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
Christian Bisson
Rex Holmlin
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

Finding a Greater Purpose: The Human Element of Project Management

Disruptors Take the Throne—and Reshape the Workplace

Project Management Top Guns: Stay Focused on the Mission

If You Want to Disrupt, It’s Going to Take Some Work

The Case for Grassroots Communities of Practice

Finding a Greater Purpose: The Human Element of Project Management

Author and activist Wes Moore closed out congress to a standing ovation.


By Cyndee Miller

Not to get all sappy, but everybody needs a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning.

Projects—and the people managing them—are no different. Each project has a purpose, and will be judged by how well it delivers on that purpose.

But for the maximum ROI, project managers must stay focused on the people who will benefit from their work, said Wes Moore, founder of education initiative BridgeEdu, in Tuesday’s closing keynote.

“Often it is the people we will never meet…whose lives will be immeasurably better because of the time and diligence and heart we put into [our work],” said the author and activist on Tuesday.

Project managers spend plenty of time thinking about stakeholders—how to manage them, how to communicate with them, how to serve them. But some things don’t fit in a risk register or a project charter. In the midst of all that documentation, project managers shouldn’t lose sight of the human element.

“We live in a completely interconnected society,” Mr. Moore said. “The only way success means something is when our success doesn’t just have a personal definition.”

Looking forward to more interesting insights from speakers and sessions at next year’s newly rebranded and renamed PMI® Global Conference in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois, USA. See you there. (And yes, I am more than happy to serve as your personal pizza and craft cocktail adviser.)

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 29, 2016 12:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disruptors Take the Throne—and Reshape the Workplace

Sue Gardner says winning companies of the future will put tech at the center of their organizations.


By Cyndee Miller

Nap pods, free laundry service, foosball tables, an endless supply of snacks. Ah, the perks of working at a Silicon Valley startup. Of course, there are also expectations of brilliance—and a willingness to log long hours.

And now the Silicon Valley way of working is infiltrating mainstream management.

More companies are realizing they need to create an atmosphere of ease, comfort and pleasure if they want their people—and projects—to reach their full potential, Sue Gardner told congress attendees at her keynote on Monday.

“The new workplace believes abundance drives innovation,” said Ms. Gardner, former executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

That means becoming a lot less Office Space and a lot more Silicon Valleyfocusing more on creativity and less on cost-efficiency.

“Organizations need to be more willing to take risks and break things,” Ms. Gardner said.

I know, I know. Breaking things sounds messy. But face it, maintaining the status quo is never going to give companies an edge. In today’s tech-drenched, rapid-fire environment, companies quickly move from challenger to incumbent to decline.

“For the past 15 years, this cycle has been aggressively speeding up, with more disruption being more quickly driven by technology changes,” she said. “Tasks that used to be done by people are now being done by technology.

As technology takes center stage, so must the technical team. Smart companies will prioritize people with tech skills—giving them the chance to be innovators rather than order takers.  

“Technology is now core to everything we do—and organizations that don’t retain tech talent will be vulnerable in the marketplace,” she said.

Project managers are in a prime spot to help drive the change, Ms. Gardner said. They can be the “connective tissue” between tech staff and management types, helping different groups understand each other. But it requires a degree of flexibility.

“Adapt to other people. Don’t expect them to adapt to you,” she said.

That doesn’t mean project managers should be pushovers. On the contrary, Ms. Gardner thinks they have the power to address an organization’s most intrinsic issues.

“You have access to information, so you will know where the bodies are buried,” she said. “When there’s an elephant in the room, project managers are the ones who need to acknowledge and resolve it.”

And if Ms. Gardner is right, you’ll have a nice nap pod to retreat to after all that hard work.

But is that enough? As much as I’d love my own personal concierge service a la Google, you have to wonder if the Silicon Valley startup style will really work for everyone.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 27, 2016 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Project Management Top Guns: Stay Focused on the Mission

F-15 pilot-turned-leadership-guru Joel “Thor” Neeb talks focus, feedback and failure.


By Cyndee Miller

As with most things in life, apparently being a fighter pilot isn’t much like what you see in the movies. There’s not a lot of witty Top Gun banter from the cockpit. No Kenny Loggins soundtrack. If you’re smart, you’re concentrating solely on the enemy trying to blow you out of the sky—not staring at the control panels.

“You’re spending 90 percent of the time focused on what’s going on outside the cockpit,” said Joel “Thor” Neeb. (It turns out Top Gun-style nicknames are a real thing. And I want one.)

“It’s the mission objective you’re looking at,” he said in the opening keynote at congress.

And so it goes with project managers, who must stay fixated on the assignment at hand—or risk crashing their projects into the ground.

“If you lost sight, you lose the fight,” said Mr. Neeb, a former F-15 pilot-turned-president at corporate training company Afterburner.

But it’s easy to get distracted when you and your team don’t have enough time, tools or resources to accomplish the mission. That can translate to task saturation, what Mr. Neeb called “the silent killer to performance.”

The most common response is channelizing—focusing on the one thing you deem most important—to the detriment of everything else going on around you.

Clearly, that’s not a great idea.

