Transparency Project Management

Posted by Kevin Brady on Tue 1st December 2009 at 04:22 PM, Filed in Project ManagementIndustry News

A close blogging buddy Carpefactum recently asked me to participate in a telephone conference call with a number of MBA students in the US. Whilst eating some wonderful apple pie at my local coffee shop I listed the possible questions I thought I might get asked, and formulated my answers to them. Within this list some ‘killer’ questions (often asked by newbie managers) leapt out at me, and right at the top was :-

How do you manage Projects?  > $25 million? hah

Whilst at first sight, this may seem easy for a seasoned project / programme manager to answer, the difficulty / challenge lies in doing so without ‘boring the pants’ off my audience because there is so much I could say! I felt the key to success was to have a simple thought-provoking thread, not based on dull textbook theory, but clearly derived from years of ‘coalface’ experience.

The answer in my view is “Transparency Management with bottom-up participation in everything you do”which, in my view, should be your personal mission statement if you want to be a ‘Jedi Project Manager’.

I promise you in this day and age nothing else works. It is my corner stones of successful Project Management.

So, what is “Transparency Management” and “Bottom-up participation”?

Transparency Management is the management of project stakeholders (sponsors, customers, project team) through the accurate communication of project performance metrics. In other words, accurate “Status Reporting”. If you gather detailed facts on where a project is doing well, where it is failing and who is responsible and accountable for the successes and failures, you have all the ammunition to mould, steer and direct a project toward project success. The first version of the UK National Lottery website was developed using this approach, and the project was delivered on budget, to time and meet the quality expectations of the client. When Transparency Management is working well it’s a joy to manage a project.

Bottom-up participation is a key component necessary to make Transparency Management work effectively. In its simplest form Bottom-up participation is about obtaining “project buy-in” and in it’s more complicated form it is the making sure that all product related tasks are estimated by the resources assigned to deliver them. Without this you are effectively running a “Top Down Project” where you are directing people to do things they may, or may not, agree with, and we all know what happens to projects where this is the order of the day.

A high Probability of Project Failure!


So when reading PMBOK or PRINCE2 remember that its all about Transparency Management and Bottom-up participation. Get these principals clear and success is within your grasp.

However, not all projects run like the National Lottery. Transparency Management looks easier on paper to adopt and implement than in fact it is. It largely depends on the line management culture of your own, and potentially the client’s, organisation.

Today many companies (especially large ones) have a culture where spin management Anti Spin Management Checklist is the order of the day, and transparency and open discussion of reality and performance is frowned upon. All communications are tightly controlled and consequently there are many ‘skeletons in cupboards’ and ‘elephants’ that must be ignored, sidestepped or worst of all, denied their very existence. In environments like this (many failed banks had this culture) Best Project Management Practice, and the adoption / implementation of transparency management is often impossible to implement. Faced with this you may well have to choose from your Project Management Tool Box what will work with the culture, rather than what is truly effective and will make the project feasible.

In my view many such organisations employ and promote inexperienced and under qualified project managers into senior roles because, as it says in the bible, “they know not what they do”. They can, therefore, be more easily persuaded to run projects using ineffectual line management principals and become part of the organisations spin management communications culture. I have always felt sad for such managers when suddenly, like “Skynet”, they become aware of the hole they have dug for themselves, and that it is too late to alter the Armageddon outcome facing themselves and their project. However, some colleagues of mine would say this is character forming. Personally I would rather be wised up at the beginning rather than being used as a patsy Project Manager. I have self-respect you know smile

So how can you avoid? being a patsy project manager?

Take a leaf out of the book of how the best jockeys keep winning races - by picking the best horses! In the same way learn to pick projects (if you get the choice) where the client’s organisational culture is conducive to executing transparency project management and bottom-up participation.

The following tips may speed you on your way:-
• Read books like Crash which provides case studies about Project and Programme Management as it really is. 
• Read blogs like this one!
• Take some professional qualifications like Prince 2 and PMP with a good trainer who has real world Project and Programme Management experience.

Good Luck with your next project.

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READER COMMENTS:

Kevin
Great advice.
You are illustrating a key project management skill - how to distill a complex answer into a simple , meaningful and interesting message.
As far as avoiding being a Patsy PM, I would suggest regularly rooting around for your next project - especially while selling your successes. (The more interesting the project, the greater the likelihood of success.
Thanks again!

Posted by Peter Wood  on Mon 7th December 2009 at 07:37 PM | #

I like the terms Transparency Management and bottom up participation, it’s innovative. It clearly explains what works in effective project management, yet it also underlines best practice.

Posted by Linky  on Sun 13th December 2009 at 09:34 PM | #

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