What learning legacy are you building?

Project learning legacies

I’ve just returned from a week in the UK having had some great project conversations.  One thing that really struck me was the emphasis on learning legacies.  This has particularly taken off in the engineering and construction industries where learning legacy portals are being made publicly available. 

These legacy learning sites aim to share knowledge and insights across the profession. As the Crossrail legacy site so aptly puts it – they want to promote a

‘pinch with pride’

attitude to encourage projects to learn from what has happened before.

Our work on lessons learned, which came out of the Success Stories Shared initiative in South Africa, suggested that:

Despite 80% of projects running PIRs, less than 20% of PIR reports were ever re-accessed, and there was little evidence of organisational learning.

Lessons identified only become lessons learnt once the collected knowledge is used in current or future projects. There needs to be a transition space created where a shift takes place, and vital knowledge is not simply stored away in files, not being accessed, but rather becomes implemented on a practical project level. But who is responsible for this shift from lessons identified to lessons learnt and how can it be facilitated?

It is interesting to see in sites such as the Major Projects Knowledge Hub that there is an emphasis, not only on sharing stories but also on connecting networks of experts across the industry.

Perhaps there needs to be a conceptual shift between the process of identifying lessons and actually learning lessons. If learning results in change, then what usually takes place at the end of a project would be the identification of a lesson. Rather than having lessons identified as one of the outcomes of the project, it should be seen as the start of the process that develops the lessons that are genuinely learnt and thus, by definition, implemented.  

In one retail company in South Africa, we have seen this approach embedded in the process of starting a project.  The project motivation documentation requires the project manager and sponsor to agree on which previous projects the new project is most similar.  There must be some evidence that information and learning from these projects have been taken into account.  After four years of this in action, both sponsors and projects managers are unanimous in their view – it is crazy not to do this!

Learning legacy portals

Perhaps the best known and earliest portal in the UK was that set up following the 2012 London Olympic games:

This is now in an archive state but here are some others that are very much alive and worth following:

I’m sure there must be more across the world.  Please do share information about any others you know.

Our new book, Adaptive Project Planning, uses stories gathered from lessons learned in projects across the world. It is now available on Amazon.

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Be a Project Management Professional Learner

Your development journey

The Future Work Skills 2020 report identifies six drivers for change in our learning practices and ten skills for the future.  What are these skills? How can we as project managers use them in the way we define and follow our professional career path in 2019?

Future work skills 2020

Continue reading “Be a Project Management Professional Learner”

Lessons from the best PMOs in the world

This year I had the privilege to be involved as an international judge in the PMO Global Alliance Awards and as the chairperson of the judging committee for the South African PMO Awards.  So, for my end of year reflections, I want to share the lessons I learned from some of the best PMOs in the world.

I would love to hear from you, so please share your insights by adding to the post.

Continue reading “Lessons from the best PMOs in the world”

What makes a good benefits analyst?

Some years ago we published the results of a survey on what were the key skills and competencies of a portfolio business analyst.  Even then we struggled to find a suitable and commonly used job title for those analysts involved in supporting the development of business cases and benefits management plans.  We have come across so many names – business case analyst, benefits analyst…

Five years later and benefits management remains an aspiration rather than a reality in most organisations.   Heather van Wyk presented on her experiences in benefits management at the EMEA PMI Congress in Berlin earlier this year.  She relates how, when she quizzed the audience, only a handful of participants felt that businesses were successful in implementing effective benefits processes.

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Is Agile a planning-free approach?

The introduction of Agile as a software product development approach is having a significant and positive impact upon the way IT projects are delivered. However, in our coaching interventions, we are finding some confusion among project managers. Some experienced project managers quickly learn how to adapt and integrate Agile practices into their toolset. It is just another approach, which used appropriately in the right projects increases their ability to deliver. Others move straight to denial; change-weary, they avoid or downplay the usefulness of the Agile framework– “It’s nothing new.” That is their loss! Of greater concern are the more junior project managers who, faced with Agilists, lose their bearings. “What is my role in this?” “How does the governance work?” “How do I plan?” And most worrying–“Do I need a plan?”.

