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

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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

Why Certifications Matter (to Me)

By Conrado Morlan

The number of credentials offered by professional associations, hardware and software vendors and other organizations has grown sharply in the last decade. So have the number of credential holders.

There’s much to be said for certifications. Many companies require a certification to advance along their career path. In addition, salary surveys show that, overall, credential holders earn more.

On the other hand, some professionals and employers are not fans of certifications. They argue that many people have forged a career and reputation without them, that accelerated changes in science, technology and government regulations makes certifications hard to maintain, and that the cost and time of pursuing credentials are too high.

I see the value of certifications from two perspectives: the value given by the credential itself, and the value of my contributions to the credential.

The value given by the certification is the importance of the knowledge gained through earning it, the reputation of the institution or professional association that awards it, and the certification’s years on the market.

The value of my contributions to the credential has to do with how it engages me to actively research trends within my profession. This process can help experienced practitioners turn into thought leaders who share their experiences leading and managing projects across the globe. In other words, the value of a certification can cascade beyond the credential holder. Knowledge is shared with other practitioners, helping them to advance in the profession.

Yes, it’s true that some credential holders fall behind and don’t keep up with the latest knowledge and/or renew their credential. Other credential holders don’t follow the established code of ethics, which harms the reputation and value of the credential. But such misbehavior or lack of up-to-date knowledge isn’t the fault of the credential or the credential-awarding organization.

PMI, for example, has a strict renewal process for the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification that requires certification holders to earn a specific number of credits per cycle to keep the credential current.  And over the 30+ years since the PMP was created, those requirements have been updated to cover market and industry demands.

You may be wondering why I didn’t mention the cost of certifications, and whether they’re worth paying. To me, it’s a no-brainer. I take my professional development personally and always recall former Harvard University President Derek Bok’s quote, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

If you’re a certification holder, how do you measure its value?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: April 26, 2016 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The First Big Lesson I Learned as a Project Manager

By Conrado Morlan

We’re all novices when we start out as project managers. That’s okay. The key is to learn from your missteps.

As a young project manager in Mexico, I used to struggle with resource planning. Like many other neophyte project managers, I wanted to make sure that all the tasks in my work breakdown structure would have the required resources assigned to them by name.

The challenge was that the resources were not my direct reports. I had no control over their schedules. 

My first approach at resolving this problem was to meet with the appropriate resource managers to review all the breakdown structure tasks and available resources, assign resources’ names, and reserve the resources for my project.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? I would get the needed resources for my project, while helping managers keep their resources busy. Then I discovered I hadn’t considered all the other projects competing for the same resources. Not to mention all the project intra-dependencies.

I kept trying hard to build a perfect project plan (full of names attached to specific tasks) without success until I was assigned to a high-visibility project that was part of a strategic initiative. The initiative was led by an experienced project manager from the organization’s headquarters in the United States.

I didn’t want my struggles with resource planning to cause me to fail in such a high-visibility setting. So during my first meeting with the American project manager, I let him know about my struggle and asked for advice.

He was glad I brought my challenge to his attention, recalling that earlier in his career he faced the same challenge. His solution: the “Chinese army approach” to resource planning.

Because resource planning can pose such a huge roadblock to many project managers, the Chinese army approach assumes an abundance of resources.

Our conversation went like this:

American project manager: How many soldiers does the Chinese army have?

             Me: Millions.

American project manager: Right. The Chinese army has unlimited resources available to the commander in chief. Applying this approach, assume you have unlimited resources with the right skills that can be assigned to the different roles in your project. The resource planning stage is too early to be worrying about names.

 

Since then, I’ve followed the Chinese army approach, identifying the necessary resources for the early stages of the project—and their availability—during the project approval process.

On several occasions, I found that the roles could not be filled with internal resources because of a lack of required skills or because the resources with the right skills were in high demand. So I had to source from a contractor.

While working with resource managers and external sources, I found the need to acquire and master communication and negotiation skills. That helped me to get the best resources, while also sometimes allowing other projects to have the resource I was pursuing. All that truly mattered was that my projects were able to produce the expected results tied to organizational business goals.

What’s the most important thing about project management you now know that you didn’t know when you began your career?

 

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: March 13, 2016 11:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Project Leaders as Ethical Role Models

 

By Peter Tarhanidis            

This month’s theme at projectmanagement.com is ethics.  Project leaders are in a great position to be role models of ethical behavior. They can apply a system of values to drive the whole team’s ethical behavior.

First: What is ethics, exactly? It’s a branch of knowledge exploring the tension between the values one holds and how one acts in terms of right or wrong. This tension creates a complex system of moral principles that a particular group follows, which defines its culture. The complexity stems from how much value each person places on his or her principles, which can lead to conflict with other individuals.

Professional ethics can come from three sources:

  1. Your organization. It can share its values and conduct compliance training on acceptable company policy.
  2. Regulated industries. These have defined ethical standards to certify organizations.
  3. Certifying organizations. These expect certified individuals to comply with the certifying group’s ethical standards.

In project management, project leaders have a great opportunity to be seen as setting ethical leadership in an organization. Those project leaders who can align an organization’s values and integrate PMI’s ethics into each project will increase the team’s ethical behavior. 

PMI defines ethics as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. The values include honesty, responsibility, respect and fairness.

