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Straight Talk on Project Management

diy man

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Life Imitating Art. Three IT Project Management Paradigm Lessons from Everyday Experiences

I love those moments when something in your “outside work life” teaches a lesson that you can take into the office and improve how you operate – when life imitates art (and what we do IS art – 100%!!!!)

Over time, our paradigms (how we see and interpret the world) can pass their best before date. After a few non-work conversations this year, I’ve been left with a sense that, sometimes, the operating system behind our IT Project Management thinking could benefit from an upgrade.

1 – PHAT HACK FROM FLAT PACK  

“Good weekend?” I asked Nathalie, whose team’s IT Project portfolio has become increasingly business case and return on investment focussed.

“Flat pack furniture,” she replied.

I shuddered.

We’ve all been there!

The missing pieces, the random extra screw that’s left over after you’ve finished, the badly worded instructions! Actually, Nathalie’s issue with the directions was worse!

Nat and her partner spent hours doing things like drilling holes in panels because on the instructions they took dowels … and hunting through the toolbox looking for 25mm screws because the instructions said they needed 30 but the bag only had 22.

In the end, Nat and her other half realised something was wrong and made a phone call to the manufacturer on the Monday morning. It turned out that the instructions were for a previous iteration of the same desk, an old blueprint for a new situation, sounds familiar.

Approaching an IT Project with outdated resourcing techniques, or processes and methodology that don’t provide smooth execution, or fit the project’s actual needs can be like assembling a flat pack bit of furniture with incorrect instructions. You can apply all the enthusiasm and motivation in the world, up your work ethic to the max, put in all the extra hours you can – if the directions are wrong so will be the outcome.

Now, Nathalie and her team are currently looking at Business Analysis solutions. The increased demand for greater ROI heavily leans into there being a need for a BA but, says the Finance Director, there’s not enough justification to have a BA permanently on the books. I can hear every BA screaming at their screen, “BAs don’t cost money – they save it!!” I hear you and feel your pain.

So, up until now, the key BA functions have been incorporated into the existing roles on the team, sort of successfully, but without the business enjoying the maximum benefit of having a BA plugged into their projects, business goals and culture. Also, other PMs taking on increasingly demanding BA duties has led to a degree of burnout and stress.

On balance, The FD is probably right, there probably isn’t enough for a BA to be busy 9 to 5, 5 days a week, that’s what Business Analysis as a Service is there for!

It’s taken about two years for the board’s thinking to even come this far, not having some kind of dedicated BA function has meant the business has not achieved the greatest possible ROI. Like Nathalie’s flat-pack furniture, they had the wrong blueprint for their team, they were following out of date instructions, so, when fully assembled, the outcome would never be the best possible for their current needs!

2 – BUS-TED

Another PM friend, Steve, just received a fine for driving into a bus only part of Nottingham. He hadn’t been to the city centre for a few years and nor had his SatNav by the sound of things, because it took him along Canal Street which since 2020 has been restricted to buses and bikes only. SatNavs can be like that, if you’re using one that hasn’t been updated since a major road layout change, you might be better not using one at all.

Steve is not alone, according to a Freedom of Information request submitted to Nottingham City Council, 33,619 penalty charge notices were issued for a single bus lane camera on Canal Street between September 2020 and January 2022!

Steve is “Mr Cutting Edge” when it comes to IT Project Management, we joke he was using a hybrid approach before the ink was dry on the Agile Manifesto, so we were all surprised he’d be using an out-of-date SatNav. Irony upon irony, he normally uses the Google Maps app on his phone, which, of course, gets updated constantly! Why wasn’t he using Google Maps that day in Nottingham? Steve told me, “I’d already set off and didn’t want to get a fine for using my phone while driving.” That’s sensible, instead getting a fine for driving down a bus lane, not so much!