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When failure is not an option

When fix-on-failure is not an option

There are projects in which some, maybe even most, of the possible outcomes are so threatening that their occurrence cannot be tolerated. Should something go wrong–should it not go to plan–there is no mitigation available. If you are driving a car and the engine malfunctions, it can be annoying, even frightening, but it’ll be a whole lot more final if the engine malfunctioning is in a spacecraft!

There are degrees of criticality, ranging from safety-critical performance in a nuclear power station to life-and-death rescue missions, to correct compliance to regulations set out in legislation–and in each case project failure always incurs severe penalties.

In these projects, the avoidance of risk drives the planning. This forces a modification to the usual planning process. The focus is to avoid the possibility of events occurring that cannot be managed; it is on the use of processes where the known performance indicates very high levels of reliability with no surprises.

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Are projects the right vehicles for innovation?

One of the most interesting changes is the growing involvement of project management with the delivery of innovation. It’s not that innovation within projects is new. Far from it! What is becoming more prevalent is the deliberate use of projects to create and manage innovation.

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Stop looking for a superhero project manager

I have a memory passed down via family members that as a 9-year old when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded that I wanted to be an expert!   I’m sure my parents find it a very irritating response and would have preferred an answer like doctor or engineer or lawyer!

Whatever I meant at that time, I am pretty clear now, that this is just not possible. Today there is so much information, so many insights and experiences that we need access to as project managers–this cannot possibly dwell in the body and spirit of one person. Karen Stephenson captures it perfectly in her phrase,“I store my [know-how] knowledge in my friends”.

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Are PMOs killing the role of the project manager?

With the Future PMO Conference coming up in London, I think it is worth considering just how far the role of the PMO should go.  I have been involved in the PMO competency development work with the Flashmob team and at times it concerned me that we were in danger of defining the PMO as a monster which inappropriately seizes responsibilities from the project manager.

As Collin Ellis, remarked in his great article on Agile PMOs “The fact of the matter is, if you need a central ‘unit’ to tell a project manager to follow a process to build a plan to deliver a project, then you’ve already failed.”

The PMO must be an empowering influence in the project community, not a disempowering one.  Earlier this year Richard Hendrickse talked on “Developing PMO Servant Leaders”.  Surely this is the style and culture that the PMO must seize if project management and project managers are to remain relevant in our organisations?

Continue reading “Are PMOs killing the role of the project manager?”

Renewing your PMO

If you are lucky enough to have attended the PMO conference in London on 13th June 2018 then you may be already be reflecting on:  How could the PMO improve?  How can we increase the value of our PMO?  What kind of PMO should we be?

A view that PMOs should not be permanent structures has gained ground recently.  Todd Williams, in his insightful book on “Filling Executive Gaps”, suggests that PMOs are perceived as essentially bureaucratic and they all tend to outlive their usefulness.  The need to re-invent and re-align the PMO every few years to remain valuable has almost become a mantra in PMO circles.

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Culling projects: A critical portfolio process

With most organisations reporting more projects that they can resource, stopping projects which are addressing yesterday’s problems may be even more important than not starting those projects designed to address today’s.

In a 2011 review of 15 client portfolios, the UK project consultancy group, CITI reported that in annual portfolio prioritisation more than one third of the projects and programmes approved were carried forwarded from previous years, with 20% having survived two annual review processes.  The question perhaps to ask is – does this reflect a real need for long-term projects or is it that management decision making around stopping something is just so much harder than approving a project to start?

Significant portfolio management attention has been paid over the last few years to developing improved governance processes around the front-end selection and prioritisation of projects.  But portfolio monitoring and control is a much greyer area and often confusion arises between the governance responsibilities at the portfolio and project sponsorship levels. Continue reading “Culling projects: A critical portfolio process”

The myths of stakeholder management

Project stakeholder management has borrowed many of its concepts from other discipline areas. This cross-usage of wisdom is helpful but its application in projects is still to be proven and bedded-in to the way we do things.  After all, it’s only in the last few years that stakeholder management has been recognised in project management bodies of knowledge.  In the meantime trial and error application has resulted in a number of myths about its application to projects.

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