All posts by mark woeppel

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Decision Making – Focus on the Goal

Almost every manager is aware of Pareto’s law, the important few – the trivial many which is often thought of as the 80/20 rule. 80% of results are generated by 20% of the actions. To improve your effectiveness, one only need to focus on the 20% and you’ll get almost all of the results (80%). This simple truism is generally true, but not true in systems where there is strong dependency relationship between the entities. In these types of systems, the rule is closer to 99/1. 99% are relatively trivial and only 1% are important. 

This is the world of organizations.

The ToC is the science of making decisions in that world. 

It starts with the articulation of the Goal. The purpose of the organization.

Throughout the literature, the goal of the enterprise is stated as to make more money now, and in the future. This is rooted in the idea of ownership and the rights of owners to establish the direction of the enterprises in which they have an interest. Who gets to establish the purpose of any system? Its owners. For companies that are publicly held, it is clear that the motivation of its owners (stockholders) is profit. Therefore, the enterprise must be directed towards that end.

That’s not to say that the pursuit of increasing profit is exclusive of anything else. The goal is to make money in the future as well. In order to fulfill this aspect of the goal, we recognize that are boundary conditions – necessary conditions that must be met in order to achieve the goal. You can’t mistreat your workers for long, it will sacrifice the future. You can’t disobey the environmental regulations for long, or your profit will be impacted through fines, negative market response, etc.

This goal (making money) is not universal. Charities, governments, churches, schools are (generally) not directed to making more money now and in the future. Maybe your private company is not directed towards that goal. That’s fine. ToC is not about the goal; it’s about pointing the organization to achieve the goal. What is important is that the goal is verbalized, and a measurement is in place to determine whether or not you are getting closer to it. If you’re a non-profit, the goal is not measured in money, but money is a necessary condition to achieve that goal.

The objective of using ToC is to improve your capabilities to move you closer to achieving your goal. More money now and in the future, fewer people without homes now and in the future, mores students better prepared to enter the workforce now an in the future, etc. Your efforts as a manager and leader are to move the organization closer to its goal. Now and in the future. 

Marking the distinction between THE goal and necessary conditions is the first step to focusing. As a matter of focus, the necessary conditions are those factors that are monitored, but not improved unless there is some violation. 

The goal is your “true north” or your chosen strategy to achieve that true north. The necessary conditions are the boundaries. The distinction between the two is found when you satisfy that necessary condition. For example, cash flow. If you have enough, it is not a matter that requires full attention. If you don’t enough, nothing else matters, not even the goal! 

A Chain is Only as Strong as its Weakest Link

Achieving the Goal is a process, subject to dependency and variation. In order to make money, one must have a product, a customer to buy, a system to deliver, and then get paid. How many people does it take to disrupt that process?  Just one. There’s your dependency. We know Murphy lives, so there is your variation.

Making money – achieving your goal is like managing a chain, where each link (action) and resource (strength) is connected to another. We all know that the strength of the chain is determined by its weakest link. Organizations are like chains. There is always the weakest link. The challenge is identifying that link, then moving the organization to strengthen that link. Since the strength of the chain is always determined by the weakest link, there will always be one, if that is strengthened, there will still be a weakest link.  

That weakest link is the Constraint. It determines your profit, your return on investment, your performance in your market. If you don’t know where it is, you are shooting in the dark. Serious pursuit of the Goal implies serious pursuit and breaking of the Constraint. Putting your attention and resources to improve in other places may improve the local situation but will not improve the global situation.

Since the Constraint only exists in the context of its goal, actively breaking the organization’s constraint or moving the it to a ‘better’ location moves the organization closer to achieving its goal (more and more).

A Bottleneck is Not the Constraint

Often, we see our progress blocked by scarcity; not enough resources to accommodate demand. It may seem like the constraint bounces around the organization without rhyme or reason. This is the evidence that you do not have an internal resource Constraint, but rather, your organization does not know where the Constraint lies and thus, cannot react to it. Bottlenecks are temporary, the real Constraint is difficult to move. It’s expensive. Scarce. 

Engines of Disharmony / the Core Conflict

In the early development of the ToC, the Constraint was to be considered a physical thing, like a machine or some capability. This evolved into thinking of the Constraint is a set of rules or policies that govern the utilization of physical resources.  This realization gave rise to the search for a method to identify these ‘erroneous’ policies, and the Thinking Processes were developed.

Over time, ToC practitioners found that erroneous (sub-optimal) policies are a developed as a reaction to resolve a conflict in the system. I.e., short term action vs. long term action, or satisfying customers vs. satisfying shareholders. Typically, the resolutions are compromises between necessary conditions, sacrificing a bit of each to find an acceptable solution. As organizations become more and more complex, these compromises become the fabric of how the organization is run, and the compromises also become more complex. 

These conflicts, where there is a sacrifice of a necessary condition, are thus related to each other, and can be traced to a single, core conflict. Many problems can be traced to this unresolved conflict.  This conflict and the resulting compromises become the Engines of Disharmony, creating friction in the organization, blocking progress. 

This core conflict becomes the true Constraint. Identifying and resolving that conflict is the holy grail of a ToC based strategy.

Strategic Implications of the Theory of Constraints

The strength of any chain is determined by its weakest link. No chain is infinitely strong, therefore the strength of even the strongest chain is still determined by its weakest link.

Your organization will always be constrained.

Strategists should not be chasing the weakest link; they must decide where that link will be. Your strategy and tactics are to move the Constraint to a location where it propels your organization closer to its Goal now, and in the future. You will be anticipating the movement of the Constraint and building supporting structures to support the sustainment of the location, hopefully before it moves.

Breaking Constraints

Is the Constraint internal to the organization or external? Is it the market size (demand) or an internal capability that prevents you from satisfying all the demand?

I’ll show later that the Viable Vision[1] strategies are built on developing a decisive competitive capability (edge) or improving an area of operation, then exploiting this new capability to gain market share. For example, if there is excess production capacity (the desired Constraint) or underserved market(s), a strategy would be built focusing on customer facing activities like more sales activity (the current bottleneck) in a certain market segment or new products (a Constraint, but not the one that is wanted) that create more demand for segments where there is opportunity. 

The strategy could be driven to achieving a certain objective, like domination of a market, or introducing a new technology. The execution of the strategy would be based on moving the Constraint from one area of the company, like sales capacity to another area of the company, say, product development. 

Understanding the Constraint today versus the desired location helps decision makers choose the best alternatives, moving the organization in a practical way, closer and closer to its goal.

The Applications of the Theory of Constraints

The applications or solutions of the Theory of Constraints are:

  • The 5 Focusing Steps
  • Drum Buffer Rope, a production scheduling technique
  • ToC measurement systems (Throughput, Inventory, Operating Expense), management financial decision making
  • Critical Chain Project Management, project scheduling and execution
  • Demand-Pull Replenishment (the Distribution Solution)
  • ToC in Sales & Marketing
  • The Thinking Processes, analyzing, creating solutions, and implementation for complex systems

From a strategic standpoint, we don’t really need to know the details of these solutions, only the rough contours and effects of them.

