Tennis or Golf?

Are you a tennis player or a golfer? These two sports seem to offer perfect analogies of how organisations work with key partners – their technology suppliers. In one, a problem or challenge is transferred to the other as quickly as possible and with the minimum warning. The only objective is to get it over the net. In the other, both players, whilst still highly competitive, tackle the same obstacles to reach a common end point.

As a project manager I have been lucky enough to work on both supplier and customer sides to a similar degree. Yet I am constantly surprised how, when faced with difficult technology projects where it is essential to communicate complex ideas and produce innovative solutions, many teams are working with completely the wrong model.

A simple example was a major telecommunications customer who insisted they would release final specifications on 31 December. Dutifully, I and my team were in the office waiting, but by 6pm nothing had arrived. Through the miracle of technology, most staff checked again on 1 January, and again on 2 January, but still no specification. By that point any commitment to project milestones and deadlines had taken a severe knock.

Yet a more cohesive approach need cost nothing. Eliminate unnecessary beauty parades, proposal documents you can’t lift and price negotiations where neither side properly understands the requirement, and you have time to work more effectively. Even the public sector has come to realise it needs a better way of working, with the Ministry of Defence running several initiatives to work more closely with suppliers.

The key to this approach just seeing the task from both sides; if both parties are focused on solving the problem, you double the power and halve the work. Approaches that have worked for me are to:

Map the territory of background information and resources – you can only ask for information once you know it exists

Build relationships at each level of the organisation, everyone should know their counterpart in the partner organisation

Find a way of sharing ideas and proposals without embarrassment or commitment through straw men, workshops or other informal outputs

Get a common approach - standards are one way, but just finding an example you both like and re-using it is the simplest

Be efficient - don’t ask for things you don’t need and don’t do things twice (once your way and once their way) - shared plans are the easiest way to achieve this

Reward getting the right result, not getting the wrong result by the right method, which can be a particular problem in the public sector

Recognise that email is not a joint working tool,  it is the electronic equivalent of the tennis racquet

Use joined up thinking from other sectors such as manufacturing for their integrated logistics and supply chain

Don’t treat complex projects like commodities - you can’t offer/receive the best price till you fully understand what is involved.

Your procurement or contracts department isn’t going to love all these ideas, but involve them, they will appreciate the benefits. A collaborative document management tool for example, not only provides a better way of working, it also provides a self-recording and auditable trail of delivery.

A few years ago I worked on a project for a large bank, which lent its most senior project manager to a struggling but critical software supplier for 6 months. From the bank’s point of view you could regard it as generosity or simply protecting its own interests. From the supplier’s point of view it needed both honesty, to recognise the level of difficulty they were in, and trust to give an outsider that level of control. But the result turned a project which had looked like a feeding ground for lawyers into a genuine team effort, which ultimately met its deadline.

So if you are responsible for managing key supplier or customer negotiations and suddenly it all seems hard going, just pause for a moment and ask yourself – tennis or golf?


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Stakeholders.

Managing International Projects

My first international assignment was in Cologne, Germany, working for Ford.  I had to learn German, and went through the “cultural shock” of moving to a foreign country: feeling isolated, misunderstood, and just sad and depressed, even though I had friends around me.  Getting through the language barrier is the beginning of breaking through the cultural barrier, and is, I believe, critical to success in working in and especially in managing international projects.

It is not always possible to speak every language and know every culture involved in multi-centre international projects, but the key point is to understand that each language group/culture has potentially fundamentally different ways of looking at the world and dealing with issues.

Unless one has experienced this insight into “cultural relativity” at first hand, and understood that each perspective is equally valid, one runs the risk of turning into the “ugly American”, believing and acting as if the world were an annexe of the USA.  I am not talking just about Americans, of course – any dominant culture can be guilty of this.

The desire to become part of the culture is important both at work and socially.  One should create and maintain a good work/social balance with colleagues on a project. The project manager can facilitate this by structuring group project events at outside venues, for instance, where teams from different countries can come together to focus on project issues, but also to share time outside work at meals and appropriate social events.

It is also crucial in my experience, regardless of how good the telecommunications facilities are, to regularly schedule face to face meetings with key project personnel. There is simply no substitute for personal contact, both professionally and socially in building project teams, getting them to work and communicate with one another, maintaining and improving their individual and group performance, and ensuring project success. The project manager must take the lead in this, and show willing to spend the extra time and money on this key ingredient to international project success.

‘Hard’ problems

Another source of complexity in international projects is differences between legal and regulatoryregimes across different countries.  One example from my recent experience occurred on a so-called “X-Border” project within a Swiss firm, where an existing system from its German arm was being integrated into the Swiss Head Office environment.

The company had outsourced all of its development work to a third party, but hadn’t given much thought to the practical consequences of this regarding development in such a X-Border environment by a third party. They were in the financial services industry and their customer data was subject to special conditions in each country’s Data Protection legislation. This presented the third party developers, and their company led project management with significant operational issues when the third party needed to access customer data in order to develop and test their applications.

In Germany, it turned out that it was totally illegal for the third party to deal with customer data directly in any form that made it even partially recognisable.  They had to “scramble” large amounts of customer data in order to make it unrecognisable from the data protection point of view but still usable for development and testing. This cost an additional 2 million Euros, which was outside the budget of the project in question.

No-one knew if it was legal for the German third party developers to access Swiss customer data as part of the same project and if not, whether yet another 2 million Euros would have to be spent to scramble the data.

The matter was pressing, as there was only about 5 months to go for the first implementation and the third party developers were in full swing and required an answer immediately. The lawyers “swung into action” as only lawyers can do, and came back with an answer 3½ months later.

In the meantime, the firm had arranged for access to the Swiss data as if there were no data protection issues, hoping that the right answer would come back from the lawyers. This time the right answer came back, but in such situations there is never any guarantee that such risk taking will prove positive.  If it hadn’t, the firm would have been liable for serious financial penalties, but if they had simply waited, they would have entirely missed the deadline for the first production implementation, which was a major corporate event and high on the list of the Board’s strategic priorities.

Observe, Orient, Decide, Act

An interesting framework for almost any complex activity requiring good decisions and the ability to learn quickly from the environment is John Boyd’s OODA “Loop”.

John Boyd was an aircraft designer and very successful jet fighter pilot.  He flew the American F-86, which won 9 out of 10 dog-fight encounters with its rival Mig-15 despite being by all accounts an inferior aircraft.

Boyd pondered over this conundrum, and reviewed in his mind what he did in the cockpit during a dog-fight. He first observed, then oriented himself, planned for action and then acted. Boyd called this process OODA (observe, orient, decide and act).  Critically, he  performed this sequence over and over again, and presumably his counterpart in the Mig was doing the same thing.

He decided that the primary determinant to winning dogfights was not merely going through the loop better than the other fellow – it was doing so faster.  In other words, speed of iteration beats quality of iteration.

So how could the F-86, an inferior aircraft, iterate faster than the Mig? It turns out that the F-86 had a hydraulic flight stick whereas the Mig-15 had a manual flight stick, which became increasingly difficult for the Mig pilot to operate as he became tired from having to push it constantly without hydraulic assistance.

Roger Sessions, a well known specialist in the pragmatic implementation of Enterprise Architectures, has called this “Boyd’s Law of Iteration”: “In analyzing complexity, fast iteration almost always produces better results than in-depth analysis.”

My own experience in international project management environments has confirmed this: going through the OODA Loop in complex situations is preferable to a slower, more thoughtful and perhaps higher quality approach.  For example, quickly producing an outline solution, even when you know it is incomplete and not totally accurate, and distributing it to all those whom you believe may be affected, is probably better than not producing anything and working until you know have an absolutely correct solution over a longer period of time. You will need several iterations in any case, and, in the meantime, you will most likely have identified other parties who may need to give input.

This type of behaviour is entirely pragmatic in projects (you must win the dog-fight!), but at the same time, it runs counter to our learned behaviour not to make mistakes. In some countries and companies, it is crucial not to be seen to be making mistakes of any kind, which is a great inhibitor to positive action.  It has also been my experience that IT staff in particular are extremely loathe to act in such a fashion, preferring to never issue anything that isn’t perfectly complete. One must have the courage to press on through Boyd’s Loop, take the flak from those who miss the forest for the trees and correct things in successive passes through the Loop.  

