A large group from the Orange County Chapter of PMI gathered via the wonders of Zoom technology to enjoy another vibrant discussion of Project Management. The materials and discussions were both intricate and concise, dealing with Agile Strategy Management, but more importantly, how to bring Agile from the stiff technical to the more important governance focusing on people. Our discussion was led by the wonderfully qualified and talented Greta Blash, PgMP, PMP, PMI-ACP, DASSM, CDAI, PMI-PBA. Greta Blash.,

The discussion opened with a review of Strategic Management Elements illustrated by this graphic drawn from the 3rd edition of “The Standard for Portfolio Management” ©2013.

While we can follow this model with energy and drive, having all the elements of a successful plan in place, still our planning and strategies fail. This causes expensive delays to our projects and even a loss of valuable people needed to fulfill the end product we are trying to deliver.

WHY DO STRATEGIES FAIL?

  • Too many goals. When everything is a priority nothing is a priority.
  • Predictive vs. Emergent Strategies:
    • Predictive Strategy operates top-down. It sets direction based on research predictions and future market conditions. It is quantitative in nature relying on data, analytics, and expert intelligence. Sometimes this data or research is flawed or not complete.
    • Emergent Strategy is based on spur-of-the-moment decisions. This strategy operates from the middle out, taking a rolling-wave approach, addressing real-time competition in the market. This is more of a portfolio approach vs. a singular project approach. Things change because of market trends or changes, or Stakeholder input causing delays and reassessment of costs.
  • Lack of Team Understanding and Involvement. If the communication plan is flawed, we are doomed to failure from the beginning. For example, the engineer, designer, or contractor on a project might interpret drawings differently from one another. Many projects fail, are delayed, or face cost overruns simply due to the fact there is not a complete understanding of the plan by the entire team.
  • Poor Execution of The Plan. While it might look good on paper, if it doesn’t work, your strategies will fail. It is very easy to sit at the drawing board and design a part or component, but if you don’t think ahead about how this part or component fits into the whole design and what may be involved with implementing that design, the execution of the strategies will fail.
  • No Monitoring and Adjustment of Strategies. This seems so basic, but it is often overlooked in project strategies. Plans on paper are a guideline to get a strategy for successful completion underway; in fact, these strategies need to be monitored and adjusted along the way. We cannot allow our personal egos to get in the way of progress. If something I have put out there is not working, I need to be introspective enough to admit there needs to be an adjustment of the strategy.
  • Lack of Individual Involvement. Everyone involved owns strategy; it is not an annual activity done by an elite group of decision makers with self-indulging attitudes and egos. The implementation of intricate feed-back loops enables a constant monitoring and adjusting of overall strategy and individual program/project efforts.

Strategic Planning leads to Strategic Initiatives. It is important in this discussion to understand what elements contribute to an understanding of Strategic Initiative. Strategic Initiative includes:

  • Alignment with the vision, mission, and objectives of the corporation. We must keep in mind the Project Charter in the initial steps of the project as part of Project Integration Management.
  • This translates into detailed, organizational, business procedures, and strategic initiatives into programs and/or projects.
  • This is often documented by the “business case” for the project, again harken back to the Project Charter.

Strategic Agility’s emphasis on people is an important part of this discussion that should not be neglected. Our project objective is to deliver fully acceptable consumable solutions. However, a vital aspect of all our planning and strategy unquestionably involves people.

  • Collaboration with all pertinent Stakeholders is imperative.
  • Contribution from all parties involved and their motivation to succeed and contribute is key.
  • Stakeholders will ultimately take ownership of the results of the project and this must be accomplished collectively and without conflict.

This people involvement includes Stakeholder identification with involvement; business analysis with scope definition; and enterprise-oriented architecture. Again, take under advisement to the basic structure of project management. It is so very important that we keep the focus of our project’s strategy but without forgetting the importance of keeping the people involved.

