More Female Project Managers Needed

The project manager enters the room and the conversation slowly dies down to nothing, silence, all heads turned to look at this man who is tasked with turning round this failing mega rail project. There is a pause before, spotting the man who by his description is most likely to be the site foreman the project manager approaches and holding out his hand introduces himself to a huge man, a whole head taller than himself. ‘Good afternoon, my name is Adrian Pagdin and I am the new project manager.’ The foreman pauses, turns fully to face the project manager, looks him up and down, takes his hand and smiles. ‘There’s no way that you can be the project manager,’ the foreman says in a deep Texas drawl, ‘your just not big enough.’

Super project manager is much like superman, he has hugely developed muscles to carry all in the pursuit of delivery. He has x ray vision to see to the heart of problems. His brain is so immense it is able to calculate and resolve issues before they even begin. His ears are finely tuned to hear even murmurs of problems, his nose can sniff out opportunities and his mouth and tongue are so gifted that he inspires and motivates all around him.

Have you seen super project manager? I’m afraid that I have not either but if you do find one please tell me, I could use one, in fact the industry could use fifty of them.

’You probably already know this, if not from the published statistics but from your own experiences as a project professional; 64{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} of large scale projects report as being over budget and 73{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} as being over schedule. Ernst and Young published these statistics in 2014.

Project management has some problems, not withstanding the rapidly developing professional standards the sheer scale and rate of change development is putting new demands on our profession like never before.

The multinational nature of projects, the speed of technological change, the competitor activity, enhanced end user and customer education and sophistication all of these things are combining to make it more difficult to consistently meet predefined objectives and expectations.

I want to write a little about one of these challenges that I believe is most pressing and if addressed could contribute asymmetrically to the success of projects. I am talking about the skills, capability and education of project managers in leadership and stakeholder management.

I have met some outstanding project and programme managers. They have grace, they have wisdom but above all they have experience and battle scars. They have made mistakes, learned from them and become a safe pair of hands. The problem is that they are rare, they are getting old and they are possessed of a skill set that our profession is not embracing anywhere near as much as is needed to develop the next generation.

If you meet one of these mega project or programme managers, the first thing that will strike you will be their approachability and normality. Despite holding a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars or sterling these people have the ability to relate to people at different levels. Of course they do, how could they possibly manage complexity and people without having a broad skill set that incorporates engineering and relational. I imagine that this makes sense to a lot of this readership but I wonder if you realize how exceptional this is. You see, most of our project professionals come from an engineering background. In fact many industries will not even interview a prospective project manager if they do not possess an engineering degree.

I’m not about to start bashing engineers, not at all but for a moment let’s look at the required skills for an engineer, these are taken from the curriculum for a civil engineer:

  • Chemistry
  • Applied computing
  • Physics
  • Mechanics
  • Data analysis
  • Mathematics
  • Environmental practices

Impressive right? Valuable and totally relevant for the development of sound and safe structures. I could point out to you that communication, leadership, stakeholder management, team building are missing from the curriculum but that’s to miss an important point; people who study to become engineers are a breed. They are attracted to the rigor, the standards, the practice of building and exploring and developing and fixing and problem solving.

There are no rules that training to be an engineer is exclusive and that they will never develop the social and emotional intelligence required to become a mega project manager. Of course people are different but to assume that they will is dangerous, cavalier and costly.

So back to leadership and empathy and stakeholder management and my conclusions.

Engineers are not always the best project managers having a deep grounding in science does not prepare someone for having meaningful conversations with an increasingly diverse range of stakeholders.

Mega project managers often learn through mistakes but are possessed of a people skill set that enables them to enfranchise stakeholders.

Projects are failing at an unacceptably high level.

So what to do about it? Here are my recommendations.

  1. Develop and impose a broader education on all project managers to equip them with the skills necessary to deliver complexity and manage stakeholders.
  2. Recognise that subject matter experts and PM qualified project managers are actually not automatically the most suitable, widen the net to recruit and train people managers into project management.
  3. Implement apprenticeships in project management so that the hard won skills, wisdom and grace from mega project managers can be learned by more junior colleagues thereby breaking the cycle of ‘learning by mistakes’

If you are a man reading this, you might be an engineer and you might feel a little offended, if you are a woman reading this, you might also be an engineer but this will make total sense and you would relish it. The fourth recommendation from me is that we need more women involved in project management and fast.

