Author: PMCompanion

Establishing good working stakeholder relationship

Stakeholder relationship

Don’t underestimate the requirement to have a good working relationship with the project stakeholder. As stakeholders have the ability to make or break projects. This makes them a risk to the likelihood of the project being completed. For this reason, the stakeholders of any project should be pinpointed, understood and managed, to increase the likelihood of project success. In this article we will look at who stakeholders are, what their interests might be, understanding them and managing them effectively, to give a project the greatest chance of succeeding.

Stakeholders can be identified as any person or group that has an interest, stake in the project or programme. Within the organization they might include the board, senior managers, different teams, internal customers and staff, among others. Externally to the organization they could include customers, suppliers, the media, local or national government, lobby groups, the community and different agencies. Remember the stakeholder is not necessarily the person funding the project. Brainstorming is one useful method to understand who the stakeholders are for any given project.

Stakeholders may have interests in projects for a variety of different reasons, depending on who they are, and their relationship to the project. In a number of cases, interests may be financially motivated. For example, the board may have an interest in an IT automation project succeeding, because it may reduce costs for the organization. Alternatively, a customer will have an interest in the project not overrunning on budget. Operational interests may also have a role to play, especially with regard to time. Media and community groups may be interested to some degree if a project has the potential to impact on the public or local environment. Other stakeholder interests might include employees who may resist change, especially if they have not been consulted in any way. Resistance to change can be one of the most detrimental factors impacting on the likely ability for the project to succeed.

Best practice stakeholder management requires understanding the interest that stakeholders have in a project, and the power they may have. Stakeholders can be ranked as either having high or low interest, or high or low power. This categorization of the different stakeholders helps guide how to work with them to engage effectively on the project. Some stakeholders may have a high level of interest but a low level of power, and these should be managed differently from those with high power and high interest, for example. High power and low interest groups need to have an eye kept on them, as they can significantly influence a project’s success if interest is sparked in them.

The most important stakeholders from a stakeholder management perspective are those that have high interest and high power. These groups may be considered key stakeholders, and they need to be carefully managed to drive the success of the project. They have the ability to help the project to succeed, but they can also bring it down if they are not engaged. Key stakeholders will vary depending on the type of project, but in a business, they will typically include the business owner that is eager for project success, and possibly the board too. In public projects the government or local council may very well be a key stakeholder.

While some stakeholders may have high interest and low power, and might therefore not be considered a threat, they still need to be consulted and their interests managed. This is because stakeholder groups can combine with one another to become more powerful – such as community groups working with the media, to influence government, for example.

Good stakeholder management is a function of leadership. Stakeholders need to understand what is going on and why, and they need to see projects moving forward with purpose and adding value. One of the main tools that a programme or project manager can use to work with stakeholders effectively is communicating well with them. This means building relationships and discussing their needs with them, any communication should be two-way, e.g. not just talking, but listening too. It is only through consulting with stakeholders that it is possible to develop solutions that will be palatable to the widest number of stakeholders. Communication needs to be regular, to keep stakeholders up to date on aspects of the project that are of particular interest to them. A common stakeholder complaint is not being kept up to date, and this is easily rectified with good communication.

Another tool is other members of the project, who need to show consistency in the way that they work with stakeholders, to build trust. Employees working on the project are all key representatives of it, in the eyes of the stakeholders. The bottom line is that building and maintaining relationships is critical to effective stakeholder management. Keeping in touch with stakeholders throughout the project, monitoring their power and interest and ensuring that most are kept satisfied as far as possible will give the project the highest chances of achieving its goals and delivering value.

The reality of project management is that some stakeholders will have the capability to significantly influence whether a project can succeed or not. This means that a key component of a project or programme manager’s job is to understand stakeholder needs, and work with them effectively, building relationships and managing issues, to ensure that they stay on side. Understanding a stakeholder’s level of interest and power with regard to the project is helpful in shaping the way in which the project manager manages the situation with the stakeholder. Both communication and building trust are essential tools in effective stakeholder management.

Please let us know your thoughts on Stakeholder management and the methods you use to establish good working relationships.

