Features That Foster Project Adoption

Making a complex project take off and be adopted by its targeted population may be similar to getting a tipping point. Tipping points refer indeed often to rapid and irreversible favorable changes. Tipping points make a project, a program, or a portfolio performance  take off in an unexpected and favorable way.  You surely do not plan their emergence. Yet, you can profit from a variety of specific features that help this emergence. Let me share with you seven of these features that I learned by experience.

1 – Sand Piles And Tipping Points

Imagine first that you are on a beach of fine, golden sand.

You have a shovel and a bucket. You build a castle by pouring wet sand regularly on what will become the chateau of Sleeping Beauty. The pile of sand becomes higher and higher. Now and then, the heap of sand slides in avalanches from the top. Isn’t it frustrating?

Per Bak[1], Chao Tang, and Kurt Wisensefeld, a group of physicists at the Santa Fe Institute built this experiment in the 1980’s.

What’s interesting is that, when piling higher, sand piles achieve a rest angle and a rough stationary state. As the sand is poured ever more upon the sand pile, we see many small avalanches of sand occurring, and from time to time, we see a large or very large slide occurring. The sand rest angle weaves around a critical value without ever stabilizing. Figure 1 describes this phenomenon.

avalanches

Figure 1 – Sand piles produce avalanches around a critical slope.

2 – Weights And Frequency Of Adult People

Still more interesting is the finding that there is no typical size for sand pile avalanches.

If you try to estimate the weight of adult human beings, the more people you will weigh, the better you will become in ability to estimate their mean weight.

Summarize your findings with a graph that displays different body weights on the horizontal axis (the X-axis) and the frequency (% of subjects) of each weight on the vertical axis (the Y-axis).

Figure 2 shows the results. It is bell-shaped with a single peak in the center, and it is rather symmetrical with at the center the mean weight.

Figure 2 – The bell-shaped curve of weights in a population of adult human beings

3 – Size And Frequency Of Avalanches In A Sand Pile

Conversely, if you try to estimate the size of the sand piles avalanches, the more avalanches you will measure, the bigger the maximum size of the avalanches will become.

Repeating the experiment long enough, you will see massive avalanches, although these may be rare in occurrence. This remains true whatever the grain of sand. The same tiny (and invisible or undetected) cause can trigger very big events.

Per Bak and his friends have shown that the size S of the avalanches is inversely propotional to the frequency f of these avalanches. What does it mean?

It means that the more frequent the avalanches, the smaller they are and the less frequent they are, the bigger they are. This is a power law where very big but improbable events happen.

The graph of such avalanches has a “fat tail”. Figure 3 shows this graph with linear axis. The green part comprises almost all avalanches. In the yellow part, you find rare but big, or even some day, exceptionally big avalanches.

Figure 3 – A power law shows how the size of avalanches varies in 1 / frequency

Power law graphs prefer logarithmic scales. They deliver a straight line on a log–log plot. The Figure 4 illustrates this avalanche frequency – size relationship on such a logarithmic scale.

Figure 4 – Avalanche size distribution in the two-dimensional BTW sandpile model by Christoph Adami.

4 – Avalanches in Social Organizations

Per Bak’s experiment applies to catastrophic events (like snow or sand avalanches) but also to favorable events like tipping points in projects or in business. Malcolm Gladwell proposed such examples in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Can we help to generate (or avoid) large avalanches in social systems? This is a question everyone leading change in an organization considers one time or another.

Such an avalanche is that point in a system’s development where a (sometimes invisible) small change leads to a huge effect, in a very rapid time frame, and spreads through the system in a contagious fashion.

For whoever wants to foment rapid change, the principles or components of an avalanche or a tipping point model are worth examining.

The rapid growth is usually started by a handful of people who exhibit some kind of exceptional behavior.

A small number of people (like skateboarders) have the ability to “infect” a large number of other people with a new idea (like a style of clothing or an interest for a new singer).

Yet this is not enough.

A tipping point may require a certain number of favorable features to have a chance to produce. Here are indeed the seven key success factors I learned myself in projects that took off in an unexpected way.

