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Why i Don't Care for Risk Theory

Matt Overton

“Risk, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again,” as Edwin Starr never sang.

But, a bit like insurance, risk is one of those things that you wish you’d paid attention to after the fact. And it is a vital component of project and programme management regardless of the mental model you bring to the subject.

From the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) side of the house (and influenced by the PMBOK Guide), risk is a mandated core unit in BSB51415 Diploma of Project Management in the form of BSBPMG517 Manage project risk. For BSB41515 Certificate IV in Project Management Practice, it’s a Group A elective unit (BSBPMG415 Apply project risk-management techniques).

From AXELOS’ perspective, it’s a (governance) theme in MSP and PRINCE2 and influences its respective principles. Risk – or rather its management – can be a significant reason in your justification for setting up a P3O and the risk role can provide your organization with functional expertise that might be shared at the project, programme and portfolio levels. It’s a process perspective in the P3M3 framework also.

Risk is also an ever-present component in ANAO Better Practice Guides, among them Planning and Approving Projects – an Executive Perspective: setting the foundation for results, Commonwealth of Australia, 2010, and Successful Implementation of Policy Initiatives, Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. (One of my axioms is that they might be better practices, but what argument could you possibly advance not to follow government-endorsed advice?) So, rather than what is it good for, maybe the question would be better articulated as: why should risk matter to you, the practitioner?

The answer is: because you need to do something about it. This component was writ large in the Report of the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014). Chapter 14 detailed the lessons learned; along with addressing the capacity of Commonwealth agencies and staff to undertake projects and programmes (section 14.2), emphasis was paid to the importance of risk (section 14.7). In particular, it pointed to the significance of having a functioning risk management process and for staff to be able to use the process.

And what about risk’s sometimes unloved and neglected cousin, issue? While I’m sure (I hope!) we all know the theoretical difference between a risk and an issue, in practice I don’t think it matters. I have been asked countless times whether you should have a combined or separate approach to risks and issues. My stock answer is: I don’t mind. I’d like to believe that your delegate feels the same way. The requirement is to have something; the unit of specification (separate? combined?) can be managed and decided at the task level rather than the escalated level. That said, another of the conclusions from the HIP Report (section 14.7.4) was that risk is holistic. Rather than it being the domain – or for the protection – of senior officials and the Minister, or for reputational and political purposes, risk impacts policy, business-as-usual and projects, and all of those people who are involved in these areas.

Accordingly, accepting this advice on face value, you should forget about which flavour of project or programme management philosophy you prefer. You need to ignore the delineation of whether the item under discussion would be better located in the risk management strategy rather than in the risk management plan. Instead, your approach to risk should focus on something that is usable, flexible and extensible, and at an appropriate level of specificity for the project/programme team, management and corporate governance. Far better to have something that is used and flawed (and can be improved) rather than a product that is robust, complicated and sits on the shelf. My view is that while it is great to have a comprehensive risk strategy, I would trade off some of that ‘great’ to have a good – think functional – risk management process that everyone knows and, even better, has adopted. Then you can join it up to the rest of your project and programme management framework as your maturity increases.

So, I started off opining that, for me, risk didn’t matter. Of course, it does, but more in practice than it does in theory. As a practitioner, trainer and educator, I’m more far more interested in the practicality of application (and response!) than I am in an esoteric discussion of perspective and approach. Perhaps that’s the lesson to learn in preparation for when your delegate asks you how confident you are of managing, mitigating and recovering from the situation in which you find yourself. Good in theory, better in practice...

Click here to access Tanner James’ collection of templates, which includes examples of a Risk Management Strategy, Issue Resolution Strategy and Risk Register and Issues Log for MSP, and a Risk Management Strategy and Issue Report for PRINCE2.

Process maps, explaining how risk and issue management fits in to both MSP and PRINCE2, along with their supporting documents, may be found here.

Matt Overton is a Principal Consultant and Trainer with Tanner James Management Consultants. He has spent the last 20 years delivering risky projects and programmes in the UK, the USA and Australia. Matt is an AXELOS MSP Accredited Trainer and PRINCE2 Registered Practitioner. He is an accredited trainer and assessor in the Diploma of Project Management and Certificate IV in Project Management Practice under the Australian Qualifications Framework. He welcomes feedback to the issues (pardon the pun) he’s raised and invites you to suggest subjects for future consideration.

Stakeholder Engagement - "Have we got there yet"?

Barry Anderson

 

We are all very familiar with the childhood phrase “have we got there yet”?

