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

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!

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)

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)

How to Make the Jump From PM to Delivery Lead

How to Make the Jump From PM to Delivery Lead

By Kevin Korterud

As project managers, our career paths typically involve increasing levels of delivery responsibility on larger and more complex projects. As we grow, many of us have the opportunity to take on delivery responsibilities that focus more on enablement and orchestration of multiple projects in a program manager role.

Beyond that level of responsibility, there is a need for people capable of overseeing multiple programs that can contain many projects. Concurrent multiprogram/project delivery involves the need for a new set of skills that transcends traditional project and program management competencies.   

In my company, Accenture, people who serve in multiprogram/project delivery roles are called delivery leads. I think of them as “super program managers”—they’re not as high-level as portfolio managers, but they also don’t get caught up in deep project delivery activities.

One of the most frequent questions posed to me is how project and program managers can “graduate” to delivery lead. Here’s some advice I’ve offered in the past to budding delivery leads.

 

1. Adopt A ‘Big Picture’ Delivery Mindset  

By the nature of what they do, project and program managers immerse themselves in the details around schedule, budget, scope and other project essentials. Their day-to-day roles involve processing a lot of information that enables them to make effective project management decisions.

Delivery leads, on the other hand, need to stand back from program and project management to broadly view the delivery landscape. This perspective gives a delivery lead the ability to see the interconnected delivery “big picture” that enables him or her to take strategic action to keep all programs and projects on track to success.   

 

2. Don’t Manage Projects, Guide Them   

In the course of typical project duties, effective project and program managers strive to resolve risks and challenges. They spend a significant amount of time reacting to unforeseen situations.

Delivery leads, on the other hand, should resist jumping into specific delivery details and instead focus their efforts on preventing situations that cause project and program managers to spend all of their time reacting to situations.

Delivery leads accomplish this by providing people, budget, tools, processes and assets to project and program managers in advance of their need. In addition, delivery leads also set policies, governance and other forms of delivery guidance that effectively orchestrate the overall delivery process.      

 

3. Acquire Business Knowledge

Project and program managers invest a large amount of energy and expense in becoming well-versed in practices that enhance their project management skills.

Professional development for delivery leads, on the other hand, assumes a foundational knowledge of project management that needs to be balanced with industry domain knowledge related to the organization’s projects and programs. Delivery leads don’t have to be subject matter experts, but they should be able to communicate effectively with all forms of stakeholders.

For delivery leads, making an investment in business domain knowledge such as supply chain, oil refining, equity trading or other specific industry knowledge enables them to be effective communicators.   

 

4. Manage for Business Outcomes      

For project or program managers, success most often comes in the form of achieving key project metrics such as schedule variance, budget variance, planned versus actual progress and other key elements of project delivery.

As a delivery lead, the measures of success change dramatically. Effective delivery leads must be able to translate project results into cost savings, increased sales and improved customer satisfaction as well as other measurements that don’t necessarily fall into traditional delivery activities. This shift in success criteria to business outcomes comes about from delivery leads being accountable for the business rationale behind executing projects and programs.     

 

 

The journey from project or program manager to delivery lead is best characterized as relieving oneself of common managerial habits in favor of broader leadership activities.

Areas such as governance, orchestrating the schedules of multiple programs, complex resource management and external dependencies become new competencies needed to handle larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, you will also serve as a visible leader to project and program managers who are starting on the same journey.

Does your organization have delivery leads or something like that role? What advice would you offer to help project and program managers who are starting this journey? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 11, 2015 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Situation Awareness: The Difference Between the Best and the Rest

By Wanda Curlee

Situation awareness is taught to many professionals, including pilots, firefighters, air traffic controllers and nuclear reactor personnel. This useful skill has been slow to cross over into the business world, however, though it is making strides.

Situation awareness is the ability to know what’s going on in a complex, dynamic environment. This skill is valuable in project management because a practitioner:

·       Needs to evaluate multiple goals simultaneously

·       Needs to determine the importance of tasks and goals, and not be distracted by the less important ones

·       Needs to know that when team members are under stress, negative consequences may occur, resulting in poor outcomes

Let’s look at how situation awareness can affect projects, programs and portfolios.

I was once on a project that was implementing a new technology. The project manager did not know how to evaluate all the tasks that were happening at one time. Poor decisions were made because the practitioner wasn’t aware of which tasks and goals were important and which were distracting.

As the project continued and lessons learned began to be gathered, the project manager started to gain situational awareness and could share this knowledge with others.