Adrian Pagdin is a project management evangelist at tailwind project solutions ( and the author of “it’s the people: practical lessons in leadership and stakeholder management”

Adapting to meet a rapidly evolving future

I was reading an article by Glenn Llopis, published by Forbes entitled 6 leadership failures that put your company at risk. In his first paragraph he writes about leadership not recognizing or capitalizing on the need for change in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

You can read the article here

For fifteen years I have been interested in organizational development and specifically in the way in which an organization adapts to meet it’s evolving future.

There are lots of examples of management thinking in this space, a favourite of mine being porters five forces. Michael Porter described how competing forces in a market suggest and dictate the strategy of an organisation. In the 1980’s Porter described, how the power of suppliers, customers, competitors, new entrants and imitators combine to produce specific strategic requirements in order for any organisation to survive, succeed and prosper.

Generally speaking the past ten years, with the growth of technology and the internet has resulted in more acute, unpredictable and rapid pressure from all of these areas.

With exceptions the cost of starting up has reduced, simple web searches enable the customer to explore alternatives, compare value across a range of factors and suppliers through aggregation have become either more consolidated and powerful or have in many cases just disappeared leaving a dominant survivor.

All of this combines to create an organizational environment in which change is not optional, it is essential in order to survive, succeed and prosper.

It is this organizational challenge that has always interested me, whether as a consultant, a practitioner delivering change or as a trainer, speaker or author. How does an organization adapt, how does it change culture, direction, behaviors to meet challenges and strategic aims? The answer to this question is further complicated by the fact that this process will not happen once, or twice a year in a formal way but it will be required regularly, unpredictably and quickly.

I have worked with large organizations where I have observed significant strain as they try to adapt. You might be familiar with the analogy of an oil tanker, all 1000 feet of it trying to slow, stop and change direction. It’s a nice image to describe large established organizations that have relied on defined behaviors and competences. If you can picture this then imagine what happens when the oil tanker is required to change direction regularly? Consider the cost in resources (fuel) the cost in delays and the cost in motivation as staff are asked repeatedly to stop and redirect.

I have worked with small organizations too where you can imagine a great deal of entrepreneurialism exists. These are start up to small organizations that have grown rapidly and they have done so through their ability to respond to evolving customer requirements but there comes a time in an growing organization where the benefits of flexibility and entrepreneurialism start to be outweighed by the benefits of consistency and predictability in the eyes of customers and prospects. These small organizations are like speedboats, perfectly adapted for rapid maneuvering but ill equipped for storms, high seas and long journeys.

The answer as always is not straight forward:

In an excellent article on delegated leadership Dana Ardi argues that greater collaboration is essential

IN a 2008 white paper PWC propose that agility and authenticity are among the factors

I could go on but I want to add some insight that I gained working with a French Pharma company.

This was a company that’s been successful for a long time with Legacy products and legacy processes but that had recognized the future required a different set of behaviors and competences.

This was an organization that for 10 years had embraced change and project management but was looking to go further and embed change and project management competences into the core curriculum for the line

Management population.


Of all the work we did together, one concept was foremost and stuck. To be agile and collaborative across a large organization requires small companies within a large company. Somehow the large, established, inflexible but robust organization had to fins a way to spawn entrepreneurial, agile and flexible organizations, capable of collaborating, exploring opportunities and challenges quickly and providing decision data to the leadership team.


In practice I am reminded of the work of Kodak in developing the fun camera. This was a huge diverse organization that created a small team with it’s own CEO and gave them the autonomy to develop a product that would ultimately define Kodak before it’s steady demise.


What is required is a combination, the best of both worlds, the stability and durability to meet far objectives with the flexibility and agility to respond to near challenges and opportunities. Kodak managed this with the fun camera, apple seem to manage it with the iphone and the ipad, there are other examples.



Creating a company within a company requires delegation of authority to those people best able to use it, within agreed boundaries while accepting that the mission might not succeed. It’s a tall order but one on the mind of every ceo, how to be adaptable and agile while be predictable and sustainable.