Whilst most of us associate that question with our childhood it is a question; nagging our parents on a long drive, we should continue to ask for the rest of our life.  Whilst the child in an exasperated way is asking have we achieved our goal by undertaking the journey and arriving where we want to be, it is the same question that in later life will confront everybody who is involved with a portfolio of investment, the management of a change initiative or the oversight and conduct of a defined work package or project.  Have we made the investment of thought and effort to define the end game and planned methodically how we are going to actually get there??

Programme and project management and the APSC Structuring Work learning program all challenge us to focus upon the benefits we claim to be providing as part of change initiatives and to improve stakeholder engagement.  Whether that engagement is for a major programme or defining the outputs of a project or using our learning from the structuring work program to analyse bodies of work “Have we got there yet” requires us to focus on the outputs, outcomes and benefits that will actually satisfy the criteria for success.  What does success actually look like and how (as they perceive it) will the “lived experience” of stakeholders actually be different??

When we define performance measures with stakeholders we achieve a benefits led focus on doing the right things the right way.  Remember that stakeholder perceptions rule so focus upon the following points:

  • What do they (as well as you) believe should be measured, monitored, why and how?? 
  • Assess what is being measured and monitored now and how effectively?
  • Honestly evaluate how well we (them + you) are doing?
  • Evaluate priorities to focus upon where effort of all types is to be applied to optimise investment and the realisation of benefits.
  • Remember successful benefits management seeks to optimize rather than maximize benefits realization.  It is a balancing act of the bang achieved for the bucks expended.

A focus upon extensive stakeholder consultation will ensure fit-for-purpose solutions and the certainty that we can say “yes” when senior executives ask “have we got there yet”??

Webinar - Strategic Benefits Mapping in the Public Service

Daniel Oyston

As the Managing Benefits guidance points out “BENEFITS are not simply just one aspect of project and programme management, they are the rationale for the investment of tax payer’s and shareholder’s funds in change initiatives”. 

Understanding the contribution of change initiatives to organisational objectives is at the heart of effective benefits management. There needs to be a clear line of sight from strategic intent through to the benefits of change initiatives and vice versa. Where this is in place we have a basis for meaningful assessments of strategic contribution. 

In this webinar, Barry Anderson, Tanner James CEO, shared his insights into the strategic impact of benefits management in the public service. 

Barry looked at the drivers behind benefits management including that driver-based analysis and benefits management is two-way since benefits management should provide the data to validate and refine as necessary the business model and the assumptions upon which it is based. 

WEBINAR VIDEO - Please note the recording is in two parts



SLIDE DECK


Click the icon below to access an audio only file of the webinar.

 

6 Things to Avoid When Implementing PRINCE2

Daniel Oyston

Last week we hosted a webinar and heard from the world’s foremost expert on PRINCE2. 

Known as the ‘The Yoda of PRINCE2’ (well that’s what we call him in the office), Colin Bentley wrote all the early versions of the PRINCE2 manual and was the lead reviewer and mentor to the 2009 revision to the PRINCE2 manual for the OGC. 

He was also the Chief Examiner for The APM Group until his retirement in 2008. 

Colin’s latest publication is titled PRINCE2 Rollout Approach and in this webinar he addressed the things that are essential to avoid when rolling out PRINCE2 to into an existing environment. 

You can view a recording of the webinar (video and audio only) as well as the slides below

WEBINAR VIDEO


SLIDE DECK
 

Click the icon below to access an audio only file of the webinar.

 

The 2012 PRINCE2 Manifesto - Free eBook

John Howarth

We have pulled together all the content we have shared about PRINCE2 on our blog this year. For those that are close followers of our work, you’ll notice that we have simply collated some of our blog posts and put it into a handy format.

What that means is we haven’t scrubbed and polished it so that it reads like yet another boring theoretical project management manual. Instead, this eBook pulls together our real-world advice.

The kind of hints and tips we give to people over coffee or on-site while consulting or in the classroom. Practical not pretty.

The articles are designed to answer the most common questions and challenges we see you facing as you use PRINCE2 in the real world. As such, they can be useful conversation starters for how you and your team apply PRINCE2 and how you can get the most out of it.

So feel free to share it as you see fit. If you only want to share one or two articles then head along to our blog where you can then share the individual page.

A big thanks to Dave Bryant, Dave Schrapel, Adrian Booth, Gavan Murphy and Ray Broadbent. They all contributed blogs throughout the year and I am very appreciative that they were willing to share some of their views with you.

A big thanks to myself also as I wrote most of them (modesty has never been one of my strengths).

I hope you find it useful.

Do you have a unique environment with unique challenges? Or have you always been a little unclear about an aspect of PRINCE2? Then simply let me know by leaving a comment below.

