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
Vivek Prakash
Rebecca Braglio
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

Beyond Crisis Management: Are You Breaking Bad Stakeholder Habits?

The Three Levels of Success

What you need to know when tackling big projects

ICANN and the Need for Portfolio Management

Want Strategic Alignment? Get To Know Your Sponsor!

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)

Do Your Projects Have A Strategic Focus?

By Dave Wakeman 

 

Last month, I wrote about how you can become a more strategic project manager. This month, I want to continue exploring the topic by focusing on a few ways to make sure your projects have strategic focus.

1. Always Ask “Why?”

This is the essential question for any business professional. But I am aware that asking the question can be extremely difficult—especially in the organizations that need that question asked the most.

Asking why you are taking on a project is essential to the project’s success or failure. Using the question can help you frame the role that project plays in the organization’s goals. It can also allow you early on to find out if the project is poorly aligned with the long-term vision.

This can make you look like a champ because you can make course corrections or bring up challenges much earlier, saving you and your organization time and money.

When asking about a project’s strategic value, you may find it helpful to phrase it in less direct ways, such as: “How does this project fit into the work we were doing with our previous project?” or “This seems pretty consistent with the project we worked on several months back—are they connected?”

2. Bring Ideas

As the focal point of knowledge, project managers should know where a project is in meeting its goals and objectives. So if you know a project is losing its strategic focus (and therefore value), generate ideas on how to make course corrections or improve the project based on the information you have.

There is nothing worse than having a team member drop a heap of issues on us with no easy solutions and no ideas on how to move forward. As the leader of your projects, don’t be that person. To help you come up with ideas to move the project toward success and strategic alignment, think along the following lines:

·      If all the resources and effort expended on the project up to the current roadblock were removed from consideration, would it still make sense to move forward with the project?

·      What actions can we take that will help alleviate some of the short-term pain?

·      Knowing what I know now, would I suggest we start or stop this project? Why?

3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

On almost any project I work on, more communication is a good idea. This is because the more the lines of communication are open, the more likely I’m to get information that will be helpful to me and my ability to achieve the end results that I’m looking for.

As with most things in project management, communication is a two-way street and loaded with possible pain points and missteps. As a project manager looking to deliver on the strategic promise of your projects, your communications should always be focused on information you can use to take action and move your project along.

To effectively communicate as a strategic project manager, ask questions like these:

·      What do I need to know about a project that will have a material impact on its success or failure?

·      What can I share with my team or stakeholders that might help them understand my decisions?

·      What information does my team need to take better actions?

As you can see, adjusting your vision to become more strategic isn’t too far removed from what it takes to be an effective project manager. The key difference is making sure you understand the “why” of the project. From there, you need to push forward your ideas and to communicate openly and honestly.

What do you think? How do you bring a strategic focus to your projects? 

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: June 18, 2015 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

When Stakeholders Think You’re Hiding Something

 

 

Trust

Project managers work hard to keep stakeholders informed. Nonetheless, sometimes when a stakeholder asks about the status of a project, he or she gets the impression that a project manager is hiding something or being less than honest.

Here are three circumstances where stakeholders may get this feeling, and how you as the project manager can handle them to ensure you’re viewed as trustworthy.

1. You can’t disclose certain information or documents. On our projects, we become the caretaker of all information and documents, including some that can be extremely sensitive. Stakeholders might request the home phone number of a team member, the contingency target of a budget or other confidential information. In some cases, your organization may require a security clearance or other confidentiality measures.

In this sort of scenario, it’s appropriate for a project manager to say, “Let me check on disclosure agreements and provide allowable information."

2. You’re the bearer of bad news. Project managers sometimes must communicate negative issues, risks or unforeseen events to stakeholders. The risk here is that a stakeholder might believe the project manager had prior knowledge of the problem, or even allowed the problem to fester as a way of extracting additional funds for the project.

To avoid a “shoot the messenger” scenario, it’s a good idea to not blame someone for a problem. A better tactic here may be to arrange a discussion on the topic with key decision-makers. This could lead to a satisfactory acceptance or a suitable compromise.

3. You made an error. You may have inadvertently distributed a report with wrong information. Mistakes happen. As soon as possible, apologize and acknowledge that the wrong information was given.

Our reputations as project managers depend on us being creditable and trustworthy. We must always be honest and remain professional and polite, no matter what the concerns of a stakeholder are.

How do you handle stakeholders who question the truthfulness of a project’s status?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: May 26, 2015 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
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