Can we use agile principles outside I.T?. This is one question I had to answer many times during my project management workshops, and consistently my answer was/ is ‘Yes’. I have mentored a team of lawyers who analyse outsourced cases and submit case analysis reports back, to follow ‘scrum’, one of the agile methods.
Another question from an architect of Turner construction was about the applicability of agile / lean principles in EPC projects. This was around seven years back. My answer was ‘Partially possible’. Agile gives best results in projects where the requirements are evolving and the technology is also new to the team. The early phases of EPC projects (contracting, requirements collection, scope definition, architecture, engineering phases) satisfies ‘evolving requirements’, ‘technology ambiguity’ criteria very well, which justifies my answer ‘partially yes’. The rolling wave or moving window planning which is part of PMBOK for the last one decade, in it’s fully expanded form is nothing but iterative and adaptive in nature. I was always optimistic about application of agile and lean practices in EPC projects, except during construction phase.
Last week, I received a McKinsey report on the emerging trends in EPC from Mr. Varghese Daniel, CEO, Wrench solutions with whom I am professionally associated to analyze the global project management best practices and their application to EPC projects to improve on time and within budget delivery. My further googling got me another KPMG study on the emerging trends. Both points to Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) as one of the key trends globally, which revolves around better collaboration of motivated teams achieved through;
Choosing the right contract types (tri-party contracts between the owner, contractor and the architect)
Greater collaboration during planning phase (last planner – which is similar to iteration planning)
Greater collaboration during execution (construction) (burn down charts, information radiators, daily stand up meetings)
At last my hunches are coming true. All these years I was the lone crusader who used to say that adaptive(agile) and predictive (PMBOK, TCM, PRINCE2) are complimentary which raised many eyebrows, and as an acknowledgement of my views, the industry is moving towards it. I am super delighted.
About the blogger
Abrachan Pudussery is a highly experienced project management domain expert with three decades of project experience in project management, consulting, coaching and research. He has in depth knowledge about various project management frameworks (PMBOK, PRINCE2, TCM, Agile. He is the founder director of the Project Management Research Institute He is also associated with Wrench Solutions as their project management domain expert.
Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE), being more function and detail-oriented, addresses this at length in their Recommended Practices. AACE defines two key concepts in EVM: 1) measurable work progress; and 2) a focus on planning to establish the performance measurement baseline (PMB) against which performance will be tracked and evaluated. AACE’s five guidelines form the foundation for the quality planning process and are identified as one of the two key concepts of EVM, namely:
1. Define Work Breakdown Structure
2. Identify Organizations
3. Integrate Subsystems
4. Identify Overhead Control
5. Integrate WBS and Organization Breakdown Structure
AACE then addresses how to generate and analyse EVM information on a routine basis. The guidelines specify at least monthly reporting although some programs receive reports and perform analysis more frequently.
But to start with, what is EVM? Why is it so useful as a measuring and monitoring tool? Let’s understand the basics.
If we can maintain the project stakeholders satisfied throughout the project, then the project is successful. The first step towards this is aggressive stakeholder identification and stakeholder’s expectation management. The positive expectations must be maximized where as the negative expectations must be minimized. While the stakeholder register will vary across projects, the following list contains the most common project stakeholders;
The output of the stakeholder analysis is the stakeholder classification into the quadrants
The high power / low interest category of stakeholders must be kept informed about the project progress using a milestone chart (summary level information). The high power / high interest category of stakeholders must get more detailed view of the project at frequent intervals in the form of Milestone charts, High level schedules, Risk rating matrix, Project ‘S’ Curves etc. The Low power / Low interest category can be ignored. The Low power, High interest category must receive the project progress details at a frequency which will ensure their interest in the project. Very often, the low power – high interest category is very powerful as a segment. For example :- The product review bloggers. They are the opinion leaders, and they must be proactively managed.
Stakeholder engagement is one of the critical success factors for every project. Project managers must proactively plan for effective stakeholder identification and management throughout the project. Since stakeholders power is directly linked to their organizational structure (functional, strong matrix, weak matrix, balanced matrix, projectized, composite), a proper study of the stakeholder’s positions, and their organizational structures will help in better project risk management and communications management.
Here is a multi dimensional risk analysis for the PMP credential from the industry, trainer, PMP aspirant perspectives with an intent to communicate an independent and unbiased view.
Industry related risks
The risk – There is a wide spread rumor about PMP credential as a product, which has reached the end-of-life stage in the product life cycle. Reality – While this can be true from the training providers perspective due to too many trainers / companies undercutting each other, this is never true from the project management professional’s / aspiring professional’s perspective. PMP still rules as most recognized certification for predictive project management (most suited for large projects involving engineering, procurement, construction and management (EPCM). PMP credential is followed by PRINCE2. There is no other choice as of now for anyone who wants to pursue a globally accepted predictive project management related certification based on Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) by Deming. I am using the term ‘predictive project management’ explicitly because there are many popular certifications available under the agile family (SCRUM, XP, RUP, TDD etc..) which are not a right fit for EPCM projects where the engineering discipline does not allow for much change, hence the agile family of frameworks are more suitable for product development where the requirements and the technology are highly volatile. Even then I am toying with the idea of applying agile during the planning phase of EPCM projects. Do not pelt stones at me because I am talking differently, or because I am the only one talking so. Unfortunately the agilists and the traditionalists do not like each other very much, even when the scrum masters fail miserably because they do not have any clue about stakeholder management, risk management, communication management, resource management, scope management, quality management etc. In my personal opinion, predictive and adaptive (agile) project management streams are complimentary in nature for those whose goal is to manage their projects successfully, without bias towards any one particular framework.