Be SMART about benefits realization management

SMART benefits realization

Realizing the benefits, a project can bring to an organisation, is the measure of ensuring there is return on investment. This is one of the main drivers for organisations to start focusing on benefits realization. Benefits realization management is a process that is undertaken to get ready for and manage planned benefits through change. The fundamental reason for doing this is that it is possible to maximize the benefits that are realized. Taking a more structured approach to this helps to achieve it. However, many organisations do not focus effectively on benefits realization, if indeed they invest any energy into it at all. This is a problem given that the competitive environment for most businesses is intensifying, and that working towards achieving real benefits can ensure that the organisation is focused on the right activities. It is also relevant given that many projects fail and do not deliver the desired benefits.

Before exploring benefits realisation management in further depth, it is helpful to clarify what is meant by the term “benefits”. Benefits should be quantifiable and possible to measure. It is useful to make the required benefits SMART. This means making them specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time bound. Often, benefits will have either a monetary or resource value that is tangible that can be assigned to them. They should also be considered positive by one or more stakeholders. Benefits of undertaking projects usually fall into one of the following categories: increase revenues; lower costs; comply with a legal requirement; continue to deliver business as usual; or provide a tangible contribution to a business imperative. Benefits realisation management helps by turning business goals into measurable benefits that can be tracked.

SMART benefits

Benefits realisation management is important from the perspective that it helps maximise the quantifiable benefits that can be achieved for the organisation. Failing to undertake benefits realisation management is costly and means that there is a strong chance that projects are not deliver all that they could for the organisation.

Benefits realisation management is especially useful from the perspective of being able to make a good business case for the change in the first place, and in making sound business decisions on it. It enables projects to be more closely tied to business performance, and projects are more clearly linked to organisational strategic objectives. In general, this helps to drive a culture of performance in the business. Benefits realisation management is also highly beneficial in terms of making better decisions on how to invest time, resources and money within the firm. The information on the benefits realised can be shared with employees throughout the organisation, which is good for morale.

Benefits realisation management needs to be driven from the top of the organisation. It should be integrated into the process of strategic planning, to ensure that undertaking any initiative will definitely bring about quantifiable benefits that are worthwhile for the business. The focus needs to shift somewhat from outputs and deliverables, more towards benefits and value. Project managers have responsibility for driving this shift, and business leaders for ensuring that the approach is integrated within the strategic goal from the very outset.

Benefits realisation management is not a one-off event. It is something that is ongoing throughout the project or program management. Once benefits are identified, a plan for achieving each must be created. This includes prioritising different benefits and seeing if they are indeed achievable. It considers the inputs that will be needed to achieve them in terms of time and resources, including money. For example, in some cases the cost of achieving it may simply be too great to make it worthwhile. This information needs to be fed back into the strategic decision-making process, and decisions reconsidered. The project management plan dovetails with the benefits realisation process, since all projects should guide the delivering of benefits. The benefits realisation management plan ideally will also include monitoring of progress towards benefits realisation to ensure the project or program stays on track. Some benefits may be delivered faster than others, with some realised before the entirety of the project is complete. Another step is working to ensure the benefits can be sustained in the longer term.

Some organisations appoint a benefits champion to be accountable for the process throughout the project to ensure it gets followed through. This does not need to be an additional headcount. It can be a team member within the project team. Such a person can create a register of benefits and monitor the metrics to track benefit realisation for the project or program. They can also lead on engaging stakeholders in this area, finding ways to get people engaged who need to be but perhaps aren’t. Skills for such a role include good relationship building and interpersonal capabilities as well as effective communication.

Benefits realisation management helps both the strategy and the project to start with the end in mind, through aligning benefits with strategy. Having quantifiable, SMART benefits to work towards ensures that the business can achieve the desired return on investment of the project. Failing to pay attention to benefits is likely to be costly and unproductive. A benefits champion can be helpful in keeping track of benefits, monitoring progress towards achieving them and engaging stakeholders with the project or program.

Your thoughts and comments on achieving desired benefits in projects would be most welcome, please add your thoughts.

The perception with project management and influencing the outcome.

Influencing project outcome

The ability to influencing project delivery and managing stakeholders to achieve the desired results becomes more possible as project experience grows. There comes a point in almost any project professional’s career to feel for when to influence both upwards and outwards. The ability of a project professional to use their skill and experience to influence positive outcomes is directly linked to how well they are able to engage and influence others within an organization.

A lot has been written about the typical stakeholder avatars that project teams are likely to encounter, the traits they exhibit depending how mature their experience is in delivering projects, and of course, how they should be engaged. As project professionals there is a deep seated understanding based on relationship building on how influential the professional can be within the organisation.

