Better Leadership + Business Skills = Better Projects

What drives project success? Research has consistently shown that it’s having an effective project manager. Results from PM College’s latest research, “Project Manager Skills Benchmark 2015,” confirms this, showing that organizations with highly skilled project managers get significantly better project results.

This result is hardly a surprise, but the magnitude of the outperformance is. Project managers at high skill levels outperform those with project managers at low skill levels – almost 50% better. In addition, high-performing organizations appear to emphasize skills beyond project management tools and techniques. High performers’ project managers excelled at leadership skills, especially displaying integrity and honesty, building relationships, and building trust and respect.

LeadersAndPMsDiffer

There is a lot more insight in the report but let me highlight one key finding.  As one might expect, project managers in all organizations need to improve across all areas of the talent triangle: leadership, business, and project management skills. Their skills are good to excellent in 15% of organizations and inadequate to fair in 30%.

However, senior leaders are far more likely than project managers to see benefits realization, project alignment with strategy, and poor communication as challenges. This perception gap extends to skill improvement priorities (see graph). Note that the biggest gaps are in leadership, business, and strategy skills: project managers

The study is available for download now. Stay tuned for an invite to our upcoming webinar to review and discuss these results. Hold the date and time: 18 June (2 PM Eastern).

Sportsfolio Management: What Project Executives Can Learn From the Draft

Rich Hill is one of my favorite Twitter sports follows — @PP_Rich_Hill — though I only now realized I hadn’t been following via @crossderry until recently. He does a great job of melding a fan’s perspective with his analysis. The result is well-reasoned, yet approachable opinions and projections of football drafts, rosters, and of course, game performance. He’s also a Pats fan, so he must be a man of honor and distinction!

I like to use non-traditional examples to illuminate our more mundane dilemmas. Rich’s recent post on the allocation of NFL Draft capital got me thinking. Draft picks are indeed capital. They are assets that can be traded. Also, just like your production line, SAP ERP installation, or facility, the players selected provide capabilities to their organizations over time.

Value — expressed as capabilities over time — drives the worth of the assets or initiatives in a portfolio. And as you can imagine, the trick is to pick the most valuable asset available during your draft turn. How should you approach the problem? Rich breaks it down the essence of the choice:

The question with the draft is asking how a team can best game the talent in order to maximize the value of their draft picks, or draft capital. A simple breakdown is by position, where there are clear premiums for, say, a quarterback versus a punter. Taking the best quarterback in the league in the 1st round is way better value than taking the best punter in the 1st.

And of course, draft position by round, and within rounds, matters as well. You shouldn’t expect a 100th pick to be as valuable as a first pick. So position — both on the field and in the draft — drives relative value. Therefore, to value one’s options for a particular draft pick, one must, as Rich says: “look at a position’s expected value compared to others in the draft.”

He gives a couple of examples in his post — which has some clear graphs — so read the whole thing. Here’s one quick quote about how expected and relative value works. In this example, analysis uncovers interior offensive linemens’ expected value doesn’t decline evenly through the draft rounds.

What this means is that a player selected in the top 40 would have an expected value of an All Pro caliber player. Players selected 40th-90th have an expected value of a top tier starter. By the shape of the graph, interior offensive linemen selected from 90th through the end of the draft all have roughly the same expected value, that of a rotational depth player.

So if the Patriots are interested in an All Pro guard, they would likely have to use their first round pick to increase their odds. But if they would be fine with a top level guard, they could use their third round picks in the 90s to receive roughly the same expectation as if they took the player 50th overall.

This “lumpiness” allows for differentiated draft tactics. And differentiation is the heart of breakthrough strategy.

But this is just the foundation: choosing among alternatives of the same type of capability. We portfolio and initiative leaders must, of course, select alternatives across capability types. In my next post, I’ll leverage more of Rich’s work to illustrate how to approach that problem.

Find Your Best Project Leaders

My last post noted that filling gaps, improving skill mastery, and driving behavior change are the improvements that organizations need. But how can you design these objectives into your talent improvement program? If you have had a program in place, how do you know you have the right mix? And how do you  measure its impact on the organization?

Who are the truly competent initiative leaders in your organization? And how do you know?

Any competency improvement plan starts with identifying what the “truly competent” project or program manager looks like for the particular organization. We intuitively know that more competence pays for itself. And there is strong evidence for that intuition: it’s in our Building Project Manager Competency white paper (request here). But lasting improvement will only come from a structured and sustained competency improvement program. That structure has to begin with an assessment of the existing competency. Furthermore, the program must include clear measures of business value, so that every improvement in competence can be linked to improvements in key business measures.