For example, a project leader who uses the PMI® Code of Ethics to increase a team’s ethical behavior might:

  • Create an environment that reviews ethical standards with the project team
  • Consider that some individuals bring different systems of moral values that project leaders may need to navigate if they conflict with their own ethics. Conflicting values can include professional organizations’ values as well as financial, legislative, religious, cultural and other values.
  • Communicate to the team the approach to be taken to resolve ethical dilemmas.

Please share any other ideas for elevating the ethical standards of project leaders and teams, and/or your own experiences!

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 22, 2016 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

3 Strategic Resolutions For The New Year

by Dave Wakeman

 

The new year is a good time for every project manager to take a moment to pause and reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t worked during the last 12 months. Many of my blog posts last year (like this one, and this one) focused on the intersection of strategy and project management. So I thought it could be valuable to suggest three ways you can propel yourself, your projects and your organization forward in 2016.

1. Set clear goals and objectives. As a project manager, you’re usually like the CEO of your project. So even if you’re in an environment where most determinants of success and failure are laid out by others, you still have the opportunity to set goals and objectives that will set your team up for success.

Imagine a project that is stuck. If you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s a good time to sit down and look at the project holistically and try to define some goals and objectives to get the project moving again.

This might require more than just saying what you hope to achieve over the next month, quarter or year—it could involve ways that you can give your team some short-term wins to create new forward momentum. The important thing is to take the opportunity to stop, think carefully, and decide with intention which way you want to move.

2. Simplify communications and decision-making. One of the supreme challenges for all project managers is the constant need to juggle information and communicate to various stakeholders effectively. Being the filter for most communications can hamper and complicate the communication process. As a strategic-minded practitioner, you’re going to have to simplify processes to avoid becoming a bottleneck.

You may find it easy to streamline your communications and decision-making processes by taking the following three steps:

First, set clear expectations for communication.

Second, empower your teams to use their best judgment and to take action within certain well-defined parameters.

Third, regularly review these processes to reinforce what’s working and change things that aren’t working.

3. Always return to the outcomes you need to produce. I’m guilty of belaboring this point, because it’s essential. The end results are what you need to be working toward. You have to be clear on expected outcomes and what you are trying to achieve. This will inform every action, tactic and process you roll out in your projects.

Get started by clarifying the desired results of your project, and then break them down by each piece of work that you need to produce to make them reality.

If you do this in combination with the items in #2, you’re on your way to becoming even more of a strategic partner in your organization’s success. 

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: January 15, 2016 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Why I Became A Project Manager

By Kevin Korterud

 

After many years of challenges and successes as a project manager, I took a moment to reflect on what made me leave my functional role and embrace project management. While I enjoyed working as an individual contributor with a particular function, project managers seemed to have a unique set of skills that I both respected and envied. 

Here are four factors that set me off down the project management road. Hopefully, these insights will prove helpful to people considering project management roles and project managers who might need to re-energize themselves.

 

1. Projects Allow You To Build Things  

When I was growing up, I loved to build models of aircraft, ships and cars. The process of making something interesting out of a disparate set of parts, selection of paints and sometimes vague instructions appealed to me. While sometimes the final product did not look exactly as I hoped, the journey helped build cognitive and visualization skills that made the next model turn out better.

Projects are not unlike model building. You have a set of parts (people, process and technologies), paint colors to select (requirements, communications) and quite often limited instructions from stakeholders on how to achieve success.

However, projects have additional complexities. You need to create the instructions (a project plan), determine who helps with what parts (project work activities) and coordinate when the parts are assembled.

 

2. The “People Factor” of Projects   

As a functional specialist, I began to observe how effectively selecting, engaging and guiding people had a great impact on the project’s outcome. Often, the ability to produce a good team had more of an impact than my individual contributions.

One of a project manager’s most powerful skills is the ability to form and lead a team. While processes and technologies tend to behave in a somewhat predictable manner, people often do not.

As I grew as a project manager, I found that in addition to core project management skills, I needed to also build soft skills. These included: verbal communications, presentation skills, clarity in written communications and more. 

In retrospect, working with people on project teams to achieve successful outcomes as well as helping them grow professionally has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my project management career.

 

3. Projects Yield Visible Results

When I was a functional specialist, I was most commonly tasked with creating and implementing a set of project deliverables. I was rarely on a project long enough to see the complete implementation and final results.   

When I became a project manager, I began to see how I was responsible for the outcomes that created visible results. The project’s desired outcomes were more than the successful installation of a process or technology. It had to create a benefit once adopted by the project stakeholders. 

The notion of producing visible results from a project can be very exciting. I was once involved in leading several projects that touched on the health and safety of employees. There was no greater professional and personal satisfaction than to complete a project that someday might save someone’s life.

 

4. Projects Build Personal and Professional Character

We all have days where things go so bad, we think, “If I could only return to my former role before becoming a project manager.” Project managers have to deal with constant uncertainty, a wide range of emotions, a lack of resources, schedule conflicts, missed milestones and more. However, all of these challenges have unintended positive consequences.

 I once worked for a project manager who had been assigned to more failed or failing projects than anyone else in her group. It was a source of pride for her that these challenging projects strengthened her professional abilities and her character. By constantly having to work through adversities, she quickly built advanced skills and rapidly developed her confidence level.    

 

In many ways, projects mirror situations we face in everyday life. By learning to adapt to ever-changing conditions, we grow in our ability to deal with difficulties, be they in a project plan or missing the train to work. I found that when I became a project manager, my professional and personal skills grew at an accelerated pace.   

 

So what got you to become a project manager? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: September 24, 2015 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)
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