Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Review

It's always good to look back and review how things went as part of an experiential learning process, so this is my review of 2016 and no don't worry, I'm not going to mention Brexit or Trump!

January began as usual with me opening Topsham outdoor swimming pool on New Year's Day (I'll be doing it again on Sunday morning). The rest of January was taken up with worrying about storm Gertrude and flooded rugby pitches.

February things started to pick up and we were able to play a few games. Not a lot else seemed to be happening!

March saw the publication of a white paper on why projects really fail, while on the rugby front Exeter Chiefs needed to bounce back from a bad loss to Leicester, and Topsham needed to keep up the pressure for a play-off spot.

April spent two weeks in Jamaica, saw a good bit of the island and met some great people. While back at home Topsham RFC secured promotion from Devon 1 to the Cornwall and Devon league, brilliant!

May saw the start of the cricket season (yawn) so I turned my concentration onto what we can do to make sure projects go right (rather than looking at why they go wrong).

June looked at the steps we need to take to implement successful project management.

July discussed the soft skills of project management.

August looked at building a good team and pre-season training started at long last.

September saw the need to stay calm and how we should measure success in project management, while the new season kicked off well.

October saw things building up to Bonfire Night, our biggest fund raising event at the club and another great team effort.

November the fifth was a great success and hopefully we captured all the lessons learned for next year! I also started walking rugby taster sessions at the clubhouse.

December and thoughts turn towards the Christmas and New Year (two weekends with no rugby at Topsham), but fortunately Exeter Chiefs kept us entertained, making it into the top four after a poor start to the season.

So that was my 2016 in a nutshell.

Here's wishing you all a very happy and successful New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2016

So here it is again

All is quiet at the rugby club this weekend, no rugby, because it's Christmas! I was going to do a post on something quite profound but I decided against it so here's a quick run down on where things are:

The extension to the viewing area and wooden safety fence are completed and are looking good. 

On the walking rugby front we have a group of eight people so far who are keen to give it a go, so we are going to continue the indoor taster/training sessions on Fridays in the new year. We should also be getting some publicity on it in the New Year so hopefully it will begin to take off. We need to get a few more people so we can start playing 5 a side outside on the mini rugby pitch.

So looking forward to the New Year with our first walking rugby session on Friday 6th January and our first home game on Saturday 7th January: our Men's 1st XV against Withycombe. 

So Happy Holiday to all over the pond and a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to those on this side of the pond and down under.


Friday, December 02, 2016

Traditional Wisdom

Projects teams tend to start out with boundless enthusiasm. They are going to change the world (or at least a small part of it) for the better. It’s usually as we get to the middle stages of a project that the problems start to emerge. The project manager’s role is to facilitate and clarify conflicts. But this is not something we get taught, it relies on common sense (which is difficult to teach) and traditional wisdom (which has to be gained).  

The Way
When the going gets tough a poor project manager will often rely on theoretical models and processes, but these are only tools and templates. The wise project manager responds to what is happening in the here and now. He is happy to serve others. The wise project manager does not make a fuss; he is quiet and reflective. The wise project manager prefers what is common and natural for this is traditional wisdom.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us: 

Give up learning, and put an end to your anxiety. 
There is little difference between one and another.  
Is there a difference between good and bad?  
Must I fear what others fear?  

The people are excited,  
As if enjoying a sacrificial feast.  
As if climbing up to the terrace in spring.  
But I alone am quiet and uninvolved.  

I am like a new born babe.  
I alone am bereft as if homeless.  
Everyone has more than they need,  
But I alone seem left out.  

I have the heart of a fool,  
Very confused!  
Other people are bright,  
I alone am confused.  

Everyone else has a purpose,  
But I am ignorant as a rustic.  
I alone am different,  
And am nourished by the great mother.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Self Improvement

Just realised I haven't posted anything for a month! Sorry about that but pressure of work at the day job (Treasurer of Topsham RFC) has been telling lately. Talking of which we had our first taster session of Walking Rugby at the clubhouse yesterday afternoon, great fun had by all and some good exercise, I was certainly feeling it by the end.

