Category Archives: Stakeholder Management

How to deal with various stakeholders on a project.

Program Management – Being the Glue

Program Management
Program Management

A project can be large and complex. But as business organizations develop more complex strategies, their efforts get even more complex. This leads to more complicated projects and ultimately, programs, requiring the separate skill of program management.

Virtually every organization has projects. They can be as small as one person for a couple of days. Others involve large teams over several months.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as:

A temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. Projects have a definite beginning and an end – a limited duration.

As strategic decisions expand, many projects may be going on at the same time. While some of those projects may have little to do with others, others may be related in multiple ways. Similar stakeholders can be effected. Some may draw from the same division’s budget. Others may perform similar activities.

When this occurs, it may be time to create a program under which those related projects can be executed. This allows the planning and execution of the projects to be coordinated across many aspects.

Each project normally has a project manager. A program manager is then brought in to perform the coordination of those efforts. But what is the key role of the program manager?

Essentially, a program manager has centralized responsibility for making sure that the portfolio of separate projects works together in harmony. Program managers provide a strategic approach adding cohesion across each work stream.

While the program focuses on an overarching set of objectives, projects have specific and more singular objectives and outcomes.

The program manager acts as the glue that holds the project work streams together. In order to be that glue, there are some key responsibilities that a successful program manager needs to perform.

Strategic vision – The program manager needs to align each of the program work streams with the organization’s business strategy and strategic goals. The project managers within the program have their individual project charters. The program manager needs to have a deep understanding of the corporate strategy. She then needs to be well-informed of project status to ensure that it is aligned with the over-arching strategy.

Coordination – Each project work stream has its own milestones and deadlines. The program manager helps each project manager coordinate their timelines to address inter-project dependencies. The program manager also makes sure that deadlines that affect common stakeholders are coordinated to avoid overloading them at the same time.

Additionally, there are often resources that each project needs, but none of them require full-time. For instance, on IT projects, an IT architect may work part time on a project. Within a program, the program manager can balance the work of one or more people across several projects.

Communication – In an organization where several large projects are going at various levels of completion, few know what the other projects are doing. Some may be unaware that some other projects even exist. The left hand often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

This can be detrimental for projects that have interrelated goals and outcomes. I once was on a project in which applications servers were being decommissioned. We learned that at the same time, another project was purchasing additional memory for one of these servers.

Most projects have daily “stand-up” meetings to ensure cross-communication with the project team. Programs should do the same with project managers and critical team leads. This makes sure that every project is aware of what the others are doing.

Governance – Project managers are given a budget and are generally charged with staying on time and within budget for the project. Change control processes allow them to modify the parameters as needed.

The program manager focuses on the ROI of the program as a whole. The program manager needs to ensure that the proper projects are introduced to the program that will provide the most benefit to the bottom line.

Conclusion

The roles of project managers and program managers have some similarity and overlap. But the program manager has the responsibility to make sure that all projects within the program work in harmony. Ensuring coordination between the project work streams requires a strategic approach certifying coordination across all projects.

How do you ensure coordination across projects within your program?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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How to Report Red Amber Green Status

Red amber green status
Red amber green status

For as long as we can remember, the red amber green status has been a mainstay in project management reporting. It has become universal for a number of reasons. First, everybody is familiar with the stoplight colors. The value they communicate is also pretty intuitive. Green means go. Yellow means caution. Red means stop.

It also provides a helpful visual indication. Reading text is cumbersome, while RAG (red-amber-green status) provides a quick view of where the project stands before a word has to be read.

But like anything so simple, it can be problematic. Ask five project managers to assess where a project is and you will likely get five different answers.

Defining red amber green status

Most people will agree to the general definitions of each indicator:

Green: The project is on track and no executive action is required.

Amber: This is the warning indictor. It most often means that the project has experienced some serious issues and the project manager has had to make some decisions to deal with it. It doesn’t usually require executive involvement, but they should be aware for closer observation.

Red: The project is behind schedule and needs management intervention to help correct something. Within the triple constraint – scope, time, and cost – at least one of them has gotten out of hand.

Although most project managers and executives would agree with these general definitions, it becomes tricky when trying to assess the project for presentation to the executives.

Many project managers are afraid that it will appear as a sign of weakness if they report amber or red to the executive. They want to report that everything is going well. Even if the project is experiencing problems, many project managers tend to downplay them, feeling they can manage them without executive intervention.

The need for honesty

The project manager that reports things as rosier (or greener) than they really are can sometimes get away with it. If there is a major issue going on, why bother the executive if you can manage it yourself?

Sometimes, the project manager can get away with it. Report the project as green, solve the problem yourself, and the executive doesn’t need to be bothered.

