One Sentence Summary: Today in large organizations, it is rare that the project lead has supervisory power over all the people on his project team. He must, however, maintain enthusiasm, motivation and results from people without being able to use the power of his position and powers of coercion; this book teaches us numerous techniques to do so.
By Tom Kendrick, 245 pages, 2006.
Summary and Book Review :
Note: This book is very heavy, in a very classic academic format (translate: irritating) and very focused on large corporations, I read it using the rapid reading techniques of 10 Days to Faster Reading, notably scanning and scraping. I am giving you a quick summary, which I hope will be sufficient for you to get a good idea of the book’s contents.
Projects are everywhere. Some are successful, others are not. And many projects fail because the project lead cannot control things well enough to bring them to their final conclusion. Projects today often take place in complex environments where the project lead does not have formal authority over the members of his project team.
And even those that do, there is always a part of the project that falls to someone who doesn’t have this authority. Fortunately, it is possible to control a project and make it successful by using techniques that don’t depend on your position in the organization or your formal authority. Let’s take a look at them.
Chapter 2 : Control by Process
Most projects are difficult. Without sufficient processes there is naturally chaos and the project is certain to fail. Processes for projects are generally:
- Life Cycle and Methodology: they impose discipline on projects. Life cycles principally serve to coordinate related projects, and methodologies assure that there is consistency in the way projects are carried out.
- Project Definition: a clear and unambiguous definition is essential for the control of a project.
- Change Management: one of the most problematic aspects of technical projects is the lack of control over change specifications. To avoid this you must: 1) freeze the overall direction when you define the project foundation and 2) adopt a style of efficiently managing change for the rest of the project.
- Risk Management: even though this phase is generally started when the project is initiated, maintaining it during its execution reinforces objectives and keeps the team’s attention focused on the work ahead.
- Quality Management: This gives structure to the project and allows requests to take effect that otherwise would have been ignored by the project lead.
- Conflict Management: conflicts are inevitable. From the project outset you should develop a process to manage conflict at the resource level, timing, priorities and other things.
- Decision-Making Process: A project requires plenty of decisions, making them quickly and well is essential for good control of a project.
- Information Management: Archiving the data for a project is fundamental to controlling the project, and can be used on future projects.
To improve your process management on a project:
- Clearly document how you will use the different project processes.
- Analyze old projects to uncover problems caused by structure and work with your team to make decisions at the level of the infrastructure of the project to resolve them.
- Reach back to expertise within the organization and the project management skills of your company, but resist the temptation to hand over control of your project.
Chapter 3 : Control by Influence
It is often said that management is a given, but leadership must be won. One of the aspects of a leadership role is to exert your influence both inside and outside your project team. Your management style is extremely important, and your influence over others depends on what you have to offer in exchange for what you need.
There are different types of power:
- Position: without doubt the most visible in an organization, since these are appointed leads in the company hierarchy.
- Coercion: tied to power of position, the ability to inflict sanctions
- Compensation: accessible to anyone, since compensation can be simple encouragement, simple congratulations, or some other form of appreciation. But biggest material compensation (advancement, salary increases) are generally reserved for people holding positions of power.
- Expertise: conferred by exceptional mastery of an important subject on the project or in the organization.
- Personality: which comes from your investment in your communication with others and in the team’s unity, as well as in your efforts to insure mutual trust allowing frank exchanges. This power is especially important in times of trouble or stress.
Generally, projects are transversal in organizations and companies, which means that the project lead does not have the power of position or coercion. It is therefore important to use the other types of power.
To improve your influence:
- Adopt a leadership style that works for other members of your team and which will work to produce whatever matters the most to people.
- Build self awareness and your skill at influencing others.
- Work at increasing your influence by your actions and your behavior.
- Build and maintain relationships of trust and respect with every member of your team.
Chapter 4 : Control with Project Measurement
All projects make slow progress, especially long and complex ones. Without sufficient measurements to determine whether the project is progressing, finding anomalies in time might be impossible, or worse, the project could start out in the wrong direction without you knowing.
Typical measurements for managing projects and comparing them to others include:
- Resource allocations and cost estimates
- Project benefits and value delivered
- Provisional production estimates
- Measures of risk and uncertainty
- Project Duration
To improve your control over project measurement:
- Rough out the performance that you need from your team to maintain control of the project.
- Identify measurements that line up with the project objectives and desired performance.
- Select a small group of measurements and get help with them from your team.
- Test the measurements and establish a reference baseline.
- Use the measurements to monitor and control your project.
Chapter 5 : Begin Control at the Project Start
Projects with problems often get off to a shaky start. Control begins at the very moment the project begins, because a good project start is vital to the success of the project.
Ideally, the project team lead and the team must be completely in agreement in getting the project off to a good start. To do this you must get help from the project sponsor (often a senior executive who initiated the project concept), solid documentation and a kickoff meeting for the project.
To improve your project starts:
- Deconflict key appointments for the project sponsor for continued help and to begin to establish a good relationship with him.
- Develop a captivating vision for the project and adjust it according to your need to inspire and motivate your team.
- Understand your objectives in detail. Document the project schedule with minutiae.
- Conduct an efficient kickoff meeting so that your project gets off to a healthy start.
- Put more effort into building relationships of trust with remote members of your team.
Chapter 6 : Increase Control with Project Planning
Creating a plan for your project forces you to figure out how you are going to meet the objective, which provides a solid foundation to follow your progress towards it. Planning, however, only gives you a simple basis for control.
