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
Christian Bisson

Recent Posts

Can We Use the Principles of Newspeak for Good?

The Customer Is Always Digital—So Make the Experience Right

Reality Check: Stop Being So Optimistic

PMO of the Year Winner Calls Out Executive Support

Less Really Is More When It Comes to Yogurt — and Project Portfolios

The Best Way to Ensure Project Success? Understand and Control the Scope

By Marian Haus, PMP

There are dozens of studies about project failure. (To name just three: Standish Group’s Chaos reports, PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession®: The High Cost of Low Performance and Gartner’s 2012 survey on why projects fail). There are at least as many reasons why projects fail.

Although in some cases forces external to a project can imperil its success, I am convinced that properly managing internal factors, particularly scope, is a key enabler for project success. This is because internal factors can be controlled, while external factors can merely be influenced.

Let’s take some classic reasons projects fail and tackle their root causes from a project scope management perspective.

Vague or unclear requirements and no change control—aka the never-ending scope. These are typical problems related to poor project scope management. The remedy is straightforward. Complete and clear requirements should make it to the scope; anything else poses a risk. In addition, at least a basic change management process is required to keep scope creep under control.

Lack of clear roles and responsibilities (R&R). You tailor your project team around the scope work that needs to be carried out. Because of this, you have to be clear about what your project needs to deliver. This includes product specifications, product design, implementation, integration with other related product parts, validation, delivery, etc.

If the lack of R&R clarity lies within your client organization or with an organization external to your project, then break down your project scope into specific deliverables and lay out the assumption and prerequisites for delivering them. For example, a product specification will have to be reviewed and signed off by the client, the client is expected to provide you with the validation benchmarks, etc.

A lack of R&R often results in lack of ownership and accountability of deliverables.

Underestimated timelines. This can happen especially if estimations are done based on insufficient information or when the scope is not well understood. Estimates are consequently rough, based on previous experience, approximations and assumptions. If conditions are changing during the project lifecycle, this can lead to time or budget overruns.

Unclear and/or unrealistic expectations. This is often related to the project scope. Your project team might be unclear about what it is supposed to deliver or what level of quality and maturity your deliverable will have to pass to meet the acceptance criteria. In other cases, the team might be unclear on how the delivery of your project scope will impact the receiving organization.

Project complexity. This relates mainly to the failure to break down a large scope into more manageable pieces and deliverables. If the list of deliverables is not clear, the sequence in which these are to be produced will not be determined. If the deliverables’ relation to each other isn’t clear, then team members will just be busy delivering something, sometime, for some level of effort. This leads to missing the project goal or ending up with time or budget overruns.

A well-understood and executed scope brings you a huge step closer to finishing your project successfully.

What is your experience with managing project scopes? What key factors, other than scope, do you see as enablers for project success?

Posted by Marian Haus on: October 19, 2015 02:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Are You There in the Ways That Matter?

Hello, project manager? You are needed in the meeting room; you are needed for an online chat; you are needed on the phone.

Typical, right? You may feel overwhelmed if you’re expected to be in all places at once. It can help to realize there are only three realms in which you’re truly needed: physical, mental and electronic. Here’s how to address each.

Physical: If possible, try to be physically present for your team. Walk around and talk to stakeholders, team members and others to gather details about your projects.

This provides you with the current status and tidbits that will allow you to be proactive on your projects. It also lets you build rapport with team members.

Mental: You don’t have to be an expert in a programming language or even in the company’s industry. It bodes well, though, when you have some idea of the jargon for conversations with your stakeholders. You’ll want to be aware of the environment—all the external and internal factors and their impact on your projects.

You’ll also need to stay abreast of the benefits your projects bring to the organization. Project managers have to stay mentally focused on their project’s objectives and bottom line.

Try thinking about lessons learned from previous projects to help you gain understanding of how to address potential problems. Investigate tools that allow you to present project results to all levels of management and team members, too.

A detailed report on planned versus actual data is a source that can be shared in various audience-specific formats. You may be called on at any moment for project results and can rely on these tools to support your efforts to be mentally there.

Electronic: Social media and mobile technology allow people to be reached easily. Apps let you track and stay in touch with others. You will want to take advantage of these programs to gain information and respond to concerns about your projects. In many cases, they allow us to address and resolve concerns more quickly.

No matter how you do it, being a project manager means you have to be accessible. We have to manage our projects, not let them manage us.