I want to mention that as we (in the ToC community) understood these applications better over time, we also understood the ToC better. The ToC wasn’t created or even named until a few years after the Drum Buffer Rope solution was developed. Over the years, we struggled with the essence of ToC, and that has probably contributed to its lack of recognition as a tool for strategists. 

5 Focusing Steps

The Focusing Steps of ToC.  A checklist of sorts.

  1. IDENTIFY the systems constraint.
  2. Decide how to EXPLOIT the constraint. Maximize its use.
  3. SUBORDINATE everything else to the decisions made to your exploitation decisions. Ensure the 99% does not get in the way of the 1%.
  4. If, in the prior steps, the constraint has not been broken, ELEVATE the system’s constraint.
  5. Go Back to step #1.

This may seem a bit tactical – like you’re chasing your constraint all over in infinite loops. When you first apply the ToC, you’ll find yourself in that mode. As you mature in the use of the ToC, you’ll find using these steps in a more conceptual manner as you develop your strategy, choosing the Constraint rather than chasing it. 

Even so, it does imply a sequence to attacking the Constraint. Know where it is. Don’t waste it. Ensure no other resources are preventing its full use. Then get more, break the Constraint. Find the new one.

Strategically, the focusing steps help you sort the types and sequence of actions you’ll be taking. More on using these in a strategic context later.

Drum Buffer Rope

The main idea of drum buffer rope (DBR) is to find the Constraint in a sub-system – production, then follow the focusing steps. This is what happened in the book, The Goal. 

During this process, the characters redefined operational efficiency and showed the impracticality of monitoring everything during execution and introduces the concept of Time Buffers.

What the DBR scheduling method does (over other models of production management) is significantly improve operational efficiency, reduce production lead times and improve delivery reliability.

ToC Measurement Systems (Throughput, Inventory, Operating Expense) 

Also introduced in The Goal, T, I, & OE were used as simplified financial metrics for decision making. What the system accomplishes is eliminate distortions in decision making over cost allocation methods. The metrics for decision making improve alignment in decisions, resulting in better resource allocation throughout the organization.

Critical Chain Project Management

The method of planning, scheduling, and execution of projects is a local solution (projects or portfolios of projects) that identify the constraint as the longest chain of resources and tasks, with the Goal being the delivery of the project.  The methodology further refines the use of time buffers in processes with greater uncertainty and variation.

What CCPM does is dramatically reduce the time to deliver projects, improve productivity and delivery reliability. 

Demand-Pull Replenishment

Sometimes called the “Distribution Solution” of the ToC, this solution combines time buffering management with a demand-based replenishment mechanism to improve availability with less inventory investment. Often a 50% improvement over traditional methods, it solves the bullwhip effect found in supply chains. 

As with the other solutions, the supply chain is dealt with as a sub-system, with the Constraint being shelf space, and the Goal being sales (of SKUs).

ToC in Sales and Marketing

This application is probably the most strategic in the sense that it considers the needs of the customers in other dimensions besides delivery reliability. When the Constraint is in the market, internal capabilities take a back seat. The application is broken into:

  • The Un-refusable Offer (sometimes called the Mafia Offer) 
  • The Layers of Resistance (sells the offer)

The definition of Un-refusable Offer (URO)is one that is so compelling, has so much value, is so good, that customers cannot say no when presented with the offer. This offer would be created by having a deep understanding the customer, the industry, and identifying the core problems. 

The unique feature of a URO is that it is a complete solution that solves the customers‘ core problem as it relates to doing business within their industry. It is not a restatement of the unique value proposition, although it most certainly fits that definition. Creating a URO typically requires that a supplier of the offer do something different (e.g., make operational improvements) to address the customers’ core problem. 

The Layers of Resistance is a framework for selling the offer and is often used on its own to create buy in to a new idea or solution. The Layers are:

  1. We don’t agree on the problem being addressed
  2. We don’t agree on the direction of the solution
  3. We don’t agree the solution solves the problem
  4. We see that the solution, if implemented, causes negative effects
  5. We see obstacles blocking a realistic implementation of the proposed solution
  6. Fear of the unknown

The steps are to be accomplished in sequence to gain agreement or buy in to the proposed solution. 

What is thought of as resistance becomes a tool for managing organizational change (or selling a solution) to systematically objections and obtain buy-in. 

The Questions on Technology are thematically similar.

  • What is the power (capability) of the new technology?
  • What limitation does it diminish?
  • What are the old rules that supported the limitation?
  • What are the new rules that should be used now with the new capability?
  • What technology changes are required to support?
  • How to cause the change?

The ToC (constraint busting) has been applied to the sales process itself, breaking the Constraint of sales staff interaction with the customer, enabling massive increases in sales productivity.  This approach breaks a fundamental assumption in sales process engineering, that sales should be the sole responsibility of autonomous agents. 

What ToC does for sales and marketing is to identify ‘blue ocean’ strategies to find new market opportunities and re-think the manner in which the solution is sold to the customer; from articulation of value to communicating that value to customers and markets.

The Thinking Processes (TP)

The objective of the TP is to reliably answer the question of where to focus. It makes clear distinctions between causes and effects, exposes hidden assumptions and identifies the relationships among them. Typically used when one is developing a deep understanding of a system with an eye towards improving it. 

The TP is a set of tools answer the 3 questions of change.

  • What to change?  Defining the core problem – the elements that are the causes of the undesirable effects (symptoms). 
  • What to change to? Defining the changes to be introduced to eliminate the current undesirable effects without creating new ones.
  • How to cause the change? Mapping the actions from the current state to the future state without creating new problems.

The TP consists of the Current Reality Tree and Evaporating Cloud, which is devoted to answering the first question. The Future Reality Tree and Prerequisite Trees are used to answer the second, and the Transition Tree is used to answer the third.

A special category of the TP is devoted to the most recent development, the Strategy & Tactics Tree. It is used most frequently to answer the 3rd question or in situations where the first 2 questions are not necessarily deeply analyzed. 

These capabilities are the typical starting point of ToC based strategy. Anyone can break a single constraint or implement a single solution. The strategy dictates how to create, capitalize upon, then maintain that decisive competitive edge.

Bibliography

Goldratt, Eliyahu & Jeff Cox, (1984), The Goal; Excellence in Manufacturing, North River Press 

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2011), Theory of Constraints Handbook Chapter 1 Introduction to ToC, McGraw Hill 

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2012), The Gestalt of ToC Part 1, YouTube

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2017), Engines of Disharmony, YouTube https://youtu.be/nnejDyoR_Fg

Cox III, James F., Lynn H. Boyd, Timothy T. Sullivan, Richard A. Reid, and Brad Cartier, 2012, The Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization Dictionary, Second Edition, https://www.tocico.org/resource/resmgr/dictionary/tocico_dictionary_2nd_editio.pdf

Roff-Marsh, Justin, 2015, The Machine: A Radical Approach to the Design of the Sales Function (Book 1), Independently Published

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2008), The Every-Flourishing Company – Part One https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fv7SCRNZggk

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2008), The Every-Flourishing Company – Part Two, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij71X6cxv-I&t=158s

Barnad, Alan, (2016), Applying Theory of Constraints to developing Business Strategy,


[1] Viable Vision is a strategy with the objective of converting a firm to ever-flourishing. We’ll discuss the different strategy templates associated with the Viable Vision approach in later chapters.

