Friday, October 23, 2009

Organizational Silos - The Enemy of Project Execution

So how are projects working out for you? I ask this question frequently, to just about everyone I talk to in a professional setting. And the most common answer is – “We are doing OK”. If I take the same question and pose it in a fashion such that the focus is in a different functional area from the individual I am asking, the answer is entirely different. Apparently there is much more to say when talking about how project execution is going outside a person’s sphere of responsibility. Translation – “We are doing OK, but those people over in ______ need to get their act together.” This is human nature, although amplified by the organizational structures in place today.

Consider that collaboration blockages flourish through the functional silo based organizational configuration. Even though matrix project teams are widely used, allegiance of each individual remains within their organizational unit. Why? Loyalty naturally rests at the source of performance reviews, personal objectives, raises and functional area workflows. An individual on a matrix team will primarily be measured, directed and rewarded based on solid line organizational reporting. However, the business success depends on the effectiveness of the temporary matrix reporting within a given project. This is a major disconnect!

Who is ultimately in charge of a projects success or failure - where is the accountability for a project? Project execution responsibility typically rests with the project manager, however they are often lacking the full breadth of authority to carry through. Additionally they are generally not fully skilled and/or sanctioned to gauge and direct the sub-flow details within each of the silos. The functional area towers have the skills for the detailed sub-flows, although they typically lack the formal project management skills or motivation to properly assess and plan a sub-project. This is a system that is ripe for finger pointing, blame, collaborative blockages and ownership issues.

Fact - the current project system is not providing the full spectrum of results businesses require. The organizational silos believe they are doing OK, while the businesses experience an element of unpredictability; leading to surprises and delays on the path to new product revenue. Given this, it may well be time to step back and take an honest look at the mechanics of current project delivery. Business success dictates that we engineer a system that promotes accountability and collaboration, addresses individual project skill gaps, and measures/rewards contribution based on enabling project revenue success.

The current project management strategies have been in place for greater than 15 years and have provided significant benefit to new product development. Advancing to the next generation of project delivery will require that the walls of the organizational silos come down and a structure based on project execution be constructed, collaboratively stitching the functional areas together. Are you in this race to win, or are you in the race to hang with the pack - Isn’t it time for change?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Short Project Execution Survey - See Results Upon Completion

I would like to ask for your help by completing a survey to provide visibility into the project execution barriers our industry faces. This short five minute survey is targeted at providing insight into the barriers to project execution and why they may not be resolved. Once completed you will be provided a link that will allow you to monitor the anonymous results, giving you a view of the project challenges your counterparts face in the semiconductor industry.

Please, only proceed with the survey if your business is related to semiconductor product development. Thank you for your valuable time!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Using the Project Premortem to Identify Risk Areas

Last week I came across an article titled Performing a Project Premortem written by Gary Klein of Applied Research Associates. The commentary presented the concept of a project Premortem to aid in identifying the potential project roadblocks, before they have a chance of derailing the project. It is essentially risk assessment, although with a procedural twist that holds merit. The premortem is a forum for airing the project execution concerns of the team. Having always been a fan of going in the trenches to ask the team what's not working, this aligned well with my strategy of discovering the unknown.

What could possibly go wrong? Answering this requires an understanding of the possible "what-if" situations while in the planning phase of a new project. It's about risk management and the ability to uncover a comprehensive set of possible negative scenarios and prioritizing them, dismissing some and mitigating others. Assessing technical risk is common; assessing project execution risk is far less likely to be addressed.

An unknown risk to a project will lead to an element of unpredictability, if it becomes a reality. There would not be any forethought of the possibility; therefore there would obviously not be a mitigation plan in place. The team runs into a brick wall and then regroups to find a way to navigate around the wall. A well conceived plan is suddenly thrown off track because a risk was not identified during the planning stages.

Now back to the project premortem. The idea is to establish an environment that allows the team ferret out all the possible risk areas. The premortem concept enables the successful identification of risk via the following principals:

  • Establish a mechanism for soliciting inputs from a broad cross section of the team.
  • Seek out the worker bees in addition to those in the management hierarchy.
  • Create a non-threatening environment that is comfortable for the team's voice to be heard.
  • Listen with an open mind, saving judgment for later.
Consider hosting a premortem activity while in the planning phase of projects to provide a regular opportunity to seek out risks and get them on the table. Through a routine emphasis on this risk assessment process the team becomes confident there will be a place for concerns to be aired and addressed, thus enabling them the opportunity to optimize their project contribution. For your next project utilize a premortem to find the answer to "What could possibly go wrong?" and realize a new level of predictability in project flow.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Uncovering Project Execution Risk Areas

Risk free - never. Risk conscious - absolutely essential. The ability to determine, assess and mitigate risk is a requirement of projects that must display a higher level of predictability. The challenge is in revealing the risk areas that need further attention, the unknown hazards that transition to reality and disrupt the project flow like hitting a block wall.

Technical and business risks are typically addressed to a reasonable degree; project execution risks by and large lack the attention they need. A good definition of execution risk would be areas related to the people aspects of a project such as information needs, expectations of each other, deliverable requirements and so on. I would also include the thoroughness of the plan and resource availability in the category of execution risk, since these are also people related.

So how does one go about finding the execution risks? Since they are predominantly people related a good place to start would be to ask the team members. Some of the execution risk will be related to a specific project while the majority will likely be systemic risks that span multiple projects. People related risks tend to hide well; therefore good detective and people skills will be required to uncover them. A formalized discovery activity will provide a thorough assessment of the risk areas, particularly those related to project execution.

Where are all the project risks? The team has valuable input on this; it is in the projects best interest to make sure their concerns are aired. Hold a project Premortem to provide a venue that grants the team a voice. Sift through the information that is gathered to find the golden nuggets of information that will make it well worth the time spent. Discover the unknown execution risks that quietly disrupt project flow and remove a large source of project unpredictability.