Self Improvement 
There are any number of books and courses that promise to make you a better project manager, but of course no book or teacher can make you a better project manager. There are no rules or techniques that can develop these qualities, you need to discover things for yourself. 

The Way 
A poor project manager may go on lots of courses but this will only make him a sadder person while making the people selling the courses richer. The wise project manager develops and improves through practicing silence and meditation. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,  
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.  
Give up kindness, renounce morality,  
And the people will go back to filial piety and compassion.  
Give up cunning, renounce profit,  
And robbers and thieves will disappear.  

If these three are not sufficient in themselves,  
Consider natural simplicity,
Cherish nature’s work,
And let things take their course.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Keeping Calm

Bonfire Night
The biggest fund raising event of the year for Topsham Rugby Club is November 5th. I was very heavily involved last year but this year I am leaving it to the team to organise. There will be a lot of pressure but I have trust in them to get it done.

There is often a lot of pressure at key times in a project. A poor project manager gets caught up in this pressure and consequently loses sight of what is happening. The wise project manager recognises that he needs to make space and step back in order to observe what is going on before doing anything. 

The Way  
The way represents the single principle of how everything works. When we keep it simple and follow the path there will be harmony in the team and people get on with the project. When we leave the way, the team will start to argue about what they should or should not have done and what might or might not have then happened. The project team begins to lose their motivation and they start to take sides.

The wise project manager recognises what is happening and returns to first principles. He needs to calm the team, reassure them and bring them back to the way. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

When the great Tao is neglected,  
Humanity and righteousness arise.  
When wisdom and knowledge appear,  
They beget great falseness.  

When there is no peace within the family,  
Filial piety and maternal love arise.  
When the country is confused and in chaos,  
Patriotism is born. 

Friday, October 21, 2016


Lao Tzu tells us that there are four types of leaders and this seems to apply quite well to project managers, see how many of the four you have come into contact with:

Weak Project Managers
Ineffectual project managers that have been promoted to their level of incompetence. They struggle to get anything done and are generally seen as losers. Consequently no one wants to be in their team and we can all agree they are poor project managers.  

Feared Project Managers
These guys get their way by threatening and browbeating their team. Any good people in their team take the hint and move somewhere they will be more appreciated. While the bad ones will try to imitate their behaviour or worse still toady up to them. Again I am sure we can all agree that they too are poor project managers.

Charismatic Project Managers
These are the interesting ones. Typically they lead from the front, are popular and can even have fans, but are they wise project managers?  Take them away from their team and the team will stumble as they have become too reliant on the project manager. They are not usually poor project managers, but they are not wise project managers.

Wise Project Managers
The wise project manager is barely noticed. He does not intervene unless it is absolutely necessary and allows the team to run itself. He facilitates with a light touch and delegates wisely. The team gets on with its work without fuss and bother.

The Way 
The wise project manager trusts in his team and they, in turn, trust in him. Greatness does not come to those who go looking for it, it comes out of humility.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

When the best ruler governs,  
The people are barely aware he exists.  
The next best is a leader which they know and love.  
Then one who is feared.  
The worst is one who is despised.  

If the ruler does not trust the people,  
There will be no trust in him.  
The best ruler doesn’t talk, he acts.  
When his work is done,  
The people say “We did it!”  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Letting Go

In project management there is no point trying to be perfect or admired as these are not things that make the team or the project any more successful. By letting go of all emotional baggage and just being part of the team we not only benefit the rest of the team and the project but we benefit ourselves.  

Poor project managers try to impress their management and may even achieve it, briefly. But it is short lived and they are usually brought back to earth by their own vanity. 

The Way  
The wise project manager does not claim to be perfect or want to be admired, for it would only be an illusion. Interestingly the wise project manager often is admired. Not because he strives for it as he doesn’t, but because he supports the rest of the team and they admire that.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Empty your mind of everything.  
Let the mind rest at peace.  
The ten thousand things rise and fall,  
I watch their return.  

