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

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?

Project Bully on Your Case? Here Are the Negotiation Skills You Need to Get What You Want

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 (4)

The Difference Between Change and Transformation

Categories: Change Management

By Lynda Bourne

 

Most organizations that take change management seriously have processes in place to train staff, reconfigure work practices and provide frontline support to ensure the project’s deliverables are effectively used to create value.

Many organizations are now also tracking the realization of benefits once the project is finished and its product has been transitioned to operations or the client—closing the loop back to the promised benefits in the business case.

However, there is an emerging body of evidence that while “business as usual” change—for example, to introduce an upgraded software system or market a new product—is fairly well understood, this type of change is very different from transformational change focused on reinventing the organization in some way.

There is confusion about what constitutes change versus transformation. We have a good idea of how to manage change, but most organizations continue to struggle with transformation.

Change management means implementing finite initiatives, which may or may not cut across the organization. The focus is on executing a well-defined shift in the way things work. By applying well-known change management principles and tools—including explaining the reason for the change, building a coalition of leaders, engaging stakeholders and executing with discipline—there is a good chance the change will go smoothly and the expected benefits realized.

Organizational transformation is altogether different.The objective of transformation is not just to execute a defined change, but to reinvent the organization, change culture and behaviors, and discover (rather than create) a new way of working based on a vision for the future.

For example, a transformational change could involve moving from a traditional sales model with sales representatives and brick-and-mortar stores to a 100 percent online sales and marketing presence.

Unlike change management, transformation management cannot simply focus on a few discrete, well-defined shifts. It must focus on a coordinated portfolio of interdependent initiatives.

Delivering the capabilities for this type of initiative is the realm of program management, because multiple projects will be needed to build the different elements required for the overall transition. Those multiple projects, requiring multiple change initiatives, together lead the organization on a journey of discovery toward its new future state. Even if successful change management leads to the successful implementation of certain initiatives within the transformation portfolio, the overall transformation could still fail.

This type of transformation is far more unpredictable, iterative and experimental than traditional project or program management, and consequently entails much higher risk. The key elements needed to build success are a clear vision of the final outcome, good stakeholder engagement and flexibility to adapt the program of work based on feedback from earlier initiatives.

The ultimate vision may not change, but the route to success will require continuous adaptation to overcome obstacles and exploit opportunities.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 06, 2015 07:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Startups and Project Management: They Aren’t Opposites

By Wanda Curlee

Project management is partly about establishing and documenting processes and procedures, and maintaining configuration control. Startup companies, on the other hand, often pride themselves on entrepreneurialism, a lack of required processes/procedures and flexibility.

But processes and procedures are not the antithesis of entrepreneurship and flexibility. In fact, project, program and portfolio management can help a startup manage growth.

When a startup’s leadership allows change to happen without any processes, strategy or structure, the organization will struggle. Project managers can help provide structure, while also demonstrating how to adapt to change.

For example, if the organization has 20 employees today but expects to add 180 in the next two years, how exactly will this growth occur? Will all new employees be hired in month 24? Do all resources need the same skills? Does training need to be done? This is where project managers can help.

Later in the organization’s growth, executives, with the help of project managers, can put together a roadmap to deal with issues like sales, IT and system needs, and travel policies. At this point, it may be time to turn to a program manager responsible for the overall strategic view of the program, rather than individual projects.

The program manager may work directly with leadership or report to a portfolio manager. The program may be to deliver organizational change, including IT, processes/procedures, staffing, etc. When I was a program manager, I focused on realizing benefits and the roadmap.

For example, when a small company becomes medium-sized, the number one issue might be staffing to meet sales needs. Let’s say the program manager’s roadmap showed that the second quarter of the program was when benefits would be realized from sales and increased staffing would occur.

If the program manager realizes that sales are occurring much faster than predicted, he or she would discuss alternatives with leadership. One option might be to slow sales; another might be to slow down the development of processes and procedures, and focus more resources on hiring the correct individuals to continue to drive sales.

Finally, the portfolio manager can drive strategic change in a startup growing into an established organization. The portfolio manager listens to leadership’s strategic goals. With a small company that is transitioning fast, the strategic goals should not change often, but can be fluid.

The portfolio manager assists the C-suite with governance and understanding how to select projects/programs to drive to the final result—checked growth without going bankrupt. She will also put governance in place to report to the investors, leadership and stakeholders. With a portfolio manager bridging strategy and execution, the fledgling organization can increase its chances of growing rapidly—and successfully.  

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: April 23, 2015 07:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

A True Story of a Bad Sponsor

In my previous post, I promised to tell you a sad but true story of a sponsor who was against his own project. As you know, lack of sponsorship is one of the major causes of failure in projects. It is very hard to make things happen without senior-level support.

According to author and business consultant John P. Kotter, building a guiding or supporting coalition means assembling a group with the power and energy to lead and sustain a collaborative change effort. That is when strong sponsorship comes to mind in project management.

Unfortunately, I was the project manager tasked with the initiative featuring the unfriendly sponsor. By that time, I knew some of the tricks of the change management trade. However, I naively ignored that people have their own hidden agendas.

 

Sizing Up the Sponsor

The sponsor, let’s call him John, was a division manager with almost 25 years dedicated to the same organization. He proposed an audacious project to outsource almost half of his division, creating a new company to own the assets.

It was a brilliant idea, strictly aligned with the organizational strategy. There was a solid business case supporting headcount and cost reduction, improved service levels and an outstanding return on investment. The board of directors promptly approved the project and it took off with strong support.

