Project methodology expertise

These days it seems like everyone knows the importance of project methodology.  But it wasn’t always like that.

I have been helping organisations with their project methodologies for over twenty years now.  And in the early days it was much too common to hear PMs fighting against common process.  Old hand PMs would often refer to project management as a black art.  Viewing everything from their narrow perspective they would say processes hamstrung them and were bureaucratic.  Actually to be fair I still pick up that view today from time to time.  Although now perhaps it is more often an internal monologue as the jury seems to have come down fairly (and rightly) on the side of process.

The benefits of Project Methodology

In maturity frameworks like P3M3, project methodology is a cornerstone capability.  Having, and of course following, a project methodology provides such a good foundation for best practice.  Most importantly it brings consistency to the actions and steps of the team.  The shared understanding of the steps to be followed raises quality and reduces delays and costs.  The use of common terms likewise makes for gains through all aspects of a project.  Thus by having an appropriate method you also improve your risk and issue management, planning and other aspects.

I often think though that many people miss some of the most beneficial aspects of having a good project method.  These are as follows:

  • You can steadily evolve your method to give you the sort of changes which stick.  The sensible organisations start light keeping the culture change impacts as low as possible. Once project teams accept the method you can then evolve it to gradually to include new elements.
  • You can use a well tuned method to actually give flexibility.  Even in the most routine of organisations a single one size fits all approach to project methodology rarely works. You can instead have a family of methods with a consistent set of core content.  You can then adjust each method in the family to the needs of a particular type of project.
  • If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.  Once you can see what project teams should be doing it is much easier to see who is failing and which teams need your help.

Twenty years of Project methodology excellence

I have now been working in this area for twenty years and with every new customer I learn something new.  The landscape is constantly changing and evolving and will continue to do so.

Developing sound systems of project management excellence

Early in my career I was working at AEA Technology not long after privatisation.  I was the site engineer for a badly failed project which at the time felt terrible but which taught me so much.  Over the next two years I was Secretary of an internal Project management task force.  Working across the organisation we did lots to change the culture and improve the approach to projects.  We took a different approach to PRINCE2, which was launched around this same time and developed a scaled method.  Instead we had three types of projects with a shared core set of materials and an assessment checklist.  We also developed a competence framework which showed expectations for the roles on each project type.  Training and mentoring supported project teams in adoption, as did an on-line resource manual.  Our work here was innovative at the time, although has since become quite the norm.

project methodology

The APM awarded me the Sir Monty Finniston award in 1999 for this work.  At that time the award was given for ‘developing the art and science of project management’, it is now a lifetime achievement award.

The PROJECT in a box years

So when in 2005 we launched PROJECT in a box to help people use PRINCE2, it is no surprise we made the system flexible.  This ability to support multiple methods has proven to be very popular with users.  Some customers use our off the shelf pre-scaled nStep project methodology, which of course now boast 20 years of experience in their development.  Other customers use the tools to host their own in-house methods or standards like PRINCE2 and Praxis.  All customers however benefit from our experience, advice and help in this area.

And you can too! Our free Community Edition tool provides a range of different Project methodologies that you can use free forever.  You just need to sign up to try it for yourself.

Better project templates

Most organisations rely on a set of project templates to help the PM get off on the right foot.  These templates provide consistency and also help with compliance against method or quality needs.  Because MS Office is in such common use these project templates are most often in Word, Excel or Powerpoint formats.  We have also used these file formats for the project templates we provide in our methods.  However over time we have begun to introduce more specialist formats e.g. using .spn instead of excel for plans and registers.  Word has always been the workhorse of project templates though, both for us and other providers.

Even though most templates are in word it still has a number of issues when used in a PPM application:

  • you need to use word or another app to edit the file;
  • the read only flag only alerts you not to edit when you try to save your viewed file;
  • with complex word templates such as PIDs can be difficult to find your way to a particular section;
  • you can only inject content blocks up to 140chars;
  • you cannot export content blocks for use elsewhere.

When you want slick and efficient operation in a structured environment these issues can hold you back.

.piabx setting a new standard in project templates

We have developed the new .piabx file format to raise the bar in terms of what can be done with project templates.

