An astounding 97% of organizations believe project management is critical to business performance and organizational success. (Source: Price Waterhouse Coopers).
Fewer than a third of all projects were successfully completed on time and on budget over the past year. (Source: Standish Group).
75% of business and IT executives anticipate their software projects will fail. (Source: Geneca).
Project management statistics are easy to obtain and generally paint a picture of doom and gloom and can be highly misleading. These are just some statistics I gathered from a PM-Logic article.
However a few facts are self-evident regardless of the exact figures.
1. In this era of Digital Transformation there will be more IT projects.
2. IT is becoming increasingly mission critical and project failures more visible and damaging.
3. Too many IT projects still fail to achieve HOPED for results, despite the massive investment in Project management certificates. Obviously something about the way we train isn’t achieving the desired results.
Tayllorcox, a leading training provider in the Czech Republic integrated the Challenge of Egypt business simulation game into their Prince2 Practitioner.
Why? ‘ We find that the Foundation and Practitioner courses have a strong theoretical focus and are not equipping people with the right pragmatic skills. Often people leave the training and then attempt to ‘practice’ in a live environment. It may take weeks and months before the lack of skills become evident and the project suffers’.
‘…By integrating aspects from the Challenge of Egypt simulation into the courseware as part of the practical exercises the theory comes alive as participants apply it in a real case, at the same time having to deal with the Pharaoh (Project Sponsor), played by the game leader’.
‘… Following the practitioner theory delegates then play the full simulation in 1 day. Having to build a Pyramid from Lego! This workshop highlights gaps and helps develop practical skills and improvement actions to take away, reducing the potential and costs of failing and improving the chance of project success’.
Above are examples of the results of specific tasks within the Prince2 Practitioner theory. Here we see the Pharaoh, played by the game leader listening to the team explaining the Risk and Quality discoveries in relation to the business case and in relation to ‘protecting value’.
On the final day following the theory and the exam, delegates took part in the actual business simulation game, in which a team of delegates are taken back more than 4000 years into Ancient Egypt and are charged by the Pharaoh to build a Pyramid. The Pyramid is to ensure the Pharaoh’s afterlife and to protect his worldly treasures. The team plays the complete project organization, with roles such as Project Manager, Project Management Office (PMO), Quality Manager and Risk Manager. In the game there is a Quarry team to mine the stones, a sub-contractor providing boats to ship the stones, and a construction site where the Pyramid will be built. The team has 4 game rounds to scope the requirements, plan, execute and close the project. During the project events will occur, such as hoists breaking at the quarry, boats stranding when the Nile is low, stones collapsing at the construction site, not to mention the Pharaoh who will introduce new requirements and scope changes whenever he feels like it. The team must establish an effective project management organization and procedures to manage the project. At the end of the day a small lego pyramid must be presented to the Pharaoh. Easy! Right? Anybody can build a pyramid of 125 lego blocks.
The simulation project kicked off with the team holding a stand-up with the High Priest, Architect, Quality Assurance, Risk Manager and the heads of the Quarry, Transport and Building team to agree the requirements and business case. A good start! The Pharaoh was walking around…however nobody invited him to his project meeting.
One of the top drivers for Project success, in the PMI (Project management Institute) Pulse of the profession 2018 was seen as ‘Investing in actively engaged executive sponsors‘. Here the team had fallen into one of the ‘primary causes of project failure‘.
Within an hour the team had developed a new visual management board showing the planning, the solution design, and the quality and acceptance plans and criteria. The Pharaoh in a flying visit had an instant overview. Time, quality, scope, acceptance criteria and link to Value to be realized…..not just a pyramid to be built (product) but one fulfilling the outcomes the Pharaoh wants to achieve.
What were some of the team’s key discoveries:
- Confusion of roles when starting up. The Importance of agreeing roles and responsibilities.
- Identify the information needs and who provides the information.
- Focus first on a clear project brief with scope and value to be realized, not focusing on the technical details.
- More space for individuals to become engaged, to ask questions and to contribute to risks.
- Visibility helped give clarity, foster dialogue and communicate relevant information to the whole team and the sponsor. This also fostered end-to-end collaboration and understanding.