Posted by Bernadine Douglas on: October 01, 2015 08:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

How Portfolio Managers and Business Analysts Can and Should Collaborate

By Jen L. Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Just like portfolio managers, business analysts are gaining wide acceptance as a profession. Business analysts can now earn their own PMI certification (PMI-BA) and read their own practice guide (Business Analysis for Practitioners). (Here’s a piece of cultural trivia: Did you know the latest bachelor on the reality TV show “The Bachelor” is a business analyst?)

Portfolio managers should get to know business analysts in their organization, because they can help ensure alignment and management of the portfolio to achieve the organization’s strategic goals and objectives.

What exactly do business analysts do? They, well, conduct business analysis. That’s defined as:

•identifying business needs

•eliciting, documenting and managing requirements

•recommending relevant solutions 

With this in mind, there are four major ways that portfolio managers can leverage a business analyst:

1) Develop Pipeline Opportunities

Business analysts can play a critical role in analyzing business problems and opportunities that will eventually be used to initiate projects and programs in the portfolio. Product or technology roadmaps can outline potential projects or programs that will be initiated at future points. They’re also valuable during a project because they can support proposed changes to a project scope (which will affect the overall portfolio) and ensure that the business justification for the project or program remains valid. 

Many business analysts are embedded within business areas and are critical to early identification and understanding of future opportunities or changes to the portfolio.

2) Define Needed Business Capabilities

We often think of business analysts as documenting business requirements.  Those requirements are built upon an understanding of which capabilities are needed for a particular business domain. 

Typically, capabilities are based on the goals and needs of a particular business area. Those needs may be depicted through business domain capability maps, end-to-end process flows or functional diagrams. An assessment of whether the capabilities currently exist or not becomes the basis for identifying priorities and gaps (in processes or talent). It can also be used to benchmark against other companies.

3) Develop Business Cases 

With their high-level understanding of the goals, objectives and needs of the enterprise, business analysts can assist in defining the justification for the proposed solution. The basis of a business case is the needs assessment. This process seeks to understand the underlying business problem, assess the current state and perform a gap analysis against the future state.

In addition, the proposed solution (see #4 below) is needed for high-level cost estimates that become the basis for the numerator of the ROI. The potential return (denominator of the ROI) is also based on an analysis of the impact of the solution on the current process.

4) Perform Solutions Analysis

One type of solution analysis is to assess a variety of options to go from the current state to future state. (For example, process changes vs. system implementations.) Business analysts can work with business stakeholders to define immediate solutions (quick wins that may be process changes) or longer-term solutions (new products or systems). 

Business analysis outputs provide the context to requirements analysis and solution identification for a given initiative or for long-term planning. Business analysis is often the starting point for initiating one or more projects or programs within a portfolio. The analysis is an ongoing activity within a portfolio as the business environment changes and more information becomes available, creating new competition and strategies.

How do you work with business analysts? Share your experiences and best practices in a comment below. Also, if you’re looking to learn more about how business analysts can support practitioners, check out this pmi.org webpage.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: September 01, 2015 04:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (28)

When Is A Project Actually Over?

When Is a Project Actually Over?

By Kevin Korterud


As project managers, we spend a considerable amount of time mobilizing a project to ensure it’s set up for success. To realize value from projects, that same level of attention and focus is also required to successfully end a project. It is key for project managers to have a plan for closure that defines specific activities to wind down and complete essential functions that end the project on a high note.


Here are some essentials to help your project complete successfully so you can enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done:


1. Complete the Project Adoption Schedule   

Project managers need to have an objective indicator that signals completion of their projects. In some cases, project managers use indications that determine the completion of the project far too early.


These premature indications can include the installation of technology, signoff of key deliverables or perhaps a subjective decision by the sponsor that the project is over.


One effective means of determining the end of a project is for a project manager to create a schedule for the complete adoption of what the project is creating, e.g., new technology, processes and products. An adoption schedule defines the details around the timeframe, functions and geographies by which the outputs from the project are to be assumed by the various stakeholders.


In essence, a project adoption schedule is a structure that provides an outcome-based path to how the project is supposed to end.


For example, one form of an adoption schedule would be to define the number of users or stakeholder groups that are to use a new technology solution. The adoption schedule would present which geographies would use the new technology over a certain timeframe.


