"Project managers like their methodologies, but that won't help if they' re doing the wrong project. But all PMs seem to care about is delivering the project on time. Delivering business value is someone else's problem."
I was at London's Project Challenge Expo the other week, and this quote was taken from one of the presenters in a quiet off-stage moment. If true, I find this comment very, very depressing. I have a picture in my head of a group of mindless zombies marching slowly, inexorably, relentlessly on with no real goal in sight other than getting the project out on time.
Of course, the speaker didn't mean his comments to be taken too literally, but the fact that he could put voice to them should send shivers down the spine of every CFO, COO, CIO and PMO on the planet.
I put his comment to several other industry luminaries who were at the event and this is a summary of their responses. All common sense, but sometimes we all need reminding.
Orient your project around value
Your project portfolio exists to allow your organization to hit its strategic and operational goals. Traditional measures of project success (is it on time? Is it on budget?) are, therefore, somewhat irrelevant. The real questions at the portfolio level should be something like, "Is the portfolio aligned to the goals of the organization? Are we extracting the most value from our resources?"
At the project level, the question should be, "what business value should this project deliver? How can I maximize that value?" Putting those questions at the heat of the project kick-off meeting will orient the team. It will give them a framework for decision-making and all those small project-level decisions add up.
Another benefit of putting value at the heart is that it means your executive sponsor is reminded of the benefit they will derive from the project. I’d be willing to wager that this will improve levels of executive sponsorship leading to a better outcome.
There are, I'm sure, whole books on how to communicate, document and share knowledge during a project. That's all fantastic, but it's not what I'm driving at here,
The point here is about delivering the right message, in the right way, to the right people.
For example, execs want a summary of "what you'll get from this project, in business terms" whereas developers (or whoever is executing tasks in your environment) will need much more detailed documentation. But even the detailed documentation should maintain the drum-beat of "business value".
At some level, the PM has to act as the Babel fish for the different players. The PM has help, of course (e.g. from business analysts), but the responsibility rests with the PM.
For example, status reports are often about time and cost. While not totally irrelevant, those task-based measures should be translated into business impact statements.
Master your methodology
So far, so predictable. But the next theme came out really strongly and was something of a surprise given the nature of the people to whom I put the question (PMO consultants, senior PMs, etc.)
From the heading of this section you might think the message was, "Get out there, get certified and implement your chosen methodology religiously."
The message that came across from pretty much everyone I asked is that methodologies provide good tools and a common language, but you should take from them only what you find useful. Don't lie awake at night chanting the mantras of your methodology. Rather, become the master of the methodology, use it to support you in achieving your business goals. Don't waste resources on components of the methodology that add little value.
In other words, think for yourself.
So, if your PMs resemble a pack of zombies (what is the appropriate collective noun for a group of zombies?), the cure is to focus them on business value, to have them become Babel fish and.. to think!