Trainer related risks
Many trainers teach the inputs, tools and techniques and outputs of the project management processes, in the same sequence as they are listed in the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK), without focusing on the benefits. That makes it very boring and difficult to remember (note that PMBOK is a 750+ page document). A better approach would be to learn process group wise;
Monitoring & Controlling
Closing – This approach makes it easy to remember, as this is the natural flow of the project.
Many trainers provide too much emphasis on remembering inputs, tools&techniques and outputs (ITTO). Remembering them for 49 processes is humanly impossible, especially when one is under exam pressure. In fact, surprisingly those who spent maximum effort to mug up ITTO during their preparation time have failed in the final exam. Once you understand PMBOK process group wise, it is easy to recollect logically the inputs, tools&techniques and outputs. For example remembering the ITTO for the process ‘Develop project charter’ is much easier when one looks at it as the first process under ‘Project initiation’ process group, than the ‘First process’ under ‘Project integration management’ knowledge area.
They do not give any emphasis on the ‘professional ethics’ of project managers. You can imagine the plight of someone who tries into master professional project management without any idea about professional ethics. Since the questions are scenario based, every project management scenario has an ethics angle, and mastering it makes it easier while choosing the best project management decisions.
PMBOK has a wealth of information for the project management practitioner. Many trainers lacks the experience to articulate the concepts from the practitioner’s perspective. For example, project charter can be explained as just an output of project initiation or it can be a great document to develop a well understood project success criteria among all stakeholders..
Trainers may not be well versed with various project domains to cite the right examples, whereas the participants are from different domains. They end up seeing everything as a nail, because the only tool they have is a hammer.
Trainers trying to showcase their knowledge than focusing on the knowledge transfer. Mostly with inexperienced trainers.
Trainers who does not explain things in detail, due to monotony. Mostly with highly experienced trainers.
Trainers recommending too many reference material, thus making the preparation difficult.
Trainers who charge very less fees, who losses interest mid way through the course because they are not compensated enough for their efforts.
Disillusioned trainers, who are wearing the trainer’s hat out of compulsion than by choice.
Learner related risks
Underestimating the effort required. One need to spend atleast 80 hours of preparation time, which include training, self study and exam practise.
Over confidence, hence insufficient preparation.
Lack of confidence, hence not scheduling the exam and finally dropping the idea.
Enrolling for cheap courses, just because they are cheap, without giving any weight age for trainer profile, method of training and track record. Online courses which are just record and play, which are priced lower than the price of books is the number one culprit. Think of the frustration, re-preparation effort and the re-registration fees after failing in the first attempt. Passing PMP in the first go is very important. Do not decide based on the direct costs alone, consider the indirect costs (especially the cost of failure) as well, before deciding on the training program.
Try to finish it off at the earliest, preferably within 30 days of the course completion, else other priorities may take precedence.
One of the things that drew me to WRENCH was its insistence on standardization. As someone who has long been immersed in PMI and AACE (the top two industry-wide standards of our time), I was delighted to meet someone who shared my view, namely, that standardization is perhaps the most overlooked yet most critical success factor in modern project management.
Daniel and I have had many long and impassioned conversations about why this is the case, whether it stems from a genuine lack of awareness on the industry’s part, or just its failure to prioritise. But now, I have hope that every EPC company will wake up and standardize its processes (in order to meet quality requirements), its departments (in order to ensure accuracy in every deliverable) and its stakeholders (in order to make sure everybody is on the same page). But how would they go about it?
Let’s say a company somehow gets convinced that it would be a good thing to ‘standardize’. What’s the next step? Most companies are likely to look into PMI, which is well-known (even if not fully understood), and some might even look into AACE, out of curiousity if nothing else. And that’s where the confusion starts. “Should we go for PMI’s PMBOK or AACE’s TCM?” How are they different? Do they complement/supplement each other?
Whatever is repeated is a potential candidate for automation. Repeated or to-be repeated corporate presentations, learning / training programs are no exception. While adding professionalism to our otherwise amateurish video presentations can be exciting, there are many hurdles one has to cross, which are successfully overcome by everyone else, who have traversed the same path before. Speaking to the camera is a different ballgame when compared to talking to live audience. The time has come for professional managers to develop great video presentation skills. Here are the lessons I learnt from my journey and by observing others behind and before the camera within the corporate world.
Everything needs planning to get perfect results. Professional video making is no exception.
Practice is the key. Do not expect perfection without practice.
No one in this world captures perfect video presentations without retake.This awareness will help you to remain cool and confident in the middle of multiple retakes.
Script / story boards are essential. That is a perfect confidence booster. Will help to avoid repetition.
Good and comfortable dressing and makeup are essential.
Body language is important. Do it during the time of the day when you are most energetic.
Do it incrementally than attempting long single take. If possible do it sentence by sentence. While this increases editing work, this reduces stress on the presenter. Patience and energy to do several takes is important. Do not try to finish it off quickly. Take breaks when required.
Setting the right environment is important. Everyone must set their mobiles to silent mode. There is nothing more frustrating than a ringing mobile during a video recording. Prevent others from moving behind the scenes, unless it is planned so. Do not compromise on perfect lighting and audio as it enhances the viewing experience.
Begin with the end in mind. At the end, you are going to get great product / output. Treat your video shoot as a project. Manage all potential risks pro-actively.
Observing professional corporate video shoots with an intent to learn and improve and then implementing the lessons learnt is the smartest way to master this art. In fact, the points in this blog post are my notes to self which I scribbled down on my mobile phone while observing how professionals perform a professional corporate video shoot at WRENCH.