Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rebecca Braglio
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson

Recent Posts

Don’t Shout the Loudest—Think Ahead

Can We Use the Principles of Newspeak for Good?

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

Reality Check: Stop Being So Optimistic

PMO of the Year Winner Calls Out Executive Support

Don’t Shout the Loudest—Think Ahead

communications comic

Have you been in situations where it seems that only shouting generates results? Or has your team been pressured to complete tasks that don’t appear to benefit your project? Maybe as the project manager, you have been in the middle of confusion and agitation that seem to undermine your project management abilities.

Could it be that many of the scenarios you encounter have their roots in conflicting stakeholder requests and misunderstandings? Well, it’s possible to avoid these types of predicaments. Consider utilizing the following three tools that allow you to have better control of your project and your project team:

1) Communications Plan. Outline a plan with names, contact information, and details on when and what messages need to be delivered to and from you. This tool allows you to know the frequency of message exchanges and the media required for specific contacts. 

It also lets you know what level of detail the message should have, i.e., if it is going to a senior manager vs. a member of the supporting team.

2) Stakeholder Analysis. Prepare an analysis of your stakeholders to understand what their roles are and what area of your project is impacted by their involvement. This tool can help you with the department that has the biggest impact all the way down to the departments that have even a small effect.

Additionally, this tool can show how those who are directly or indirectly connected to your project may have an influence that can be detrimental.

3) Project Plan. Develop a plan with the focus on your project objectives and what the project will entail. Organize the plan for what needs to be done and when. The tool should show ownership and timings that you can share with stakeholders to also make them aware of the potential influence of their requests. 

Sometimes, we get can get distracted when trying so hard to make sure our projects meet every need. There are many voices, conflicts, risks and events that affect the success of our project. Leaning on these tools may make your stakeholder management process smoother.

What tools do you leverage to ease stakeholder management issues?



Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: November 25, 2015 06:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Can We Use the Principles of Newspeak for Good?

Categories: Communication

Last month I went to see a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four at the Melbourne Festival. The experience sparked this question in my mind: Can we learn from the black arts of propaganda showcased in Orwell’s dystopian novel and turn them into assets to enhance our communication and stakeholder engagement activities?

The way words shape people’s thinking is very powerful. This power can be used for both good and bad. Oratory and rhetoric are generally seen as positive motivational and persuasive skills; propaganda is the flip side that misleads and creates false truths.

Can project professionals learn to use these skills to enhance their stakeholder engagement activities—and is this ethical? My feeling is that the ability to persuade stakeholders to help you be successful is a positive and ethical skill provided it’s used for the greater good.

Orwell is famous for two novels, Animal Farm published in 1945 and Nineteen Eighty-Four (often written as 1984) published in 1949. Both were focused on the evil of totalitarian regimes, but Nineteen Eighty-Four goes beyond politics to look at the process of manipulating the way people think, or more precisely, how to use language to prevent people from thinking. “The Principles of Newspeak” are defined in an appendix to 1984 (and therefore few people notice them). But reading them reframes the whole book.

The importance of Nineteen Eighty-Four as a classic 20th century novel can be measured by the number of its terms and concepts that are still part of our language today. These include Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime and thoughtpolice, as well as the adjective Orwellian, which describes official deception and manipulation by the state.

What I find fascinating are the parallels between Newspeak and modern adaptations of language, particularly that often found in SMS (text) messages, and the intention of Newspeak to control thinking.

From the appendix:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc*, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.

* Ingsoc: The philosophy of The Party, run by Big Brother.

Newspeak was constructed using two fundamental processes:

  1. Remove as many words as possible from the language. This reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself. Newspeak was designed to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.
  2. Abbreviate and amalgamate words to create a simple construct with a precise (usually perverse) meaning. MINILUV (Ministry of Love) was the department focused on maintaining state control over everyone through surveillance by the Thoughtpolice, torture and state killings. MINITRUE was responsible for propaganda and the manipulation of historical records to meet current needs.

Fast-forward to the 21st century and consider typical text-message acronyms like TMI—KHUF! (Translation: too much information—know how you feel.) 

Of course, one of the big differences is that Newspeak was designed to eliminate creative thought, while the language of SMS and social media users is organic and created and owned by individuals. But is this difference enough to prevent the stifling of creative thought and innovation?

Conversely, one of the ideas in Newspeak that could be adapted to a positive use is the way entities are named. What if we changed the name of PMOs to SPEs: successful project enablers? 

If the SPE staff lived up to that name and helped projects under their control to be successful, wouldn’t that be a good thing? Similarly, why not change the name of the “Monthly report for July” to a “Report on achievements in July”? Could this make the document more interesting and meaningful to those who receive it?  

We know that what things are called affects people’s expectations, a fact not lost on Big Brother. But can the concept be equally useful if used positively to encourage success…or is this too much spin?

What do you think?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: November 23, 2015 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

By Peter Tarhanidis

New and proliferating digital technologies are giving rise to new competitive businesses while transforming legacy organizations. It’s no longer just about the Internet, but increasingly tech-savvy users and inexpensive smartphones and tablets.

From an organizational perspective, it’s not just a matter of grappling with new technical platforms: The relationship between organizations and their customers is being transformed.

Before, the cornerstone of customer service was the golden rule: treat your customers the way you want to be treated. Customer relationships were facilitated and managed within just a few departments.