The ability to be influential at both an individual and group level is a critical part of either delivering successful projects or leading wayward ones out of the wilderness. There’s a truth for project leaders that requires ego to be set aside: In projects, perception is reality. A project management office, for example, will only remain valued and valuable when it is perceived by stakeholders to be a safe pair of hands that are contributing to the business’s ability to deliver successful projects. The same holds true for project managers.

Establishing Relationships

In this instance perception is more important than aspiration for the project to succeed. Being able to influence outcomes requires strong relationships with stakeholders and people within the organization so that when the need for robust and straight-talking conversations come, which is normally the case, the foundation exists for those tough, brave-smart conversations.

It is best not to wait until a project has commenced to start conversations with stakeholders, a great way is to seek out the opportunity to connect and build a working relationship with people who will be owning the work. It’s not enough to aspire to be influential; building relationships takes time and effort to get to know the stakeholders, what drives them, and what matters to them.  Being able to engage and communicate becomes much easier after that. This is insight that becomes incredibly valuable when things are going well and critical when things start to go awry.

Minimizing the gap between the desire to be influential and the stakeholder’s perceptions should be the goal before the project gets going. There is little value for anyone trying to influence a stakeholder in the heat of battle when a poor perception of what project leaders bring to the table already exists.

The development of influence is not an easy task, as it is a skill which is honed over years of relationship building. There is an art to developing influence, but it first requires a reality check about current standing in a project or organization and how possible it is to gain both access and opportunity to engage with stakeholders.

Understanding how to achieve perception in which the stakeholders are to adhere is particularly important:

  • Do you want to be the ‘safe pair of hands’?
  • Do you want to be an advisor that stakeholders come to for guidance on how to set up a successful project rather than having to inject yourself—unsolicited—into the project when you see issues?
  • Do you want to be the trusted voice in the room when war has broken out and a decision needs to be made to remediate or kill off a project?

These are all great aspirations, but they won’t become reality if you aren’t able to properly position yourself within an organization as someone who is capable of delivering.

Stakeholders adherence

Developing influence means knowing when to park ego at the door and understanding when to possibly change belief systems. In essence, what is believed to be true against what is actually true is perceived differently by those with influence.

Taking the time to meet the people in and around the project is valuable for understanding what is needed and expected from the role in terms of time, communication, expectations and raising issues. This is crucial to understanding what works for them and what doesn’t, and it will enable a picture of your stakeholders. Acknowledging perceptions is actually reality and concerns about what needs to change are important. Demonstrating willingness to provide value is important but so is understanding that the stakeholder may have expectations that are not within the project manager’s capabilities to provide.

The goal is either to shift perceptions of what can and can’t be done to build a case to provide those capabilities where it makes sense. Either way establishing a rapport and a clear understanding of what can be brought to the table is critical.

Business Meeting

There are always people within an organization that have gravitas and insight and if you watch how they operate, there is a lot to be learned about how they use their position to influence both stakeholders and their project teams.

If you can get time with them, more often than not, there are deep insights and knowledge to be gained by asking the right questions about how they view the issues they deal with, what they see as the real and superficial challenges, and how they have developed their ability to influence.

The important thing is to observe how they are motivated to serve the project as well as what they bring to the table that captures the attention of their stakeholders.

The transformation of Project Management by AI

Project Management and AI

This is a brief insight on the increased rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning within organisations and daily life which has occurred over the last few years. On a daily basis there are aspects of AI around us, whether it be at home with Alexa in the living room, to Gmail smart reply. Today Google robotic can call a preferred hairdresser to arrange an appointment and self-driving cars on the road is not too far away from being a reality. The onset of AI in daily home life will drive itself into work life, and project management will not be immune from the impact.

Although no one knows at this stage the impact it will have on the daily work effort or delivery of a project for a project manager, one thing is certain, a change to the landscape is imminent. As organisations across all industries are looking for AI opportunities to remain competitive by tapping inti their data. Approximately 80 percent of businesses across the globe are currently investing in AI, this cannot be ignored.

Examples of this can be seen within, Zurich Insurance Group which is using intelligent bots to deal with personal injury claims. Otto, a German retailer adopted AI and ML to autonomously make operational decisions at a scale that humans cannot match.