Firstly you can set up your .piabx templates to match the information you want to collect for your project.  You can use sections of text or a more intricate layout of items, dates, numbers etc and also even tables.  Your templates can also have style control, headers, footers and logos for IP and QA compliance.  These templates can also receive and display blocks of content sent from the system.  The sent content can be of any size and therefore support meaningful project descriptions etc.  You are also able to identify content that you want to save from your templates into the system to show in reports etc or to inject into other templates.

project templates

Your users can view, print and even edit these project templates from our browser interface.  Your content is therefore much more likely to be kept up to date.  And of course with the system permissions settings and retaining audit trail and versions you continue to have great control.  Your .piabx files are always provided read-only, unless actually checked out.  This prevents a real problem that word files have, when users edit viewed files.  It happens because word only advises the file is read-only when you try to save it.

project templates

So you can share your .piabx files with anyone you want we have also provided a .piabx viewer application.  Using this people with no access to the main application can be sent .piabx files and can view or even edit them.  This enables you to mirror the way you often work with existing word project templates.

project templates

Want to know more about these new project templates?

The launch of our new version 5.1 includes two versions of our nStep project management methods.  One set with traditional word templates and one with .piabx templates so you can compare and see what you think.  Our Beta test customers loved the live edit and navigation aspects of .piabx and we are sure you will feel the same.

You can see this in action on our release video here on YouTube.  If you are an existing LiveEdition, Enterprise Edition or Small Team Edition customer you can upgrade at your convenience.  If you want to know more just get in contact and we would be delighted to show you via web meeting.

Revolutionary browser improvements

Due to the longevity of PROJECT in a box it should be no surprise it was first created as software.  During the early years this fitted very well with customers preferred ways of working.  For many customers that is still the case with on-premises deployment remaining very high.  However at the same time we have also helped you work flexibly and on the go.  Our browser app has always been at the forefront of this.

The web revolution

We have always seen the flexibility that web based working gives people.  Even when others were pushing apps as the solution to mobile working we always felt the browser approach gave more.  The familiarity with which users can work on their PC, Mac, phone and tablet from the same interface is great.  Also of course that that there is no need for installs or app updates to roll changes out to users.  Of course this can work just as well over internal networks as it does over the internet and has changed how and where people access their project info.

The browser changes in versions 5.0 and 5.1

With the release of version 5.0 we included the day to day admin forms within the browser interface.  These included creation of projects and users and project level admin.

The new version 5.1 release in April 2018 has a new browser interface optimised for day to day project working.  This new interface supports the popular and flexible diagram navigation of the Windows App.  We have also included a show/hide approach and a sidebar making it very intuitive.  This diagram navigation is of course still able to be customised by you to match your project needs.  So with this you can direct your project teams to the content and features you want them to use.

browser navigation

When users are navigating their project process and working on content they get this great new dynamic page.  The basic/advanced modes keeps core features easy to access and still enables user to get to the detail if they wish.  Over the years we have found that typically 90+% of project contents are word, excel, pdf, images and urls.  SO for these file types as well as our own .spn and .piabx files we now provide previews directly in the browser.  This means users don’t have to download files or find apps if they just want to read them.  And reading content is the most common type of interaction for day to day users.

browser preview pane

These new and revolutionary browser features enable any user to quickly and easily access project information from anywhere. And when engagement and interaction are so crucial to project success this is a major benefit.

If you want to find out more about the new v5.1 for Live Edition, Enterprise Edition and Small Team Editions watch the video on YouTube now.

Selecting the right PPM tool

If you are taking those first steps into sourcing a PPM tool then you have found this just in time.  As more and more organisations develop their project management skills they find that skills and training are not enough. They see that if they want to get consistency and develop their maturity a PPM tool will be essential.  But then comes the challenge, which of the hundreds of tools should they choose?  Most of them probably haven’t bought one before, or if they have then they likely chose poorly.

Luckily there is hope and it isn’t just a lottery.  In this piece and the YouTube video we are going to run you through some key does and don’ts.

