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Friday, February 19, 2010

Project Bifurcation: Are We There Yet?

Bifurcation is a sudden qualitative change in a system's behavior. The change can be for good or worse, and could be small or large. A subtle change in a project usually has negligible impact initially, however it could quickly multiply following some patterns such as period-doubling or subharmonic bifurcation. These developments in the magnitude of changes in a project could be devastating and lead to chaos and eventually total failure or collapse.

One key challenge is identifying these reflection points and be prepared to deal with them. However, fortunately there are signs that can help the project manager forecast and determine that the project is approaching one of these points that cause a huge negative impact on the project health.

A few examples of projects that are at a bifurcation point and approaching a chaotic state are:

  • Escalation of issues to upper management
  • Project documents not being baselined due to lack of agreement of stakeholders
  • Project documents changing too often
  • Teams not agreeing on technical approaches, processes or solution architectures

I have recently been asked to join one of my client's ailing projects. The day I joined the project there were over 300 technical issues logged, over 200 which were open issues. I quickly noticed that these issues are not being closed. The reason chaos. The project had reached a bifurcation point where closure of issues was not only a challenge due to the reasons listed above, but also the issues were becoming redundant, reproducing off-shoot issues, and duplicating as a result of bifurcation of problems, and the non-linear growth in issue dependencies.

Other symptoms of a project reaching a negative bifurcation point is sudden scope changes, descoping of work without having a clear documented baseline for the fear of not being able to meet deadlines. The project team's rework skyrockets, and effectiveness of team members drops to almost nil. This is a point of not only chaos but also paralysis. Paralysis could exhibit itself in paralysis of leadership decision making, paralysis of technical work productivity, and paralysis of stakeholder status reporting and performance assessment. Projects that reach this point will exhibit the following:
  • Work performed out of order resulting in errors and omissions
  • Large volumes of rework
  • Sudden decisions for scope change
  • Project teams on hold, awaiting for others to provide input
  • High rates of change in technical direction and documentation
  • Change requests out of order

Next week I will talk more about ways to mitigate the impact of a crisis on a project that has went beyond major negative bifurcation points as part of efforts to bring it back to order.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Leadership Lessons Through Project Management from Around - India 2025

After about 60 years of independence India is still considered a country developing itself. Since the 1990s India has embarked on a serious transformation initiative and has not turned its face back. The Indians understand their mission, its significance and are committed to making it a reality.

Today India, the world's second largest populous country and the 10th largest economy is expected to be the 3rd largest economy in the world by 2025. Indians are making use of many factors to reach this expectation, among them is project management. How are Indians using project management principles to avoid a business as usual status, and become a global leader bringing inspiration to other nations?

Unfortunately many successful organizations and growing institutions focus on the immediate gains, although immediate gains are important and required to ensure positive cash flow and growth, it can in some cases make longer term goals, issues and actions less clear and understood.

Indians have invested heavily in promoting project management concepts, knowledge and practice. A surge in project management certification has been witnessed in the last decade. Indians have been keen on bringing project management conferences to their country, this was noticed by holding the first International Project Management Association (IPMA) world conference outside of Europe in forty years, in New Delhi.

Applying project management principles to the business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors has resulted in the abundance of best practices and streamlined approaches. Heavy investment into various sectors such as transportation, construction, energy and healthcare is resulting in the abundance of projects requiring even further application of project management skills and knowledge. The Indians have been successful in applying lessons learned in the these sectors to other areas of the society which has traditionally not applied project management such as tourism, education and research.

Cross industry lessons and critical thinking are key success factors for institutional leadership. The ability of an institution to apply project management concepts across industries could result in huge economies of scale and growth opportunities

Indians have not only used project management for capital projects, but also its application is expanding into the management of operations, training, competence development, new product development and services.  This has been assisted by the introduction of project management into educational curriculum at institutes of higher education [1, 2]. Moreover the Indian government has provided incentives to businesses [3, 4, 5] to establish training centers and to develop competency in core competence areas including project management.

Interestingly, although India ranks lowest in a study published by the International Growth Centre analyzing management practices at firms. India scores above the US when it comes to the percentage of firms applying sound management practices.

We learn several lessons from the Indian experience, most important are:

  1. Institutions which wish to accelerate their growth need to look at experiences not only within industry, but across industries.
  2. Project management brings scalability benefits and allows the institution to take on larger loads of work and initiatives in a streamlined approach.
  3. Project management for services, and managing operations as projects could bring in order, improve quality, and enhance performance.
  4. Investing is project management education and competence development in younger generations and introducing project management as a field of study is critical to skills development.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Stakeholder Analysis: Are We Doing Enough?

Many organizations and individuals focus on satisfying the customer, which is of course one of the basic rules of business. After all, no customer equals no business. However the majority of us do not have a comprehensive look at all stakeholders. Stakeholders include not only customers, but suppliers, partners, customers' suppliers, policy makers, our own management, investors and the list goes on.

If you are a non-profit school your students and their parents are your customers, and you ought to make sure the services they are receiving are top notch quality. However your donors are also key stakeholders. They have high interest in what you do, otherwise they would not have donated their hard earned dollars, and they have high power in supporting your mission. Maybe even more than the customer. Does you school stay in continuous touch with the donors? Does it constantly solicit feedback from them? Do they have representation at your various governance bodies?

One useful tool to analyze stakeholders is to look at their power and their interest, we call that a power/interest grid. Power can be mapped on one dimension and interest on another, as shown in the top figure.

Another tool is a matrix linking stakeholder groups and their interests to an entity's capabilities allowing the identification of value gap to be addressed. A sample of such a simple stakeholder alignment matrix is on the right. It allows us to align our capabilities to our stakeholder's interest and needs.