Disruptive technologies have enabled a shift to a new paradigm: customer empowerment. This ushered in the new platinum rule: treat your customers the way they want to be treated. Disruptive technologies integrate organizations to their digital customer experience and are simultaneously influenced by social, consumer and professional media portals like Facebook, Yelp, NetPromoter Scores, and LinkedIn.

Now, much of the work and measurement of this activity is shared across the entire supply chain of the customer journey, which requires more cross-team collaboration to report on the customer experience.

So the importation question has become: How can we make the digital customer experience flawless? This is the new competitive differentiator for companies. Those that stand apart in this respect build market leverage.

Project managers are one asset organizations have at their disposal to ensure success with this new digital customer experience dynamic. Here’s a four-stop roadmap for optimizing your organization for the brave new digital world we all live in.

  1. Establish a plan to:
    • Identify current customer journey paths.
    • Optimize those paths into one consistent and simple location.
    • Digitize that journey and make it available online, mobile and global.
  2. Build the requisite foundation required to sustain the digital journey (e.g., big data analytics, and mobile-first and cloud infrastructure).
  3. Transition customers from legacy operating approaches into the new digital journey with a change management plan that leads to sustainable adoption.
  4. Improve the experience by acting on key performance metrics that gauge the quality of the customer’s entire journey—don’t just rely on the customer service department for quality control.

How is your organization adapting to the new realities of our digital customer age? Please take a moment and share your thoughts.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: November 17, 2015 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Reality Check: Stop Being So Optimistic

By Cyndee Miller

My modus operandi is straight-up realist. But deep down inside, I admit there are times when I think I’m special — that I will somehow emerge as the grand exception to the rule.

We all do.

“People are wildly optimistic about everything,” said author, academic and psychologist Daniel Gilbert, a keynoter at PMO Symposium™. His dispiriting findings show people are terrible at estimating odds because they “confuse the ease of imagining something with the odds of it happening.”

And project, program and portfolio managers have no special powers against optimism bias, either.

One prime example: the infamous Big Dig. The tunnel construction megaproject was originally slated to be finished in 1998. The team’s worst-case scenario? 2000. Its best-case estimate? 1998 — the same as the official completion estimate. Actual completion date? 2006. 

Gilbert pushed symposium attendees to move past wishful thinking and ask themselves: “Have I used my imagination or have I just let it use me?”

For better or worse, my imagination tends to go into overdrive when I see any list of business trends. It’s like catnip for my brain.

As Ford Motor Co.’s resident futurist, closing-day keynoter Sheryl Connelly tries to move the team beyond visions of the future that merely extrapolate from the past.

“My role is to slow down the conversation long enough to say, ‘What are the underlying assumptions upon which you base your plan?’”

In those kinds of discussions, project professionals can’t be afraid to challenge status quo thinking.

“Not for the sake of being the contrarian in the room, but to expand your organization’s eyes to the possibilities, the range of things that can really happen,” she said.

Threats aren’t just coming from the usual competitors anymore. They’re bubbling up from entirely different categories, like how hotel companies didn’t see Airbnb coming, she said.

Echoing Gilbert’s call for realism, Connelly recommended scenario planning across the whole range of possible futures: world peace and vanishing poverty on one end, and cataclysmic suffering and economic depression on the other.

“When you explore these two extreme possibilities, the goal is to try and come up with business plans,” she said. “Solutions can work at either end of the spectrum. If you can do that, then you don’t need to know the future. You just know that you have a really robust plan that can weather just about anything you can imagine.”

Futurist title or not, that’s just solid risk management.

Connelly also offered up four big trends to look for: aging populations, urbanization, talent shortages and girl power. And indeed, we’re already seeing plenty of project management action on those fronts.

As of now, there’s one prediction I’m pretty sure I can make: I’ll be heading to San Diego, California, USA for next year’s symposium on 6-9 November. 

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 13, 2015 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

PMO of the Year Winner Calls Out Executive Support

Navy Federal Credit Union's PMO leaders accept the award.

By Cyndee Miller

There’s a big old gap between Project Land and the C-suite. Yet projects, programs and portfolios are how execs get the work done.  And it often falls to the project management offices (PMO) to make that case — because no PMO is going to get very far without backing from the corner office.

So no surprise that while accepting this year’s PMO of the Year Award at PMO Symposium™, one of the first things Kristin Earley of Navy Federal Credit Union singled out was executive support.

“Our CIO and deputy CIO have been the champions in so many forms and have supported all of our initiatives year after year,” said Earley.

With a seat at the executive table, they advocated for growing the PMO to ensure the organization’s IT portfolio remained aligned to strategy — even as it expanded by more than 50 percent. That effort paid off:  The percentage of projects closing according to plan jumped from 55 percent to 83 percent year-over-year.

“We’ve reached the point of becoming the backbone of project delivery,” said Earley.

And in a lovely twist of fate, the award was presented on the U.S.’s Veterans Day holiday, a fitting tribute to the PMO’s work. “Our mission is easy to get behind,” she said. “We serve the military and their families.”

Earley also graciously recognized the other two finalists for the award: Ticketmaster International and Symcor. Look for in-depth case studies of Navy Federal and the two finalists in upcoming issues of PM Network. And check out videos of each on PMI’s YouTube channel.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 12, 2015 02:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

"You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair."

- Chinese Proverb