PPM tool; PPM software selection; PRINCE2 software

Rule 1 – this PPM tool seems like it is too good to be true

You should trust your senses.  The market has grown rapidly with many new solutions providing little in the way of capability but promising amazing results.  Some organisations at the very lowest levels of maturity may find these collaboration and task management tools a good fit.  But they wont go beyond tactical results into the realm of PPM benefits.

Rule 2 – your PPM tool needs to match your maturity

Many people have tried and many have failed.  This isn’t some heroic quote from Lord of the Rings. But the idea that you can solve your problems by throwing a sophisticated tool at them is most definitely pure fiction!  If you have low PPM maturity you need a tool to match.  Yes you want one with some growth room, but it must be close to your current situation, not your ultimate aspirations.  Your colleagues in other organisations may well be successfully using very sophisticated tools.  They are likely also getting great results, but that is because they are more mature and the match is a good one.

Rule 3 – consider the needs of all stakeholders in your choice

Yes the management team may be providing the funding for the PPM tool.  But it is the PMs and project teams who will be providing the perspiration.  If your choice doesn’t bring benefits to all the stakeholders (and certainly these two key groups) then it will fail.  We blogged on a related and relevant topic derived from our survey results recently, read it here.

Rule 4 – time isn’t always on your side

You want the benefits of your PPM tool as soon as possible so you had better plan a sensible roll out.  If possible you should always run a pilot and then roll out in tranches.  A big bang launch can work but it requires lots of planning and a heavy investment in training and mentoring to give it any chance.  You should always treat your new PPM tool like a business change and manage it on that timescale.

Rule 5 – you can’t please all of the people all of the time

Well actually you can and plenty of people try to do exactly that.  They assemble a huge shopping list of everyone’s requirements and look for a tool that does them all.  If they are really unlucky they will find one or pay to have one produced for them!  Such ‘everything’ systems are incredibly expensive, complex and nigh on impossible to implement with a black hole demand for training.

If you must have a shopping list use the MoSCoW principle and limit your Musts to essential core features that all stakeholder groups agree on.

See the PPM tool selection video

Hopefully you have found that brief summary of the points helpful.  If so you might like to watch the video discussion on YouTube for some finer detail.

If you want to know more about maturity concepts then our two part series will be very helpful.  Part one on the theory and part two on how you can make improvements.

Broken laptop doesn’t have to mean dead project

I just typed ‘broken’ into Google and it confirmed my suspicion.  Try it and you will see broken laptop comes in second ahead of both broken finger and broken heart!  So as I thought I have been lucky to as yet never suffer from a broken laptop.  Unfortunately I’m not so lucky on the other two counts.

It seems like broken laptops are all too common and I have been close.  I dropped mine once with a broken screen but luckily nothing more serious than that.  We do know many people drop and break them or spill their tea/coffee/water on to them, it happens all the time.  And yes for sure it is very annoying and can cost you time and money to replace.  But once you have had a near miss or a terminal laptop breakage you realise something much more significant.  And that is that you can’t always recover the content!

broken laptop; back up project files; data security

Does your risk register include ‘broken laptop’?

If it doesn’t then perhaps it should because the impact can be huge.  If all of your project documentation, plans, comms etc are on your laptop and you lose your hard disk fail you probably can’t get it back.  Just imagine the effect that would have on the project and the loss of control that would result.  If you are working on smaller projects and you are the Project Office as well then there may be limited opportunity to get copies of files back from colleagues.  And even if you can you can’t be sure about latest versions or establishing good audit/assurance.

Mitigation strategies

We are certainly not suggesting you should avoid having files on your laptop.  Your role as a PM may often involve travel to meetings, site visits etc.  You will need to have documents available for these.  Of course if you use a SaaS PPM solution like Live Edition then all your content is safe on-line.  With web access you can then just pull down and view or edit the files you need with the originals all safe.  You can do the same with YourPMO as an individual, giving you 100% confidence your files are held safe.

Other users should regularly backup their local laptop files.  If you are using something like our free Community Edition it provides an easy approach to backup.  If not you should look at some of the back up software that is available, including for free.

Don’t be that next broken laptop victim.

Hopefully you haven’t yet had a terminally broken laptop.  You can put some of this advice into action and save yourself the pain.  If you were already a victim then hopefully you recovered your projects okay.

