By Conrado Morlan
It was a cold and windy morning in Chicago as I lined up among more than 40,000 runners from all over the world. I was ready to start my seventh marathon.
I had set five hours as my target finish time, and I joined a team of runners with the same goal. Before the race at the assigned corral, I met my fellow runners and the pacers who would keep us at the correct speed.
After running the first mile with the group, led by the pacers, I inevitably started to think as a project manager. I realized the race mimics an agile Scrum project, and I began to identify roles and responsibilities based on the context of the race.
The pacers played the Scrum master role. At the end of every mile, they confirmed that the runners’ cadence was right, providing feedback on speed and recommendations on hydration. At the same time, they led the stand-up, checking with every runner on how he or she was doing and if anyone would need additional support. Pacers also kept updating the backlog to ensure product increments were delivered by the runners on every sprint.
The group of runners was the self-managed development team. We had acquired the skills and abilities required to run the race after weeks of training. Our project was set to be completed in eight imaginary sprints of 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) each and would deliver the final product — the ninth sprint. It was our task to keep the cadence and burn rate constant.
As in any project, issues cropped up. On my fifth sprint, I had to make adjustments to my race plan and update my “backlog.” Around mile 15 (kilometer 24), I detected a blood stain on my left foot that kept expanding as I tried to keep my time under 11:30 per mile, so I decided to slow my pace and let the five-hour group go ahead. By mile 19 (kilometer 30), the situation was under control, and I set my new pace. But between mile 24 and 25 (kilometer 40), I had to stop at the aid station for pain reliever ointment to alleviate the discomfort of cramps in my quads.
In any race, no matter the distance, spectators and volunteers are key. They are the stakeholders of the runner’s project. Their function is to provide support along the race with signs, words of encouragement and refreshments. Spectators and volunteers’ commitment to the runners is unconditional.
An important part of the agile approach is the retrospective. For my marathon project, here’s how my retrospective would look:
What went well?
· Enjoyed the experience of running with a pace team
· Finished my seventh consecutive marathon and my first World Major Marathon despite a few problems
· Improved my strength, endurance and recovery time dramatically
What didn’t go so well?
· Not taking advantage of the resources provided at the aid stations
What have I learned?
· Running with a pace team lessens race stress
· The importance of listening to my “brain/body” and paying attention to its signals from the very first step
What still puzzles me?
· After finishing seven consecutive marathons, why do I still want to run more?
· Why do challenges pump adrenaline into project management professionals and runners?
This marathon gave me valuable lessons that will be applied at my next race, the Dallas Marathon, where I look forward to improving my performance.
Do you inevitably start thinking as a project manager when performing non-project related activities? If so, share your experiences.
As we move toward the end of the year and prepare our personal and professional goals for 2015, I’ve been thinking about how someone can go from being just a manager to being a leader.
Years ago, a big project I was working on with American Express and one of its partners ran into trouble. A lot of factors probably led to that, but one still stands out to me: I was succeeding as a manager but failing as a leader. And that was the project’s ultimate downfall.
Over the years, I’ve been able to reflect and grow from that experience. Here are three ways you can use my experience to help you become more of a leader in 2015.
1. Focus on the vision. Managers are, by their nature, implementers. We get tasked with projects that we may not have had a great deal of input into. But just because we’re helping our sponsors reach their goals doesn’t mean we can’t apply our vision as well. To focus on vision in your management and leadership, start by formulating what this project means to you, the organization, the team and the end users. Then, most importantly, personalize those aspects that are likely to inspire your team.
2. Focus on important conversations.I once read that a project manager spends 90 percent of his or her time communicating. To become a better leader, focus on the most important of these conversations: ones with your sponsor and your team. They are the people who are going to be able to inform you about changes in circumstances, troubles in a project or resource challenges. While there are lots of important people to talk with, the most important are the ones who have the most direct impact on the project’s success or failure — so prioritize those.
3. Look at the long-term.This advice ties into having a vision for your project and having conversations with your important team members and sponsors. But thinking long-term also means you need to infuse your vision and conversations with a future orientation. This might mean that you talk with your sponsor about how a project fits into a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Or, it might mean that you spend time during conversations with your team members asking about their goals and values. This can allow you to shift your actions and assignments in a way that delivers on the promise of the current project. At the same time, you will have built a stronger understanding and real relationship with your sponsors and teams that will transcend your current project and have lasting benefits for projects and years to come.
What are some of the ways you’ve helped make yourself a stronger leader, rather than solely a manager?
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”?
By Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, PfMP
“Everyone can be my teacher.”
—Alfonso Bucero, PMI-RMP, PMP, PMI Fellow
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?
In one of my previous posts, I suggested ways to maintain documentation. And as you know, documentation is very important -- it's the essence of knowledge transfer. The beauty of documentation is that it allows us to avoid the pains of reinventing a series of events that may only reside in a person's mind as a singular experience. It can also lead us to extract some aspect that may move our project from uncertainty and unknowns to more useful information.
So, once we have taken the precautions I mentioned in my previous post for generating clear and valid documentation, the question becomes: What project documentation should we always have and hold on to? I would suggest, at a minimum, the following:
The charter. It is the closest disclosure to everything the project should touch on. It includes a high-level look at the project: resource list, budget, timeline, assumptions, constraints, risks, other areas of impact and dependencies, a brief description and an immediate focus.
Budget background and expenditures. This information typically details the budget spending and directs you to possible future support, if any can be used again.
Sources. These include contacts and stakeholders; where information is stored; direct lines of contact; contacts who would be next in the succession; who and where to reach out to in case of additional needs; and where information stemmed from, and how it should be categorized and even prioritized.
A status report of risks and issues in their most recent form. These items show the progress that has or has not been made and is especially helpful in communicating to a new project manager (or yourself, if returning to a project) where to pick up. This status report can even help determine the project's resource needs.
Scope. This tells you what should have been the focus of the project. It also helps determine whether there needed to be an extension to this scope or if something different should be embarked upon, such as a total new project or maybe a revamping of the current scope.
Are there any types of documentation you find significant to have during a project and to hold on to after a project closes?