They grow and flourish and then return to the origin.  
Returning to the origin is stillness, which is the way of nature.  
The way of nature is unchanging.  
Knowing constancy is insight.  

Not knowing constancy causes confusion.  
Knowing constancy, one is open-hearted.  
With an open heart, you will be open-minded.  
Being open-minded, you will act in a kingly manner.  

Being kingly, you will attain the divine.  
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.  
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.  
And though the body dies, you are ready.  

Friday, October 07, 2016

What Makes a Good Project Manager

The good project managers I have known have tended to be subtle, responsive and had a good knowledge of what was happening on their projects. The poor ones tend to rely on methods and techniques to try and stay on top of their projects and they have usually struggled.  

I am a great believer in the effective learning cycle. This is an iterative process that suggests we learn best if we go through four stages of the cycle: plan something, do it, reflect on how it worked and then draw conclusions from it about what we will do next time. On a project this works at the task level, the stage level and the project level. It's why we do reviews and document the lessons learned.

The Way  
Reflection helps us to see how things happen. When we reflect we are grounded in the infinite. The wise project manager is considerate and does harm to no one. He is courteous and knows how to yield gracefully. He is open and receptive and can clarify things for others, because he has been there himself. The wise project manager is not trying to be enlightened, because he is enlightened

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

The ancient masters were subtle and profound.  
The depth of their knowledge was unfathomable.  
There is no way to describe it,  
All we can do is describe their appearance.  

Careful like men crossing a winter stream.  
Wary like men aware of danger.  
Honest like uncarved blocks of wood.  
Open like a valley.  

Can you wait patiently,  
Until the mud settles and the water is clear?  
Can you remain still,  
Until the right action arises by itself?  

The sage does not seek fulfilment.  
Not seeking, not expecting,  
He can welcome everything.  

Friday, September 30, 2016

Staying Aware

Topsham RFC
There is a lot going on at the club at the moment both on and off the pitch. The next big event is Bonfire Night, and as it falls on a Saturday this year and our 1st XV are at home it could be massive. I'm leaving the details to the Bar and Events sub-committee this year but I'm also making sure I'm aware of what's going on.

One sure sign of a poor project manager is one who doesn’t know what's going on in his project. He may keep questioning the team to find out, but that will only irritate the team members and it is not the way. We need to become silent and listen with our inner selves. If we don't understand something, don't strive to figure it out, step back, be calm and the way will become clear.  

Try softer rather than trying harder. Stand back, let go of trying and we will begin to understand what's going on. Let go of trying altogether and then things will really start to work out.  

The Way  
So the wise project manager stays in the present. The past is over and done with, there's no point in thinking about what might have been. Likewise there's no point in trying to second guess the future, it will be what it will be. So stay in the present and attend to what's happening now.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Look and it cannot be seen.  
Listen and it cannot be heard.  
Grasp and it cannot be held.  
These three are indefinable,  
Therefore they are joined as one.  

Grasp the strangeness which is Tao.  
Mindful of what exists now.  
Knowing the ancient beginning,  
Is the essence of wisdom. 

Friday, September 23, 2016


I have long been interested in how we measure success in project management. The standard answer is of course: deliver the project on time, within budget and with all the required features and functionality delivered. On agile projects it is: with all the required features and functionality that can be delivered in the available time and budget. 

Of course the project should also deliver benefits to the business in line with the business case, although strictly speaking, that is not the project manager’s responsibility. So maybe a poor project manager would stop there.  

But of course true success can only be achieved when the project has delivered something that the users are happy to use. In addition to the users there is also the project team; can the project be regarded as a success unless the team also are happy with the outcome?  

The Way  
So a poor project manager concentrates on getting the project in on time and within budget. A slightly better project manager adds delivery of the required features and functionality. But the wise project manager includes and cares for the users, the team and all the other project stakeholders. He lets them be the judges of whether or not the project is successful.  By fostering success in the users and team we can share in that success and truly say “that project was successful”

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Love disgrace as if frightened. 
Honor misfortune as the human condition.  