5 – Seven Features Favorable to Tipping Points in Projects

The presence of these seven elements does not guaranty the emergence of a tipping point. But there absence puts it at risk. I identified them late in my career. It was by “looking backwards to connect the dots” (Steve Jobs), and especially after the success of the implementation of a new Global-500 company Project Portfolio Management Platform (PPMP).

a) A cause and its social value.

Only the strength of a cause can make a change program succeed. Projects fail when they are not solving a big customer problem. While your organization controls all tangible sources of power, your cause is the intangible strength of the problem you want to solve. Make it absolutely powerful. For example, “get rid off Excel in project portfolio management”. In the case of the PPMP, people did not care for a new PPM (their company had already 11 of them!). They cared for “dividing by 2 the number of boring coordination meetings”.

b) An emotional benefit.

The change must create a positive emotion. For example, your PPM Platform must be beautiful, user-friendly, and an “All-Seeing Eye” solution everyone will envy to get on their smartphone. Offer this emotional benefit to the community of people using the platform. They will feel like belonging to a “Porsche Club”.

This may not be enough. Your project should also hook the users. This is what the PPMP team discovered after a while. The secret sauce was Nir Eyal’s 4-step Hooked model. People loved especally to check their PPMP application and discover the latest updates of the portfolio status.

c) A rational benefit of high value.

The solution must also bring rational benefits. Users of the PPM platform are even more important than the executive team members. If users recognize that using it saves time and stress, they will use word of mouth to spread this good news very quickly. They will explain how the new PPMP eliminates the painful need to build, share, consolidate spreadsheets and reduces, by 50%, the number of preparatory transversal meetings for Project Management teams.

d) Several connectors 

Connectors have a large number of connections, a wide reputation, and a strong interest in your project output. They act as influencers. In the case of a new project portfolio platform, they can be an Executive Vice President or a highly recognized thought leader that appreciated the benefits the platform offered to them and their (large) teams. When implementing an organization-wide transformation, focus your efforts on the most connected employees rather than on the most powerful ones to help generate momentum and accelerate impact.

e) A high level of visibility.

At a certain moment, a project needs to become highly visible. This visibility comes from its high level, or its large scope. For example, the project portfolio performance platform will be used in real time during leadership team meetings or during an executive team meeting. Everyone must have it installed on their personal Smartphone.

f) A certain level of adherence.

Users will adhere to the platform because they easily memorize the message it carries. This is the “stickiness factor” of Malcolm Gladwell. In a typical example such a platform was named PIMS for Progress Initiative Management System. However, PIMS is also a delicious cookie with as a base an orange marmalade layer added to a chocolate layer. This single name gave the tool the stickiness factor no PPM will ever get on its own.

Figure 4 – The project name PIMS evokes a lovely cookie and creates adherence

g) A favorable context.

The context is placed at the end of the list. However, its importance is the biggest. It is the context that allows avalanches to produce. Most tipping points are achieved because the environment and the solution converged at a certain favorable time with a level of ripeness on each side. The urgent need for a single version of truth related to a new vital strategic initiative can be the trigger for implementing a new PPM System.

6 – More About the PPM Platform Tipping Point

These seven features served as key success factors in deploying a new Project Portfolio Management System in a large global company (120,000 employees, 75 countries, 4,500+ projects)

The initial PPM goal was to support a critical program (context) based on a portfolio of around 300 projects.

A strong community of local PMOs run portfolios of 10 to 50 projects. They all looked for the easiest way to monitor and share progress and impact of their portfolio (cause and social value).

The executive committee required a single version of truth for this program (the high level of visibility).

The PMO community installed a Saas (Software as a Service) platform with very simple functionalities, just enough to offer everyone this 24X7 single version of truth. Project data were as simple as “are we going to deliver on time” and “will the project deliver the promised benefits” (a benefit). But above all, customer support was outsanding.

The platform name became PIMS for “Progress Initiative Management System”. Yet, as said above, PIMS was also the name of delicious cookies with as a base an orange marmalade layer added to a chocolate layer (the adherence).

