By Dave Wakeman
A topic I’ve come back to again and again on this blog is the need to ensure that communications skills and practices give you the best opportunity to act as a project leader—not just a facilitator.
The key tool that we project managers have to manipulate the outcome of our projects is communication. As we spend more and more time figuring out how to become strategic partners of our sponsors, it’s imperative that we think of communication skills as a weapon we deploy to achieve business goals.
Here are three areas that I think project managers can focus on to transform communications skills into strategic assets.
Always talk in terms of outcomes and achievements. I have a client that says, “I’m a big picture guy.” To try to talk with him about tactical things would be doing us a disservice.
To use your communications skills as a strategic tool, you need to take this same approach to your own conversations. Focus on what you are trying to achieve and what the outcomes that deliver value will look like. When you talk like this, you become a stronger partner to your stakeholders and you are likely to inspire a stronger following from your team because you are focused on the outcomes—and not on micromanaging every task.
Have a framework for your communications. As a project manager, I’m sure you love having a framework for most of the activities that you undertake. Why should your communications be any different?
Such a framework doesn’t need to be complex. Try a simple one like this:
1) Motivate: Begin by pumping your team and your partners up so they are excited and energized by what you are working on. You can do this pretty simply by focusing on achievements thus far, outcomes, and progress.
2) Teach: Share what you need everyone to learn. Teach your audience to see the project in the way that you do.
3) Reinforce: Make sure you confirm that everyone is on the same page. This is vital.
Invest the necessary time and energy. To become more focused and strategic with your communication practices, you’re going to have to invest some time in your relationships. For several reasons, but most importantly, you are going to need to know the goals and objectives of your key stakeholders. And you are going to need to understand how they like to be communicated with.
Without these key concepts in your toolbox, your communications are likely to fall flat. There is no real shortcut here. You just have to really be willing to listen and talk honestly with your stakeholders and team members to develop a relationship that can withstand the challenges that every project faces.
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By Peter Tarhanidis
Happy customers are better customers. Savvy organizations develop a customer experience strategy to make them happy, and savvy project managers understand that the customer experience should drive digital projects forward. Smart digital practices should enable a better customer experience by re-evaluating the customer value of processes and the performance of operational teams.
Here are three tips for project managers delivering digital projects tied to a customer experience strategy:
1. Align the attributes that drive customer experience across projects. Once identified, chart these attributes back to customer journey maps, processes and service level measurements, and integrate them into technology investment decisions. This will ensure funding for digital projects.
2. Automate customer experiences to simplify the journey maps. Analyze the pain points across the customer journey map. Empathize with how they interact with the channels to obtain your product or service. Hone in on the negative areas that drive the experience and create a portfolio of improvement opportunities. These improvements should have a complementary operational cost reduction. Moving away from intense labor-driven activities to automated customer self-service approaches achieves operational excellence.
3. Create a service culture in your organization. While transitioning a project into operations, train teams on providing superior customer service, recognize service representatives who model best practices, and integrate customer experience measures into performance compensation systems to drive behavior changes and reinforce the new culture.
Thankfully, technology advancements in customer relationship management have created measurement tools that make it easier than ever to understand what customers are thinking and want changed. Look to these three categories to help target improvement efforts:
Net Promoter Score defines the voice of the customer and an overall satisfaction rating.
Tools that scan social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to gather brand feedback.
Channel content management tools that highlight the performance and value of various types of customer interactions—whether via email, websites, or phone, for example.
The bottom line: Let the customer experience guide the selection and execution of customer-facing digital projects—and then look for boosts to customer experience scores.
By Kevin Korterud
As project delivery methods have evolved, so has project leadership. Hybrid approaches have emerged: Traditional waterfall project and program managers are now faced with the prospect of having a portion of their work use iterative agile approaches. Agile Scrum Masters and product managers executing rapid iterations of new products now have to contend with budgets, financial forecasts, release schedules and business case benefits, as well as with aligning implementation of products with other projects across the enterprise.
With this as a backdrop, a frequent question that comes up from my colleagues is whether an industry needs a project manager who knows agile, or agile leads who are competent in more traditional project management practices. In today’s complex world of delivery, we urgently need both.
1. Project Managers Need to Understand Agile
It’s inevitable that a project manager will at some point oversee an agile delivery process. So it’s important that project managers start their journey to competency as soon as possible. This journey can begin with training in agile methods as well as shadowing an agile lead to see how the iterative process works.
As the journey continues, project managers will start to immerse themselves in advanced areas such as agile metrics, alignment of agile to testing and release processes as well as the people factors. A project manager will soon see what sort of projects can best be delivered through agile vs. waterfall methods, as well as the linkages to enterprise functions required regardless of delivery approach.
2. Agile Leads Need to Understand Project Management
Agile leads typically have experience with iterative methods used to quickly shape and deliver solutions. In addition, they typically have a strong business analysis background that comes into play when defining user stories.
In the past, these skills alone were sufficient for agile delivery efforts.
With the complexities of contemporary delivery, however, many agile leads now encounter similar expectations when it to comes to schedule, budget, product quality and business case realization as their waterfall counterparts.
These expectations compel agile leads to gain skills in traditional project management areas such as estimation, forecasting, resource management, technical requirements as well as testing and implementation practices. Acquiring these skills will enable agile leads to deliver higher-quality products in a more timely and efficient manner.
3. Everyone Needs Enterprise Function Support
As hybrid project delivery approaches become more common, the considerations for aligning delivery activities to produce the most value to an organization become more numerous. These considerations can include (but are not limited to) the speed at which agile produces product iterations, business and technology complexities, and the increasing expectations of consumers.