At the program level, intra-dependencies and benefits realization are always on the mind of the program manager. He or she must understand the environment within the organization (such as the politics and the needs of strategic stakeholders) and the industry, as well as other external factors.

Knowing who has the power to do (or approve) different things can help you implement a successful program. The program sponsor can help you get the lay of the land. Thoroughly understanding a country’s laws as they relate to the program and knowing the specific standards for your program and industry are part of developing a better situational awareness.

Again, lessons learned and asking questions of subject matter experts can help. As a program manager, you may have to review lessons learned from similar types of projects to give you an understanding of which tasks or goals are most critical, and which may be just a distraction.

Finally, a portfolio manager should help leadership and project/program managers improve their situation awareness. This means the portfolio manager needs to require a review of lessons learned on a quarterly basis and establish metrics (normally tracked monthly) to look for strategic trends.

Here are some questions portfolio managers can ask to improve the organization’s situational awareness:

·       Is there a process or procedure hindering advancements of programs or projects?

·       Is the tool set correct?

·       Are certain projects or programs failing in some industries but blossoming in others?

·       Will there be a gap in resources?

·       Will there be a gap in resources with the correct skill set?

·       Is it time to re-evaluate a technology or product where sales are dwindling?

Most people in project management have some awareness of their situation.

What sets great project leaders apart is they’ve honed their situational skill set. 

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: June 02, 2015 03:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Seattle's Troubled Tunnel: 3 Communications Tips for Regaining the Public's Trust

One of the biggest public works projects in the United States right now has some major problems. It’s a more than $3 billion effort in Seattle, Washington to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an aging elevated highway on the city’s waterfront, with a 2-mile-long tunnel. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the project, you know that the tunnel-boring machine (dubbed “Bertha”) broke down more than a year ago, creating various challenges and overruns. Public outcry is mounting.

Now, if you’re like me and believe in the power of communication to ensure that projects run more smoothly, the tunnel project has highlighted the need for more openness, better stakeholder management and speaking to your audience in understandable ways, instead of falling into buzzwords or corporate speak.

If I were working on the project right now, here are three things I would look at to regain the public’s trust and help everyone in Seattle and the state of Washington understand exactly where the project is.

 

1. Be willing to convey incomplete information. The project’s big challenge is that the machine built specifically for drilling the tunnel encountered a setback when it struck a metal pipe during the excavation process. Unfortunately, it took project leaders over a week to convey the extent of Bertha’s problem, the course of action and any sort of timeline to get things back on track. Since Bertha stopped working in December 2013, information has trickled out to stakeholders.

The project’s leaders could have set a much different tone early on by stating what they know and what it means to the project—along with an acknowledgement that they really aren’t 100 percent sure what the solution is, and a clear statement that they will work to provide status updates to all stakeholders as often as possible.

Instead, it’s been “hard to get straight answers,” as the Seattle radio station KUOW put it.

 

2. Be honest. This really goes hand in hand with the first point about having the confidence to convey information that is accurate, even if it is incomplete. The public has begun to doubt that project leaders are being honest about the tunnel’s current status and future. This is partly because when the city’s department of transportation (DOT) or the state government has updated the community about the project, they have given information that seems farfetched and is tough to believe in light of Bertha’s lack of progress.

Case in point: A DOT official recently toldSeattle’s City Council that the project was “70-percent complete.” That claim was met with a great deal of skepticism by journalists and members of the community.

The lesson for project managers is: Don’t fudge information to avoid blowback. In the long run, you are putting your project at a strategic disadvantage because you may lose funding or you may come under heavier oversight…or worse. So just explain things in an honest and forthcoming manner.

 

3. Be consistent in the delivery of information. A lack of consistent communications has been one of the big failings for the Seattle project team. And when there’s an information void, it will usually be filled by something you aren’t going to like. In this instance, the lack of communications has led to a real breakdown of trust.

That’s why you need to make a plan for communicating consistently with stakeholders. It should include the best ways to communicate with specific stakeholder groups, and a plan for gathering accurate, up-to-date information from the project team. To ensure timely gathering, build the consistent delivery of information into day-to-day project activities. Set a schedule of when you want your team members to communicate information to you, and hold them accountable.

In turn, you need to inform key stakeholders of when and how you’ll communicate information to them, and then stick to that plan.

 

In most cases, communications comes down to recognizing the importance of clarity in effective project leadership. In Seattle, you can see what a lack of a clear process can do to the trust between stakeholders and the project team. I’m confident that most unsuccessful projects began to unravel when communications stopped being clear and consistent.

         What do you think? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 23, 2015 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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