"Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown." -George Shinn
Gerald Kendall and Kathleen Austin's book "Advanced Multi-Project Management" confronts the critical reason why projects fail and why, according to the Standish Group, project success is not improving. This book addresses the key concerns that senior management has with implementing the right projects at the right time with the right resources to take advantage of a strategic opportunity while at the same time providing guidance to the organization's program managers who are overworked and fighting for resources to complete the project that they already have under way. The book highlights key processes required to control the flow of active projects, develop a correct project network, implement a strategic buffer, establish a single project priority system, enable faster execution and provide a consistent methodology for recovering projects to ensure investment benefits are achieved.
As an experienced project server consultant, project portfolio management and IT governance practitioner, I have worked with many organizations where I've experienced the need to implement these processes firsthand. Gerald and Kathleen have authored an excellent write up to guide organizations through the clutter of project execution and focus in on the root causes that keep them from achieving their objectives. To many initiatives are released as active projects in organizations creating undue stress and resource contention. The overload on commitments choke the organization's ability to get projects on time, on budget and on scope.
This book addresses the six gears of multi-project management that will enable organizations to deliver the right amount of projects and benefit based on the organization's capability and capacity to deliver. The six gears are:
- Controlled Project WIP (work in progress). Not too much and not too little.
- Correct Networks
- Strategic Buffering (A true project management leading indicator).
- Single Priority System
- Fast Execution Management
- Consistent Recovery Approach
In the spirit of previous Theory of Constraint or Critical Chain Project Management books, Gerald and Kathleen provide their readers context with a compelling story of Joe Turano and how he turned around his organization's project execution capabilities. They showed how Joe used the six gears to retool his organization for faster execution and then they provided a step by step guide on how you can do the same in your department, business unit and corporation. Their process addresses the variability that we all experience and how insulating projects will create velocity, throughput, decrease operating expense (project budget overruns) and decrease the amount of inventory or delayed projects and resource contention.
Finally, I've been reminded that with pulling the right levers and implementing the right processes, execution excellence is achievable. Thank you, Gerald and Kathleen, for sharing your immense knowledge and real world experience and for being willing to help anyone who will read, study and adopt your step by step guide to achieve excellence.
I spoke with Gerald I Kendall about his new book and asked if he could share some additional wisdom on risks management in the project portfolio management world.
There are two very different types of project risks:
1. In project portfolio management, it is the risk of choosing the wrong projects, and failing to meet organization goals. Business operates in a high-risk state without really being aware of it most of the time. Lack of strategy, nonsensical prioritization, poor business cases, bad assumptions, no follow-up or poor knowledge management on benefits or lessons learned, roles and rewards that are not in line with objectives— all these problems make projects more risky. And all of them are common in most organizations. Since I dealt with this topic extensively in my earlier book, "Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO," I'll let the book speak for itself on how to address these issues.
2. In multi-project management (i.e., after senior management approves the projects), the risk is not delivering all three essential project deliverables - full scope, within budget and on time. In my new book, "Advanced Multi-Project Management," I address the following risks:
a) Poor project networks, which lead to crazy scope creep - To my co-author, Kathy, and I, this is the easiest risk to address, yet in our worldwide consulting, we are amazed at the project networks we find, or often don't find. We see networks that were built without fully understanding the goals, tangible project deliverables, and organization impact on key organization metrics. Here, we outline a 10 step process, with several major risk avoidance techniques.
b) Overdraft on the resource bank account - Ask anybody in your organization, "What is your capacity to do projects?", and you get a blank stare back. Senior management and PMOs often do not understand their multi-project capacity. As a result, they push too many projects into activation, and create very bad multitasking among resources. We have a process that has been used in hundreds of organizations to properly synchronize multiple projects to avoid overloading of resources, and to know when these projects can be activated.
c) Incredibly poor project execution practices - Projects, by definition, are full of variation - the unexpected Murphy that project and resource managers have to deal with. The problem is threefold - finding out too late to save the project, time-consuming issue resolution processes and not having any way to recover because the organization is so overloaded. In fact, we see many organizations where the project network / plan is put on the shelf as soon as the project starts, often because of poor project networks. However, if you don't have a road map of the project during execution, how can you know when the project is in trouble? The solution for this is to have a plan that is useful throughout the life of the project execution, regardless of how much Murphy occurs.
Secondly, fast issue resolution processes are essential. Finally, a method of recovering projects that works must be embraced by project, resource and senior managers.
d) Conflicting priorities - Everything can't be urgent. In fact, very few things can be urgent or the system will fail, guaranteed. The number of conflicting priorities in multi-project management always amazes me. It's not just about conflicts between projects. I see conflicts between a project and operational responsibilities, conflicts over which resources to assign to project tasks, conflicts over the value of the project to the organization. The only way that I've found to overcome these conflicts is to have a single priority system aligned with how a project is doing in execution. But this only works if you have a system, to begin with, that is properly designed to get all projects delivered on time, on budget and within scope.
What are you risk management practices? Feel free to share your experience.