Why love disgrace as if frightened?  
Love because of being unimportant.  
Obtain it as if frightened.  
Loose it as if frightened.  

Why think of honoring misfortune as the human condition?  
Misfortune comes from having a body.  
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?  
Therefore honor life as yourself.  

Have faith in the way things are.  
Love the world as your own self,  
Then you can truly care for all things.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Staying Calm II

River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, Devon
A slow stroll along the beach, ending up with this stunning view (the photo was taken on Christmas Day a few years ago). My favourite way of calming down. It always works!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Staying Calm

There can often be a lot of pressure in projects, simply by their very nature and also by task and deliverable inter-dependencies. If that wasn't bad enough, management always want it quicker if not also cheaper and better!

Things are not helped if the project manager responds to management pressure by interfering with the team and creating a lot more pressure in the process. When that happens the team can become quite disoriented and begin to lose its way. The lesson we can learn from the Agile approach is that the project manager stands back and lets the team do it. Even the Scrum Master is there to facilitate and not pressurise the team.  

The Way  
The wise project manager is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees happening around him. Stay still and calm and be guided by your inner feelings, not what you are being told. The rest of the team will pick up on this and stay centered. When we pause and take time to reflect, the way becomes clearer.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The five colours blind the eye.  
The five sounds deafen the ear.  
The five flavors dull the taste.  
Galloping and hunting madden the heart.  

Desires lead one astray.  
Therefore the sage is guided by his stomach,  
And not his eye.  
He discards the one and holds the other. 

Friday, September 02, 2016

Inner Space

The start of the new rugby season is always exciting and for Topsham RFC it is even more so as we have been promoted to the Cornwall and Devon league (the highest we have ever reached). Watching the two pre-season friendlies against Exmouth RFC and Sidmouth RFC (both in higher leagues than us) and seeing the new coach (Chris Whitehead, former Exeter Chiefs hooker) and players starting to work together as a team was great. Our first league match is tomorrow away at Falmouth, so fingers crossed.

The Way
Agile project management is all about empowering the team and that is very much in line with the way. When the members of a project team work together on a project there is a concept of an inner space created by the team. This defines how they work together and even the mood of the team. It is the context for everything which happens within the team.  

Poor project managers tend to focus and concentrate on what the members of the team are doing and saying. They are also concerned about what is happening and what people are saying outside the team. The wise project manager knows that it is what is happening inside the team that is important. The silences and inner space reveal the team’s essential mood. Therefore the wise project manager pays attention to the silences.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

Thirty spokes join the wheel’s hub,  
It is the center hole that makes the cart useful.  
Shape clay into a pot,  
It is the space within that makes it useful.  
Cut doors and windows to make a house,  
It is the space within that make it useful.  
Therefore advantage come from what exists,  
Usefulness comes from what is not there.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Primal Virtue

A project manager has to do many things. Not taking sides or getting involved in squabbles, helping those involved to resolve the issues themselves is the correct approach. Leading the team without being possessive or dominating. Not taking the credit for the work of the team. 

The Way  
A poor project manager will try to dominate the team. This will grind them down and stifle their creativity. The wise project manager encourages the team and is supportive, without taking credit for the team’s achievements.

Lao Tzu asks a lot of questions in this chapter of the Tao and as project managers these are the questions we should be asking ourselves, most important can we lead without dominating?  

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

Can you coax your mind from wandering, and keep to the original oneness?  
Can you let your body become supple as a new-born child?  
Can you cleanse your inner vision until it is pure?  
Can you love all men and lead them without cleverness?  
Opening and closing the gates of Heaven, can you play the role of a woman?  
Understanding all things, can you be without motive?  
Giving birth and nourishing, having yet not possessing,  
Acting yet not taking credit, leading yet not trying to dominate,  
This is the Primal Virtue.  

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Good Team

Yet more on the soft skills

I have always been impressed by how well people will work in a project team if you respect them and let them get on with it. My last big project team were all very professional. Of course some of them were better at some things than others but they were all good and capable of working well and they knew their stuff. It was a real pleasure and a privilege to work with them. Unlike at the Olympics, in many ways a good project team is better than a spectacular team. 

