Leading people as they execute the plan is the essence, and at the heart, of project management. Just as a movie director, a symphony conductor or a football coach ensures that the actions of their teams assist in vision fulfillment, a project manager must ensure that actions by his team members fulfill the vision of the project that will satisfy the customer. Project managers must turn a performance-based plan into reality, while looking ahead for risk and change. Thereby they can improve the position of the project as risk and change events occur.
These actions are encompassed in the third pillar of the “Project Performance Bridge.” The “Perform” pillar involves assigning activities, allowing the team to execute and requiring them to account for their performance. It also involves managing risk and change throughout the performance phase. All of this must be done with an understanding that these actions are designed to deliver customer satisfaction. Thus, “Perform” is the final pillar of the bridge as shown previously in Figure 4-10.
Managers should be aware that the final pillar can only be effectively built if the first two are in place. As a warning: we have seen many teams try to perform without these critical pillars in place. This rush to execution always results in calamity. If this happens, project teams will almost always find themselves hanging on a tightrope or swimming in the Oceans of Uncertainty. (See Figure 4-11.)
Figure 4-11: Rush to Execute
To avoid this situation, project managers must cement in place the “Clearly Define Success” and “Plan for Performance” pillars. The team can then be assured a solid foundation across the “Project Performance Bridge.”
A simple analogy can describe the “Perform” phase of a project. Think of a commercial airliner. One can easily picture such a jet sitting on the runway ready for takeoff. At this point the vision, success criteria, performance baselines, and crew assignments are in place to get the passengers (stakeholders) safely and happily to their final destination. This is the point at which the pilot (project manager) must lead the team into execution mode. The jet will not move unless the crew begins acting within their assigned roles.
As the jet begins to move, it takes great effort by the engines to overcome the inertia associated with the static position of such a heavy object. These engines must accumulate enough thrust to lift the heavy jet off into the air.
There is usually much rumbling and difficulty associated with every takeoff. However, as the crew continues executing their assignments, the jet lifts into the air and embarks on its charted course (the performance based plan).
Commercial airliners are very technologically advanced. Once in the air they can be placed on autopilot and have the ability to stay on a predetermined course unless something disturbs their flight. During the flight there are many risks, however, that could create disturbance and necessitate a change to the flight plan. Good crews (project teams) avoid or reduce the impact of these risks during the planning and preparation stage of the flight. Since no plan is perfect, it is imperative for the crew to make regular in-flight checks to determine if risk events or changes have occurred that may impact their course and the outcome of the flight.
Small course changes of even one degree at the beginning of a long flight can place crew and passengers hundreds of miles from their destination if appropriate course corrections are not made. If the crew is not careful and persistent in their in-flight updates, monitoring, and control, they may not be aware of small risk events or changes as they occur. This is all part of the performance accounting process.
As the crew deals with change, they must remember the following important principle: Small course corrections are easy for passengers, but large course corrections usually cause significant concern.
Change is an interesting phenomenon. It can have positive or negative effects on desired outcomes. For instance, an increase in the speed of a tailwind might provide the pilot (project manager) an opportunity to bring the flight in a little early. In approaching change, crew members should become change agents to maximize the positive effects of change. They must also be leaders and guides that help navigate the flight through any negative effects of change.
The final, and most important part of the execution phase of any flight is a successful landing (project termination)! The crew can do everything in their power to make the flight successful, but if it doesn’t land the plane well everyone is displeased. The landing is the last impression the passengers will have of the flight. This is the ultimate test in customer satisfaction!
At the end of the flight customers will review the objectives of the flight and make a determination about the performance of the crew and the airline from their experience. They will know immediately if they landed safely, at the appointed place, at the appointed time and if the service during the flight met their expectations for the price they paid. They will also remember how well the crew handled bumps in the flight due to risk and change. All of this information will be processed and used in their future decisions as to whether they will trust the crew or the airline with future business.
This analogy highlights the following project execution principles:
Performance-based plans are only useful if they are acted upon by the project team.
- Project managers must assure that the team fulfills and accounts for their assigned tasks.
- A good take-off (the beginning of the execution phase) and landing (the conclusion of the execution phase) are crucial for effective execution.
- In flight performance (how the team deals with the original plan, including risk and change) is essential for a solid, customer-satisfying project conclusion.
Just like this analogy, successful project managers make assignments, lead their teams toward effective execution, hold their teams accountable for their performance, and help them act as change agents to optimize the effects of project risk and change – all to the satisfaction of the customer. Notice these are all action words. Action is the foundation of project performance. A great project manager once told us that the key to success is delivering what you say you will, and doing it within the specified plan.
