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

How to Avoid Dysfunctional Project Team Setups

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

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 I’m Glad I Got My PMP

By Conrado Morlan

Over the years, I’ve had many discussions about whether project managers should pursue the Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. Some people argue that extensive experience is much better than the knowledge they can acquire through the PMP credential.

I appreciate the value of my counterparts’ experience and respect their opinions. Before I earned my PMP certification, I shared their views. But while studying the PMBOK® Guide—my employer required all project managers to be certified within six months of hiring—I found that my experiential knowledge was enhanced by the new tools and techniques I learned about. I wished I had known about them during previous projects.

My eyes were also opened by a quote from Lewis E. Platt: “The danger of success is to think what made you successful in the past will make you successful in the future.

The project management profession, like many others, evolves constantly. As a responsible practitioner, I need to keep my skills and knowledge current by reading the latest PMBOK® Guide edition, as well as being familiar with evolving methodologies and standards in project management.

Here’s an example of why not keeping up with the latest publications and standards can be problematic. I often hear people talk about the “triple constraint.” But that concept is not in the latest edition of the PMBOK®. Nowadays, project management is a strategic competency for organizations. It enables them to tie project results to business goals—and thus, better compete in their markets.

Finishing a project on time, on budget and within scope doesn’t necessarily help an organization meet its business goals. Today, organizations need to respond quickly to internal and external influences, which may lead to sudden changes in scope, budget, and schedule.

The need for competent project managers will persist—PMI projects  that between 2010-2020, 15.7 million new project management jobs will be created in just seven project-intensive industries.

Organizations no longer look for project managers with technical skills only. They’re looking for people whose technical skills are complemented by business, strategic management, and leadership skills.

The project management profession is changing, and pursuing a certification makes it more likely that you’ll stay up to date with the times.

What’s your view on the value (or lack thereof) of the PMP certification? Share your thoughts below.

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: March 30, 2016 08:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Is Your Agile Communications Toolkit Up to Snuff?

By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

A lot of things change when moving from traditional project management frameworks to agile ones. But what doesn't change (or shouldn't!) is how much and how often teams communicate. 

Agile frameworks don't actually require daily stand-ups or regular retrospectives. But you should consider adding some new trade tools and a few other staples to your project management toolkit if you’ll be working in an agile context. You may find that they quickly become essential to keeping communication flowing through your team—and your project on track.

Here's a short list of tools I've used on all of my projects.  

Sync-ups/Planning Meetings: This helps me start a project off right by making sure the product owner and execution team are on the same page. We set expectations, talk requirements and the direction for deliverables in areas such as UX, design, marketing.  

Daily Stand-Ups: Quick check-ins with the entire team help gauge project health and bring roadblocks to the forefront sooner rather than later. This is also where we address scope creep, taking note of good ideas that need more exploration before being included in the backlog.

Retrospectives: After each sprint and after each project, a retro helps the team ensure processes are working— and decide if we want to carry over those processes to the next iteration.

Wiki: These often get a bad rap but can act as an excellent centralized location for real-time documentation editing and sharing. In my experience, it can serve as a digital asset management (DAM) system for sharing web copy and design assets. While not a perfect DAM solution, it will do in a pinch.

Instant Messaging: Whether collocated or remote, teams sometimes need quick answers to questions—and a meeting can be overkill as a way to get answers. The challenge with instant messaging, though, is to make sure teams are on the same page about how and when to use an IM tool.

Email: This tool still reigns supreme when it comes to quickly keeping a lot of people in the loop about what's going on. Even if it's an email directing people to a wiki, it's still one of the best tools for mass communication. But maybe not for decision-making!

What tools am I missing? And do you find any of the tools mentioned particularly good or bad for certain kinds of communications? Share your thoughts below.

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: March 24, 2016 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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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