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.

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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
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

Why Certifications Matter (to Me)

Managing for an Uncertain Future

How to Motivate Your Team (Part 2)

How to Motivate Your Team

4 Change Management Tips for Project Managers

Want to be a Strategic Project Manager? Communicate Better!

by Dave Wakeman

In recent months, I’ve been talking about how to become a more strategic project manager on this blog (see here, here and here). I thought it would be a good idea to circle back and talk about how being an effective communicator will help you be more strategic.

Here are three tips to remember:

1. Communications is at the base of performance.

Never lose sight of the fact that as a project manager, you are basically a paid communicator. And, as a communicator, you have certain responsibilities: being clear, keeping your message concise and making sure you are understood.

If you aren’t meeting these requirements, you are likely going to struggle to achieve success in your projects. In addition, poor communicating may mean you miss the message about why this project is important to the organization. You also may miss information from the team on the ground that would shape the organization’s deliberations about the project.

So always focus on making sure that your communications up and down the organization are clear, concise and understood.

2. A free flow of communications delivers new ideas.

Managing a lot of communications and information is challenging—I get that. But by the same token, if you aren’t exposing yourself to information from many different sources (both inside and outside the organization), you’re likely missing out on ideas that can transform your opinions and open you up to new ways of looking at things.

While being a strong project manager is about having a good, solid framework for decision-making, you aren’t going to have all the technical expertise yourself. In addition, your team may be only focused on the one area that they are in charge of. So it’s important that someone is open to the flow of ideas that can come from any direction and that may have the power to reshape your project in unimaginable ways.

You can achieve this by making sure you have conversations up and down the organization and pay attention to things outside of your scope of work. You never know where a good idea is going to come from.

3. Relationships are the key to project success—and they’re built through communication.

If we aren’t careful, we can forget that our project teams are groups of people with wants and needs. Remember: at the heart of our work are real people whom our projects impact.

That’s why it’s essential that you focus on the human aspect of being a project manager, especially if you want to become a top-notch, strategic project manager. Our human interactions and relationships are the key to our success as project managers.

This is something you should be taking action on all the time. Maybe you start by pulling someone on your team aside for a conversation about what’s going on. Maybe you find out a little more about the person’s home life. Or, you just make sure you have an open-door policy when it comes to information on your projects.

The key is to make sure you give your personal relationships an opportunity to thrive in the project setting.

Let me know what you think in a comment below! 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 10, 2016 02:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Portfolio Governance—Ensuring Alignment to Strategy (Part 1)

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP, MBA

Governance is an extremely broad and often times misunderstood area. It can span functions, domains and types, depending on the context of an organization and other factors. Even across the various standards and current body of knowledge and research, there’s no consistent definition of governance or approach to its implementation.

Yet as portfolio managers, we all recognize that governance is perhaps the single most important enabler of good portfolio, program and project management. It helps to guide the appropriate oversight and decision-making that ensures successful execution of strategic initiatives.

That’s why I’m so proud of PMI’s recently released Governance of Portfolios, Programs, and Projects: A Practice Guide. I was fortunate to chair a committee of leading experts around the world that developed the guide, which fills a critical gap in the profession today.

An important accomplishment of the committee was to formulate a definition of governance that can be applied to the portfolio, program and project context. Governance may exist at various levels of the organization. It’s important to distinguish among those levels:

Organizational (or corporate) governance. This is typically a board of directors’ level and defines principles, policies and procedures around how the organization as a whole is controlled and directed. It typically includes areas of oversight such as regulatory, compliance, cultural, ethical, environmental, social responsibility and community.

Portfolio (or program, or project) management governance. This typically may be how an enterprise portfolio (or program, or project) management office (EPMO) determines common policies and procedures. This may define the hierarchy and relationships of governing bodies—for example, whether programs and projects report to a portfolio governing body and the specific criteria.