All of this amplifies the importance of enterprise functions such as portfolio management, release management and resource management. These and other traditional enterprise delivery disciplines have been identified by the Scaled Agile Framework (“SAFe”) as being key to success.
It’s not so much that the SAFe framework has had a “eureka moment” around enterprise functions as new innovations. Rather, it has identified the critical need to have these functions in place and engaged for all types of delivery. Both project managers as well as agile leads can be more successful when tightly integrated with enterprise functions. Without having robust enterprise functions in place, organizations will struggle with more frequent schedule, resource, dependency, testing and implementation conflicts. And those conflicts dilute the business value of projects regardless of delivery style.
What do you think? Do organizations need agile leads with project management knowledge, or project managers with agile knowledge? I welcome thoughts regarding delivery successes and failures relative to either or both roles.
By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Project managers come in all kinds of flavors. During my 15 years in the biz, I've been lucky to use all kinds of methodologies and frameworks to deliver a variety of projects. These last few years, I’ve mainly been a digital project manager.
But just within the digital world, there are many different kinds of project managers. Here's a brief overview of a few. There are nuances to every role, of course; these are broad-stroke descriptions.
Tech PM: This designation used to include all things digital before digital splintered off. Now a tech PM usually works in the IT/infrastructure realm.
These PMs are the keepers of the critical backend of your business—email, broadcast pipelines, data storage, cloud systems, security, software integrations, etc. They’re leading large enterprise-wide initiatives to enable organizations to adopt new tools and processes.
OTT device and app PM: PMs in this area often work on products related to "over the top" (OTT) video platforms. AppleTV, Roku and Amazon Fire Stick are all OTT devices. So are gaming consoles like Xbox and PlayStation.
PMs in this area may manage development of the device itself, but more often they are leading app development initiatives that focus on getting video/music content to customers.
Mobile app PM: Direct to your phone or tablet: no muss, no fuss. PMs in this area often strictly focus on delivery of apps (and their requisite updates) for various handheld smart devices.
The reason why this isn't rolled into OTT is because mobile devices and OTT devices are very different beasts! An app may look and even act the same on both OTT and mobile devices, but the backend of both are quite different. There are thousands and thousands of apps in the world. You could make your career as a brilliant PM just in this area alone.
Web/mobile/livestreaming PM: PMs in this area lead projects in the dotcom space at organizations like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Twitch.tv, etc. There is often crossover from mobile app to web/mobile because most businesses have app offerings, but this PM isn't strictly app-focused. He or she is leading teams to develop engaging desktop experiences while simultaneously being focused on how that desktop experience translates to a mobile device outside of an app.
That's why using Twitter in a web browser on your laptop looks almost exactly like it does in a browser on your phone. Want to add in more complexity? These PMs understand how livestreaming (and soon VR) affects their organization and work with teams to figure out how to leverage both for their customers.
Web/mobile ecommerce PM: Just a few days ago, I bought my groceries online. I'm sure it will become the main way I shop for food! An offshoot of the web/mobile PM, the ecommerce PM is an expert in helping teams deliver all manner of web shopping portals.
Big box retailers with online presences, independent artist Etsy-type sites, auction sites, Paypal and subscription services are all where these PMs live. This PM has to understand the nuances of payment types (both domestic and international), billing and recurring charges, payment funnels and how customers move through them, customer accounting and requirements for handling extremely sensitive data.
From gaming to video-on-demand SMEs, there’s a world of opportunities out there for digital project managers—and they’re changing all the time. What other common digital PM roles do you know of?
By Lynda Bourne
Far too many sponsors, executives and project managers waste far too much time in ineffective steering committee meetings or project/program control board meetings (both referred to as PCB in this post).
The first key question for the organization’s governance team to consider is whether there is any need for a PCB. In most cases, provided the organization has well-trained and effective sponsors, there is no need for a PCB.
When deciding if the costs of a PCB are warranted, consider the following questions:
If the answer to any two of the above questions is affirmative, a PCB is probably warranted. If only one answer is affirmative, it is probably sufficient to appoint an experienced and committed sponsor, but the risks, costs and stakeholder attitudes need to be considered.
If the project is business-as-usual, there should be no need for a PCB. The organization’s normal governance, surveillance, project management and stakeholder engagement processes should be sufficient. The most cost-effective PCBs are the ones you don’t have!
Making the PCB Efficient
If a PCB is needed, no meeting should take longer than 30 minutes. The costs of running a PCB are in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 per hour (sometimes more), and the organization needs to recoup value from each meeting.
This objective is achievable, but the PCB needs designing and managing so that it is cost- and process-efficient. The design and management functions are best assigned to either the portfolio management office or an executive level project management office (PMO).
The key elements in designing the PCB are:
Developing PCBs that work efficiently does require the PMO responsible for the process to develop coaching and advocacy skills in addition to the PCB processes and procedures.
New PCB members will need coaching in their roles. Project managers will need supervising to ensure effective, timely and complete information is made available to the PCB, to ensure proper governance processes are followed, and to ensure there are no surprises in either direction by connecting the executive decision-makers on the PCB to the project/program delivery teams.
None of this is rocket science. But if implemented effectively, this advice will lead to projects and programs that keep progressing with open communication and efficient decision-making. This will make both the project sponsor and the project manager’s life easier and more productive, generating increased value for the organization.
How effective are your steering committees or project control boards?