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


View Posts By:

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

Recent Posts

How Portfolio Managers and Business Analysts Can and Should Collaborate

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

Want Satisfied Stakeholders? Guide Them Through a Learning Process

There Are No Free Steak Knives

When Is A Project Actually Over?

The 3 Things That Transcend All Project Approaches

by Dave Wakeman

Recently I had the chance to engage with Microsoft’s social media team about some of the issues I have been covering here. Their team brought up a question you may have asked as well: How do you differentiate between “digital” project management and project management?

It’s an interesting question, because I firmly believe all projects should be delivered within a very similar framework. The framework enables you to make wise decisions and understand the project’s goals and objectives.

I understand that there are many types of project management philosophies: waterfall, agile, etc. Each of these methods has pros and cons. Of course, you should use the method you are most comfortable with and that gives you the greatest likelihood of success.

But regardless of which project management approach you employ, there are three things all practitioners should remember at the outset of every project to move forward with confidence.

Every project needs a clear objective. Even if you aren’t 100-percent certain what the “completed” project is going to look like, you can still have an idea of what you want the project’s initial iteration to achieve. This allows you to begin work with a direction and not just a group of tasks.

So, even if you only have one potential outcome you want to achieve, starting there is better than just saying, “Let’s do these activities and hope something comes out of it.”

Frameworks enable valuable conversations. I love talking about decision-making frameworks for both organizations and teams. They’re valuable not because they limit thought processes, but because they enable you to make decisions based on what you’re attempting to achieve.

Instead of looking at the framework as a checklist, think of it as a conversation you’re having with your project and your team. This conversation enables you to keep moving your project toward its goal.

During the execution phase, it can give you the chance to check the deliverable against your original goals and the current state of the project within the organization. Just never allow the framework to put you in a position where you feel like you absolutely have to do something that doesn’t make sense.

Strong communication is the bedrock. To go back to the question from Microsoft’s social media team about digital vs. regular project management: the key concept isn’t the field or areas that a project takes place in.

No matter what kind of project you’re working on and in which sector you’re in, the critical skill for project success is your ability to communicate effectively with all the project stakeholders.

This skill transcends any specific industry. As many of us have learned, it may constitute about 90 percent of a project manager’s job. You can put this into practice in any project by taking a moment to write down your key stakeholders and the information you need to get across to them. Then put time in your calendar to help make sure you are effective in delivering your communications.

In the end, I don’t think there should be much differentiation between “digital” projects or any other kind of projects. All projects benefit from having a set of goals and ideas that guide them. By trying to distinguish between different project classifications, we lose sight of the real key to success in project management: teamwork and communication.

What do you think? 

By the way, I've started a brand new weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. Make sure you never don't miss it, sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 30, 2015 09:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

There Are No Free Steak Knives

Categories: Communication, Stakeholder

By Lynda Bourne

A conversation with a clerk in a HR department looking to procure a training program and the passing of English actor George Cole in early August made me start thinking about the art of the deal.

Cole’s defining role was “Arfur” Daley, the devious “spiv” on TV’s Minder. Arfur was always offering deals that were too good to refuse. The deals were rarely outright crooked, but Arfur regularly needed his minder’s help to get out of trouble.

My recent conversation with the HR clerk (and time spent watching TV shopping channels) suggests the Arfur Daley approach to creating a deal that is too good to refuse is still very much part of modern business.

The reason for this post is to help project team members tasked with purchasing goods or recommending the preferred supplier cut through the communication hype to see the real value in a proposition. There is no such thing as a free set of steak knives!

The first step in making the best buying decision is to remember that only two elements really matter: acquiring the goods or services you need and the price you pay.

The second step is to be really clear about what you need. Defining the appropriate quality and quantity for tangible goods is easy. It’s much more difficult to work out what represents a good training option or the best value consultancy service.

Then there’s the price! What’s the better deal: a $600 product with a special discount of 25 percent or its $500 competitor with a discount of only 10 percent?  

Then one of your colleagues suggests talking to a local business. Its rack price is $440, but they don’t offer discounts. Is this a better option? Assuming all other factors are equal, what matters is the final price you pay, not the discount. It’s fairly easy to work out once you ignore the spin.

$600 minus 25% = $450
$500 minus 10% = $450
$440 minus 0% = $440

Moving beyond price, the inducements to make you buy from a particular business are many. The challenge is applying discipline to your decision-making process. The problem with most of the “fantastic free offers” and “no-cost extras” is that they are only valuable if you actually need them and can use them.

Remember that all “free” offers are priced into the cost of the goods or services. Most organisations who run training courses (including us) advertise that every trainee receives free access to on-line revision tools or practice questions.

But when we are setting the price of the course, the $50 we pay for the on-line licence is included, along with the “free” coffee and all the other expenses we have to cover before we can start making a profit. The course price includes all our costs plus a profit margin. If it didn’t, we would quickly be bankrupt.

