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Visual Project Management Explained [Interview]

Visual Project Management with Mark Woeppel

Today I’m interviewing Mark Woeppel, author of Visual Project Management*. It’s an interesting title that I thought was worth explaining, so let’s dive in.

Mark, what is visual project management?

Visual Project Management is a process that uses the visualization of the project delivery process to drive team behaviors: to collaborate and effectively manage projects to deliver on time. VPM treats project execution as a process, with principles and practices to create repeatable, scalable results.

OK, thanks. Why do you think projects are still late and over budget when professional project management techniques have been around for years?

The main emphasis of the project management body of knowledge is “control”, which typically means more or better planning. Very little of the body of knowledge is devoted to execution. There are assumes that with a plan, the outcome will match. Project managers are quite good at achieving scope, but not managing the schedule.

Peter Drucker said, “…the word ‘controls’ is not the plural of the word ‘control’”. Making a detailed plan doesn’t give real control; it gives the illusion of control. What provides control is having an understanding of the interdependencies of the work and having the flexibility to respond when the real world presents the team with the unexpected.

So let’s talk about the unexpected. How can project managers identify the early warning signs of a project at risk of late delivery?

Rather than look at the project plan, look at what the team is doing. How flexible are they? Do they respond quickly? Decisively? In general, how are they responding to the day to day realities that are presented to them?

This will give you a sense of how “in control” the project is, and therefore, the likelihood of a predictable outcome.

Also look for:

Lack of visibility. Without clear situational awareness, the team will flounder. There will be plenty of activity, but little progress.

The team spends a great deal of time working to understand where they are in the project and the next steps to advance it. The path to project completion is not clear. The critical path to completion is either not identified or unclear. Project meetings are spent sorting out what has been done and negotiating priorities.

Lack of engagement. Many times, the only person who is actually on the project is the project manager. The project manager must then spend their time on team enrollment activities, rather than the core task of moving the project ahead.

The members of the “team” are not fully engaged with work of the project. They don’t respond to questions quickly, don’t come to meetings, are not working with the rest of the team to move the project forward. It’s hard to find or discover the people that are accountable to solve problems.

Shifting priorities. When priorities are changing, more work is added to the project, time and productivity are lost, and the project is delayed.

The project team members are spending their time sorting through the work to determine which tasks should have the highest priority. They’ll be switching – changing priorities for the resources (people) doing the work of the project. New information causes frequent changes in priorities.

Wandering bottlenecks. There is always a constraint that limits the rate at which the project can be completed, but if it’s always moving from week to week or day to day, it indicates a poor grasp of the resource requirements to complete the project.

Sometimes disguised as a priority problem, the team will be chasing resource shortages. There never seems to be enough of the right resources at the right time. The team may feel a little like they’re playing resource “Whack-A-Mole”.

As teams master the basics of execution, they’ll be able to integrate a well-constructed plan with the understanding of variation to monitor the critical chain and manage a time buffer to know the probability of delivering on time throughout the life of the project. Few teams are there yet.

That sounds like a powerful formula. Do you have any examples you can share?

There are many examples in the book, but I think the best examples come from those that decide to transform their project delivery process, rather than rescue a specific project. It’s in these examples that we can gather multiple results from multiple project completions.

  • In a technology services organization, they more than tripled productivity and improved on time delivery by 20% in less than 3 months.
  • In a software development organization they increased productivity by more than 500% and achieved 100% release date achievement.
  • In a new product development process, FMC Technologies tripled engineering productivity and reduced lead time by 70%.

What’s the one thing you wish all project managers did that would improve projects forever?

Project managers should think of project delivery as a process and take ownership of the ENTIRE process. They become process improvement professionals, rather than task masters.

Successful project execution is a process. It has a set of principles you can learn, apply, and repeat. I hope that by sharing these, readers will adopt them and see the same success our customers and our team has seen. Life in project management need not be a chore, it can be a rewarding experience.

I certainly don’t feel that project management is a chore. Thanks, Mark, for sharing your thoughts.

About my interviewee: Mark Woeppel is founder and president of Pinnacle Strategies, an international management consulting firm working to improve operations performance in project management and processes. He frequently writes on the subject of execution performance, having written three books and many other publications. With extensive experience in oil and gas, consumer products, IT, many manufacturing industries, Mark is a highly sought after subject matter expert in project management, operations management, performance management, and continuous improvement. Visit his website at http://projectsinlesstime.com

* This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Christine Oddy says

    17 March, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you so much, Elizabeth Harrin for conducting such a great interview. It’s very helpful for me and I must say that Mark you did very good job by explaining about visual project management.

  2. Charlotte Grau says

    23 July, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks #Mark for explaining points of Sanket and giving us the more information about the visual project management and the article is also so informative to the knowledge point of view. I appreciate for sharing this.

  3. Sanket Pai says

    7 July, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Mark,
    That’s an excellent post. I have some questions:
    1) What are some of these visual project management techniques?
    2) With the focus towards visualization (and hence controlling) the project execution process, how does one keep track of project’s health, typically whether a project is on time or under budget? Is there any effective or decisive metric/indicator to “At Risk” in terms of budget or time?
    3) Can visual project management techniques be used for portfolio monitoring or executive reporting? An example or two may help make this clear.

    • Elizabeth Harrin says

      7 July, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks for these questions. I don’t really feel qualified to answer myself, so I hope Mark can address these points. I do plan on reading his book in more detail which might provide greater insight.

    • mark woeppel says

      7 July, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      Hi Sanket, thanks for the questions.

      1. The visual techniques are similar (or maybe exactly the same) as those found in KANBAN: making the execution process visual, using a visual board. Visualizing the work, using cards or post its to represent work packages. Visualizing the status using colors and stickers on the cards. The visualization makes it possible to quickly identify the status of the project or portfolio, so the team can focus on advancing the project, rather than analysis.

      2. Having a set of measures is critical to your success. The health of the project is monitored using a set of metrics of the behaviors (as I outlined in the interview) that precede the results. However, that is often insufficient to give a precise answer to evaluate the relative health or priority of one project over another. For the examples you cite, schedule and budget, I suggest a risk ratio of time or money spent vs. buffer remaining. I outline this fully in the chapters on managing risk and uncertainty.

      3. The short answer is yes, it can be used for portfolio management and executive reporting. That was the very beginning! Look at the case studies on my company’s website, by clicking on my name.

      Finally, here’s a link to the kindle version of the book (USA site) http://t.co/yT4quWmNFd
      There are many examples and a fuller explanation there.

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