Kenneth T. Hanley
M. Eng. (Project Management)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ken Hanley has been a program management director and principal in a number of large organizations, including KPMG and BearingPoint. He focuses on the effective management of large and complex programs, IT project management, strategic portfolio management, establishing and operating project management offices, and other advanced project management practices. He also helps save troubled projects in a number of industries by working with and mentoring project managers.
Ken has a roster of international clients and extensive experience with projects ranging from offshore energy exploration and mining to health-care initiatives to international export market development to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Ken regularly lectures on effective leadership, organization, and program and project management. He has taught for the graduate management and engineering programs at the University of Calgary and has been guest lecturer for the Queen’s MBA in Science and Technology, Royal Roads University, and the Executive MBA program at the University of Alberta.
A recognized project management expert, Ken is in demand as a speaker at project management conferences around the world. He was nominated for the Southern Alberta Project Management Institute’s 2005 Distinguished Contribution Award.
He has a master’s degree in Engineering (Project Management) from the University of Calgary.
A WILLINGNESS TO LEARN FROM THE PAST
It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.
—Harry S. Truman
The best PMs are always thinking about what’s in front of them in the context of what they’ve learned from the past. And if that past wasn’t always great, they won’t blindly, irrationally assume that things will be better this time, especially when there’s no evidence to support that optimism. Even if (maybe especially if) they hear, “It’s different this time, really.” Here’s what they know: Without a change in thinking and approach, no, it isn’t.
It’s the first question I ask when I’m interviewing PMs: What did you learn from your last project experience? And it’s a bad sign if they take a long time answering.
The best PMs are always asking: What have we learned here? And how can we apply what we’ve learned going forward? More specifically, what have we learned that’ll allow us to:
- Repeat the good outcomes, and
- Make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again?
It’s a key question to ask about any PM or organization that works on projects: has he, she, or it ever made the same project mistakes more than once? If so, they’re not learning—not learning about the critical importance of comprehensive project closeout reports (see Chapter 16) or about the importance of planning for and tracking mandatory performance deliverables (see Chapter 9), for example. The best PMs institutionalize learning; they won’t compromise on the need to do project closeout reports on every project, and you’ll see them run reviews at the end of every phase of a project to ensure their team gets better, every step of the way.
THE GUTS OF A GREAT PROJECT MANAGER
By guts, I mean grace under pressure.
If PMs listened to their gut instincts a little more (“We missed our dates the last three times out—what makes us think we’ll make the date we estimated this time?”) and paid a little less attention to the tools and rules and software and mechanics, we’d all be better off. And if you’re that guy who insists that the first thing your new project management office needs to do is a thorough evaluation of PM software alternatives, you’re not helping at all. Tools and rules and software and mechanics are fine in their place, but only if and after they’re informed by practical, I-know-in-my-guts-that-this-is-true PM thinking—the kind of thinking that the best PMs exhibit regardless of the kind of project they’re on, regardless of the tools and rules and software they’ve got.
And that’s what Part 1 of this book is about: the kind of thinking that speaks directly to the good gut instincts of PMs. The next two parts after that will add on the practical how tos: how to apply good project management thinking in planning (the hard part), and then how to manage the project day to day (the easy part, if you do the planning right). But for now, we’re talking about the guts-aware thinking that forms the mental framework for effective PMs: the mindset that allows them to connect all the pieces, to see and act on the linkages between risk and uncertainty and the schedule, between the project’s stakeholders and its critical deliverables, between its measures of progress and its ultimate project performance, between its priorities and how project changes are handled in light of those priorities. Here’s what’s in the guts and brains of the best PMs.