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Why the Sheepdog Analogy?

A Project Manager is a necessary evil. Why? Well, the PM doesn't produce anything - write code, lay concrete or whatever. However, don't have one and see what happens!

Always telegraph your Punches as a Project Manager

Sometimes as a Project Manager you need to throw a "Project Manager punch" but not a literal one please!

Isaac Newton's contribution to Project Management

Newton's laws, especially his first law of motion, should be as important to a Project Manager as it is to a Physicist. Why?

O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor?

You are given a project to run. Amongst your early questions should be, "who is the Sponsor?"

Always remember the Human side

It is very easy to get hung up in the technical and management side of Projects and forget that they need to be delivered by human teams. So "Always remember the human side" is the key phrase!

Why writing a Project Status Report is not a chore

I've met several Project Managers who view writing any Project status report as a chore. I think the opposite.

Planning is the key Project Management discipline

I have been asked a few times, "What are the top xx things to focus in on as a Project Manager? If pressed, I always fall back to Planning

Monday, 28 March 2016

A tour of PRINCE2 Principles - Manage by Exception (5)

Like Snow White, the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology is built around 7 helpers :-) There are 7 guiding Principles, 7 Project Management Themes leading to 7 Processes. In a series of posts,  I want to take you through the 7 PRINCE2 Principles, my views on them aiding Project success and relate these to other posts on the Better Sheepdog site. Let me continue with Principle 5 - Manage by Exception.
PRINCE2 Principles

Principle 5 - Manage by Exception

Although PRINCE2 really promotes the role of Project Owner (see Principle 3), it recognises that a Project Board made up of senior stakeholders probably don't have time for day to day involvement. So this principle is about setting the framework in terms of a "contract" between the Owner and the Project Manager who has freedom to operate within the terms and tolerances defined. The contract is what I call I like to call the Project Definition (PRINCE2 calls it the Project Initiation Document) or indeed the Stage Plan which sits under this to manage a particular Stage. Have a read of my post on Project Definition which speaks of a Kipling poem "I keep seven honest serving men...."

The Project Board members can therefore reasonably assume, within the framework of the relevant agreed plan that No news is (broadly) good news.

Despite this principle I always look to keep the Project Board up to date on execution status (including hot issues, risks, change requests, spend against budget etc) by:
  1. Drafting a weekly status report and issuing this to the Project Board members. This is a one way communication but the Sponsor / Board members can come back if they read and have queries. Have a read of this post on Status Reporting for more details.
  2. Having a Project Board meeting around once a month. This forces the Board members to keep in touch with execution status as well as being a forum for discussion of points the Project Manager wishes to raise requesting guidance. Have a read of this post on Project Board meeting preparation for more details.
However, if you a forecasting to be outside the tolerances set in Project Definition or Stage Plan you need to escalate to your owning Board. Other reasons to escalate include a high impact Issue which you cannot resolve within the Project team. Have a read of this post on why, when and how to escalate for more details.

Finally, sometimes a Project Manager can adopt the principle to reduce day to day involvement in some task areas. This is when a piece of work is packaged up carefully into a Work Package and given to a third party or internal team manager. When defining the Work Package you define the tolerances and reporting requirements so this principle comes into play. Have a read of this post on Work Package principles.

Other PRINCE2 Principles

The other PRINCE2 Principles are:
  1. Business Justification - continuously throughout the Project execution
  2. Learn from Experience - from previous Projects
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities - so there is clear understanding of who is responsible for what
  4. Manage by Stages - breaking down the Project execution into manageable chunks with gate reviews to move from one to the next
  5. Manage by Exception - this one!
  6. Focus on Products - a focus on what is being produced rather than activities is beneficial
  7. Tailor to suit the environment - the methodology should be tailored to the environment, organisational culture, size, complexity and risks

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A tour of PRINCE2 Principles - Manage by Stages (4)

Like Snow White, the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology is built around 7 helpers :-) There are 7 guiding Principles, 7 Project Management Themes leading to 7 Processes. In a series of posts,  I want to take you through the 7 PRINCE2 Principles, my views on them aiding Project success and relate these to other posts on the Better Sheepdog site. Let me continue with Principle 4 - Manage by Stages.
PRINCE2 Principles

Principle 4 - Manage by Stages

This is a powerful principle of PRINCE2. The first part of the principle is that PlanningEstimating and thus Budgeting for a whole Project is difficult to a reasonable degree of accuracy. As I put it in a post, you are likely to suffer from Planner's droop! as the accuracy of plans often drops with time. So PRINCE2 offers the concept of the Stage. So you have a firm plan and budget for the current stage and a more outline plan and budget for the remainder of the project.

The second part of the principle is that the end of a Stage forces a formal checkpoint or preferably a Gate where the firm plan and budget for the next Stage is presented and ideally the Business Case is reassessed and also presented. In the best organisations this assessment is done with participation from outside the Project owners to ensure impartiality. The approach forces one or several check(s) part way through on the Project viability in line with PRINCE2 Principle 1. Have a read of my post on Gated reviews.