In some organizations, the EPMO may define guidelines for a phase gate approach to programs and projects. It also may define methodology for technology projects, such as adhering to standard processes (ITIL, RUP, Scrum, agile, SDLC, etc.).

Portfolio (or program, or project) governance. This is the oversight and leadership on an individual portfolio. In many organizations, there may be a capital investment committee made up of the senior executives of the business and technology areas that oversee all capital expenditures over a certain amount (typically US$1 million or more).

On an individual program or project level, it’s important to define the relationships of the various governing bodies and ensure that it’s aligned to a functional or portfolio level. A project may be required to report to functional governing bodies (IT and/or the business area), as well as the portfolio manager. It’s important to ensure that the thresholds and authority of decision-making are defined at the right levels.

In my next blog post, I’ll define terms related to using portfolio governance to ensure alignment to strategy.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: April 02, 2016 11:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

7 Easy Tricks to Kill Innovation on Your Team

Innovation is a natural skill in human beings—that’s how we moved from the Stone Age to the Space Age. The corporate world, however, seems like it’s in a different universe, where everyone wants innovation but appears to be racing to kill it. Here are a few easy-to-use tricks for you to join the race.

1. Focus on the quarter

Make sure you’re not allowing your team to think beyond a quarter. Quarterly results are dear to CEOs. So only focus on the next quarterly result and make sure everyone on your team does too.  

2. Be Impatient

Patience is a weapon of lethargic people. You should never allow it to develop in your team. Any project or idea that takes time to materialize should not be your cup of tea. Let your team members continue to focus on your short-term goals.

3. Keep the team busy

You should be a very strict taskmaster. Check what time your team comes in and leaves for the day, and all the activities they do in between to ensure they are continuously busy in day-to-day activities. Keep their task list overflowing so that no room is left for any free time or “blue sky” thinking.

4. Maintain order

You should lay down strict processes and not allow any deviation at any cost. Teams must follow the process even if it is not required. You never know how a simple deviation could turn out to be an innovation. Explain to your team that doing things differently is the job of other teams!

5. Stay safe

Just in case the above suggestions do not impress you enough, and some little spark in the corner of your heart wants to allow a deviation, let me warn you—they all are full of risks. Risks mean uncertainty that can put your project in trouble or jeopardize your dearest short-term goals. They can even hit your reputation of consistently delivering linear results. You should play it safe by taking the routine paths already proven by others.

6. Don’t listen

Listening will be seriously injurious. If anyone comes to you suggesting a solution to a problem or a new way of doing something, don’t listen. Sometimes, you may be tempted, especially if someone’s sharing success stories. But ignore it all, lest innovation seeps in. If anyone suggests any idea, reject it immediately, giving a very routine reason, such as “it will not work in our project.” You should not give any new reason, otherwise it will appear that you are doing some innovation.

7. Reward only the million-dollar idea

Rewards are precious and should be given to the best of the best people. If a stubborn team member implements a good idea despite all your efforts, immediately point out a flaw in it, ignoring everything else. If this person meets some early-stage failure, that’s an opportunity for you to explain to the team why they should not try new things. Thoughts of rewarding someone should not even occur to you until the idea is recognized by some external agency.

I’m being facetious, of course. My point is that breakthrough innovations are not harder in practice than many seem to think—but our day-to-day responsibilities and deadlines make it hard to step back and change thinking.

What do you think are the most common practices that prevent innovative thinking? How can they be avoided? Please share your thoughts in a comment below.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: March 05, 2016 10:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Tips For Understanding Strategy and Project Management

by Dave Wakeman

In my posts from the last few months, I’ve been discussing strategy and how you can make yourself a more strategic project manager. A lot of project managers still struggle with this idea.

One source of this struggle seems to be uncertainty about what strategy means in relation to being a project manager and part of a larger organization.

First, let’s start with a simple definition of strategy: a plan of attack designed to achieve a major goal. So where does that apply to project managers? Pretty much everywhere.  Here are three ways you can look at it.