- The need to engage more with the sponsor about the scope and needs (not just wants).
The team made some improvements. Agreeing how to capture, record and deal with issues and escalations. The project started. Stones were quarried, shipped over the Nile and finally the first construction took place. Issues occurred. The building did not meet the quality criteria. There were conflicts in Architect descriptions, Quality demands and the needs of the High Priest. These were poorly aligned, agreed and communicated throughout the Project team.
On top of this was the project sponsor introducing new requirements which derailed the resource planning.
The second top driver for Project success, in the PMI Pulse of the profession 2018 was seen as ‘Avoiding scope creep or uncontrolled changes to a project’s scope’. The report stated that ‘52% of the projects completed in the past 12 months experienced scope creep or uncontrolled changes to the project’s scope’.
The team had allowed the Pharaoh to introduce scope creep and lack of clearly defined requirements were causing rework and uncontrolled changes.
At the end of the first build round the team held an ‘open’ free form reflection. These were their key discoveries:
- There was no on-going risk management, linked to the issues. And no prioritization or investment strategy for dealing with risks.
- When the risk exercise was performed it focused on technical risks, not people and process related risks.
- There was a lack of effective reporting. The Pharaoh did not specify up front and the team did not agree reporting needs to enable effective decision making, steering or quality control.
- PMO was overloaded. Responsibilities need to be embedded within the project team and the project manager. Team members must deliver accurate, relevant and timely reports.
- There was no change management process to deal with scope changes from the Pharaoh.
- The role of quality management did not help shape quality and acceptance criteria when requirements were ‘thrown over the wall’.
An additional observation was that the Pharaoh was not engaged in acceptance. The quality plan did not have acceptance criteria related to the business case for testing and validating by the sponsor.
The team agreed some improvements before playing the next round.
- Improve the visibility of the planning and the work packages, also clearly showing expected progress.
- Improved embedding of quality controls at the build to ensure not just product quality (types and placement of stones) but also quality in terms of business value criteria.
- Change management procedure to deal with scope changes and agree impact on quality, cost, scope or value.
- On-going risk management. Looking at the issues, what we can learn from them and any Risk countermeasures that may be needed.
In this round the experience was positive. The plans had been developed together and each team (Quarry, Transport, Build) owned the planning. Roles and responsibilities were clear and being executed, and the processes (for recording, reporting, escalating) were being followed. The lack of chaos gave the team more time to agree and accurately plan the scope changes with the Pharaoh, negotiating based upon actual figures and impact.
The team had recognized between simulation rounds the importance of retrospectives and continual improvement of PM practices to ensure value delivery.
The third top driver for Project success, in the PMI Pulse of the profession 2018 was seen as ‘Maturing value delivery capabilities’, such as ‘promoting continuous improvement. Organizations then have the ability to minimize risks, control costs, and increase value’. The report went on to add ‘Fewer than one in 10 organizations report having very high maturity with their value delivery capabilities’.
Final day captured learning:
At the end of the day we looked back at each round and asked the team ‘ What was your key learning? What will you now take away and apply ‘? These were their findings:
- Managing expectations. Clearly identify and agree expectations (Needs vs Wants).
- Clear roles and responsibilities, including the sponsor (Change process, expectations, requirements) and users (test, validate, accept).
- Progress tracking with agreed escalation paths including the sponsor.
- Focus on the team. Effective communication and collaboration. Visualization to provide effective information and to foster dialogue and discussion.
- Project team design and agree their own processes or agree to use processes and templates – the team must own the ways of working.
- Applying CSI (Continual Improvement) of the planning, as well as the processes and working practices within the project.
- On-going Risk management. Risks should also include people related risks (such as not following procedures, sponsors adding to scope, users not being available for testing).
- Quality and acceptance – ensuring these are designed, agreed and co-owned by the business sponsor throughout the project and with each value adding feature. Not waiting until the end.
It was clear at the end of the day that the addition of the Challenge of Egypt, as a form of ‘experiential learning’ had helped delegates not only translate the project management theory into practice, but also to identify weaknesses they recognize in their own organizations and capture concrete improvement actions to take away.
How do you ensure that new Project management theory is translated into practice in YOUR organization? without putting real projects at risk!
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