Where to select the Stage boundary? Look for a point in the project life-cycle where more certainty on estimates can be provided and before any big commitment to costs or rapid increase in burn rate. In an IT Project utilising a waterfall style approach, a Stage covering Analysis and Design is a good choice so a Stage gated review happens before the commencement of Build / Construction.

Lastly, don't forget that PRINCE2 mandates a special Stage called Initiation where the brief is fully understood, Business Case is extended or created, plans (including use of Stages), estimates, budgets etc are established. I wrote a post covering a check-list for Initiation which is worth a read.

Other PRINCE2 Principles

The other PRINCE2 Principles are:
  1. Business Justification - continuously throughout the Project execution
  2. Learn from Experience - from previous Projects
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities - so there is clear understanding of who is responsible for what
  4. Manage by Stages - this one!
  5. Manage by Exception - once plans are in place with the owner, no news is good news
  6. Focus on Products - a focus on what is being produced rather than activities is beneficial
  7. Tailor to suit the environment - the methodology should be tailored to the environment, organisational culture, size, complexity and risks

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

A tour of PRINCE2 Principles - Defined Roles and Responsibilities (3)

Like Snow White, the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology is built around 7 helpers :-) There are 7 guiding Principles, 7 Project Management Themes leading to 7 Processes. In a series of posts,  I want to take you through the 7 PRINCE2 Principles, my views on them aiding Project success and relate these to other posts on the Better Sheepdog site. Let me continue with Principle 3 - Defined Roles and Responsibilities.
PRINCE2 Principles

Principle 3 - Defined Roles and Responsibilities

The third principles is that everybody concerned in the Project should understand their role(s) & responsibilities and how they relate to each other.

For me, the key words to expand on this principle are Ownership, Accountability, Management and Organisation.

Owning Roles

Every Project needs ownership and the owner isn't the Project Manager (PM), the PM just runs the project day to day on behalf of the owner. Committees where every person has a vote which are counted, are not efficient organisations (sorry Parliaments everywhere) so there needs to be one accountable person. PRINCE2 calls this person the Executive, I prefer a word which I believe is easier to understand, the Sponsor. PRINCE2 recognises there are key Stakeholder groups and suggests key representatives to help the Sponsor make his decisions. The Sponsor and these stakeholder representatives are called the Project Board. Have a read of my post on these roles.

Project Team Roles

A good organisational structure and understood roles & responsibilities for your Project Team is also important. If everyone on the team knows what they need to contribute and what other team members are responsible for, you have a solid foundation for success. Project teams often cross traditional line management structures which adds added complexity - matrix management!

Have a read of three posts - one on Project Teams structuresone on human factors and one on the behaviour characteristics of an important role in the Project team - the Project Manager.

Other PRINCE2 Principles

The other PRINCE2 Principles are:
  1. Business Justification - continuously throughout the Project execution
  2. Learn from Experience - from previous Projects
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities - this one!
  4. Manage by Stages - breaking down the Project execution into manageable chunks with gate reviews to move from one to the next
  5. Manage by Exception - once plans are in place with the owner, no news is good news
  6. Focus on Products - a focus on what is being produced rather than activities is beneficial
  7. Tailor to suit the environment - the methodology should be tailored to the environment, organisational culture, size, complexity and risks

Friday, 11 March 2016

A tour of PRINCE2 Principles - Learn from Experience (2)

Like Snow White, the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology is built around 7 helpers :-) There are 7 guiding Principles, 7 Project Management Themes leading to 7 Processes. In a series of posts,  I want to take you through the 7 PRINCE2 Principles, my views on them aiding Project success and relate these to other posts on the Better Sheepdog site. Let me continue with Principle 2 - Learn from Experience.
PRINCE2 Principles

Principle 2 - Learn from Experience

The second principle is that Project execution is improved by previous Project learnings. I remember this through a Proverb from philosopher George Santayana who stated "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

This is broken into 3 parts in my mind:
  1. The Project Manager (PM) should bring his / her personal learnings to bear in Project execution
  2. The Project Manager should seek organisational learnings from previous Project executions at the organisation in question
  3. The Project Manager should deliver lessons learnt from the current Project for the benefit of future Projects.
For #1, I encourage all PMs to always take learnings out of every Project they run. Many organisations, if recruiting externally, like to look for a PM with a track record in the particular project domain for this reason. #2 is a bold aim but I haven't personally seen organisations succeeding by achieving a usable database for other PMs to find key lessons to apply. However, I have got some benefit from speaking with individuals previously involved in the domain area. Lastly, you don't get #1 and #2 without #3 so please plan for this. Have a read of my post on lessons learnt.

My final point to make about lessons is that often the focus is on the negatives, things that didn't go too well. You should also look for positive lessons i.e. best practices which may apply to your organisation or project domain.