It is human nature to be concerned about the impact AI will have on job security and availability. A number of jobs which seem quite complex will be disrupted by widespread adoption of AI in 15 – 20 years’ time, this includes:

  • journalists,
  • drivers,
  • chefs,
  • financial analysts
  • lawyers

It is expected that almost 73 million jobs are at risk of being replaced by 2030, this invariably means that new ones will be created to accommodate the change, as even AI will need to be supported.

AI shouldn’t be feared but embraced as the future for human employees may be improved by the adoption of AI to perform jobs. It may even become the best team member, especially for Project Managers.

Some areas AI, predictive analytics and machine learning may have an impact on project delivery once in full swing. Areas such as risk estimation;

  • Throughout the life cycle, every project encounters a number of uncertainties and risks that can trigger a failure, which the project team should analyse and respond to base on their knowledge, experience and available tools.
  • The difficulty with the ongoing risk assessment can turn into a catastrophe if the team fails to identify threats on time –  but what if a sophisticated, self-learning machine could evaluate historical information, issue logs to come up with an enhanced risk rating model? 
  • Machine learning enables computers to use project information and advanced algorithms to predict results and determine the potential threats and vulnerabilities influencing your project.
  • Project Managers will save considerable time, money and resources through the implementation of AI.

Resource management is another area which will benefit or be affected by AI;

  • As a Project Manager, you have to reassess the progress, time-frames and costs multiple times over the course of the project.
  • AI provides insight into the history of previous projects and can offer real-time resource management information. 
  • This will help to manage any additional resources or take people off the project if a disparity rises in the hours required versus projected availability.

Artificial Intelligence can be a distinctive accelerator and game changer, and Project Managers should embrace the technology and leverage AI where possible.  AI should be considered as an assistant not replacement of Project Managers.  This way the Project Manager can spend more time on more value-adding activities while delegating many project management tasks to the intelligent machines.

Enhancing workforce capacity planning

Capacity Planning

Optimizing resource utilization is critical for successful project delivery, there are conventional practices which enable a project team to be more efficient. Prominent companies find it necessary to take a data-driven approach to plan for the needs of the organization proactively. As it minimizes the extra cost of misaligned talent deployment. An advanced capacity planning solution is designed to provide project leaders with the foresight into workforce capacity. It provides enterprise-wide visibility into the available skills that lets them decrease the bench strength.

These insights allow project managers to tap into the right potential and allocate the right resources to the task. Moreover, this unmatched visibility into critical skill gaps and foresight into capacity and demand for future projects helps project managers to enhance productivity and deliver the best results.

Leverage the right tools to obtain the benefits which will enhance capacity planning, this can be achieved by the following;

Assign the key resources to the task, resources which have the specialized skillset for the high priority projects. The reason is that their talent and expertise can impact billable and strategic work in the future. This allocation will help the project obtain traction almost immediately.

By setting up a systematic and organized resource profile, there will be an almost immediate knowledge of resource’s abilities and competencies, and if they have taken training in a related course. This skill can then be utilised to recognize opportunities that align with a resource’s capabilities and assign them these tasks. This is not only helping the business grow but also enabling resources to grow professionally and enhance performance.

Preparing for unforeseen scenarios, a robust capacity planning tool caters to this as well. In the initial planning stages of a project, situations can be modified and predictions on likely outcomes with some accuracy can be made. While doing so, planning for what is best suited to the project and is profitable for the future. Planning for “what if” scenarios is essential, as the data-driven actionable insights allows for strategic decisions and empowers performance levels down the line. This will also spare any unnecessary budget overruns, project bottlenecks where unmatched visibility of all the situations determined well in advance. It also help’s optimize resource utilization and work assignments for future projects.

One of the major benefits of capacity planning solution is its ability to generate accurate forecast reports. These reports will forewarn the future project resource demand and the actual capacity. By leveraging these reports, bridge’s the capacity vs. demand gap by using appropriate resourcing treatment.

Enabling these predictions will also provide a comprehensive view of excess and shortage of resources (resources gap) which might be faced down the line. To cater to this, implement adequate remedial measures and ensure uniform utilization of resources.

The following is a list of potential solutions:

When there is a shortage of resources: 

  • Adjust project timelines to align with available capacity.
  • Retrain and skill up available employees to fill the gaps.
  • Hire contingent workforce before time to avoid further roadblocks.
  • Optimize Bench Management to minimize bench time.