The challenge with the free extras and other inclusions is deciding if they are of any value to you, since you will be paying for them anyway. For example, one PMP training course costs $2,000. The other costs $3,000 but includes free access to online training in four Microsoft Office programs, each “valued at $500.” Superficially the $2,000 in free extras makes the more expensive course seem a better value. But is it? Ask yourself:

  1. Who can use the training—just the PMP candidate or anyone?
  2. Do the people who can access the free training actually need it? If the training was really needed, why have we not already organized it?
  3. What is the real value of the extra free courses? If you can buy a full set of Microsoft Office training courses for $800, that’s the value, not the 4 x $500 advertised by the seller.
  4. What discount will the vendor offer if you opt out of the free courses? This is usually much less than the nominal values.

The reason this type of free offer is so common is that it’s cheap to deliver and most people never use the free offer anyway, even if they intend to.

You also need to be aware of the anchoring effect. If at the start of your investigation, you were told the typical cost of a PMP course was between $4,000 and $5,000, this price anchors your expectations. The $3,000 price will seem like great value and the $2,000 price too cheap to be viable. The anchoring effect is an innate bias that changes our perceptions of value, and the Arfurs of this world know how to use it to their advantage!

All of these sales tactics can be used legitimately. From the seller’s perspective, the purpose of “free” extras is to offer things that are of genuine value to the buyer but cost very little to deliver. But as the buyer, you must learn to ignore the headline price of the free extras and consider what the final package is really worth to you. If you don’t need something, its real value to you is always $0.00!

The factors that make a real difference to most service deliveries are much harder to compare. You will generally pay more for a more experienced consultant or a better quality trainer. Buying this type of service on price alone is rarely the best approach—a basic rule of business is you tend to get what you pay for.

The challenge then is to set up a decision matrix that looks at the elements that really matter in your buying decisions and then make an informed decision. Some of these factors may be measureable. Others, such as cultural fit, are critically important but entirely subjective.

The bottom line here is that before you can get to the serious decision-making, you need to clear away the confusion of the special offers and discounts. The Arfurs of this world are always looking to make you an offer you can’t refuse.

How do you approach your buying decisions?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: August 21, 2015 06:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

What you need to know when tackling big projects

Transitioning from small to large projects can be daunting, but big projects are not necessarily more problematic. You are still using the same leadership skills. You should be continuing with the same oversight on details and risks. You should remain constant with communication flows—going back and forth with stakeholders.

The main area of concern for either size project is the scale you use. Here are three areas of measurement to pay particular attention to when moving to big projects.

Your workload will be different. You may choose to use fewer tools for a small project, while in a large project, the tools you choose to use will have more criteria to include. For example, you may not need a fully elaborated communications plan for a small project. For a large project, however, such items as messages to stakeholders will most likely have more approval reviews before distribution, and you will need to monitor this more closely. 

Project tasks will be viewed differently. The project plan could increase from 50 items to hundreds with more responsible resources to track. Dependencies, delays, milestones and deadlines could come from directions requiring more consideration. Plan negotiations of these more carefully, because Impacts could be more detrimental in a large project.   

The success of a project is worthwhile to the stakeholders no matter the size of the project. However, the budget and the planned vs. actual actions will hold more significance in a larger project. There will also be cause to celebrate a win for any size project. But in a large project, success or nonsuccess will most likely be more visible and hold a heavier weight. Be prepared to conduct more testing and verifications.

Ask yourself if less is more to be concerned about, or if more is less to be concerned about. Your answer should be in the measurement of the end result.

What do you find important to not overlook when transitioning from a small project to a large project and vice versa?


Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: July 21, 2015 08:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Want Strategic Alignment? Get To Know Your Sponsor!

by Dave Wakeman

If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I’ve been focusing on strategy a lot lately. The reason is simple: The alignment between projects and strategy tends to be a significant driver of organizational success.

For this post, I want to focus on a crucial figure when it comes to alignment: the sponsor. In working to align projects and strategy, the sponsor really is the key to whether or not your efforts will be successful.

For this reason, it’s essential that project managers candidly communicate with sponsors. You need to understand how the project fits into the organization and how you can position your project in a way that will deliver on your organization’s strategy.

Here are three tips for optimizing sponsor relations.

1. Keep Pushing for Answers: We’ve all dealt with projects and clients that give us some variation of the classic line from our parents: “Because I said so.” That may have worked for our parents, but it won’t work too well for our careers.

As a proactive leader in your organization, you need to work with your sponsor to understand how the project fits into the organization’s strategy. For some of you, that may seem difficult, but if you frame the questions around wanting to understand where you may be challenged for resources or time, you can usually get the conversation started.

Other questions that will help you discover how well your project aligns with the organization’s goals are:

  • How high a priority is this currently?
  • I’ve read the requirements and goals, but I’m still unclear. What should the ultimate outcome of this project be?