Seeing that, two unexpected champions (a regional EVP and a functional EVP) loved the platform (the connectors). They asked that all projects under their responsibility be monitored with the platform.

As a result of these lucky factors, 4,500 projects were on board a few months later. The platform achieved its tipping point.

7 – Your Call to Action

Why not apply what you read to your own life?

What is your current top project? What do you want to achieve? Which is your target population? How do you intend to make people adopt your project, use its outputs, and benefit from its outcomes?

Why not sense your own environment and see if you profit from one or more of these seven features?

What can you do to develop them further?

Trust they will help you anticipate and benefit from the next big avalanche!

To Your Continued Success!

Philippe


The article is inspired from my book the High-Impact PMO that you can buy on Amazon

Or read my most successful articles here:


High-Impact PMO

A Mind Needs Books as a Sword Needs a Whetstone If It Is To Keep Its Edge


Get a fresh start in your projects with a series of out-of-the-box solutions for CEOs, Strategy Management Officers, Portfolio Managers, Transformation and Program Managers, as well as all kinds of PMOs.

My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.” says Tyrion Lannister in the Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

If you already read books about the Project Management Office, go a step further and read The High Impact PMO.

You will learn with well known scientists (P. Bak, L. Barabasi, F. Roddier to cite a few) why projects benefit from tipping points, network analysis or ever faster dissipation of information.

You will adapt thanks to human dynamics experts (like O. Fox Cabane, R. Lewis, or J.C. Fauvet) your leadership to different cultures, cognitive biases, and social dynamics.

And you will surely redefine your strategy management system (thanks to R. Ulanowicz, Mencius or N. Taleb for example) with a new equilibrium between planning and agility, a blend of Aristotle and Chinese wisdom, or bimodal strategies.

Buy the High-Impact PMO on Amazon or read my most successful articles:

High-Impact PMO
Matrix

A Variety of Project Management Approaches

A Complexity / Uncertainty grid positions a variety of project management bodies of knowledge, frameworks, and tools according to the levels of complexity and uncertainty in their environments.

Of course, no grid can describe the world. No grid will ever be perfect.

But, the goal of this grid is simply to introduce discussions within a project management community of practitioners whose degree of experience in the domain is highly diverse.

This is a version 2 of the version 1 grid I have recently posted on LinkedIn. The v1 grid received an amazingly large number of views as well as many likes and important comments.

I have learned a lot with all these comments. I felt comfortable with many, uncomfortable with some.

But all helped to progress and develop an improved version.

So, Thank You to Everyone For the Likes and Comments on the Version 1 of the Grid.

Of course this version 2 is not perfect. This version contains a few improvements and clarifications. I hope they will help whoever looks for different project management approaches in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world.

It shows bodies of knwoledge, frameworks, and tools. Since a project accomplishes products among other outputs, the grid contains also project management frameworks and product delivery frameworks. Thus, it should taste like a burger with its different constituents and their specific baking time.

Please also note that project management relies on technical, leadership, and business and strategy capabilities. Separate grids will describe the last two domains, while this one concentrate on the technical domain.

 

About Complexity and Uncertainty

Complexity has many sources. Among these sources are three fundamental characteristics that make an endeavor complex: the high number of variables involved, the nonlinearity of the interactions between these variables, and the irreversibility of phenomena within complex systems.  Here are a few other characteristics of complex systems:

  • Emergence (look at termite hills)
  • Co-evolution (impact on the environment)
  • Sub-optimal (relative fitness)
  • Requisite variety (resilience)
  • Connectivity (feedback loops)
  • Simple rules (flight of bird flocks)
  • Self-organising (no (apparent) hierarchy)
  • Edge-of-chaos (maximum diversity)
  • Nested systems (fractal scales)

More on complexity at http://complexitylabs.io/ More also at https://www.santafe.edu/

Uncertainty means here the indeterminacy of the future. It is a situation in which something is not known, a state of limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe the existing state, a future outcome, or more than one possible outcome. Volatility and uncertainty are equivalent.

