The Intangibles and Importance of Project Communication

In a recent post, I mentioned only 32% of projects could be considered successful (from the perspective of the 2009 Standish CHAOS report).  Looking further, it shows that of the other 68% more than a third of the projects are cancelled or are never delivered.  When examining success or failure of a project, it is important to consider two things.  First, nearly everything a project manager does is aimed at keeping a project successful and, where possible, optimizing its outcome.  Second, in their PMBOK publication, the Project Management Institute states that 90% of what a project manager does is communication –

  • communicating with internal management and resources,
  • communicating with the project team, and
  • communicating with the project client’s stakeholders, teams and management.

When a project moves into the red zone, the ability of the project manager (PM) to reverse or mitigate failure will be a function of how well the PM has established credibility and trust with internal and client teams.  This factor may even influence the ability of the service organization to positively influence a diminishing project circumstance.  Certainly, PM competence is important and tenure with the company and the client may help, but the integrity the PM has demonstrated during the project through honest action and communication might be the dominant factor.  This is when communication becomes really important and when it really comes into play.

How and when the PM alerts internal Services management to the endangered project will be crucial –

  • Is that communication timely and does it contain the right content in terms of problem identification and possible actionable items?
  • Does the actionable items list include thoughts and recommendations to alert the client and how?
  • Does it include escalating issues higher into the client organization?
  • Are there specific reasons to communicate with Product Engineering, Product Management, Sales or Support teams?
  • Should they be included in any escalation?
  • Does the PM come across as accountable?

Clear communication at this critical juncture will be as important as the timing.  The response and follow-up to the PM and the willingness of the respondents to engage in salvaging the project may depend on relationships established through prior communication.

Establishing good communication processes, templates and review is the only way to prepare for a failing or failed project.  Indeed, these things might have prevented failure in the first place.  If your service practice does not actively manage the broad spectrum of essential project communication, by the time you realize your weakness with this capability, it could be too late.  You might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your practice maintain a project communication template library?
  • Does your service management regularly review all project communication for all projects?
  • Does your practice actively evaluate processes involving stakeholder and project communication, as well as communication processes involving other internal teams including any project handoff materials?
  • Does your practice publish a communications process map that is available to Service teams and PMs?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may wish to assess the communication planning capabilities of your Project Delivery organization. This proactive step will afford you not only a better understanding of communication best practices you may wish to develop, but also a view to the broader spectrum of processes and capabilities required to consistently deliver successful projects.

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Navigating the murky waters of Project Delivery

The Standish CHAOS Report (2009) warns that only 32% of projects are completed on time, within budget and delivered measurable business and stakeholder benefits.  These are important factors, but note they are only three of the success constraints that measure project effectiveness and success.  Also note, that while the 2002 CHAOS report posted better results, the 2004 and 2006 reports posted even lower success ratings.  And there are other reports and studies from around the globe that share even more data and analysis that identify responsible factors and how key participants contribute to failure.  You might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where are your IT and Services teams positioned on the failure-success continuum?
  • Do you have predictable project outcomes and, perhaps more importantly, do your customers?
  • If more than a few projects undertaken by your organization fall in the 68% majority that do not meet these critical success objectives, do you know what to fix or even where to start looking?

Where one starts examining the opportunities for organizational performance improvement is critical.  Unless there is some compelling reason for you to examine a more systemic problem, taking a direct approach may lead you to the right answers more quickly or at minimum provide a clearer view of the landscape.

If too many of your projects fall into the unsuccessful 68% highlighted in the CHAOS report, I would suggest you begin by assessing your project review process.  Constructive project review processes regularly performed for each project will tell you a lot about your projects and your organization along with its overall process maturity.  More importantly, you will get a concrete picture of what is not going well.  You may not immediately learn why, but you will be able to build a list what areas need further assessment and perhaps see a pattern as to when in the project cycle the issues are likely to occur.

Here are a few project reviews that I have successfully used and integrated into the process map for my organizations:

  • Project Initiation Review – Is everything in place and properly setup before the project starts to ensure a successful outcome?
  • Weekly Project Status Review – How are project schedule and cost tracking to project plan?
  • Project Milestone Review – Does each completed project milestone meet all the established criteria from the specification and quality standards for your organization?

There are many project and process reviews recommended by project management best practices that can be used to assess project performance and its likelihood to succeed or fail.  Selecting the right ones for your practice and implementing them to an appropriate level will determine how effective they will be for you.

A Project Delivery assessment could be the best place for you to start evaluating your project capabilities and to establish where to begin transforming your project delivery capabilities.  Specific project reviews are only a subset of the process recommendations that might benefit your service teams and their overall delivery performance.

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Project Management Office – realize short-term and long-term benefits

Do you rely on the heroics of one or two key resources as your risk mitigation strategy?  It is great to have resources you can count on to deliver, but when your organization or your client’s organization depends on predictable project outcomes, wouldn’t it better to have a complete set of aligned, integrated processes supported by a consistent set of project artifacts?

This is the basic premise of the Project Management Office or PMO.  The PMO can function as a resource, a mentoring agency or as a hammer to drive compliance, but essentially it’s the keeper of the collective standards for an organization.  Indeed, the PMO is depended on more and more to exert overall influence and drive evolution of thought to continual organizational improvement.

Where does one start building a comprehensive set of standards, processes and best practices? Organizations around the globe are assembling their own set of standards by borrowing, collecting and defining project and process management best practices.  This offers some help, but often one organization’s processes, project artifacts and standards do not work for another.  Even if they are transportable there is always work to do to assimilate them and often much of the same work required to develop and build one’s own processes is the same as is needed to vet and integrate imported ones.   Each organization’s culture along with its products, position in the industry and its market focus bring unique perspective to what set of practices and processes would best serve the organization.  These factors also often establish a recommended order of adoption.

The CVT Excellence Platform Service Delivery Module has been designed to quickly assess your organization project capabilities, identify operational weakness and suggest specific, best practices through recommended actions that are reinforced by recommended controls and key performance indicators that drive adoption of these best practices.  These are the elements that form your PMO and the following are examples of the capabilities you can build or improve with the help of the Service Delivery Module:

  • Integrated Project Review Processes that drive better project planning and execution
  • Template Libraries that help drive consistent work products
  • Specific review practices that drive performance optimization and improve overall quality
  • Analysis exercises to build your organization’s knowledge base and capabilities

If you have interest to read more about PMOs, you may find value in the following article – Why You Need a Project Management Office (PMO).

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