A poor project manager will try to micro-manage the team and want to be seen as a superstar. But superstars can get carried away with their own importance then, sooner or later, they will burn out and crash back to earth.  

The Way 
The wise project manager settles for good work and lets the team get on with things. He or she does not try and take the credit for what happens and has no desire for fame. They make sure the team takes the credit, as after all, they have done the work. Having a moderate ego demonstrates true wisdom

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

Fill your bowl to the brim,  
And it will spill.  
Over sharpen your knife,  
And the edge will soon be blunt.  

Amass a store of gold and jade,  
And nothing can guard it.  
Care about other peoples’ approval,  
And you will be their prisoner.  

Retire when the work is done.  
This is the way to serenity.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

More on Soft Leadership

Still on the subject of soft skills: pushy project managers may think they are being effective but they can have a bad impact on the team. Better to be relaxed and go with the flow, for that way the team will be positive and motivated. That’s not to say that you can be incompetent and get away with it, for the team will soon find you out. Just be fair and honest with the team and they will respect it.  

The Way
The wise project manager is like water. Water goes anywhere freely. It is yielding and flows naturally. The wise project manager does not push, so the team does not resent or resist, 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The supreme good is like water.  
Water gives life to the ten thousand things without trying.  
It flows in the low places people reject,  
And so is like the Tao.  

Giving with fairness and compassion.  
Speaking with integrity.  
Governing without trying to control.  
Working with competence.  
Moving with good timing.  

Not competing,  
So not finding fault.  

Friday, August 05, 2016

Soft Leadership

Continuing the theme of soft leadership, I like to think back to some of the project managers I have worked with over the years and a handful stand out for one main quality, their selflessness. 

A project manager who is selfish and thinks only of himself, will either alienate the rest of the team, or worse still, the rest of the team will think that is the correct way to behave and start to develop similar characteristics.  It stands to reason that a good, supportive project manager will make the whole team feel better.  And if the team feels better they will perform better.  

The Way
The the wise project manager shows enlightened leadership through service.  He puts the well-being of the team above that of himself. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

Heaven and earth are long-lasting.  
Why are they long-lasting?  
They use no personal agenda,  
So they can last a long time.  

Therefore the sage stays behind, and proceeds.  
Is detached from all things, and continues.  
By not having a personal agenda,  
He is able to accomplish great things.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Soft Skills

There are lots of courses available about how to be a project manager, but they tend to concentrate on the hard skills of project management. The Way is all about the soft skills, but what are the soft skills a project manager needs to get things done?  

The wise project manager knows he doesn’t have direct authority over the team, so he needs to build trust and respect to get things done.  

The wise project manager knows he can't do it all himself, so he delegates, lets go and trusts the team to do the right things.  

Life is full of trade-offs so the wise project manager is prepared to understand other peoples' needs as well as those of the project.  

The wise project manager knows that people need to be encouraged and praised and thanked for what they have done on the project.  

Team Building 
The wise project manager knows that team spirit is a wonderful thing, with it everyone will push together.  

There will be difficulties and difficult people; the wise project manager stays calm in these situations and nurtures the team.  

In summary the wise project manager brings out his feminine side (unless of course she already happens to be one of the 20% of project managers who is a woman, in which case be thankful and be yourself).  

The Tao 
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The spirit of the valley does not die,  
It might be called the Great Mother.  
The origin of heaven and earth.  
Ever present and everlasting.  
Use it, it will never fail.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

Using Peoples' Skills

Last week I mentioned Johnny Beirne and his excellent Project Management Paradise web site at He talks to me about my approach to project management on episode 5 if you would like to hear my thoughts. One of which was on peoples' skills.

Using Peoples' Skills
When it comes to project team members, it is quite normal that some will be better at certain things than others. Some will be very competent at what they do and others less so. Some will be more dedicated and some less so. I always have to smile when people raise things like Belbin roles as a pre-requisite when selecting project teams. “We must have a completer/finisher” is the usual cry but in my experience you are lucky to get people with the technical skills you need, let alone team skills. 