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In part one, I said time is not equal to money. Most of the time. Project managers and managers in general must know the difference. In that post, I highlight when time is not money. In part 2, I’ll explain when time is money.

Let’s suppose your teams are delivering one project every other month; that’s 6 projects annually.

If each project is worth $600k, your revenue over the year would be $3.6MM

Before I go on, think for a moment about your car. Or cars in general. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors said, “Most cars are only in use by their owners for 5% to 10% of the day.”

Just like cars, projects are idle most of the time. The work or tasks are not active, they are waiting.

The project duration is comprised mostly of waiting, not working. Waiting for the next job, waiting for approvals, waiting for information; waiting, not working

What would happen if you concentrated your resources to focus on a single project at a time? What if they focused on finishing projects, not finishing tasks?

You could reduce all project durations, and do more.

If you made a modest change – simply changing priorities to focus effort on the completion of the critical chain, you could reduce durations by a third or even half.

Your $3.6MM in revenue could climb to $5.4MM or even $7.2MM. With the same resources.

This is not a fantasy; I have seen this many time with many of our clients, using ViewPoint Visual Project Management and the Theory of Constraints.

FMC Technologies had many remote teams and getting collaboration between design, supply chain, and production was critical to their success. They reduced their project duration from 31 days to 8, increasing shipments 326%, with the corresponding profit increase.

This just one example of real world success. Focus on completions – get more done. Ship more. Bill more. Earn more.

Time is money.

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The Gestalt of ToC

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” – Isaac Newton

The Theory of Constraints. What sort of management strategy is that? Who calls a management approach a “theory”? And “constraints”; isn’t that the same thing as a “bottleneck”? If you’ve read Eliyahu Goldratt’s book, The Goal, then you know that the theory of constraints is just a dressed-up scheduling system. And a derivative one, at that.

You may have heard or thought these comments yourself.

The Theory of Constraints (ToC) might be these things, but it is more than that. ToC, while being a collection of insights and procedures, is also an approach to understanding and designing systems. From its beginnings as a shop floor scheduling system it evolved to a holistic approach to develop and implement strategies for organizations.

In the coming pages, I’ll summarize ToC, with an emphasis on strategy and the execution of that strategy.

Let’s start with the definition; the Theory of Constraints. Often, the word ‘theory’ used synonymously with unproven. That’s not the meaning here. In the scientific realm, a theory explains how things work, as in, the Theory of Relativity. A theory is only “proven” in terms of its logic and experiments, but it’s useful – until something better is found; it generally works in the real world, not just in the abstract. The Theory of Constraints explains how systems work. All systems have constraints, yet they are often unidentified. Especially in complex systems where it seems the ‘Constraint’ is constantly on the move.

ToC processes apply the approach of the hard sciences to the “soft” social sciences. It attempts to employ scientific rigor to organizational (social) problems and behaviors to better understand how systems behave and solve long-standing problems.

In the hard sciences, the simplest solution is often the correct one. Scientists are trained to use Occam’s Razor; The principle that states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed. It is the underpinning of all scientific theory building. In the same way, ToC searches for the “inherent simplicity” of system behavior; the fewest assumptions or causes, for the most effects.

In scientific inquiry, one observes a certain behavior or effect. Then, asks “why”. “Why did that happen?”. To understand the cause, the scientist creates a hypothesis that explains the effect.  Then, to test the hypothesis, predicts other effects that must also be present if the hypothesis is correct. If the other effect(s) are observed, the hypothesis is strengthened. This doesn’t mean that it is “correct”, but only “strong. Goldratt said (paraphrasing here) “The true test of a good hypothesis is, that when the hypothesis and causal linkages are presented, the audience must say ‘It’s obvious!’”.

In the same way, the Theory of Constraints is a strong theory strengthened by numerous experiments. However, just as any theory changes with new knowledge, so does ToC. This may seem unsettling for those who are looking for a recipe. Goldratt and his fellow developers of ToC never looked for a particular recipe, even though many were found. They were and are looking for something deeper. An understanding.

The germ of ToC could be found in Goldratt’s ideas for scheduling factories.  He used those concepts to build software that scheduled factory production. In the adoption of his ideas, he ran into obstacles, finding policies that were preventing successful implementation. So, he wrote The Goal, to explain the ideas behind the software (the drum-buffer-rope procedure). However, even though these were successful, they were leading to the next constraint, and the next, and the next. The theory of constraints has evolved from scheduling, to cost accounting, to performance management, to sales, to projects, to strategy.

ToC approach to systems recognizes that we do not live in a world of deterministic outcomes, but rather, of probabilities – ranges of outcomes. We recognize that “Murphy” lives (statistical fluctuations) and we make decisions with this in mind. Uncertainty surrounds us. There is a kind of randomness or chaos built into the universe. Therefore, our solutions and decisions must be characterized by the calculation of differing outcomes that are determined by circumstances beyond our control. From the random crash on the highway that makes us late to our meeting to a decision by OPEC ministers on oil production quotas that ripple through the world’s economies. We should not kid ourselves that we are fully in control of our own or our firm’s destinies. ToC provides an approach and tools to cope with that uncertainty.

There are ample documents and books on the procedures of ToC. What is not well documented is how to put them in a strategic framework. Let’s begin with the fundamental assumptions and build from there.

Strategy is Not…

Strategy is not a new idea or a product like the new iPhone or electric cars. Nor is it a list of improvement projects to reduce costs or open new markets. It’s not an aim or mission like winning the war, being the market leader, or solving world hunger.

A strategy is a theory of the organization. A statement of who is the customer (a profile of the market), their need and those that are unmet. It defines the capabilities, products and methods that will meet those needs. A strategy is not necessarily holistic, it can be narrowly or broadly defined, depending on the organization. It could be a strategy of product offerings—soda vs, “healthy” drinks or sedans vs. trucks. It could be strategic, creating a new segment as Apple did with the iPhone and Southwest Airlines did with low-cost no-frills air travel.

Strategy is not a Plan

A strategy differs from a strategic plan in that the strategy focuses on the outcomes, and the plan is how to achieve those outcomes. It helps an organization focus the energy, resources, and time of everyone in the organization in the same direction towards a common goal. It provides focus and impetus to move from idea to action. It is the formalized road map that describes how your organization executes the chosen strategy; the plan is not the end; it is the means to the end. It’s a map.

