By Mario Trentim
There's an old saying: "A fool with a tool is still a fool.” And I’ve heard many project management professionals say that best practices and good methodology are more important than project management tools and software.
Do you agree? By the end of this article, you might change your mind.
A Brief Story of a Failed Methodology
I've been working as a project manager since 2001. In my early days, as an engineer, I was responsible for the technical and managerial aspects of projects. In 2010, as I moved up the ladder in my organization (the Air Force), I was assigned to implement and operate a Project Management Office (PMO). Considering that we didn't want to make large investments up front, my focus was on creating a methodology, developing templates and designing and delivering training. To my surprise, only a few of my recommendations were implemented, even though abiding by the PMO guidelines was mandatory.
I started investigating the reasons. It turned out that it was not that people didn't know the methodology, nor that they did not want to follow it. It was just too much work.
You know the drill: A project manager is assigned to a project, searches the intranet, finds the PMO site, then reads the "project management manual" and any other supporting documents for the methodology. Finally, the project manager copies and pastes files from a shared folder, and starts filling in all the templates (scattered in different files and different formats).
Truth be told, the project managers usually started on the right foot. The problems appeared as the project progressed, because it was a huge effort to keep all files updated and integrated in a coherent fashion.
Although I am talking about experiences from 2010 to 2014, many organizations unfortunately still find themselves in a similar situation today.
Productivity goes down. Project failure rates go up. And as the organization demands more training, it creates more controlling processes, auditing and extra reports—resulting in even more work.
When I first came across Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Enterprise Project Management (EPM) software in 2003, I didn't think it would be a big deal. By 2010, I was convinced that you cannot increase portfolio and project management maturity without software.
To be able to implement a standard toolset across projects, the PMO usually starts with paper-based or Excel-based approaches. The risk is that they settle for less by not evolving into using enterprise-level business applications.
Is adopting a particular tool or software a requirement to project management success? No. But the use of project management tools increases maturity.
People often say that they will acquire a corporate project management tool once their organization is "mature enough." Going back to the beginning of this article, I am very aware of the fact that a tool is useless if you don't know how to use it. However, once you already have basic knowledge and processes, a tool can speed up the learning process—skyrocketing productivity.
As an analogy, imagine that you already have basic knowledge in math and finance. When should you buy a financial calculator, such as HP-12C? Only after five years of calculation amortization by hand? I doubt this would be the smartest choice. After all, you don’t have to become an expert bike runner before you can buy a bicycle.
In project management, some of the foundational concepts can be taught by using flip-charts, sticky notes and simple Excel spreadsheets. But you cannot teach people how to create a solid and realistic schedule and cost baselines without project management software. It is just not feasible. It is not that it is impossible. Actually, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Polaris and Apollo projects were planned without the help of software tools (nonexistent at the time). But planning for those projects took a long time.
Today, we live in a modern world in which the project life cycle is shorter. We manage multiple projects at the same time, and there is more volatility and uncertainty. Project managers have to evolve as well.
How to Implement PPM and EPM Tools
Project Portfolio Management or Enterprise Project Management is a corporate platform to manage portfolios, programs, projects and resources enterprise-wide. The PMO is ideally positioned to lead project management tool selection because it understands the big picture from different project managers, team members and business units. When assessing specific project management tools, take into consideration:
Depending on the size of the organization, you might prefer to execute a pilot before rolling out the tool to the entire organization. It is important to keep stakeholders engaged and informed by sharing:
A word of caution: Do not underestimate the effort needed to implement a project management tool enterprise-wide.
In the meantime, please leave your comments and questions below.
By Ramiro Rodrigues
In the 2009 film Knowing, a boy finds a time capsule filled with documents from decades ago. His father, an astrophysics professor, then discovers that the messages list some recent and impending major disasters, and even predict a global calamity in the near future.
Apocalyptic visions of an imminent end to the world have always brought joy to the film industry—but they bump into the same logical limitations that are still impossible to overcome. As far as we know, we do not have an effective technology capable of predicting the future. Whether it is related to weather forecasting, economics or sociology, we are not able to tell, at present, precisely what will happen at a specific moment in the future.