 

About Projects

project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to accomplish a unique product, services or results (PMI). The European Commission has defined a project as a structure which is setup to create a unique product or service (output) within certain constraints such as time, cost, and quality. Each project’s goal is to introduce a new product or service or to change an existing one. achieving the goal is expected to bring about benefits to the organisation. A project can also be seen as a transformational process, turning ideas into reality.

Organizational Project Management (OPM) is a strategy execution framework that utilizes portfolio, program, and project management as well as organizational-enabling practices to consistently and predictably deliver organizational strategy to produce better performance, better results, and a sustainable competitive advantage (PMI at www.pmi.org).

Project teams improve performance when they benefit from a wide range of available solutions fitting the level of complexity and uncertainty of their environment. It is up to these teams to adjust the solutions to their needs, to their culture, and to their capabilities. The approaches cited in the grid are largely used in the Americas and in Europe. I wish project practitioners from other regions will bring their own contribution and confirm or improve the grid with what they do there.

 

About Project Categories

A megaproject is only a category of projects. I is an extremely large-scale investment project. Megaprojects are large-scale, complex (both in technical and human terms) ventures that typically cost $1 billion or more, take many years to develop and build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders, are transformational, and impact millions of people. Examples of megaprojects are here or here.

Complex projects are characterized by a degree of disorder, instability, emergence, non-linearity, recursiveness, uncertainty, irregularity and randomness, and dynamic complexity where the parts in the system they act upon can react / interact with each other in different ways. More for example at ICCPM. ICCPM Ltd was established by Australian, UK and US government bodies and major defence industry corporations. It is now a substantial network of global corporate, government, academic and professional organisations dealing with Complex Project Management.

Innovation projects are a very important and specific category of projects. Innovation is precisely something that gains from uncertainty. And some people sit around waiting for uncertainty and using it as raw material.

 

About Project Management Approaches

The PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge is a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management. The body of knowledge evolves over time and is presented in “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge”. The Guide is a document resulting from work overseen by the Project Management Institute (PMI), which offers the CAPM and PMP certifications. The PMBOK Guide is intended to be a “subset of the project management body of knowledge that is generally recognized as a good practice. ‘Generally recognized’ means the knowledge and practices described are applicable to most projects most of the time and there is a consensus about their value and usefulness. The 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide now includes an “Agile Practice Guide”. There are also a guide for program management as well as a guide for portfolio management. More at www.pmi.org

PM2 (stylized PM², sometimes pronounced as P M square) is the official project management methodology of the European Commission (EC). It incorporates elements from a range of widely accepted best practices in project management, and builds heavily on PMBOK, Prince2, IPMA-ICB, CMMI, TEMPO, and operational experience from EC institutions. More at https://ec.europa.eu/isa2/solutions/open-pm2_en

The Spiral model is a risk-driven process model generator for software projects. Based on the unique risk patterns of a given project, the spiral model guides a team to adopt elements of one or more process models, such as incremental, waterfall, or evolutionary prototyping. This model was first described by Barry Boehm in his 1986 paper “A Spiral Model of Software Development and Enhancement”. More at https://www.sei.cmu.edu/reports/00sr008.pdf

About Agile

Agile software development describes an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end users(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change. The term Agile was popularized, in this context, by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The values and principles espoused in this manifesto were derived from and underpin a broad range of software development frameworks, including Scrum and Kanban. More at http://agilemanifesto.org/

Scrum is a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. It is founded on empirical process control theory, or empiricism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known. Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk. More at https://www.scrum.org/

High-Impact PMOThe Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) helps businesses address the significant challenges of developing and delivering enterprise-class software and systems in the shortest sustainable lead time. SAFe synchronizes alignment, collaboration, and delivery for multiple Agile teams. SAFe is scalable and configurable. And it allows each organization to adapt it to its own business needs. It supports smaller-scale solutions employing 50 – 125 practitioners, as well as complex systems that require thousands of people. As an extensive body of knowledge, SAFe describes the roles, responsibilities, artifacts, and activities necessary to implement Lean-Agile development.  More at http://www.scaledagileframework.com/

There are a number of scaling frameworks available, such as SAFe and LeSS (Large Scale Scrum)Horizontal scaling works with the largest adoption of the agile mindset. Vertical scaling goes up to the executive team. It connects with strategy management systems. The goal there is more “Agile at Scale” than “Scaling Agile”.