But if you cover up that issue and you’re unable to resolve it, it most likely becomes a major issue. Suddenly you go from reporting the project as green one week, and red the next week.

Executives may not like amber and red statuses. But more than anything, they don’t like surprises. If you had honestly reported the project as amber and described the issue, it could have gone two different ways. If you were able to resolve the issue, the project goes back to green and that amber you reported was just a blip in the project. If you’re unable to resolve the problem, it may get worse. Now that amber you reported has turned red. While that isn’t good, it’s much better than surprising an executive by going from green straight to red.

Political ramifications

Sometimes the reluctance that project managers feel in reporting amber and green is because of the anticipated executive response. Some executives tend to make a bigger deal out of what they consider negative news.

While amber should indicate that there is a problem they should be aware of, some executives can’t resist the urge to manage when they should back off. Overactive executives often take over management of the project. This often results in marginalizing the project manager when they should allow their project manager to handle the issue on their own.

And if that’s how an executive handles an amber status, let’s not even discuss how they will deal with red status. In situations like this, project managers will go to great lengths to avoid honestly reporting amber or red status.

Agreeing up front

When starting a new project, the project manager should hold an introductory meeting with any executives that will receive red amber green status. In this meeting, they should agree on the definitions of each status. They should also define the responsibilities for each party when amber and red status is reported.

Executives should agree that amber is for informational purposes. They may want status reported on a more frequent basis. But they generally should not get involved in decision making at this point, unless the project manager requests assistance.

When red is reported, specific executive action is usually required. But the executive needs to understand that it is a normal part of the life of a project. Projects go red and need executive assistance. Punishing or deriding the project manager whenever a project goes red creates a negative environment and hinders productivity.

Conclusion

Red amber green status should be a form of communication. Throughout the life of a project, things happen that put the project in a riskier situation than usual. Very few projects are green throughout their lifetime. I once worked for an executive who felt that if you were always green, you weren’t trying to achieve enough.

When projects do go amber and red, executives have a responsibility not to panic, but to help bring the project back on track.

What issues have you run into when reporting red amber green status?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I am the CEO!” Leading without Authority

Leading without Authority
Leading without Authority

I once worked for a man who believed that his title gave him authority. He was the CEO of the company and never hesitated to let people know. He always introduced himself emphasizing his title and listed the C-level positions he had held in the past.

If anyone disagreed with him, he would scold them, telling them “I am the CEO of this company!” as if that gave him omnipotent authority and knowledge.
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Defining the Project Escalation Process

Project Escalation Process
Project Escalation Process

It has probably happened to you at one time or another. You’re sitting in a meeting with your boss present when an issue comes up.

You’ve been trying to resolve that issue for a week. It’s the first time your boss is hearing about it. He asks why he wasn’t made aware of the issue. If you had defined a project escalation process, he might have already heard about it.

Having a project escalation process can help guide a project manager through the decision-making process to communicate effectively to leadership to ensure that they are informed in an accurate and timely manner. It is a matter of knowing the what, when, how and why of issue escalation.

What to escalate

Certainly the project manager shouldn’t escalate every single issue that occurs on a project. It is the PM’s job to track, manage, and resolve issues.
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Including all Stakeholders

Including all stakeholders
Including all stakeholders

In our project based organizations, we serve in uber-diverse workgroups. Not only are our team members from many different parts of the globe, they rarely all work for the same team.

An organization may start a project with a small group of internal staff members. That internal team may consist of a contractor or two to augment the staff. They then call in a consulting group to provide expertise and assistance. That firm may have a few contractors of their own.
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5 Ways to Align IT with the Business

Align IT with the Business
5 Ways to Align IT with the Business

Looking back at every project in which I’ve been involved, I’ve seen successes and failures. There are many reasons for each outcome. But I believe the reason with the most correlation is business alignment.

To align IT with the business is one of the most critical aspects of a project, and perhaps the most difficult thing to do. So how do you align it with the business in the face of such difficulty?

Do your homework

IT people tend to know IT. I know, it’s strange. But we all have our comfort zones and that’s what we focus on. Many business people are the same with business. When it comes to IT, they don’t know it. That’s somebody else’s job.
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4 Components of Business Alignment

Components of Business Alignment
Components of Business Alignment

If you’ve ever been to an air show in a major city, chances are that you’ve seen the Blue Angels perform. The Blue Angels are a flying aerobatic team. They fly six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft and perform maneuvers such as formation loops and barrel rolls. It amazes me that six jet airplanes can fly in formation in straight lines at the speeds that they fly, let alone the acrobats they do up in the air.