The Way  
The wise project manager learns to work with the people he gets given and thanks them for their efforts. The light of awareness shines equally on what is good and what is bad. One person is as worthy as the next. Knowing this the wise project manager does not pretend to be special. Silence is a great source of strength. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us: 

The sage is not humane,  
Considering all as grass dogs.  

The space between Heaven and Earth,  
Is like a flute or sack.  
It is emptied but not lessened.  
Move it and more comes out.  

Many words add up to nothing.  
Nothing equals holding to the center.  

Note: The Tao uses the term ‘grass dogs’ to indicate that things might be good or evil.  So the sage does not take sides but considers all equal regardless of their virtue.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

What is the Way?

Firstly let's say what the Way isn't. It isn't a methodology, it isn't a religion (although some people have tried to make it one), it isn't a how to do things and it isn't a set of project management guidelines. It is much more than any of that.

This week I was discussing the role of methodology with Johnny Beirne for a future Podcast on his website. Poor project managers believe that if they follow a methodology, faithfully, then they are running their project the right way, but that is not the way. Yes there is a role for methodology or standards but it's not how to run a project.

The Way
The Way is a philosophy. The Way is a single unifying principle. The Way is about how things happen. The way cannot be learned, it is just there. Nothing made the way, the Way simply is. The wise project manager does not search for the Way, he runs his project in harmony with the Way by following natural law and the single principle.

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:

The Tao is like a well,  
It is used, but never used up.  
It is like an eternal void,  
But filled with infinite possibilities.  

It blunts the sharpness, unravels the knots,  
Dims the glare, mixes the dust*.  
Hidden deep but ever present.  
I do not know from whence it came.  

* Note: The word dust or dirt is used to indicate things that might be soiled, corrupted or even sensual.  But as the Tao is universal it includes all things even things that might be considered as bad.  

Friday, July 08, 2016

Simple Wisdom

It has been interesting looking at our politicians at the moment as they scrabble to convince us how good they are (apart from Boris, who did the exact opposite and Jeremy, who is just being Jeremy). It is of course the same for project managers. Poor project managers are ambitious and desperate for success. They want advancement but this will create havoc for their project team.  

The Way
The wise project manager concentrates on making sure the project team have what they need to create the project and protects them from external interference. Getting things done doesn't have to be frantic and the team don’t have to be busy. If we just act normally and co-operate with one another, the project team can achieve great things. The wise project manager is concerned that the team functions well and that what they do is effective. 

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us: 

Do not glorify great men,  
And the people will not quarrel.  
Do not treasure valuable possessions,  
And the people will not become thieves.  

Therefore the sage would lead by:  
Emptying people’s minds,  
And filling their stomachs.  
By weakening their ambitions,  
And strengthening their bodies.  

If people lack cunning and desire,  
Those who scheme will not dare to meddle.  
Practice not doing and all will be well.  

Friday, July 01, 2016

Try Softer

Trying too hard to achieve something will usually end in disaster.  I've always had an interest in why projects fail and one of the common reasons is project managers who drive themselves and their project teams into the ground by trying to achieve the impossible.   

I once received some excellent advice from a ski coach.  He said that I should try softer rather than trying harder.  “Imagine that the handles of the ski poles are little canaries in your hands”.  Several dead canaries later I finally stopped trying so hard and it worked!  Of course I immediately got very excited at my success, crossed my skis and had a spectacular crash!  The way is not always without a sense of humor.  

Project managers who drive themselves and their team seem to think that they will be admired for their efforts, in fact they are often laughed at.  People who tell you how good they are and how hard they work are likely to be insecure.  People who try and impress you with the demands and complexities of their job are probably confused by it themselves.  

The Way  
Now consider the opposites.  People who don’t try too hard will usually achieve what they are working for because they are working within the limit of their competence.  People who admit that they are always learning from what they do are the ones with the real knowledge.  People who make things seem simple and easy to understand are the ones who really know what they are talking about.  