My experience with such programs is that PMO and talent management groups approach the process in a way that muddles cause and effect. For example, a training program is often paired with PMO set-up. Fair enough. However, if the training design is put into place without a baseline of the current competence of your initiative leaders, then that design may perpetuate key skill or behavior gaps among your staff.  You may hit the target, but a scattershot strategy leans heavily on luck.

In addition, this approach will leave you guessing about which part of your training had business impact. You may see better business outcomes, but not have any better idea about which improved skills and behaviors drove them. Even worse, if your “hope-based” design and delivery is followed by little improvement, then your own initiative may well be doomed.

So how should you fix your program, or get it right from the start? We at PM College lay out a structured, five-step process for working through your competency improvement program.

  1. Define Roles and Competencies
  2. Assess Competencies
  3. Establish a Professional Development Program with Career Paths
  4. Execute Training Program
  5. Measure Competency and Project Delivery Outcomes Before and After Training

These steps were very useful for structuring my thinking, but they’re more of a checklist than a plan. For example, my PMOs almost always had something to work with in Steps 1 and 3. Even if I didn’t directly own roles and career paths, I had credibility and influence with my colleagues in human resources.  However, the condition of the training program was more of a mixed bag. Sometimes I would have something in place, sometimes I was starting “greenfield.”

The current state of the training program informs how I look at these steps.

  • Training program in place: My approach is to jump straight to Step 5, and drive for a competency and outcome assessment based on what went before.  I assume steps 1-4 as completed – even if not explicitly – and position the assessment as something that validates the effectiveness of what came before. In other words, this strategy is a forcing function that stresses the whole competence program, without starting anew.
  • No training program in place: I use the formal assessment to drive change. As PMO head I have been able to use its results to explicitly drive the training program’s design. More significantly, these results are proof points driving better role and career path designs, even if HR formally owns those choices.

PM College has a unique and holistic competency assessment methodology that looks at and assesses the knowledge, behaviors, and job performance across the project management roles in your organization. As always, if your organization would like discuss our approach, and how it drives improved project and business outcomes, please contact me or use the contact form below. We’d love to hear from you.

FYI: For more reading on competency-based management, check out Optimizing Human Capital with A Strategic Project Office.

PM Skills Benchmark Study

PM Solutions and PM College are pleased to announce our latest research initiative: The Project Manager Skills Benchmark Study. This study is designed to help us understand current skill levels of project managers in the areas of project management, leadership, and business. What skills do project managers have, and how do these skills impact project and organizational success?

This survey should take about 10 minutes of your time. Complete survey results (which includes the full data and cross tabulations) will be sent to all those who finish the survey.

TakeSurveyNow

More kudos for Pro.NET Best Practices (RT @ruthlesshelp)

Pro .NET Best Practices gets a great review from Tad Anderson in the .NET Developer’s Journal http://t.co/I0W5P4lL
I loved the reviewer’s lede:

I personally do not find software development an art form. It is not an unpredictable activity driven by crazy business users that come to work every day inventing a new way to operate their businesses just to savagely changing your requirements. Project teams that use changing requirements as an excuse for their dates constantly slipping and bugs being pushed to production are simply not good development teams and they are poorly managed.

Interview: Common obstacles PMs introduce

This question — about problems project managers impose on their projects — wraps up my interview with Stephen Ritchie (@ruthlesshelp, blog here). author of Pro .NET Best Practices (Amazon paperback & Kindle, Barnes & Noble).    Remember that Stephen describes a promotion to get 40-percent-off his book at his blog here.     I hope you all found it as interesting as I did:

What are common obstacles that project managers introduce into projects?

Haste. I like to say, “schedule pressure is the enemy of good design.” During project retrospectives, all too often, I find the primary technical design driver was haste. Not maintainability, not extensibility, not correctness, not performance … haste.  This common obstacle is a silent killer. It is the Sword of Damocles that … when push comes to shove … drives so many important design objectives underground or out the window.
 
Ironically, the haste is driven by an imagined or arbitrary deadline. I like to remind project managers and developers that for quick and dirty solutions … the dirty remains long after the quick is forgotten. Continue reading

Interview: Ruthlessly helpful project management

Continuing my interview with Stephen Ritchie (@ruthlesshelp, blog here). author of Pro .NET Best Practices (Amazon paperback & Kindle, Barnes & Noble).   Also, Stephen describes a promotion to get 40-percent-off his book at his blog here.    We turn to the project manager’s role:

Q: Can you give an example or three of how project managers can be “ruthlessly helpful” to their development teams?

A: Here are a few:
1) Insist that programmers, engineers and other technical folks go to the whiteboard. Have them draw out and diagram their thinking. “‘Can you draw it up for everyone to see?” Force them to share their mental image and understanding. You will find that others were making bad assumptions and inferences. Never assume that your development team is on the same page without literally forcing them to be on the same page.

2) Verify that every member of our development team is 100% confident that Continue reading

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