More Responsibility – Less Templates
We do not have to look into the future to realise that the way we do projects isn’t dynamic or goal oriented anymore, but rather static and template oriented. The future calls for clear responsibility and on-going adjustments to account for a world in constant movement. This impacts the business case, roles and processes.
From Tsunami Projects to strategy
All the project management books say the same thing – projects are the way in which an organisations realises its strategy. But is it really, the way it works in practice? Many organisations experience tsunami projects. Projects are born and seep out from all parts of the organisation. From the board of directors, the executive board, from different management levels and the staff. Moreover, in the public sphere this also happens in the ministries and interest groups. It therefore comes as no surprise that it is difficult to spot the strategy that ties it all together. Too many projects are being launched, and not enough attention is given to the execution of those projects that are necessary and adequate for reaching the goals. But it’s really not that difficult. In the future, which could be 2018, the board of directors and the executive board look at the near as well as long-term future and prioritise the strategic goals that are necessary. Not everything else, but only the battles that need to be conquered.
The battles that need to be conquered, and those goals that need to be reached, describe organisations through a goal-map or as project managers like to call it – the blueprint. With drawings and maybe film-clips complemented by text, it is a visual illustration describing the future situation of the organisation. The goal-map describes how the organisation collaborates with its customers/users in the near future. It’s not too detailed because it is only in the following process that the details are added. The goal-map becomes the guiding star for which initiatives should be launched, and it shows the pieces of the larger puzzle that form the strategy. Additionally, the goal-map becomes an active tool for portfolio- and programme managers in the upcoming process. All projects should be able to be placed in the goal-map; they must demonstrate how they contribute as a piece in the puzzle. The duty of the programme- or portfolio manager is to make sure that the pieces fit together.
The responsibilities for each of the goals in the strategy are hereafter delegated to a director or maybe a member of the board of directors. The director, who is now the owner of the initiative, collects the most important stakeholders. Those, who will own or realise the benefits, and those, who provide the in-put. The owner might assemble a programme or commission as a sub-portfolio. It will most likely include a variety of qualified project managers. However, that is not as crucial as making sure that the director, managers etc. take responsibility and are held accountable. So, what does it actually mean, the whole taking responsibility thing?
- The director will be listed as the owner of the sub-portfolio or programme, and has the responsibility to ensure that the funds, provided by the taxpayers or shareholders, are used accordingly and optimally. The risks and costs should correspond to the benefits. That’s common sense.
- Those managers, who represent the business departments, are responsible for ensuring that the projects, being launched, are adequate to realise the strategic goals. They are responsible for benefits realisation.
- And finally, the managers, responsible for the deliveries, are responsible for making a realistic plan that ensures that deliveries are made in time, with the right quality and within the set budget.
In this organisation, you will not find long descriptions of the duties of the board of directors, but simply those three pillars, where the responsibilities are defined simply and clearly, so everyone understands it.
The Business Case – from a Single Project to a Collective Effort.
The board of directors and executive board have realised that the company can only reach its strategic goals by having the courage to reform its current work practices, and by being innovative in the right places. Becoming innovative, means taking larger risks. The director knows that the illusion that you, based on a business case, can choose between different projects, is just that, an illusion. Thus, is the reason why it is done differently:
- The program or sub-portfolio has clear strategic goals, a budget and a goal-map that describes the situation of where the organisation wishes to be, both short and long term.
- However, a long-term plan doesn’t necessarily call for a precise and complete list of projects that need to be launched in order for success to achieved. That is why the organisation is invited to suggest and launch projects within the sub-portfolio. The only requirement is that the project has to be reported, and that a one-pager must be provided that explains which part of the goal-map, it tries to fulfil. By doing so the project gets a frame in time and budget, to prove its worth. Rather than describing a business case, you now test the business case instead.
- Once the frame has been applied, the decision of whether the project should live or die, is made. Classic features of the business case such as cost, benefits and risks, will be applied.
No Template Zone
In the project organisation of the future there are many documents, but very few requirements for specific templates. In the projects you can work more freely applying your own touch. The crucial aspect is that you know what your responsibilities are and are held accountable. The only aspect with set requirements is the debrief of the programme- or sub-portfolio. Here, a standard template mandating reports on time, benefits, costs and risks, will be applied. This enables the programme- and portfolio managers to steer towards the strategic goals. The description, of the underlying methods, is not inquired – because you are responsible for your own assessments. Instead of the project producing long explanations, it is now the responsibility of the programme/portfolio managers to inquire and thus reach an understanding of the project. If a project hasn’t reported on any substantial risks, for a long time, due to inadequate risk assessment, it is part of the programme/portfolio manager’s responsibility to question the issue. It is possible that a number of problems will appear later on, which should have been predicted earlier as risks. That is when the project owner will be held accountable.
A Future Where the Goals – and not the Means – Drive the Projects.
As we wrote in the beginning, the future and the present calls for projects that are much more goal oriented and dynamic. Due to this, we must be much more focused on responsibility and the allocation of these responsibilities. With responsibility follows trust. We reduce resources by arguing and proving that you are doing, as well as has done, things correctly, thus increasing the allocation of resources to doing things correctly. Danish companies and authorities have a long tradition and competitive advantage in ensuring trust at work and delegating the work. It is therefore right up our alley to replicate the way we do business to the field of organisational projects. The article was originally brought in the magazine Projektledelse (2018-1)