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

Recent Posts

Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust

Project Managers as Change Agents

2025 Vision: The Future of PMOs

My New Year’s Resolution: Become SMARTer

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Project Portfolio

My New Year’s Resolution: Become SMARTer

By Conrado Morlan

About five years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I renew every year: become a SMARTer project practitioner. This annual resolution is how I strive for excellence in my professional life.

What is a SMART project practitioner? It’s a project professional — project manager, program manager or portfolio manager — who plays multiple roles within the organization and contributes to achieving goals emanating from the organization’s mission and strategy. It stands for strategic, mindful, agile, resilient and transparent.

The SMART project professional goes beyond just managing projects. He or she helps achieve business objectives by exploring new ways to lead, execute and deliver projects supported by dispersed and diverse teams. Technical expertise is not enough — SMART professionals must adopt a business-oriented approach.

Time has proved the concept of this more expansive definition of the project professional valuable. In the 2012 video “Are You Ready?” PMI President and CEO Mark Langley discusses the new skills and capabilities required by project professionals to fully support projects. Companies are struggling to attract qualified project professionals with strong leadership and strategic and business management skills, Langley notes.

Since technical expertise is no longer enough to drive high performance,the SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the project professional must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.

Being SMART means being:

Strategic. Demonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.

Mindful. Develop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions. Adhere to the organization’s values and culture as well as the professional codes of ethics.

Agile. Business strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.

Resilient. Remain committed and optimistic, and demonstrate integrity, when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.

Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the state of projects needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.

In summary: To become SMARTer, you need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help your organization achieve its business strategy.

Did you make (or renew) New Year’s resolutions for your professional life in 2015? If so, share them with me.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: January 08, 2015 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

8 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Project Portfolio

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

As you reflect on 2014 and prepare for the New Year, consider these eight resolutions for your project portfolio in 2015.

1.     Be a portfolio leader. Don’t just manage the portfolio — lead it by thinking in terms of profits and losses. In that sense, how does it compare to other portfolios or business units? What was your 2014 return on investment, and what is your 2015 estimated return? Is this within your organization’s expectations? What projects/programs were a drag and should be stopped? What projects/programs have the potential to generate the most returns and can be a calculated risk? (A calculated risk has a reasonable probability of generating a return; of course, what is “reasonable” depends on your organization’s risk appetite and threshold.)  If you were an investor, would you invest in your portfolio? Asking these questions may help you decide what to do differently in 2015.

2.     Accelerate the business. Ensure strategic alignment by thinking about your portfolio as dynamic and agile — an accelerator to business goals and objectives. How can you free up resources to innovate rather than just keep the lights on?

3.     Sell your portfolio’s value by understanding your audience. Speak the organization’s language while remembering the 5 C’s: clear, concise, credible, creative and compelling:

Clear— Frame the discussion in terms the other party can easily relate to and understand.

Concise— Long decks and presentations will lose your audience. Think elevator speeches: If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s probably too complicated to understand. And if it’s too complicated, then you will not have the opportunity to influence, let alone reach agreement.

Credible— Know what you’re talking about and be prepared. This means doing your homework before coming to the table.

Creative— Look beyond the obvious to find the solution.

Compelling— Always know what’s important to the other party and what will drive them to action. Tease out the underlying need instead of only the stated desire. Understand what your bottom line is, and theirs.

4.     Establish a culture of innovation. Do this, and you can deliver long-term as well as quick wins. 

5.     Make data-driven decisions.Look at the facts to drive decisions, not emotions. Don’t get attached to pet projects.

6.     Engage with the world.Go beyond stakeholder engagement at work. Don’t forget about yourself, your home and your community.

7.     Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That little voice is an early indicator — listen to it. Sometimes when we forge ahead against our instincts, we find out later that it would have been better to take another course.

8.     Find meaning in your portfolio. Your portfolio delivers the impossible — innovative projects and programs that have not been done before. What achievements in the past year were key to the organization, in terms of values, culture and feeding creative juices? How can you do more of that in 2015?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: January 06, 2015 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 (6)

Getting Out of Trouble

Project trouble can hit from a blind spot, even though you tried as much as possible to prepare for issues. You did a risk analysis when you took the project on, and even tried to be ready to mitigate unknown issues.   