2. Communicate Consistently: One of the big challenges of aligning strategy and projects is that you’re busy, your sponsor is busy, and your team is busy. This is no excuse for not communicating consistently. In fact, a constant stream of demands is a reason you should be communicating consistently—that way you ensure that no one’s efforts are wasted on something that is no longer relevant.

To make sure you communicate consistently with your sponsor, use the following framework:

  • First, set up appropriate reporting and meeting schedules with your team.
  • Second, take the time to digest the information gleaned from your team.
  • Third, adjust your actions and activities to reflect the new realities on the ground.
  • Fourth, set up a consistent time to brief and update your sponsor. Keep that appointment religiously.
  • Finally, get the sponsor’s commitment that important matters can and will be addressed quickly to keep the project on track.

3. Embrace Change: I’m sure that at one time or another we’ve all felt humiliated and downtrodden because our most dear project has been shut down for no discernable reason and we can’t get an explanation from anyone.

These situations are challenging. But you owe it to yourself, your team and your sponsor to embrace change. You also need to proactively address the change, positive or negative, with your sponsor. This will help you gain information that will allow you to make better decisions. But it will also encourage an open dialogue with your sponsor.

Also, proactively dealing with change can be extremely helpful in assisting your sponsor on new courses of action based upon the new information and the new realities that your projects face.

To accelerate your ability to embrace change, ask questions like:

  • How will this change impact our organizational mission?
  • Is this change happening because the project wasn’t in alignment?
  • Does this change provide an opportunity for us to embrace a new set of circumstances or new business opportunities?

I’m curious to find out how you handle these kind of strategic communications with your sponsors. Let me know in a comment below! 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you sign up for my newsletters: I've now got 2. Once a week, I will send you an email about delivering value in your business. Daily, Monday-Friday, recieve the small business MBA where you will learn tools and techniques along with action items that will help you become more valuable to your business or the organization you work in. For either or both, email me at dave@davewakeman.com!  

Posted by David Wakeman on: July 15, 2015 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Difference Between Governance and Management

Categories: Stakeholder

By Lynda Bourne

Stakeholders are becoming increasingly vocal in their demands for “good governance.” The rise of stakeholder activism (shareholders are stakeholders, too) is affecting the way organizations of all types are governed and managed.

This will in turn impact the way projects are initiated and managed—which could affect your career.

But when thinking about what good governance looks like, be careful not to confuse it with good management. They aren’t the same! Governance is firstly focused on creating the environment in which good management can flourish, and then on ensuring the organization’s management is good.

Global organizations are finding their stakeholders and shareholders less and less tolerant of governance failures that lead to bad management. This lack of tolerance manifests itself through government investigations and criminal prosecutions against organizations of all types and sizes—from FIFA on down.

All this means the project failures that may have been acceptable in the past are unlikely to be tolerated in the future. Stakeholders increasingly expect organizations to proactively and effectively manage their investments in projects and programs.  

This entails both the “management of projects,” focused on the full value chain from the initial investment decision through benefits realization, and the traditional domains of project, program and portfolio management.

Achieving excellence across the value chain will not be easy. The goal does offer an opportunity for the project management profession to expand its influence beyond the narrow confines of project management into the broader arena of the “management of projects,” which will involve project management advocacy in both senior management circles and governance circles. (Organizations such as PMI are already actively involved in this work .)

Know Your Functions

An understanding of the difference between management and governance is critical for such advocacy to be effective.

The primary focus of the governing body in any organization should be balancing the competing interests of its diverse stakeholder community. The six functions of governance are:

·         G1 - Determining the objectives of the organization

·         G2 - Determining the ethics of the organization

·         G3 - Creating the culture of the organization

·         G4 - Designing and implementing the governance framework for the organization

·         G5 - Ensuring accountability by management

·         G6 - Ensuring compliance by the organization

The functions of management focus on achieving the organization’s objectives within the framework established by the governing body. As defined by Henri Fayol in his 1916 book “Administration Industrielle et Generale,” the five functions of management are:

·         M1 - To forecast and plan

·         M2 - To organise

·         M3 - To command or direct (lead)

·         M4 - To coordinate

·         M5 - To control (in the sense that a manager must receive feedback about a process in order to make necessary adjustments)

This diagram plots the relationship between the governance and management functions. Management functions are assumed to be hierarchal with the governance inputs cascading down to lower-level functions.

The challenge for many organizations is establishing an effective governance framework to frame and oversee the work of its management,  thereby avoiding the scandals we read about all too frequently.

The question that interests me is: How can we start to influence the top end of our organizations to allow the efficient delivery of the right projects and programs, managed the right way?

If the project management profession doesn’t step up to this challenge, someone else will. How do you think you can start to build influence?


Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 07, 2015 08:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no use being a damned fool about it."

- W. C. Fields