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

The Network Diagram Mentality

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)

The Network Diagram Mentality

You want your projects to get off to a good start and end without major glitches. However, what typically happens is that projects begin with many unknowns and continue to progress with more unknowns. Not only that, projects hit many bumps along the way — and you are constantly addressing problems, attempting to resolve issues and rallying to minimize risks. 

Faced with this, I recommend approaching projects with a “project network diagram” mentality. (A network diagram is a planning tool that shows sequences of tasks, dependencies on tasks and impacts on a project.) Here are tips on using a network diagram mentality for managing project schedules:

1.   Count backward. There are tasks that inevitably depend on each other and have specific time frames. For example, it might take 10 days for one task to be done and 15 days for dependent tasks to be complete. So right away, you know you already need 25 days for that project. So these start-to-finish and other connecting relationships matter when building a schedule, as do float, slack and critical path times. These are all time factors you consider when doing backward counting. The technique of counting backward helps define the schedule because you focus better so as not to miss a number or a task. 

2.   Look in other directions.  A horse can see in one direction with one eye and in the other direction with the other eye. A project manager needs to do the same and constantly be aware of the surroundings. A network diagram offers this peripheral vision by encompassing all the aspects that matter to the project — and helps you set boundaries. A view in one direction can focus on what’s happening in the project. The other direction could be the bigger picture of your project. Let the boundary be what could potentially surface from either of those directions. For example, say your company has a portfolio of projects it has to complete. So at the same time you’re keeping an eye on the spending on your project, you also want to be aware of whether the company will be able to maintain your resources over the length of the project, especially in an economy in which layoffs happen all the time. If your company has to release some of your resources, what then would be your contingency plan to still make sure your project can be completed?

3.   Keep the end in mind.  Have an idea of the goal the project should achieve. Encourage team members to maintain a layout of their tasks in a way that identifies and prioritizes what must be done and can be done to reach that goal. Then, inspire your team to approach all tasks with confidence. In a network diagram, after having laid possible connections together, the project manager sets controls in place, giving him or her the capability for more optimal opportunities of project success. Manage your time and your project team’s time based on making it to the finish line.

What method do you use to help you prepare for and better manage project schedules?

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: December 02, 2014 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Ten Lessons for PMs, from PMI North America Congress 2014

By Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, PfMP

“Everyone can be my teacher.”

—Alfonso Bucero, PMI-RMP, PMP, PMI Fellow


After a two-year absence from PMI® Global Congress—North America, I literally ran — my hotel in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, was 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) from the convention center — to get my registration package. This year I did not want to miss the great opportunities to meet and learn from fellow project practitioners. This year’s congress was rich in learning opportunities. My top 10 lessons learned from congress were:


1. Give back to the community. A group of global project managers volunteered to roll up their sleeves to help revitalize John F. Long Elementary School in Phoenix. Kids and teachers welcomed the volunteers (project managers turned project team members), organized them into teams, and assigned specific tasks inside and outside the school buildings. After tasks were completed, the volunteers were awarded a priceless reward: the smiling faces of kids and teachers. By all means, this was the best way to start congress.

 

2. Houston, we have a problem — but as project managers, we also have the solution. The news broke by noon Saturday: There was a fire at the hotel across the street from the congress, and all 800 guests (most of them congress attendees) had to be evacuated. Yet by early evening, all guests were relocated to other hotels in the area. The PMI Phoenix Chapter and congress organizers responded very quickly with a contingency plan: New hotels were identified, transportation arrangements and schedules to and from new hotels and the convention center were set, and attendees were notified via email and social media. This was a real life lesson on how project managers work under pressure and manage problems in projects.

 

3. Tips for being a team leader, from a sports legend. Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the first keynote speaker and walked us through his journey in basketball. He shared the brighter and darker moments of his career and related them to the project management profession. When Magic joined the Los Angeles Lakers, he brought a set of technical skills that, combined with those of his teammates, helped the team to succeed. Magic kept enhancing his skills working with other players and learning new techniques from them to improve his game. To improve our game as project managers, we need to acquire and master new skills as well — and nowadays, strategic and leadership skills are required to better execute projects and make our organization successful.

 

4. Think sideways. For those times when project practitioners put in all their efforts and do not get expected results, keynote speaker Tamara Kleinberg invited us to “think sideways.” That is, exit from the vicious cycle of trying to address issues by providing a lot of answers based on hypothesis, and enter a virtuous cycle in which you start asking questions that will give you hints on how to resolve issues. Great innovation is about asking the questions, not having the answers. She urged us to stop assuming and start asking more, and turn ourselves into conductors of innovation.