What we have always had is a great will to take a chance and get it right. Since the beginning of time, man has ventured to predict the future and, during these attempts, we’ve come up with an ocean of predictions that have been proven wrong. But we don't give up.
A New Model of Scheduling
In today’s organizations, modern project management has to meet the need for schedule development that seeks, in a deterministic fashion, to set the estimated dates of future events related to people, project deliveries and work that will be executed. This usually is a great Achilles' heel in the field of project management. The organizational frustration that results from estimated scheduled activities that turn out to be incorrect is very common.
Why don’t they happen as expected? There are different reasons, usually related to people and intrinsic characteristics of the expected activities. But in essence, they happen because it still is impossible to predict the future. Of course, there are some strategies that can help mitigate the risks of the deterministic forecast, but in the end, they are only predictions.
However, we must understand that organizations need to estimate when the returns on their investments will be accessible for use. Some executives will say that there is no progress without clear and foreseen goals.
That’s right. But how do we get out of this complex scenario in which future dates are determined but do not happen as planned?
One trend that has been applied by industries such as consulting, engineering and research & development is the probabilistic forecast of schedules. In this case, with the assistance of simple statistical concepts, the forecasts of the activities and of the project are viewed as a whole, with probability ranges to conclude them.
It is not solely a mathematical solution; the change is conceptual. The idea is no longer to set, within the organization, the delivery estimates at certain dates grounded on the expectation that they will come true. Rather, the goal is to present length ranges that provide the company with a perspective that there is, for instance, a 68 percent, 95 percent or 99.7 percent chance that the project delivery will take place during the expected dates.
This change in principle allows for the understanding that one can never be 100 percent sure of what will happen in the future but, at the same time, enables the management of the risks involved with reasonable control.
This planning model can bring, in the near future, more maturity and quality to the management of schedules and deliveries.
Do you use this model in your organization? Share your thoughts below.
By Dave Wakeman
I’m heading to London in a few weeks and while I’m there, I’m going to catch a bunch of Premier League matches. My team, Tottenham Hotspur, has had an up-and-down season—changing coaches in November, and then getting a new manager, José Mourinho.
As I was thinking about my travel plans, I also started thinking about how managing a soccer team is a lot like managing a project. And, to take it even further, I started asking myself what we can learn from some of soccer’s best managers.
As I mentioned, Tottenham had to change managers this season. In switching from Mauricio Pochettino to José Mourinho, the team found itself working under an entirely new system. Pochettino was known for speed, pressing and intensity. Mourinho was known for being more tactical, controlling and playing a style of soccer that many don’t feel is pretty.
The challenge for Mourinho is that he came into the team in the middle of the season, so he needed to adapt to the team he had—not build the one he wanted. That meant his Tottenham team has been a lot less defensive oriented, and a bit higher scoring than a typical Mourinho-coached team.
This reminds me of projects where we don’t always have the time, resources or skills that we would hope to have. In these cases, we need to be flexible. Is there a way to shift the timing of certain parts of the project to fit your schedule? Can you manage all the different stakeholders with their different styles of communication and their different goals?
In soccer, you deal with complex situations that don’t lend themselves to simple or rigid solutions. When managing a project, we see the same situation occur. This means that we have to understand where we are going and be able to adjust on the fly when the situation changes, so we can get to our destination.
I think communication is one of the key skills that coaches and project managers share. I’ve always said 90 percent of a project manager’s job is communication and 10 percent is everything else.
In watching soccer managers, I have a sneaking suspicion that the same ratio applies. Like project managers, they have to have a great deal of technical skill, but they also have to be willing and able to delegate and let other folks deliver their vision.
In other words, it is difficult to do everything yourself. And being the public face of the project or team requires the leader to deal with key stakeholders like the media, the sponsor and the team.
In both scenarios, communication is more than just answering questions or giving orders. Both managers spend lots of time listening to other people so that they can make decisions or adjustments, and so they have a finger on the pulse of the teams they are leading.
Success Isn’t Guaranteed
This should seem obvious, but every project comes with a bit of risk. The same goes with managing a soccer team. Just saying that success isn’t guaranteed isn’t nearly enough. But knowing that failure is a possibility impacts the way that we all approach our jobs.