Planning in a collaborative process allows you to create cohesion and a feeling of belonging to a project on the part of your team. Further, a credible plan shows that your project is possible, even if it is difficult.
Without a plan, forecasts for the project are based on hopes, dreams and wishes – these are rarely good foundations for building trust or efficient control.
To improve your project planning:
- Plan your project meticulously with your team, and integrate their ideas, suggestions and perspective into your planning documents.
- Use planning data to establish a realistic reference baseline, for negotiating the changes required to initial objectives, with your sponsor and his associates.
- Begin execution of the project with a credible and comprehensible plan that is available to all the members of your team.
Chapter 7 : Maintain Control during Project Execution
Perseverance matters. All projects run into difficulties, and most undergo substantial changes. Control contributes to execution through a strong and tenacious focus through what is going on, what has been accomplished, and what is still be be done.
Statistics collected on projects show that the 9th, 99th and 999th activity of the project are equally important – and they are. Holding up fact gathering on status to resolve a problem equates to loss of control.
Diagnostic measurements are the basic elements for collecting information on status. They provide the information you need to assess performance and progress, and their visibility assures you that the problem will be handled.
To improve execution of your project:
- Define diagnostic measurements for your project that strengthen your control over it, then get your team to carry them out.
- Be dogmatic and disciplined in collecting information on the status of a project.
- Use informal communication to gather facts and work at maintaining trust and a good relationship with your team.
Chapter 8 : Monitoring and Surveillance for Controlling your Project
Most project cycles lead to a least some bad news. Treating problems as mild inconveniences is the first step in good control. Finding a way to adapt or change the plan so that it accommodates the bad news means accepting the problems, not succumbing to them.
To do this you need a good toolbox full of appropriate tools to control schedule, costs, quality and other potential problems.
To improve monitoring and surveillance:
- Manage changes from the perspective of disciplined process which only accepts necessary changes that can be professionally justified.
- Develop and implement rapid change actions when a problem arises.
- Use reports and other formal forms of communication to keep people informed of your project and up to date with its progress.
- Motivate your team by thanking them and recognizing their merits and compensate them when appropriate.
- Periodically re-examine long projects to validate objectives and plans, and to revitalize the project vision.
- Take care of obstacles to progress and rapidly resolve conflicts.
Chapter 9 : Improve Overall Control at Project Close
Good project closure requires time and work, but it is important for controlling future projects. Obtaining the acceptance of your sponsor and his partners for the fact that your work is done appropriately is necessary before you can transition to a new project.
Retrospective measurements contribute to long term control by indicating the improvement process necessary and validating the predictive measurements of the project.
Finishing and archiving final document for your project provides necessary information to define and plan similar projects in the future..
And speaking of future projects: it’s a small world, therefore it is almost certain that you will work with some of the people on your current project again.
Therefore you must absolutely do things to strengthen your relationship with your team. Celebrate the fact that you have finished, and recognize and reward the contributions of your team by thanking people for the work they have done.
To improve your project closure:
- Finish your work and get formal acceptance for its termination from those you deliver it to.
- Complete final documentation for the project.
- Thank your team and celebrate the fact that you are finished.
- Be aware of what you have learned and use it.
If you are asked to run a project, it’s because someone believes in you and in your ability. If you do too, you are probably both right.
However there is a list that the author calls Full Strength Projecticide, which sums up everything you need to do to fail on a project:
- Always choose a project based on just your “feelings.”
- Never share project selection criteria with your team: it’s none of their business.
- Avoid responsibility for the project by claiming that you are not the sole decision-maker.
- Always ask for “long term objectives” that are not attainable.
- Enlist additional sponsors that will give you conflicting objectives.
- Keep allocated resources for more important things until the project reaches a crisis.
- Never waste time discussing things with project leads; you have more important things to do.
- Ignore changes in your environment and focus entirely on your daily activities.
- Make changes to the project. At least every week to keep everyone on the ball.
- Never make decisions, even small ones, without asking for more information and a detailed investigation.
- Discourage in-depth analysis of lessons learned on a project, because everything will be different next time anyway.
The author finishes with ten pages of questions that are relevant to multiple aspects of a project.
As I indicated above, this book suffers from being somewhat dry, heavy and irritating, which is real torture after the excellent format of The Simplicity Survival Handbook. It is like a classic academic book.
Fortunately, it is quality content and you can sense Tom Kendrick’s great experience in managing projects. The techniques, tricks and methods that he provides throughout the book are relevant and appropriate. Even though sometimes they seem a little too complex and theoretic.
The huge amount of information and its excellent organization by chapter. Within each chapter makes it easy for you to find the information you need. The information to deal with a particular problem if you have to manage a project.
This book is really an excellent toolbox. Every project lead can put in his library without any problem. To make use of whenever he needs to, and extract knowledge to no doubt. Avoid countless problems and time wasting.
The main advantage, and major take away of this book, is that it is strictly focused on large corporations and their internal workings.
If you work in a small business, a medium business or for yourself, you will find ideas here and there on how to manage complex projects with suppliers and external providers.
The most important points in the book will not be for you. If you are regularly called on to lead projects for large corporations, dig in.
- Good internal organization
- The author is experienced which comes through in every paragraph.
- Focused on large corporations
- Heavy format, dry and irritating
- Sometimes a bit too theoretical and conceptual
- Very focused on large corporations
- Not translated into French
My rating: (if you lead projects in a large corporation)
(if you lead projects in another sector)
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