The Tao  
Lao Tzu tells us:  

The sage acts without motive,  
Teaches with no words of doctrine.  
The ten thousand things arise and fall,  
But he has no claim of ownership,  
Meritorious work done, then forgotten.  
Therefore it lasts forever.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Way

So to get back to the Way, let's look at how this all fits with the Tao:

Establish the Current Status
We need to become silent and listen with our inner selves. The wise project manager stays in the present. The past is over and done with, there's no point in thinking about what might have been.Likewise there's no point in trying to second guess the future, it will be what it will be.

Grasp the strangeness which is Tao.  
Mindful of what exists now.  
Knowing the ancient beginning,  
Is the essence of wisdom.  

Establish the Objectives
All projects begin with a basic idea about something that could be changed or done differently. But at that time very little is known about the project, it is just the beginning. From this beginning many things will unfold and happen, these things will make up the project. At the beginning there will be darkness but, hopefully, out of that darkness we will begin to know how things happen for this is the way of the project manager. 

The Way that can be told is not the eternal Way.  
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.  
The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.  
With a name the mother of the ten thousand things.  

Develop the Plan 
As a project manager I always tried to keep things simple.  Yes I had a detailed project schedule for myself but I create a simplified high-level version for the project stakeholders.  Keeping things simple means they are easy to follow. The good project manager stays with the single principle and understands the team process.  He keeps away from chaos and conflicts.  

Hold the great image,  
All under heaven will come.  
They come without harm,  
In happiness and peace.  

Carry It Out
The wise project manager concentrates on making sure the project team have what they need to create the project deliverables and protects them from external interference.  The wise project manager is concerned that the team functions well and that what they do is effective.  This is simple wisdom, for this is the way of the project manager.  

The sage would lead by:
Emptying people’s minds,
And filling their stomachs.

So once again, good luck and enjoy the journey,
John (a.k.a. P M Blogger)

Friday, June 10, 2016


Over the past four blogs I've set out what I believe we can do to make sure our projects don't fail. But, as I said last week, implementing it will be a major project or even program in its own right. So what are the steps in this process?

Establish the Current Status
Before you can start planning where you want to get to it is critical to understand where you are today. The easiest way of doing this is by establishing the project management capability maturity of the organisation using the CMMI capability maturity model, which is an excellent tool.

Establish the Objectives
Once you have a full understanding of where the organisation is currently you can begin to define where you want to get to. The SMART acronym comes in handy here, although I use my own version of it: 

Strategic: the objective must address a strategic business need, if it isn't important to the business, then it just won't happen.

Measurable: if the objective doesn't include some form of metrics, then you will never know when you have achieved it.

Agreed: if the objectives are not agreed by all the stakeholders (the business, the project managers, the implementation team,suppliers and customers) the project will fail.

Realistic: if the objectives are not realistic, the project will fail.

Timed: if it's not time-bounded, the project will never be completed.

Develop the Plan 
Once you have a set of realistic objectives, agreed by all concerned, then you can develop the plan of how you are going to achieve it. If you are using the capability maturity model, then the plan should be to move up one level at a time, this suggests a series of projects, hence a program may be the best route to take. The steps, if you are starting out at level 1 are:

Define and document sound project management processes (involving the organisation’s project managers) and establish a project office to coordinate and support the processes. That takes you to level 2.

If you are running programs as well as projects, then define and document sound program management processes (involving the organisation’s project and program managers) and establish a program office (or develop the project office into a project and program office) to coordinate and support the processes. That takes you to level 3.

Introduce a peer review (gateway) process for all projects and programs (involving the organisation’s project and program managers) and charge the project and program office with coordinating and supporting the process.That takes you to level 4, which is as high as many organisations want to go, but the greatest pay off comes from the final step.

Implement portfolio management at the highest level in the organisation and establish a portfolio office (or develop the project and program office into a project, program and portfolio office) to co-ordinate and support the process. That takes you to level 5.

