“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.” Lord Kelvin
Do you have genuine insight into your project’s delivery risk? By risk, I mean, do you know the chance your project has of delivering on time or late? By genuine, I mean, something quantifiable?
Most of the time, managers look at task completion dates or schedule compliance to judge the risk. If you’re on planned timeline, your risk is deemed to be low. The problem is that you can’t know if that plan is a good one. You only know it’s good so far. Good, in that your progress matches the plan. What if the plan is padded with extra time? Your team is only going as fast as the plan tells them to. What if there is risk later in the project? Only “so far” won’t tell you if you can speed up, or if there’s an obstacle ahead.
Most managers don’t know if their project will be on time, until it’s not.
I’ve written before about the most important measurements in projects and the behavior you need to deliver on time: proactive and speedy resolution of problems. These metrics are based on the premise that behavior is the precursor to results. If you want to know if you’re going to get the results, you should measure the behaviors.
Managers are at the core, influencers of behavior. What needs to be done, is done by people, behaving in specific ways to accomplish specific results. Managers exert influence to:
- Increase some behaviors
- Decrease some behaviors
- Initiate new behaviors
No matter what you’re doing, whether you’re improving quality or increasing productivity, it’s the behavior that drives that result. I’ve often said the best project managers are the best negotiators. The best project managers are the ones that know what behavior they need and are successful at getting it.
Do you know the behaviors that will deliver projects on time?
If you don’t know the behaviors, you can’t measure them; you can’t influence them.
Any project worth doing is worth doing quickly. Shorter completion times mean more revenue, sooner. If your project is not moving, the risk of late completion is rising. Therefore, the on-time behaviors to watch and measure are geared towards speed and flow
Several people have roles in keep the project moving: Executives, Project Managers, Functional (Task) Managers, and the Resources that are doing the work.
In this post, I’m focusing on just the executives. The owners of the projects. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to manage their behavior, as much as it is to manage the activity of the project.
The most critical on time behaviors for the executives are around engagement. They are engaged in the process of delivering projects; governing the portfolio schedule, establishing project priorities and resolving resource allocation conflicts to keep the projects moving. They’re directing and leading process improvements.
You could ask, “Why should I care about process improvement?” After all, you’re a project manager, you don’t own the work practices of your resources (engineers, subcontractors, welders, etc.). While the project manager doesn’t “own” anything except the project, you do care about schedule risk. You should care about speed (or flow). Speed is a function of the process. That puts you (the PM) in a kind of governance role, overseeing process improvements. You can’t implement the improvements, but you can make sure there’s a process in place to continuously reduce schedule risk.
How do you know if the senior managers are engaged? Not by the number of emails you get, that’s for sure.
Measure the blocked and critical tasks, the quantity, and the number of days to resolve them. I keep a list of process improvements and watch if the number of items is stable or falling and the rate of the completion of process improvements
If blocked and critical tasks are languishing, it means someone is:
- Not watching the impediments to progress
- Conflicts are not being resolved
- Resolution priorities are not assigned correctly (for speed)
Each of these are governance responsibilities.
If you don’t have the right behaviors at the top, you’re not going to get them in the middle or the bottom. As the person accountable for on time delivery, you must know, measure, and manage the behavior to get what you want.