By Cyndee Miller
It’s time to hit the rewind button on 2017 and look back on the year that was in project management.
And dang, it was a big year — full of ambitious projects that packed a punch. I’m still processing the €700,000 Museo Atlántico, an eerily beautiful underwater collection of 300 sculptures off the coast of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands — only possible with the project team navigating complex requirements and skeptical stakeholders. And though not without its challenges, the first phase of the Hyderabad Metro Rail — a massive public-private partnership project — pulled in more than 200,000 passengers on its first day alone.
That wow factor sometimes extends to what some might view as more mundane matters like the schedule. Elon Musk’s latest project adventure, for example, called for installing the world’s largest lithium-ion battery within 100 days — or it was free. Somehow scheduling matters don’t seem so pedestrian when there’s US$50 million riding on the project’s outcome. For the record, Mr. Musk and his team pulled it off.
The project is part of a plan to make Adelaide, Australia the world’s first carbon-neutral city. That push to sustainability is nothing new, of course. But it got real in 2017. Sustainability is no longer swathed in gauzy green layers. It has real strategic objectives — and is held to real metrics and governance.
The U.K.’s Crossrail team, for example, recently released a treasure trove of documentation highlighting its efforts to minimize disruption and pollution on the £14.8 billion rail project, which is expected to be completed next year. The results are impressive and could serve as a blueprint for embedding sustainability in other megaprojects. “Crossrail not only set a new precedent for delivery of a truly ambitious 21
st century infrastructure project, the strategic approach they took in managing the many environment and sustainability challenges was exceptional,” Martin Baxter, chief policy adviser for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, told Railway Technology.
Even as the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, dozens of the country’s mayors signed their own accord on climate change. And U.S. business leaders — at companies across all sectors and sizes — didn’t miss a beat, launching their own projects to address the issue.
Yet such political disruptions — along with the Brexit bombshell — are clearly rattling the business world: More than half the CEOs in a KPMG survey said the uncertainty of the current political landscape is having a greater impact on their business than they’ve seen for many years. And those same business leaders know they must adjust their strategies. “All of these political events can have consequences on project planning,” John Greenwood, PMP, founder of Grand Unified Consulting, told PM Network.
There’s a reason disruption is such a buzzword: It’s everywhere. Today’s project environment demands an extra dose of innovation and agility (and probably a few extra shots of espresso). Just look at how many retailers and restaurants are experimenting with pop-ups — and relying on project management to tame the chaos. To achieve that so-in-demand-yet-so-elusive agility, you may want to check out the latest PMI Thought Leadership Series.
This is the stuff of Silicon Valley — and it’s fast becoming business as usual. Take cloud computing. Born in the valley, it’s now infiltrating every sector and forcing old-school businesses like telecoms to respond. Next-gen tech is being woven into the DNA of once-Luddite sectors, like agriculture and construction. Even the ultra-staid financial services sector is realizing full-on digitization is the only way to survive. Indeed, that push has spawned the fintech industry that extends to even emerging markets like Nigeria and India. The latter recently launched a project that saw 86 percent of the country’s cash go out of circulation overnight to be replaced by digital payment systems. Demonetization is the wave of the future, Gilles Ubaghs, principal analyst at Ovum, told PM Network. “It is already changing India, and it will change the world.”
That’s the truly spectacular thing about project management. It really does have the power to transform. No big shocker then that organizations are looking for the talent that can deliver those results.
A study by Anderson Economic Group and PMI found the project-management-oriented labor force is expected to grow by 33 percent in 11 countries through 2027. That’s 22 million new jobs. Whoa.
And as the first members of Gen Z are hitting the workplace, they’re already scoping out project management. They appreciate what they see: “I like the way you have to incorporate organizational skills along with people skills,” Myles Wilson, a junior project manager at Virtual1, told PM Network. “The idea that I could interact with many different people on a daily basis to achieve the same goal is something that inspired me to pursue project management.”
So at least one thing didn’t change in 2017: Project management still rocks.
We are well aware that good planning leads to smooth execution and early delivery. Most of us, however, still fast track the planning phase and jump into execution. The result is often a downward spiral of issues, defects and rework.
So why do we do this?
I have observed that most project managers are not clear on what exactly needs to be planned. At the same time, we often lose patience because planning takes time with no quick tangible results.
Here is my road map for a successful planning process.
Step 1: Write down the business case.
If we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t solve it. As project managers, we must understand the problem that’s going to be solved through the project and what the expected benefit to the organization will be. Until we understand it, we may not achieve the solution despite meeting all stated requirements. Writing a business case is the foundation of the planning.
Step 2: Establish objectives.
