Category Archives: Project Assurance

Societal Damnation 52: Project Management

I’m sure you’re asking — what’s damning about project management? Isn’t good project management the key to success? After all, without good management, the chances of a project over-running its resource allocation (of time, people, and money), if not failing, increase significantly. Well, yes, it is. Provided you can manage the project.

One has to remember that project management has evolved over the last six decades or so to manage traditional types of projects that produce structures and goods against well-understood designs and project plans, starting with the need to effectively manage complex engineering projects in areas that include construction, defence, aviation, and shipbuilding.

When project management was being defined, the ENIAC was still in operation, Procurement was placing an order against a printed catalogue, and a company imported a small number of commodities in which they had contacts and expertise. There were no complex software projects, no complex Just-in-Time supply chain projects, and no automated factory mega-projects (which resulted in some of the biggest supply chain failures in history).

And, more importantly, projects were focussed on the production, or acquisition, of a single structure, product, or report. They had a defined beginning, a defined end, used well understood resources, required people with well-understood skill-sets, could be scheduled with reasonable certainty, and required a comprehensible amount of money.

Where software development is concerned, there is a rough definition of what is desired, but the beginning and end is a best estimate that is no more accurate than a wild guess in some cases, the resources required (while defined as software architect, developer, network specialist, etc.) are not well understood (as a non-skilled software architect cannot define what makes, or identifies, a good software architect), and the amount of money required is relatively unknown (due to uncertain work effort requirements, unknown support requirements, etc.).

And that’s just software. When it comes to supply chain, the difficulty is intensified. There’s the management of the sourcing, the management of the negotiation and contracting cycle, and the management of the procurement. But before that, there’s identifying the right supplier, which requires detailed understanding of the product technical requirements and the supplier production capabilities. There’s identifying the expected costs, based upon understanding material costs, labour costs, energy costs, tariffs, and overhead. There’s managing the supplier relationship. There’s dealing with disruptions and disasters. And taking corrective actions.

In other words, supply chain projects don’t have well-defined beginnings. Don’t have well-defined endings. Don’t have well-defined workflows. Aren’t limited to a fix set of resources. Don’t always have a well-defined team. And don’t always have a well-known cost (even if there is a target one).

Project Management hasn’t kept up. Sourcerors are often making it up as they go. And they’re damned every step of the way.

Procurement Trend #14. Shorter and More Complex Product Life-Cycles

Eleven anti-trends from the pre-internet pundits still remain, and as much as we’d like to not give yet another reason for LOLCat to hate futurists, we must continue to make sure that no good deed goes unpunished and since the futurists’ advice is still as good as it gets, we must break it all down until you can look past the shiny new paint job and realize that it’s still a twenty year old Skoda you are being sold.

So why do so many historians keep pegging shorter and more complex product life-cycles as a future trend? I honestly can’t fathom this as the video console, cellphone, and apparel industries have been in this mindset for over two decades, but maybe it is because the futurists, who finally realized that the internet has given everyone a need for speed, are finally catching on or because:

  • consumers in some verticals, like electronics, expect major new releases each year
    because they’ve been conditioned by the manufacturers and the marketers to, and
  • they expect every release to contain more new and exciting features than the last one
    even though they don’t even use half of the current features, and
  • they also expect each new product to be smaller, lighter, faster, and more powerful than the one before …
    even though they’ll then complain about lack of battery life, screen resolution, or something else when you have are faced with an impossible choice between two incompatible feature requests.

So what does this mean?

Annual Release Cycles

No matter how good Procurement is doing, it has to do it better, faster, cheaper and keep doing it better, faster, and cheaper (relatively speaking) every year. To do this, it’s going to have to institutionalize its knowledge and process in a workflow driven sourcing suite with integrated analysis and optimization that will tell it if its method is still appropriate, the market is ripe for the preferred event structure, and the costs are optimized.

Constant Innovation

The product has to keep improving, which means the organization and its suppliers have to keep innovating and Procurement needs to manage that innovation. Knowledge management, team management, and project management is just the beginning. When the team hits a dead end, Procurement is going to have to bring an innovation methodology like TRIZ, FORTH, or Design Thinking to the table to help it get past the finish line.

New Market Identification

At some point the incremental improvement in the new product is going to be so minimal that it’s going to lose value to the market and if the organization doesn’t phase the product out, the market will. So the organization not only has to constantly identify potential new versions of its products, but new markets for which it can design new products for. Preferably blue oceans, but open seas are a good start.

Procurement Trend #27: Inter-Departmental Collaboration

Twenty-four trends remain
Together they bring disdain
We’re trapped in the mundane
They are Lucifer’s bane
… and we cannot rest until they are slain!

