Monthly Archives: March 2013

A few words on Performance Management

As I noted in an earlier post, the MBA course I’m currently taking is on Performance Management. Now that I’m a couple of classes in, with some great class discussions having taken place on the readings and case studies thus far I thought I’d post a few thoughts.

So what is Performance Management exactly?

The author of the text that we are using defines Performance Management as, ‘a continuous process of identifying, measuring, and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization’.

So you may be thinking at this point, oh ok, performance appraisals; my company does those. Gotcha. So, what’s to know really? As it turns out, plenty! And, as you may have gathered from my rather smug sounding sentence above, it’s much more than performance appraisals.

As the definition above notes, a performance management system is a continuous process. It aligns employee objectives with organizational objectives and it involves goal setting and development. Performance appraisals on the other hand – described by the author as ‘the systematic description of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses’ – may be a part of a performance management system, but only a part of the larger, over-aching  system.

Ok, “appraisals” versus “systems” – aren’t these just semantics? You say potato, I say potato (this isn’t quite as effective in print, when you can’t hear the different pronunciation – but I think you catch my drift).

Perhaps; but, the take-away is really to understand that regardless of the labels, there is a distinction to be made between an organization who sits down with an employee once a year (or at some other interval, or worse yet on an ad-hoc basis) to tell them about how they have performed in the past – often independent of any larger team or organizational goals – and an organization that has a well constructed system to provide feedback and aid in continuous development opportunities that are beneficial to the employee and the employer alike.

As you could probably imagine, there is a tonne of additional detail I could share from the classes/text/case studies as well as from my own experience, but we shall save that for another day.

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The surprising truth about what motivates us

I find motivation to be an interesting topic. What motivates me, may not motivate you and vice versa. That’s interesting; well to me at least (I don’t get out that much). I feel a post about motivation coming on sometime in the not so distant future. In the meantime, since – as it happens – I’m not feeling particularly motivated to write this week, here is an interesting video on the topic of motivation. Enjoy!

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March 27, 2013 · 12:01 pm

Risky Business

In the world of Project Management, the topic of risk is HUGE. Massive. Behemoth, even. Ok, I might be getting a little carried away. The reality is though, that the amount of risk – and hence the level rigor applied to managing it – will vary with the type, size and complexity of your project.

If you have a small project with a well-defined set of requirements, a familiar technology, a long-time customer, the proper equipment and resources, your project is probably low risk so an informal process to manage your risk may be ok. If however, you’re staring down a project with, basically the opposite of any of the above noted items, you will likely want a more robust process for managing your project risk.

Before we go any further, we should probably take a quick step back to define what a risk actually is. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) – Fourth Edition, defines risk as: “Risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has an effect on at least one project objective. Objectives can include scope, schedule, cost and quality.”

Two things jump out at me with this definition, (1) it’s something that is uncertain, that may or may not happen and (2) it has an ‘effect’ on the project – though it doesn’t state specifically that it will be a negative effect. We’ll come back to these a bit later.

As there are so many facets of risk management, I suspect this will be a topic that I’ll post about often – rather than trying to cover it all in one ridiculously long, excruciatingly boring (hey, who said that?) post. For this post I thought I would touch on the topic of risk responses. Basically, what are you going to do about these pesky risks that you have identified?

Before I get into the various available responses, I’ll note that the impetus for this post – in addition to providing some exciting reading – is how the term ‘mitigate’ has become something of a ‘catch-all’ term when it comes to talking about risk. Mitigating risk is great, but it’s not the only thing you can do with it.

See below for a few additional strategies, as well as some notes on risk mitigation, based on the teachings of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) – Fourth Edition, and the world according to Evan.

Risk responses for negative risks (threats)

Avoid

Why mitigate a risk when you can avoid it altogether? One strategy to avoid risks is to shut down the project; but that’s a bit drastic. Other strategies to avoid risks are to make adjustments to the project plans, be it schedule changes, requirements clarifications, updates to assumptions or what have you so that the threat can be eliminated altogether. These options aren’t always available, but when they are, keep risk avoidance on your radar as a tactic for managing your risks.

Transfer

That’s not my risk; that’s your risk. Another strategy is to look at options for transferring the risk to a 3rd party. The example often given for this is in the insurance industry, where for the cost of an insurance premium, you transfer the risk to this 3rd party. Another way to handle this in a project related context might be from a contract types and terms perspective – e.g. Fixed price billing versus Time & Materials billing as each billing type has different levels of risk for the buyer and seller. (A topic for another day).

Mitigate

Risks tend to be evaluated on (1) probability – how likely is each risk event is to occur and (2) impact – if a risk does occur, how big will the impact be. Risk mitigation is about reducing one or the other, or both. Tools are available such as the aptly named ‘Probability/Impact’ matrix where risks can be evaluated on the basis of their probability and impact, and mitigation strategies can developed for each risk. Pro-tip: Risks that are high probability AND high impact; deal with these ones first!

Accept

For the risks you aren’t able to identify a suitable strategy for, or for ones where the cost of the mitigation strategy is higher than the cost of its potential impact, the strategy here is acceptance. Acceptance can be ‘passive’ – do nothing and deal with them if they occur or ‘active’ – establish a contingency reserve (money, time, resources etc.) to be better equipped to deal with them if they arrive.

