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
Cecilia Wong
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy

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Managing The Last 100 Feet

Managing The Last 100 Feet

My father spent decades working for a telephone company. When I was quite young, he took me to see a large centralized telephone switching facility. I was amazed and enthralled at seeing all the technology it took to carry a person’s voice over a telephone line between houses on a street or across oceans. Leaving the facility, he told me, “You know, all of what you saw here doesn’t matter unless we can get the last 100 feet of a person’s phone line right.” Although the end-user experience back then consisted of selecting numbers on a rotary dial, there were still many technological considerations in getting things to work in the last 100 feet from a telephone pole to a house. 


Over the span of my project management career, I’ve realized the wisdom in getting those “last 100 feet” right for an end user — and how doing so is an essential part of the success of a project. Here are important components for getting those last details right:


1. Find end-user stakeholders. It is very common to have one or more stakeholders who are leaders in an organization. Stakeholders who are leaders provide essential strategic direction to a project. However, it is equally important to get the perspective of the people who will eventually use the outputs of a project. In addition to leadership stakeholders, create a group of end-user stakeholders that can provide a detailed perspective on these outputs. This balance of stakeholders between leadership and end users will give an all-encompassing view to help the project meet objectives.


2. Mind location. Quite often, a project manager is physically located near the project’s leadership stakeholders. However, certain types of projects that involve the creation of new processes and products would be better served if the project manager were located closer to the team serving end users, or the end users themselves. Doing so provides additional visibility to factors affecting the project that may come up in formal meetings. For example, the president of a global automobile company prefers to be located out on the design floor so he can have clearer communications with his designers, which results in higher-quality automobiles.


3. Develop functional success criteria. Much of our project management time and efforts focus on meeting functional requirements. But it’s also valuable to know how well we are meeting these requirements. To improve the quality of the outputs of a project, document functional success criteria for each requirement. For example, if a requirement states that a process is intended to produce a certain product, also specify performance criteria for the product. This can include functional success criteria such as: “Billing information must be displayed within two seconds for a customer inquiry 99 percent of the time.” Adding functional success criteria will promote end-user satisfaction and overall project quality.


4. Measure outcome-based metrics. We all know the value of measuring our project performance with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)metrics such as schedule performance index (SPI) and other useful progress indicators. While these measurements are important, we also need metrics that measure the performance of the outcomes of the project. These can include adoption rates of a new process, evaluating end-user satisfaction with a survey and analysis of labor costs to complete a task. As these measurements typically occur near the close of the project, they can be conducted by someone other than the project manager.


It has been many years since my father took me into the telephone switching room. However, his comments about the importance of getting it right to the very end have stayed with me throughout my own decades-long career.


Do you have any tips on managing the “last 100 feet”?

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: December 05, 2014 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

End a Business Relationship and Keep Your Cred

As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.


Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.


1.   Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.

2.   If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.  

3.   Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.


How have you found success in ending business relationships?


Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.

Posted by David Wakeman on: October 22, 2014 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Managing to Go Green

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Is it expensive to build and run a green factory? I had been wondering this before meeting Chuang Tzu-Sou, director of the new fab planning and engineering division of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. His opinion: "Not at all!"

The construction cost of TSMC's 14th semi-conductor manufacturing plant, compared to older facilities, only increased by 1 percent. And while the budget for "Fab 14" ("fab" is short for fabricating of semiconductor chips) was US$50 million, it is expected to easily recover this cost in electricity savings within the next five years.

One of the major cost savings resulted from rethinking the industrial boiler. A major part of Fab 14 would be a boiler facility costing almost US$2 million -- industrial boilers are an integral part of the semiconductor manufacturing process, but they emit a vast amount of wastewater and carbon. Yet after researching alternate production methods and taking a close look at available technologies, they managed to do away with the boiler facility. That resulted in cuts in both Fab 14's building costs and carbon emissions once operational.

Mr. Chuang, the program manager, thinks this cost-saving measure was possible only through a manager's ability to understand and motivate workers. He felt his technicians were individuals who tended to be most capable of solving problems on their own. However, being scientifically trained and aware of business constraints, they would go with what they knew would solve a problem. They are pragmatists who evolve their knowledge slowly and are not prone to experiment with new solutions. So Mr. Chuang realized he would need to inspire them, remind them of the bigger picture, encourage them to keep an open mind and give them sufficient time to search for new solutions. 

These cost-savings affected just one building of a facility that's part of a bigger factory complex. So how did Mr. Chuang and his technicians expand savings across all Fab 14 buildings and activities? He again encouraged his team to think outside the box. His technicians devised a way for the hot air generated from semiconductor production to be circulated to other buildings and work areas for their own use, such as for air conditioning. This created an additional US$230,000 in electricity savings. 

The technicians also developed a way to purify large amounts of wastewater, enough to supply half a million people with clean water for daily use. Apart from improving the efficiency of Fab 14's construction by recycling 90 percent of the wastewater (one of the highest rates in the world), this also cut supply and recycling fees. This meant a combined savings of up to US$88 million annually.

Based on this experience, Mr. Chuang and his team realized that improvements in individual areas didn't amount to huge savings. Instead, it was making sure improvements were sought across the whole factory complex and at all stages of production. It was the creation of a green supply chain that made a change toward sustainability both possible and profitable, and TSMC is now trying to put that change into place for all its Fabs. The ultimate plan is that this will help stimulate other industries to do likewise and cause improvements for generations to come.

While the vision for this program came from Morris Chang, the chairman of TSMC, it was realized by Mr. Chuang. Mr. Chuang succeeded by focusing on the bigger picture offered by the whole program, instead of getting mired in the problems of individual projects' technical difficulties or budget overruns. By relating Mr. Chang's vision to an organizational mission, Mr. Chuang ensured short-term problems and opportunities were dealt with in a way that fed strategic long-term goals.