People involvement is key to Agility also. We as Project Manager’s need to be sure:

  • The people within the teams fully understand their role and value of their contribution.
  • People on our teams are aware of opportunity, events, and conditions early and are willing to respond and adapt rapidly.
  • It is important to identify Stakeholders as early as possible and ensure their commitment and support of the initiative.
  • Also, Stakeholders must be aware and knowledgeable of the delivery approach chosen by the team for execution.

Time and space prevent an all-inclusive discussion of all the strategies involved, but I would be remiss if I did not include a quick review of Strategic Adaptive Planning.

The Principles of Strategic Adaptive Planning include:

  • The basic framework and tools to deal with a changing future. At least have the tools in place and available for use when change is called for due to market, and/or environmental changes.
  • Be willing and able to quickly address the more frequent and dynamic changes of the day to day.
  • Be flexible when applying resources and funds for emerging opportunities. Don’t try to make one-size-fits-all applications.
  • Balance focus and strategic goals by reserving the right to change the path. Just because we have never done a thing before is not an acceptable reason not to change or adapt.

To move to a more Adaptive Planning strategy we must create a culture of innovation, empower individuals to feel safe in their environments, start by using the hybrid approach verses the one-size-fits-all approach, while being sure to insert regular and frequent check-ins along with retrospectives. These retrospectives will help track the progress over the short term so that the project team can analyze the outcomes against the desired results and decide whether or not to continue.

To bring this brief overview to a conclusion it is important to include a discussion of Strategic Stakeholder Engagement and the problems surrounding the process of choosing the right Stakeholders and engaging them into the process.

  • Identifying Stakeholders is harder than it looks. Initially it might appear that a certain individual, or group is important to the project, but later it might be found that group is not fully engaged with the plan, purpose, or communication about the project.
  • It is important to choose the most appropriate communication methods. Our initial efforts at communication might not be the right or most effective ones. Our communication plan must proactively pursue the most effective method to ensure prompt and accurate responses.
  • It is very important when selecting Stakeholders to gauge their power and influence correctly.
  • Equally important is to make sure to map your Stakeholders correctly by individuals, groups, or groups within groups. This is critical to proper power/influence grouping as well as communication styles.
  • Proper understanding of Stakeholder involvement and importance is vital. Be sure any risks associated with Stakeholders and their involvement are included in the risk register.
  • Do not underestimate the power of influence Stakeholders have or may have over other Stakeholders.
  • It is also critical to understand the right time to engage Stakeholders into the conversation and involve them in critical decisions.

Entire seminars or volumes of books can and should be written regarding the involvement of Stakeholders and how to properly manage their engagement in the Project Management process.

The discussion was closed out with a brief overview of traditional Organizational Governance. Every organization has their own style and preference of how to oversee the operation and governance of projects. The internal framework of the organization determines which authority is exercised within that organization. This includes documented policies with procedures; standards with cultural norms; relationships amongst systems, and processes.

Elements of program governance framework include:

  • Critical success factors and deliverable acceptance criteria.
  • Development life cycle approach.
  • Process for stage gate or phase reviews.
  • Processes for review and approval for change beyond the authority of the program/project manager.

These elements should be contained in the Management Plan.

This is not nor is it intended to be an exhaustive overview of the four hours spent in discussion. My bottom line takeaway from this session emphasizes the importance of making sure we have people involved in the process at all times. We cannot depend on the process to take care of the process; it takes people involved at every level of the project and process of delivering a successful result.

Let me conclude by encouraging all of you to join PMI Orange County monthly in our Saturday ATS sessions. If you don’t currently receive the monthly notification of the ATS please reach out to Judith Berman by email at dir.ats@pmi-oc.org

Thanks again to Greta Blash for her capable and professional presentation of this material. She is highly accomplished as an instructor to assist in the passing of the PMP Exam and is an accomplished author on the subject. You can find her books on Amazon by following this link, https.//www.amazon.com/Greta-Blash/e/B08696XKM1?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000.

Photo of Dennis Burns
Contributed By: Dennis Burns., MBA, PMP
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