We cannot give up. We cannot give in. We must shed light on the darkness that each and every false prophecy brings. Only then can we move forward.

The journey is long and hard, but at the end of this thirty part series, you should not only understand why so many historians are still talking about the false trends we debunked in our Future of Procurement series, what you need to do to prevent staying in the past with your organizational “peers”, but what you need to do to not only stay in the present but start marching towards the future, which is coming faster than you think.

So why do so many historians keep pegging this as a future trend? There are a number of reasons, but among the top three today are:

  • Stakeholders are multiplying
    as Supply Management spreads
  • Stakeholder review and participation is increasing in importance
    as more knowledge work is being outsourced
  • Fiefdoms still exist in large(r) corporations
    as many organizations still measure your worth by the number of people under you or the budget you control and not the value you bring to the organization.

Multiplication of Stakeholders

Team management skills are now at a premium. A Supply Management leader not only has to manage a cross-functional team to be successful, but a team where each department being represented is typically at odds with each other and itching for a full-contact rugby match. (It wouldn’t be unrealistic to suggest that your organization might want to start by bringing in a career kindergarten teacher.)

Project Management skills are also becoming more important by the day, as the Supply Management team will need to maintain appropriate focus in each of the cross-functional team members to insure that things get done when they need to get done to keep each sourcing event and procurement project on schedule.

The Knowledge Economy

While often overlooked, knowledge management and collaboration portals will soon become a key part of your organization’s technology infrastructure. Your organization needs to capture all input and organizational knowledge (before it walks out the door), track all relevant issues, and make sure all of the relevant information not only gets in the hands of who needs it, but when external parties are involved, capture their knowledge, decisions, and processes (and not just output) as well in case it needs to be reconstructed or redeployed later on.


Off with their heads! Well, figuratively at least. If your organization has one or more fiefdoms, then your organization has someone unwilling to relinquish control, even if that is what is required for the greater good. In this case, your organization has to fight the urge to try and fix the problem with more training or yet another reorganization (which is typically very, very disruptive) and simply do what the kings of old did when they had problems with the dukes — and take off their heads!

If, and only if, the leader can be reformed, give her another management position within the company (and possibly initiate some inter-departmental collaboration at the same time as she will more than likely be more than willing to work with her old department). But if he’s stuck in his ways and can’t be reformed, bite the bullet, give him a fair severance package, and push him out into the outside world. Just like a ship that’s dropped anchor can’t sail, a company with a lead filled sandbag can’t rise above the clouds, no matter how much hot air that individual puts out on a daily basis!

Project Assurance Specialist: What Do You Look For?

In our series on Project Assurance: A Methodology for Keeping Your Supply Management Project that we just wrapped, we discussed Project Assurance — a specialized discipline and practice involving independent and objective oversight, specialized experience, and audit skill to assess risk, finance, accounting, compliance, safety, and performance for any major capital expenditure. It is designed to minimize the risk of projet overruns and failure.

In today’s post we will discuss what makes a good Project Assurance Specialist. Not just anyone can perform such a task. What are the skills that such an individual must posses to be successful? What must define the core of her, or his, EQ?

We’ll start by referencing the intervention process pyramid defined by Prinzo in No Wishing Required. According to Prinzo, collaborative intervention requires you to:

Implement the Solution
Communicate the Findings
Negotiate the Solutions


Navigate the Organization
Identify the Decision Making Process
Conduct Mini-Briefings


Build the Foundation
Trust & Credibility


Each step of the process requires a base set of skills, some of which Prinzo did a great job explaining in his book. In this post, we will discuss those core skills along with the secondary skills that are needed for assurance success.

The core skills required to build the foundation, as defined by Prinzo, are:

  • receptivity
    the assurance specialist needs to listen carefully to understand the situation
  • comprehension
    the assurance specialist needs to take the time to properly understand the situation
  • compromise
    the assurance specialist needs to find the middle ground that all parties will (reluctantly) accept
  • humility
    sometimes the assurance specialist needs to make the solution appear to be the idea of one or more stakeholders even if all of the credit is due to the specialist — sometimes harmony is key
  • objectivity
    the assurance specialist cannot take sides and cannot be blind to the truth
  • diplomacy
    even when some stakeholders should be slapped upside the head or strangled for pig-headed viewpoints that could put the entire project in jeopardy, the assurance specialist needs to be diplomatic
  • strategy
    not only does the assurance specialist need to navigate the explosive stakeholder minefield, but come up with solutions that will be acceptable and successful
  • analysis
    the assurance specialist needs to dig deep and sometimes read between the lines to determine where the issues are and what the solutions need to look like

But that’s just the foundation. In addition to these skills, the assurance specialist will also need the following skills to navigate the organization:

  • organizational knowledge
    without a good knowledge of the workings of the organization, it will be very hard for the assurance specialist to navigate it
  • team building
    even though it is the job of the assurance specialist to find the issues all others miss, it will often take a cross-functional team to implement their mitigations
  • communication
    the mini-briefings will have to be very effective in order for the resolution sessions to go well

Finally, the assurance specialist will also need the following skills to implement the solution:

  • negotiation
    diplomacy and compromise are a good start, but sometimes the assurance specialist will require the use of persuasion to get all parties in sync
  • leadership
    while it will often require a cross functional team to implement the mitigation, that team will still need the guidance of a leader and that role falls to the assurance specialist

In other words, it takes someone with a skill set that goes beyond basic project management skills to be a project assurance specialist.