The Golden Rules

In conclusion, my 12 Golden Rules sum up the practical lessons I have learned over my 30 years on managing international projects successfully:

1.     Don’t be an “Ugly American”: make an effort to walk in the shoes of those affected by your project.

2.     Encourage face to face meetings for key project leaders and staff in alternating venues in the different countries involved in the international project.

3.     Work out a language strategy that suits the majority of project members.

4.     Make an effort to participate in social events of the countries you are working in, and try to schedule a few such events for the key project team members over the course of the project.

5.     Always be polite. Remember that you are a guest in the country you are working in, and your behaviour will be taken as representative of your own nationality as well as of your person.

6.     Adjust your professional standards to the culture of the company you are working for, without damaging your integrity. Standards are fine, but don’t attempt to enforce them too rigidly or in a manner you are accustomed to that simply will not work for a particular client.

7.     When confronted with new dimensions of complexity, consider using John Boyd’s OODA Loop approach: press on quickly, even though you know your first attempt is not complete and not totally accurate. Make corrections in the successive passes through the Loop.

8.     Remember that project management is all about information and communication. Information becomes harder to get in international projects and communication is made more difficult by the linguistic and cultural differences.  No IT package will solve this - there is simply no substitute for keen soft human skills in this area. Don’t get me wrong: I am not an IT Luddite, but the emphasis has to be on sound human communication skills with technology as a support.

9.     Virtual Project Teams can become a reality if you have something like Microsoft Project EPM installed, which allows sharing of plans over a shared server and over the internet.  The technology alone is not enough, however, unless you have the soft skills described earlier and the company involved has provided proper training for their staff and is at a fairly advanced stage of sophistication (as judged by the PMI stages of maturity, for example).

10.    Find out who has the best intra-company network among your project staff and bind them to yourself with hoops of gold! This person will hold the key to solving all the end-to-end problems which are bound to arise during the course of the project.

11.     Remember that you are there to do a particular job, but that there will usually be an implicit agenda and terms of reference that will never be written down: you are there to make your boss look good!

12.    The best tools are common sense, flexibility, a positive attitude, and a commitment to the best motto for every Project Manager: Execution, Delivery, Results!

About Larry Traynor

Larry Traynor is a senior management consultant with 38 years’ project experience, including some 30 years of managing international projects.

Larry’s career began with the APOLLO Moon Project in 1968 where, as a programmer and analyst, he designed and tested real-time software for the project’s front end telecommunications.  

After applying his skills in the emerging real-time technology to the finance and retail sectors, he took on his first international assignment working for Ford in Germany as an IBM Database and Network Specialist with European-wide remit.

Since 1980 he has been an independent consultant offering services in four key disciplines: consultancy; expert witness; executive search & recruitment; and funding of technology-related companies.  His achievements include developing an international network connectivity strategy for S.W.I.F.T.'s global telecoms business; creating a Retail Systems Architecture and managing retail automation for Midland (now HSBC) Bank; major process re-engineering for AT&T; and a radical performance enhancement and cost reduction programme for the New York and London Treasury, Money Markets and Swaps Operations of Barclays Bank, leading to the formation of Barclays Capital.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Project Intelligence.

Business architecture design - the blueprint for successful change

Every organisation today has to cope with change.  Yet most change programmes still fail to deliver the expected benefits.  

Why is this? I believe that most failed programmes were destined to do so because they were never designed to succeed. 

Businesses can be seen as “systems” with interrelating elements. These elements comprise the Business Architecture which must be in balance for a change programme to deliver the expected benefits.  If this architecture is not designed to support the changed state of the business it will fail. Each element must be addressed because each is affected by change.

The diagram below depicts the elements of Business Architecture as Process, People, Systems, Organisation and Culture.
Process is what is done and how & when it is done.
People relates to the skills and experience of those carrying out the processes.
Systems relates to the information systems that support the processes and the management systems that govern the processes and people.
Organisation is how the people are “configured” to carry out the processes, using the information and governance systems.

If all of these are addressed in the right way the organisation’s culture will evolve to support the desired change.

Culture is an outcome of the other four elements and when seen in this context it becomes the sustaining factor - the “non return valve” that will ensure that the organisation does not slip back to its previous state after the change programme ends.

Change can be stimulated by a number of factors, common triggers including a new strategy, implementation of a new IT system, responding to financial or competitive pressures.  The reason can usually be placed in one of the elements mentioned above.  Evidence shows that when this happens, the focus is then given to that element almost to the exclusion of the others. This is where the design of the change falls down.

A new IT system for example, will require people to do things differently; to do this, they will need to build new skills and experience. The management system and governance may need to be altered; the way people are organised may be affected. One would hope that accuracy of decision making would improve and cycle times would reduce. These changes affect, to some degree or another, all the elements of the architecture so the change needs to be designed and modelled in terms of the whole architecture so that the overall impact can be understood and the transition planned.

Begin at the beginning

If this sounds common sense as opposed to rocket science, why does it not get the attention that it deserves?

Organisations continue to focus on development and implementation at the expense of design.  Experience shows that any time “saved” on design is only transferred and increased, to rework in later phases of the change. The later the phase, the more chance of it having a terminal effect on the programme. 

How can a business know the scale of the implementation of any change unless it knows where it is starting from, where it is going to and can measure the gap between the two?

Senior executives often describe how difficult it is to make the final decision to embark on a change programme.  Like dropping a pebble into a pond, once let go it is impossible to catch the pebble before it hits the pond and when it does, the ripples stretch much further than one would expect.

The business architecture design can go a long way to reducing this anxiety. It provides a blue print for the change and can help identify the scope and reach - in short, the size of the challenge. There are standard techniques and pragmatic approaches that ensure that the blue print can be developed in an appropriate amount of time. It is the responsibility of the business sponsor to ensure that the programme scope includes this vitally important work.

Business architecture design is a fundamental component of a successful and sustained change that will ensure that if implemented correctly the investment made in the change programme will return the planned benefits


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Change.

Compliance begins at home

SARBOX and Basle II may have hit the headlines but what about compliance with internal policies?  Pelicam follower Chris Bevan argues these deserve equal attention.

Over the past two years the issue of compliance with regulations has risen to the top of the corporate agenda as organisations change their processes to meet the increasing demands of Sarbanes Oxley, Basle II, Health & Safety, FSA and other regulatory authorities.

Responsibility is now firmly held by CEOs and other board members, supported by the newly high profile role of the Compliance Officer. 

While a great deal of focus has rightly been placed on complying with external regulations, can we be confident that organisation’s own internal policies are implemented and followed with the same degree of rigour?  If not, the danger is that customers will be the first to find out, or - worse still - competitors will  exploit the fact.

Policies are driven by strategic goals and are formulated to provide the “rules” for governance and decision making. They also shape the way the world sees an organisation. For example, a policy empowering front line operators to make important financial decisions when engaged directly with a customer supports their perception that the company is customer focussed and responds to their needs.

But such a policy, however well intended, is worthless unless it is communicated, implemented and managed effectively.  

Software products can help with this process.  They can audit who has received the policy document (usually electronically) and, through questionnaire techniques, confirm the individual’s understanding and identify any training needs. So now we know that the policy has been communicated, received and understood.  But is it being followed?

There has to be trust that employees are following the policies and the company can help by providing them with the framework - processes, procedures and governance - to comply.

The Compliance Meta model below shows the steps required to ensure the framework is in place.  It also provides the internal audit step to ensure that any issues are picked up internally before external auditors arrive to check compliance.

Having determined the specific policies, the organisation should ensure that the appropriate controls are in place.

Once an organisation has determined its policies and the appropriate controls, it should review the relevant processes and procedures to ensure that they comply with the policy.  An example of this could be a financial policy on pricing which is owned by the finance department but implemented by the sales team. The only way for the finance function to check the policy is being followed correctly is to   ensure that the processes and procedures the sales team use are documented in some way. Once all this is done, the organisation has all the elements in place to expect compliance.