A lot has been written already on setting objectives, so I will limit myself. Objectives should be driven by the business case. We should set objectives that, if achieved, ensure the complete problem is resolved.
Objectives should be:
Step 3: Set expectations with stakeholders.
Identifying all stakeholders and understanding their requirements is important for project managers. However, this may not be enough. Stakeholders often have expectations that they may not explicitly lay out but use as part of their assessment process. My customer, for example, may set expectations based on his past experience with a previous vendor. He or she may not share it with me as these expectations are not firm and not backed by anything substantial. The best way to reset these expectations is to set new expectations with the stakeholder. By setting these new expectations, I nullify expectations coming from my customer’s previous experience and set a fresh ground for performance assessment.
Step 4: Kick off your project.
The main purpose of the kickoff is to let everyone know about the project, what support the project needs from them, and when we will need that support. It’s also important to present our strategy, high-level plan and project needs to all stakeholders and ask them what inputs they need from us to provide required support.
Step 5: Prepare a project management plan.
What planning documents like schedule, risk register, communications plan etc. do for project executing team, project management plan does for project management team. It creates a roadmap for the project management team and provides clear guidance to prepare planning documents. For example, a risk management plan—a component of project management plan—describes a methodology for identifying risk, a system for monitoring those risk, a format for the risk register, and tools and techniques to prepare the risk register and risk response plan.
Step 6: Prepare a meticulous work breakdown structure (WBS).
The WBS is the foundation of further project planning. And the better the WBS, the better the plan. All project team members must participate in developing a WBS with necessary and sufficient details.
Step 7: Prepare planning documents.
Now we have all the building blocks to prepare planning documents such as schedule, budget, resource plan, communication plan, procurement plan, quality plan, risk register etc. Planning documents will guide the project team throughout execution and, if meticulously prepared, guarantee project success.
Planning takes time, so consider a progressive approach. By planning the first phases and kicking it off, you may help your team produce early results and buy time for the meticulous planning required for subsequent phases.
What tips do you have for successful project planning? Please share your experience in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.
The Secrets to Business Transformation Success
In the world of business transformation, there is usually a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the start of the transformation among the team.
But it quickly gets crazy and stressful thanks to tenders for third parties, recruitment, preparation for executives’ meetings, changes, wish lists, vague strategies and aggressive key performance indicator promises already made to the board.
Typically, the transformation team has a list of to-dos and we go running around building the empire around achieving them—and off goes the train.
Some of the pitfalls that transformation teams fall into are:
Assume success: Business transformation is usually about a list of changes we make to the business—whether with systems, people, processes, strategy, or all of these. We build the portfolio, write the briefs for our third parties, start the projects and setup the meetings and steering committees.
We plan our work with success in mind. But what if that doesn’t happen?
When we don’t account for failure it means we don’t really have the recovery mechanism in place both at the human and team level and at the tactical level.
That leads us to the second pitfall.
Inability to stop and reflect: In transformation, there is a lot at stake. That means a lot can go wrong quickly—and the trust that the transformation team once had can be put to the test.
Because there are a lot of moving parts—and what you knew at a point in time may not be as valid or as accurate as it is at a later point—time to reflect and adjust course is essential.
At the end of the day, these teams work for their customers and when the customer needs change, so should the direction and the approach that the team takes.
Can’t or won’t say “no”: In successful and strong transformation teams, the ability to say “no” is crucial. That does not mean rejecting business requests, but rather working to prioritize and justify why things can or can’t be done.
Not understanding the capacity available can put the transformation team at risk. Senior managers and executives often look for a sounding board and an independent review of what might be possible. Don’t be shy to speak your mind and seek to understand and learn.
Transformation is about saying “no” as much as it is about saying, “Yes, we can.” It’s important to keep the organization honest to its true ability to implement change and work together with your customers to create something that works.
And finally, during a transformation it’s important to stay humble and always seek to learn. Don’t let your ego stand between you and a successful business transformation. But that’s another topic for another day.
by Cyndee Miller
It’s the era of the ultra-specialized niche expert.
Companies don’t just make beer. They brew limited batches of Belgian sour ale with tones of organic blueberry and almond.
Companies don’t just crank out mattresses. They create customized sleeping experiences. Yes, there’s the traditional innerspring model available in countless iterations of firmness. But perhaps you’d prefer a foam number neatly packed up in a box? No prob.
So it stands to reason the trend would follow through to careers. In theory, organizations would seek out project and program managers with super-specialized skills, someone steeped in agile or someone with a complete mastery of waterfall.
But organizations are realizing projects don’t fall neatly into one category in the real world. One project may demand waterfall in the upfront stages then switch into agile or hybrid.