You already know that a project, by definition, is a disturbance in the environment. “Project” is synonymous with “change.” Change usually implies resistance. This project faced enormous challenges related to cultural and structural change, power, politics and more.

It took me some time to realize John was a real threat to the project. At first, I shared all my information with him, and I trusted that he was an enthusiastically.

But along the way, I noticed John was not performing his sponsor role properly. In particular, he was not working on selling or on leadership.

Figure 1 – Sponsor’s roles (Trentim, 2013)

Consequently, crucial organizational decisions were postponed, resulting in serious negative impacts on the project. John was responsible for leading change, but he wouldn’t do it. The project was failing because I could not overcome the ultimate resistance barrier: the sponsor.

I started asking myself about John’s real intentions. It was a very uncomfortable situation.

One day, I was discussing the sponsorship issue with my core team members. Alice asked me, “Do you really think John wants this project to be successful?” A few weeks before, my answer would have been “Sure!” Now, I decided to hold a problem structuring session based on Alice’s doubt.

To our amazement, we concluded that if we were in John’s shoes, we would want the project dead.

It was simple. Although there was a solid business case with wonderful benefits, none of them appealed directly to John. In fact, John would be demoted from senior division manager to manager of a department of less than half its former budget and staff. He could even lose his job after the successful startup of the outsourcing project.

I confronted John. He tried to change the topic several times. Finally, he confessed. I will never forget his words: “Corporate politics forced me to initiate this project. If I did not propose the project, someone else would initiate it and carry it on successfully, destroying my division. I had no choice.”

After John’s confession, he was replaced by another sponsor and the project was soon back on track.

 

Ideals vs. Reality

This experience permanently altered the way I view sponsors. Ever since then, I’ve never assumed my stakeholders are ideal.

In an ideal project, you would have:

  • a powerful and interested sponsor as a friend
  • motivated and skilled team members
  • supportive functional managers
  • collaborative contractors and vendors
  • other various friendly stakeholders

In reality, you have:

  • sponsors with less power than needed and sponsors with other priorities (lack of interest in your project)
  • part-time, not-so-motivated team members, fewer resources than needed and resources who are less skilled than you imagined
  • resistant functional managers with hidden agendas
  • unsupportive contractors and vendors
  • other various enemies as stakeholders

The fundamental lesson learned here is that managing stakeholders is far from simple. It is a combination of science (tools, techniques, and best practices), art (soft skills, communications, political awareness) and craft (experience).

What was your biggest stakeholder management challenge? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.

Posted by Mario Trentim on: April 17, 2015 08:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Taiwanese Firm Simplifies Green Building Projects

by Lung-Hung Chou

For practitioners who manage the construction of green buildings, projects can be complicated by different environmental standards around the world.

Taipei, Taiwan-based Sinotech Engineering Consultants, Inc. (SEC) set out to solve this problem by customizing a Building Information Modeling (BIM) software application used in the engineering and construction industry.

To help its project managers execute a project to build a new research and development building in Taipei, the organization incorporated environmental standards and concepts, along with a work breakdown structure (WBS) and critical chain approach to project management, in innovative ways.

Let’s take a closer look at this project, which PMI’s Taipei, Taiwan chapter recognized with a Project Management Benchmarking Enterprise Award.

A Solution for the Entire Life Cycle

Sinotech’s custom BIM application didn’t only collect different environmental standards for building construction that might apply to the project at hand. It also allowed standards to be applied at each stage of the building's progress from design to completion.

This means that during design, planning and construction phases—and even demolition and disposal—project managers could find the relevant standards and incorporate them into blueprints and project plans. For example, because the research and development building sought U.S. Green Building Council’s Gold LEED certification, the team imported into their plans the standards upon which that certification level is based.

Sinotech’s custom BIM application allows managers to comprehend all applicable environmental requirements throughout the entire life cycle of a building.The idea was to help project managers consider all green standards early in the project so they could be translated into specific design, planning and construction requirements.

This would allow architects and engineers to know—even before a single brick or slab of concrete was laid—if a building would meet a targeted environmental certification. If it wouldn’t meet the certification, inexpensive design changes could be made—and expensive changes after construction was underway could be avoided.

With all design and construction team members given access to the relevant information about green building standards, the custom BIM application strengthened communication—helping teams catch problems early in the project. 

The Project Management Connection

By adopting a work breakdown structure (WBS) for all the different standards involved in any given building management project, Sinotech integrated into its BIM system an understanding of project management.

This meant that standards would directly correlate to the work packages required to meet those standards. With complicated environmental standards translated into concrete goals and work packages, managers and workers can avoid being overwhelmed by different levels of requirements and complicated information for each work item.

SEC also built a critical chain project management approach into the application. Suppliers and subcontractors, and the resources they require across the entire supply chain, can be efficiently scheduled in accordance with their cost and co-dependence by integrating an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system into the BIM system. This helps building projects move closer to lean construction.

The End Results

For green building standards to deliver their financial and environmental benefits, they have to be incorporated into every stage of the project.

By facilitating that process, Sinotech brought clear value to the organization’s project. As planned, the new research and development building in Taipei’s Neihu Light Industrial Zone obtained green building certifications including Gold LEED level and Taiwan Architecture & Research Center’s Intelligent Building Silver level and Gold EEWH level.  

Posted by Lung-Hung Chou on: March 19, 2015 05:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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