The remaining steps in the compliance model refer to auditing and remedial action that would be required should compliance not be found.

This model is a structured approach to ensuring that policies are complied with and can be incorporated into monitoring practices processes.  It can be used to monitor compliance with both internal policies and regulatory regimes – so business Boards can be confident that their intentions become reality without having to invent extra processes.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Risk Management, Corporate Government.

Political Skill in Programme Management

Rhetoric is the “art and science” of persuasion. Despite teaching this subject, Aristotle disagreed with it, for its application gave power to weaker arguments. However he deemed it necessary to teach this discipline to all ambitious young men as a defence against weak arguments, therefore raising the threshold of competence required for success in rational debate.

And this is true today not only for government and mainstream politics, but this dynamic is equally true of organisational politics. Anyone with more than a few months experience working in organisational life will recognise that the reality is that there are Machiavellian characters that are pursuing self serving agendas wreaking havoc and denting bottom lines. Not to mention damaging the careers of the people with higher integrity who have the organisations’ best interests at heart. Talented managers need to equip themselves quickly with political skill and savvy if they are to thrive.

Since programme management is at the forefront of change within organisations more and more people are realising the need for their project staff to increase their political nouse. Since Jeffrey Pfeffer asserted as long ago as 1982 that power and politics was about “getting things done”, it’s surprising how few have caught on. In fact, in a survey a few years ago, only 14% of IT personnel admitted they were politically active, which pales into insignificance against the 54% of general managers!

Unfortunately the most common organisational mindset is that politics is a taboo subject and one which is seldom explicitly discussed let alone productively addressed. However modern scholars are convinced that success in corporate life is hugely dependent on political skill. Gerald Ferris and his colleagues in the US have worked extensively in identifying and measuring political skill and have concluded “we believe that effective use of political skill will become increasingly important to a manager’s career”. Professor Jean Hartley last year asserted that “political skills cannot be viewed as the domain of the specialist, but as a mainstream element of leadership across all sectors”. She also advised that “If you really want an organisation to achieve success in today’s complex environment, you cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the political dimension of your business or service”.

We are starting to see the signs that more enlightened leaders are beginning to pay heed. As a business we focus on power, influence and organisational politics and we are regularly asked to present our research, experience and ideas to enthusiastic audiences who are all eager to learn. Typically these are populated by talented individuals who are fed up with seeing their honest endeavours wasted at the hands of the Machiavellian office politician. They all have a story to tell and some battle scars to show. They are begging the question “what can we do”. Our answer to this is to focus on developing your political skills to leverage your competence, your ideas and your career. This is vital and should form a part of every skills development programme.

Political Skill

Much is already known about this skill, however until recently, for most organisations positive organisational politics has been hidden within competency frameworks under a variety of sub skill sets like communication; influencing, networking and negotiation to name but a few, but these are only part of the solution. We believe that political skill should be given much sharper focus.

Based on our experience and research we have identified some of the key constituent elements that will move us towards providing a curriculum for the development of political skill.

Social Astuteness. The skill needed to effectively interact with other humans at a social level. This includes being able to read people well and take notice of how people are being affected by behaviour.

Organisational Astuteness. The ability to be able to read the organisation. How it operates and in what context it exists. Who are the key players, how are they connected and in a sense, how to predict group reactions. Attached to this is the skill of being able to build effective group influencing strategies

Interpersonal Influence. The set of skills that enable one to effectively persuade, reason, negotiate at both an individual and a group level. To be able to counter other moves, build power, network and build coalitions and consensus.

Networking Ability. The ability to build strategic social capital with a wider group of individuals that can be utilised either now or maybe at some point in the future.

Engendering Trust. This has been identified as the foundation for authentic and sustainable political skill. To be able to display high levels of integrity, to empathise, self disclose and build enduring relationships with human beings.

Each of these dimensions can be broken down so that individuals and coaches can identify specific and practical developmental interventions.

In conclusion

The threshold for success within organisations is rising. As both the internal and external commercial environment becomes more competitive, and the legislative environment becomes ever more complex, the need for strong and authentic political skills is increasing. Those that have it (backed up by strong performance within their work) will be able to neutralise the Machiavellian efforts of less able, albeit politically competent individuals who, acting out of self interest, could cause you and your organisation considerable harm. We cannot stress our belief strongly enough, that you need to take this skill set seriously. If you are to fulfil your potential in your career, or in fact in life, you need to become increasingly proficient in this area.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

The Challenge of Project Management

Over the past few decades the rise of project management has seen it become the main vehicle for delivering business change: strategic initiatives, new products and services.  Effective project management means organisations and managers can stay ahead of the competition and, in many cases, confers a competitive advantage.

Since the advent of computers the project management discipline has become increasingly and intrinsically linked to information systems as a major means for delivering business change. 

Projects with IT elements are difficult to manage

Yet projects with IT elements are difficult to manage for many reasons: they often appear/are abstract; have their own specialised and frequently changing terminology, myriad ever-changing standards, approaches and methodologies as well as ever-improving technologies available to us. 

Systems integrations, which increasingly result from business mergers and acquisitions, require the management of numerous suppliers responsible for the various elements.  Similarly the advent of open systems and “free” software (even to the point of robust operating systems such as Linux) has introduced increasing numbers of third-party suppliers. 

How can these complexities result in straight forward comparisons that permit proactive, early and well informed decision making by business people whose understanding of technical matters is necessarily limited?  And should they need to know anyway!?  And if not, what do they need to know and understand to make rational decisions for the benefit of their company?

Our profession remains largely unsuccessful

In creating a ‘new’ profession the emphasis has been on planning, activities, change control, financial control alongside an understanding of technical matters.  Despite the creation of professional project management qualifications, the success rates of projects that deliver successful business change remains painfully and embarrassingly small.

It is no surprise that IT projects are regarded suspiciously.  Those project managers with both IT and business skills are in ever-increasing demand but in short supply: even more so that tiny remnant of project managers who have been and remain successful.  Suddenly rational questions cascade forth in abundance:

Who are they? 

Where are they? 

Can we hire them?

What is their secret?

How can we become like them? 

Can we learn from them?

Neither hard, nor soft, nor a combination of approaches have succeeded

Many top-tier consultancies, as well as august, professional bodies have therefore focused on the softer behavioural aspects as the panacea for project management considering the ‘harder’ aspects important but not critical for success.  However, like the professional qualifications before them, the ‘soft’ focus has been (and remains) important, but is not on its own, own critical for success. 

Without this ability to pragmatically and intelligently apply necessary and timely tools and techniques, the project manager is left with apparently few options.  At these crucial times of a project, project managers are invariably reluctant to take that calculated risk.  They will usually revert to type: focusing on the (hard) structure and discipline of formal methods or the (soft) reinvigoration of the project team. 

What are we missing?

Experience shows that there is a need for both aspects: hard and soft.  But it also clearly highlights a gap filled by a third focus that has largely been overlooked because it is so (necessarily) inextricably linked with both hard and soft it is difficult to isolate.

A balanced combination of hard disciplines and soft skills may be achievable and desirable but will it consistently and successfully guarantee project delivery?  Although providing a theoretically correct project, it would not necessarily (specifically) consider the:

Peculiarities of the organisation, its environment and culture

Pragmatic means by which projects must flex in order to deliver (within the legitimate bounds of methodological good practice) using an appropriate selection of tools and techniques from the depth of hard disciplines alongside the breadth of stakeholder management and people skills and all that within the context of the organisation’s limitations and position at that time

Asymmetrical and dynamic balance that needs to be maintained between best practice and reality when unexpected turns of events dictate alternative project measures (even when, for short periods, good practice is not necessarily in evidence but that risk, which had not been worth taking in theory, has now become an issue in practice and needs managing)

“Do-ability” of the project.

The human condition as it is presented in that organisation at that particular time.

