Tag Archives: Risk

10 Things Great Project Managers Do

I came across this slideshow on 10 Things Great Project Managers Do today whilst browsing some online newsletters I subscribe to.

Whilst they may seem a little motherhood and apple pie to some,  it is when the basics are executed right that we get success. All too often we neglect the basics at our peril. There is a reason that the basics are called the basics.; it is that they are the building blocks for success.

One that resonated with me particularly was Number 10


The reason being that all too often in the past I have had occasion to ignore this basic. When I have it has often not turned out like I would have wished. Being a hard charger as the Americans say, is all very well, but you need to pace the charging. That knowledge often comes only with experience and after learning why the basic is a basic and not a namby pamby HR idea.

Of course there are other things, but these 10 encapsulate much of what is required for success. They do not guarantee success but they will go a long way to reducing project failure due to project management. Note though that other factors are often as influential, if not more so in project failure than project management.


More on the Bank of Allan

Rebecca Macfie, Listener writer and author of two previous articles on Allan Hubbard – A South Canterbury Tale and Counting the Cost has  another article on the Bank of Allan in the new issue of The Listener, not on line as yet.

This article entitled – A law unto himself – has the lead in:-

Allan Hubbard thought only he could save South Canterbury Finance, but insiders had been challenging him for years. Rebecca Macfie looks at what was really going on.

Interestingly as the Hubbard saga has progressed the tone of Macfie’s articles has become more questioning of the Hubbard myth.

Macfie’s article leads me to think that Hubbard ran SCF very much as a personal fiefdom. These comments in the article certainly seem to suggest so:-

extract #1 Rebecca Macfie - NZ Listener 18 - 24 Sept 2010

This relates to 2004 after the departure of his partner Mr Rolleston. Now why would the controlling shareholder and key director come in and open all the mail? It defies logic, especially given that SCF was not a small operation by then.

Then Ms Macfie reveals later in the article:-

extract #2 - Rebecca Macfie - NZ Listener 18-24 September 2010

So as late as the end of 2009 Hubbard was controlling loans and accounting for them in a ledger he kept personally. This seems to somewhat contradict an impression put about by Mr Hubbard’s supporters that all the problems were down to someone else. Though at this time we do not know whether the Hubbard ‘hard ledger’ was where all the ‘good loans’ were.

Hardly sound governance I would suggest, nor normal business practice. The term ‘hard ledger’ suggest to me that it was hand written. Furthermore, questions arise in my mind as to how it was integrated into the enterprise’s overall books of account and whether best practice internal control was exercised. I wonder what the auditors made of this practice?

Then Ms Macfie turns her attention to the question of Aorangi Securities, on which the statutory managers have had quite a lot to say. So has Mr Hubbard who refutes their statements. Yet, Ms Macfie writes:-

extract #3 - Rebecca Macfie - NZ Listener 18-24 September 2010

This seems to be in conflict with much that has been said by Hubbard in more recent times.

The article repays reading.

Some Thoughts:-

To me, and in my opinion based on reading the article and other prior ones, plus other media comment, it reveals a pattern of:-

1. Lax or lacking governance

2. Poor internal control in certain areas

3 Dominance of process by one person, which is normally seen as a control weakness and business risk

4 Business processes inadequate for the scale of operation undertaken

5 Management weakness, as it could be inferred that to an extent lending operations were the province of indvidual fiefdoms, especially given Mr Maier’s comment on Lending Officer control.

The points above leading to a personal view that business risk was being incurred which was capable of being reduced and or avoided.

These thoughts are to my mind borne out by the comprehensive revision of past financial statements by Ernst & Young after their appointment – plus the fact that they queried whether SCF was a ‘going concern‘. It would be fascinating to know what was contained in any post audit letter on suggestions for improvement.

It would be fascinating as well to know what KordaMentha had been reporting to Treasury in respect of the way in which SCF had conducted business.

I tend to wonder about the role of the board of directors in all this. Just what reports and information were they receiving? After all as Cadbury stated in 1992 (Sir Adrian Cadbury’s seminal report on corporate governance in the UK):-

Corporate governance is the system by which companies are directed and controlled. Boards of directors are responsible for the governance of their companies.  The shareholders’ role in governance is to appoint the directors and the auditors and to satisfy themselves that an appropriate governance structure is in place.  The responsibilities of the board include setting the company’s strategic aims, providing the leadership to put them into effect, supervising the management of the business and reporting to shareholders on their stewardship. The board’s actions are subject to laws, regulations and the shareholders in general meeting.