Learning lessons gives you a greater chance of success

I have just been reading some excellent pieces in the APMs Spring edition of Project magazine.  This edition had a focus on learning lessons from both failures and successes.  I also found the research into the way government depts handle the LL process both illuminating and scary.  So I thought a summary would be useful and links to some of our own lessons learned related content.

Learning lessons is about positives and negatives

Literally taking the positives first Mike Clayton’s piece helps with those aiming high.  Mike’s view was that if you work on failings you can reduce failures and deliver satisfactory projects.  However you can deliver excellent projects by finding successes and reproducing them.  Team members will also respond better to examination of successes rather than failures.  We agree, learning lessons should always be about both aspects.  Of course if it works well then over time the failings should reduce and the successes increase.

I think a strong Lessons Learned process is a good indicator of a mature organisation.  So if you see the ratio of positive to negative lessons increasing you should be on the right track.

Learning lessons about transition from policy to delivery

Tony Meggs looked back over many years turning govt policy into delivery to identify process improvements which could help raise success levels.  Key things Tony pointed to include better planning prior to announcing constrained objectives and including delivery people in policy teams.  Of course politics and tendering rules cause all sorts of problems in these areas.  We shouldn’t be surprised therefore that targets set by policy are missed by delivery.  But pieces like this looking at how the process could be improved are about sharing experiences and exchanging ideas which may lead to changes in the future.

Learning lessons in government departments

Martin Paver has been looking into the lessons learned process in government for over 12 months.  Following on from prior research ten years earlier which found  broad lack of success Martin looked again.  He used FOI requests to find how Govt Depts managed their LL process and how valuable they found it.  The squeamish should look away now…

What I found most surprising was the variation in even whether to do Lessons Learned.  He found some departments mandating it but others leaving it optional, ‘deploying as they see fit’.  With such a failure of direction it isn’t surprising that further practical problems follow.  Even when Project Manager’s were recording their lessons systems were not in place to share them.  Three out of Four departments could not provide lessons info under the FOI request.  They justified this by saying it would cost too much to assemble.  But of course the point is that is should already be easily accessible and searchable otherwise how can following projects use it?

Martin had teased out many more useful points from the research and I would advise you to read it.  We can only hope it gets acted on and that government projects start learning lessons with more rigor.

Beyond the power of personal experience

Several PMs, sponsors and others from the PPM environment also talked about their own experiences they have learned from.  I have also had many experiences in past projects both bad and good that I have learned from.  We all tend to remember our own, often painful, lessons very well and are good at applying that learning again.  However as organisations and indeed as a profession we improve by being able to share these lessons with others.  This is the difficult part of a good lessons learned process leveraging improvements from the individual to a wider audience.

I blogged in November about how you can use a Risk Register prepopulated with lessons to help address this.  In fact we went further and provided a free template for this passing on some common lessons to get you started and to which you can add.  Users find this works well for all those common lessons/risks but it may not be such a help with the specialist areas.

learning from lessons; learning lessons

We also provide a Lessons Log method template which you can use on our multi-user tools to provide a central store for all your lessons logs.  Users can then access this and search for content related to their project area.  As discussed above many organisations don’t have a single location for all this valuable information, this gives you that.  You can find out more about learning lessons with the Lessons Learned Library method here.

Project Magazine, is a quarterly publication for APM members.

Praxis Framework certification launch

APMG announced last month the launch of their Praxis Framework certification scheme.  This launch is a good indication of where Praxis is in 2018.  Indicating the way in which the Praxis Framework has matured and grown in use since its 2014 Launch.  Of course we have provided a Praxis method as standard since those earliest days and this remains popular.  The framework has developed in many ways over these four years.  The framework now covers Agile approaches which are in increasingly common use.  Praxis also now has a maturity model.  This model even supports 360° assessments.  As the range of translations show, adoption has widened.  Originally in English only it is now also available in French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.

APMG were a driving force behind the growth of PRINCE2 over the last twenty years.   So it is a great vote of confidence for Praxis to see them now launching this scheme.

