Occasionally, I’ll get asked to review a book on project management or leadership. It’s a great honor to be part of a community of project managers who recognize the benefits in giving back to their community. John A. Estrella, author and PMP has recently published a book called “PMP Practice Makes Perfect”. As a credentialed PMP, I would have appreciated having this book as a resource while I was preparing for my exam years ago. I reached out to John for an interview so he could share some insights into his book and here’s what Estrella had to say about it…
Naomi: Great book; can you share how the collaboration with five authors of this book came together?
[John] I have colleagues all over the world and I wanted to make sure that the authors provide an international perspective similar to how the PMP questions are written. So, I contacted my trusted friends in the U.S., U.K. and Canada who are experts in the field to help me put together this book.
Naomi: Give us a synopsis of your book;"PMP Practice Makes Perfect and who can use this book?
[John] Our book is perfect for those who are preparing for the PMP exam and would like to make sure that they can pass it on their first try. If you think are ready to take the PMP exam, we challenge you to answer the questions on the first chapter of the book. If you can answer them, then you can try four actual exam sets with 200+ questions each. If you can confidently complete them, then you are in great shape to take the PMP exam. Otherwise, you need study some more.
Naomi: How did you design the 1000's of practice questions and answers?
[John] We looked at various sources from PMI to ensure that the questions closely resemble the actual PMP exam from question structure (question stem and options) to overall exam set composition (process group and knowledge area ratios).
Naomi: How important is it to give back to PMI and the volunteer community?
[John]I am where I am now because throughout my career several people (friends, strangers, volunteers, etc.) donated their wisdom and time by mentoring and writing project management standards. It is very important that we give back to the PMI community so that we can keep this process going into perpetuity.
Naomi: Do you have any other books in publication that would benefit Project and Program Managers?
[John] My previous book is Lessons in Learned in Project Management. I also wrote a book titled: Identifying Software Project Risks: An International Comparative Study.
Naomi: Tell us what you're working on next and how to engage with you
[John]I just got back from a one-year trip around the world with my family so we are NOT planning to do anything soon! I can be reached via LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Just look up my name, John A. Estrella.
Collaboration for project teams is essential and establishing this engagement is essential as a leader and project manager. There have been some recent changes to the Microsoft Office 365 suite that make their product “SharePoint” a standout tool today for project managers and PMOs. I contacted A. Lynn Jesus, President of ALJ, LLC to share her expertise with our community. A. Lynn Jesus has 15+ years of experience in worker management and business solutions and is an experienced trainer delivering hundreds of hours in project management methodology, certification prep, and information worker technology, such as SharePoint. She specializes on empowering the end user to efficiently utilize tools that will assist them in their day to day work.
I asked her a few questions about SharePoint and the current and future state of collaboration tools for project management. Here’s what Jesus had to say about it…
N. Can you tell me more about your life as a consultant training project managers/business analysts?
A. It can get quite hectic with a lot of travel. Often I am gone at least part of the week for several weeks in a row. But what is always enjoyable is assisting organizations in developing project management as part of their organizational way of life. It also makes me keep my chops sharp and stay on top of trends in the industry. Training takes comprehension to the next level. Someone can say they understand a concept, but that is cemented when they can teach the concept. And this transfer does not have to be to a large class – it can be co-worker to co-worker.
Training is an essential piece of building a strong project management practice within an organization – whether stand alone to increase skills, or as part of an introduction/roll out of a new tool (such as Project Server, or SharePoint). Training, for me, is about adding value to my students. Topics must be anchored in real life. My goal for every class is that people walk away with at least one concept or idea that they can immediately implement into their work (or even non-work) life to make their day to day work easier.
N. You recently wrote a book entitled “SharePoint for Effective Team Collaboration”. Tell us more about SharePoint as a document repository; what are its best features for PMs and their teams?
A. A fantastic thing about SharePoint is that is creates the hub for collaboration and communication. This is the one stop for teams to get the most up to date project information. The goal is to have this information easily accessible so team members can focus on executing on tasks, rather than hunting in multiple spots, and worse yet, multiple document versions buried in email attachments, for information in documentation.
Utilizing SharePoint as a document repository empowers team to have project documents at their fingertips. Its document control features applies a simple, yet robust structure to documentation development and maintenance. I have always taught that we don’t create project documents just to leave them somewhere. These are dynamic living documents that must be referred to, reviewed and updated as needed. It does project teams no good to access documents with old or irrelevant information. In fact, this one thing can significantly add to scope creep, re-work and eventually lead to a blown budget or schedule.
Checking in and checking out creates a fantastic safety net from simultaneous editing. This means one person at a time is in control of the live document when they have it checked out (but the team can still refer to the latest checked in version as a read-only document). As soon as revisions are complete and the document is checked back in, then it is available for editing by another party. This control reduces confusion and stress and provides an account of whom and when the document was altered.