I would be happy to write a blog post addressing it for you.


The 5 Most Important PRINCE2 Activities

John Howarth

If you are familiar with PRINCE2 you will know that the method has 7 processes, each of which comprises a number of activities. I counted the activities the other day, and there are 40 of them. I have been quite vocal about the need to apply PRINCE2 skillfully and tailor it to suit, so I thought to myself “What if I only had 5 activities? Which would I choose to best manage a project?”

This proved harder than I expected, but here’s what I came up with, and why.

1. Appoint the Executive and the Project Manager

I think this is probably my least contentious choice. As the PRINCE2 manual says: “to get anything done in the project, a decision maker with appropriate authority is needed”. It then goes on to say (fairly obviously) that “the appointment of a Project Manager allows for the project to be managed on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the Executive.

As I say, probably my least contentious choice. Nevertheless, I do worry how many Project Managers are out there happily trying to use PRINCE2 without a Project Executive, or at least without a Project Executive who understands their role and discharges it diligently.

Moving right along…

2. Update the Business Case

“CHEAT!” I hear you cry. How can I update a Business Case that hasn’t been prepared in outline (SU) or refined (IP)? Well, I could argue that a little poetic licence is a blogger’s right. However, I would also argue that in practice I’d rather people have a proper focus on the business case while the work is underway than do it at the beginning of a project just to get funding then sit it on the shelf, forget about it and press on regardless.

Whichever activities you would choose for your 5, the business case had to be addressed somewhere. After all, that is the purpose of a project – delivering products according to an agreed business case. Hands-up those who currently have an up-to-date rock-solid business case which everyone knows in essence – you do all have your hands up now don’t you?!

3. Plan the next stage

I’m quite proud of myself here, a bit of a sneaky choice this one. You see, “Plan the next stage” in PRINCE2 doesn’t just involve producing the Stage Plan for the next stage. Among other things it also involves reviewing:

  • any change to the customer’s expectations, acceptance criteria or project approach;
  • the relevance and suitability of the strategies and controls; and
  • any change in the project management team or their role descriptions.

The PRINCE2-pedants reading this will pick me up on the fact these things haven’t been created but the same basic argument as I put forward for updating the Business Case applies – better late than never!

The other great thing about this activity of course is that it invokes the product-based planning technique where the real planning work occurs and the team gets clarity of what actually needs to be done.

4. Review the stage status

There are 8 activities in the process Controlling a Stage but for me this one (Review the stage status) is the heart of the machine.

The objective of the activity says it all – “to maintain an accurate and current picture of progress on the work being carried out and the status of resources”. If you care to delve deeper, the PRINCE2 manual recommends a comprehensive range of actions to be undertaken to form that picture, and based on that analysis, to decide whether any actions are required.

5. Give ad-hoc direction

Not much point having a Project Executive if you aren’t going to engage them so I felt I had to pick my final activity from the process Directing a Project.

I have seen more than one project where the Project Manager doesn’t speak to the Project Executive between one formal stage boundary meeting and the next. The PRICNE2 manual identifies a variety of circumstances that might prompt ad hoc direction, including:

  • responding to requests, e.g. when options need clarifying or where areas of conflict need resolving;
  • responding to reports; and
  • responding to external influences.

Which 5 activities would you choose?

Well, there’s my suggested list of the 5 most important of the 40 PRINCE2 activities. 5 was a totally arbitrary number but it certainly exercised my brain picking the list. I’d like to hear from you about which activities you would choose and why.

I know there are a number of my fellow PRINCE2 trainers and consultants out there who keep an eye on my blogs so they are welcome to throw their views into the ring also.

New approaches to major public projects?

John Howarth

The Best Management Practice products from the UK Cabinet Office are now widely accepted across Federal and State government agencies – including P3M3®, MSP® and PRINCE2®. What is less widely known is what is being done to fundamentally change the way major government projects are run. 

Will we see these approaches adopted in Australia?

A new approach to leadership

Earlier this year the UK Government unveiled plans for a new Major Projects Leadership Academy which will be created and delivered in partnership with Oxford's Saïd Business School. The new academy will build the skills of senior project leaders across government to deliver complex projects – reducing the over-reliance on expensive external consultancy further and building expertise within the Civil Service.

In future no one will be able to lead a major government project without completing the Academy.

Quotes from the website make it clear that the focus is on building world class project leadership skills within government agencies and thus reducing the reliance on “expensive external consultants”.

Improving project performance for the taxpayer

The Academy will be managed by the Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority (MPA) which was launched in 2010 to oversee major projects and ensure they deliver for taxpayers.

