I recently had a brief exchange with an existing client organisation that speaks volumes about how a great number of businesses are managed today – the need for improvement is driven by crisis. Instead of being intentional about pursuing excellence, improvement has become a synonym for recovery. More and more the manager’s job has become the never-ending search for the next hole in the cost report that needs to be filled or the next deviation from “the plan” that needs to be corrected.

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Over the last three decades, the safety of the construction environment has improved dramatically. Yet, construction sites are still one of the most dangerous workplaces the world over. As a result, today’s safety management efforts are focused on ensuring that no amount of harm is considered acceptable on a construction site. This commitment to the “zero harm” standard is now regularly included on company logos, plastered across work site and is a mantra that has become a part of standard industry speak.

However, all of this focus on zero harm, and the approach that it entails, begs a few questions that very few people are asking:

  • Are we actually making construction a safer place to work?
  • Are safety statistics and field reporting becoming a more or less reliable source of information to improve the wellbeing of our people?
  • Does it drive the behaviours and actions from our people that we intended?
  • Are we bringing safety and our work methods closer together or are we driving them further apart?
  • Are we making conversations about safer ways of doing work easier and more open, or are we creating a language of political correctness?

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Having been involved in strategic planning over my corporate career, I thought it pretty standard that the purpose of strategy development was to come up with a “strategic plan”. A document that dutifully incorporated a vision and mission, that laid out the numerical aspirations for revenue growth or gross margin, that identified the sources of new revenue or margins improvements and then, once beautifully edited and designed, made its way onto the managing director’s shelf…never to be seen again.

It certainly wasn’t lost on those of us on the management team that creating a plan for attaining an uncertain future in an uncertain environment was “challenging” and required a leap of faith in our ability to foresee the future. Nonetheless, it was the thing that management teams did to provide good governance and strong leadership, so we conformed to this traditional thinking. We lifted the bar by presenting this carefully crafted plan to our senior leadership in a clear and polished manner to show them that their management team had its hands firmly on the reins – we could see the future and it was clearly in our strategic sights. What we didn’t do was make a difference…

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Projects are enablers. They are investments that your organisation makes to enable the business outcomes that help deliver your vision. Whether those outcomes are improved operational efficiency, a new revenue stream or improving your customer’s experience, projects are the stepping stones to a thriving business.

Unfortunately, far too often projects fail to deliver the promised return on that investment. For the majority of organisations, they fail to provide that enabling step more than half the time. Many projects will languish in an incomplete state while the project team tries to find the time to finish them. Some of the most aspirational don’t get off the ground because it never seems to be the right time for working on aspiration. The most critical projects will often get done under the pressure of deadline but fail to produce particularly innovative or cost-effective results.

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I am periodically asked why, as a project manager of 25 years, I say so little about project management in my speaking and writing. The reason is that a tremendous amount has already been said and written about current “good practice” in managing projects. There are countless groups and forums that discuss and expand on this traditional practice knowledge. There is much of this practice that I agree with and little addition useful contribution I can make.

Where I believe that far too little has been said and that a fundamental shift in our project thinking is required is outside what we currently believe about traditional project management.

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I’ve been struck by how consistently I see, read and hear that price (or expenditure) and service are a zero-sum game – to increase (or maintain) service, the price must go up; to reduce price, the service levels must go down. Our politicians tell us that to maintain levels of social service (without ballooning deficits) they need to increase sources of tax revenue, or, vice versa, depending on the political message du jour. Businesses that operate in price-competitive markets often look to find their customers’ point of pain…what services can be reduced, eliminated, or made “cost adders” before the customer cries foul and takes their business elsewhere.

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Today’s business world tends to value activity over accomplishment – we look to ensure our people are “being productive”, highly utilised, busy. However, in the business of busyness, doing lots of things doesn’t necessarily mean that we are completing those things. There comes a point where additional activity starts to mean that instead of creating more business value, you actually create less. It is by matching the organisation’s capacity to the most important activities that you accomplish more and get better business outcomes.

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Businesses over the last 30 years have learned to respond to changing economic climates, competitive pressures and market conditions in large transformational steps. Organisational re-engineering and change management – as well as a number of spin-off approaches – have been developed and refined over this same period to enable this incremental step change approach. Read more

Inspired by the LinkedIn series on Big Ideas 2016, I have devoted my final blog of the year to my perspective on what I believe will be #BigIdeas2016 – Adaptation Management.

Change management has been around as a business process since the 1980s and is so entrenched in our organisational approach that it is now being taught as part of the curriculum in many business schools. Although not solely, a large part of change management principle and practice is focused on the people side of change – managing people’s resistance to the change we are trying to make. The relatively poor success rate of this attempt to “push” change past people’s natural inclination to resist it, has resulted in the perspective where there is a need to lead change so that you “pull” people on the change journey. Read more

A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in a business improvement initiative by one of my contractor clients. The initiative was intended to create better process and structure around their project management systems with a particular focus on project controls. After an initial kick-off meeting which included the executive sponsor, the improvement team met several more times before the momentum faded and the initiative eventually died.

A number of things struck me about this experience. Read more