Project Management

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
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Wanda Curlee
Christian Bisson
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Lenka Pincot
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Emily Luijbregts
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Marat Oyvetsky
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Recent Posts

5 Big Lessons Learned During 2021

AI To Disrupt Project Management

Debunking 3 Project Management Myths

How to Optimize Your Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Do You Miss the “Old Way” of Communicating?

5 Big Lessons Learned During 2021

Categories: Lessons Learned

by Dave Wakeman

Wow! That year went fast, didn’t it?

I don’t know if 2021 was better or worse than 2020 because the collective sense of uncertainty was exchanged for moments of great hope that moved back to great uncertainty.

I don’t bring that up to be a downer here in the period of annual reflection and resolutions, but as a way to introduce some of the ideas that really stuck with me in 2021 and that seem likely to help carry me—and, hopefully, you—forward into 2022 and beyond.

Here are my five big lessons learned from 2021:

1. Planning is more important than ever: I took some time over the first two years of the pandemic to go back to school and study up on brand strategy, marketing strategy and corporate strategy.

And, if you see a pattern there, you are paying attention because the pattern is that you have to know where you are going before you can start down the path to getting there.

In the best of times, we get pulled in a lot of different directions, but during the last two years while the pandemic has been our companion, we’ve seen it become more difficult to find space to think—and for any of our actions to seem relevant.

This makes going through the planning process even more important because we have to stop ourselves, slow down and think. That way we can actually do something productive with the limited amounts of focus many of us are struggling through right now.

2. Leadership counts: We’ve seen various forms of leadership around the world. Some good, some bad, and some that defy description.

What we have seen in looking at all of these is that leaders matter. Leadership counts because most of the time, leaders are the ones that are helping us know what to focus on, where to put our efforts, or just help us make sense of a situation.

In projects, this same idea applies because it can often be impossible to always know how our actions are going to play out in the larger sphere of a project without some guidance from our leaders.

3. Communicating effectively is key: I’ve spoken about how the message that the person receives matters more than the message you are delivering. That is something we see all day, every day right now.

As PMs and leaders, you likely have a good idea about what you are trying to get across. Sometimes, the idea that you are expressing gets lost in translation. I think this is where the advice to talk to me like a third grader comes from.

But the pandemic has highlighted the reality that the words you say can seem clear to you—but can be confusing to someone else for any number of reasons (like lack of a clear definition of the words, lack of a shared vocabulary around the problem, or cultural differences).

The list of challenges to getting your point across is probably limitless, but our bigger challenge is to beat back on those challenges so that our message does get through.

4. The importance of a vision: I don’t know a lot of project managers that use the term “vision.” We do hear a lot of “vision statements,” but most of the time they are fluffy and confusing. (By “vision,” I mean direction, ambition, and a way of communicating your goals.)

One of the big challenges that many countries have been dealing with during the pandemic is that there hasn’t been a really good vision for what ending the pandemic will look like. This lack of clear vision for success has made it easier for communications to be confused, leadership to look tepid and for life to feel like a bit of a free-for-all at times.

You can call your vision an ambition. You can call it a definition of success. Or, you can call it something else entirely.

The lesson I’ve learned is that if you don’t have one, it becomes easier for folks to act out of fear, panic or without a shared destination—causing more challenges than needed.

5. Ultimately, teamwork is a way forward: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the power of teamwork.

I did a podcast with the CEO of the Philadelphia 76ers, Scott O’Neil, back in June. We talked about being part of a team. Scott coaches his daughter’s basketball team and I coach my son’s soccer team. We got philosophical for a few minutes, but the big key that came out was that both of us like to be part of a team, and that being a teammate has great benefits.

During 2021, I was reminded about this over and over as we saw teams work together to overcome big challenges—like the way that the vaccines were rolled out in communities across the United States. But I’ve also seen the breakdown of teams and how much damage bad team chemistry can do to the collective effort of a team, like the way that Juventus and Manchester United have often seemed like less than the sum of their parts.

These are the lessons I’ve learned this year. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it is mine. Let me know what you learned in the comments below.

Happy new year!

 

           

Posted by David Wakeman on: January 18, 2022 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

AI To Disrupt Project Management

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

Technology has demonstrated tremendous benefits and efficiencies (many of them unstated) over time. The technology lifecyle enhancements that started with our initial computers, software programs and the internet of the past have given way to the modern-day cloud, Big Data and artificial intelligence.

Throughout this maturing landscape, technology has affected all industries—especially how we collaborate. According to Peng (2021), here are some key impacts to consider:

  • Digital transformations spending will exceed an estimated $2.39 trillion by 2024.
  • Collaborative tools and technologies increased operational efficiency by 131%.
  • Technology will displace an estimated 85 million jobs globally by 2025.
  • AI augmentation will increase global worker productivity hours to an estimated 6.2 billion hours.