The MPA represents a sea change in the oversight of central government’s Major Projects at both an individual and a portfolio level and aims to address the findings from the NAO report Assurance of High Risk Projects and from a Major Projects Review.

It is a collaboration between the Cabinet Office, HM Treasury (HMT) and Departments with the fundamental aim of significantly improving the delivery success rate of Major Projects across central government.

The MPA is supported by a clear and enforceable mandate and has the authority to:

  • develop the Government Major Projects Portfolio, in collaboration with departments, with regular reporting to Ministers;
  • require Integrated Assurance and Approval Plans for each Major Project or Programme including timetables for Treasury approvals and validation by the MPA and HMT;
  • make a Starting Gate Review (or equivalent) mandatory for all new Projects/Programmes;
  • escalate issues of concern to Ministers and Accounting Officers;
  • provide additional assurance and direct involvement where Projects are causing concern including the provision of commercial and operational support;
  • require publication of project information consistent with the Coalition’s Transparency agenda;
  • work with departments to build capability in Projects and Programme management; and
  • publish an annual report on Government Major Projects.

The Australian approach

Australia has had a number of agencies at both federal and state levels focussed on improving project performance – including the PM&C Cabinet Implementation Unit the AGIMO-led Agency Capability Initiative and DoFD reviews and assessments.

The question is, will we see these current initiatives develop into an Australian Government Major Projects Authority, with an associated Major Projects Leadership Academy? 

And if we do, will that be a good thing? 

What are your thoughts?

How do I implement MSP (Managing Successful Programmes)?

John Howarth

How do I implement MSP? 

It’s the question that all executives face once they have made the decision to use the framework for programme management. 

Knowing where to start is the tricky part. Here are some pointers.

Why are we doing this?

If you don’t know the answer to this fundamental question there is a real danger you will end up with yet another ‘solution looking for a problem’.

Why do you want to use MSP? 


Are you, for example: 

  • trying to increase the focus on benefits;
  • trying to manage ambiguity and uncertainty that can’t be handled using project management techniques;
  • working in collaboration with other organisations; or
  • wanting to better co-ordinate separate projects that are all working toward the same goal?

Taking the time to write down half a dozen or so simple high-level objectives for the implementation of MSP will help clarify things in your own mind, share your thinking with others and inform your next steps.

What will we use MSP for?

There are a wide variety of situations in which MSP can help and the MSP manual provides useful guidance on types of programmes and how to assess their impact by looking at the nature of the change a programme is expected to deliver.

One of the first things I recommend you consider is whether you are looking to use MSP for a single programme (or perhaps a couple of programmes) or are you seeking to implement it across your organisation?

If it is the former - you can focus solely on application and tailoring to suit the individual programme. If it is the latter - you will need to consider broader aspects such as integration with your organisation’s project management approach and organisational governance arrangements.

Many Government agencies are looking at MSP, following their P3M3® assessment, as the foundation for their programme management approach. This is fine but you can’t implement MSP the same way you can implement PRINCE2 for example.

MSP needs to involve executives at a very senior level and it reaches deeper into the operational areas affected by the change. As such, knowledge and skills are required across a broad range of people. This makes stakeholder engagement about MSP itself a critical ingredient.

Look in the mirror to see where you are going

Sounds weird doesn’t it? Allow me to explain…

Most change programmes that choose to implement MSP are already underway – the government policy announcement has been made, the executive have stated their reform agenda etc. This means that things are already happening and you don’t have the luxury of starting with the proverbial clean sheet of paper.

In these circumstances what I recommend is that you work through the various elements of the framework – but in particular the governance themes and programme information – to see how your current management arrangements stack up against MSP.  This will then allow you to see what you have in place from an MSP perspective and will no doubt shed new light on the programme you are running and where it is currently taking you.

The MSP manual includes a simple health check that can be adapted for this purpose.

Look at the ridge not the summit

Change programmes are major undertakings these days. So, not surprising, the task of implementing MSP can seem quite daunting.  You can see the value in the method, but you can’t see how to modify the management arrangements in-flight to encompass all the different concepts and terminology contained in MSP.

The key here is not to try to do everything at once: take one step at a time and focus on the fundamentals. They being:

  • conduct a health-check to see how your current management arrangements stack up against MSP;
  • work through the process of identifying a programme with key stakeholders – this will naturally lead you to consider what should happen next; and
  • forget the templates – use conversations, discussions and workshops to conduct the health check and identify the programme.

So that is the answer to the question “How do I implement MSP?”.

What are you waiting for?!

How to Handle Project Issues

Daniel Oyston

This is a guest post by our good friend Gavan Murphy.

Issues!