We need to talk a little more about change. Change is the one constant on every project. No matter how perfect the plan may seem, change happens and must be carefully managed! Consequently project managers must become change agents and change leaders or disaster may be the result.
Change can come in many forms. It may occur because of a weakness in the plan. It may result from external stimuli such as politics, environmental policy, fuel prices, or even war. Change may be caused by internal issues such as loss of a team member or finding out in mid stream that a team member lacks critical technical expertise. It may be created by customers who decide they need a different widget or deliverable. It may be initiated when a project team misses a deadline.
It may also be created by opportunities that have a positive impact on project outcomes. No matter how it happens the project team must ensure processes are in place to appropriately address its effects and position themselves for success.
We believe one of the best methods for managing change is to effectively plan and manage risk factors before they become hazards. Risk is change in its infancy! It is certain that all projects will experience risk events. These events will almost always change to some degree the parameters of a project. Thus, as a project team plans to manage risk, they are also planning to manage change.
Many project managers focus too much on the potential negative effects of risk in their planning. However, most businessmen and women know that for every reward there is a risk that must be taken. Risk gives as much positive benefit to most projects as it does negative. We recommend that project managers focus on both positive and negative risk in their planning. This way they can more easily meet the challenges posed by negative risk and maximize the benefits of positive risk.
Risk planning is not difficult. A project team can create a good risk management plan by following a very basic process. First, the team must identify activities with potential positive or negative risks. Next, they can quantify these risks by assigning a probability of occurrence and potential impact for each.
Once quantified, each potential risk event can be prioritized to determine which risks have the greatest likelihood to create change on the project. For each risk identified and prioritized, the team can then determine risk owners and responses. A risk owner is a watchman and manager – a person assigned to watch for a specific risk event and responsible for initiating and executing appropriate risk responses. A risk response is an outline of what the team will do if a risk event occurs.
As risk events create change on a project, if these risks are anticipated, the team can update the plan and continue to manage both risk and change within the new parameters.
It follows that a good risk management plan can also be a good change management plan. In effect, risk response is synonymous with change management. Project managers acting as change agents will respond to positive risk events by embracing appropriate change to improve project execution and customer satisfaction. Project managers acting as leaders and guides will respond to negative risk by leading the team to minimize its impact.
Most change management plans include processes for influencing, identifying, implementing and integrating change. Influencing change involves understanding and controlling factors that create change. Identifying change involves visualizing and understanding potential or real change events. Implementing change is the process of initiating change management plans and improving the position of the project as change occurs. Integrating change is the incorporation of approved change across all areas of the project.
A few examples may illustrate these principles.
During the Vietnam War the soldiers were constantly focused on winning the hearts and minds of the local people. They often did this with medical aid.
On one occasion, in 1971, well after the Tet Offensive, a small platoon of medics took on the mission of winning over the village of Phu Duc. They went into this village because it had been at the heart of the resistance during Tet. The medical doctor leading the platoon created a project plan, to include an outline of potential risks and responses.
Once the plan was in place, the medics packed several foot lockers with supplies, and headed into the village. As part of the plan, it was necessary that they go unarmed. This showed their hopeful trust in the inhabitants and reduced the risk of being identified as combatants.
Hundreds of people lined up to get treatment. The doctor treated all internal ailments; the medics treated the external. After several months, almost all of the “jungle rot,” a disease caused by constant exposure of the skin to water and parasites, had been contained.
Mothers would bring their infants, who had large sores on their legs and heads, to the medics. These well trained soldiers gave them soap! Simple soap! They then told them to wash the babies daily. Within weeks all the “jungle rot” vanished. As a result of these carefully planned actions, the soldiers won the hearts of these mothers. In turn, the mothers protected them, and wanted them to return.
Figure 4-12: Vietnamese soldier, mothers and children awaiting medical care outside a village hut.
During the several months of this project, the platoon experienced multiple risk events. Most of them fell right in line with their risk response plans and they adapted and changed their approach accordingly. The doctor and the medical platoon leader excelled at leading and guiding the platoon through these changes to the plan. However, one day one of the medics set up his line to treat other diseases that threatened the village. “Jungle rot” was gone. Then, all of a sudden, a young boy dressed in black pajamas showed up for treatment. He had a bad case of “jungle rot.”
There could be only one conclusion: this boy was a member of the Viet Cong. The frightened medic continued treating the patients. Before the afternoon was over, however, he had treated twenty-two of these boys, all with “jungle rot.”