When resources are in excess:

  • Bring forward project timelines to allocate tasks to the idle resources.
  • Fast-track projects by marketing the capacity available.
  • Bring forward initiatives to meet strategic goals and allow resources to brainstorm and contribute.
  • Allow movement of resources across departments to maximize utilization and reduce bench time.

Allocating resources is not the end of capacity planning. One major responsibility a project manager has is to keep the project costs under control, maximize billability, and reduce resourcing costs. In order to do so, project managers must keep a check on the project’s progress, resources’ progress, and the number of hours they log to a task.

This is significant because when a report is generated with actual hours utilized by resources, there can be a comparison with the actual against the forecasted hours for each task. If resources exceed the planned hours, then plan and identify the potential reasons behind the difference and take corrective measures ahead of the curve. This will keep the project costs in check and keep the project from incurring any unnecessary costs.

Different types of projects demand different courses of planning. A mature resource manager goes for a hybrid approach to plan projects. Streamline a 3-step approach of planning, representing, and assigning resources. Here is the detailed explanation of each step:

  • Plan – the most important step to a successful project is a well-channelized plan, opt for the best approach that suits the project. For example, use work breakdown structures to detail the stages and allocate resources. In other cases when not sure of the resources who will work on the tasks, generate a high-level planning and approvals from senior managers to proceed further.
  • Represent – A capacity planning solution is flexible enough to enable representation of resource demand in different units. Directly represent the demand in headcounts, or FTE (Full-time equivalent- standard working hours of a firm per week), or several hours available. For instance, if 4 FTE are required, that means four employees are needed to work for 4 weeks or 4 employees to work for a week and complete the task.
  • Assign – After creating a meticulous plan and listing the resource demand, the last step is to use the advanced filters of the tool, enter requirements based on role, department, competencies, location, availability, and a number of hours/FTE/headcount and assign the right resources to the right task.

A powerful, advanced, and comprehensive capacity planning tool is pivotal to utilize project resources to their optimum. When a project manager has 360-degree visibility of the resources and their skills, then they can build the highest value project and eliminate potential pitfalls.

The above-mentioned tips to scale up capacity planning process will empower a project manager with the appropriate decision-making capability. Enhances , and helps resources to add a more valuable contribution to the project.

Positive motivation and establishing connection

Positive Motivation

It can never be under estimated the power of positive motivation and how it creates a personal connection.  Truly an important part of team management, especially in scenarios where the industry is filled with competent and highly motivated people. There are many different approaches taken by leaders, one approach that is highly effective is the Servant Leadership.  This is where leaders work to facilitate the performance of team members to work toward achieving their goals; basically leaders strive to “serve” their followers.  

The thinking here is that it enables resources to do their best.  Some may say this is a passive approach to leadership, essentially involving the team with the decision making process. Doing this goes beyond seeing that the direct needs of people to perform their jobs are being fulfilled, it also includes looking after the emotional wellbeing of people. As it has been said and documented that people who are happy and feel better about themselves, the tasks they are working on contribute more. 

In speaking about Servant Leadership, business expert Ken Blanchard advocates for leaders taking their time to go out of their way to praise team members in a personal way – in a caring way, in his words – for hard work.  According to him, this means, “Walking around and catch them doing something right, then giving a one-minute praising.”   

People can see when praising of this nature is over the top and hence can remove its effectiveness. Being able to hand out positive reinforcement is a skill, one of which is to know when it is needed. Be mindful of the environment you are in, the application of the technique should depend on the location and the specific circumstances.

When leading teams, positive praise can be given out anywhere.  It can be in work groups, project teams, or any place where you are in a leadership position and motivation is called for.  To some degree a level of reward can be almost anything, from words of praise to a box of chocolates. The method and the prop should be your signature, which you can take from organization to organization and team to team. This will separate you from the rest of the pack, and you will more likely be remembered.  

The key to selecting your prop is to understand your team, environment and situation.  It is to understand what makes team members smile and happy.  The gesture itself and the thought behind it are more important than the physical item or action employed. 

One of the metrics on which leaders are often judged is the successful achievement of project delivery or organizational goals by team members.  Knowing how to motivate helps to bring out the best performance from members of the team.  It not only helps to get the task accomplished immediately, but helps to build a good connection and foundation for getting things done the next time as well. 

Please share your motivational thoughts regardless if you are a leader, or what you would expect from a leader. As understanding connection and how to motivate goes in more than one direction.