 

5. Learn from everyone. Mr. Bucero urged us to learn from each individual we interact with at congress: delegates, volunteers, presenters and keynote speakers. During breakfast and lunch, congress attendees took the opportunity to discuss their experiences and acquire knowledge from global peers. As many found out, sometimes the same issue is resolved in different ways around the world.

 

6. Multitasking isn’t the silver bullet. Keynote speaker Dr. Daniel J. Levitin’s scientific research proved the concept of multitasking does not exist. When you multitask, your brain shifts in rapid cycles among tasks, which leads it to consume a lot of glucose and produce cortisole, a substance that impairs decision-making. Dr. Levitin recommends focusing on one task at a time and partitioning your day into several productivity periods. Turning off electronics to maintain focus as well as taking breaks translates into efficiency.

 

7. Organizational project management (OPM) trends upward. Several Areas of Focus presentations touched on OPM, ranging from interpersonal skills for success as a portfolio manager to transforming from project to program manager and competencies for successfully driving strategic initiatives. Presenters pointed out the importance of building technical, leadership and strategic and business management skills to deliver excellence today and in the future to emerge as a new breed of project executives.

 

8. PfMPs are in demand. The Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® credential ribbon was available for the first time at congress. Not many people knew about the new core certification and asked for more details. On hand were a few of the first 150 PfMPs® from around the world. These PfMP “ambassadors” showed how credential holders can help organizations to align projects and investments with organizational strategy, enable organizational agility, and consistently deliver better results and sustainable competitive advantage.

 

9. Leave your comfort zone. Inspiring closing keynote speaker Vince Poscente shared his four-year journey from recreational weekend skier to Olympian at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Mr. Poscente learned that to succeed, you need to, “Do what your competition is not willing to do.” If you wonder what those things are, they’re the ones we’re also not willing to do. Your homework now is to ask: What will I do to beat my competition?

 

10. Network, network, network. Having the chance to interact with 2,000-plus delegates from over 50 countries is a great opportunity to find the next challenge in your professional career. I met in person the recipient of the Kerzner Award and fellow Voices on Project Management blogger Mario Trentim and the vice president of the PMI Romania Chapter, Ana-Maria Dogaru, and discussed projects and collaboration opportunities that we may start in the near future.

 

After three wonderful days, congress came to a close. Now it’s time to put in practice all the acquired knowledge to emerge as a new breed of project executives — and save the date for next year’s North America congress in Orlando, Florida, USA.

 

Did you attend congress? What were your top lessons learned?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 30, 2014 08:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Managing for Stakeholders — Not Stakeholder Management

The new Knowledge Area, stakeholder management, was cheerfully welcomed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fifth Edition.


We all agree on the importance of stakeholder management. It’s common sense. However, it is not common practice. Few project managers have a formal approach to stakeholder management. And many organizations lack guidelines to manage stakeholders.

Figure 1: Lack of stakeholder management leads to poor results. (Trentim, 2013)

 

Most of us rely on soft skills, communication and leadership to manage stakeholders. But while they’re helpful, interpersonal skills are far from being the sole way to implement stakeholder management. As a matter of fact, there are hard skills in stakeholder management — tools, techniques and methods that should be diligently applied to enhance stakeholder management and improve project success rates. 

 

For example, there are at least 10 different tools for stakeholder identification. Often, project managers rely only on brainstorming to write a stakeholder registry, conforming to the methodology imposed by a project management office (PMO). That’s why I believe we need a paradigm shift.

 


Figure 2: The virtuous cycle—as opposed to the “vicious cycle”—for managing stakeholders (Trentim, 2013)

 

A project manager’s goal is to add value. Value depends on stakeholder expectations and perception. Consequently, the project manager’s goal is to engage and involve stakeholders in value creation. This is what we call managing for stakeholders.

 

On the contrary, the term stakeholder management assumes we can manage expectations. This is wrong. We cannot manage people, to paraphrase U.S. author and businessman Stephen Covey. We lead people. We persuade and influence stakeholders.

 

In 2013, the Project Management Institute published my book, Managing Stakeholders as Clients. It presents a framework with a paradigm shift from traditional stakeholder management by first setting the premise that we can’t manage stakeholders or their expectations — we can only lead, influence and persuade people. To my surprise, I was the recipient of PMI Educational Foundation’s 2014 Kerzner Award* at PMI® Global Congress 2014—North Americafor my results in managing projects and programs. But in particular, the award recognized my creation of this stakeholder management framework and the results of its application.

 

The main difference between stakeholder management and managing for stakeholders is this: Stakeholder management’s goal is to manage stakeholders’ expectations, enhancing support and reducing negative impacts — a reactive measure. It’s almost as if project managers develop stakeholder management plans to protect themselves from external interference.

