The rock n’ roll of project management: don’t build castles made of sand

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello

I’ve had enough of the way things have been done
Every man on a razors edge
Someone has used us to kill with the same gun
Killing each other by driving a wedge.
  – Pete Townshend

I’ve long been a fan of Pete Townshend—from his days with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band The Who, through his solo career and even his time as an author. While I’m sure he never formally managed a project, his lyrics resonate for me on effective delivery and the need for change. Read more of this post

The rock n’ roll of project management: getting your facts straight

Facts are simple and facts are straight/ Facts are lazy and facts are late/ Facts all come with points of view/ Facts don’t do what I want them to. —”Cross-eyed and Painless,” Talking Heads

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello

Music, when composed and played well, is a joy. As I’m trying to teach myself how to play guitar, I’m learning that there is more to it than simply learning some chords and strumming patterns. Music theory, progressions, complex patterns, scales, and technique all come into play. Project management is similar. When a plan is well-defined and executed by a professional, experienced PM, the results can be a joy. But there is more to project management than creating a plan and managing due dates. Project management theory, base-lining, dependency management, resource loading, and soft skills also come into play. Read more of this post

The art of project management: transformation management

The topic of this post was sourced by Dr. Harold Kerzner, Senior Executive Director for Project Management at the International Institute for Learning and Emeritus Professor of Systems Management at Baldwin Wallace University, where he specializes in the field of project management.

There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to institute a new order of things. Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian political theorist (1469-1527)

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello

In this installment of the Art of Project Management, I depart from the military strategic insights of Sun Tzu circa 1000 B.C. and advance the time machine to the political strategy of the Italian Renaissance. I’ve cited Niccolo Machiavelli in earlier blog posts (Machiavelli on Agile, for example), and find his musings right on target. Project managers have much to learn from Machiavelli’s observations. Just as Sun Tzu breaks down combat and strategy into multiple rules of war, so, too, does Machiavelli break down the rules of a leader in a “state” (here, I use state to address all forms of an organization). As leaders of projects, PMs will do well to work within their state to take on additional accountability for delivery. That accountability is seated in ensuring that projects realize their goals once implemented.

Read more of this post

The Art of Project Management: Calculations for Success

Co-written with Bryan Taylor, a consultant in Slalom’s Business Operations Management Practice. Bryan has 20+ years of experience helping companies use technology to become more strategic, productive, and cost-efficient.

Carl Manello

“With many calculations, one can win; with few one cannot. How much less chance of victory has one who makes none at all! By this means, I examine the situation and the outcome will be clearly apparent.” —Sun Tzu

After months of hard work, the users are trained, the system is live, the bugs are fixed, and the system has been transitioned to support. The project is over, right? Well, almost. But for some companies that Slalom works with, project tracking does not end after project closure. Successful companies continue to make calculations after their projects have been implemented using a benefits realization framework. With this approach, they feel they have an even greater chance of victory for their next project. Read more of this post

The Art of Project Management: the Seige of Portfolio Management

Carl Manello

The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege. Sun Tzu

Our executives are not irritated generals. Our delivery teams are not swarming ants. However, Sun-Tzu’s metaphor can be overlaid on the concept of portfolio management quite easily. A company that cannot manage the demand funnel and does not align its projects to strategies or corporate goals may end up driving its leadership to “irritation.” If the irritated company then launches projects—which are not aligned and not prioritized—the project portfolio may seem like a swarm response: trying to fulfill everyone’s request for everything wanted all at once. To this end, the project delivery engine of the company will seize up. Projects will fail and team members will pay the price (though hopefully, none will be slain). Read more of this post

The art of project management: the four horsemen


Carl Manello

It may be an overstatement to say that poor project management will bring about the apocalypse, but any project manager knows that inferior project management can certainly lead to a death march (e.g., one of those projects which appears to be destined to fail or which requires a stretch of unsustainable overwork). These types of project disasters are often the result of being overrun by the four horsemen of project management. Like their namesake from the Bible (described in the last book of the New Testament), or on the football field (the backfield of Notre Dame’s 1924 football team), the four horsemen are forces to be reckoned with. Read more of this post

The Art of Project Management: Planning


Carl Manello

“He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.” Sun Tzu, military strategist

In this fifth installment of the Art of Project Management series, I’ll address the importance of planning. By planning, I’m not referring to the multi-thousand-line project plan detailed in the most sophisticated of project and portfolio management tools (it’s really not at all about the tool, anyway). Continuing the Art of War metaphor, planning refers to the deliberate and well-conceived approach for framing the plan of attack. Without forethought, Sun Tzu warns, one is destined to be consumed by one’s project.

Many would agree that some level of planning is necessary, and that the planning should be correlated to the size of the initiative. That is to say, a global conversion and consolidation to a single ERP system across multiple countries obviously requires a detailed approach. However, even a small initiative (e.g., a new software release that updates the user interface) requires a plan. Read more of this post

The Art of Project Management: Scale

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello

The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.Sun Tzu, military strategist

Creating principles

The basic principles of project management are fully extensible from the smallest initiative to the largest program. The key is that the project management practices should be understood as principles: accepted or professed rules of action or conduct. It is based on this belief that I encourage my clients to establish project manager guiding principles and to construct project management frameworks (not detailed, step-by-step methodologies). By maintaining the governance rules at the highest level (at first definition), the organization maintains the flexibility to scale the implementation of principles based on specific needs. Read more of this post

The Art of Project Management: Success

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello

A victorious army opposed to a routed one, is as a pound’s weight placed in the scale against a single grain. —Sun Tzu, military strategist

While I won’t compare weights and measures of ancient China (the “I” and the “SHU” versus the pound and the ounce), I will measure up Sun Tzu’s comment against the weight of managing a successful project. All too often projects are focused on the future. The drive for success is what becomes important! I have fallen into this habit myself, commonly chanting a string of queries: “Where are we at?” “How are we doing?” “What will it take to get us to ‘done’?” These are the core questions for status and moving forward. But what about celebrating our successes? Read more of this post

The Art of Project Management: Governance

sun tsuThus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.Sun Tzu, military strategist

The parallels are easy: a large-scale, enterprise-wide business initiative is like a war. Sometimes it can be a death march. Sometimes it can be a victorious success. Often the difference in the end is determined by planning the undertaking at the beginning. Whether an ERP replacement, a new pricing system, or an employee medical records system replacement, an organization will do well to understand the full scope of the “battle” before committing its warriors to the endeavor. In large-scale initiatives, planning tends to take the form of designing a governance framework. Read more of this post


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