Strategy is…

Often, the term ‘strategy’ is synonymous with ‘plan’. Porter posits that strategy is a verb; the creation of a unique and valuable position, involving different set of activities. This becomes the guidance for all activities of the organization. Action, supported by solid arguments.

We can boil a reasonable interpretation of the meaning of strategy down to one thing; doing the things that increase value for the entity, however the organization defines ‘value’.

Criteria for a Good Strategy

In view of this, we can conclude that a “good” strategy:

  • Drives the organization closer to its goal. There is enough “meat on the bones” to push the organization into some action towards achievement of the goals of the organization.
  • Provides security for the people in the organization; the strategy should strengthen the firm’s position and security, and thus its people.
  • Provides satisfaction for other stakeholders. Any strategy that violates stakeholder terms cannot be sustained, and thus violates the first criteria.
    • Customers must be satisfied with the product or service.
    • The community should be enhanced, or at least not harmed.
  • Promotes sustainable results; it should build on the organization’s strengths and be self sustaining
  • Is robust – allows growth even in times of volatility in the company’s domain or market

ToC verbalizes these criteria in this way:

  • Build a decisive competitive edge (DCE). Decisive in that the competitive advantage is far better than other firms’ abilities or capacities. Implied is that other firms cannot or will not duplicate this unique facility. It is like the traditional concept of competitive advantage, except that the DCE is based on solving significant customer problems created by the suppliers. For example, brands dictating a minimum order quantity or full truckload shipment policies that dictate large order quantities.
  • And the capability to capitalize on it. A DCE is based on operational excellence (i.e., fast delivery, high quality, low cost, etc.), but that is not enough. One must have or build the policies, systems and processes to leverage these abilities in the marketplace. You don’t have to look far to see the failure of great products done in by poor marketing.
  • On big enough markets. Not to be too obvious here, but we hope that if we go to the trouble of the previous two items, we would have a large enough market to make it worth our while.
  • Without exhausting the company’s resources. We don’t want to “bet the farm” on any strategy, unless we must. We must leverage our existing resources, shifting them to the DCE strategy almost without effort.
  • And without taking real risks. We could substitute the word “real” with “big”. The strategy should ensure stability through volatility; it should remain profitable, even during market turndowns. There should be no sacrificing critical resources (no mass layoffs – low cost sacrifices) or selling off assets. It should ensure asymmetrical rewards (strong profits during growth, limited losses during downturns).

A ToC Strategic Approach

A ‘ToC strategy’ is built around the organizations’ constraint(s). The strategy would explicitly acknowledge the current constraint and contain the elements to either break or elevate that constraint, including the emergence of and breaking new constraints during the execution of the strategy. For example, if the constraint is the market, we would build the strategy around growing sales, navigating the (planned) changing location of the Constraint (i.e., internal capacity, distribution, back to the market, etc.).

Secondly, a ToC strategy built with the idea that the organization’s performance should be constantly rising. That improvement is a way of life for the organization, not bursts of change, but constant change. This gives rise to the concept of the Ever-Flourishing approach.

The Ever-Flourishing Organization

An ever-flourishing organization is one that is constantly growing and improving (always relative to its purpose). The idea is often presented as two lines on a graph where performance is on the y axis, and time on the x axis. ToC practitioners have posited that there are two paths, a red curve, with a rapid, almost exponential growth, and a green curve, with a more linear improvement.

A high growth environment (red curve) is perilous, so stability of profit growth (green curve) is a primary consideration in formulating a strategy.  The goal is the red curve—a situation where the rate of improvement INCREASES, but for an ever-flourishing firm, you need BOTH. The strategy resolves these incongruities.

Problems with Strategy

A successful strategy has at least three problems to solve: choosing the “right” objectives, developing a plan to realize them, and successful execution of that plan.

There is significant amount of research that show many strategic initiatives do not bear the fruit envisioned. Almost half of all strategic initiatives undertaken fail.

There are significant obstacles to strategic success. Planners often have incomplete information. For example, what buyers “truly” desire and their motivations. There are entire industries devoted to just these 2 questions!  Even among the experts, you’ll find that the strategic information is still not perfect, rife with wishes and bias.  I’m reminded of Henry Ford’s quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Many strategies fall short because it’s difficult to understand what influences system behaviors. The customer, the competitors, even the organization itself are hard to analyze because of the number of variables and their relationships are difficult to identify and quantify.

Planners themselves are subject to bias and wishful thinking. They create strategies using untested assumptions and fill them with geographical and cultural differences. They hold on to the past, when they should be embracing the future. Think of Kodak’s reliance on film, even though they invented digital photography. Or Chevrolet’s introduction of the Nova in Mexico, where Nova literally means no go (No-Va). We are all subject to the “blindness” and bias. Recognizing it is the difficulty.

Further, strategy failures are tied to the lack of a theory of implementation.  To successfully execute an organization’s strategy, it must have a singular focus of the people (every person?) in that organization. A strategy is incomplete unless there are mechanisms to create, monitor, and reward that focus as it is expressed. Critical implementation questions such as, “How do we know if we’re on track?”, “Who is responsible for each element?”, and “When should we intervene or reevaluate the strategy?” must be answered.

Complex systems hide the relationships that matter to a successful strategy. Planners and executives are often domain experts, but sometimes lack the understanding of how the “system” works. For example, how a firm interacts with its competitors or the reasons why their products are chosen over their competitors. There aren’t many people that can provide a detailed operational map of how a firm delivers its strategic choices to the customer. And understanding how these two systems interact? Most planners are relying on intuition, not a rigorous analysis.

The Project Management Institute and others give a lot of attention to the execution side of things. Often, the skills to successfully implement the strategy are absent from the strategy itself.  It’s hard to know what you do not know, so sometimes strategies fail because of lack of rigor in implementation planning.

Finally, no strategy can succeed with cross functional conflicts in the organization. Any strategy that has one silo “winning” at the expense of another is doomed.  Conflicting standards of performance, compensation, and rewards (informal & formal) will break any strategy.

What ToC Offers to Strategists

ToC offers a framework that overcomes many of the obstacles that break most strategic initiatives. Whether they are “correct” is a matter of judgement. And a set of tools to overcome many of the obstacles to creating and delivering a good strategy.  I will cover this framework and tools in detail in later chapters.

The approach to strategy, with operational excellence as the foundation, then focusing on the problems (undesirable effects) that are inherent in the “standard” way of doing business offers a fresh perspective in arriving at a strategy that will cause success.

With the Thinking Processes (TP), you can analyze and deepen your understanding of complex system behavior, highlighting the cause-and-effect relationships and revealing hidden assumptions. This can go a long way to breaking the complexity obstacle, both in understanding the existing system’s behavior and predicting its future behavior, identifying risks in new strategies. Further, a significant feature of the TP is the ability to identify and resolve cross functional conflicts and establish congruent standards of performance.