Another great feature is versioning. This tracks the different versions of a document. SharePoint offers great flexibility in both team needs and reduction in administrative overhead. Usage of major only or major and minor versions can be enabled. It is up to the organization’s policies and procedures as to what defines a major or minor version, which allows for the organization to add their organization culture to the tool. Adding comments pertaining to what was revised or updated also creates a quick reference for listing the changes to the document. Also, limits can be set on the number of versions to keep, so this automates cleanup of the document versions without requiring a person to manually audit and clean out old versions.
I like these features because they capture the life history of these documents. It streamlines communication and provides one place to refer to during the project lifecycle. And this information becomes historical information which can assist project managers/team members on future similar projects. Now they have a reference that will help them in their project’s planning and they don’t have to start at ground zero. This adds efficiency to project planning.
There are also multiple ways to surface desired document information through creating appropriate views. For example, a column can be added listing the version number, or showing who has the document checked out. This allows for quick viewing of pertinent data. What items are desired in a view is up to organizational culture and team needs.
N. Is SharePoint more of a medium to large organization implementation or can small business take advantage of SharePoint?
A. I believe SharePoint offers features that can be taken advantage of by any size organization. A team is a team whether imbedded in a 5000 person company or a 15 person company. And every team needs a great tool to facilitate communication and collaboration.
Plus SharePoint is so much more than a place for documents to reside. With the use of surveys and discussion boards, feedback can be collected from team members without requiring meetings. Blogs can assist in troubleshooting or brainstorming, especially if the team is not collocated. Slide libraries can assist with up-to-date slide information that will make presentation development quicker and easier. Utilizing meeting and document workspaces can also enable smaller team sub-sets in collaborating on projects, and permissions can control access to only pertinent parties.
But at its heart, SharePoint is a tool, and some education and thought must be put into implementing this platform. A poor rollout will result in poor usage. So it helps to get the advice from people familiar with industry best practices, such as developing governance and training. It is not enough to know how to create a list or library, but how will these things help the organization and create efficiencies for the teams.
And with Office 365, SharePoint is now available to really small companies at a very affordable rate. They can now benefit from enterprise echelon tools, but not have to fund the often very expensive infrastructure needs of this platform. Plus the upkeep of that infrastructure is deferred to Microsoft. Microsoft will apply all the patches and updates to the system. This will ease up on time demands of IT support and they can concentrate on mission critical or growth initiatives, instead of more infrastructure/system maintenance.
N. Do you have any tips for consulting project managers; what would you like to share?
It is also imperative that consultants match the organizational culture and skill level to the appropriate level of formal project management doctrine. For some new to project management, just getting a common terminology is their biggest need and delivering that, while they still use tools they have already in place, is best for their situation. The idea is to build a relationship with the client. Then when they are ready for more advanced topics/tools they will look to you to provide the next steps for them. Inundate them with too much too fast and the usage rate will plummet.
Also, when applying knowledge transfer, it is important to always think about the value this will add for the client. If you cannot get the client to see the value of how this will help them, then they are much more likely to smile and nod during trainings and meetings and not adopt the knowledge or tool.
N. Do you have any wisdom/tips/insight for women in Information Technology (IT) Project Management?
A. Jump in! Get involved! There are so many facets to IT project management. You do not have to be the expert in every technical aspect, but our job is be the subject matter expert (SME) in project management, and to drive the project forward. It is about pulling on our team in the best way to get the information needed to move the project along. This requires communication and collaboration.
Soft skills are a must to be a truly effective project manager. Project managers cannot execute a project without people. The better you are at soft/people skills, the smoother the ride. There inevitably will be a bump or two in the road, so the sharper the people skills, the less the lapse and the quicker the recovery in leading the team back to producing progress.
I interviewed the co-founders of #PMChat Robert Kelly Managing Partner of KPS, and Robert Prinzo, Consulting Partner of The Prinzo Group to learn more about their twitter chat. I asked both of them a few questions about project management, social media and #PMChat. Here’s what they had to say about it…
NC:Project Managers can earn PDUs by participating in the chat and speaking also. Can you tell us more about the educational value of participating in your pre-game show and chat?
The PDU they earn each week is a result in participating in the hour-long Tweet up we facilitate each week and it falls under Category C of PMIs self-directed learning. The real benefit to participants comes from discussing common challenges other leaders are facing from all around the world and across every business landscape imaginable. It would be an interesting exercise to see the combined experience of the core group that participates week-after-week....back of the napkin, rough guess is some 350 years of experience in both private and public sector is represented on these chats. Participants will hear about their lessons learned, shared resources, best practices and develop connections beyond the one hour session. As for the Pre-Game show, this is a rapid 15-minute interview with the expert guest of the week. The expert provides a guest blog post on the topic of the week over at PMChat.net and then joins Rob Prinzo and I for a live discussion on the same topic. With Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Google+, etc many folks are simply broadcasting the same message/material on all but we took a different approach. Time is valuable and you don’t need to see/hear the same thing on every channel...this isn’t the nightly news. We may touch on the blog post or incorporate one of the Twitter Chat questions, but the Pre-Game show is meant to be a live, rapid 15-minute discussion on other aspects of the same topic. Each tool is meant to provide a different view that meets the community where they are at and add value every step of the way.