Imagine if one of those pilots didn’t know what direction they were they were supposed to be going. Or if one didn’t know the next maneuver. It would, at a minimum show them going in very different directions. At worst, it could result in a terrible accident.

But that’s how many businesses and their information technology departments work together. Or rather, how they don’t.

The Blue Angels work in near perfect alignment. How do they do it, while major corporations with smart leaders fail at it so often?

Why it happens – A failure to communicate

When a business organization asks their IT department to perform a project, they will hand over the requirements of that project in various ways. They may meet for long sessions of requirements gathering. They may simply hand over previously existing documentation.

For more information see Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Regardless of how the team gets requirements for the project, they often do not discuss them further until much later in the project. Throughout the project, the information technology team will make assumptions based on little knowledge of the business or why they wanted the project.

Components of business alignment:

A common, and well-communicated vision

Let’s consider a case study. Ann is a great baker and starts her own business as a sole proprietor. She has a specific strategic vision in mind for her business. She knows exactly what she wants to accomplish.  Everything she does for her bakery is focused on that strategic vision.

She gets up early every morning and bakes all of her goods for sale that day. She works the counter all morning selling her goods. Then she spends the afternoon and evenings planning new recipes, advertising and taking care of other business activities.

After a couple of months, it’s just too much for her to do everything on her own. She hires someone to help out working the counter. She communicates her strategic vision to her on her first day, gives her a little training, and sets her on her way.

The business continues to grow. Within a year, Ann decides to take on a partner and open another store in a nearby town. Ann explains her strategic vision to her new partner, helps her get started in the new location, and goes back to work at her original store.

Over the next few months, she sees that profits from both stores are down. She talks to customers from her original store and finds that the worker behind the counter is rude and provides poor customer service. She is confused because part of her strategic vision that she communicated to her employee on the first day was to provide excellent customer service.

When she talks to patrons from her new store, she finds out that the quality of the food is poor. When Ann talks to her partner about it, she learns that she has been using cheaper ingredients in order to save money.

Ann is puzzled about this because part of the strategy she communicated to her on the first day was to provide the highest quality possible.

This is how many corporations treat their strategic vision. They spend a lot of money to develop the vision. They print it out on some plaques and posters to hang in the lobby. They announce it to every employee on the first day of employment. Then it gets nudged aside in order to deal with the urgent calls of daily business.

A corporation who spends the time to develop a strategic vision should communicate it on a regular basis. They should announce it early and often so that it is top of mind for every employee. It should drive how every employee does his or her job.

The strategic vision should be explained to every manager. Every manager should know what it means in order for them to do their job. Every manager should be able to explain the same to every one of their direct reports. It should be cascaded down each level.

A project manager starting a project should understand the company’s strategic vision and how the project’s purpose fits into that vision.

Understand how the company makes money

McDonalds Corporation is not in the business of selling hamburgers – or fries, shakes, or salads for that matter. McDonalds Corporation is in the real estate business. McDonalds Corporation owns the land and buildings of all of their stores. Franchisees lease the land and building from corporate. They then make and sell the food that allows them to pay rent to the corporation.

Certainly the corporate parent has a vested interest in their lessees selling hamburgers profitably. But that is driven by their desire to improve their rent revenues.

An employee at the corporate level who does not understand that source of revenue risks making incorrect assumptions and decisions.

A project manager starting a project for a company should have the same knowledge of that company’s source of income. Just like in the McDonalds scenario, things aren’t always as they seem. In order to manage a project that is truly aligned with the business, how the company generates revenue is an important need for sound decision making.

Understand how the project helps the company achieve that strategic vision

Once the organization’s strategy and how they make money are understood, the project manager should understand how the project is a puzzle piece that fits into the big picture.

If there is any question about how the project helps the organization accomplish their strategic vision, that should be a red flag. Has the strategy changed? Does this accomplish it in an indirect way that isn’t immediately clear? Or, is this project not aligned with the strategy?

If the project is indeed aligned with the business strategy, the project manager is responsible for understanding how, in order to make the right decisions along the way.

Score card to validate progress

Regardless of how much the business is involved with the project once it is initiated, the project manager should develop a score card that appropriately communicates status.

Like any status, it should communicate what has been completed in relation to what was planned. But it should also explain how the accomplishments relate to the big picture of the project. The score card should also make it clear how those accomplishments also align with the overall strategy.

If a project manager reports that Task XYZ was accomplished, she should be able to explain why that helps the project be successful. She should further be able to explain how completing that task makes the organization more successful.