Project leaders spend a lot of time thinking through risk management, risk mitigation and change management. Similarly, soccer managers are thinking about how their formations will impact the game, gaps in talent and a multitude of other factors that could be the difference between success and failure.
To me, this concept gets interesting when you think about success. It requires us to do all of the same things, like understanding risk, being flexible and willing to change and communicate effectively.
These are only my top three ways that a soccer manager is like a project manager. What would you add? Let me know below!
Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!
Human Aspects of PM,
Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Career Help, Change Management, Complexity, Facilitation, Generational PM, Human Aspects of PM, Human Resources, Innovation, Innovation, IT, Leadership, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Planning, ROI, Stakeholder, Strategy, Talent Management, Teams
By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Today, developments in emerging technology, business processes and digital experiences are accelerating larger transformation initiatives. Moore’s Law means that we have access to exponentially better computing capabilities. Growth is further fueled by technologies such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT) and more across industries.
Business Process Maturity
According to market research group IMARC, automation and the IoT are driving growth in business process management (BPM); the BPM market is expected to grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.
Customer experience is redefining business processes and digitizing the consumption model to increase brand equity. Gartner reports that among marketing leaders who are responsible for customer experience, 81 percent say their companies will largely compete on customer experience in two years. However, only 22 percent have developed experiences that exceed customer expectations.
The Way Forward
I’ve developed a few guidelines to help navigate this change:
Change is now inherent and pervasive in the annual planning process for organizations. Given that, I like to ask: What is the plan to prepare staff and colleagues to compete in this hyper-transformation age?
What observations have you made to keep up with this new era’s velocity of change?
By Conrado Morlan
Project management practitioners know the importance of communication during the project execution, hand-off and operations stages. For each of these, the communication plan should cover all the different forms of communication and the target stakeholders.
The frequency of communication during project execution often has a defined cadence and uses different artifacts to deliver the message to stakeholders, who usually are internal.
During the operations stage, the project is usually in production and practitioners are communicating directly with customers, either internal or external. While the specifics depend on the situation, communication with customers must be regular, concise and delivered in a timely manner through the proper channels.
How Not to Communicate
As I did not meet the pre-registration requirements, the open registration was my only option. On registration day I was ready: My account was available, all my personal information was filled out, and I had my credit card on hand. At the designated time I visited the registration website to compete for a spot with thousands of runners from across the world.
I thought I would be directed to start the registration process, but instead, I was directed to an electronic queue page. After a few minutes, my expected waiting time was listed as 25 minutes. I got a little anxious thinking that the limited number of entries would sell out in less than that time. A few minutes later, the waiting time changed to 40 minutes, then to more than an hour; all of a sudden a message about “experiencing technical difficulties” was displayed.
In the meantime, upset runners from across the world took to social media to vent their frustration and dissatisfaction. But the organizers did not acknowledge the blast of posts until three hours after the designated registration time. That’s when they posted a message stating that they were trying to figure out the problem, and if they were not able to resolve it soon, a new registration date would be announced.
That message ignited the runners, who inundated social media with posts venting their resentment.
By this time, the organizer’s website was down, and the homepage showed the “experiencing technical difficulties” message. I stayed away from the postings on social media and kept refreshing the website persistently.
Finally, five hours after registration began, the website came alive and the new registration time was posted. I checked social media for postings from the organizer but found nothing. Right at the new posted time, I started my registration process while thousands of runners kept venting their frustration. This time it only took me 20 minutes to complete my registration for the Popular Brooklyn Half.
The Project Management Takeaway
In general, production problems have a resolution time window, which may vary depending on the seriousness of the issue. This is usually unknown for customers, but that does not hinder the communication process. We as project management practitioners need to consider that we are living in times dominated by instant gratification; customers expect that issues will be resolved immediately. At the same time, they expect frequent progress status reports.
As a project management practitioner, have you experienced a similar situation? If so, what did you do to keep your stakeholders/customers informed? What channels of communications did you use? How effective were they? Share your experiences with the community.