The recent PwC Global PPM Survey pointed out some interesting facts about the trends we're seeing across project and programme delivery. The researchers concluded that the traditional ways of managing projects may not be fit for purpose in a business environment that relies on fast-paced ways to achieve outcomes. The survey reports that while executives know that change has to be done faster to stay ahead of the competition, they don't actually have delivery methods that make this happen.
Let's accept that the pace of projects has accelerated. We need faster results because customers expect them, because we need a return on our investments and because we want to stay ahead of the curve.
How do we get to that point? A flexible approach, agile with a small "˜a' can help. Project managers need to take the brave choices to pivot direction, incorporate changes and even stop or pause projects when that's the right thing to do. It's about being able to react to the environment you find yourself in "“ and that's hardly standing still.
This attitude towards a flexible working model needs to be reflected at sponsor and senior stakeholder level too, so that when you need fast decisions, you can get them without having to wait and hold the project up.
How do you get to "˜flexible'?
Having a flexible approach to managing projects in a changing environment is more than just having a good change control process (although that matters too). The first step is in appreciating that not everything is within your control, or even the control of your sponsor. The organization is evolving around you and you have to keep up, change or fold.
The PwC survey says that the top four reasons for project failure were:
- Change in strategy
- Change in environment
- Benefits not being realized.
The first three of those, I would argue, are not to do with project failure. The fact that the business strategy changes does not mean that the project manager and team have failed to deliver, or that the project would not have delivered the stated benefits.
Those top three reasons relate to why projects are stopped, but a stopped project is not necessarily a failure. In fact, stopping projects and diverting the resources on to something that meets the new business strategy and is a priority is actually a success of the project, programme and portfolio management function. It shows that you can be flexible and meet the changing needs of the business environment.
The building blocks of a responsive project management function
You will struggle to be flexible and adaptive if you don't have certain processes in place. While your team might think of process as the exact opposite of flexibility it actually gives you the room to breathe while you know the basics are being taken care of. The PwC report says that a balance between the extremes of too much bureaucratic overhead and uncontrolled change will allow "an efficient, well-governed and responsive process".
In terms of what this means for your project, think about these as the building blocks that will enable you to be flexible and adaptive to the project's needs:
- Effective planning and agreement of scope
- Tailored change control processes that people actually use
- Minimal bureaucracy around change control
- The right level of governance so decisions can be made efficiently
- The ability to track and secure compliance with the process.
You know things are going to change so plan for the change at the beginning of a project. When you've already thought through how you are going to act and what processes you are going to use, then you can react more quickly to a change of direction.
The next steps
I'm assuming you have most of those in place already, along with professional project management software tools that make it all happen seamlessly and allow you to update your plans and share them with Seavus Project Viewer or a mind mapping software of your choosing. So where do you go next?
The next steps for creating a responsible project management function or team is harder, and relies on you asking and answering the difficult questions:
- When are we going to do things differently?
- How are our project teams enabled to deliver their work?
- Are there other teams out there, in our organization or elsewhere, who are doing this well? What can we learn from them?
The PwC researchers advise thinking big, starting small, and acting fast. Set out what it is that you want to achieve, choose the easiest part of that vision and trial the new ways of working on a project.
The proof is in the benefits
It's fine to be flexible, but you'll only know if you are making a difference if you can track and measure benefits. Pick simple measures that will help you highlight non-performance or poor performance throughout the life cycle of a project. Create your own programme dashboards to pull out measures that are important to you so that you can track benefits.
Overall, the important thing to remember is that the definition of "˜success' may change as your project progresses. You'll need to find ways to keep pace with that and to shift what you are doing to meet the needs of your stakeholders. It's a mindset change, but with the right tools, processes and attitude, you can modify what you are currently doing to step up to the ever-changing business environment.