We’ve all got them, and projects are no different. They’re like weeds - you can pretend they don’t exist until they take over your garden (or project).

Some projects are so dynamic there’s a multitude of issues to juggle on a daily basis. Other projects work at a different pace, or have much longer time frames and potentially fewer issues.

Regardless of the style of project you’re running, a Project Manager ignores issues at his or her own peril. 

Don’t fall into the traps

Like most things in life, the more mistakes you make experience you have the better you become at noticing the weeds in and around your project environment. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that lots of project issues is a bad sign for your project.

Nor is the opposite true, that few issues means the project is running well.

It’s ultimately your judgement, responsibility, and dare I say it, honesty as a PM what you choose to notice, raise and manage through to resolution.

How do you tell if you’re dealing with issues effectively?

Three measures I regularly use are:

  • if I can’t succinctly tell a stranger what the three major issues I’m dealing with on a daily basis are, I’m not on the ball;
  • if I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work, whatever it is that woke me up is an issue that needs some (more) attention; and
  • if an issue hasn’t been updated in more than a month, I’m in denial or it’s not really an issue.

I’ve also discovered, the better systems I have in place for managing issues the more willing I am to be honest about them.

Make sure all the verbs are covered

From the good book (PRINCE2) your issue management system needs to cater for all the verbs: 

  • capturing;
  • describing;
  • prioritising;
  • assigning responsibility;
  • monitoring;
  • reporting;
  • resolving (as quickly as you can); and
  • escalating issues if they get beyond your remit. 

The importance of software

I’ve been using Atlassian’s JIRA for managing my project issues for more than 18 months now. In short it’s brilliant! It handles each of the issue management verbs competently, except automatically recording issues for me J.

There’s a large number of tools available for PMs to use, but issue management software is one of the most important in my opinion, because it will do all the heavy lifting for you.

If you have the discipline to capture and update issue details then:

  • reporting becomes pain free;
  • prioritisation is much easier because you can see all the issues in one place; and
  • escalation is a matter of assigning the issue until resolved.

Using an issue management tool leaves you free to focus on project delivery - the stuff you get paid for!

Garbage In and Garbage Out

Of course the old adage applies: garbage in and garbage out. Your issue management system won’t replace face-to-face conversations or the need to wear out shoe leather engaging those involved in issue resolution.

But it does record history, reduce email spam, diminish finger poking and blame. If used effectively, it makes people accountable for their part - you included!

Effective issue management won’t necessarily guarantee a successful outcome for your project, there’s a lot more to it than that. Some project issues are so intractable, for all sorts of reasons, that they require constant advocacy and energy on your part to get them resolved.

However without a willingness to tackle them, or get a handle on their management, it will be increasingly difficult to see the garden for the weeds.

What approaches work best for you with issue management? Have you got any horror stories to share?

.......................................................................................................................................................................................

Gavan started his passion for Project Management 20 years ago, initially in engineering projects, and then following his interest into ICT communications, infrastructure and software development projects. 

He has a knack for building high performing project teams and when given enough rope, has delivered some really challenging project outcomes. Most of his project success has come from a preparedness to learn (and learn fast), anticipate where things are heading, diligence and seeking out opportunities to build strong working relationships. 

He shares common sense insights based on his experience, hard knocks and snippets of brilliance he has picked up from other PMs along the way.

How To Apply PRINCE2 Better, Immediately

Daniel Oyston

Last week we hosted a webinar: How To Apply PRINCE2 Better, Immediately. Thanks to everyone who logged in and participated.

For those that missed it, or those that want to see it again,  I recorded the webinar and have posted the video below. I’ve also uploaded an audio only file and posted it along with a copy of the slides. 

Our next webinar is going to be a cracker - 6 Things To Avoid When Implementing PRINCE2 on Thursday 15 November 9:30am (30 minutes).

This webinar is an excellent opportunity to hear from the world’s foremost expert on PRINCE2. Known as the ‘The Yoda of PRINCE2’ (well that’s what we call him in the office), Colin Bentley wrote all the early versions of the PRINCE2 manual and was the lead reviewer and mentor to the 2009 revision to the PRINCE2 manual for the OGC. He was also the Chief Examiner for The APM Group until his retirement in 2008.  

Colin’s latest publication is titled PRINCE2 Rollout Approach and in this webinar he will address the things that are essential to avoid when rolling out PRINCE2 to into an existing environment. Don’t miss this opportunity.



WEBINAR VIDEO - How To Apply PRINCE2 Better, Immediately



SLIDE DECK


Click on the icon below to download the slides. 

 

 
Click the icon below to access an audio only file of the webinar.

 

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