Instead, Mr. Neeb advocates zeroing in on your “critical instruments,” aka, the factors that will influence project success. “These change all the time,” he says. “It’s up to you to figure out what they are and to teach your team what they are.”

Mr. Neeb promotes flawless execution, but he acknowledges that no project will be perfect. He says project management top guns must push their teams toward perfection while still allowing them to “pivot, fail and iterate.”

“Tell teams they’re empowered to fail and fail quickly,” says Mr. Neeb. “Make that mistake but never make it again.”

The best way to identify and avoid these mistakes is through a debriefing with “no names and no ranks.”

“The key to a debrief is the tone. We’re not pointing fingers,” says Mr. Neeb. “It’s not who’s right, it’s what’s right.”

Too often, companies skip this step, but they’re missing out. According to Mr. Neeb, structured debriefings can increase the chance of success on future projects by 38 percent.

With “Danger Zone” as my official earworm du jour, Cyndee “Scoop” Miller is signing off now, but stay tuned for more from congress….

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 26, 2016 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

If You Want to Disrupt, It’s Going to Take Some Work

Steve Dierker accepts the PMI Project of the Year award on 24 September.


By Cyndee Miller

When people talk innovation, they typically throw around a lot of fancy management terms: paradigm shift, game-changer, disruptive.

What’s often left out is the blood, sweat and tears part.

So it was positively refreshing to hear Steve Dierker credit the hard work and sacrifices of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS‐II) team as he accepted this year’s PMI Project of the Year award. “It was a long journey with many challenges along the way.”

I’m not even going to pretend I truly grasp the science behind this project. Let’s just say, this was a tough one. The team at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, USA, was charged with creating a powerful photon microscope that would help scientists conduct research at the atomic level. The final design incorporated 900 custom-built giant magnets that created a concentrated beam of electrons thinner than a human hair—moving at 99 percent of the speed of light.

Completing that kind of paradigm-shifting, game-changing, mind-blowingly disruptive project took some serious project management.

“A disciplined approach to project management was part of the vision we shared with [project sponsor], the U.S. Department of Energy,” Mr. Dierker said at PMI’s Professional Awards Gala in San Diego, California, USA.

The payoff for all that hard work and discipline? The team closed the US$912 million project ahead of schedule and under budget—and delivered an additional US$68 million in scope enhancements not included in the baseline. (Get a look inside the project with this video and the cover story of PM Network® in October.)

Still, winning this award was no cakewalk. The Brookhaven team had some worthy competitors—with their own disruptive projects:

Guaíba 2 Pulp Mill Project, Guaíba, Brazil: A US$2.4 billion project nearly quadrupled the production capacity of the Celulose Riograndense pulp mill—while leading the way on social and environmental responsibility.

To make the factory energy self-sufficient, the company designed a system that would generate all required electricity through its own production processes. Celulose Riograndense also spent US$50 million on local roads and infrastructure, created more than 9,429 jobs and offered more than 230,000 hours of training courses that allowed locals to develop specialized skills. Check out the video to learn more about the project.

Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia:

When public enquiries found the local pediatric healthcare system was putting children with complicated medical problems at risk, the government of Queensland, Australia took action. To reduce mortality rates—and make it easier for patients to meet with the state’s limited number of specialists—Queensland Health launched a project to consolidate and centralize pediatric services.

Putting the focus squarely on sick kids, the Aurecon project team created a collaborating project environment and followed a formal benefits management process. Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital now provides an integrated facility that puts families at the center of its operations, while also reducing redundancy across the healthcare system. Check out the project video to learn more.

For more on finalists, look for in-depth feature stories in upcoming issues of PM Network®.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 25, 2016 04:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Case for Grassroots Communities of Practice

By Peter Tarhanidis

These days there is such a high influx of projects and such a demand for project managers, but such a limited supply of practitioners. How can companies help their project professionals improve their skills and knowledge so that they can work to meet that need?

Leaders deliver more results by sponsoring grassroots project management learning and development programs. Common approaches and best practices are shared across all levels of project managers—ranging from novices to practitioners. Therefore, if an organization has more employees who can learn to leverage project management disciplines, then the organization can meet the increasing demand, and are more likely to develop mature practices that achieve better results.

One type of grassroots effort is to establish a project management community of practice (CoP). CoPs are groups of people who share a craft or a profession. Members operationalize the processes and strategies they learn in an instructional setting. The group evolves based on common interests or missions with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field.

For project managers, there is a specific added benefit of CoPs. They bring together a group who are traditionally part of separately managed units within an organization focused on strategic portfolios and programs.

CoP members develop by sharing information and experiences, which in turn develops professional competence and personal leadership. CoPs are interactive places to meet online, discuss ideas and build the profession’s body of knowledge. Knowledge is developed that is both explicit (concepts, principles, procedures) and implicit (knowledge that we cannot articulate).

In my experience, I have seen CoP utilized in lieu of project management offices. The members define a common set of tools, process and methodology. The CoP distributed work across more participants, increased their productivity to deliver hundreds of projects, improved the visibility of the members with management and positioned members for functional rotations throughout the business.

Which do you think drive better performance outcomes—establishing hierarchal project management organizations or mature project management disciplines through CoPs?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 21, 2016 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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