Last week, I published a blog on blockchain technology and asked whether blockchain could improve project success. To answer that question, we need to consider what the success factors are in project management and how blockchain technology impacts those factors.
If you Google project success factors, you are likely to find the following: clearly defined scope, effective communications, skilled project manager, effective methodology, availability of expert resources, access to funding, executive support, good leadership, and sound risk management. I don’t argue that all of these factors are important.
But have we been analyzing the problem or merely examining symptoms of the problem? I would argue that we need to dig a bit more and ask ourselves why communications are often so ineffective, why the methodologies don’t seem to work very well, or why scope definition and control can both be so difficult.
We live in a very different world from the 1910’s, when Henry Gantt developed the Gantt chart and what has come to be known as Waterfall project management. And our world is quite different from the 1960’s, when the Department of Defense developed earned value management.
Projects today are more complex than those of the past. They have too many factors (and people) involved to be predictable and often evolve in response to real-time decision-making. In this blog I discuss three requirements for project success in a world of rapid change and complexity. And, I offer some ideas on how blockchain might help address these problems.
Executive (and client) support
Years ago, a friend of mine told me that she would never use my Smart Projex software because she wouldn’t want her boss to know where things really stood on her project. It was easier to hide the swings in progress with manual reporting to executives. Really?
I agree that projects often have production swings. The Agile concept of incremental delivery is a great idea, but I’ve seen many business projects where a single deliverable couldn’t be broken down into something that could be delivered in two weeks. There was simply too much research or infrastructure work to do – and sharing that work too early would confuse the client. Some weeks we may deliver one large batch of work, and then three to five weeks – or even months may pass before anything else is delivered.
Executive (and client) support is a two-way street. You can’t expect executive support when executives (and clients) are kept in the dark for weeks or months. Problems need to be identified, resolved, disclosed, and perhaps managed. We need to be able to keep executives informed with comparable and reliable data across an entire project portfolio.
How could blockchain technology improve executive support?
I have discussed the problem with the reliability of executive data reporting when the Waterfall approach is being used. I’ve also written about the challenges that executives face in trying to get a grip on their project portfolios.
A blockchain solution, as I outlined in last week’s blog, could tie payment on individual activities to performance completion. This would allow the providing organization (and perhaps project team members) to be compensated for delivered work, rather than the classic monthly invoice with delayed payments.
In addition to the benefit of early payment, this approach dramatically improves the reliability of executive reporting. An activity is done when it’s completely done and approved by the client. No more estimating percent complete. No more earned value management. We can easily see what’s finished and what’s not. The work should be broken down into activities that can be incrementally delivered. We can focus on getting activities finished instead of a bunch of scheduling shenanigans.
In a world of rapid change with new technologies evolving daily, we can’t always know every step needed to solve a complex problem. It has always been a challenge to agree on the project scope, but in a rapidly changing world, it becomes even harder.
We need to be able to capitalize on change when it offers a better solution – without spending days reworking the project plan. We also need a way to keep constant change from wreaking havoc on our project teams. People can only cope with so much at one time. While change may be a constant, that doesn’t mean that the project activities change every other day.
In a world where resources can come and go at a much faster rate, it can be a challenge to even hold a team together for the duration of a project. We have to find a way to manage resources when team members can’t always commit to a schedule. (More on that in an upcoming blog.)
When executives are managing organizations with limited cash and people, we have to find a way to ensure that projects continue to be properly aligned with strategy, resources are effectively used, and important deadlines are met. We can’t do that when teams are bouncing all over the place with unmanaged change.
How could blockchain technology improve change management?
The blockchain solution could include a built-in change management process that offers both agility and scope management.
The tool would provide a way to set up individual activities (not the little tasks that simply need to be done, but the larger blocks of work that we break projects into) as smart contracts. These smart contracts commit resources to a specific block of work, in a specific timeframe, at a specific cost.
If changing times or needs impact that work, the contract gets re-worked at that point, instead of waiting until the entire project is six months late. Placeholders, with a SWAG estimate, can be included in the plan and activities can be further scoped when sufficient details are known.
Effective working relationships
There can be many players on a project that cross organizations or even countries. Different players need to know different pieces of data. Does a subcontractor have the right to know the financial details of a contract between the contractor and his client? Does the office of general counsel have an interest in the varying pieces of a legal matter that are being outsourced by its law firm? We are clearly in an era with varying opinions about what level of transparency is appropriate.
I’ve worked on projects where there were multiple project managers. This can happen for a variety of reasons – but typically, I’ve seen it in larger collaborative projects. It can be challenging when multiple people think they are managing the project.
In addition to the need for effective relationships when there are multiple project managers, we have a need for effective relationships between those who are executing the project activities. When project execution becomes a problem, it is often not because of a technical skill or knowledge deficiency. It’s because the people on the team aren’t working together effectively.
Part of the problem may be seen in ineffective communications, but is that a symptom or is that the problem? Consider these examples:
- Is an insecure person on your team hoarding knowledge?
- Are problems being hidden from others?
- Are people being vague or unresponsive?
- Are deliverables coming through late, or not at all?
None of these scenarios bode well for project success. You don’t need an analysis of your critical path, or earned value calculations to spot these problems, but I can promise you that they will create problems for your project.
How could blockchain technology improve working relationships?
A blockchain tool that required teams to wrestle with and agree on the details of each activity – much like we negotiate contracts – would make conversations more meaningful. People would simply pay more attention if the activity scope details were being turned into a smart contract that involved the exchange of funds upon activity completion.
Having these conversations would reduce confusing email or chat exchanges and build camaraderie, as team members debate the best way to solve a problem.
Not all activities need to be clearly defined at the outset. This approach could provide considerable agility during project execution, allowing teams to capitalize on change and adjust when needed.
Relationships are improved when people have the right information at the right time. It frustrates team members to be unnecessarily interrupted when other people need information. At the same time, it slows progress when people don’t know what they need to know in order to move forward. Customized dashboards, specific to the needs of different players could be created – even for players who are outside of the organization – but linked to the project.
Technology can help build accountability and trust among team members. Reliable analytics can help build management confidence. I’m not looking for a blockchain solution that eliminates people from the project world. I’m looking for one that makes it easier for people to connect, communicate, and care.
If the intersection of blockchain and project management interests you, I’d love to chat. I’m at a crossroads with Smart Projex, and assessing my next steps. What about you? Connect with me on LinkedIn here or schedule a call. Maybe I’ll feature you in an upcoming blog or a white paper about how to make this happen.