Conclusion

Information technology has long been looked at as a support function for the company. Management comes up with an approach to take orders, process orders, or track orders better. They go to IT and tell them what they want. The expectation is that IT will listen to what they want, build it, hand it over, and it will work.

Instead, IT should be looked upon as a partner. The more each individual in the IT department understands the business, the more they can provide value.

Information technology is no longer an appendage of an organization that is called in “when we need a system.” Information technology should stop being an order taker and become a partner with the business.

When there is actual integration between business and information technology, business alignment will become an obsolete term. IT needs to be integrated like one of the jets in the Blue Angels rather than just another plane that is called upon when they are needed.

How much is information technology integrated with your business?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Case study – The stakeholder from hell

Stakeholder Management for Project Managers
Stakeholder Management for Project Managers

Melvin was a project manager on a software development project. On a weekly basis, he reported status via a conference call with project stakeholders that were distributed around the world. The meeting was usually a formality. Melvin sent the status report the day before to all stakeholders for them review before the meeting.

Donna, the lead stakeholder was particularly difficult at times. She had a habit of taking one small detail and turning it into a big problem. Because of that, Melvin always entered this meeting with some trepidation.

In one particular status call, he reported on a requirements review meeting that had been held earlier in the week. As soon as he mentioned the meeting, Donna spoke up, “Why wasn’t I invited to that meeting?”

There was a moment of silence as Melvin considered her question. “I thought you were invited.” He replied.

Donna had found her problem. “I was not invited to that meeting! I need to be invited to any meeting where we review business requirements!” She went on for what seemed like several minutes to Melvin. When she was done, or at least paused long enough for him to reply, he apologized for the oversight. She continued to scold him for a few minutes before he continued on with his status.

After the meeting, Melvin flipped his laptop open and looked up the meeting invitation. Donna had indeed been invited to the meeting. She did not respond to the invitation, which is why it didn’t show up on her calendar.

Project stakeholder management can be a difficult aspect of project management. Some stakeholders, like Donna, can be intentionally difficult and seem almost impossible. Others may be easier to deal with. But they will almost always have high expectations.

To be successful, a project manager needs to know how to manage the stakeholders in order to manage a project.

Managing Expectations

It is important to start the project out on the right foot. This can be most effective if expectations are set with all stakeholders on the team.

For project team members, meet with the team as part of the kickoff meeting and develop a set of team norms. This is a list of self-prescribed and self-enforced rules and regulations. Some of the rules that my teams have come up with include keeping music limited to headphones at volumes others can’t hear. If the team has flexible hours, the team may establish a window of time that everyone is present so that they know when to schedule meetings.

The expectation should also be set with team members about the project manager’s accessibility, when can they call the project manager and when should they wait or send an email.

The project team should also know what to expect throughout the project. Explain the major milestones and what you hope to accomplish at each point. Changes may occur and the expectation should be set for that as well. When the changes do take effect, let the team know how you expect to deal with those changes. If there is a change management process, this is the time to explain it to them.

Business stakeholders need to know what to expect from the project as well. Meet with the key stakeholders and make them familiar with your management style. Explain to them the purpose of the project and how long it will take to accomplish everything. They should also be made aware of your change management process.

Explain to the business stakeholders how things will occur at the end of the project. Let them know how the system will be deployed and handed over to them when everything is tested and approved. Explain any training that will take place if necessary.

Some of this should be done verbally so that it can be heard personally from the project manager. Most of it should be done in writing too so that they can refer back to it and verify things they may have forgotten.

Expectation management is a big part of managing your stakeholders and making sure they are kept satisfied.

Status Reporting

Once expectations are set with stakeholders, it’s important to live up to those expectations. The project manager should establish a weekly meeting with key stakeholders early on in the project.  While major changes may not take place every week, it is important to meet to discuss any issues, risks, and other project updates. If business stakeholders begin skipping status meetings, impress upon them the importance of meeting on a weekly basis.

An effective visual way to communicate status of various aspects of the project is using the red/yellow/green (RYG, also called RAG status for red/amber/green) format. Like a stoplight, Green indicates that everything is in “Go” mode with nothing to worry about. Yellow indicates caution. This is used when events occur on a project where there is risk of going late, over budget, or there is an inability to meet certain critical requirements.

Red should be reported when project overruns occur, or if there are obstacles preventing the team from delivering any business requirements.

The important thing to remember is that status should be reported honestly. If major risks exist causing any component to be yellow or red, the project manager should have the guts to report it. A corrective action plan should be presented with the negative status to inform the business how it will be fixed.