The challenge for the small company is the converse, how to build an oil tanker while retaining the speedboats. Here’s my advice based upon a love of the sea. I once saw a mega yacht moored outside Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. This thing was enormous, I think that it might have been an ocean going tug at some point. It was built for any weather that the sea could throw at it, it was also stunning in white and blue, festooned with lights and decks. As we were serenely sailing past I saw the side of the boat first move and the start to open. What the opening revealed was an inner dock and from this dock emerged a speedboat, not a tiny speedboat but one equally the size of the forty foot yacht that I was on. The speedboat powered up and sped off in the direction of Cowes leaving an impressive wake and some impressed sailors.


If you are building a sea going company then you might want to consider somewhere to store your speedboats, if you already have one, consider making space for an inner dock.

The Accidental Project Managers

“Hello, please come in. Take a seat. How are you today?” It often starts like this. “I wanted to thank you for all of your hard work, especially your contributions on the legislative burden, as you know, we are pretty stretched and the FCA keep piling on new regulation.” Pause, do you know what is coming next? ” There’s a new requirement from the FCA, something to do with key decision makers being qualified and their decisions audited and traced. The leadership team have discussed it and your name came up. You have been doing good things and we think it’s time you had an opportunity to shine. We need you to take a lead on this project.”

There is it, the word project. It’s done and on you in a flash, you will be managing a project. Why? Well because you have shown some competence in a technical area and you are willing and because you have not yet said no. It’s too late to say no and in any case, you are still vaguely flattered. They did say shine, right?

I have a statistic for you. In the past ten years, I estimate that I have taught, coached and worked with 2,500 people working in project management. Of that 2,500 I estimate that 80{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} became project managers by accident and of that 80{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} over 50{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} have no idea what they are doing other than working extremely hard. We have an epidemic of unqualified and inexperienced accidental project managers responsible for delivery and we are suffering. An Ernst and Young survey in 2014 pointed out that over 60{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} of mega projects are over cost and 70{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} over schedule. We can assume that these statistics apply roughly down the project value ladder and relate to every industry. Projects are on the increase, change is on the increase and the business response is to ‘promote’ a subject matter expert.

We have all been thrown in at the deep end, made mistakes, we all have some battle scars to show and tales to tell but surely that’s not the best way to conduct business. I mean, would you send an unqualified lawyer in to negotiate a position, an unqualified, inexperienced accountant to audit, a graduate engineer to consult on a skyscraper. Of course not but this project management stuff, well it’s common sense, right? The problem is it is common sense, up to a point and common sense can get you a long way because you are a subject matter expert right? What happens when common sense runs out and budgets need drawing up, schedules developing, communications scheduled, stakeholders persuaded, user acceptance tests conducted. Risks, issues, failure, cost, delay, incrimination, insecurity, the Peter principle. At best the project manager escapes with a sense of humor in tact and some valuable lessons. At worst we have damaged a perfectly good subject matter expert who may never again hold up their hand.

I have three things to say, three recommendations but before I do I wanted to talk at the problem from the business perspective, to clarify that there is no simple pill or remedy for this problem. The business is there to make profit and doing so requires ever faster evolution and competitive advantage. That means speed to market and cost management. The business want this problem to go away quickly snd at a minimal cost, they want this opportunity to be leveraged and in the marketplace yesterday, at minimal cost. When the operations start saying, “wait, slow down we don’t have qualified resources, we need to triage or buy in experience or take our time, we are speaking two totally different languages. Operations have suddenly become the business prevention department and it’s the business that brings in the revenue so get on with it! It’s a situation that requires understanding on both sides to avoid conflict and ensure that the best opportunities and the worst problems are being given the best project resources and that there is a succession plan for new project professionals.

Three considerations for avoiding project failure due to inexperienced project managers.

1. Ensure a broad education and support is available to all project managers at all levels in ways that work for them. Training, coaching, mentoring, apprenticeships.

2. Be realistic about risk. If there is little or no risk then get on and deliver the project but if there is moderate to high risk, consider the ability of the resource to safely deliver success.

3. Not everyone is cut out to be a project manager. Review role competencies and plan for succession not resignation.

I was fortunate enough to view this first hand while working with a big Scottish Bank. The change department had two superb programme managers who not only took ownership for delivery they also brought all the up and coming project professionals with them, including in some cases, helping individuals to realise that project management was not for them.


