Webinar: Public Infrastructure Projects: Not So Obvious Failure Factors

Join us for the upcoming webinar on Public Infrastructure projects:

Guest presenter: Nyananso Gabriel Ekanem, Managing Consultant @Weircapacity Ltd

Time and date: 26th September 2019 3PM UTC

Public infrastructure projects are expected to support economic growth and improve the quality of life. However, a number of projects have failed to meet these objectives, particularly in developing economies. The success and failure factors for infrastructure projects have been extensively discussed and documented by managers and professionals, and these have become obvious. In this webinar, we will be discussing the “not-so-obvious factors” that may lead to the failure of public infrastructure projects.

You can register for the webinar here.

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Book Review: PRINCE2 Study Guide by David Hinde

The PRINCE2 Study guide: 2017

David Hinde

Price £22 (amazon.co.uk)

608 pages

With the obvious exception of the PMD Pro Guide, manuals for methodologies and bodies of knowledge can be dry. Really dry!

The 2017 update of Managing Successful projects with PRINCE2 has been slimmed down and is the beneficiary of a striking graphic makeover. Nevertheless, the actual writing remains as tough to navigate as ever.

This is where study guides come in. I always choose companion guides based on their attempts to complement their target text with a narrative. When performed effectively, this can help to ease the monotony of formal tome.

The PRINCE2 Study guide: 2017 update by David Hinde is a good example of this. At over 600 pages there are no shortcuts or crib notes – the subject is afforded full and meticulous attention. Yet the organization of chapters into a logical structure following a project from inception to closure is accompanied by a light and friendly prose. Working together, these elements successfully demystify PRINCE2.

The reader is always paramount in Hinde’s mind, and while I did get bogged down on a couple of occasions, these episodes were brief.  

A quick look at the market shows there are few other PRINCE2 study guides, so it’s good news that this one works so well. Each chapter finishes with example questions from both the foundation and practitioner exams. I especially appreciated efforts to highlight key areas such as minimum requirements and tailoring.  

If you are looking to complement your PMD Pro certification with technical continuous development, I would certainly recommend this read. And at a fraction of the price of ‘Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2’!

Can agile be scaled?

This APM Research Fund study builds on the 2015 APM North West Volunteer study on the practical adoption of agile methodologies which provided a review of approaches at a project level, this study aims to investigate the level of practical adoption of those programme and portfolio components addressed by Scaled Agile methodologies. 

The objective of the study was to understand the extent to which scaled agile tools, techniques and roles are practically in place in corporate portfolio, programme, project and development management methodologies, to determine the level of corporate commitment to exploiting scaled agile, e.g. pilot, full use, selective based on need, as well as drivers for selection or deselection of the framework based on the overheads

Who is the intended audience?

The proposed target audience is APM corporate members and their employees but would also be of interest to individual practitioners, training providers and those who are considering or have adopted Agile and now want to expand its use, or who have been struggling to align timeframes and products across multiple agile deliveries.

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Project Management: Darth Vader’s method

Take a look at this clip from Star Wars which has been termed “Project Management: Darth Vader’s method.”

In this scenario Darth Vader is the Project Sponsor and demands that the project (the Death Star) is delivered on time. The Project Manager doesn’t do very well (he changes his story too easily), but how could he have done better?

There is another take on this at Geekwire, which proposes that Darth Vader himself was an amazing project manager.


How to maximise your Return on Failure (ROF)

This article has been originally published at Thinkfully

Last month, Thinkfully joined the Third Sector Project Management Forum (TSPMF) at the British Red Cross offices in London to facilitate a session around how to think brilliantly and use different thinking strategies.

As with many other industries, the Third Sector is facing challenging times in a rapidly changing environment.  Previous research within the third sector has highlighted the importance of learning lessons from past experiences and projects. Therefore, we set the challenge question: “How to identify, take on board and put into practice lessons learnt to improve future projects and become more efficient and effective?”The purpose of this question was to help unpack ideas around ownership of lessons learnt and to orientate the focus on embedding and enabling change for future projects.

The concept of ‘Return On Investment’ (ROI) is well understood (looking at the positive benefits or pay-offs from investing in a resource) however, this session revealed the importance of a new concept – ‘Return On Failure’ (ROF).

The discussions identified some really valuable and important lessons for us all. Here we unpack 10 big ideas for us all to maximise our ROF, along with some key questions to ask ourselves along the way.

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The Identification and Design Forest

I always wondered why we need to develop the Problem Tree … then the Objectives Tree … then the Alternatives Tree … and finally start developing the Logframe. Once we have identified the core problem, its causes and consequences, why not jumping to develop the Logframe?

Well… Here are some thoughts…

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How to manage staff – 10 tips for new managers

By Peter Marlow

So, you’ve been given a new project to manage and it’s big. You’ve been given some staff to help you but you’ve never managed staff before.

Managing people is not easy and it’s not something that is easily learned, except by doing it and making mistakes. Don’t worry, here are ten tips to help you to manage your new team effectively:

Build your team
Everyone is different. Your team will each have different strengths and weaknesses, and have an individual part to play in making your project a success. Management Theorist Meredith Belbin identified 9 different team roles – Resource Investigator, Team Worker, Co-ordinator, Plant (Problem Solver), Monitor Evaluator, Specialist, Shaper, Implementor and Completer Finisher. Most people will be most comfortable with two or three of these roles, but not all. So, get to know your staff. Give them tasks that exploit their strengths and help them with their weaknesses.