Project managers are expected to maintain a coherent project by judicious decision-making (despite not always having the entire picture at their disposal).  They do so throughout this ‘organisational haze’ so that, when it clears, what remains is a coherent whole with:

Visible project integrity retained

Stakeholders still committed to the course taken and the business objective

Demonstrable good practice

An (apparently) uncanny ability to correctly identify and manage critical issues and resolve painful problems at the right time.

Figure 1 – Even an appreciation of systematic and systemic, rationalistic and soft systems, approaches is insufficient

The expertise and experience required to navigate such a course is considerable and is more than just a combination of hard disciplines and soft skills.  It also requires the experience and expertise, born of intelligence gleaned and honed over years of battle-hardened project management, to be applied in order to achieve the project objectives.

Why should we believe this alternative approach?

Repeated, consistent and successful project interventions indicate that our approach has some mileage; if only from a substantively experiential perspective.  The hypothesis may be relatively new and may require more statistical evidence to support it, but in the intervening period between tentative hypothesis and established empirical truth, are we to remain rooted in project failure never seeking an uncovering of myriad failures or an explanation for occasional success?

If our approach succeeds, competitive advantage is acquired and our hypothesis is further corroborated.  And even if it is incorrect, it still teaches important lessons in the discipline of project management and may serve to improve our hypothesis.

Organisations that work with our approach are discovering that, though not easy initially, it is nevertheless possible to “stop digging” themselves further into the hole of failed projects but rather find an escape route through the recognition, realisation and application of project intelligence; and moving apace towards the successful delivery of business change.

The challenge remains…

Yet the challenge of project management is not static as some would urge (if it were the project management techniques used to construct the Egyptian pyramids would still be employed today, having gravitated to our industry through the rationalistic tradition). 

Perfect project management remains a moving target.  As long as a drive towards innovative business solutions exists, it will always remain on the move.   And we must do more than merely accept this fact: we must continually learn what it means for us and our organisations now, or we, too, will be left behind building pyramids for ourselves.

Neil Richardson

After over 15 years’ in IT management consultancy both independently and with agencies including PA Consulting and Fujitsu/ICL, Neil is now one of Pelicam’s Managing Practitioners.  In 2006 he established Pelicam North and is currently delivering Pelicam’s “Realising Project Intelligence” training alongside consultancy assignments.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Project Intelligence.

The Mythical Millennium Legacy

A Tale of Happiness and Sadness, Wealth and Poverty

Have you wondered why it seems to be more difficult today to find a good senior project manager than it did 10 years ago?  Well 10 years ago they might have been junior PMs in a consultancy.  So what happened to them?  Where did they go?  The Mythical Millennium Legacy is a fairy tale of joy and sorrow.

The Mythical Millennium Approach

Once upon a time from the mid-1990s through to the end of 2002 (consultancy) project management saw massive growth, initially caused by Y2K programmes.  Although initially ‘easy’ money could be earned, many (aspiring) project managers became trapped in a cycle of Y2K projects. 

However in our story there existed Partners who earned steeply escalating commissions as PM billing rates rose exponentially compared to their salaries.  Promoting these junior PMs would bite into the Partners’ ever-increasing bonuses, so many remained in junior roles with proportionately small but nonetheless generous bonuses.

As the millennium approached PM work remained the same as did Partner numbers.  Only the size of Partner bonuses increased, as companies paid extortionate amounts to consultancies that only passed on a relatively tiny amount to the PMs doing the work. 

Some seasoned PMs claimed they saw the future.  Recognising promotion was not within their grasp they departed: many to a “safer” operational role and some to independent (freelance) work.

But it didn’t matter that a large proportion of the more senior PMs left the consultancy.  In fact it helped because costly PMs could be replaced by eager inexperienced junior PMs sold on similar fees and increasing, even further, the size of the Partner bonuses.  Hurrah! And three cheers for the Partners’ business acumen!  (Never mind the clients – they won’t notice the difference).

The Mythical Millennium eBusiness Boom

In our story however, once the millennium had occurred consultancies were suddenly overstaffed with junior staff.  But joy of joys (ours is a happy tale) a new internet boom provided “jobs for the boys” and the youngsters were redeployed to deliver “transform or die” strategies which, in reality, were ad hoceBusiness developments and learning at the clients’ expense.  Indeed, the absence of (senior) PMs was marketed as a strength, not a weakness; because they were not needed in the rush to the eBusiness marketplace.

And “Oh frabjous day, calloo, callay”: remarketing these juniors provided another two years of massive bonuses and no incentive to promote anyone.  How good could it get?  Time to retire?

The Mythical Millennium Reorganisation

But in our mythical tale of seemingly unending joy, there were evil Regulators who changed the face of consultancies and an evil Economy that went bust more or less simultaneously. 

Consultancies downsized: the need for junior staff disappeared (as so they did).  Clients tightened their purse strings.  eBusiness developments stopped.  Recruitment agencies began to acquire a bigger supply than demand; and the need to speak to freelance consultants disappeared almost totally as buzz word searches could return hundreds of matches for every opportunity, and commission-making an automated process devoid of intellectual input.

Worse still the older and wealthier Partners could see their life-blood (bonuses) ebbing away: time to retire and get out while the going is good and leave the younger Partners to face the music – but what was left?  Consultancies now needed reorganising.  A large slice of senior staff were no longer there.  A diminished, demotivated (not to say worried) and massively inexperienced junior element remained.  And though they were very good at Y2K fixes and eBusiness developments, nobody wanted to buy those services?  What to do now?   With little choice, consultancies started to build again (almost) from scratch and slowly focusing on more specific services that they knew clients needed.  Some became focused on specific products (such as SAP); others on a particular process (like Supply Chain) or again others on a specific niche (Governance and Risk).  Some transformed their brand, other merged and still others dropped their consultancy arm completely; but all had to re-establish themselves in a world where Partnership was no longer a right to print money and PMs had to commence training again at clients’ expense.  And that would take time.  It would probably be 2010 at the earliest before these juniors could be treated as serious PMs.

The Mythical Millennium Legacy

But of course this is a fairy tale.  If it were true (which it isn’t) we would have been able to observe the following:

1.     Consultancies forming alliances, partnerships, merging and taking over other consultancies.

2.     Consultancies re-branding and desperate to hire; especially senior people.

3.     Consultancies sub-contracting senior freelance PMs to fulfil contracts of work they had won.

4.     Junior PMs covertly learning their trade within consultancies and rarely visible to clients.

5.     An increased number of recruitment agencies but a decrease in human intervention through search engines.

6.     An increase in the number of independent (freelance) senior PMs, Programme Managers and Project Directors who were not interested in returning to the avaricious Partnerships that, 10 years earlier, exploited rather than promoted them.

7.     A steadily increasing difficulty for organisations wishing to get hold of high quality independent senior PMs because they would only use agencies as a last resort. 

8.     A consequent absence of senior PMs in the marketplace.

But like I said: this was just a fairy tale.  The Mythical Millennium Legacy has left us with easy access to an overabundance of top-quality Senior Project Managers right at our doorsteps…hasn’t it?


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

The Apprentice - is he the right man for the job?

Hiring the right person in a key role is not easy. Some prefer the limelight of BBC television for their interviews……… others wait ‘in the wings’ for 10 years.

Does interviewing really work?   What has happened to the winners of Alan Sugar’s “Apprentice”?  

And does promoting a capable person mean they will be capable at another, different job?  Will Gordon Brown’s lead in the polls be maintained?

Our clients regularly challenge their supply partners to better qualify incoming project resources and to manage them more rigorously on an ongoing basis.  Pelicam has more strict eligibility and retention controls than any organisation of which we have direct or indirect knowledge.  As a bare minimum, Pelicam require 8 years intensive, progressive and demonstrable senior project management experience plus a proven and verifiable track record.  It confirms Pelicam as one of the most elite organisations to join, but for the very best and the highly motivated, this is a challenge to be welcomed.

Our eligibility criteria

Minimum requirements for our Practitioners:

1.     Eight or more years of intensive and progressive project management experience.

2.     Demonstrable experience and success at:

1.     Building structured relationships with stakeholders including customers, suppliers and internal staff.

2.     Translating customer requirements into formal agreements and plans.

3.     Ensuring the integrity of the assignment through structured project design and control framework, communication and demonstrable management.