There is often a tendency for a project manager to report the item as green and hope that the contingency plans in place will fix the problem. No one will have to be alarmed and the problem will just go away. However, if the plan does not fix the problem, it is usually a bigger issue that needs to be reported. Business stakeholders rarely like to be surprised with statuses that go from green one week to red the next. It is much better for them to have a heads-up on any issues, even if you fully intend to fix the problem.

Reporting status of a project regularly and honestly develops trust with the business stakeholders, allowing the project manager to work with them in a more productive environment.

Decision Making

The project manager has the responsibility of making many decisions. But those decisions are not made in a vacuum. Team members on the project have experience and access to front line matters that the project manager may not be privy to. Including other team members in decision making is a way to brainstorm new ideas and to include information that may not have been considered otherwise.

Additionally, including team members in decision making will be more likely to obtain their buy-in. If they feel like they helped in the decision process, they will be more likely to get behind it to prove that it is a correct decision.

The project manager must also make sure that his or her decisions don’t over step the bounds of the role. There may be decisions that the business will want to be included on. If the project manager makes a decision regarding how a requirement is implemented, the business may find out late and disagree, requiring expensive rework or even renegotiating of a vendor contract.

It is sometimes a delicate balancing act by the project manager trying to determine which decisions the business stakeholders want to be a part of. Some may be hands-off, while others may want to be part of every decision.

Learning the stakeholders’ preferences and working with them will help to develop a strong working relationship.

Creativity and a Sense of Humor

Stakeholders want to work with strong, decisive, and competent project managers. But they also want to work with a human being. Project managers sometimes come from technical backgrounds. They are more comfortable with numbers and absolute terms.

But a good project manager is also creative, coming up with unique ideas that can make a project successful. Creative ways to report status to business stakeholders can help them understand how the project is actually doing, rather than a group of statistics that can be meaningless.

A project manager with a sense of humor can also endear the business stakeholder to them as well. Business stakeholders will find it hard to deal with someone who is stiff and all business. If the project manager can make light of things and create a casual environment, the stakeholders will be more likely to enjoy being around the PM and will develop a better relationship.

While a good sense of humor is a good personal trait, the project manager should temper that with the personalities of the stakeholders. If the business culture is no-nonsense, people who don’t have patience for a lot of “messing around,” it may be better to model their attitudes rather than go out of your way to make them laugh. It can backfire and hurt your chances of developing a stronger relationship with them.

Communication

Communication may be the most important aspect of managing your project stakeholders. The basis of any strong relationship is clear, concise and honest communication.

We discussed setting expectations and reporting status clearly and honestly. These are all communication skills that will help you develop a strong relationship with stakeholders.

Additionally, a project manager needs to be willing to have difficult conversations with stakeholders. If a team member is not performing well, or has an attitude problem, it is the project manager’s responsibility to talk to that individual. The meeting should be a private, one-on-one conversation. The project manager should explain the situation and state the expectations for improvement. The team member should have an opportunity to reply, but should ultimately agree to make the requested changes.

Some project managers will put off those difficult conversations, allowing the problem to fester and get out of control. Confronting the situation early is the most effective way to deal with such issues. It usually develops a stronger relationship between the project manger and the team member.

The project manager may have to have difficult conversations with business stakeholders as well. If the stakeholder is distant or uninvolved, this creates a risk to the project that the project manager must deal with.

Having a face-to-face conversation with such as stakeholder will help to improve the situation, develop better rapport, and ultimately, develop a better relationship with the stakeholder.

Conclusion

Working with the various stakeholders of a project can be challenging. Some are easier to work with than others. By having strong communication skills and being a good decision maker, the project manager can develop a strong relationship that will lead to success.

How do you handle your project stakeholders?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of nokhoog buchachon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Manage Expectations on Yellow and Red Projects

How to manage expectations
How to manage expectations on yellow and red projects

I once worked with a project manager who insisted on reporting projects as green in every weekly status report. There were times when he would alter an issue status or hide issues from executives to “fool” them into thinking everything was OK.

Sometimes this worked. The issue would get resolved and the executive never knew about it. More often than not, however, the issue would do one of two things. Word would get out and the executive would find out through the grapevine. Alternatively, the issue would persist or become larger giving the project manager no other choice but to report it to the executive. When either of these two situations occurred, the executive was surprised and had less time to react and make a decision. The project manager did not manage up to the executive appropriately.
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7 Ways to Make Executives Love Your Project Status

love your project status
Getting executives to love your project status

As project managers, we all have our weekly status meetings. For some, it can be a stressful time, especially if the project is behind. For others, it becomes as mundane as going for a cup of coffee. Whatever your situation is, it is important to make sure you’re presenting a strategic project status to your executives.
Continue reading 7 Ways to Make Executives Love Your Project Status