As I advised in my previous post, do an assessment to determine the problem. Figure out what needs to be fixed, or if the situation is even fixable. If the project seems to have reached a point of no return, here are some tips on how to pull it out of trouble:

  1. Seek out your sponsors. They should be the source to go to when trouble arises. Not only is it likely they will have encountered something similar in the past, but they can also provide additional budget funds, more resources or reinforcement for areas in conflict.
  2. Consult with your team. Bring everyone together, discuss the problems surrounding the project, and begin to discuss counteraction and next steps. Steer away from blame and trying to determine who is at fault. Beware especially of ganging up on the customer. Team members may want to take the position that it's the customer's problem, not the team's. But be clear that the point of getting together is to determine how to solve a problem project, not pass it off as someone else's fault. Instead, gear questions toward possible solutions and the support needed to achieve them. 
  3. Rely on backup and supporting information. Most likely, you will have monitored risks and issues all along and kept a good repository on your project. If so, you will be able to locate the exact information that helps address your problem. For example, you may be over budget because equipment purchases ate even beyond what your contingency allowed, and now a project sponsor or customer may be questioning the overrun. You should be able to pinpoint the authorization you received to make that purchase. 
  4. Enlist outside resources, if needed. Lessons learned or a fellow project manager could be consulted for knowledge transfer and experience. You could even call in an outside contractor for a specific need. 
  5. Remember that a halt is an option as well. Most times, this is seen as negative, and the project is considered a failure. But that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, halting the project is the necessary solution, and it doesn't have to have horrific implications. If it isn't halted, the project could accumulate astronomical costs. The trouble could consume the project to the point where it would need to be shut down. A halt can also help you assess if the project is still meeting objectives (which could be the source of the problem). Stopping the project in its tracks could help you to determine if you need to redirect funds and/or resources. 

Finally, keep in mind that not all trouble devours all. Before panicking, calmly look to areas that will guide you to a solution. You may even find your project is more sound than it seems.

How do you confront trouble on your project?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: October 15, 2013 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tips for First-Time Global Project Managers

A project manager's first global project marks a pivotal time in professional development. A project with global scope offers an exciting opportunity to work with people from many different cultures and skill sets. 

However, global projects also come with unique challenges. These can include large physical distances between implementation teams, language barriers, country-specific regulations and other considerations that can negatively affect your project.     

To get off to a good start, project managers need to manage the differences between global and co-located projects within these essential elements: 

1. Requirements: On a co-located project, there is a single set of project requirements. On global projects, it is common to encounter both global (such as quarterly financial reporting) and country (such as provincial tax) requirements. Failure to consider them can cause painful functional gaps upon implementation. Work with your project leadership team to define a prioritization scheme for both types of requirements. For example, prioritize the country requirements by regulatory mandate, business value and desired need. A prioritization scheme helps you achieve overall balance in meeting the project success criteria.  

2. Estimation: A global project typically features added complexity and costs not found with a co-located project. This calls for estimation to include additional effort to manage the previously mentioned requirements, as well as cross-geography coordination. The latter can include things such as team member travel time and global communications. In addition, there can be additional costs, such as import duties on equipment, that can add to the overall estimate. To ensure good estimation, identify global and local estimation components to more accurately account for the additional complexity.

3. Scheduling: Scheduling milestones, effort and resources on global projects is one of the greatest challenges for a project manager. The first thing to remember is to include country-specific scheduling considerations, such as regional holidays and vacations. In addition, always leave room in the schedule for project risks that can arise from unstable governments, new regulations and labor disputes. Finally, be prepared for unexpected surprises from nature, such as snowstorms, floods, volcanic eruptions and other disruptions. If such an event happens, meet with your leadership team to discuss whether to reset the project schedule around the unexpected surprise.  

While global projects can present some unique problems, they also can be very rewarding when managed properly -- even if a volcano erupts! 

What tips do you have for first-time global project managers? 


Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 15, 2013 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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