This will take some time to achieve but it is achievable and I have done it in a number of organisations (it is also set out in detail in “Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps”. But I would like to leave you with two final tips to consider:

Involve all your project and program managers in the process. They are key stakeholders and you want them all on-side.

Without the full commitment of your organisation (and that means support from your very top management) it just won’t happen. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to produce a high-level plan for what you want to achieve, then sell the benefits to your project managers and top management. 

Good luck and enjoy the journey,
John (a.k.a. P M Blogger)

Friday, June 03, 2016

Project Review

So step one was to consider if the project manager has the necessary skills to manage projects. Step two was to consider the needs of the organisation. Step three was to make sure that only projects that are critical to the business take place and that the projects that do take place are measured on the actual benefits they deliver to the business at the end of the project. Most organisations are still failing in these last two areas. But step four is also critical to ensuring project success:

Project Review
The final step is to make sure that all projects are reviewed at set times in the project life-cycle. This way projects that are going wrong or getting into difficulties get fixed or stopped before they can have a serious impact on the business. Sometimes this is a hard bullet to bite for the project manager and business but struggling on with a disastrous project would be even worse for both the project manager and the business.

A peer review process is ideal for this as it spreads good practice across the organisation. It needs to use some sort of standard check-list so nothing gets overlooked. The optimum time to review a project is usually at the end of each project stage and this is sometimes referred to as a gateway review process. This is a typical series of end stage reviews:

Initiation Stage: confirm that there is a sound business case for the project and an agreed understanding of how the business objectives will be delivered. Confirm that the stakeholders have been identified, risk management is in place and the project is ready to move onto the next stage.

Strategy Stage: confirm that the business requirements have been specified and agreed together with the delivery approach. Confirm the business case is still valid, plans are in place for risk management and the project is ready to move onto the next stage.

Analysis Stage: confirm that the proposed solution meets the business needs and can be implemented. Confirm the business case is still valid, risk and issue management plans are up to date and the project is ready to move onto the next stage.

Design & Build Stage: confirm that solution to meet the business requirements has been developed and is ready for service. Confirm the business case is still valid, risk and issue management plans are up to date and the project is ready to move onto the next stage.

Implementation Stage: confirm if the business benefits have been realised and that the users are satisfied with the operational service. 

These are the four steps that every organisation can take to stop projects failing and start moving towards excellence in project management. However putting them all into practice will require a fairly major project (or a program) in its own right. So I will have a look at that next week.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Chose the Right Projects

Continuing the theme of what we can do to prevent projects failing: Step one was to consider if the project manager has the necessary skills to manage projects; Step two was to consider the needs of the organisation. Step three is to chose the right projects.

Picking the Right Projects
We need to make sure that only projects that are critical to the business take place. We also need to make sure that the projects that do take place are measured on the actual benefits they deliver to the business at the end of the project. Most organisations are currently failing in both of these areas. So what can we do about it? 

These decisions need to be made at the highest level in the organisation and portfolio management provides the ideal mechanism for this. 

Portfolio selection: by putting all projects (other than very small ones) through the portfolio selection process we ensure that only projects that are critical to the business are carried out. By regular review of the portfolio, we can ensure that only projects that remain critical to the business continue. 

Benefits Management: ensures that we recognise the actual business benefits delivered by every project.

Portfolio Management also addresses prioritisation, planning, risk management and stakeholder management, which also deliver benefits to the organisation. Organisations that have implemented portfolio management have a much higher rate of project success and far fewer project failures.

Next week I will look at the fourth vital step.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Organisation

So having established that our project managers have the basic ability to manage projects, and planned any development they need, the next step is to consider the needs of the organisation itself.

Project Focus
Business today needs to be agile and able to change and adapt quickly, if not it will fail. Because of this the business environment today is becoming more and more project driven, which means the business must have a project focus. That means embedding project management into the business strategy and making sure the organization understands and supports it. 

Then if we are going to do projects we need to do them right and that begins with putting our best people into the project management role (not just anyone who is available). In a project-focused organisation the selection and development of project managers should be a key part of management development and planning. 

The next step is to make sure we select the right projects and I will be taking a look at that next week.