Praxis Framework Certification – The qualifications

As with many other certification schemes there are two levels available, Foundation and Practitioner.  Both of these cover the full range of Praxis content and range across project, programme and portfolio areas.  If you are taking the Foundation exam it will be a simple multi-choice formal with a 50% pass mark.  If you want to take the Practitioner exam you will need to have already passed at Foundation level.  The higher Practitioner exam uses complex multi-choice questions, is open book and again 50% is the pass mark.

If you already have another PPM qualification you can jump straight to Practitioner by taking a bridging exam, rather than taking Foundation first.

You can self study and sign up for a public exam if you want, or study with an approved training provider.  You can already choose from nearly 20 approved training organisations.  With providers in UK, Europe, South Africa, Asia and also Australia/NZ there is already lots of choice.

praxis framework certification; praxis exams; praxis foundation; praxis practitioner

See Adrian and Emma talking about Praxis Framework certification here.

Will a Praxis framework certification be worth having?

I guess if you are spending your money on a course or an exam that is the key question.  Will a Praxis framework certification be worth having?  If you were to get the same material from other qualifications you may need to take three or four other separate courses.  So from that view the value is excellent and it may well also leave you a more rounded PPM professional.  But will it get you a job?  Prospective employers are likely to hear more about it over the coming months and then we will see.  However in a neat twist you get a nice logo you can use on your CV and email footer to tell everyone you are Praxis certified.  That is something you can’t do with the logo of other certifications and may make a real difference to how you are professionally viewed.

You can find out more about the Praxis framework on their site here.

To explore trainers and exam details use APMG here.

If you haven’t yet tried Praxis, sign up for our free tools download here and get started.

Simple project methods – nStep are a family of project methodologies you can adopt for free

We know that most of you are not working on highly complex projects.  If you were you would of course be using our PRINCE2 or MSP methodologies.  So you could tailor PRINCE2 to meet your low complexity challenges, but this isn’t easy.  If you tailor each one in turn you spend a lot of time, which is expensive on a small project.  You need highly trained and experienced PMs to do this successfully.  Even with that you end up losing the great consistency of PRINCE2 as each person will tailor differently.  So that is why we created our nStep family of simple project methods.  With nStep, rather than simplifying PRINCE2, we have looked at the challenge of simple projects from the bottom up.

simple project methods; basic project management; nStep methods

You may not realise how radical this is but all prior project methodologies have been developed with big projects in mind.  Experts have then often slimmed them down for smaller situations.  In our experience that can leave them heavy/clunky on small projects.  We have taken a different approach.

Simple project methods explained

simple project methods; nStep projects; project management made easy

So nStep starts with the simplest of project ideas a start, a delivery and a close.  We call this the 3 Step method because… well we think you can work that out.  Your 4 Step method assumes multiple delivery cycles so we add a step for managing the change of delivery cycle.  Our 5 Step method adds a direction process because more complexity usually required more oversight.  We think that these models will handle the majority of the projects you run.  If you have more complex projects then use PRINCE2 or Praxis or follow PMBoK.

Because with nStep we are thinking simple project methods and small scale this isn’t the end of the story.  We also provide a 1 Step approach.  You can use 1Step for your myriad of BAU activities.  We find customers have many hundreds of these.   You still need to manage them but they are too small to be projects.

We have been providing nStep methods like this for many years and evolving the content periodically.  Our latest versions nStep 2017 were launched in December and you can find out more about them in the video on You Tube.

nStep – the advantages of simple project methods

We have set up each method with templates and guidance and a process flow which is easy to follow.  We have secured the use of the official PRINCE2 templates from Axelos to include in nStep methods.  So  your project teams will become accustomed to them early and ready for working on more complex projects later.  Because we have pre-scaled these simple project methods you gain consistency project to project with the same process and content each time.  You also gain speed of launch with projects created at the touch of a button ready to go.

nStep is a standard but for our commercial customers you can make it your own.  You can personalise the graphics and content and even add your own steps to the series.

Simple project methods which are free to use.

In line with our ethos of simple and one click set up we provide them free.  All four nStep methods are provided as standard in all our products.  If you use the free Community Edition they are there.  If you use our commercial packages there is no extra charge for nStep.

So you can sign up for Community Edition here and see how you like simple project methods made easy right now.

