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Connected, All-in-One.  Part 2,  Projects

In Part 2 of the five part series we look at Projects, which give “legs” to our work via structure and targeted business outcomes, and the “arms” to the corporate anatomy to conduct the heavy lifting. However, the demands on the organization and project teams to quickly adapt to change means our corporate anatomy must rapidly evolve accordingly.


In the first blog of this five-part series, we explored “Teams & Work,” and the demands on the modern-day organization to adapt to change at unprecedented speed and agility.  We focused on the importance of delivering value to the delight of customers via autonomous, agile teams versus command-and-control style management.  However, this shift in behavior can’t be at the expense of leadership strategy, direction, and initiatives at the enterprise level.  There must be a balance, a connectedness, between the leadership’s responsibility and guidance and the front-line’s intimacy with operations and customer value.  This takes us to our next element in the corporate anatomy, Projects. 

The daily execution of teamwork (hands and feet in the infographic), includes both ad hoc, unstructured work, and planned, structured work. Projects define the structured work, with the “legs” to produce targeted business outcomes and the “arms” to do the heavy lifting (see infographic).  Structured project work includes goals, work breakdown, stories and epics, timelines, assignments, processes, cost tracking, performance metrics, and more. 

Historically project management practices have focused on the classic cost, schedule, and performance tracking to manage the work.  However, failures in predictability, adaptability, and timeliness of traditional projects have created a pendulum swing to more agile practices, which I characterize by the 3 S’s:  Short, Small, and Speedy.

  • Shorter, iterative delivery cycles
  • Smaller, cross-functional, autonomous teams
  • Speedy adjustments through more frequent retrospectives and learning

The industry statistics reflect the project management swing from traditional to agile across the board:

  • In Commercial - According to Project Management Institute’s 9th Global Project Management Survey in 2017, “Organizations increasingly embrace agile as a technique for managing projects. A full 71 percent of organizations report using agile approaches for their projects sometimes, often, or always.”
  • In Government - The mainstream embrace of agile isn’t exclusive to the commercial sector, as Deloitte reported “In 2017, fully 80 percent of major federal IT projects are now describing themselves as “Agile” or “iterative.”’
  • Across the Enterprise - “Now agile methodologies—which involve new values, principles, practices, and benefits …are spreading across a broad range of industries and functions and even into the C-suite,” as explored in the 2016 Harvard Business Review “Embracing Agile.”

With the pendulum swing to agile, many organizations have learned that it doesn’t work for every project and that there isn’t a clear-cut definition for agile, with variations based on corporate culture, size, industry, maturity, and more.  In 2018, Capterra reports “Microsoft Project is the most popular project management software, whereas Atlassian Jira is the most popular Agile-specific.”  In my experience over the last 15 years in the project space, most organizations have a wide variety of project tools, including the industry leaders in addition to emerging SaaS-based work management tools and the age-old spreadsheets.

In many instances, we’re seeing the agile pendulum swing come to rest, back at the center, where the demands of old for managing cost, schedule, and performance still exists.  It’s not just traditional project managers that care about these factors, it’s leadership too, the C-Level that’s accountable for the finances, the timelines, and the deliverables of the organization, now coupled with the new customer-centricity, adaptability, and nimbleness of agile projects. 

There’s no doubt that project agility, and business agility in general, has provided the vehicle to move and adapt more quickly, delivering more value to customers faster.  Management practices, and the tools to support those practices, are scrambling to catch up and achieve visibility, transparency, and clarity into project and program work at the new speed of business. 

From the tools perspective, leadership needs the “single pane of glass” as a window into the NOW:  what’s happening (different types of projects), when (timelines), at what cost (expenses), and why (intended outcomes or goals).  And with more, shorter delivery cycles versus fewer, longer project plans, that window needs to include the future, with insight into backlog items or “project/product road maps” completing the picture for better overall planning, decisions, and adjustments.

Executive dashboards and reporting tools in the new project world can’t be a return to the top-down, command-and-control of the past, for risk of repeating the delays and disconnects that agile seeks to overcome.  And hand-jammed spreadsheets and PowerPoints take us even further back to inefficient and ineffective reporting and management.  Rather today’s tools need to provide a two-way “connection.” Leadership needs insights into the goals, decisions, and project status/health from the self-directed projects teams.  Project Managers and Team Members need a connection to the big-picture and the support and guidance from the leadership, not the least of which are project funding and the empowerment to make decisions. 

In the next blog, we will explore programs, related challenges, and how programs tie to the corporate anatomy.  We’ll have the complete infographic displayed at booth 621, October 6-9 at the PMI Global Conference in Los Angeles, CA.  Stop by if you’re there, we’d love to chat and learn from you. If not, please provide a blog comment.

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