NC:What has been the best BlogTalk Radio segment for 2011 as part of your pre-game show and follow up chat?
Robert Kelly: Wow, this is difficult because we really have had some great folks on the show. I might default to Prinzo on this one. Okay, I won’t slither away on this. If I had to pick just one, I would say the show on Project Failure and Root Cause Analysis with guest Jon Hyde. With project failure being reported as high as 70%, it is clearly a topic that requires attention. John provided a very good post that week on the topic as well with my favorite line being “Projects fail because projects are difficult.”
Rob Prinzo – I agree with Robert that this is a difficult question, but also I enjoyed having Jon Hyde, aka @PublicSectorPM on the show. Jon had some good insights and he was our first guest from Europe which I thought was really cool as it showed the possibilities for future chats. For example this week, we are having Deanne Earle from Italy on the PreGame Show.
NC:What goals do you have to grow #PMChat into a larger community?
Robert Kelly: Rob and I have not sat down and put hard numbers to it yet. We are only in our 4th month and have been very impressed with the growth and most important number is difficult to measure...engagement. While we love to have a community of thousands, we do not want this to grow into a community or hashtag that becomes of series of RTs and one-way communication. A few months back we had #PMChat’ers collaborating on a book title and last week one of the junior members was able to receive some guidance on a WBS he was working for class. The community talks chats on Saturday and has a lot fun. We even had a #PMChat roundtrip, in which a number of community posted pics of what was outside their window at the moment. You can check that out here. If the group remained engaged like it is, I don’t think we would care much if it remained the same size as it is today. I do think there added benefit from growing the size of participation, as the experiences and view points would grow as well. Project Managers benefit a great deal from lessons learned, case study, and collaboration. If we had to put a number on it...grow the PMChat on LinkedIn group to some 300-400 members, double the Pre-Game listens to approximately 125 per week, and grow the Twitter audience from the 32,000 up to some 100,000 (hash tracker numbers) in 2012.
Rob Prinzo – As Robert said, we have not done a whole lot of planning for growth. Our strategy is to continue to provide quality content and discussion. There are a lot of Project Management communities and websites, our goal at least at this point, is to remain an open community with members who are continuously engaged and want to contribute to the community. I look at each week like a party or maybe more appropriate term would be ‘happy hour’ where Robert and I are the hosts providing the venue and topic, but the real value is who comes to the party and what they bring. The fact that it discussion continues throughout the week and people look forward to next week’s chat makes it all the better.
NC:Tell our gantthead.com folks more about how they can get involved with #PMChat on Linked in and Twitter.
Robert Kelly: We would live their involvement, considering they make the community a success. I would say they should head on over to PMChat.net and check out some of the links we have to the Pre-Game Show, past guest blogs, and the weekly chat recap. Get a feel for what we are about and then listen in to the Pre-Game and join a chat via Twitter. After they grab the PDU information, they should check out the calendar of topics we have covered or are scheduled to cover and then go to the ‘Suggestion Box’ tab and submit a topic idea for a future chat. If they would like to be a guest expert and provide a blog, as well as join the live show, they can do that on that tab as well. Lastly, we would like to see their blogs added to our auto-feed as well.
Rob Prinzo – I would say if you are new to social media and Twitter, just follow the HashTag #PMChat and observe a weekly discussion. As we mentioned, our community is open so there is no obligation.
NC:Do you have a speaker list lined up for 2012 and what exciting topics do you have in store for the #PMChat community?
Robert Kelly: We usually tackle this in 2 month chunks, so December is published and January guests are being confirmed. We will start out the year with a discussion an Agile, then move on to PM Development, followed by Risk. We will close out the month with Developing an Executive Presence. So there is a lot of opportunity for people to submit topics and join as an expert of the week.
Rob Prinzo – We get at least 50% lot of the topics from the members. If you have an idea, please submit a topic via the Suggestion Box menu at www.pmchat.net
NC:What are your top 5 (or more) tips you'd like to share from your #PMChat. Share the tweets if possible. (Humor is good)
Social Media has now become pervasive in many organizations. Facebook, Linked In and Twitter are social media tools that are no longer the exception; they are the rule. Organizations are implementing these tools into their cultures so these are now common tools being used by project managers today. A few years ago, someone gave me a nudge to try social media tools. Although, I was already using Linked In, I didn’t see how these tools fit into my role as a project manager; I wasn’t alone. Social Media in the workplace wasn’t exactly popular just a few years ago.