To find a “right” strategy and its potential results, ToC recommends a rigorous analysis of the market using the thinking processes of the Current Reality Tree, Evaporating Cloud and Future Reality Tree.

Using the Strategy and Tactics tool provides a theory of implementation and a roadmap to develop the supporting tactics to successfully implement a strategy.

The most important feature of a ToC-based strategy is its focus on the most critical issues—the Constraint(s) and the uncertainty that affects them. The only strategy worth implementing is one that breaks the limitations of higher performance and systematically drives the organization towards its goal.

Bibliography

Cooper, Marjorie, ToC handbook (2010), Traditional Strategy Models and the Theory of Constraints

Goldratt, Eliyahu, ToC handbook (2010), Introduction to ToC- My Perspective

Spender, J.C., Business Strategy (2014), Oxford Press

Michael E. Porter (2000), What is Strategy, Harvard Business Review

Goldratt, Eliyahu, The Gestalt of TOC (2010), YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQoO8y3En3w

Boston Consulting Group, (2014), Strategic Initiative Management: The PMO Imperative

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (1996), My Saga to Improve Production

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2011), Building a Blue Ocean Strategy, http://toc.tv

Goldratt, Eliyahu, (2011), Goldratt Satellite Program Marketing – Unrefusable Offers and Market Segmentation

Rumelt, Richard, (2011), McKinsey Quarterly, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-perils-of-bad-strategy

Edinger, Scott, (2012), Three Cs of Implementing Strategy, http://forbes.com

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The Air Boss oversees operations on the deck of an aircraft carrier

“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.
 

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We’ve all heard the expression that time is money, but is it true? I don’t think so.

What does it truly mean? Does time equal money in my project?

If I lose time, I waste money? or If I delay, I get the money later?

If it’s the first definition, you are saying, money is like time. If I waste it, it’s gone forever.

If it’s the latter, you are saying that the delay causes a loss or missing opportunity (during the delay), never to be recovered.

Which is it?

As a practical matter, for a manager delivering a project or results, the main issues are waste and opportunity.

Is all time “wasted” truly lost? How do you know?

Managing Time

Most managers break their projects down into individual tasks with individual deadlines. Like this

Straightforward, isn’t it? Make a list of tasks, estimate durations, link them together and you have your sequence and completion dates. Day to day, your job is to keep those tasks completing on time. To deliver on time, meet all your dates. Don’t be late, each task is important, each resource is important.

Opportunity Time

The problem is that not all task sequences are the same. So, you manage the critical path; if you’re sophisticated, you’ll manage the critical chain. Certain sequences will dictate the overall duration of the project. You’ll give higher priority to one sequence over another.

Here’s the thing about time. By declaring one sequence of tasks more important than another, you are choosing some time to be more crucial than others. Losing time on a non-critical sequence is less important than on the critical sequence. Therefore, in some cases, time is not money. In other cases, time lost is a loss of a LOT of money; the value of the entire project!

During the life of a project, the manager makes tradeoffs between time now and time later. Completing the project delivers a certain value; the value of rental income for a building, the value of a new capability, the value of entering a new market, the value of a new feature, etc. Every project worth doing, is worth doing sooner.

When you’re the project manager, to make an educated decision, you must determine the value of a day. What’s a day worth? And, is the task on the critical chain (which is the shortest time to complete the project)? IF your task is on the critical chain your decisions could be very different than if your task decision is off the critical chain.

Time is Expensive?

You could argue that wasting time on the non-critical tasks costs money. Maybe.

Let’s pick a resource. Let’s say your engineer completes 2 tasks this week, but she can’t do more because she’s waiting for some information. The week before, she was much more productive, she completed 4 tasks. Does that mean that the week where 4 tasks were completed your expenses were lower? Your expenses change only when her pay changes. Only if she was paid less the week 2 tasks were completed. Time equals money only if the expense varies in direct proportion to the work delivered.

For most of us and for most resources, time lost does not equal money lost. People are not paid to produce work; they are paid to show up. The view of the enterprise is that expenses are a function of the number of people on the payroll, not the amount of work that is done. Payroll costs are fixed costs, not variable. Expenses are related to hiring decisions, not production. We can never say time = money when it relates to work, because expenses don’t vary with production. Time = money when look at how many people are on hire per day, week, month, etc.

So, time equals money, sometimes. Not all time is equal. Not all time is costly. Some time is worth a great deal. The cost of time is not the same as the value of time.

Most lost time is simply lost, because most resources are not on the critical chain. And that’s ok. Some lost time affects the critical chain and it’s not ok. What matters is the effect of lost time on the completion of the project, not the completion of an individual task.

The skilled manager must know the difference.

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So many of us have often heard that “a failure to plan is a plan to fail,” so we grow confident that successful planning leads to successful project completion.

The old adage isn’t necessarily untrue. Having a plan is crucial. But research shows that the common approaches to project management fail to produce the outcomes that managers expect—and that customers want. Good planning, as it turns out, isn’t necessarily the answer; it’s part of the problem. Not because planning in itself is bad, but by focusing solely on planning, we aren’t looking at the rest of the equation for success.

Independent project management research shows that what differentiates the best project executors from everyone else are just a few strategies and processes:

  • Schedule stability
  • Having a culture of delivery excellence
  • Executive sponsorship
  • Skilled leaders

Schedule Stability

A stable schedule is only the first step in successfully delivering a project. No schedule is perfect. The uncertainty in project is what makes a project a project, rather than say, an assembly line. That uncertainty is what causes variation. However, that variation doesn’t mean your schedule should be changing every day or every week.

A stable schedule takes uncertainty into account so you don’t have to change it every time Murphy strikes.  So if your schedule is constantly shifting, take a look at your planning methodology. Managing uncertainty doesn’t mean planning in more detail, it means giving yourself permission to make a schedule that is good enough. Good enough to manage, good enough to take variation into account.

Instead of changing plans, change behaviors. Don’t make your first response to variation changing the plan. Keep your team focused on the path forward. Get the team back on schedule rather than get the schedule back on the team.

The key to schedule stability is not more detailed planning, but intelligent execution – creating and sustaining a culture where moving forward to completion is more important than meeting the details of a plan that was built months ago.

A Culture of Delivery Excellence

So much work passes for accomplishment, but while work is being done the final step of finishing seems elusive. Many team members feel they are spinning their wheels, never seeming to finish anything.

The definition of the word “delivery” is rooted in accomplishment. Delivery is about completion. To build a culture of delivery excellence, you must develop the processes to execute well (to finish!) and establish appropriate governance to reinforce behaviors that drive accomplishment.

Consider what it takes to finish a project:

Collaboration and Problem Solving

Few project managers have a structured process for team collaboration. Collaboration, working together to solve problems, is often left to having some meetings each week. What happens at these meetings is rarely structured, so the meetings turn into status reports and excuse delivery. How does your team work together?  Are they focusing on action?  Holding each other accountable for results? Working together to solve problems?