By Adrian Pagdin, Project Management Evangelist for Tailwind Project Solutions

Someone stole my operating rhythm

I think that I have rhythm, I can play the guitar and I dance around the kitchen a lot. In my youth I masqueraded in a band and went to a lot of dance music events. I used to dance a lot and I recall at least one other person saying that I had rhythm.

I looked up a dictionary definition of rhythm and found the following:

‘A strong regular repeated pattern of movement or sound.’

‘A particular type of pattern formed by rhythm.’

What I did not find in the dictionary was:

‘A management approach to maintaining relationships and performance’

It seems though that over the past ten years management has been systematically (if not rhythmically) stealing my rhythm and molding it into their management speak, operating rhythm.

‘Who are these villains?’ I hear you cry. Well I asked Google and returned about 11,000 results. That didn’t help so I tried to find who coined the phrase but no joy there either. What I did find though was interesting, it seems that before management operating rhythm there was manufacturing operating rhythm.

MOR has its basis in lean and the benefits of sharing. So MOR is defined as the sharing of information collaboration and cyclical or systematic communication. I think that we can all agree on the importance of these aims, collaboration, sharing and communication and we would agree that doing these things at a regular interval would be potentially transformational for a lot of organizations.

It still doesn’t explain the fact that management has stolen my rhythm but I’m starting to see the what is meant by an operating rhythm. Before I endorse it though what about the benefits? How about:

  1. Innovation and creativity
  2. Trust and belief leading to controlled risk taking
  3. Support linked to people, capability and product development
  4. Faster time to market through better, more informed decision-making

Really, all of those things? Well consider the barriers to any of the four benefits listed above:

  1. Incompetence
  2. Ignorance
  3. Lack of trust
  4. Poor insight

Do you remember the Kodak funsaver? It was launched in 1989 way before lean and agile became trendy and way before operating rhythm was pinched from me. I would say that the funsaver, the first disposable camera was a game changer. It proved to be a dramatic strategic vehicle for Kodak and it changed the way in which consumers used cameras. Canon, Konica and Nikon all filled into a market that was to camera’s what the iphone was to mobile phones.

What is interesting about the development of the Kodak Camera can be found shuffled into a French business magazine, published last year. It throws light on the methods that were used to develop this radical technology in a short (6 months) period of time. It started with the creation of a laboratory, physical as well as metaphorical. Bright representatives from different areas of Kodak were brought together with the brief to ‘create something new’. The article author refers to this as a mini organization within the larger organization, we might refer to it as an autonomous project team. There was a ceo a developer a scientist a customer representative and marketing representative and a technical engineer. In scenes that agile practitioners would recognize this team would meet on a Monday and discuss what they would do that week. Following on from that meeting they would work closely together over the course of a week, developing the concept until Friday when they would review and make recommendations for the next week. It seems both far fetched and idyllic but the outcome was and is spectacular.

If I refer back to the four benefits I listed earlier, one could summarise that innovation, creativity, trust, belief, support , decision making and speed to market were all evident in this autonomous project team.

So I’m still not happy about the word but an operating rhythm seems to be useful, beneficial, radical maybe even game changing … it’s also really common sense. My friend Alan at RBS talks about it a lot and he’s seen it implemented lots of times, sadly he’s also seen it fail lots of times. So here are my five ingredients to implement and to maintain a good operating rhythm.

  1. Identify the things (competences, values) that need to be done on a regular basis to develop the kind of behaviors and performance that are required for business success (communication, sharing, collaboration, creativity, people development)
  2. Break down number one into repeatable practical activities that can beset up easily, carried out quickly and maintained imply on a regular basis (morning meeting, weekly catch-up, joke of the day, idea of the week a coffee race, the more fun the more engaging and lasting)
  3. Get the team involved. Find ways to enfranchise them into the outcomes, benefits and activities so that they themselves own it, drive it and want it. (Seek idea’s, influence, sell, delegate, engage)
  4. Agree a plan (our plan) to start and implement the practical activities that make up your operating rhythm.
  5. Agree and constantly review the practice, the application, the benefit and the engagement of the rhythm.

With the absence of some sets of trance music, one of the exciting things about dance music is that the beat stays the same but the accompanying sounds and melody change. It becomes hypnotic but inspiring. If you like music you’ll find that occasionally (often for me) it’s important to change the CD, the vinyl or the play list. The same thing applies to a management operating rhythm. Please, keep the beat but make sure the tune changes and remains inspiring.