Project Management Basics – a practical guide

We were all new to projects once.  When I started working on projects it was at best a black art, at worst an opaque maze.  So I decided to help out those of you who are starting out now with something a whole lot easier.  My ten step Project Management Basics set of videos breaks a project down into bite sized chunks.  In each video I keep jargon to the minimum and practical advice to the fore.  Your project as at the heart of the videos as we work through the steps hands on using the free software tools provided.

project management basics; simple PM; learn Project management for free

Each session first of all starts with a simple explanation of what the topic involves and some simple concepts and check lists.  Before moving on to show you how to achieve that using the free tools.

Project Management Basics – ten steps to a successful project

These ten sessions are all ten to twenty minutes long and you can cherry pick or watch them in sequence.  All ten sessions are provided on our You Tube channel so you can watch them anywhere.  You can get the playlist set here or use the individual links below.  One to five of the project management basics are already available so you can get your projects moving.  And of course we will be adding the remaining five over the next week or so. Update –  all ten sessions are now available.

1 – Your Project

2 – Starting

3 – Planning

4 – Risks

5 – Communicating

6 – Delivering

7 – Issues

8 – Reporting

9 – Closing

10 – Maturing

The free tools delivering your project management basics

Probably the most important part of the project management basics concept is the tools.  Giving you the skills and the tools and in addition showing you how to use them.  Because we think this gives you the best chance of of making a success of your first few projects.  We want you to step out comfortably, not stumble and fall on the path to successful projects.

Your companion tools in the project management basics programme will be Community Edition and Planner.  You can download both of them for free and use them forever if you wish.  You can sign up for them here if you want but the Starting video (session 2) takes you through sign up and installation.

Project Management Survey Results – Challenges

We have now closed our 2017 Project management survey and begun to look at what you said.  So over the next few months we will look at the Project Management survey results in more detail.  First of all we will look at Q6 which has some rather interesting results.

Project Management Survey Results – Q6 – What are the greatest challenges in delivering projects?

We identified six different aspects of project management and asked which you found to be the biggest challenge.  Firstly we asked you to pick the areas as you saw it.  Then in addition we asked you to select as your organisation saw it.  This flushed some interesting differences in perspective.

project management survey results

You can see on this first chart the two sets of challenge scores and it is immediately clear there is poor alignment between them.  When we total up the scores we also see that the PMs feel a greater weight of challenges than they think the organisation sees.  This could be the result of PMs feeling undervalued/unsupported in general.  However this could also indicate that in some aspects of project management organisations lack appreciation of what PMs are having to do.  Of course it might be that there is appreciation just a lack of support with tooling or training.

Relative challenges

So lets have a look at which aspects show the greatest relative challenge perception.  You can see this in the chart below which shows the differences between the scores.  We see a positive green score where the PM feels the challenge more than the organisation.  The opposite negative scores in red where the PM feels the organisation sees a greater challenge than they do.

project management survey results; buying a PMO tool; PM survey findings

These results show that the day to day activities of managing a project are more of a challenge to the PM than the organisation appreciates. Also that PMs ind their inputs to reporting, benefit and cost management less challenging than their organisation finds it.  Neither point should really be a surprise to those with experience in both camps.  Of course PMs find the low level churn of day to day project management a challenge, because it is.  Likewise of course organisations can struggle with taking PM’s output reports, costs etc and making sense of it across many projects.

Turning these project management survey results into improvement steps?

If you see yourself reflected in these results then the big question is what to do about it?  Analyzing your performance, identifying weaknesses and improving your approach are key to improving your results and your maturity ratings.  We know many organisations are looking at reporting, finance and benefit metrics when identifying tools to help them improve.  Perhaps if they included some of these other aspects like comms, process, documentation etc in their requirements they would get better results from the tools they choose.

Of course PIAB can help you across all these aspects, see here to explore further.

Want to see yourself in the project management survey results for 2018?

These results are from our 217 survey and if you contributed then thanks, we really appreciate it.  Our 2018 survey is now open and you can give us your views when you are ready. The format remains the same with just ten questions.

You can fill in the 2018 Project Management survey here.  Survey Monkey tells us the average time to fill it in was under three minutes in 2017.