How often do you perform project triage?

A quick google search shows that the medical concept of triage is commonly applied to evaluating IT projects and other major business initiatives. pm_thumbnail

The concept of triage comes from medicine, and in particular medical treatment under difficult circumstances—war, epidemic, disaster—where the number of people needing treatment exceeds the resources available. In such situations, the sick or injured are typically assigned to one of three groups.

 In the business context, it usually means allocating scarce cash and human capital under difficult economic conditions, when the number of ongoing projects exceeds the level available resources.

Project Triage Framework

In the current economic climate, it probably makes sense to perform a mini-triage of your project portfolio quarterly, with an annual triage as the last fiscal quarter approaches.  In addition, you may be faced with the need to triage in emergency situations such as a sudden shift in business strategy, in the face of a new acquisition, or when presented with an across the board budget cut. Periodic review is a cornerstone of an effective project portfolio management strategy. This regular triage can be a valuable form of project insurance. Preventative medicine is always less costly than crisis treatment.

Your triage team should include your senior IT management as well as functional business leadership. Performing project triage is easiest if there is regular, reliable status reporting from the project teams, on their milestone and budget status.

Triage is also easier if your project initiation process includes a business case that assigns a business criticality score to the project. It’s entirely possible that business criticality of a given project might change over the course of the project’s lifecycle, and a master project status tracking document helps the triage team keep track of this.

After reviewing the health of individual projects and their alignment with current business needs, triage will place them into three groups which align perfectly with the medical definition of triage:

1. Persons who are likely to live even if they don’t receive immediate treatment—projects going well that need no additional intervention

2. Persons who are likely to die even if they do receive immediate treatment– projects that you should suspend NOW before they chew up additional resources

3. Persons who are like to live only if they receive immediate treatment– projects that need you to perform an immediate intervention

Our next blog post will cover specific diagnostic tests you must perform on projects that fall into the third group. In the meantime, let us know your apporach to project triage by answering this poll:

How often do you perform project triage?

Reshaping your PMO to Beat the Recession

There’s been some buzz lately on how PMOs can help your company spend wisely during a recession. In wading through the recent buzz, it’s important to know that not all PMOs are created equal, and the skills of the PMO leadership can make or break your ability to use a PMO as a weapon in your recession-beating strategy. Because the economic climate has changed drastically, you may be in danger of overspending if you don’t re-evaluate and re-engineer your PMO to meet the needs of the day.

Kristen Caretta, at Search CIO-Midmarket discusses how project management offices are uniquely positioned to cut projects that have spiraled out of control and identify those critical to meeting changing business needs and increasing business efficiency.

An article at CIO.com includes key metrics for gauging PMO success. It’s important to reconsider your metrics during the recession, however, because the shift in business climate may require you to track against different targets.

Look critically at your PMO and the way it operates to see if your organization is guilty of any of these behaviors. All of them can actually cause a drag on your bottom line.

  • Undue effort spent on policing project teams fpolice-monkeyor adherence to a standard methodology. A highly functioning PMO evaluates requests for exceptions to methodology standards and helps the teams run with a lean and mean approach that speeds up progress while imposing an identifiable and acceptable level of risk to the business.
  • Hyperfocus on metrics. Don’t let the endless trackinbusiness-chimpg of metrics become an end unto itself. The only thing that needs to be reported and addressed are the exceptions-those projects that are riding off the rails. It’s a waste of corporate resources to publish lengthy status updates on projects that are humming along without any problems.
  • The half-day weekly PMO meeting withmeeting-monkeys a cast of thousands. Be very clear on the purpose of your regular PMO meetings. Using them to resolve cross-cutting issues and refine project strategy or reprioritize the project portfolio and realign resources is a good use of time. Dragging every project manager through status updates for each project only makes sense if the projects are somehow inter-related.
  • The IT PMO-in-a-silo. The biggest bang for ymonkeysour PMO dollar is in its ability to foster alignment between business needs (which may in fact change over the lifespan of a project) and implementation projects. You can only do this if your PMO is an enterprise (as opposed to an IT) entity. The director of your PMO needs to have a solid record of experience in advising and negotiating at the C-level, in addition to rock-solid project and program management skills.

To navigate the recession, don’t assume that your current PMO is already providing exactly what you need to win in a difficult economy. If you don’t have a formal continuous improvement approach in place, a semi-annual review and realignment of PMO approach and operations may be in order.

Project Management Resolutions for 2009

new-yearFast away the old year passes. It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Even if you’re not a resolution-making sort of person, the additional challenges the economy imposes on the coming year make it absolutely essential to think through some changes in approach.

Budgets will be tighter, and in the grand tradition of good things that roll downhill, the people who will most feel the squeeze are the people in charge where the rubber meets the road, the project managers. You will be challenged to do more with less, to face multiple changes in strategy and scope, and to achieve success on tighter timelines.

Here are some suggestions for thinking outside the box in 2009:

Manage your team, not your project plan.  Your project plan file is merely a tool for planning and tracking. The key to success is your daily leadership of your team.  Meet frequently with each contributor to your plan to understand where their difficulties are and to suggest tactics for moving past bottlenecks. This is much more valuable to the project than reporting that task 345 is only 45% complete as of the end of the week. This leads to the next resolution, which is:

Embrace collaboration tools aggressively.New times and new challenges call for new tools.  Use project portals to the fullest. Get beyond Level 1 portal usage (shared documents) and fully exploit the discussion and alerts features. Build status dashboards for your executive sponsors, so that status communication becomes more than a once a week meeting or conference call. With widely dispersed teams becoming more the norm than the exception, twitter-like tools can help project managers to keep tabs on the current activities of all team members, and foster real-time assistance when team members tweet about a newly encountered difficulty.

Slim down that project plan!  You just knew there had to be a diet resolution in here somewhere…  Your plan needs only enough detail to quantify effort, predict duration, and define a critical path. More detail beyond that means more overhead in terms of status tracking and replanning, and if this is not in the project budget, it’s only going to come out of your personal time.

Build contingency plans into your approach from Day 1. All that stuff about completing projects on time and within budget as the measures of project success is very pie-in-the-sky.  There will be changes in scope. There may be changes in budget before you get to the build phase. The key milestone date may well be pushed up while you are still in the analysis phase. Have a clear idea of what’s essential for launch and what can be deferred from Day 1 and you will be in better shape to roll with the changes.

Align effort with risk.  Don’t spend 80% of the analysis effort on 20% of the business functional domain, unless that 20% is the most mission critical, the most regulated, or the most central to driving revenue. As the  project manager, you must rein in project team members who are focusing on areas that are not really central to the success of the effort. In this new tighter budget, compressed timeline world, there are going to be some bumps in the road. You need to make sure that mission critical requirements are safeguarded at the expense of those business requirements that are less crucial from a bottom line perspective.