2. Measure Against the Project Business Case  


As project managers, we sometimes become so obsessed with on-time, on-budget delivery that we can neglect the rationale that shaped the need for the project. As part of closing out a project, it is important that progress toward the original business case is measured.


The best way to do this on a project is to have business case checkpoints defined from the start to the end of the project. These checkpoints identify and measure the project’s key outcomes. By starting the business case measurement process at the beginning of the project, you eliminate the last-minute rush to determine whether the project was successful from a business perspective.


3. Assure Regulatory Compliance

Even if we do a great job with delivery as well as producing business outcomes, what we do in the area of regulations and other legal mandates is also key. A project that does not comply with regulatory needs stands the chance of diluting its success by requiring additional effort and time to mitigate issues.


As part of project closure planning, schedule timely completion of deliverables required to meet regulatory needs. The effort and schedule allocated for this type of deliverable needs to be given equal importance with other project deliverables.


For example, a project that involves the chemical industry may require material safety data sheets to be filed when a new type of material is introduced into a chemical plant. Even if the introduction of the new chemical material was successful, the project cannot be truly closed until this regulatory deliverable is created. 


4. Pay It Forward

Project or program managers sometimes miss out on the opportunity to leverage the fine work we have done to help others in our profession. While it is typical to have a lessons-learned session at the end of the project, quite often those newly created assets, practices and other valuable content are filed away and not leveraged for other projects.   


To unlock this potentially untapped source of project management value, work with the Program Management Office or other delivery assurance group to review the completed project and capture artifacts that might assist other projects. This group can take what has been created by your project, refine it and publish the artifact so it can immediately assist other projects.


Have unique activities proven valuable for completing your projects? Perhaps others can benefit from your insights while finishing their project journey. Please comment below!

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: August 11, 2015 09:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Don’t Fall in Love With Your Plan

Witnessing so many unsuccessful projects these days, I keep asking myself why execution continues to fall through the cracks while organizations apparently grow in project management maturity.

If organizations are more mature in project planning, why aren’t we reaping better results? It’s easy to see we have an execution gap.

I think this is because some project managers are so immersed in the minutia of best practices that they don’t understand the big picture.

They don’t understand that project management processes, tools and techniques are only a means to an end. The final goal of every project is to jointly create value by engaging stakeholders to build a unique result under constraints (scope, time, cost and more). In other words, a successful project delivers benefits and satisfies stakeholders.

Execution demands proactivity. Project managers should embrace change, keeping their eyes wide open to take their project plans out of the paper. Making things happen is easier when you have a good plan, but it still demands a lot of energy and motivation.

Practitioners sometimes put their well-crafted, detailed plans on a pedestal as trophies of great project management. In fact, planning is only half, or less, of the way to the finish line.

To paraphrase the boxer Mike Tyson, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The real world is volatile and complex; missing and incomplete information is the norm. Will your plan survive the challenge? It depends on how well you execute. As many in the military learn, strategic, tactical and operational plans need to be executed with maximum agility. Adjustments, adaptations and unexpected decisions must be made along the road to project completion.

To execute well, you need clear goals, resilience, flexibility and a high degree of “alertness.” The OODA loop, created by John Boyd, revolutionizes goal-centered execution by adding flexibility and velocity in the decision-making process. Here are the four steps.

Figure 1- OODA loop (Source: Defense and the National Interest)

  1. Observe. Collect current information from as many sources as practically possible: Keep in touch with stakeholders, collect project data, and gather information about context and environmental factors. Alertness is critical to project execution.
  2. Orient. Analyze information and use it to update your current reality. Monitor and control, including looking for variances’ causes, forecasting and re-planning.
  3. Decide. Determine a course of action, updating the project plan on the fly using an effective integrated change control.
  4. Act. Follow through on your decision, observing the results of your actions. Assess whether you achieved the results you intended, and review and revise your initial decision as necessary. Then, move on to another decision.

Next time you start execution on your project, put the OODA loop to work for you. It will guide you through the project plan as a series of linked decisions to help you make sense of the environment, update the plan and observe results.

If you have any comments—or perhaps a negative or positive story about execution—please share below. Thanks!

Posted by Mario Trentim on: June 26, 2015 06:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

"Marta was watching the football game with me when she said, 'You know, most of these sports are based on the idea of one group protecting its territory from invasion by another group.' 'Yeah,' I said, trying not to laugh. Girls are funny."

- Jack Handey