Project Assurance: A Methodology for Keeping Your Supply Management Project on Track Part V

In Part IV, we continued our discussion of Project Assurance, asked how a Project Assurance Specialist insures true project success, and asked why only an outside Project Assurance Specialist (PAS) can insure this success. We noted that the PAS uses collaborative intervention to insure success, overviewed the three phases of a collaborative intervention, and stated that it could only be done by an outside PAS.

Today we will discuss why the Project Assurance Specialist has to be an outside expert, and we will do so by reviewing ten primary reasons, as found in many articles and books on project failure, on why projects fail and why it takes an outside PAS to prevent this failure.

Consider these ten common reasons projects fail.

  • Lack of top management commitment
    Stakeholders inside the organization often don’t understand the level of commitment required and often have a skewed perception of how committed an individual in the organization really is to the project. An outside expert comes in with a clean slate and an uninfluenced view.
  • Unrealistic expectations
    An outside expert has a clearer picture of what is and is not reasonable as that expert has a broader view of the market, solution providers, and off-the-shelf solutions.
  • Poor requirements definition
    Since it will be the first acquisition of a Supply Management solution for many organizations, many organizations have no idea what constitutes a good requirements definition. An outside expert, on the other hand, will not only know what does, but what absolutely has to be addressed for project success.
  • Improper Package Selection
    The selection needs to address the real needs of the organization, and not the perceived needs, and the provider needs to be one that can grow with the organization.
  • Gaps between Software and Business Requirements
    If you don’t really understand what software is needed to effectively satisfy a business requirement, it is almost impossible to avoid gaps — especially when you don’t really speak the language of Supply Management solution providers. An outside expert, who does speak the language, can help insure that there are no gaps.
  • Inadequate Resources
    Since most organizations have never implemented the system that they need, they have no real understanding of what resources are really needed. An outside expert will have this understanding.
  • Underestimating Time and Cost
    It’s a good rule of thumb that software-based solution projects always take longer and cost more than you expect, even with a best effort. But how much longer and how much more? Only an outside expert with experience in the type of project you are going for can guarantee that your estimate will be in the ballpark.
  • Poor Project Management / Lack of Methodology
    The truth is that you can’t manage what you don’t understand, and whatever you miss in strategy, planning, and design will come back to bite you in the @ss before the project is over — unless, of course, you have a methodology that insures nothing crucial is overlooked and all issues are identified and mitigated away (or at least managed) as they arise. Only a Project Assurance Specialist can identify all these key points that your internal team will miss.
  • Underestimating Impact of Change
    It’s hard to assess the impact of something you’ve never done — and with solution providers constantly whispering calming assurances into your ears, it’s easy to underestimate the impact (especially if you have a team that is adverse to change). An outside expert can not only peg where you are in terms of process and technology maturity, but where you are in your ability to manage change.
  • Lack of Training / Education
    How many times have you heard “it’s so easy to use, it teaches itself” or something similar from a solution provider. While this may be typically true for the technically inclined, it will not be true for those who are not technical by nature. Nor will it be true for the advanced functionality or tasks that are not performed daily. Training and education will be required, and an expert will be needed to advise you on how much you will truly need.

There are other reasons, and some are clearly explained Prinzo’s No Wishing Required, but these should be enough to convince you that assurance is often critical to project success, especially if the project is complex or it is the first time your organization is undertaking such a project. You have to remember that your PMO (Project Management Office) has expertise in project management, not project evaluation, and, being internal to your organization, can’t really bring the true objectivity an external expert can.

That’s why you need an Assurance Specialist to check up on you at key points. Chances are, if your PMO is on its game, the project will be going rather well when the specialist checks in at each stage, but chances also are there will be little things missed here and there which, if not managed, could morph into big ugly monsters down the road.

Project Assurance is like insurance for your project. A small premium that offsets a big loss down the road. You might be one of the organizations that don’t need it, but considering it typically costs so little compared to the overall project (management) cost, can you really afford not to buy what works out to rather cheap insurance? the doctor doesn’t think so, and believes you shouldn’t either.