4.     Actively applying project components to fit purpose (e.g. build the ‘plan for the plan’).

3.     In summary - trusted, reliable, does projects well, knows the theory and structured components, can build methods according to environment, manages self, manages client, manages team, manages job, committed to project success.

Practitioner entry criteria

In order to guarantee the quality of our resources we insist on the following entry criteria:

1.     Face to face interview to determine depth of project management understanding – hard and soft skills, project intelligence awareness.

2.     References from two trusted sources including one client.

3.     Demonstrated capability on Pelicam projects for at least 6 months duration (in one or more assignments).

4.     Successful completion of a two day (Realising Project Intelligence) workshop.

Practitioner performance criteria

On assignment our Practitioners will consistently:

1.     Shape and lead assignments such that the entire Pelicam team can best deliver value to the client.

2.     Identify and assess appropriate skills and resources for an assignment.

3.     Be seen to add value by the quality of advice and depth of expertise.

4.     Consistently demonstrate discipline and adherence to Pelicam policies, values and procedures.

As a consequence:

1.     Our “belt and braces” approach ensures the quality of our resources.

2.     These resources are motivated to deliver to our standards and incentivised to deliver project success to our clients.

3.     We hope and believe this model provides the “perfect partner” for clients who demand the best.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

Mind the gap

Many client-side project managers who struggle to a greater or lesser extent believe they are performing well – evidenced by focusing on some of the good characteristics within their project.  Yet the gap between what is perceived as good and best practice can be enormous (something our clients have pointed out to us after working with us).  Only when clients gain the benefits from one of our health checks or project assurance assignments, do they realise how good, good really is!  Oftentimes project managers themselves are temporarily stunned by the length, breadth and depth of what it takes to be a top-class project manager.  And that is what we want to claim; and with demonstrable proof. 

Our goal is for Pelicam to be the home of the best 100 independent programme and project management practitioners, in the IT and business change arena, in the UK who live our values of professional integrity.

It may be almost impossible to prove our case; it may be extremely difficult to identify and recruit the up-and-coming project managers; it may be impossible to retain all our elite practitioners as their work-life balance moves in a different direction – nevertheless that remains our goal.  Aim high, hit high.  However aim low and…

The reality is that many, if not all, organisations struggle with why and how to develop their project management community.  The routine operational challenges of a business override any concerns about one community within that business, often resulting in a disenfranchised group on the fringe of what is perceived as adding business value with no clear raison d’être, no credible career path and no credible professional qualifications to boot.

Developing your project management community

1. Matching the portfolio to our project intelligence

Each year, a company’s portfolio requires the management of small, simple projects through to large, complex ones.  But does the project management community have the necessary project intelligence to deliver that portfolio?  If not, what else can be done?

Using an inexperienced project manager could prove disastrous.  And when things do go wrong, a well-intentioned but misjudged performance assessment of the entire PM community (to ensure it doesn’t look like a witch hunt) will surely undermine the entire project management community.

2. Lack of training courses to develop a career path

OK…so you’ve got your PRINCE2/APM certificate.  But now what? 

The opportunity to become a project planning software jockey is neither enticing nor career enhancing. 

1.     And the prospect of spending the rest of your career learning from your peers - who are no more “expert” than you are… 

2.     And what about the complete absence of training courses for project managers trying to advance their careers..? 

3.     And the general ‘Management Training’ course PMs are often sent on (as a feel-good factor) but are, in fact, hopelessly targeted and simply waste their annual training budget.

4.     And why are training budgets handled by folk incentivised by volume and cost reduction rather than appropriateness and quality of training returned through business benefits?

Reflecting on the ideal career-training path that a PM should have, helped us produce a first draft diagram (below) that highlights:

1.     IN GREEN - training currently widely available 

2.     IN AMBER - training widely required but rarely available

3.     IN RED – training required but simply not available.

I have also highlighted the illustrative time-scales during a career when the training will be at its most effective because it can be implemented immediately afterwards.  Far too often I have met project managers who have had the right training at the wrong time: rendering it almost worthless.  Who owns your training budget?!?!

Amidst all this doom-and-gloom it is no wonder that a PRINCE2/APM certificate stands head-and-shoulders above the rest as being something of apparent value…but I know, you know, project managers know and even the PRINCE2/APM stakeholders know – it isn’t enough!

Training companies are unlikely to ever deliver the training we need and why?

1.     The more advanced these courses are, the smaller the target population of project managers becomes (hence fewer sales ergo reduced profit).

2.     The more advanced these courses, the more expertise and experience is required to create them (hence increased cost of authors ergo reduced profit).

3.     The more advanced these courses are, the more expertise and experience is required to deliver them and not just in project management but also those with a training/coaching inclination (hence increased cost of training ergo reduced profit).

4.     And even if they could be delivered they could not be delivered to large audiences (generating profit) because project problems become increasingly specific and complex in their very nature (hence decreased revenues from smaller audiences ergo reduced profit).

5.     And even if all these obstacles could be overcome, there is no sufficiently serious and nationally (or globally) recognised professional body that would or could validate the qualifications resulting in some sort of tertiary qualification.

So shouldn’t we all give up and go home?  Well we have already begun to address these gaps in the professional career path with a small set of expert training and coaching workshops delivered by some of our best and most senior project managers.

Question (and I know what you’re thinking): “doesn’t this lack of profit all apply to Pelicam?” 
Answer: YES – but we care passionately about our profession and are prepared to do whatever it takes to raise the level of professionalism so that it becomes a respected profession…and even if that means taking a risk in producing a loss-making course..

What are the alternatives?

1.     Use a PM provided by a recruitment agency although you have:

a.     No guarantee of quality

b.     The time-consuming job of qualifying them yourself

c.     To pay a large commission to the agent whether or not they are any good

d.     An overhead in managing their performance and delivery capability

2.     Hire a big-firm consultancy although it may:

a.     Not guarantee quality (the consultancies can't find senior PMs either!)

b.     Cost a large amount of money

c.     Deliver a large number of junior PMs learning their job at your expense

d.     Send a clear, and somewhat unpalatable, message to your PM Community

e.     Not provide any real skills transfer

f.      Not provide any guarantee of delivery.

3.     Use a less senior PM though:

a.     They will need regular and frequent mentoring (and still may not succeed)

b.     It may lead to failure, recriminations and typically, redundancy or some form of exit

c.     You must consciously accept the level of risk and not blame the PM you chose!

4.     Hiring an independent PM could work and provided they:

a.     Are genuinely top-class self-starters and don't need managing

b.     Add real value

c.     Transfer best practice skills to internal PMs

d.     Can work within the organisational culture without undermining the internal PM community's faith in its own abilities.

e.     Can be found!!!


3. Lack of role models

There used to be enough senior project managers to demonstrate and spread good practice (using juniors as project office managers whilst learning).  Occasionally juniors would simply shadow their role models – a surprisingly good use of time and money.  Yet this practice appears to have been discontinued: but why?  Is it because:

a.     There is insufficient best practice from PMs acting as role models?

b.     The best PMs are too busy?

c.     Juniors don’t want to learn?

d.     The value for money hasn’t been evaluated properly?

e.     Something else?

4. Not understanding project management potential

Even though few (if any) organisations can call upon the quality of project manager that Pelicam can; does that matter anyway? 

Organisations should, and often do, manage a large proportion of their own portfolios.  For this to succeed, however, the capability of project managers must be assessed realistically…without creating job unrest.  Then project managers can be allocated projects with which they can be stretched and still succeed

Over the past few years (and following much research, discussion and experience) Pelicam has developed both a core and advanced competency framework designed to flex according to company strategy as well as the target abilities of the community of project management required by that organisation – ranging from the most junior project personnel to the most senior.  We believe it to be unique in the industry.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

Pelicam on assignment – Lisa Lindon

Back in March 2007 Pelicam were asked to provide a series of six programme Health Checks for a client’s Strategic Billing Programme.  Such was the success of those Health Checks that in summer 2008 Pelicam were invited to carry out the same service for the client’s 3G programme.

