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

When Project Benefits Erode

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

How to Avoid Useless Meetings

Future-Proof Projects — and Careers — With a Little Engineered Serendipity

I, Project: A Peek Into a Machine-Powered Future

What Do Next-Gen Project Leaders Look Like?

by Dave Wakeman

Care to do a little thought experiment with me? Let’s imagine what the new and improved next-gen project leader should look like. And let’s come up with a few key attributes that would make this new and improved project leader successful.

Here are a few of my ideas about how to achieve success in the future of project management:

1. Emphasize strategic ownership of your projects and your role in the organization.

I know that I’ve been hitting a constant drumbeat over the last few months about the need for project managers to become more strategic in their thinking and their actions. For good reason: As our businesses and organizations become more project-focused, the need to think and act strategically becomes a key factor in our success or failure.

One way you can jump on this before everyone else does is by always taking the initiative to frame your projects in a strategic manner when dealing with your sponsors and key stakeholders. Work with sponsors on ways that you can manipulate and focus your projects strategically.

2. Less domain knowledge and more business acumen.

The project management role in an organization has changed. Even in industries that have long embraced project management principles and the job title (e.g., IT), technical knowledge aspects have become less important because of specialization.

What has replaced the emphasis on specialization in the project manager’s role? An emphasis on strategic thinking and business acumen. This is likely to accelerate to become the new normal.

You can take advantage of this trend by working to think about your projects as tools to increase the value of your company and its products and services to your customers and prospects.

3. Communicate or die.

This last point shouldn’t be a surprise. Being a good communicator has been the differentiator between successful and unsuccessful project managers as long as project management has been a thing.

But as our world becomes more interconnected through technology, with teams dispersed across continents instead of floors, the ability to effectively communicate is going to be more and more important. And the ability to be that communicator is going to have a bigger and more meaningful impact on your career and your success in your organization.

What qualities do you think next-gen project leaders require? Please post your comments 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: May 23, 2016 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

How to Think Big While Managing Small Projects

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

It’s typical for new project managers to be assigned to a small project to build their skills. Why? Small projects have a limited value at risk, a modest budget, a shorter schedule and a smaller team. But project managers early in their career who have successfully led small projects often ask me how they can move on to leading big projects.

 

Small projects, to some degree, can be more difficult to lead than larger ones. You are given much less in the way of reserve budget, schedule and resources. However, big projects are not just smaller projects with larger budgets and longer schedules. They have inherent complexities relative to stakeholders, scheduling, resources and deliverables not found on small projects.

 

My recommendation to project managers wanting to move to larger projects is to “think big” while running smaller projects. Thinking big involves adopting, where possible, practices required for large projects.

 

Here are two ways project managers can think big on projects. My next post will offer two more tips.

 

1. Leverage Support Resources  

Many times, project managers running small projects attempt to perform all of the project operations activities themselves. This can include creating new work plans, calculating progress metrics, scheduling status meetings, and performing a host of supporting activities for the project.

 

While it may be a source of great pride to a project manager to perform these activities, they represent an opportunity cost. In other words, the project manager could instead be working on higher-value activities like stakeholder management or risk management.

 

Employing support resources even on small projects can save valuable time and costs. It also means the project manager doesn’t have to spend time becoming an expert in the tools and internal project operations processes. By having other people assist with the mechanics of building project plans and producing metrics, the project manager will have additional capacity for running the project.

 

 

2. Implement Quality Assurance Processes   

Project managers on small projects tend to become immersed in a level of detail not possible on large projects. The small project also allows for deep interaction with team members that may not be effective on large projects.

 

In addition, a project manager on a small project may be tempted to start serving in roles akin to a business analyst or technology designer. This can distract the project manager from actually running the project.

 

To keep focused on project management activities, quality assurance processes should be implemented. Phase gate reviews, deliverable peer reviews, change control processes, quality performance metrics and the definition of project acceptance criteria are all good examples of quality processes. With the implementation of these processes, project managers can focus on deliverables and outcomes without getting too deeply immersed in the details of the project.

 

Check back for my next post on more ways project managers can develop a big-project mindset while executing small projects.

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: May 05, 2016 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 (8)

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)
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