Adrian Pagdin

Co-founder of Tailwind Project Solutions – Adrian is a project leadership and management practitioner and evangelist. Formerly the Managing Director of the project management practice ajp consulting, Adrian has been an active advisor, consultant, trainer and speaker on stakeholder management, project leadership, risk and control for fifteen years.[showhide type=”pressrelease” hidden=”yes” more_text=”Read More” less_text=”Close”]

He was responsible for opening 4 new build hotels, implementing data networks and solutions for 20 companies and contributed to organisational development in dozens of organisations. Managing Director and Joint Managing Director for 3 successful start ups and collaborated and advised on 7 more. Author of It’s the People: Practical Lessons in Project Leadership and Stakeholder Management; The PM Handbook and The Accidental Project Manager, active public, keynote and after dinner speaker.

Business advisor, consultant, trainer, coach and sometimes programme manager.[/showhide]

5 Ingredients to achieve a healthy body and a healthy mind

A healthy body is to a healthy mind what water is to life.

We all know that, right? The ancient Greeks knew it and based their civilisation on this knowledge, encouraging physical and mental exercise through competition and debate.

Ever been for a run, done an exercise session and felt energised afterwards? Ever gotten addicted to exercise because of the positive endorphins that it releases? What you might not know is the science there, that the result of these endorphins that might be referred to as a high in actual fact has a reaction with the brain receptors similar to morphine.

So we can accept that exercise feels good but what about the cognitive benefits, can exercise actually make us smarter?

John Medina (2008), in Brain Rules argues that making people sit at desks to work and concentrate is entirely the wrong approach. He states that research has shown that reducing physical exercise diminishes cognitive performance.

Further research suggests that sitting at a desk burns calories at roughly a third of the rate when standing up, introducing the risk of obesity. Have you seen standing up desks? There is no proof that standing up for eight hours a day is good for you either however, anecdotal evidence is that a combination of sitting and standing is key to comfort, health and stimulation.

A 2014 study by the University of Minnesota found that young adults who exercise regularly preserve cognitive function through every stage of their lives.

A second study, also published in 2014 from the university of Eastern Finland suggests that physical activity in middle life seems to protect from dementia in later life.

I have competed in Iron Man, Marathon, Ultra marathon, Adventure races and open water swims with superb athletes but I am not convinced that they are a superior race. (They are a happy bunch though and there are a fair share of CEO’s and Consultants, Lawyers and Accountants amongst their number) I can’t find any proof that exercise makes you smarter but it seems to be that exercise allows you to access more creativity, concentrate for longer and maintain cognitive function better.

Corporations have caught on to this too, do you have a gym at work? Can you shower at work after running or cycling in? Is there somewhere to park your bike that might have benefitted from the ‘cycle to work’ scheme?

So what about the business benefits of getting up and walking around?

The term Management By Walking About (MBWA) refers to a style of business management that involves managers or supervisors walking about the workplace to get closer the workers. The history of this approach might have come from Hewlett Packard management studies in the 1970’s and is referred to in literature in the 1980’s but must have roots at least in the 1960’s as white collar management descended the steps of their glass fronted offices to inspect the actual quality of work on the engineering shop floor.

These are my five daily ingredients for a balanced mind and body:

  1. Daily exercise – a thirty minute spell (thirty minutes is key to getting the cardio system properly working) of walking or any other exercise. On top of that, simple stretching and regular walks away from the desk will increase circulation, enhance metabolic breakdown of calories and make you feel better. Try walking meetings or walking while on a conference call.
  2. Mental stimulation – Sudoku was the craze a few years ago and for a good reason, it stimulates the mind. Crosswords, debating, learning and education all stimulate the mind to grow and develop new pathways.
  3. Conceptual flexibility – challenging what we think we know about the world helps the brain to find the correct neural pathways to creativity and innovation. Check out the TED channel (Google it) or ask someone what they are passionate about and then listen openly and ask yourself, ‘how can I apply this?’ or, ‘what can I learn from this?’
  4. Human unity – developing friendships is important not only for social needs but also to enable the effective pursuit of conceptual flexibility. Develop an interest in what other people do. Try asking someone to tell you what they do between their periods of work, what makes them laugh and smile and I believe that you will be fascinated (incidentally, not everyone has this natural curiosity or it was drilled out in business school but everyone can develop emotional intelligence)
  5. Energy balance – eating the right things at the right time. I’m not an expert here but I believe that drinking a glass of water regularly throughout the day keeps me hydrated (dehydration is bad for concentration) I also feel that eating fruit and vegetables at least twice as often as I eat cake makes me healthier. You all knew that, right?