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The empowering feeling of participation

By Oliver Carrick

“No. We’re not talking about that now. Would anyone else like to participate?”

So spoke the President of a local NGO to the monthly meeting of project beneficiaries.

Participation has so many forms that the word alone can seem meaningless. But let’s distinguish between two key types of participation: Participation as a means of performing project work, and participation as an end goal of the project itself.

Many of us who have worked in local development have been privileged enough to see the effects of the empowering initiatives which have people’s participation as an end goal. In the best-case scenario locals and beneficiaries engage in a cycle of learning by doing which improves their confidence and their skills to participate again in ever more complex tasks. The end goal is building local capacities, knowledge and experience by participation in development projects and initiatives.

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Long live the Decision Gates

During the project launch meeting, suddenly, the Project Manager raises from his chair and shouts: “long live decision gates!” Yes, decision gates must live long and walk through the entire project life. But what are decision gates?

According to the PMD Pro Guide, decision gates consist of a series of points in the project that require a decision to either proceed with the next phase of the project, modify the Scope, Schedule or Budget of the project or end the project outright. Each successive decision gate builds on the work that was developed in the previous stage.

Although more common at the Setup Phase, when a formal approval is required to mobilizing resources and beginning the iterative planning and implementation phases, decision gates are helpful and necessary to connect each phase and stage of the project.

The most common decision gates

During the Setup Phase, there are three most used decision gates:

From a simple e-mail to a document written accordingly to a template, this gate is presented to internal stakeholders (including implementing partners) to collect feedback on the initial project idea. It must be simple, but clear. High level budget estimate and overall outcome must be included. It will focus on the “what” and will present an initial idea on “how” the project will achieve the proposed idea.

Submitted to potential donors and key external stakeholders, the expression of interest still consists of an informal document or presentation, depending on the relationship that is already established with these stakeholders. This document still presents high-level details, but the “what” and “how” must be more tangible.

A formal document requesting approval receiving funds, sometime following the donor and/or external stakeholders’ template. The proposal is more detailed and precise, which requires more time and resources to develop it. Jumping into writing a project proposal without going through the first two decision gates might end up as a loss of time and resources.

Ready to start the project?

No! The project proposal is not the decision gate that approves the beginning of the project. A formal authorization is required, even if you receive a proposal approval. If funds are internal, a Project Charter might be enough to authorize the beginning of the project, depending on your organization policies and procedures. But, normally, a formal agreement or contract is required to establish roles, responsibilities, budget, expected outcomes, tolerances, and project changes procedures.

Long live the Decision Gates

The initial decision gates are most common, but no more important than gates that will connect stages and phases through the project life. According to the PgMD Pro Guide, one of the most effective ways to maintain control of the Program (or project) is to divide the Planning and Implementation phase into stages, with a Decision Gate at the end of each stage.

Questions like “are we ready?” and “do we continue?” must be answered at each gate. A good example is the end of a series of microfinance and entrepreneurship training courses that prepare the beneficiaries to create their small enterprises.

  • Are they ready to start their businesses? Did the courses achieve the level or comprehension we planned? Is there any additional knowledge we must share with them?
  • Are we ready to support them? Is our team prepared to guide them through the business development paperwork? Are there tools to help them managing their business?
  • How about other project components? Are funds available? Systems in place? Reports and documents ready?
  • Do we continue? Is there any change in the context, bureaucracy, beneficiaries… that would require “one step back” before moving to the next stage?

Stages… phases… milestones…

During the planning phase, the project manager usually sets up specific “moments” to review the project progress and adapt the plans. These are very good points of control and decision gates can be added to the review/planning process.

Remember: decision gates are not necessarily a decision point for the Project Committee – it can and must be a helpful tool for the project manager and project team.

Ultimately, a decision gate can also consist of a series of doors (or options), each one of them leading to a different approach to the next project stage or phase – helping the team to move forward to the same direction.


Emergency Decision Gates are moments in which the operating environment of a project or program changes dramatically in a short period of time. Stakeholders critical to the program – senior managers, governance authority, internal and external specialists – will then need to make quick decisions about whether to change plans, or in some cases, even stop the project.

As a real example, a sports activities project funded by two donors has its procedures, expectations, outcomes, and priorities changed every other month by one of the donors. The counterpart did not agree with the constant changes and informed the project manager that it would possibly requests the funds returning if the project would not achieve the original outcomes.

Pushing the project forward at the risk of returning all funds (already received and future parcels) or cancelling the project now and returning only funds already received? The project manager developed a financial impact analysis comparing both scenarios and “pressed the button,” which lead to a Committee decision to terminate the project – avoiding an even more critical risk: reputation’s damage.

How should the project move forward after a decision gate?

Project Plans, Charter, and tools must reflect the decision and analysis that was just made. It is most likely that a decision gate will change the project, to correct the project path or simply improve it.

Besides updating project documents, it is very important to communicate any change and what was analyzed and learned – a one-page message to all key stakeholders (internal and external) will help to keep everyone in the same page. As in any other project management process, communication is a key for the success.

Think of your project as a long flight with many connections. Each airport you land is a decision gate.

You need these connections to refuel the plane, check all engines, change passengers (beneficiaries), maybe replace the crew (team), and adjust the plane route. Even if the boarding gate is the same for the next flight leg, I am sure you will check the airport panels (indicators) to make sure you are in the right place and going to the right destination.

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