This was a risk event that was not anticipated by the team. Never did they expect to have an entire platoon of Viet Cong approach them for treatment. The medic talked with the Doctor. The U.S. medical team definitely had a problem. They were unarmed. They were in hostile country, and they knew that ambushes were likely if they did not change their plan so they could get safely back to their base camp.
What should they do? The doctor held a quick discussion with the medics to determine the best course of action. They knew they needed an innovative solution to address this risk event that created immediate change to their environment. Soon one of the soldiers suggested that they ask the mothers of the children to accompany them home to the U.S. Army compound. It was about a three mile walk. The mothers readily agreed. They knew the value of the five months of treatment they and their children had received.
The change to their plan was readily accepted by all and immediately implemented. Although they could not influence the occurrence of this risk event, their ability to think on their feet and identify, implement and integrate this change into their plan allowed them to be safely escorted to their camp by the Vietnamese mothers. The havoc of a potential ambush was avoided. No one knows how many lives this change saved. At least the medics and the doctor’s lives were probably saved.
Another example of risk and change management is found in the experience of a project manager that was assigned to run a government project in a top secret facility. He and his team knew there were serious cost and time risks related to getting people and materials into and out of the facility through required security checkpoints. They immediately saw these risks as potential profit killers on the project.
In preparing their risk response plan, they worked with the facility security staff to understand the ebb and flow of people into and out of the facility. During their study they found that they could do some innovative things with their schedules and clearances that would save them time and money. The project manager insisted that every on-site worker have appropriate “top secret” government clearance. The manager would then require these on-site, cleared personnel to act as liaisons to transport materials and information into and out of the facility And, to lessen the impact of people entering and leaving the site, the manager required double shifting, where staff members stayed and worked longer hours at the facility.
They also found that if they could get all involved to be a little more flexible with their timing and respond quickly to daily changes in security procedures, they would be able to avoid long wait times into and out of the facility.
The project manager worked tirelessly with the security staff to help plan the timing of workers and shipments. Because of his ability to influence, identify, implement and integrate change into the plan, his team delivered a job as smoothly as possible in a difficult environment. As a result, the project manager also delivered significant savings and profits to his company.
One final example of managing risk and change was produced as a result of an unforeseeable risk event that the world now knows as “9/11.” On this fateful day, terrorist attacks rocked the United States. The World Trade Center and a portion of the Pentagon were demolished in a matter of seconds. Several heroic actions were taken by many incredible people as a result of this vast and immediate environmental change.
One project manager, W. Lee Evey, was given the responsibility of reconstructing the demolished wing of the Pentagon within one year. As Evey and his team looked ahead at this enormous task, they knew that meeting the timelines would require them to think differently about construction management. They could not use traditional construction methods and experience success on this project. They decided to use a management method called “design-build” to shorten timeframes and save money.
Evey’s team understood the critical nature of the Pentagon in national defense. The operations going on in that building could not be halted during construction, nor could security of America’s most prolific center of defense be breached. Unprecedented levels of security were necessary. All of these extra PSP involved greater cost, greater time (which could not be granted), and greater technical expertise.
Evey’s decision to bring design and construction efforts under the umbrella of one company shortened the time necessary for completing the critical repairs, and it maintained the necessary security levels. Evey did not forget the critical planning phases, nor did he fail to give the contractors the all important vision of the final outcome, but crisis required a different mindset from traditional construction practices.
Little did they know that their efforts with “design-build” would later be hailed as the “secret weapon” (See Bibliography, Victoria Tanner.) for managing construction projects while involved in a state of national emergency. This team not only met the required timelines, but became a symbol of American fortitude in the face of radical change. Evey helped his team meet both risk and change head-on because he was willing to be flexible, look ahead and lead the team in implementing methods that improved the position of the project during its lifecycle.
The above examples illustrate how project managers should approach risk and change. The medical platoon had to “think on their feet” and quickly adapt to unplanned risk and change events. The project manager working in the “Top Secret” environment was required to create an intricate, yet flexible, plan to be able to influence the occurrence of potential profit killing risk and change. Finally, Mr. Evey and the Pentagon reconstruction team had to totally change their way of thinking about how they would deliver a project due to a risk event that produced a crisis situation.
Each of these project managers was successful in approaching risk and change for two major reasons: first, they were flexible and innovative, and second, they made decisions with the end (vision and PSP) in mind. They knew that their personal decisions would improve the position of the project and influence customer satisfaction.
To summarize this section, successful projects require project managers to make appropriate assignments, allow their teams to execute, require them to account for their performance and look ahead to manage risk and change. Project managers who can look ahead and lead the team during project execution and improve the position of the project during risk and change events will create great dividends for their projects and their companies.
From “The Art of Project Management” book