Risk responses for positive risks (opportunities)

Intuitively, most of us think of risks as being threats, but this isn’t always the case, since where there are risks, there are opportunities (said some optimist somewhere). Here are a few strategies for turning risks on their head for the good of your project.

Enhance

The enhance strategy is one whereby project teams take actions to try and realize an opportunity by taking measures to increase the probability, impact or both. A common example is where project scheduling techniques such as crashing (adding resources) or fast-tracking (performing tasks in parallel) are used in order to finish a project ahead of schedule.

Exploit

Exploiting a risk, turned opportunity is a bit like the enhance strategy, except – as Yoda would say – “there is no try; only do!” Exploiting is all about making SURE that you are taking advantage of an opportunity that has presented itself. Using a similar scheduling example, some projects will have financial incentives for finishing early so project teams give top priority to exploiting this sort of opportunity any way they can.

Share

Similar to how project teams will want to transfer the negative risks, they will sometimes want to share the positive ones. An example might include joining with another team or organization to deliver a project, each agreeing on their respective scope of work and how risks and rewards can be allocated.

Accept

Again, much like with negative risks sometimes the best strategy is to accept the risk. Related to opportunities, this strategy simply means being ready to take advantage of an opportunity if it comes along, but not taking steps to actively pursue it.

Well, so much for this NOT being a ridiculously long, excruciatingly boring (hey – it wasn’t that bad!) post. If you made it this far, I commend and thank you.

Be careful out there.

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Power to the People

performance management

I’m starting my next MBA course tonight – “Performance Management”. Something about people being the most important part of the organization…something, something….human capital…something, competitive advantage…something. It all sounds a bit bizarre.

I’m kidding of course. People ARE what it’s all about. ‘People’ are often the differentiating factor (brand, among other things is important too, of course) when it comes to how organizations get contracted to do the work they do. People buy from people and they want to work with people that they know and trust. It is also people who then ultimately deliver the work – to implement (not to mention, plan, manage and support) the technology, business process improvement or what have you. (If you’re running an automated assembly line staffed with robots building other robots, this may be less relevant for you).

As such, organizations, at least the good ones, do more than just pay lip service to how they are “people focused”, since I can’t imagine too many companies that would claim to not be “people focused”. And getting it right is not just about salaries and foosball tables. It’s about understanding the needs of all of the individuals in the organization, since we are just that – individuals – to understand what drives each person to perform at their highest level. (Editorial note – I almost ended that sentence with something about getting the individuals to be stronger than the sum of their parts, but I didn’t. You’re welcome). It’s also very much about getting ‘alignment’ (overused term alert – sorry!) between the individuals, teams, business units etc. and the strategic goals of the organization.

So anyway, these are a few opening thoughts as I start this course. I’m sure I’ll have more to report over the next couple of months. Stay tuned.

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Greetings and salutations

So I started a blog.

I realize I’m a bit late jumping onto the proverbial bandwagon here, but better late than never right? Actually, truth be known while I’ve never maintained a blog per se (mostly true) I have built and maintained a couple of sites over the years – so I’m not a total ‘noob’ when it comes to user (self) generated content.

Now these sites have long since been retired and my HTML/web development skills (if you could even call them that) have long since deteriorated from the perspective of me actually writing any code – though as a practicing Project Manager I’m still pretty close to the action. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your outlook on the world, we now have tools like WordPress that make this sort of thing pretty darn easy, even for PM types like me, so here we are. Hi, I’m Evan. Nice to me you.

So what’s the point?

Good question. Firstly, like the rest of the people on this planet I just don’t feel complete unless I’m sharing my every thought with anyone that cares to ‘follow me’. Ok, this is mostly untrue but it would be pretty ridiculous to start a blog and claim to be indifferent as to whether anybody reads it. So yes, what I write, I hope people will read. There, I said it.

So what are you going write/post about?

The plan (though you know what they said about the best laid plans) is to post about topics related to my professional life – project management, consulting, business and technology. As I learn about new (or new to me) methodologies, technologies, tools, etc. or just want to blather on about some topic that I may feel compelled to blather on about on a given day, I will have now have a forum for my ramblings. Isn’t the internet great!? (For ramblings of a more concise nature, follow me on twitter here).

In addition, I’ve been working on an MBA part-time for the last few years and though I’m a little late getting to this (per my opening remarks), I thought I’d use this little piece of real-estate on the internet to write, reflect, perhaps even pontificate if the mood strikes, on some of my key learnings – from both my remaining classes as well as anything I’ve already done that might be worth re-visiting in the name of contributing to the ‘blogosphere’.

As this is the inaugural post, this is where I’m supposed to say how I will be updating this all the time and you should check back often; since we all know a blog without current content/frequent posts isn’t worth the ‘paper’ it’s written on. To this I say, (1) WordPress happens to be free and (2) since I’m not trying to sell you anything I have nothing to lose (beyond your dedicated followership – which I do appreciate by the way), I don’t have to make such commitments since we both know they’d just be bogus anyway.

So to recap: this is my blog. Welcome to it. PM stuff. MBA stuff. Maybe other stuff TBD. Updated sometimes. I hope you stop by from time to time.

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