“Organizations are facing complex challenges and competing priorities,” Marivi Briz, PMI-ACP, PMP, global internet of things business development manager at Telefónica Chile, Santiago, Chile, told PMI’s Career Central. “They want project managers who aren’t just applying the same methodology to every project, but are able to build consensus around a particular approach and share a larger vision.”
Agile may get the buzz, but smart organizations know it all comes down to using what works.
“Executives care less about a pure agile or waterfall approach than they do about achieving results,” said Manuel Salero Coca, PMP, program manager director—Latin America, Huawei Technologies Co., Mexico City, Mexico. (Check out Mr. Coca’s comments in the 2018 Jobs Report in the January PM Network.)
In today’s project landscape, Rhonda V. Evans, PMP, envisions a project management office (PMO) that has “all methodologies in play.”
“You are no longer an agile shop or a waterfall-based PMO, you are a methodology- agnostic PMO,” she wrote on LinkedIn last year. “A business case or need is defined and approved. It then goes to the PMO or portfolio management team for review with the executive sponsor or product owner. … The right-fit methodology is then chosen based on several predefined factors. Each inherent framework/methodology will come with its own rules for flexing and growing and changing with the business.”
For project and program managers looking to get ahead in their career (i.e., pretty much everyone), it just doesn’t pay to slavishly follow one approach. They must sharpen their skills across the entire delivery spectrum.
“We’re in a continuously changing world, and project managers don’t want to limit an organization to only one method or the other,” said Jordi Teixido, PMP, chief operating officer at fintech company Strands and project management consultant, KION, Barcelona, Spain. “Project managers should be well-versed in standups and sprints, but also critical path and critical chain.”
And that applies to your professional brand, too. This is probably not the time to proclaim yourself a hardcore agile evangelist or a do-or-die authority on predictive.
“I’ve probably interviewed hundreds of project managers, and those who present themselves as experts in only one methodology seem destined to have limited opportunities,” said Mike O’Brochta, PMI-ACP, PMP, president of Zozer, a project management firm in Roanoke, Virginia, USA.
It pays to position yourself as fluent in all approaches — and build a social media profile that reflects your skills and strengths in each one. Alongside project details like scope, budget and schedule, professional profiles and portfolios should spell out details on the approach used to execute the project, said Wafi Mohtaseb, PMI-ACP, PMP, head of applications support, Kuwait Finance House, Kuwait City, Kuwait.
What are you seeing in your career path?
By Dave Wakeman
The holiday season has arrived—meaning a lot of socializing with family and friends. We’ll be asked about our lives, families and work. Yet, many of us project professionals have a hard time explaining project management and its value.
That’s partly because project management principles and skills have been so heavily tied to IT projects for so long. But in truth, project management is for everyone.
For many of us that have formal project management training, explaining the value of project management to every business or industry can sometimes feel complicated. It shouldn’t be–these principles are just wise business.
So here’s a cheat sheet to help explain the profession to anyone you encounter this holiday season.
Projects are built on the backs of planning and outcomes. Any successful holiday requires careful planning and preparation.
The same is true for any project.
While the project planning stage can be something that all of us wish went more quickly, the truth is that careful planning and attention to outcomes is wise in every organization.
Every organization could do a better job of spending time clearly defining a project or initiative around the outcomes they want to achieve, the resources they have, how much time they want to invest and the people that will be impacted.
If you don’t communicate, you don’t succeed. On the U.S. sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, there was once a character called “Drunk Uncle” who represented all the relatives you sought to avoid during the holidays.
We’ve probably all been there in some form:
What gets us through these moments? Our communication skills, that’s what.
To be a successful project manager, you need to be a great communicator. I’ve always fallen back on the old saying that I heard when I started out: Project management is 90 percent communication. I still think that’s the truth.
You can show this skill off during the holidays. During an awkward conversation, redirect the topic or reframe the controversial subject matter to something better. Bonus points if you are in a big crowd.
Being adaptable is key to long-term success. No matter the industry or sector, we hear a lot about the need to adapt to the market around us.
The funny thing is, as people with project management backgrounds, change is nothing new to us. In truth, managing change and keeping change in some semblance of order is almost as much of a key skill as communicating effectively. As change is inevitable and occurs more quickly, this skill isn’t just nice to have—it’s a necessity.
To put it in terms your family can understand, think about when you are trying to buy a gift that’s sold out. You don’t have long enough to order it online, and stores are closing in a few moments. All of a sudden Plan B and C start looking pretty good. It’s difficult, but necessary.
Or, illustrate the point with an example of how weather can impact holiday travel plans or how a delay in a work deadline can have you working through the holiday.
All of it takes flexibility.
The truth is that project management is life and as we head into the holidays, all the keys that you use as a project manager can help you get through the season too.
BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com