You don’t need to be a corporate super-athlete to get intimate with the benefits of healthy body and a healthy mind.

There is a risk that …

‘Have you got a risk template?’

That’s the starting question.

‘Of course, do you want the RAID Log, a Risk Log, an Exec Summary or a Value at Risk driver?’

‘Eeeeeh, I have no idea, I just want to flag some risks!’

Ever got caught up in the web of risk identification, management, resolution? It’s an industry, not that I am knocking that industry after all, if it’s risk documents and templates that you are after, Tailwind PS is in the business of providing them for you. It’s just that, well sometimes simple is better.

My friend Richard was talking to me yesterday about low hanging fruit so with that in mind, Clare, this is the simple and effective way of getting risks on the agenda.

1. Why am I (a busy executive) worried about these things called risks? Well because they can make you into an even busier exec if you don’t watch out so, number one … There is a risk that … and insert impact. We will be fined a million dollars, we are about to get a whole heap of negative press, 25{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} of our customers are going to leave and take their combined fifty million of annual spend with them. Got your attention? (I like to call this the blackberry moment, will the exec put her blackberry down and listen to me now?)
2. Why is this event going to happen? This is the trigger or the event that is going to cause the bad thing to happen. There is a risk that a bad thing is going to happen because … we might fail to gain consensus and deliver documents late. or we are getting close to rushing something out that is substandard, might fail and get into the press.
3. How likely is this to happen, how much do I need to care? 1: very unlikely less than 15{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} (blackberry moment), 2: fairly unlikely 16 to 40{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df}, 3: likely 40 to 60{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} (coffee moment), 4: very likely 60 to 85{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df}, 5: certain 86{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} plus (scotch moment)
4. So what are you/we/I going to do about this … full attention and buy into the strategy to mitigate the risk event or trigger.

There is a risk that a bad thing might happen because we are subject to some threats. The likelihood of this event happening is x{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} and so we are recommending the following action.

Feeling better?

I think that this is the way that the brain works. What is the bad thing, why, when, how much, help!

It’s a simple formula but it works and it gets you in the conversation mix.

Does that work for you?

How do you get real risks on the agenda and resolved?

The first agile project?

I imagine that the project manager in charge of the first pyramid must have had a very interesting challenge. It was Imhotep during the 3rd Dynasty, around 2500 BC who was credited with the step pyramid, built for the Pharaoh Djoser. We talk about the triple constraints of time, cost and scope/quality, I imagine that there might have been upward pressure on quality, some uncertainty around time but little issue with the budget.

All is going well we are on track, 50{e8a48bf1014efa1f514ba2ea7b318659948c550611071653509ba02309d505df} complete, reporting slightly ahead on the earned value wait, what’s that, the Pharaoh has taken ill? Right, requirements out, resources on the table, team meeting. ‘Guys, what can we achieve this week to get the tomb ready?’

False alarm, just the flu. Back to the original schedule.

What a great challenge, to finish something that defines a man and is almost certain to incorporate changes up to that persons demise and yet to be almost finished at the end.

I reckon that might be the first project that employed some agile methodology. I also think there might be a couple of common sense take aways from it:

If the ultimate arbiter of success is customer satisfaction we had best align our methodology to that.
If we start off with the shared knowledge (not assumption) that things will change then we are more prepared for it.
Don’t get left behind when the project team move on (well, before they close the door for good anyway!)
What do you think about early agile projects?

Adrian Pagdin is the Author of ‘It’s the people: Practical lessons in project leadership and stakeholder management’

Why it is all about risk

NCToday I saw the light. Not in a road to Damascus way, but as in a light bulb being turned on. I saw it in the faces of my group that I was facilitating. You see, we had spent two days talking about risk and they kept saying, ‘you are preaching to the converted’. They nodded and I nodded and so we talked about requirements gathering and scoping and we talked about change management and sequencing, we talked about communication and we talked about testing and still they nodded sagely, ‘we get it.’

