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Doing Work Right - Part 2: Projects

In project management, demand management, IT management No Comments
January 23, 2019

In an earlier blog article, I discussed why you need a solid demand management process. Demand is what others are asking you to do. It is your “to-do” list or backlog of activities. From this list or backlog, you must be able to select the right work. The other part of what you do for a living is executing the work: doing work right. Therefore, “right work” (what is best to do next) vs. “work right” (what people, processes, or tools will be employed to do the work in the most effective way).

The world of “right work” (demand) and “work right” (ways to work) can be divided into three main categories: operations, projects, and initiatives. That is, all demand and work that a company may have will likely fall into one of these categories. In my last blog article, I covered the work operations category: Doing Work Right – Part 1: Operations.

In this article: Doing Work Right – Part 2: Projects, I will focus on the approaches and processes for “work right” in the projects category. My next upcoming blog articles will address the last category: Doing Work Right – Part 3: Initiatives. Keep an eye out for that article.

Is There a Right Way?

Of course, there is no one way or right way to do anything, I suppose. But I do like the phraseology of “right work” vs. “work right.” It helps to quickly differentiate between demand and work. So, what I mean by “work right” is really employing the optimal people and practices to get the job done in the most efficient and productive way while adding value to the business.

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But could there be a better way to do projects? I think so. Check out this fact. A study performed by PMI in 2016 states that only 62% of IT projects are successful. There are lots of reasons why projects may fail: fuzzy goals, poor requirements, inaccurate estimates, weak ownership or sponsorship, lack of governance, or ineffective project managers (PMs), to just name a few. What are my thoughts? If you don’t have a process, approach, governance, and some structure, your projects will either fail or be only partially successful and you won’t get your money’s worth. Trust me. All projects WILL have problems like those just mentioned. With a good process and structure, you will be more likely to succeed. Ok, that leaves 38% of projects that are unsuccessful which may correlate to about 38% percent of project resources, people, time, money, lost opportunities, etc. that may have been unexploited or misused. Hopefully, this article will help improve your success rate.

Here is what you need in place to help maximize your success:

  • Know your sources of project work
  • Implement solid project demand management
  • Know what a project is and what it means to the organization
  • Get the right people to be project managers
  • Establish a project management office with senior sponsorship

Ok, let’s talk about each one.

Sources of Project Work

Project demand and work will come from a variety of sources:

  • From operations: there may be some tickets from operations that meet a “threshold” of level of effort and are deemed to be a project. For example, if there is a unit of work estimated at 250 hours and your threshold is anything over 100 hours, you would define that unit of work as a project. The ticket is then reassigned to the Project Management Office (PMO).
  • From initiatives: if you recall from my demand management blog article, initiatives are very large strategic corporate activities. Each initiative may spawn one or more projects.
  • From management: there may be different business needs scattered all over the organization. I call these projects: management directive projects. They may or may not fall under a PMO, or your business might not even have a professional project manager. But hopefully, any well-run organization will have both.

Now that we know where projects will most likely come from (operations, initiatives, and management), how they may be organized (PMO), and who may run them (project managers), let’s level set on just what a project is so we are on the same page.

What’s a Project?

Let me further refine the term “project” to provide context for this article. Be sure your organization has a very clear understanding of what projects are, how they are created, executed, and closed out. A project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service, or result. Notice these key words:

  • Temporary – indicates a start and an end.
  • Group – indicates more than one person, usually a team.
  • Unique – a project is something special and not normal for the current business operations.

Because certain activities can have a significant impact on the business, the construct of a project was created. So, it is important to have a disciplined approach to certain types of work to provide focus and visibility to the success of the business. That is why I have separated out operations to focus on that type of activity (see my last blog article), and in this blog article, we are focusing on the project activity.