Both the CCO and COO had concerns that the 3G programme lacked clear accountabilities, and that the overall scope and delivery structure were not effectively joined up.  Our Health Check provided the facts to support these concerns and identified a further series of challenges that had left the client exposed.  By combining the best practices of Pelicam’s programme Health Check with my own experience in managing 3G deliveries, I was able to provide real insight and gain client confidence that Pelicam was the right partner to help correct matters.

For the last 60 days I have been asked, by the CCO, to implement some of the tactical recommendations from the Health Check and provide strategic input to fully mobilise the programme from a commercial perspective: this involves using all of the programme management skills that are a pre-requisite for all Pelicam practitioners.  In addition I have been giving subject matter expertise in the area of business transformation planning and 3G strategy. 

Since the end of August I have successfully provided programme assurance over the client’s first key commercial milestone - to switch on their network to their 3G customers.  In addition I have designed and implemented (for, and with, the client) a new governance model, a set of programme controls and most importantly, provided the framework and thought leadership for the commercial organisation to better define their 3G vision; as well as identifying and tracking their critical success factors.  As a result the client now, after 12 months of trying, has a communicable view of what commercial success looks like.  It is regarded as a significant breakthrough, as it not only allows the client to engage their organisation in the message that this is about re-shaping the future, but has also provided a framework to fully mobilise the necessary business wide programme, networks to pricing, products to channel strategy, and customers experience to PR.  It’s a monster!

You will realise by now that the programme is complex and the culture of the organisation is unusual. However, that makes seeing the results all the more rewarding - to know that we can still achieve traction, move the client forward; even with all of the challenges that the environment presents.  And that’s what makes this an interesting assignment.  It is an opportunity to demonstrate Pelicam’s best practice programme assurance and intelligence, coupled with the chance to provide real thought leadership, energy, passion and drive.

The best feedback I’ve had so far has come directly from the CCO whom I have now heard a number of times saying “Pelicam are fantastic!  They’ve come in and put this programme on steroids!”   (You have to forgive him, he’s an Aussie - but his sentiment is clear).  If you want quality people to do great things and make it happen then Pelicam remains the best consultancy to engage.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under Assurance, 2010.

Michael Anderson – Parcelforce Worldwide

We were delighted that Michael Anderson, Head of Strategic Programmes Worldwide, came to the Pelicam networking event in September as the guest speaker.  Michael talked about the challenges that Parcelforce Worldwide has faced over the last ten years - in particular in areas of change management.

Michael explained that through the challenges experienced in their ongoing technology rationalisation programme, and the contribution of Pelicam, they were able to much better understand what was required to deliver change successfully.

“Pelicam was brought in to support a project by helping us make some critical strategic decisions quickly. As a consequence Pelicam was retained to work with the Project Board offering assurance and guidance and to optimise the change management structure.”

Michael explained some of the key recommendations that were implemented successfully:

}Chunking up a list – look at tasks and activities and examine where they sit together naturally and understand dependency, responsibility and accountability.  This enables the project controls, management structure and governance to be set and understood.

Islands of Stability – define key stages and decision/check points where the team are able to make safe decisions about spend, resources, suppliers, risk and benefits.

Objectivity –Pelicam was able to challenge and question throughout the project life cycle, to ensure the project teams were continually focused on the aims of the project and objectively measuring capability and progress.

People – Parcelforce Worldwide are now in a position where the right people from across the organisation are involved.  They have the right skills, are supportive and engaged. 

Michael concluded that over the last year, Parcelforce Worldwide has delivered three very successful strategic projects and one major international programme.  Over 100 important changes have been implemented without disrupting the business, and the business is well set to deliver change programmes in the future.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under Assurance, 2010.

The Professional Certification of Project Managers

Many job advertisements require PRINCE2™ or APM™ certification from applicants: in government-related organisations this is mandatory.  But is this the correct initial qualification criterion? And does this qualify in (and out) the right people?  And if not, what other criteria should be used.

Buying professional services

Acquiring high-quality professional services is a difficult business. Services are intangible and bought on trust – difficult to measure or assess in advance.

The ‘sale’ should be part of the value-add because:

Expertise should be present at the sales meeting – not “pure-play” sales people; and

That expertise seeks to understand the problem (not simply tout a pre-determined solution which is annoying and frustrating for clients).

So is PRINCE™/APM™ certification sufficient?

Evaluating professional services

Not unreasonably, employers adopt an array of tactics to assure their final decision but there are fundamental flaws with all of these:

The right buzz-words could be on a CV

CVs could be embroidered or have been modified (inappropriately) by agents

Candidates could be good at interviews

Candidates at interviews may demonstrate market or subject expertise but then appoint others to deliver the job (a typical consultancy strategy)

Candidates (and their companies) can ‘embroider’ their range of services proposing they are broader and deeper than is genuinely the case

Fees are not always proportional to quality but can reflect the need of a wider organisation to upkeep sales staff, administrational overheads and property

References from previous employments may lack detail (and that may be not HR’s fault)

Personal recommendations are rarely impartial.

Therefore the only real proof is in the pudding; and a small (?) leap of faith is required to hire someone.  Do PRINCE™/APM™ certificates provide that assurance?

The only tool in the toolbox

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything you see ‘becomes’ a nail.”  In the project management world there may be similarities.  All we have is a basic level qualification to show an understanding of project methods (and those in a controlled environment). 

Aside from the unsound premise that we actually have a truly controlled environment (cfProjects IN a Controlled Environment), is such certification really sufficient?  And although examination boards have often reverted to multiple choice (isn’t that rather random – Ed), are these examination-board-cum-would-be-academics really the people we expect (or indeed want) to develop some sort of professional qualification that enables us to sift the wheat from the chaff - when we have a major organisational change programme putting our jobs and careers on the line?

Clearly there is a need to professional-ise project management for the purposes of identifying and rewarding those who can and do demonstrate best practice intelligently.  But who will authorise and administer this?  How will it be done?  And who has the knowledge, understanding, desire and finance to undertake this, perhaps, ultimately worthy venture?  Especially since the majority of project managers go through their entire careers without experiencing a successful project (and in many cases not realising this).

From pyramids to PRINCE™

We would like to compare ourselves to the world chartered engineers, but theirs is a profession far more mature than the world of IT and business change.  Their lessons originated from the construction of the Pyramids to the latest Olympic Stadium – and even then mistakes are still made.  But the mistakes are recorded,lessons are learned and the solutions passed between generations; and then tested in the heat of battle before certification finally acknowledges an individual’s professionalism.

And we have APM™ and PRINCE™: surely a mere driving licence trying to gain access to the F1 World Championship; a mere GCSE in support of a CEO role at a major global corporation. 


Come on people out there!  Heads out of the sand!  Wake up and smell the coffee!  Let’s face reality! 

We do need a genuine professional certification process based on real project management theory and practice – not a one week course resulting in a multiple choice questionnaire and a couple of essays based on a case study designed specifically to fit the perfect marking-model.

Don’t get me wrong though: I’m not ‘knocking’ PRINCE™ or APM™: they can have real value if you truly understand how to make use of them (and I carry the materials with me all the time).  I’m simply saying that their value is being grossly inflated simply because it’s the only “certified” tool in our toolbox.  The skill is not in having a certificate; it’s in knowing how to apply the right tools at the right time.

So when we advertise and interview applicants, may be we should reflect on more than these certificates.  If not, perhaps we should be certified…if you see what I mean

Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

Realising project intelligence

Energising project managers for delivery

“The facilitator inspired us to go back and redefine our projects; he acted as the voice of reason.  He invigorated the delegates and motivated us to think long and hard about how to run a project well.” John Walsh – Project Manager

It seems hard to believe but even our RPI workshop in November delivered a bright, sunny weekend and a highly enjoyable weekend.

“Overall fantastic – I did have my doubts in terms of ‘how good can it be’ however no doubt the most insightful, thought provoking and valuable ‘course’ I have been on – in the most pleasant company and environment.”