Collaboration requires a shared vision of the direction of the project and a clear understanding of the obstacles standing in the way. Only then can the team actively engage with the critical items and resources to remove them.  

Making the project visual is by far the simplest way to show the team where they are, where they need to go, and the obstacles in the way. They can then work on moving ahead, instead of living in the past.

Measurements

Do you know the critical diagnostic and KPIs for your project teams? When one member wins, does the project benefit? Having the right measurements means you know your critical processes and have aligned your team member’s individual performance with the project’s (rather than the individual’s department) objectives.

Remember, what gets measured gets managed. What’s important gets the most attention. If the objective of the project is to complete as quickly as possible within budget, how you translate the day to day activities to that objective will point your team in the right direction and have everyone who is on the project, on the project team.

Risk Management

Are your project teams spending a lot of time fighting fires and solving problems? Reacting rather than looking ahead? These are the classic symptoms of a broken risk management process.  Your team should be systematically identifying and resolving risk. Risk management isn’t just for the project manager, the entire team should be raising and resolving risk during the entire project.

Governance

One of the biggest complaints of senior managers is that they can’t get a sense of where things are until the wheels have fallen off. Do you have a formal executive governance process that provides a clear view into the full portfolio of projects? A dashboard of the most important risks and actions? Without a governance process, there can be no focus for executives and project teams. You will find it difficult to align project objectives and project outcomes with the overall organizational objectives.

“Culture” is more than what people feel, it’s what they do. As a leader, you can shape behavior. After all, isn’t that the main job of a project manager? Shaping behavior to achieve the project outcome?

Executive Sponsorship

It’s no secret that having an executive behind your project will certainly make it easier to deliver. After all, the executives have the organizational authority and resources to make or break your project. I’m amazed that this is even a discussion, because I don’t understand why a project would be undertaken without an executive sponsor.

Have you identified the executive “owner” of your project? Someone owns it; not a committee. Who benefits from the deliverable of the project? Who is harmed if it doesn’t deliver?  Get that person on your team. Sell them your project. Involve them or you will have no one to fight for your project.

Skilled Leaders

The best project managers are not the best technicians, they’re the best leaders. How do you know if you have a leader?  They have followers! No one is coming to your meetings? Responding to your email? Check your leadership style. If you’re in charge of projects, make sure your project managers have the right skills.

Great Project Teams are Great at Executing

Planning is important, but don’t overlook execution; this is where the leverage is. Execution is a process, as much as planning is a process. Leave it to chance and you’ll leave your results to chance as well.

 

Learn more about how to improve your project execution by reading some of our eBooks or watching more of our videos. Particularly, our eBook Why do projects succeed or fail? Discover What Really Makes a Difference includes some very practical information you can use right now to improve your project performance.

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Two Sources of Project Uncertainty

Projects, by their nature, are uncertain, but not all uncertainty can be treated the same way. Knowing the where your project’s uncertainty lies will help you pick the right approach to managing your project and delivering the best outcome for your team, your customer and the project owner.

Many projects are time bound, with specific dates that must be met. There are known parameters to the project outcome, but how you’re going to execute are uncertain. If you your project is software or product development, which is iterative, most uncertainty lies in the deliverables; you’re not sure exactly what the deliverable will look like. In essence, you don’t’ know what you don’t know until you develop a prototype; you’re learning as you go. In these types of projects, there is little uncertainty in the process, but a lot of uncertainty in the outcome. This is different than say, construction, where the deliverable is quite well defined. What is most uncertain is the events (like weather or errors) that lead to the deliverable. The process has the most uncertainty, the outcome has little.

Two Approaches to Managing

Scrum and Agile methods that focus on iterations to reduce the learning cycles and reduce the uncertainty. The problem with these projects is when there is a date attached, it’s difficult to effectively manage schedule risk without significant time buffers.

If the uncertainty is in the process, what most project managers do to reduce it is create more detailed plans or (attempting to) closely managing the details in the plan. These projects have many moving parts and lots of detail to manage – along with the normal uncertainty they cannot manage, like the weather and mistakes. So – with all this comes complexity.  That complexity is difficult to manage. Project managers lose control of their schedules. Project owners lose visibility into schedule risk. Project run late, firefighting ensues. It’s difficult and messy. Deadlines are missed. Costs go up. Customers are unhappy. Business is lost. Profits suffer.

Detailed Planning is Not the Cure-All

So, the solution is not in the direction of more detailed planning, but in the direction of improving management effectiveness. This is what ViewPoint and VISUM does. Stripping the project plan to its essence. Doing simple things that leverage what we know about process behavior (little’s law, priority control, etc.). Making the process visual to communicate the critical items quickly. Providing feedback on the project AND the delivery process to allow the team to act early on risk and improve their delivery effectiveness.

Taming complexity.

With ViewPoint, the team always knows the most critical items to work on. They are focused on those items. There is less chaos in the project, so less stopping and starting. People can focus on the work, not on the next meeting. Tasks get done quicker. Project durations are reduced. Costs go down. On time delivery goes up. More projects are delivered. Revenue goes up. Profits go up. Project owners have visibility into the schedule risk so they can intervene when they must. Customers are happy. Project Managers are happy. The CEO is happy.

 

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When your project is in trouble, you must change the way it’s working. Change the behavior of your team. The most important project measurement is not whether it is arriving on time; that train has left the station. To arrive on time, you must stop losing it. To stop losing time, you must change the behavior of your team. The right measurements will drive the right behaviors.

Stop Losing Time

One of the biggest challenges in project that is behind schedule is stop falling further behind. So the first priority is “stop the bleeding”. Preventing things from getting worse has little to do with the plan, no one’s using it anyway. Rather than re-baselining the plan, focus on the process of execution first. Change what people are doing. This is where you’re losing time, so let’s focus on the things that will make the biggest difference in the least amount of time.

  • Get your team looking and working forward to get out in front of any problems
  • One team, one goal to speed decision making
  • Control task priorities to reduce multitasking and boost productivity
  • Go faster by systematically leveraging the bottleneck of the project
  • Set your execution tempo and quickly respond to problems

Once you have accomplished these things, you can turn your attention to regaining time.

Looking Forward; Visualize Your Project

A visual representation of the project helps your team: they can see where they are, where they’re going, and the major obstacles to moving ahead. Making your project or portfolio process visual prevents information overload, exposing previously hidden process problems. This is not a substitute for your project plan; the basics of a plan or process is required to build to your board. The visualization is a summary of your plan, to be managed by the team.

A visual project board (VPB) provides tangible feedback that everyone can see and understand. If there’s a bottleneck or a gap, team members don’t waste time finding the focus areas, they’re obvious.  They problems are visible, no longer hidden. It solves the “living in the past” problem because the VPB points the way towards completion. It helps get the team out of the weeds and into sorting out only the biggest problems that block progress.

Present your project visually – so your team can quickly communicate and grasp the project status. It eliminates the debate about where things really are, so you can move into action. It sets the stage for the next thing you must accomplish: active collaboration.