Below is a list of the basic attributes of a project:

  • Criticality– when work is critical to the business, it is recommended that you make it a project.
  • Focus– when work is a project, the business can provide better focus to that activity.
  • Visibility– when the work is critical and there is focus, you also need visibility. Visibility is when the project’s outcomes are being reported to managers and leaders of the organization.
  • Uniqueness– a project is unique in that it is not normally a routine operation. In fact, the activity may not have been done before at all. So, a project is a specific set of activities designed to accomplish a singular, unique goal.
  • Scope– a project has a defined scope. Project scope is the part of project planning that involves determining and documenting a list of specific project goals, deliverables, features, functions, tasks, deadlines, and, ultimately, costs. In a nutshell, scope is what needs to be achieved and the work that must be done to deliver its outcome. Yes, I know, the scope keeps changing, known as “scope creep,” but there is still a scope and hopefully a change management process to manage the changes in scope and set expectations. That is why project managers are so critical to the success of projects and we will discuss their role below.
  • Start and End– projects have a specific start and end date. Projects are not operations; they start and then they end.
  • Resources– a project has resources provided by management, such as people, money, equipment, etc. to sustain the project.
  • Closure– this term represents the end of the project. Some closure activities are to: secure client acceptance, transition results to operations, capture lessons learned, close out any contractual and business matters, and hopefully celebrate!

The Hardest IT Job in The World: The Project Manager

I really do think that being a project manager is one of the hardest IT jobs out there. Typically, you have all the responsibility to get an over-budget, creeping-scope, and slipping-schedule project over the finish line. And on top of that, you usually have little authority. But you keep on doing it because it can be very rewarding and professionally challenging.

Here are the key attributes and skills I would look for and would like to see displayed in a project manager:

  • People skills - project managers cultivate the people skills needed to develop trust and communication among all of a project's stakeholders: its sponsors, those who will make use of the project's results (the end users), those who provide the resources needed, and the project team members.
  • Communication skills – certainly communications skills are part of or a subset of people skills, but I wanted to emphasize these in particular: you must be able to write well, speak well, and make important and compelling presentations. This characteristic is very important. Trust me, it is. Take note.
  • Project management skills - a project manager must have a flexible toolkit of techniques, resolving complex, interdependent activities into tasks and sub-tasks that are documented, monitored, and controlled. They adapt their approach to the context and constraints of each project, knowing that no "one size" can fit all the variety of projects. And they are always improving their skills and their teams' through lessons-learned reviews at project completion.
  • Open to change - a change agent is someone in the organization who helps an organization transform itself by focusing on critical business strategy improvements. Project managers need to be change agents: that is, they make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team.
  • Can work in difficult environments – project managers are able to work well under pressure and are comfortable with change and complexity in dynamic environments.
  • Open to diverse viewpoints - they can shift readily between the "big picture" and the small-but-crucial details, knowing when to concentrate on each.

Now that we have the basics of what a project is and what the capabilities of a project manager should be, let’s talk about how to get these projects in our demand backlog executed.

The Project Management Office

A PMO is responsible for the processes and infrastructure required for selecting and running projects. Many PMOs typically include “light” staffing of management, business analysts, financial analysts, and project managers as well. I do like to have some of the business’s PMs and analysts centralized and some located in the business units. It keeps everyone grounded in the real world.

The minimum responsibilities of the PMO are:

  • Manage project demand, planning, and prioritization. So, the PMO performs the demand management side as well as executing the project on-time and on-budget, assigning a project manager and necessary resources, and a variety of other activities.
  • Define and maintain project management standards, metrics, and the process for the running of the projects. So, whether the PM is managed by the PMO or the PM is in a business unit, it is likely worthwhile for all of them to follow the PMO’s best practices.
  • Perform cross-functional reporting and communication. The PMO must report out to senior management about the backlog, the projects in work, the issues with the projects, schedules, and budgets. This includes knowing the status of each project, as well as what is the aggregate status of all the projects within this PMO. This information is regularly shared with sponsors and customers.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, I am all in for a solid project management office and/or structure to manage your project demand and project work management. The PMO is the “glue” holding all the pieces together. Smaller companies should only have one PMO. But large corporations may have several PMOs. In fact, there could be a PMO in each of the major business units. So how do you keep track of all these PMOs scattered across a large corporation? Glad you asked: you may need a Portfolio Management Office. In my next blog article of this series, I will be tackling “Doing Work Right – Part 3: Initiatives.” In that blog, we will be looking at work management approaches and practices for implementing initiatives using portfolio management.

Want to Learn More?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this is a follow-up article to my last two blogs: “Why You Need Demand Management” and “Doing Work Right – Part 1: Operations.”

If you want to learn more about demand and work management, please check out one of my Pluralsight courses: Demand and Work Management: A Practical Guide by Michael Krasowski. URL:

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Michael Krasowski

General Manager

Fairway Technologies Inc.




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