It has been axiomatic for some time, I believe, that this means ensuring that there is an appropriate level of information for the supervisory role to be effectively performed. In addition that management must have put in place the processes which are appropriate to enable informed decision making to take place. Such processes would not, I suggest, include the chairman opening the mail and keeping a hand written loan book, which it would appear he kept very much under his close personal control.

In my view, there is much to suggest that Corporate Governance as defined by Cadbury was not as rigourous as it should have been.

I suspect that there is much more to emerge as to how SCF conducted business and how decisions were made.

Some Thoughts: Storm Warnings in projects

Over the course of my career I have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing projects, proposals for projects and related aspects of the lifecycle.. In a number of instances this has led on to examining the causes of problems and trying to find ways of resolving issues. Consequently I was interested to read a post by Michael Krigsman  about early warning signs of Project Failure.

He wrote:-i

Managers often express surprise upon learning their project will run late or over-budget. Nonetheless, we frequently ignore early warnings signs that indicate a project faces trouble.

For an academic article on this subject titled Early Warning Signs of IT Project Failure: The Dominant Dozen, two researchers collected data from 19 experts and 55 IT project managers. The researchers discovered an important lesson: “significant symptoms or ‘early warning signs’ of trouble” often are present long before a project actually fails.

This grabbed my attention, because some years ago whilst running the Project Quality Office for a major vendor my team and I spent considerable time and effort on seeing if we could identify flags which might indicate trouble. I christened them ‘Storm Warnings’

The article ,referenced by Krigsman, describes twelve warning signs, divided into people-related risks and process-related risks:

People-Related Risks

  • Lack of top management support
  • Weak project manager
  • No stakeholder involvement and/or participation
  • Weak commitment of project team
  • Team members lack requisite knowledge and/or skills
  • Subject matter experts are overscheduled

Process-related Risks

  • No business case for the project
  • Lack of documented requirements and/or success criteria
  • No change control process (change management)
  • Ineffective schedule planning and/or management
  • Communication breakdown among stakeholders
  • Resources assigned to a higher priority project

Continued high rates of failure suggest that most organizations ignore these early warning signs.

I don’t disagree with the above at all. In fact there are a number of other items I would add to the lists. Of which more another day.

Some Thoughts:-

What struck me though when I looked at these factors was how they interlinked with and exemplified a number of other matters I have commented on recently.

For example the issues raised by Professor Mary Gentile on Voicing Values in the Workplace. The factors identified above raise a number of flags in my mind as to the nature of governance in an organisation where some or all of the above may exist. In addition I wonder about the underlying values within the organisation.

In addition, one factor that stands out from looking at the issues identified from the research cited is the question of value. Why, oh why are projects being undertaken where the value to be derived is either weakly derived, if at all, and success criteria are non-existent to poorly defined. As I noted here, a critical element in successful delivery is understanding value creation. Again governance at the enterprise level is critical.

So yes, the factors identified in the research posted about by Michael Krigsman are relevant, they and others provide ‘Storm Warnings’. Yet, as well they should be prompting greater concerns about the enterprise as a whole and not just a particular project.

These 4 concerns relate to:-

  1. What, if any. governance framework is in place?
  2. How does the enterprise assess and manage risk?
  3. How does the board discharge it’s responsibilities?
  4. Why executive management do not appear to be fulfilling their role?

I say this, because when you look at and consider the People and Process related risks identified in the research it is my contention that the existence of these risks flows directly from weaknesses/failings relating to the 4 four concerns, which reflect critical elements of governance. In turn weaknesses here will result in a failure to create value.

After problems in one project are likely to be symptomatic of problems in others.

I am interested to see what others think.

The dangers of dabbling in social-media for promotional purposes

The other day I posted on the Power of Social Media and cited the case of Busted Blonde, NBR and the Veuve Cliquot competition. Yesterday I drew attention to the publication of guidance by ISACA on Social Media Risks. One factor identified by ISACA was the need to:-

Include social media training in the organization’s regular awareness communications or information security training curriculum. Users need to understand what is (and is not) appropriate and how to protect themselves and the organization when using social media.

The NBR/Veuve Cliquot incident illustrates this well. There has been considerable media comment in NZ both online and in the MSM. Much comment in NZ, often negative, was directed at NBR.

In addition there has been considerable overseas comment. Apart from press comment such as this piece by Anthony Rose in The Independent – When cliquot lost it’s Veuve, this item in a trade journal caught my eye.

Marinel FitzSimons – The Drinks Business described the situation and concluded thus:-

But the ever-effervescing temper of the bloggers has not been calmed, as the current quarrel is that she is not receiving her weight in Champagne, but in Champagne bottles.