Check out this video and this video to learn more about visualizing your projects

Build the Measurements that Reinforce the Behavior You Want

When your project is in trouble, you typically have only a few concrete measures of success.  Delivery date – you’re late! Budget – it’s out of control! Scope – it doesn’t work! These outcome-based metrics are not very helpful in telling you what’s wrong. After all, if you know what to do, it would have been done already!

Going back to the early warning signs. These are the problems; you must find solutions. How can you know if these behaviors are occurring? If these behaviors are happening, your project will continue to lose time. To refresh your memory, the early warning signs are:

  • Living in the past
  • Conflicting Goals
  • Shifting Priorities
  • Wandering Bottlenecks
  • Slow response to problems

Turning your troubled project around begins with deciding what you want to see, every day. To stop losing time, you much change the team’s behaviors to the opposite:

  • Focus on the future – proactive management
  • Alignment with the project goal
  • Stable priorities – less multitasking
  • Focus on the project bottleneck
  • Quick response to problems

Focusing on the Future – Managing Proactively and Promptly

The project team that spends all its time on status updates and fighting the fire of the moment has little time or ability to manage what’s coming. To manage what’s coming, the team must be able to see what’s coming. That’s why visualizing your project is important. Once the project is visualized and broken down to its deliverables, you can measure your team’s future focus.

To know if your team is focusing on the future, you must identify on what they should be focusing. Focusing on the future could mean they look forward to the weekend. I want my project team to focus on risk. What could go wrong? What could create a delay? What is not known?

Once they’re identified, are they being mitigated? Resolved? When your team is focused on the future, risks are systematically identified and resolved before they affect progress.

Focusing on the future has three elements:

  • Identification of risks
  • Mitigation or resolution of those risks
  • Before they affect the project

To measure the behavior, you can simply count risks and how many of those risks never become obstacles. In other words, they do not delay the project, (within limits, because risk mitigation is not free) increase costs, or sacrifice project deliverables.

When we visualize the project, we use a red dot on cards to identify tasks that are stopped and yellow dots that are risks.Red & Yellow D

Your measurement of this behavior is the number of yellow dots per week versus the number of red dots. If people are systematically identifying risks, yellow dots will be rising or will be stable and red dots will be declining or stable. Managing your project team’s ability to focus on the future is as simple as that.

Risk Mitigation Graph

To measure promptness, we measure the duration of a red dot. What we want is quick response to any problems that stop project progress.

Red dot report

Reinforcing the future oriented behavior will transform the dynamic of your team. Rather than excuses, they’ll bring solutions. Rather than surprises, you’ll find alternatives. Fewer obstacles, faster progress. You’ll stop losing time because your team is looking ahead. They’re solving problems. Systematically. That’s what you want!

The visual project management solution I’ve invented, VISUM, has the metrics already built in.  Have a look at VISUM here

Next up: More Measurements to Drive Good Behavior

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Thousands of surveys around the world show that projects are rarely delivered on time, on budget and in scope. Here are the warning signs and what you can do to turn things around.

You don’t see it coming until it’s too late. Everything was “green” until it wasn’t. All parts of the project were close to being on time. At least until they weren’t.
If you knew earlier, you could have made changes that wouldn’t be as costly and damaging to your customer relationships as the choices you’re making now.

That light at the end of the tunnel? Definitely a train.

So what to do?

Most project managers and executives assume that since the schedule showed the project was on time, it must have been a bad schedule that caused it. If we had planned better, we would have finished on time!

Well, maybe.

Projects are not abstract things, lived out in spreadsheets or software.

There is no such thing as a perfect plan, no such thing as a 100% accurate forecast. After all, who can predict the weather?

Here’s the thing. Uncertainty is What Makes a Project a Project. When we start the projects, we know many things we will encounter on the way to completion, but not every thing. That means surprises are a way of life in the project world. Any plan is made up of educated guesses about what will happen in the future. How accurate could they be?

Experienced project managers develop coping strategies: negotiating for more resources, disguising contingency, stakeholder management, risk management processes, increasing the amount of detail, frequent re-planning, and more. All of these are good to have, but they don’t get at the root of schedule variation; they’re coping strategies for the surprises that plague every project.

No matter how good you are at planning, you will never have a perfect schedule. You can make them better, but they will never be perfect. Improving your planning is not where you’re going to find the biggest opportunity. You be nimble during execution. If you’re not, your great plan will not matter anyway.

Let’s agree that your schedule will not be very good. How do you know if you’re in trouble? How can you quantify your nimbleness? How do you pull out of a bad situation?

The Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble

Project planning is a bit like time travel. Who knows what we’ll find there?

So rather than be the best forecaster, build the best time machine, the project delivery process. Your execution behaviors are the best predictors of project success.

While we can find opportunity in every plan (I started my career as a scheduler), look first at what the project team is doing.

  • How they’re managing the project.
  • How flexible are they?
  • Do they respond quickly?
  • Decisively?
  • How are they responding to the day to day surprises that are presented to them?

There are behavioral indicators of whether your project will be on time. They can be observed, measured, and improved.

  1. Focus on the future; what needs to be done, not what has been done
  2. One team, one goal; the team members’ functional objectives are subordinated to project objectives
  3. Task priorities are stable; they do not change from day to day so resources are able to work on each project task until completion
  4. We know where the leverage points to accelerate progress; bottlenecks are clearly identified and communicated
  5. All leading to rapid resolution of the unexpected

So let’s look at your team. Are they doing any of the following?

Living in the Past

In many projects, reporting progress is a substitute for moving forward. True, you must understand where you are relative to where you’re going, but reporting completions is not a substitute for managing the future.

If your team is living in the past, they’ll be spending a great deal of time reporting “progress”; percent completed and giving the reasons why things are not done. They’re a little stuck; working to understand where they are in the project. Project meetings are spent sorting out what has been done and negotiating priorities. They’re not looking forward and project progress reflects it.

You won’t get to your destination looking through the rear view mirror.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it.

Conflicting Goals

Many times, the only person who is actually on the project is the project manager. He then spends his time on enrollment and buy in activities, rather than the core task of moving the project ahead. It happens so frequently, there is a section of the body of knowledge devoted just to stakeholder management.

If any team member has conflicting goals, they will not be fully engaged with work of the project, they may even make decisions that make completing the project more difficult. They don’t respond to questions quickly, don’t come to meetings, are not working with the rest of the team to move the project forward.

In order to win, everyone on the team must have the same goal.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it.

Shifting Priorities

The project team members are spending their time sorting through the work to determine which tasks should have the highest priority. They’ll respond to the latest communication from a customer or a friend, or a boss. They’ll be switching – changing priorities for the resources (people) doing the work of the project.

When priorities are changing, more work is added to the project, time and productivity are lost, and the project is delayed.

Priority shifting breeds multitasking; the number one killer of productivity.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it.

Wandering Bottlenecks.