 

About Strategy

Sustainable organizations develop through operations and projects that sustain their strategy. Operational excellence and project excellence are two indispensable pillars.

There is a direct connection between Project Management and Strategy Management. For this reason, the project management community benefits from understanding the strategy management systems. I have cited in the grid the very few a Strategic Initiative Officer may like for example: the Kaplan Norton Execution Premium System (XPP), or Nassim Taleb’s bimodal strategy described in his book Antifragile. Both have been alive for a long period of time. That proves their value.

It seems that there is no framework or approach which works for an extreme uncertainty and complexity. However Nassim Taleb proposes a solution. Indeed, about all solutions to uncertainty are in the form of barbells. The barbell is a bar with weights on both ends that weight lifters use. Thus, it illustrates the idea of a combination of extremes kept separate, with avoidance of the middle. And in our context it is not necessarily symetric. It contains two extremes, with nothing in the center. One can also call it, more technically, a bimodal strategy, because it has two distinct modes rather than a single, central one. So, the barbell is a domestication, not the elimination, of uncertainty More in Nassim Taleb”s book Antifragile.

 

Thank you. To your continued success.

Philippe Husser

Author of the book :

The High-Impact PMO, How Agile Project Management Offices Deliver Value in a Complex World

 

Colibri

Read Real Life Stories of PMO Who Delivered Value in a VUCA World

Read real life stories of PMO who delivered exceptional value to complex projects, programs, and portfolios in a VUCA world.

Explore a variety of capabilities that will make you navigate in the most complex environments.

Coverage includes:

  • Dealing with nonlinearities
  • Surfing on transitions, bifurcations, and avalanches
  • Thriving with uncertainty and unpredictability
  • Understanding power laws and tail effects
  • Adapting your approach to the thermodynamic cycles
  • Learning direct and indirect strategies
  • Focusing on people and great causes
  • Escaping the Procrustean bias
  • Being a challenger and a coach
  • Finding your buddy
  • Bridging cultural gaps
  • Capitalizing on technology
  • Analyzing your network
  • Getting to tipping points
  • Building your Enterprise PMO
Squirrel

Characteristics of an Agile PMO

Can and Should a PMO Be Agile?

Becoming an agile PMO is a hot topic today in an ever more complex and fast changing world.

There is no doubt that reality shows PMOs looking like horses and PMOs looking like squirrels. Both have value. However both do not add the same value when you want to climb trees or when you need to pull the plow. Horses and squirrels do not show similar levels of agility.

Why label a PMO as agile? Isn’t agile merely a delivery method and shouldn’t a PMO be much more focused on helping projects deliver organizational strategic value” recently asked a project manager. This sort of question is very usual indeed. It shows how difficult it is to use the word agile when speaking of PMOs.

A PMO is an organization serving a project, or several projects, programs, portfolios, and a whole organization. As such a PMO can and must show certain characteristics of agility in what it does. What are these characteristics?

An Organization Is Agile (More or Less)

An agile organization?

Lower case “a” agile is a characteristic of who we are. Something agile is able to move quickly and easily. Someone who has an agile mind is able to think quickly and clearly. A squirrel is agile, a cow is not really. A trader has a mental agility, a back office bureaucrat from the social security has not. An agile business like Alibaba is always in a position to take account of market changes, while a more traditional business like […] is not (anymore).