As one blogger puts it: “[NBR] had a com­pe­ti­tion, they enlisted social media, they changed the rules and got smashed via social media. It isn’t good enough to get away with­out a penalty pay­ment, and I say they should pay her weight in Cham­pagne, as per the terms and con­di­tions, with­out the bottle.”

This tale is yet another example of the dangers of dabbling in social-media for promotional purposes.

Ms FitzSimons makes a very good point. If you are going to use Social Media, make sure you know what you are doing and why. Develop a clear strategy and understand the risks.

In this regard, I found this article- When A Social Media Campaign Goes Bad –  by Dr. Colin N. Clarke, who is a senior strategist for The Flint Group; he studies how and why people choose to consume information to be of considerable interest. At the beginning he writes:-

An interesting case study has recently emerged in New Zealand that underscores the power of social media… and how it must be wielded CAREFULLY.

Dr Clarke then backgrounds the whole affair, including some quotes from bloggers. He suggests that the original premise to harness Social Media was sound, but it failed in the execution. Indeed, just like many business projects do.

He comments:-

What is one of the most important elements of a social media strategy? TRANSPARENCY. And this is where NBR failed.

The fallout is beginning to reach a fevered pitch in New Zealand as bloggers and mainstream media are now berating NBR for its lack of transparency. True to the nature of social media, the court of public opinion is speaking out and it’s not pretty

So now a lot of media coverage, but not favourable coverage.

Dr Clarke highlights how Transparency is critical when using Social Media and concludes his piece with this:-

NBR and Veuve Clicquot opened the social media door when they created the campaign. The best move they can make now is to create extra space on the podium, include the popular vote winner and celebrate. Maybe next time they will plan their social media strategy more thoroughly, and make sure that the rule of TRANSPARENCY is heeded.

What failed social media campaigns have you experienced? How did they fail you?

EDIT – Five days after the social media eruption occurred, NBR posted this apology and awarded the popular vote winner a grand prize as well. A graceful apology with a bit of humor, it is interesting that NBR states it did not intend to “compromise transparency.” No doubt a lesson learned by NBR in how to properly engage in the social media environment.

The bold text is inserted by Dr Clarke.

This media coverage and the comment piece by Dr Clarke vividly illustrate what happens when media campaigns go wrong. When a good idea is poorly executed!

Some Thoughts:-

This case brings out a number of key issues.

1. Using Social Media not only potentially incurs technology and  related risks, but as with other initiatives incurs Business Risks. In fact in some instances, such as this one the Business Risk may be the greater risk run.

2. Social Media inititiatives should, in the same manner as other business projects, be subject to a Business Risk Assessment as part of the proposal for the project

3. Social Media campaigns must be run by people who understand the nature of the media being harnessed; or with input from same

4. The rapidity with which issues/problems can spread due to the nature of the Social Media world means that risk planning and mitigation strategies are essential.

5. As with all initiatives an appropriate governance framework should be in place, one that is flexible and responsive, with appropriate underlying processes and policies

A last word from Anthony Rose:-

It may yet well be a win-win situation though if you believe that all publicity is good publicity (ask Max Clifford). Remember when the champenois sued Yves St Laurent for calling its fragrance Champagne? It may have cost YSL a packet in legal fees, but it was nothing compared to the profits reaped from worldwide sales of Champagne, the fragrance, and publicity for the brand. Could the last laugh belong to the marketing-savvy Widow after all?

Call me cynical, but?

Social Media Risks

From the ISACA website an article on Tips for Addressing Social Media Risks

The article starts:-

Does your organization use social media? How do you know for sure? Social media usually require no special technology, little or no involvement from IT, and no official project plan or explicit permissions to get started. Social media involve the creation and dissemination of information through social networks using the Internet. Social media tools include blogs, product review sites, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Wikipedia and many other outlets. Any Internet site that allows individual users to supply content can be considered a type of social media.

Managing the risks from social media requires that the organization have a social media strategy, sound policy and a plan to address the risks that accompany social media technology.

The article highlighst some of the risks and approaches to understanding and mitigating risks. It links to a complimentary copy of the ISACA white paper on Social Media: Business Benefits and Security, Governance and Assurance Perspectives

An abstract from the white paper:-

Initiated as a consumer-oriented technology, social media is increasingly being leveraged as a powerful, low-cost tool for enterprises to drive business objectives such as enhanced customer interaction, greater brand recognition and more effective employee recruitment. While social media affords enterprises many potential benefits, information risk professionals are concerned about its inherent risks such as data leakage, malware propagation and privacy infringement. Enterprises seeking to integrate social media into their business strategy must adopt a cross-functional, strategic approach that addresses risks, impacts and mitigation steps, along with appropriate governance and assurance measures.

There are a number of other useful links