Barry Sacks – “One of only two courses in that I could not fault - relaxed, informal yet perfectly executed and professional.  Clearly a very very experienced practitioner yet not at all arrogant or talking at you.  I realised how much I may know but don’t use and how much I don’t know but wish to learn.  Who wouldn’t benefit!  If this is a ‘taster’ of the experience within Pelicam there is opportunity for further insight to be shared but Pelicam should charge more for the insight.”

Guy Lambert – “Very good trainer, clearly an expert in his field; and a good rapport with his victims.  Good fun!”

Brian O’Connor - “The course exercises were very, very tricky…!!  I came to the course without explicit objectives, other than to not make an arse of myself with my peers!  Fortunately it reminded me that I am actually half decent at what I do: so in that sense, it reinforced my belief in myself and therefore renews enthusiasm for the job.”

Mike Saunderson - “It is unusual to find a course where so much of the content is relevant to what I do and where so many learning points, hints and tips will make a direct impact on the way I work and the value I can add to clients.  It tackles the real issues facing delivery and provides great ways and tools to overcome. Fills the gaps left by methodologies.  A fantastic course!


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Project Intelligence.

Assuring success in a downturn


In a downturn, budgets and resources get cut - it’s just the problems that remain!  Your internal PMs are doing their best but with limited resources.  So how can you be confident they will deliver?  And without that extra-budget, how do you ensure (I mean, really ensure) your project is on-track to deliver?  And how much will that confidence cost you?  And without hiring a contract PM or giving a blank cheque to a consultancy!  Let’s take a look...

The cost of a contract PM is too great, would take too long, and wouldn’t be approved anyway...

The cost of a consultancy is only ever justified by finance after the project has gone wrong - you simply don’t have a blank cheque! Do you?

External project assurance (niche) consultancies always want a bigger fixed price contract than you can afford

Moreover internal project assurance is usually “marking its own homework” and provides no genuine or independent assurance.

We can help you with our version of project rescue but before it goes pear-shaped, that identifies as rapidly as possible the critical success factors in a project, proposes remedies and could even implement them...but you can take as little or as much of that work as you like/need/can afford. 

If it helps you, we can work to a fixed price.  We’re here to help clients not fleece them.

And the moment clients feel that their own staff can add the value themselves, we’ll leave them to it...and not try to hard-sell a <collective noun (of your choice) required> of junior consultants.

If you think we could help, or you’d simply like to talk through your options just click on the link here or call Peter (Mayer) on  07974084333 and we’ll get back to you.

Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Assurance.

Gateway warnings alone are not enough

I read with interest your article and comment on the Gateway reviews for the NHS National Programme for IT (Unheeded warnings highlight NHS flaws).

This large-scale programme has fundamental, but not unique, challenges. With a culture of non-accountability, no one wants to have to shoulder the responsibility for a lack of basic communication, the misinterpretation of the scheme as merely an IT project, limited ongoing buy-in from clinical staff as the programme changed, and inadequate programme and resolution management.

Effective communication is the lifeblood of any programme. If the scope and scale of the business requirements are not adequately recognised and understood, the complexity of the execution spirals, and without the hearts and minds of all stakeholders on board, there is little or no chance of success.

The view of the effort as an IT programme is also flawed. There is no such thing as an IT project. Every project has a business impact and benefit. The business case should be compelling and work for everyone. In this case, there is a substantial gap between the stated objectives and strategies of the programme and the real context in which they are delivered.

There has never been a widely accepted view of the “do-ability” of the programme. Perhaps what has been detrimental to this programme and many others is that suppliers are keen to win the business without full definition and acceptance of scope, challenge and risk.

Continuing failure to meet deadlines necessitates a fundamental change in approach to overcome root causes – for example, requirements not understood, business case not defined/believed, or a lack of delivery competency. I wonder how helpful the repeated “warnings” you mentioned have been. Do they come with remedies taking into account the deficiencies and defining what success looks like and how the programme can get back on track?

These reviews could be more proactive. Remedies must be specific and an action plan agreed with the relevant programme team. Collaboration is key – it is unclear whether or not the findings of these reviews were accepted by the people who matter. If a remedy is necessary, the governance for that review should include the execution of those remedies. If the remedies are not achieved, warning flags should be raised immediately without waiting for the next Gateway review to recognise that the same problem still exists. What is the point of project assurance if it doesn’t fix anything?


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Project Intelligence.

The fall and rise (and remake) of Reginald Perrin...

“27 minutes late: points failure outside Carshalton Halt...”begins Reggie.  But as I recall in the original 1970’s series it used to be something like “11 minutes late: dog on the line near Clapham Junction.”  We must conclude, therefore, that Reggie is 16 minutes later these days.  Ah much for estimating.

On Radio 4 recently, a government minister revealed his intervention into a £200m project had successfully achieved a latest best estimate of final cost as £550m (though there was still time for it to increase).  Am I alone in thinking that success appears to have changed its meaning?  Yet another Radio 4 interview recently told of a project that had delivered precisely what the government wanted - a great success!  Although the £300m spent was rather more than the original £20m budget.

Successful sitcoms may be remade and enable us to relive previously forgotten humour: aficionados of Leonard Rossiter’s Reggie Perrin may disagree.  Martin Clunes’ recent portrayal may have won others over.  However its success will undoubtedly not depend on the additional time Reggie Perrin 2009 takes to get to work.  Indeed series success is much more subjective.  Successful projects are, however, a different matter.

I confess to being at a complete loss how a £200m project already running a further £250m over budget (with the potential for further cost increases) or a £20m project costing 15 times more than plan could be described as successful.

For the hair-splitters amongst you who may be thinking that project success should not merely be constrained by the tightest definition of time, cost and deliverable quality/scope (TCQ) - well for once we may be in agreement!  There are undoubtedly projects whereby meeting stakeholder expectations of longer-term benefits may supersede simple TCQ measures.  But here’s the rub: these government projects use our, no, money.  And that makes me a stakeholder.  And although I can’t speak for you: I’m not happy about it...nor are my expectations being met.  In fact, come to think about it: I’m quite cross!  And you know what?  I’m very concerned about it; because the government has just announced that they are about to try and boost our economy by doing more projects like this.  So now what are you thinking? 

And yet when such projects are resourced, a key criterion for hiring a project manager is that they must have previous experience of government projects!!!  (“Are you serious?” -John McEnroe,1976).  They must (also) inevitably hold a PRINCE2 certificate (ref: our Spring 2009 newsletter).  At interview they must also show how good they are at managing stakeholder politics (but not the ones that matter: Ed) and agree a nice, (and sometimes not so) cheap day rate.  

I can only echo the words of that illustrious British manager, CJ, when he might say “I didn’t get where I am today without knowing a right governmental balls-up when I see one.  Bit of a cock-up on the project management side.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

The Importance of People

Debra Revens – Managing Practitioner

It is a given that Pelicam practitioners bring extensive experience in programme and project methodologies.  However, our clients tell us that what makes us special is our expertise in how to manage change intelligently and sensitively within increasingly complex businesses and cultures.

Research shows that there are ten or eleven main reasons why change programmes fail.  These include failure to commit the right resource with the right expertise; management support; the “what’s in it for me” being unclear; poor communications and a low profile of the people issues.  In fact, the vast majority of the reasons why change programmes fail relate to people rather than process or technology issues.

If businesses were run by robots then introducing change would be easy. 
We could just reprogramme our robotic colleagues and cut to tracking business benefits!  However, most people don’t think like machines!

We have found that ongoing investment within the programme in understanding who and how individuals and groups will be impacted by the change (and their feelings about it) is key.  This understanding can drive decision making about key elements of how the programme is delivered in regard to governance, resourcing, investment in communications, training and risk.

Our change methodologies and tools have been created to help us to ensure that we manage programmes that reflect the importance of people and culture to programme success.  If you are interested in discussing change management methodologies and tools or taking part in one of our specialist breakfast briefings on the challenges of change then please do not hesitate to contact us at or contact Debra on 07977 496655.

Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

How to build project integrity and certainty in your projects

The search for the holy grail of consistently achieving project certainty continues. And it is surprising the places people are looking.  It is understandable that we may ask the question - ‘what are the top 10 project failures’ – and seek to identify and concentrate on the resolution of these issues.  Pursuing such an approach, it follows there will be an improvement in an  organisations performance but the effort is typically unfocused, inefficient and has a large opportunity cost.

For instance, ask most Heads of Change, Projects and Programmes the question and they will cite organisational culture and relationships, stakeholder management/governance and objective definition of benefit as being included in their key challenges.   What are the top three generic project delivery challenges in your organisation?   How effective will a change programme be that directly seeks to address them?

Whilst going through this exercise may improve your project performance to some extent, we believe it is over simplistic. In order to understand more of a sufficient level of granularity, if we look at some of our own internal rules within Pelicam it is evident there are some fundamentals at a micro level that need to be understood and explored:

1. Recognise no two projects are the same. No two organisations are the same.

Projects have many different characteristics.  Organisations (and divisions within organisations) have different qualities.  Recognise the complexity of what you are trying to achieve and act accordingly.  If project and organisational complexity is not understood, find someone who can define them.  If appropriate define a system that enforces the investigative/research process for all projects and include it in your generic project methods/toolset.

2. Ensure projects are set up for success and integrity is maintained.

Four fifths of our Project Intelligence workshops look at how a project is set up.  That gives a good indication as to how important we think it is.  Practically all organisations now have a defined method and template for project initiation – many organsiations still struggle to achieve the level of granularity and precision to build a view of the project that “guarantees” success.  How often do you look at a project definition document that through its articulation of the complexity, approach and planning, it convinces you/gives you the confidence that it will be delivered within the time cost quality parameters?

3. Don’t focus on what’s going wrong, but on what needs to go right.

A little like the opening point above, there is some value in focusing on what is wrong with a project, but a lot of it is noise and will only cloud the issue for resolution.  How effective it is to receive an audit that shows 47 items in Red or Amber? Which should you focus on?   Get to the point where you understand what needs to go right in a project (and we’re not just talking about defining a critical path), ensure these are focussed on.

4. Recognise the strengths in the project teams and build expertise within.

It is all too easy to point the finger at the project manager and say he is not doing all he should to deliver the programme of work. We all need support, encouragement and occasionally advice!

5. No limits - report on any issue or risk that impacts project success.

There are often organisational or environmental constraints that although perhaps recognised within a project team are not addressed because they are too difficult.  If these are significant, find someone to help you.

6. Identifying a problem isn’t enough - agree the priority, how it will be remedied and action.

Too often we find a problem is raised within and the recipients believe that by hearing the problem and an outline of the potential resolution, the problem will go away!   In order to effectively manage-out critical issues a persistent remediation exercise is needed.  Often because the issue has not been identified by the project team, it’s often not too well understood, and therefore cannot easily be resolved.  Find someone that understands the problems and can assist with the clean up.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Assurance.

Paper and bureaucracy is killing us...

“Two things that have caused pain in programme management. 

Far too many programme managers believe in bureaucracy and paperwork

Risk profiling and Gantt charts etc. 

Through this ineffective system poor managers can feel good, whilst good managers just waste time.  The amount of paperwork creates the image a company can do 100s of projects successfully and organisations can cope with an awful lot of change.  This bureaucracy leads to red, amber, green monitors, and when red shows, they recast timetables, review process and de-scope all because they can't cope with the paperwork.  Paperwork introduced by consultancies run all projects via templates.  They sit on the sidelines and impose bureaucratic mess.  There is a general lack of trust of project managers, so they are wrapped in too much paper work.  Why doesn't anyone fight against it?  No one reads the reports anyway.   So projects end up employing people who are good at paperwork.  How could you turn this around?   Focus on the greens, those projects which are doing well, look at why this project does well.  If you focus on the reds, the good people won't go the extra mile.   There is a strange psychology, bad project managers don't get the training and support and the good ones under promise and over deliver.   At some point the programme becomes a nightmare, a senior then calls in another organisation to do a review of the project, and they will suggest that you need greater control. This extends the programme by another year or so, back to more reporting.  It's a strange old culture.  There is a need for simplification, but large consultants don't want simplicity.  Project management has suffered because of excel or Gantt chart, project portfolio. Best project managers talk to the people, agreeing change, the focus is completely different from this endless reporting.“


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, People.

Business Systems Replacement – An implementation review and “key learnings”

Barry Sacks, Managing Practitioner

A large financial services organisation had embarked on an ambitious strategic multi-million, multi-year project to replace their current business systems, primarily packaged solutions by third parties, with new systems software and databases developed by an in-house team. After two years with significant schedule and cost overrun and two missed deployment deadlines, the board agreed to seek external assistance to bring the programme back on track. Pelicam were approached to provide that support based on their reputation for pragmatic assurance services.

Health Check

The initial assignment engaged two senior Pelicam Practitioners for just 3 weeks resulting in a detailed report being delivered to the client highlighting a number of key recommendations.

The review team used the Pelicam Project Assurance Method and the Pelicam Health Check to review the programme and organisation. Each area of focus (there are 46 focus areas covered by a Pelicam Health Check) was scored against best practice benchmarks whilst using Pelicam’s project intelligence methods to recognise the issues that exist and determine whether they cause a serious threat to the success of the programme.

By focusing on key issues to the programme’s success the client was able to see “the wood for the trees” and address the critical factors first.

Identify the strengths

To support the review Pelicam interviewed over 40 programme stakeholders over 10 days. During the review process (all observations were captured respecting the trust and confidentiality of the interviewees) there were a number of positive observations identified such as:

There was strong executive stakeholder commitment, motivation and support

Consistent programme governance and PMO processes were in place and followed

Strong collaboration between the business users and the programme team was evident

Deep domain expertise was demonstrated throughout the organisation

Contracted resources were integrated well into the organisation and the programme

Strong communication channels were maintained between the various stakeholders

A typical project management “audit”, often considered an appropriate approach to assess project risk and to ensure methodology conformance, would have been satisfied that all the process conformance boxes were ticked.


The pragmatic experience-based approach of the Pelicam Health Check also identified a number of critical programme risks and issues that could not simply be attributed to failure to follow process, for example:

The programme had accepted an ambitious technical strategy that required significant in-house skills and technical architecture capability that were not evident

There were unclear programme objectives and benefits due to an undefined business case

Design had not been considered at the outset and there was no detailed system design resulting in the solution continuously evolving

The deployment strategy assumed a “big bang” approach was feasible without due consideration being given to the organisational risks of such an approach

The programme delivery approach changed one year in on the assumption “it would fix some of the issues”

Risk management was carried out reactively resulting in too many risks becoming issues

The supplier contractual relationship did not support the accountability model required

The recommendations for mitigation, avoidance and remedy of the risks and issues indentified during the review were presented to the programme board. To assist the board in determining the correct programme direction, a number of strategic options were also presented for consideration. Once the strategic preference was determined the board focused on addressing the specific issues and risks highlighted by the Pelicam report.

The client was highly satisfied with the content of the report and with how the review process was undertaken by Pelicam. The client recognised that the impartiality of an independent Project Assurance company allowed difficult and challenging questions to be asked of the organisation and its people which enabled the true cause of the issues faced to be understood.  Although the findings may not have provided comfortable reading for some (recommendations were made supporting organisational change) it enabled the board to make informed decisions as to how to proceed with the programme and which of the recommendations to act upon immediately to ensure success.

Due to the highly technical nature of this programme and the recognition that the ambitious technical strategy had contributed to the delays experienced by the programme a recommendation was made to carry out a more detailed technical review. The client requested that Pelicam also carried out the technical review and this was duly undertaken resulting in a subsequent set of recommendations specifically aimed at reducing the risk of the technical implementation within the context of the strategic programme.

As a result of the assurances provided by the two Pelicam health checks and the subsequent implementation of a number of the recommendations from both, addressing the critical issues that had been preventing success, the programme is now back on track and moving towards meeting the organisation’s original objectives.


Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under 2010, Assurance.