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
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Rebecca Braglio
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

Here’s How to Make Sure Digital Projects Boost Customer Experience

Agile + PM, or PM + Agile ?

Digital PMs: A World of Opportunities

Do You Really Need a Project Steering Committee?

Give Up Power to Lead the Team

Here’s How to Make Sure Digital Projects Boost Customer Experience

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.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 19, 2016 08:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Agile + PM, or PM + Agile ?

 

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.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: July 14, 2016 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Digital PMs: A World of Opportunities

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?

 

Posted by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina on: July 11, 2016 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Do You Really Need a Project Steering Committee?

Categories: Facilitation

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:

  • Is the project/program large by the standards of the organization?
  • Is the project/program more complicated or more complex (these concepts are different) than the normal projects undertaken by the organization?
  • Are the risks associated with the project/program higher than normal?

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:

  • Every member of the PCB is appointed for a specific reason and the members know why they are appointed, what is expected of them and what to expect from the PCB processes.
  • The relationship between the PCB and the change management processes is clearly defined.
  • The relationship between the PCB and the key project stakeholders is understood. The primary function of the PCB is to champion the project and help maximize its value to the organization.
  • PCB meetings only occur when decisions are required or a formal discussion is necessary; there are no time-wasting monthly meetings. Routine communication between the project manager, the sponsor and the PCB members is designed to deal with business-as-usual information flows and general oversight. There should be no surprises for anyone, ever!
  • Communication with each PCB member is timely and effective. Each member receives clear, concise and informative briefing packs in a timely manner prior to the meeting.
  • Questions or additional information requests are communicated to the project/program manager and the sponsor in adequate time to allow proper responses to be developed and circulated to all of the PCB prior to the meeting. (It’s not the job of a PCB to test the project manager with left field questions during the meeting.)
  • Meetings finish on time and have minutes circulated promptly. All decisions are logged, referenced and promptly communicated to all affected parties. The key responsibility of the PCB is to make timely decisions on matters that affect the organization (not the day-to-day running of the project).

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?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 09, 2016 10:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team

As project managers, we are entrusted with power. We assume three types of powers as soon as we become a project manager—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward. Also called powers of position. We often use these powers to get the job done, resolve conflicts among team members, pressure the team to fast-track, quickly make a decision, etc.

Yet the powers we use can come with a hefty price that we often ignore. In fact, that price can even outweigh the benefits we receive. Which raises the question: Why make this loss-making transaction?

One reason is that we pay the price either at a later date or we pay it gradually or indirectly. Therefore we don’t realize we are paying it at all, or we are just more interested in the short term.

For example, if a team member resigns, he may not give you the real reason behind his departure. We only realize there is a problem when several people quit! By then, too much damage may have been done to the organization or project.

Another reason we make this loss-making transaction has to with perception. Most managers think the power to penalize is bad. They believe using legitimate power is fine and using the power to reward is preferable. However, if you analyze carefully, you will find both of these powers have serious limitations.

Power Problems

You may find the only benefit of using these powers is saving time. What we sacrifice for quick results, then, are harmony, mutual understanding, unanimity, openness, fairness and justification.

By wielding power, we force decisions. If we penalize team members, we create fear. That makes people agree to what we want while putting their reservations aside. Openness is lost and communication breaks down.

When we use legitimate power, we tell people to do something because we are the project manager. Indirectly, we convey that we don’t have time to explain to you or convince you or respond to your reservations. The harmony and mutual understanding are lost.

The power to reward could be better than the other two, but it has several limitations and should be used very carefully. Rewards motivate people, but only if they are implemented with true honesty and transparency, which is not easy or common.

The risk is that people may agree with you in expectation of a reward, putting their legitimate doubts or questions aside. In addition, there may be more people who feel they are eligible for reward, but only one gets it, making others unhappy.

Our tendency to give rewards to excellent people does not allow us to recognize and reward average team members. They are not even getting motivated because they know they will not reach that league of excellence.

Or, people may be productive until they get what they are expecting. Then you have to continuously give something to everyone if you want them to be productive. It’s like keeping a carrot in front of a horse all the time—not as productive as it appears.

So what is to be done? The answer is simple: Give your powers to team members. In the end, this approach will be much more productive. It creates a healthy environment—healthier than what follows from deploying power in the traditional top-down ways.

In my next post, I‘ll discuss how we can give these powers to team members and how this will help create a productive atmosphere. Meanwhile, please share your experience and views on using powers below! 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 04, 2016 02:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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