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Episode 462: Project Performance: Agile, Waterfall and Beyond (Free)

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Our focus today is on project performance.

To be precise, it’s on The Practitioner's Handbook of Project Performance: Agile, Waterfall and Beyond. This handbook is the result of the hard work and dedication of more than 35 authors from over 15 countries across four continents. They wrote chapters on pretty much any topic of project performance that you can imagine, and it was all brought together by Mark Phillips.

Mark has been on the program before. That was back in episode 158 and then also 282 and 283 when we spoke about his book reinventing communication, and today it’s project performance.

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Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Video Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: In this episode of The Project Management Podcast™, we explore the topic of project performance.

Hello, and welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™ at This is the live stream for Episode 462, and I’m Cornelius Fichtner. How nice of you for joining us today.

Our focus today as you can see on the screen here is Project Performance. To be precise, it’s on “The Practitioner’s Handbook of Project Performance in Agile, Waterfall, and beyond.” This handbook is a result of the hard work and dedication of more than 35 authors from over 15 countries across 4 continents. They wrote chapters on pretty much any topic of project performance that you can imagine, and it was all brought together by Mark Phillips.

Mark has been on the program before. That was back in Episode 158, and then also in Episode 282 and 283 when we spoke primarily about reinventing communication. And today, it is project performance.

Video Presentation

Cornelius Fichtner: So let’s bring Mark into the discussion here. Hello, Mark! Welcome back on the program!

Mark Phillips: Thank you for having me, Cornelius!

Cornelius Fichtner: Wonderful! First question obviously, this is a great picture. Where was this picture taken?

Mark Phillips: At the very tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. It's where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet in Mackinaw City. And that was taken on the Lake Huron side. And there's an incredible phenomenon that happens in some winters of blue ice being built up. So it's ice that has very few imperfections and freezes very quickly, the water does, which allows the light to take longer to get through. So only the blue wavelength hangs out there. So that is basically standing on Lake Huron with the blue ice there.

Cornelius Fichtner: That's very nice. Well, to get us started, let's just briefly, briefly talk about the book itself. How did it get started, The Practitioners Handbook? Why did you write it?

Mark Phillips: Sure. So there's a tremendous amount of theory out there and a tremendous amount of different processes and methodologies that one can follow. Where I found that there was a real gap is when you talk about project success, which everyone talks about the different groups that say you know, you have this much project failure and this much project success and big project, little projects, all that kind of things. We're all basing it off of kind of the triple constraints and as a practitioner and when talking and working with practitioners, it really boils down to stakeholders and what kind of the reality is that you're living in as a practitioner. So there was always a gap in applying these processes and methodologies, and even these things that the different groups measure against to the reality that we live in. A very clear example of that is so often we might try to be project managers and do the right thing, but the politics of the place where we're working and the kind of hierarchical environment that it might be in, and the personalities involved just don't make that realistically feasible. So it really comes down to closing that gap. I apologize.

Cornelius Fichtner: That’s what happens at a live stream. That's perfectly okay. Don't worry. I have my cats show up occasionally. So yeah.

Mark Phillips: So anyways in closing that gap between the theoretical world, and then the messy reality that we all operate in, that was the idea behind it. There are of course, many, many books out there about project performance when it comes down to looking at it from an earned value management standpoint and those kinds of things. But again, it's closing that gap between theory and reality.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! Your last book was about project communication, okay. So how did that happen? How did you go from a book about project communication to a book about project performance?

Mark Phillips: Excellent question. So at the end of the day, I believe the projects all come down to people and it all comes down to people delivering results, accepting the results, deciding whether it was a success or failure.

And for me, it starts with communication, right? It starts with the communication that you create as a project manager, or as a senior leader, or as a manager as a whole. And then from there, it stems out into how people can decide whether what you've done is successful or not. And that's really kind of the vector of project performance and project success or failure. So it seemed like a natural, and it also seemed like a natural to what this might lead into some other items. But it seemed like a natural to make it a broad, a broad swath of authors to really put this together more as a handbook rather than a Mark Phillip says this is what performance is. Because it does come down to people and we all operate in different environments.

Cornelius Fichtner: Right. Let me bring up the book here quickly. I have a slide with the book. So it is called “The Practitioner's Handbook of Project Performance” written by 35 authors,4 continents, published by Routledge, 464 pages, and I am going to give you the link right here. So coming your way in the chat is the Amazon link for this book. This is a clean link, so no commission earned or anything like that. This is direct link to the book. Question for you: Why did you invite 35 authors to join you with that book?

Mark Phillips: Sure. You know, the book originally started out with a very prescriptive kind of approach. A few of the chapters, this is what we were going to talk about. These are the topics that we’re going to do. And yeah, this is going to be answering your question also, Tony.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yes! Tony says: “Why so many authors?”

Mark Phillips: Yeah! And so instead of making it prescriptive, it kind of leans into that whole perspective that everyone has a different experience in being a project manager or looking at project management. And I don't think anybody can say definitively that they are the guru and have the solution to every problem that a project manager could encounter. As we talked about a couple of minutes ago, it all comes down to people and people are very different no matter where you go and they're different in different circumstances.

So the approach was to cast a very wide net and get different voices and perspectives on what people consider to be important in project performance. It was kind of twofold. One is in order to make sure that that knowledge was captured and being able to be shared because, you know, we've got chapters on emotional intelligence and mentoring and leadership, which resonate with some people. And we've got things on very hard metrics like on how to define “done” and how to use Agile earned value schedule and things of that sort. So we wanted to make sure that all of those voices were included not only from the perspective of making sure that they were included, but also making sure that leaders who might be looking at project performance and deciding whether their project is winning or losing, or whether their team is doing well or not have the perspective that there are different ways of looking at it.

And the other side of it is because there's no single one guru, at least in my opinion, I certainly didn't consider myself that guru, I wanted this also to be a way for readers to start to connect with these authors. Most of these authors have, in the back of the book, ways of getting in touch with them whether that be through LinkedIn or Twitter or email addresses or websites. And I really wanted it to start as the genesis for conversations between practitioners and people that resonated with their approaches on project performance

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright, yeah! So we have another comment here from Jonathan Norman, first word: “Critics,” and then Jonathan says: “They clearly disagree with Mark.” I believe Jonathan typed this in during the opening questions about why choose this particular topic. I'm not quite sure what you mean, Jonathan. So if you wouldn't mind clarifying this a little bit more, which critics, and then how exactly do they disagree? I'll bring it back up and bring it and show it to you.

So before we get to Folusho’s question there about whether this is a handbook or not, let me ask you this, Mark: What is your definition of project performance, your personal definition?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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