shadows we may not pay attention to.

Deliver quickly.

Better deliver quick and (reasonably) dirty than deliver excellent and late. Why?

            Reality check

            Let the user play with the mock-up and discover what they really need!

Together

Prevent yourself from doing things alone.

Make sure you align with others frequently

            a full time project team should stand-up meet ¼ hour every day

            a part time project team should meet for a workshop 1 hour a week

With

Better « with » than « for ». People you do things for are bound to be forCED to accept things from you. For=Force/Power

Try this at home. With=collaboration

It’s about personal energy mating with group energy, too. Groups are made of individuals, and people are affected one person at a time, everyone his/her own way.

Method

Even somebody without method comes at the table with their know-how at something they have been successful at in the past. With people come their methods like shadows.

Discuss the methods, question the methods, elicit one method in common and follow the method.

Some methods may account for some failures, by accident; having no method is a recipe for failure, by nature.

In five words : COMMIT TO MAKE USEFUL DIFFERENCES

Story. I was interviewing a colleague in 2014. She was an consultant working in the IT department of a large purchasing business unit. She told me they had a recent survey showing that 75% of the user-oriented applications they have delivered on operations for the two last years have no user at all. Nobody would use 3 applications out of 4. I was shocked. I started asking anyone I could encounter about their own statistics and, suprisingly, everyone confirmed that more than half of the delivered user-oriented applications are not used. As if they do no difference.

Image. A woman is walking towards a large, old tree. What difference does the tree do to the woman, like beauty or shadow or fruit or anything else (species it helps shelter, chemicals it synthetizes, etc.)? How long did it take the tree to make that/those difference(s). What did it take its environment like patience and care to allow this tree to deliver today? What does it take for this difference to last until the next big thing comes out?

What questions may we derive from this?

Make a difference? To whom?

Making usefull differences is somehow different from "making differences (= the ones that we're introducing) useful")

Commit

What does a project team commit to?

            Good – fast – cheap triangle

            Best effort?

In six words : WHO SHALL SAY : WHAT A SUCCESS !?

Story. I was the only customer at the auto rental’s desk that Tuesday afternoon, and it took them 45 minutes to serve me, due to a change IT guys have made in the front-desk system over the past week-end. It was Tuesday and the operators were struggling with the new interface. They tried to get some help over the phone, but in vain. Key users were overwhelmed. And guess what, a dozen customers were about to come by the last train to pick their car at the rental desk. For the management, the front-office project was a success. At the same time, the end-users were scared to death.

Image. A hiker springs over a mountain pass. She looks happy, she runs out of the valley over the pass, however she’s alone. Is she happy, actually ? Or is she fleeing from a danger back to her safe place? How do we make sure that people use what we deliver ? How can we help them be happy as they start dealing with our solution ?

The stakeholders again.

What happens for stakeholders when you launch an initiative ? How could you make it for the stakeholders to succeed with what you are about to deliver to them? According to the ADKAR© Model, there are 5 steps :

            Awareness

People who’ll live with your solution should first get from the big boss why there is a need for change, why we can’t stay were we are, etc.

            Desire

People who’ll live with your solution should then have a conversation with their supervisors: what’s in it for me and for us? What’s the difference with my responsiblities and my activities?

            Knowledge

People should learn how to use your solution.

            Ability

People should get help from you and their supervisors to solve their problems as they are using your solution.

            Reinforcement

People should get from the big boss encouragements and congratulations, as confirmations that their effort was meaningful and successful.

In seven words : WHAT CAN GO WRONG WILL GO WRONG

Story. As a project manager, I was facing sort of bad-mood people who unfortunately was key to the success of the project: he would be responsible for the Knowledge Base of the future unified Service Desk and Hot-Line. My perception was: this guy’s absence of team spirit puts the developments at risk as certainly as rain is wet. I asked myself: should I send a request for hiring cooler a resource to do the job? As I was weighing the pros and cons of the replacement option, it became clear that the time frame was too short for any newcomer to successfully cope with the Knowledge Base within the project time-frame. So, I once again decided to stick to the metholology and to invite the team do the Work Breakdown Structure exercise in the next couple of days. Every single teammember would breakdown his/her deliverables and explain his/her job to the team.

At first, our friend escalated my decision but his manager said: please do what Pascal said. So, he reluctantly followed the crowd and this is what happened: while he was presenting the breakdown of his activities to the rest of the team, all of us could tell how central his job was: with him, we could succeed (with possible shine on him), without him, we should fail (with probable shame on him). And we told him so. That very day, he decided to teamwork the best he could and he did a great job. The exercise of the WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) helped convert a risk into an opportunity. Basically, this is what project management methodologies are about: convert risks into opportunities.

Image. Large, rainy cloud over a sunny land. It’s about to rain some time, sooner or later in our latitude. As you’re planning for some outdoor activity on next week-end, and the weather is of utmost importance to the success of what you’re planning for, what do you do? You get some weather forecast. And you proactively get ready today for what is likely to come tomorrow.

There are risks. Thinks that can go wrong will go wrong, Murphy said. It’s a question of time.

For us project managers, it’s about anticipation, and at the same time we’re not to anticipate everything. People expect us to take care of what can go wrong and to fix what is going wrong already. The trick is to have energy left as we are fixing what’s going wrong. We should devote that energy into anticipating what is important to the client and to us all, into converting risks into opportunities.

Well, that’s about it.