1. Think from the end backward, not from the start forward.

A few months back, I wrote about managing for the right outcomes. And that means starting with the end in mind. In being a strategic project manager, at its simplest, you are really just starting out by planning your project with the end in mind. Considering that we are all supposed to begin our projects with a planning phase, it makes sense to not just plan, but plan with the intention of fitting everything into a commonly focused outcome.

Think about it like this: The planning process is designed to make sure that you have the time and resources available for your project and that you know where you are going. In being strategic, you just need to make sure you always make your decisions with the end in mind.

2. Don’t become wedded to one course of action.

What I’ve seen in working with organizations around the globe is that it’s very easy to become wedded to one course of action. That can’t be your position if you want to work strategically.

When you’re approaching tasks and challenges and the inevitable same old ideas and solutions come up, ask simple questions: “What are our options here?” “Is there a different way of approaching this?”

All you’re looking for is opening up your actions to different avenues for success.

3. Lovingly steal from everything around you.

I’m not advocating a life of crime, but one thing you want to do is start stealing ideas from the businesses around you.

This is important because in too many cases, we become locked into one idea, one way of thinking or ways that projects have always been done. This is especially true in industries that have always been closely associated with project management, like construction and IT.

How should you go about stealing ideas that may be helpful to your projects?

To use a personal example, I found a use for my project management background in politics. In politics, many titles include “strategist” or “manager” or something that elicits the idea of project management and structure. But due to the intense nature and timeframes of a political campaign, most of that planning and structure is quickly tossed out of the window.

In my work in politics, I introduced the role of a traditional project manager and applied that framework to every aspect of the campaign and process. Essentially, I added a layer of change management and monitoring foreign to many in the industry.

Now think about what you can learn from outside your industry. Can you discover a management tactic from a TV show? Or is there a parallel in another industry that gives you a useful piece of insight?

Am I off base or what? Let me know below! 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: February 29, 2016 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Are Your Communication Habits Good Enough?

By Marian Haus

About 75-90 percent of a project manager’s time is spent formally or informally communicating, according to PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (aka, PMBOK). No surprise, then, how much communication is linked to project success.

PMI’s latest Pulse of the Profession report, published this month, reveals that up to a third of surveyed project managers identify inadequate or poor communication as a cause of project failure. A Towers Watson survey conducted in 2012 showed that companies emphasizing effective communication practices are 1.7 times more likely to succeed financially than their peers.

So what can project managers and organizations do to improve communication and hence drive success? Here are six good habits.

  1. Acknowledge and accept the need for active, clear and transparent communication as a key ingredient for project success.
  1. Establish a simple and transparent communication framework. This means agreeing on who communicates what, to whom, when and how. For instance, a team member might communicate the project’s internal and external technical matters (the “what”), while the project manager will communicate the project status (the “what” again) for various audiences (“whom”).

    The communication time frame and frequency (“when”) will depend on the communicated message and the targeted audience. The communication tools (“how”) could range from project status slides delivered via email to status updates exchanged on the project’s internal websites.

  1. Invest in communication, presentation and other related soft skills. Above all, the project manager has to be a confident communicator. Strengthening communication skills might be especially required if the project manager grew into the role from a more technical position.
  1. Encourage project managers and teams to communicate openly and proactively regardless of whether the message is positive or negative. Especially when things go wrong, communicating issues early and transparently can mean more for the organization than solving the issues itself.
  1. Put emphasis on the quality and effectiveness of communications. Communicating frequently and with the appropriate tools is not enough. Effective and high-quality communication means delivering the appropriate message in a simple and articulate manner and to the right stakeholders. For instance, within the project team you might use a detailed and technical communication approach. But when communicating (to management and sponsors), you will have to simplify your message.
  1. Last but not least, communication isn’t only about speaking, reporting and asking. Communication also means time spent listening to what others have to say.  

How much time do you estimate you spend communicating? What best practices can you share?

 

 

Posted by Marian Haus on: February 25, 2016 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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