Avoiding Blustery Project Management Days

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.”
– A. A. Milne (1882 – 1956)

Project Management is typically nothing like The Tales of Winnie the Pooh. However, like the whirlwind adventure of The Blustery Day, it is far more exciting to manage-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants, than to layout articulated plans, processes and frameworks that support delivery. I’m a seasoned PM, and I too get tired of the rigor of project plans that are hundreds or thousands of lines long. Yet, to fundamentally improve the way companies operate, PMs need to apply some order to the chaos.

The proactive approach treats project management as more than the sum of project plans, methodologies and the certification of project managers. It is a process for moving from reactive project management techniques to proactive value management. The value is realized through acknowledgement of and effective development of project management competencies, the recognition of the value contribution of project management centers of excellence (aka: PMO’s), and the implementation of repeatable processes for the selection, articulation, management and implementation of business initiatives.

If reduced to a sound bite, the approach helps to articulate the differences between reactive and proactive behaviors exhibited in relation to managing operations and initiatives. For example:

  • When project managers inherit initiatives conceived, planned and funded by others, they are trapped in a reactive mode. The project managers can only hope to execute the plans of others to the expectations they did not help to create.
  • When organizations have no way to funnel and select candidate initiatives to launch as projects, those organizations cannot help but respond reactively. Whatever projects are selected must therefore be delivered — regardless of the capacity or capabilities of the delivery organization.
  • When organizations wait for quarterly funding reports to determine where their projects are at, they are trapped in a reactive mode. If the quarterly numbers are off from budget, projects are summarily shut down (either temporarily or permanently) as financial austerity plans are put in place.

Turned around, proactive project management is as simple as:

  • Creating planning cycles to include the owners of delivery allows project managers and project teams to help set the stakes for delivery aides in building ownership (and may even help to leverage the experience of the PM and team).
  • Establishing project portfolio management allows the organization to assess its needs against the capabilities and capacity of the delivery organization, and allows for better planning and decision-making.
  • Developing reporting cycles and tools to enable projects to understand their financial position in sufficient time allows for adjustments that are less severe than project cancellation.

Project management is not a single definable process. There is no single truth. No Holy Grail. There are standards. There are proven practices. And there is the proactive project management framework that enables various levels of success dependent on the capabilities mastered by the implementing organization.

By leveraging the proactive approach, organizations can whittle away at the countless stream of wasted resources funneled towards failing projects. The perspectives, frameworks and models embedded within the solution architecture have been developed based on research of numerous published methodologies, many consultants’ hands-on experiences implementing methods and practices, focused facilitation between CIO’s and CFO’s, and the knowledge gained from my experiences developing program management service offerings for Fortune 250 companies during three tours in management consultancies and several corporate jobs.

There are scores of examples of how organizations reactively sub-optimize their approach for getting to “Done.” Consider some examples, with both the reactive and proactive tactic identified:

Reactive Approach

Proactive Approach

Addressing the ‘squeaky wheel’ Tracking, understanding and managing project risks before the squeak begins
Not knowing the “health” of an initiative, but not acting to address it either Regular status updates, peer reviews, milestone check points
Trying to deliver all initiatives, from each disparate user group, that are deemed urgent Assessing a holistic portfolio of business initiatives and prioritizing the list across user groups
Passing from phase to phase of a project with blind handoffs (e.g., from Build to Implement) Flexibly adhering to an established governance model that ensures phase deliverables are complete
Managing by damage control Managing expectations
Crisis management Impact management

If you recognize your reflection in the left-hand column, recognize that moving to the right-hand side is not as easy as it seems. Not every organization can master proactive project management overnight, nor should they try. As noted by Gartner, the approach may take more than two years.

Slalom can be used to create a road map for that two year development. We provide the outline of a maturity model, provide assessments and “next step” planning to allow calculated growth and development. By proactively tackling challenges (instead of waiting for issues to balloon, expectations to be missed, budgets to be overrun and quality to decrease) an organization can demonstrate its mastery of proactive management and meet risks head-on before they become issues.

As Slalom continually looks to move our clients forward and help them to operate their businesses more effectively, we work to protect against future blustery days. We can help our clients understand that structure and proactive approaches can ward off operational chaos and can lead to sunnier weather.

Slalom Consulting Chicago Slalom Consulting's Project and Program Management focus
More about Slalom Consulting’s Chicago office. More about Slalom Consulting’s Project and Program Management focus.

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About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

2 Responses to Avoiding Blustery Project Management Days

  1. Pingback: Project Management For Growing Businesses « Entrepreneurial Advice And Insights

  2. Pingback: The art of project management: the four horsemen | The Slalom Blog

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