 

Managing for stakeholders means involving and engaging stakeholders in value creation, boosting their support and having them take ownership in a proactive way. Managing for stakeholders embraces change as a learning process.

 

 

While stakeholder management is instrumental, employing processes for conformity, managing for stakeholders is results-oriented. In summary, stakeholder management is an attempt to manage stakeholders’ expectations toward the project. On the other hand, managing for stakeholders is clearly oriented to manage the project and its results for the stakeholders, on behalf of their changing needs and expectations.

 

Now that it’s clear we should start approaching stakeholder management from a different perspective, in my next post I’ll share more tips and details from Managing Stakeholders as Clients. Don’t miss it!

 

How do you manage for stakeholders?

 

*The PMI Educational Foundationadministers the prestigious Kerzner Award. The Kerzner Award is sponsored by International Institute for Learning, Inc. (IIL)to recognize a project manager who most emulates the professional dedication and excellence of Dr. Harold Kerzner, PhD, MS, MBA.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: November 25, 2014 09:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Selling Your Idea

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

A portfolio manager’s key responsibility is to sell your idea — whether it’s to incorporate innovations into the portfolio, to advocate for portfolio management processes or to champion the establishment of a portfolio. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is to have great presentation skills. The next time you have to present your portfolio strategy to executives or conduct a meeting, think about the simple acronym that can ensure SUCCESS:

Simple     

I always think in terms of the outcome of my presentation or meeting first: what is the one thing you want to people to remember, do, think or feel differently as a result of your presentation.

·       Now, work this core message until it’s clear and concise.  As portfolio managers, we need to be experts at distilling a tremendous amount of information into the “critical few” points — think bullet points rather than paragraphs.  

·       Be aware that too much detail will cloud the message, cause confusion, and delay buy-in. Strip away the unnecessary elements and leave your audience with the essence. 

·       Don’t add jargon, industry-specific terms (i.e., technology or project management), or try to be too trendy. Spell out acronyms, and try to stay away from anything that requires a dictionary to interpret. I once had a project manager refer to a “wheelhouse,” and I had to look it up to see what it meant. For the record, it refers to “an area of expertise.” But ultimately, ask yourself: Do you want people to wonder what your message is? Or do you want them to quickly grasp it?

Unexpected      

·       Instead of just jumping into facts, keep the audience’s attention by opening and closing gaps in their knowledge. Put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself, “What do they know, and what don’t they know?” Open with something they don’t know to grab their attention.

·       Then, try to highlight a few ‘a-ha’s” and lead them to the desired outcome. Is your audience interested in the process, or just your portfolio inventory of the programs and projects? Highlight a few programs and projects with interesting facts rather than reviewing the entire list of programs and projects.

·       Create curiosity, interest or concern in what you are going to tell them before you tell them. For example, you might say that it’s commonly thought that there are 100 critical projects within the portfolio, but your analysis show that it’s actually 10 critical projects. This way, you are also selling your value as a portfolio manager — anyone can come up with a list of projects, but only you can analyze and bring recommendations.

 

Concrete  

·       Remove abstract language or ideas from your message, and replace them with concrete language or ideas (tied to a tangible/physical item that people can relate to).

·       Use sensory language to paint a mental picture. Give an example.

·       When selling a new portfolio management process, say “good portfolio management is like having a well-balanced 401k.”

 

Credible   

Use “good statistics” — ones that aid a decision or shape an opinion and humanize your statistics by bringing them closer to people’s day-to-day experience.

Make the statistics or examples relevant by placing them into the frame of everyday life. For example: “I compare the portfolio roadmap to having a detailed guide for a trip from NY to LA so that every major stop can be accounted for.”

Emotional         

·       Don’t rely solely on logic to sell your presentation.

·       Create empathy for specific individuals affected by what you are trying to sell. Say things such as: “Given that it currently takes five people two weeks to manually put together the reports needed, my new portfolio management process will now free up three people and reduce the time to five days.”

·       Show that your ideas are associated with things people already care about. Within a large company, that may be increasing efficiency, increasing shareholder value, meeting compliance and regulatory demands and increasing employee satisfaction.

 

Stories     

·       Use stories so your message relates to the audience and reflects your core message. Use specific examples, preferably yours, of why it’s worked (i.e., “When I worked at our competitor’s and implemented this portfolio management process, it resulted in an increased ROI from 50 percent to 85 percent within six months.”). Another thing that works well: A brief acknowledgement that your method is a best practice within the industry, based on your extensive research.

·       Finally, don’t forget that the story should have emotional elements and draw from the other SUCCESS principles.

What are your tips for successfully presenting portfolio management to stakeholders?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: November 13, 2014 10:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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