The project never has enough resources to complete the work at hand. Finding more resources is a constant battle. There’s never enough time or budget. It just seems that the right resources are not available when you need them. The team may feel a little like they’re playing project “Whack-A-Mole”.

There is always a constraint that limits the rate at which the project can be completed, but if it’s always moving from week to week or day to day, it indicates a poor grasp of the resource requirements to complete the project.

The bottleneck is where you get leverage to go faster. If you don’t recognize it, you’re just spinning your wheels.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it

Slow Response to Problems

Many projects are riddled with the “I sent an email, but have not gotten a response.” kinds of problems. Yes, the different time zones are an issue. Yes, we get hundreds of emails a day, but a delayed response to a critical problem slows the entire project down.

A slow response to problems indicates a team that is not engaged. They have a poor understanding of what the important issues are, who owns them, and what is needed to resolve them.

The single largest aspect of project duration is wait time. The more you wait, the longer it takes.

Diagnose Your Project. Will You Be Late?

Take a free project execution maturity assessment and see how you’re doing.

Experienced project managers and executives may still point to the plan as the biggest cause for troubled projects.  Or the assumptions behind the plan. They have a point, I have never worked in a recovery project where the plan was acceptable or was even being used to drive the day to day behavior. I’m talking about leverage. In a recovery situation, you must focus on the most critical elements that will get your project back on track as quickly as possible. You can’t fix everything that’s wrong, you have to fix the things that will give you the biggest results as fast as possible. Re-planning your project is an excuse to delay taking the necessary medicine to get things moving. Focus on execution. that’s where your leverage is.

Next up, a project recovery strategy. If you’re in a hurry, you can watch the webinar on this topic here

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Project management success: everyone wants it, yet successful project completions are rare. For the project manager wanting to improve their skills, there is no shortage of problems to solve.

Fortunately, thanks to many experienced project managers, there’s plenty of excellent information available online, for free (!) that you can turn to when you need some relief.

I’ve compiled a new list of the most influential project management blogs. There are still some of my favorites from 2015, but I’ve also found some new voices. I like the variety of viewpoints and perspectives these authors bring. And of course, their willingness to share.

Last year, I named 13 of them, but this year, I’m only naming 9. These were chosen based on their Klout score and number of followers. This gave me a pretty good indication of which were the most influential. There are plenty of good blogs out there, but these are the cream of the crop. They’re not posted in any specific order, so @rvvargas, don’t get all puffed up because you’re first.

Ricardo Vargas; Seeing what’s ahead.

  • Who writes it? Ricardo Vargas, PMP @rvvargas
  • What’s it about? Ricardo hosts a podcast, videos and many articles on the technical aspects of project management.
  • Where can I find it? http://www.ricardo-vargas.com/
  • Why should I read? Ricardo has very deep expertise in portfolio and risk management. Author of 14 books and practical experience in projects as well. You’ll find plenty of good info on the PMBOK.

Salinero Pampliega

  • What’s it about? Carlos, an Architect in Madrid, writes on varying topics, comprehensive, providing a practical mix of technical and non-technical topics.
  • Where can I find it? http://salineropampliega.com/blog
  • Why should I read? Check this blog for some of the big picture topics on project management. Plenty of useful information on the basics, too. If you don’t speak Spanish, use the Google Translate app in your Chrome browser.

Susanne Madsen

  • Who writes it? Susanne Madsen, of course! She is an author, coach, trainer, and consultant. @susannemadsen
  • What’s it about? Susanne emphasizes the leadership, communication, and soft issues of project management, rather than the technical aspects.
  • Where can I find it? http://www.susannemadsen.com/
  • Why should I read? Project success is as much about people as it is about process. She’s done a lot of work on leadership; learn from a master.

How to Manage a Camel

  • Who writes it? Lindsay Scott, Director of a UK Based firm for recruiting project management talent @projectmgmt
  • What’s it about? She writes about the career of project management.
  • Where can I find it? http://www.arraspeople.co.uk/camel-blog/
  • Why should I read? Check this blog out if you’re looking to find career tips, marketplace information, and a wide variety of tips and hacks to make your job easier and maybe boost your career.

LeanKanban Services

  • Who writes it? David Anderson, author of the the Kanban method of project management @lki_dja
  • What’s it about? The Kanban method! Primarily directed towards software development, there is plenty on workflows, and agile, too.
  • Where can I find it? http://services.leankanban.com/
  • Why should I read? I’m a big fan of Kanban and of David’s work. He is THE authority on Kanban. If you want to go faster in your projects, you’ll find plenty of useful information, both theoretical and practical. An alternative voice in the PM world.

A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

  • Who writes it? Elizabeth Harrin  @pm4girls
  • What’s it about? Elizabeth started this blog in 2007 to provide a female perspective in the male dominated project world. In the blog, she provides news, insights, opinions and coverage of the project management space to help project managers communicate better.
  • Where can I find it? http://www.pm4girls.elizabeth-harrin.com/
  • Why should I read? Elizabeth is always on top of current events, changes in the field, and best practices to make you a better, more effective project manager. Whatever your sex, this blog is a must read to get a fresh prospective on your projects. She provides tips, tricks and techniques for improvement along the way. Fun, too!

Herding Cats

  • What’s it about? Glen’s blog aims to combine various project management methodologies and discusses how to create a project management practice that performs and executes better, increasing the probability of success.
  • Where can I find it? http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/
  • Why should I read? If you’re someone seriously interested in a scientific approach to managing projects, this is a blog to read. Glen brings a scientific and mathematical mind to both the problems and the solutions. He writes on everything from organizational project management maturity, to decision analysis and estimating the strategic, mathematical probability for success. This is probably my favorite blog for content rich, meaty topics. But, I’m a bit of a geek in that regard.

The Lazy Project Manager

  • What’s it about? Peter writes about adopting a new mentality when it comes to project management. Instead of focusing on unimportant tasks that don’t propel your projects toward completion, he encourages you to refine your focus to the important, task accelerating matters that really make a difference.
  • Where can I find it? https://thelazyprojectmanager.wordpress.com/
  • Why should I read? If you want a view outside of PMI-speak, and minimize the amount of meaningless work, to focus your efforts on the essential tasks that bring about success, definitely visit this blog and subscribe.

Wrike

  • Who owns it? Wrike, A workflow management and collaboration software product @wrike
  • What’s it about? This blog is all about improving team productivity. How to increase productivity to maximize profitability, and realistic solutions to the problems you face every day as a project manager.
  • Where can I find it? https://www.wrike.com/blog/project-management/
  • Why should I read? Full of more than just blog posts on insights and best practices from the project management community, you’ll find templates and checklists to help you implement what you’ve read, so you can start making the changes that drive results in your projects. And, you might end up buying their product, too!

 

That wraps up my list of the top project management blogs for 2016. Which of these are your favorites? Leave me a comment letting me know your thoughts, or if there’s any good blogs I may have missed, and feel free to share this list with others who will find it useful and interesting!

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