Agile organizations or agile systems present specific characteristics. They are, among many characteristics:

  1. Oriented by the ends of a system more than by its structure
  2. Adaptive more than predictive
  3. Favoring innovation more than status quo
  4. Incremental and iterative more than cascading and waterfall
  5. Explorative and experimental more than analytical and descriptive
  6. Systemic and heuristic more than discursive
  7. Holistic more than reductionist
  8. Interested more by the effect than by the nature of interactions
  9. Thriving to reduce their entropy (being open to the outside) rather than increasing it (being closed)
  10. Confronting continuously their model with the reality rather than confronting test proofs or copies of this reality

An organization sustainably develops through the degree of excellence of its operations and the degree of excellence of its projects. The degree of agility of an organization is by construction related to the degree of agility of its projects.

Projects Are Agile Too (More or Less)

An Agile project?

“Upper case “A” Agile is more often used to define what we do. It is born from an iterative approach to software development and project management with articulated principles (12) and values (4) defined by a Manifesto for Agile Software Development[1]. Agile brings together numerous methods, roles, processes and tools. The Manifesto states that the four Agile values are the following:

  1. Individuals and interactions are over processes and tools,
  2. Working software [or product] is over comprehensive documentation,
  3. Customer collaboration is over contract negotiation,
  4. Responding to change is over following a plan.

At its heart, Agile with “A” upper case is a set of characteristics that can be summarized into five[2]:

  1. Agile teams complete manageable chunks of work and produce a minimum viable product within rather short fixed time periods. On the basis of feedback on the prototype, the team moves forward to a new set of tasks.
  2. The team develops its knowledge by means of observation and experimentation, often without due regard for system and theory. Frequent testing is a cornerstone of the Agile approach. It ensures that product quality remains high and development activities are run efficiently.
  3. Cross-functional. The idea is to put on board the different functions required to develop a product, while limiting membership to those individuals who possess essential and complementary skills so that the team remains lean and can accomplish real work.
  4. The “product owner” is empowered to make decisions about scope, timing, allocation of budget, and product features. He or she is ultimately responsible for delivering value to the customer. He or she divides his or her time between working with the team and coordinating with key stakeholders.
  5. Continually improving. Agile teams rely on retrospectives, obstacle removal processes, and lean experts or scrum masters to continually identify opportunities to enhance productivity by tweaking and tuning their environment and way of working.

The Agile PMO At the Crossroad

PMO

An agile PMO?

Agile, lower case “a”, organizations are capable to handle the pace of change in a manner that is effective and minimizes disruption, resulting in sustainable competitive advantage. Organizational agility belongs to the DNA and the culture of the organization. A squirrel is more agile than a horse.

Agile, upper case “A”, methods are effective at increasing visibility and adaptability, quickening business value, and reducing risk over the duration of an initiative. Agile methods can be put into practice quite quickly, so long as the team is adequately prepared and has effectively engaged the users who will be involved.

“Agile” and “agile” are related so much that in reality they form only one family that is agile. Developing the use of Agile makes an organization more agile, at least partially within the domains where Agile is practiced. On the other hand, an agile organization uses Agile as a preferred set of project approach. However both Agile and agile approaches develop in a ceaseless oscillation around critical points. Such critical points exist for example at each interface between a waterfall program like a plant construction and its Agile components in the domain of the plant information systems or between two departments being at different maturity degrees of agility.

Therefore, to go back to the initial interrogation about what an agile PMO is, I would propose that an agile PMO is an organization presenting the 10 characteristics of an agile system, embodying the 4 Agile values and its 12 principles, and promoting any specific state-of-the-art methods and tools required to make projects successful.

An agile PMO wants to deliver valuable increments early, frequently, and to a robust level of quality. It works in small increments rather than in a big planned way. It wants the opportunity to learn as it goes along, to test assumptions, and to make changes in what it does when needed. By working in an iterative and incremental way, such an agile PMO can evidence a better control of risk and get an earlier return on investment than otherwise done.

Your reactions and comments are welcomed.

To Your Continued Success!

Philippe

[This article is inspired by the book: “The High-Impact PMO, How Can Agile PMO Deliver Value in a Complex World” I have published in October and that is available on Amazon]

[1] http://agilemanifesto.org/

[2] Five Secrets to Scaling Up Agile, BCG, Feb. 2016