How Are Your Projects Running? Are Your Plans Working?

Two chalkboards, many answers on how to successfully implement projects.

“And how are your projects going? Are your plans working?” The Meisterplan team including Valerie, Birgit, Anne, Christoph and two huge chalkboards were at the PM Welt (PM World) in Munich, where they asked these two questions to everyone who stopped by the Meisterplan booth. After 12 hours and nearly 150 conversations, the two boards were just as full as our heads were full of information.

Why the chalkboards? Boredom? Found a couple of chalkboards in the garage? No. All because we are on a quest, and we are serious. Because we’re looking for a way for companies to balance many projects – without overloading people or doing the wrong projects. We have already developed version 1 of this method with the working title: Lean PPM.

To further develop this method and do it well, we need you. We need input, feedback and real discussions. We searched and found them at the PM Welt. Many thanks! Since we think these problems, solutions and ideas can also benefit project managers and people involved in portfolio far beyond Munich and Germany, we would like to share the results here.  Even if you weren’t at PM Welt, we would love to have you contribute to the discussion. Go to our quest, and tell us what keeps you from making plans that work. All of us, including our CEO, Christoph Hirnle is looking forward to the discussion with you!

Are Your Plans Currently Working?

For 49%, a clear “no” was the answer. We assume that this figure is acually a tad higher –  our direct question may have surprised some. 47% replied “yes” and 4% blew up the questionnaire and simply crossed out both answer options. Overall, the ratio is very balanced.

It will be interesting when asking further questions. Why do plans and projects fail? Or how can they succeed? Let’s take a look at the reasons.

No

Planning Well Is Half the Battle

Yes, if money is irrelevant, the pool of employees is endless, and “deadline” is a foreign word, then it’s pretty easy to make plans that work. Anyone who is in such a comfortable position can, in principle, handle any project. It becomes difficult (and if we are honest: exciting), as soon as there are bottlenecks: tight cash, scarce key resources, scarce time.

This management of scarce resources and their dependencies, according to many of our discussions at PM Welt, most likely contributes to the success or failure of projects.

How Do You Successfully Manage Your Projects?

When Your Projects Fail, at What Point Does It Happen?

Good Planning
Bad Planning

Those who only do “simple projects” have it a little easier when it comes to planning. 😉 For those that this is not the case, it may help to split projects into sub-projects. This, in turn, requires “dependency analysis” and, of course, “multi-project planning” – but contributes to the successful realization of projects. Those who create the right “synchronization points” – from the portfolio board to the project management meeting – also greatly increases the chance of successful plans. Lastly, of course, “resource portfolio management” helps – this means planning the project portfolio in terms of feasibility for resources.

Anyone who does a great deal can also fail a lot – project managers will likely agree. The most frequently mentioned reasons from a planning perspective? “No clear scope” of the projects and way “too many projects“. Or at least “too many Priority #1 projects“. Also, “lack of clarity” and “missing priorities” are problematic for project managers. It does not help if a company still has to struggle with “scarce resources” because there aren’t enough employees to work on  the planned projects. Or, the “schedule is too short“, because it was planned wrong.

The Meisterplan Team at PM Welt 2018, the conference for project managers.

The Human Factor

The “human factor”. This is usually read in connection with friendly little statements. Man makes mistakes, has no desire for change and is unpredictable. I think we all agree that people bring insecurity to planning. But we were also positively surprised at PM Welt: right after good planning, the human factor is the most important reason for the success of plans. To quote a booth visitor: “It helps if  ‘just awesome guys’ work on the projects.” 😉

How Do You Manage to Make Your Plans Work?

When Your Plans Fail, at What Point Does It Happen?

Good Employees
Difficult Employees

Yes, it helps if “great guys” work in a company – people who are “enthusiastic” and can “enthuse” others. Our favorite answer to the question of why projects succeed: “Because I’m great.” In order to make plans, it also requires “employees who take responsibility” with “personal commitment” to their projects. and who “stay tuned in” and don’t give up. “Self-confidence” and “flexibility” are important characteristics of employees, as well as “intuition“. Some companies rely on “a lot of coaching” and others on “experienced project leaders” within the teams.

Employees with “fear of taking on responsibility” and “fear of decisions” often stand in the way of successful plans – especially at a time when external dynamics increase pressure. Then there are those with “lack of courage” and those who are “too risk-averse“. Or those who do not want to give up their “power” and therefore jeopardize projects. They all influence the project portfolio and make it less strategic, objective or meaningful, and therefore less optimal due to their personal characteristics.

Project managers can contribute a lot to project portfolio management.

The Balance of Agile and Top-Down

The most heated discussions took place at our booth whenever it was about processes and working methods. We agree that agile methods are not an end all be all, but they do trigger some important changes in the world of work. I remember many conversations with PMOs or department heads who love agile work. But at the same time they were desperate how to convey this to “management” and how to use agile a framework that allows for efficient project portfolio management. It is a balancing act.

How Do You Manage to Make Your Plans Work?

If Your Plans Fail, At What Point Do They Fail?

Methods
Dynamics

Many booth visitors reported great successes when the overall planning was “top-down” or when “agile was realized“. This hybrid approach of waterfall and agility enables rapid “management decisions” and “top management support” of all agile projects in the project portfolio. In general, many see “good leadership” is the key to the success of plans. And good leadership also means giving employees the freedom to work with the tools and methods they want to use. “Iterative planning” with a lot of “flexibility” makes this happen.

In these days, worlds collide. The “dynamic culture vs. long-term budget planning” is one of the biggest collisions. The management often insists on “too much long-term planning” and does not support “cultural change with a focus agile & lean“. In addition, there is often “lack of commitment by management” to projects and priorities and “lack of top management support” for tools and methods. At the team level, “artificial silo thinking” stands in the way of the success of plans and projects.

Teams, Tools and Transparency – and Other Thoughts Worth Mentioning

In terms of content, we have gotten so much more feedback from PM Welt, which does not fit into the three previous categories. To avoid making this blog post into a novel, I would like to just list the most helpful tips here:

  • Teams: every single person counts. In the best case, a team is much more than the sum of its team members. “Good teamwork” with a lot of “responsibility within the teams” promotes the success of the project. “Fun and ideas” then almost automatically happen – and these are important “moments in the team” for stronger cohesion. Unfortunately, if the “team culture does not fit“, it looks completely different and projects drag behind the plans.

  • Keep it Simple: the simpler the methods, tools and processes, the sooner they will be used by everyone. Many have had bad experiences with “project plans that were too complex” or “PM tools without optimal performance“. Less complexity simplifies dealing with the brutal “dynamics” in the project business.

  • Communication: “good communication” cannot be underestimated as a factor for the success of plans and projects. Portfolio board decisions and plan changes must find their way to the appropriate employees. But it is also about “openness” and “transparency” in decisions, to get everyone on board equally and to motivate. “Communication at different levels and without collaboration leads to misunderstandings and duplicated work.

That was our little wrap-up to PM Welt 2018. It was reassuring for me that in the end, we all have the same things in common. And we all want it to be better. But our discussion and the Lean PPM method are far from over. So our question to you: How are your projects going? What keeps you from making plans that work? Please join the discussion in the quest!

By |2018-04-05T09:14:22+00:00March 27th, 2018|Categories: Project Portfolio Management|

About the Author: Annegret Widmer

Annegret Widmer has ended her years-long love-hate relationship with Excel as a PPM and RM tool for an agency and now helps companies and organizations discover Meisterplan and best practices for resource planning and project portfolio management. When she’s not moving pixels or resources as marketing manager at Meisterplan, she’s moving game pieces across one board or another.