So, Steve got busted for using out-of-date map tech. I’ve lost count of the number of IT Projects that floundered because they were using a methodology that no longer aligned with the current landscape of their projects. Usually they’re using Waterfall, when Agile solutions would be the better fit but increasingly teams are falling foul of committing to the either / or mindset. Steve himself is an evangelist for deploying Waterfall for the overall project and Agile for the tasks within it, which suits many of his current projects.

Like a SatNav, IT project methodologies should accurately describe and match the territory you’re traversing otherwise, like Steve, you have to pay avoidable penalties!

3 – TACKLING IT PROJECT CHALLENGES WITHOUT SEEING RED

I’m always more than happy indulge in a little football small talk before getting down to business, so I loved it when Charles’ number popped up on my phone. I support Manchester United, so welcomed the chance to vent and Charles was more than ready to counter with a tirade of what’s wrong at the club he supports.

It was a bit of a brain dump, which I’ve tried to reproduce here for illustrative purposes to support the conclusion. If you don’t follow football though, feel free to jump to the next paragraph after the italics.

It went something like:

“We have an extremely talented Centre-back frequently played at Left-Back who gets outpaced often by wingers and struggles to play balls over the top without being put under heavy pressure. A Centre-Back occasionally playing at Right-Back, who is quick enough to keep up with wingers but not to get up and down the pitch. An out of form Centre-Back played at Left-Back who looked unsure of his role. A very talented Left-Back who barely makes the starting line-up and when he does it’s in a bizarre position like on the Right-Wing, no way near his position and it showed. An elite Left-Back who before getting injured earlier this season was played as a Left Winger, robbing us of a key part of our defence. A very talented young Central Attacking Midfielder played as a false 9, expected to be the player who does everything with very little support from wingers or the midfield. And an experienced winger who was at one point occasionally played as a striker/false 9 who struggled is an unfamiliar position! I’ve got socks older than many of our signings and some of our in-game decisions and substitutions leave me scratching my head…”

OK, if you jumped ahead, Charles had gone on a rant about players playing out of position, questionable manager choices and suspect recruitment strategies. I’d seen similar posts on social media echoing this, articles in newspapers and heard pundits on TV express these views too.

Then, as we got down to business, and without a hint of irony, he explained how his IT Project Management team had resource allocation issues (talent struggling to perform outside their experience); how they’d mismanaged scope creep on their most recent project; inadequate skills of two new recruits (necessitating an upskilling programme), a young Business Analyst who had potential but needed mentoring from a more senior, time-served BA (that they didn’t have); capability gaps; etc, etc, etc!

“Crikey, could we be any more alike?” he said eventually, the penny dropping that his club and his IT Project team were suffering similar traumas.

“Thank Goodness I don’t have fans like me on my back!”

As a football fan you have no control over the recruitment, player selection or in-game decisions that we sometimes get so exercised about! If we did get similarly agitated about the in-project issues our own teams faced, we’d probably get a “you-ok-hun?” email from HR!!

Imagine if we delivered our IT Projects in front of a stadium of 30,000 baying fans!! Actually, some stakeholders make you feel like we do!

Generally, when we face challenges, that aren’t that different to those our sports teams tackle – I hope we treat ourselves with a little more kindness than we do those footballing millionaires!

When your IT Project team has the type of issues that both Charles’ football club and project outfit faced, you can reach out to Stoneseed’s Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) for exactly the right talent and resources you need (from a single Project Manager, Business Analyst, Technical Advisory or PMO expert for a few days, right through to a large team of fully utilised project professionals for however long you need them) and our advisory and PMO (Project Management Office ) services can help steady your operation when things go awry, or lift your enterprise to the next level.

Lastly, we should all probably cut our sports teams a little more slack.

In conclusion, from mindsets to methodology, to capability levels, team selection and talent recruitment, checking on our paradigms from time to time can be really healthy. I love it when something that happens outside our IT Project Management world that serves as a stimulus for improvement inside it. I’d love to hear of any “eureka” moments that you’ve had in your life that have accelerated a project delivery related awakening

 

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed