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Project Management News round up for October 2013

APM Introductory Certificate examination can available online

APM book coverAPM’s Introductory Certificate in project management is now available to take online whenever you want. “We wanted to improve the candidate experience when taking our entry-level qualification, making it more accessible, convenient and in line with e-learning opportunities,” said Liz Wilson, head of professional standards and knowledge at APM. “It is a great example of our flexible approach to delivering world-class, professional qualifications.”

You also get your results back immediately. This makes it a lot easier for international candidates to sit the exam and the exam is properly invigilated (although I’m not sure how this works – my experience of invigilated exams involves a disinterested teacher sitting at the front of the room making sure we don’t throw pencils at each other in the exam room).

It’s another example of how more and more stuff is moving online and I expect we’ll see more online options available from other providers in the future.

PMI buys Human Systems International

In mergers and acquisitions news this month, PMI has bought the UK assessment and benchmarking firm Human Systems International. “HSI and PMI are like-minded organizations, focused on providing thought leadership, knowledge and networking opportunities designed to improve company and practitioner capabilities in project, programme and portfolio management,” said Mark Langley, President and CEO of PMI.

You can see that there is a good fit. HSI has what they call “the world’s largest and most robust database” of project management best practices. PMI will no doubt use this information to build resources for their members and hopefully to share the knowledge around a bit so that we all benefit.

The plan is for HSI’s benchmarking approach to remain methodology-independent and standards-agnostic, focusing on the best practices that have emerged over two decades of data collection from multinational organizations. Hopefully that will ensure that all standards get the same treatment and that we don’t end up with research only into certain areas.

New PRINCE2 ebook

There’s a new PRINCE2 ebook available from Knowledge Train. I found out about it through G+. Most of the links shared there aren’t that interesting but this ebook is good and if you are studying for the PRINCE2 exam I’m sure it will help explain the major themes. And it’s free! What’s not to like?

P3O bookUpdate to P3O standards

It seems like every couple of months a standard gets updated at the moment and now Best Management Practice is in on the act. The Portfolio, Programme and Project Offices (P3O) standard has just been updated. It covers the different types of offices that may exist within a P3O structure, the roles required to manage the functions and services that the P3O team carries out and the key techniques and tools used by P3Os.

The standard has been updated to be more in line with the other standards from The Stationery Office including Management of Value and Managing Successful Programmes, there’s some new guidance on Key Performance Indicators and a new case study. I doesn’t sound like the changes have been too radical but the standardisation with their other products is very welcome.

BBC Move to Salford – Committee of Public Accounts Report released

Last year the BBC moved many of its departments to Salford in the north of England near Manchester. This was quite a controversial project at the time, especially as many staff, presenters and executives received relocation allowances, in one case of £150,000.

The Public Accounts Committee report has now been released and it concludes that the move was successful. It was on time and at a total cost of £224m, which was £9m below budget. And there was no disruption to broadcast services. However, it also says that it’s too early to tell if the wider benefits of better serving northern audiences and creating jobs and economic growth in the region will be achieved. The report recommends routine monitoring of benefits through clear measurement and reporting of progress.

The report also talks about the Digital Media Initiative project which was closed down after delivering nothing but costing £98m. I don’t think the premature close of this project was directly linked to the relocation, but there is going to be more investigation into what went wrong and why the committee was told they were making “good progress” and it was “fully on track” when in reality nothing seemed to be happening and the project didn’t achieve anything or deliver any programmes. Watch this space for more from the National Audit Office who will no doubt be releasing their findings.

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If you are going to fail, fail fast

Image (c) www.fireflythegreat.com

The average large company, running around 150 projects at any one time, loses £13 million a year by not stopping projects that are failing. It’s not always management’s responsibility to cancel projects: if you’re working on something that you know isn’t going to deliver the proposed benefits, you need to speak up. Quickly.

Keith Richards, one of the UK’s Agile experts, said, “If you are going to fail, fail fast.” Mistakes happen. Things go wrong. It is how you deal with it that counts. A project manager who makes mistakes and owns up to them early will find people willing to help to get things back on track.These projects are late at the beginning but tend to make up the time later.

A project manager who hides mistakes, crossing her fingers until the project is nearing its due date, will find that people will – for the most part – rally round to help get things back on track. But this will be because there is now little choice about pressing on. These projects are “on track” until near the end but then have been shown to take, overall, twice as long. So, own up to your mistakes, and put things right as soon as you can.

If you can’t, remember that the project manager’s role is partly to direct the work and partly to provide an objective position on how the work is done – and that means suggesting stopping everything and starting again, or even not starting again, if necessary. Recommending that a project is closed can be a very positive action.

Late projects or closed projects can feel like professional failure. One way to deal with things that feel like they are going wrong at work is to have something outside of work that you care about, that helps put things in perspective. Carry out Murray’s Deathbed Test (named after a colleague from a previous job who had a very sensible outlook on life). Think forward to when you are old and dying. How will you complete the sentence, “I wish I had spent more time…”? I very much doubt the answer will be “completing my issue logs” or “updating my Gantt chart”. Work hard, be professional, but keep things in perspective.

Keeping things in perspective will stop you being afraid of challenging senior people.  Not all projects are started from the basis of a competent idea. If you know the project is going to fail, explain why it should be stopped: then it’s up to your sponsor to take the final decision to stop it.

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Why projects fail: the presentation

Last month I gave a presentation at the Nottingham and Derby branch of the British Computer Society about why projects fail – which, as regular readers will know, is a subject close to my heart. It was a pretty good evening: lots of people turned out, including some of the BCS Women group and some people who weren’t members at all, who thought I would be interesting enough to give up an evening for. I hope I met their expectations! I really enjoyed the event; even getting up the next morning before 6am to make my train to London wasn’t that bad. Bizarrely, first class travel was actually cheaper than second class – not sure how that works out – so I got a cooked breakfast on the train. But the next day the lack of sleep kicked in and I zonked out as soon as I got home.

If you weren’t able to attend but would like to see the presentation, you can download it here (355Kb .ppt file).

There’s a video in the presentation in which Deborah Hall explains five things you can do to steer projects along the path to success. You can watch the video below. It’s only 24 seconds long but it gave people a break from listening to me talk the whole evening.

{vidavee id=”12781″ w=”320″ }

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Closing down projects

15% of all projects are shut down before they complete, according to Microsoft. There’s various different reasons for this, and companies should handle closing down projects with sensitivity. Here’s a video clip of me in discussion with Deborah Hall about stopping projects.

(Video clip used with permission)
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Failing projects: the presentation

I’m giving a talk in Nottingham next month.  It’s been a while since I’ve been that far north.  I always got really excited being driven through the town when I was younger, as Robin Hood could have been in the forest somewhere.  There’s been a recent TV series about him that I’ve watched with a degree of dedication normally reserved only for Un Dos Tres.  So it’s great to have a reason to go back there, even if this time I don’t think I’ll spot outlaws among the trees.

If you’d like to come along to the evening event, here’s what it’s about:

Projects are worth about £60 billion to the UK economy. Research shows that about 70% of projects fail. It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that’s a lot of money at risk each year. As more and more of the routine IT work gets outsourced or off-shored, the UK is becoming a hotbed for projects. If you haven’t worked on one already, chances are you will soon.

This talk will cover how organisations define (or don’t define) success and failure in terms of projects. We’ll discuss the five main reasons why projects fail, and have a look at some examples of high profile projects that have failed to deliver. While no set of guidelines can guarantee project success, some critical factors will be presented to give your projects a fighting chance of success. And if you’re in the middle of a project that is going badly, we’ll look at some recovery strategies to bring projects back from the brink – including when the best option really is to cut your losses and back out gracefully.

It’s being hosted by the British Computer Society Nottingham and Derby Branch, at a local hotel.  You can reserve a place (it’s free!) and find out more on their website.

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Back from the brink

BPUG welcome poster

Andrew Ball, head of IT Performance Audit at the Audit Commission, was one of the speakers at last week’s BPUG Congress. He spoke during a session in the strategic project and programme management strand about how to cope when projects go wrong.

The main thrust of his argument was trying to avoid projects going wrong in the first place by planning for failure. While that sounds a bit negative – after all, no one starts a project predicting it is going to be a disaster – it is actually all about constructive management of risk.

You can plan for failure through risk management, either at the very outset or as soon as you see the warning signs which Andrew identified as:

  • Slippage
  • A conspiracy of silence: no one speaking about project problems
  • A big project board
  • Lack of clarity of roles
  • Organisational dissent, as that means people go off and develop their own solutions instead of using the product of the project
  • Critical resource dependencies, where all the skill is in one or two key people
  • An elusive solution that no one has really defined yet
  • Lack of resources (money and people).

These are all risks that can be tackled head-on and taking action when you see the warning signs could stop a project failure.

Andrew also made a good point about the role that experts have to play in project failure. He warned that we should be wary of experts who cannot see the risks that others can. Subject matter experts, whatever their discipline, can become conditionally desensitised to risks in their domain. Just because something can be done does not mean it is easy to do. There is also the difference between a gamble and a risk to be considered: your expert may have the skills to do x, y and z but no one has the skill to throw six sixes with six dice. Luck may be on your side, but that is a gamble rather than a calculated risk. So beware experts who tell you the project will get lucky and it will all work out – other people may be better at clarifying the risks involved than those closest to it.

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Day of Gratitude 2014

We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK but somehow we’ve managed to adopt the Black Friday sales madness and the shops were full of deals and people. Still, I can’t quite bring myself to post this on Thanksgiving, even though this show of appreciation has become a bit of an annual thing on A Girl’s… Continue Reading->

Get Your Projects Fit with The Lazy Project Manager

I am not fit. Since having my two boys I am heavier than I have ever been, except while pregnant. My only exercise is balancing in small spaces while standing on the train to work. I fuel getting up for the night feeds with cereal bars and chocolate croissants. Luckily, my projects are healthier than… Continue Reading->

Managing change on projects: James T. Brown at Synergy 2014

“We have to get them to want what we have to deliver,” said Dr. James T. Brown at the PMI UK Chapter event Synergy earlier this month. “We have to go through this process to prove you are a good person and to make them anticipate the deliverable.” He was talking about wooing. It’s what… Continue Reading->

Project Managing the Freezer [The Parent Project Month 21]

The house is in crisis. The middle pages of Percy And The Kite have fallen out. Without the mid-section, you have no way of knowing how Percy fares in the kite contest although he does look (spoiler alert) very pleased on the final page. The final page is sticky-taped to the back cover. That one… Continue Reading->

Synergy 2014: Conference Highlights

“When what you do is not unique, the way that you do it makes the difference.” That’s how Ricardo Triana, Chair of the 2014 PMI Board of Directors opened Synergy last Thursday. Synergy, organised by PMI’s UK Chapter, was attended by around 600 project managers from around Europe. “Project management,” Ricardo went on to say… Continue Reading->

Why Project Management Is Like Surviving The Hunger Games

**Spoiler alerts** Don’t read this if you haven’t read the first book of The Hunger Games series. It’s the UK general release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 this week. Selecting the team for the District, planning for the Games, sharing a clear objective. Sounds like project management, doesn’t it? Here’s why project management… Continue Reading->