Learn more about Fab 14 in this video, and about Roger Chou, PgMP, on his Facebook page. How have you made green projects profitable?

Read how a fellow project practitioner is making the most of advancements in sustainability in "Biofuel From Seed to Factory," in March's PM Network.
Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: March 11, 2014 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

In Good Company: Project, Program and Portfolio Management

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At the end of this month, Cloud Gate, a Taiwanese dance company, will celebrate its 40th anniversary with the performance of a new routine, "Rice." Its founder, Lin Hwai-Min, has received international recognition and awards, including the United States' Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in Choreography in 2013, Germany's International Movimentos Dance Prize for Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 and Time magazine's Asia's Heroes award in 2005. 

"Rice" looks to be a culmination of the company's past four decades of work. But it could not have happened without Mr. Lin's talents -- and his arts management team. Their involvement allows the choreographer to concentrate on his creative work. It wasn't always like that; in the early years, Mr. Lin was responsible for teaching and choreography, as well as staging, marketing and fundraising. This left him exhausted and unable to work creatively. 

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Mr. Lin realized Cloud Gate had to develop a management team. Nowadays, the company has divided its operation into three parts. Firstly, the performance of the routines. Secondly, the training and cultivation of artists, whether dancers or choreographers. And finally, the promotion of dance and taking part in wider cultural activities. The three divisions overlap, forming a coherent program of work that defines Cloud Gate as an organization. This is very much like portfolio management, dividing organizational objectives into different projects or programs.    

All of Cloud Gate's managers know they're there to allow Mr. Lin and the rest of the company to work creatively. They know their work helps fund performances for artists and also keeps Could Gate -- and them -- in work. This makes them both sponsors and key stakeholders. And since theater work is beset by a multitude of details, the managers have become skilled in tackling issues appropriately, discerning what is important for the business or for art. However, because ultimately they are part of a creative process, they know they have to be flexible in how they work with artists. 

An impressive archive of routines also contributes to the survival of the dance company. Cloud Gate has accumulated over 160 dance routines. Combinations of these can be used to stage a performance anywhere in the world. Routines based on well-known Chinese literature or folk tales, such as "The Dream of the Red Chamber" and "The Tale of the White Serpent," appeal to Chinese audiences. Those in a more abstract style, such as "Cursive," delight European audiences. The inclusion of different routines into a performance helps Cloud Gate develop new audiences or maintain the loyalty of existing ones worldwide.

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Mr. Lin also guides dancers' careers, cultivates young choreographers, and contributes to Taiwan's arts and culture. For example, Cloud Gate is the first dance company in Taiwan to provide its dancers with a salary and routine training. The company also regularly holds open classes and performances in all parts of Taiwan, using scholarships and awards to encourage young people to take up modern dance and choreography. 

Mr. Lin has spent most of his life searching for this: a sustainable way to run an international contemporary dance company. And project, program and portfolio management have helped get him there, delivering inspiring results. 

If you work in a creative industry, what's the role of your management team?
Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: November 21, 2013 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Get With the Program

Categories: Program Management


For the past two decades, television dramas in Taiwan have faced fierce competition from Korea, mainland China and Japan. But in 2011, a modern Taiwanese drama -- "In Time With You" -- managed to challenge these markets, with ratings that rocketed to 2.7 million viewers. The production team responsible for this success warrants a closer look.

In television, there is a type of producer known as a "show runner." This person is responsible for both the execution and creative aspects of the show for each individual episode and throughout the series. The role is similar to a project sponsor who not only needs to raise funds, but also has to clarify project scope, acquire the team and determine an acceptable risk tolerance. For "In Time With You," Jason Hsueh is such a show runner.
In 2011, Mr. Hsueh started to adapt a Korean TV drama, "The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince," for Taiwan. But he found the terms of the adaptation agreement too restrictive. Eventually, when pre-production costs reached $50,000, he decided to stop -- it would be pointless if he couldn't make creative changes so the drama would be relatable to Chinese-speaking target audiences. This timely decision also stopped further financial hemorrhage of a high-risk project. But more importantly, it forced Mr. Hsueh to reconsider previous drama ideas, including "In Time With You."

"In Time with You," a love story written by scriptwriter Hsu Yu Ting, had been considered for years but had not been brought to the screen. The story didn't follow the established formula for romance. However, Mr. Hsueh felt that this light love story, based on the lives of ordinary people, had potential. He boldly adopted a script many others wouldn't have attempted.

The foundation of a successful drama is first a good script, and then a good director. Consider the drama to be the project, with the director comparable to a project manager, the person responsible for the production of the show. He or she is the one who puts all the artistic elements together, who brings the story to life by interacting with actors and interpreting the script. Mr. Hsueh knew that if he wanted to decrease risk on "In Time With You," he needed to find the right director. That's why he handed the reins to Arthur Chu, a director famous for a subtle, refreshing touch. 
Mr. Chu shot every take beautifully, and was very loyal to the original script. He directed the drama with good quality control, and the production team never inflated the script. Plenty of product placement opportunities knocked, but Mr. Hsueh only considered products that were in tune with the original story. This steadfast commitment to the original story -- along with a sophisticated, approachable marketing effort -- resulted in soaring ratings. 

Through careful execution, a previously neglected idea for a TV drama series became a blockbuster success in Chinese-speaking countries in 2012. It started with a good script (program management plan), a project sponsor and program manager (show runner), project managers (producers and director) and project team (technicians, actors and marketing staff). Even if the success of "In Time with You" was a surprise, it was not an accident.

Have you seen program management adapted to other creative industries?
Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: August 22, 2013 01:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I hate asking for change. They always make a face. It's like asking them to donate a kidney.

- George Costanza