Other PRINCE2 Principles

The other PRINCE2 Principles are:
  1. Business Justification - continuously throughout the Project execution
  2. Learn from Experience - this one!
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities - so there is clear understanding of who is responsible for what
  4. Manage by Stages - breaking down the Project execution into manageable chunks with gate reviews to move from one to the next
  5. Manage by Exception - once plans are in place with the owner, no news is good news
  6. Focus on Products - a focus on what is being produced rather than activities is beneficial
  7. Tailor to suit the environment - the methodology should be tailored to the environment, organisational culture, size, complexity and risks

Friday, 4 March 2016

A tour of PRINCE2 Principles - Business Justification (1)

Like Snow White, the PRINCE2 Project Management methodology is built around 7 helpers :-) There are 7 guiding Principles, 7 Project Management Themes leading to 7 Processes. In a series of posts,  I want to take you through the 7 PRINCE2 Principles, my views on them aiding Project success and relate these to other posts on the Better Sheepdog site. Let me start with Principle 1 - Business Justification.
PRINCE2 Principles

Principle 1 - Business Justification

This principle, which is an excellent one in my view, is all about there being a viable Business Case under review throughout the Project life cycle.

Firstly, an outline Business Case should be used to determine whether to actually start a particular Project as most organisations are constrained by available funds and/or in-house resources and so should choose the Project(s) which provide the maximum benefits or align to the organisational Business Plan. As I stated in a post on the subject of the Business Case, Do the Right Project before Do the Project Right

At this point, I want to be clear on what constitutes a successful Project. For me, there are two dimensions. One for the Project Team to own is about Do the Project (Delivery) Right. The other one for the Project Owner is about delivery of the stated benefits of the Project. I detailed this in a post on Project success.

So in an ideal world, the Project Manager when first engaged:
  • is handed an outline Business Case
  • is told who the Owner of the Project is - I prefer to call this role the Sponsor (PRINCE2 calls it the Executive) - an example of me tailoring the method - see Principle 7 :-)
Sadly, we don't often live in an ideal world! If no Sponsor has been defined, you need to find one. Remember Shakespeare and the quote O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor? as per my post on the subject.

If no Business Case has been produced, this should be a focus during Project Initiation. Even if you, as PM, have been handed an outline Business Case, this should be refreshed during Initiation as the accuracy of the Project costs should be improved by the planning and estimating that takes place. The benefits side of the Business Case will need discussion and agreement by the Sponsor as, even though the PM may assist the Sponsor in production of the document and supporting models, accountability for benefits lies with the Sponsor.

The key point about this principle is that having established the Business Case and thus agreed that the Project is viable to commence, the Business Case should NOT be thrown in a cupboard never to be seen again. It should be kept under review during the Project execution to see whether:
  • the Business Case is no longer valid (so should the Project be stopped?)
  • the Business Case is enhanced or 
  • that the Business Case has stayed broadly the same
Many Business Cases can be impacted by things external to the organisation so if this is the case, someone (Sponsor?) should be keeping their eye on the external environment in which the Project will end up delivering. For example, around 2009, did someone in the Nokia organisation assess the impact of the market rise of the Smart Phone on the Business Case for the latest Nokia phone being developed?

The problem with this lofty goal is that there is usually something "more important" to do with regard to project execution than periodically review the Business Case. But PRINCE2 suggests an answer - Principle 4 recommends management by Stages and formal Gate reviews between Stages. I have seen this approach forced by a few organisations that I have worked with. In one such organisation, at least two stages had to be built into plans and firm funding was only provided for the current stage. At the Stage Gate review, the Project had to refresh and represent the Project Business Case as part of securing the funds for the next Stage. This forced the periodic focus on Business Case in line with this principle. Have a read of PRINCE2 Principle 4 post for links to related Better Sheepdog posts when it is posted in a couple of weeks.

Lastly I aim, if possible, to go one step further with regard to this principle and look to plan for creation of a product / artifact called a Benefit Realisation Plan which details far more about the benefits than is traditionally seen in a Business Case such as:
  • each low level benefit clearly articulated including levels expected over time etc?
  • who is accountable for delivery of each low level benefit?
  • how it will be measured?
  • who will undertake the measurement
  • who will police the benefit measurement - an organisational PMO is quite useful in this regard as it lives past the close-down of individual projects

Other PRINCE2 Principles

The PRINCE2 Principles are:
  1. Business Justification - this one!
  2. Learn from Experience - from previous Projects
  3. Defined Roles and Responsibilities - so there is clear understanding of who is responsible for what
  4. Manage by Stages - breaking down the Project execution into manageable chunks with gate reviews to move from one to the next
  5. Manage by Exception - once plans are in place with the owner, no news is good news
  6. Focus on Products - a focus on what is being produced rather than activities is beneficial
  7. Tailor to suit the environment - the methodology should be tailored to the environment, organisational culture, size, complexity and risks

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