Today, I wear two hats to interact with social media as a Community and Project Manager. I use Twitter, Linked In and Facebook daily; I connect with my friends and colleagues in my global communities, join in several twitter chats weekly, and get the latest news before it hits the paper or the media. I'm able to collaborate via the integration that exists between many of the social media tools. I’m like most project managers; I carve out time to connect with my network, build relationships and connect with global communities.
Over a month ago, I discovered a twitter chat for Project Managers called “#PMChat” and have been actively participating every Friday at 9:00 am PST; 12:00 EST. It’s fresh, fun, entertaining and educational at the same time. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker on the #PMChat PreGame Show on the topic “Leadership, Got What it Takes” and also provided a supporting blog article for the #PMChat community.
I interviewed the co-founders of #PMChat Robert Kelly Managing Partner of KPS, and Robert Prinzo, Consulting Partner of The Prinzo Group to gain more insight into their roles as project managers and their new twitter chat format. I asked both of them a few questions about project management, social media and #PMChat. Here’s what they had to say about it…
NC: Tell me a little bit about your background in Project Management and what you love most about working and consulting in the profession.
Robert Kelly: My start in Project Management was like many others in this profession...accidental. I won’t get into the entire story, but essentially I was asked to handle a very mundane task but did it with great organization and was forward thinking. The PM responsible for the overall program was impressed and asked if I would join his project as a team lead/project coordinator. In the eleven or so years since then, I have had the great opportunity to work on very complex, truly global initiatives at some of the largest financial services firms, a large PC manufacturer and currently at the leader in open source software.
The one thing I love most about consulting is diversity. Some may read this and think “He only has 11 years of experience? I have 30, why should I listen to him?” My ability to work with folks across a number of sectors, a wide range of initiatives (typical software dev, new product/service development, new tech deployments, business process redesign), at an enterprise level has provided me significant exposure to project management that some folks will never get in 30 years of working for the same organization. That exposure has allowed me to apply, fail, learn, succeed, and develop in so many situations that I am comfortable taking on any initiative going forward.
Rob Prinzo – I started out as a technical consultant for large scale ERP implementations. As I progressed, I gravitated towards Project Management as I understood both the technical and people side of projects. Just as Robert mentioned, I enjoy the diversity of projects and clients that go along with being a consultant. Although there are unique nuances to different industries, the fundamentals for successful project are consistent.
Robert Kelly: The fact that I am here with you is a perfect example! Project Management has long been an after thought in development budgets and career paths. Most PMs didn’t go to school for this (recent shift though), most organization don’t provide mentors, etc. For a PM to succeed they must develop themselves and social media is the perfect outlet for that. I have met tremendous PMs from around the world and have been able to collaborate with folks from every perspective, which has added a great deal to my tool set as a PM. Through these Twitter connections, I have had the opportunity to host round table events, secure speaking engagements, contribute to an e-book and so much more. Even more excited is the recent development of the #PMChat community on Twitter, which is growing rapidly and with tremendous engagement.
NC:How did you collaborate to come up with the big idea for a Twitter Chat called #PMChat. It is just for the Project Management Community or is there a larger audience you'd like to reach?
Robert Kelly: Well, the idea was Rob Prinzo’s. He and I had collaborated for some time on Twitter and one day he reached to ask if I would be interested in the endeavor. Realizing the benefits of Twitter and how much I had learned over the past 1-2 years via the medium, I thought it would be a blast! While the primary audience is for PMs, I think so many other folks could benefit from the discussions. Some of the topics have included managing international teams, understanding personalities, and leadership vs. management. All of these topics can be of great value to anyone in a position to lead or influence their team or larger organization.
Rob Prinzo – One of the great things about Twitter is access to a variety of discussions. I follow several business topics became engaged in several twitter chats. The best Twitter chats that I saw were the ones that extended beyond the one hour chat and created a community. After looking around, I did not see any Twitter chats related to Project Management and I reached out to Robert to see if he would like to start one. Although Robert gives me credit for the original idea, building PMChat is truly a collaborative effort with each of us bringing new ideas and running with them – such as the PreGame Show which was an extension of the radio show Robert was doing at Kelly Project Solutions.
As for the audience, I think there is still a tremendous opportunity to continue to grow the project management community. We have only been doing this for a couple months and there are a lot of project managers out there that we would like to engage.
A few weeks ago, I connected with Cynthia K. West, Vice President, at Project Insight. West is a ‘serial entrepreneur’ with over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing for Information Technology (IT). She specializes in helping start-ups or smaller organizations to exponential growth.
I asked her a few questions about leadership and the current and future state of project management. Here’s what West had to say about it…
NC. Can you tell me more about your life as a serial entrepreneur and how it helped you dive into project management?