Then there was the moment, as if the sun had just burst through the cloud or the light bulb had come on and I saw it in their faces and I lnew. I knew that they knew and they knew that I knew. We had just finished a critical path mapping exercise with post it notes (we know) and we had talked about estimation (we know) and we had talked about base lining (yes, we know) and then we talked about modelling and about challenging assumptions and about getting intimate with dependencies and we talked about what would happen if you didn’t do these things and that’s when it happened, the moment.

So we need to pause for a moment and we need to consider all of our actions as project managers.

  • We communicate because if we don’t there is hearsay and rumour.
  • We plan for communications because if we don’t we probably won’t.
  • We test our communications because if we don’t they might not achieve the desired outcome.

There is a risk that the project will meet resistance and encounter delays because stakeholders expectations are not recognised, managed or aligned therefore we should recognise, manage and align …

I’m sure that you know but do you really get it, that everything we do as project and change managers is as a response to risk. The greater the risk, the greater the control, right …

Tailwind PS provides a suite of controls for responding to project risks.

Adrian Pagdin is a Partner with Tailwind PS, a business advisor, programme manager and published author.

Congruence and a unifying culture

In a 1980 study of Microsoft culture, the authors Andrews and Peterson established three shared values:

1. The presence of cutting edge gadgets in the workplace.
2. A lack of clocks.
3. No assigned car parking spaces.

When asked to describe these value artefacts opinion was split. The majority felt that these signified leading edge working practices in a place where everyone could become a millionaire. A minority felt that they were thinly veiled handcuffs to reinforce a lack of set working hours and an encouragement to work harder.

What is described is a fragmented culture, more than one interpretation of the cultural values and artefacts.

Utopia for organisations is a unified culture where everyone shares the same understanding and interpretation of values. Take the fabled visit of President Kennedy to NASA where, after speaking to all the engineers and astronauts and clever busy people he comes across someone mopping the floor on his way out. He stops and asks the person, ‘What are you doing here?’, without a blink the person replies, ‘I am helping to put a man on the moon.’

A wise and ambitious man takes over an ailing company. He sells a future to the bank and develops a strategy to implement it. Attention to detail and every individual working entrepreneurially within boundaries and part of a whole to deliver great products.

He gets the team together and outlines the vision, they love it because it sounds like a great place to work. Posters go up extolling the importance of freedoms to operate and individuality and enablement. There is a buzz and people stay late and the collaborate and it’s all starting to go well.

The wise man goes to the bank and says, ‘hey we are getting somewhere!’ The banker says, ‘not quickly enough. I need results and I need them soon!’ So the wise man goes back to the office and he sends out an email that communicates the importance of delivery. He then asks everyone to prepare a report on where they are and what they are working on and when they expect to deliver.

The meetings do not go well for the wise man. The entrepreneurial and enabled team present high level reports with a great deal of ambiguity. When challenged for the detail they respond, ‘we know what we are doing, trust me.’ The wise man wants to trust them but he can’t so he asks each team member to provide detailed reports and he puts in place a measurement system to track and report progress. Some of the enablement and individuality posters are replaced with process and control charts.

The next week the reports start coming in and the wise man is disappointed, ‘these plans are not good enough the products are poor, I want to see more, in fact every aspect of what you are doing.’ The wise man knows it’s important to keep people motivated so he starts a coffee morning and walks the floor twice a week.

The following week the plans are more detailed, the wise man is in the detail but progress is slow. Fridays are now dedicated to writing reports, a lot more time to demonstrating compliance. People are not staying so long, the wise man misses a bank meeting because he was reading reports.

The wise man commissions a report into the culture and motivation of the work force and there are two views. One view is that the organisation is detail centric, rewards attention to detail at all costs. Another view is that challenge, empowerment and creativity are essential.

There are two thoughts here, one is the paradox of control; the more control that is exerted the more predictable the outcome at the cost of creativity and innovation. The second is congruence; if you are saying one thing but doing another this creates uncertainty, a fragmented view of culture and leads to a breakdown in trust and belief.

Unified culture is fragile, tread easily for fear of fragmenting it.

Adrian Pagdin is the Author of ‘It’s the People: Practical Lessons in Project Leadership and Stakeholder Management.