Project management has benefitted from the overall technology lifecycle, either by implementing aspects of it or by being a user of its collaboration outputs. Yet project managers are at the doorstep of being part of the next wave of AI disruption.

What a PM organization must consider is the methods and concepts used in managing past programs and become proactive in shifting to an AI-enabled PM organization. There is no doubt that the role of PMs and our methodology will be augmented with AI-enabled assistance.

PwC identified five areas of AI disruption and decision making in project management:

  1. Business insights: Filter data to gain actionable perceptions
  2. Risk management: Develop the ability to run multiple risk scenarios and outcomes
  3. Human capital: Optimize teams and leverage staff skills or new areas of training
  4. Action-taker: Provide analysis and optimization of schedules and staffing needs
  5. Active assistant: Augment the collection process of information to generate progress reports

To prepare for these changes, project managers should:

  • Invest in data sciences and digital skill sets
  • Create a culture that adopts digital disruption
  • Enable the use of digital tools and approaches to limit manual efforts and drive value-added work.

In order for these changes to emerge, there are a few considerations that may hold one back from the changes—such as organizational readiness, employee skills assessments, and the state of technical tools.

PwC outlines a change approach to assist in the transition that relies on updating project management strategy, leveraging technology investments, integrating digital and AI, and a comprehensive communication plan to generate awareness through adoption by the future project management workforce.

What other approaches have you used—or should be considered—to manage AI disruption in project management?

Reference:

  1. https://www.pwc.com/m1/en/publications/documents/virtual-partnership-artificial-ntelligence-disrupt-project-management-change-role-project-managers-final.pdf
  2. https://writersblocklive.com/blog/technology-in-the-workplace-statistics/
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: January 07, 2022 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Debunking 3 Project Management Myths

 

By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP

Our profession faces some consistent myths. During my career, I’ve came across three that I’d like to debunk:

1. Project management is administrative.
When I first applied for a project manager position many years ago, I talked to a PM and he told me: “It’s an administrative role.”

Despite this, I applied and was accepted—and I turned the “administration” into valuable delivery. The administrative part was not created by the project management role, but by the organization around project management in an effort to follow the budget and check the quality of the project; each person wanted a Word document to be filled to check if the project was on the right track.

Documentation is needed on a project…but what level of documentation? And what level of detail?

If someone tells you project management is administration, answer with this:

  • “The level and details of documentation required is defined by the organizational culture in some companies; we must evaluate the aim of the documentation.”
  • “I’m an advocate of always seeking out improvements in documentation.”
  • “As a project team, we will define the level and detail of documentation for onboarding newcomers and for handover.”

2. Project management is repetitive.
In another role, a colleague told me: “Aren’t you going to be bored? Once you deliver this project, all the other ones will be the same.”

But he was wrong, because each project is unique. Of course, in this particular role, there were some commonalities—but the requirements were different, and the people I worked with were diverse. Plus, I could refine the processes and improve the way I worked with practice and experience. I could also train newcomers to the team. So, I didn’t get bored at all.

For some people, project management is not innovative or creative, because they think there are activities or roles with higher status. But project management is creative in that we need to create a path, aggregate knowledge, practice, use tools—and also use intuition. Now with globalization and the hybrid workplace, we are at the forefront of innovation.

If someone tells you project management is repetitive, respond with this:

  • “Each project is unique given its context, requirements and teams.”
  • “Just because the external flow of actions looks the same, that does not mean the path to resolution will be the same. We need to set new norms and rituals. We need to explore the causes of problems.”
  • “In each project, we make retrospectives or lessons learned. These are great moments of collaboration and creativity.”

3. Project Management is about processes.
Project management uses processes to organize the work and define a plan. In some domains, processes are more prevalent than in others, and for good reason: If security issues are involved, processes have to be followed.

But more than processes, project management is about people and how to work together as a team—of knowing how your behavior is going to impact others.

If someone tells you project management is about processes, answer with this:

  • “Processes are used to organize; when you facilitate the work, project management is not used for the sake of processes.”
  • “Processes are not carved into stone; change them if they don’t work.”
  • “The backbone of the project is teamwork.”

As a community and as practitioners, we need to be role models and change the image of project management—which some people like to keep negative narratives about. Don't let others' perceptions diminish the impact you're making on the world.

What other PM myths have you faced? Share your comments below

Posted by Yasmina Khelifi on: December 14, 2021 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

How to Optimize Your Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Categories: Best Practices

Customer satisfaction surveys are one of the most used feedback mechanisms. I have conducted several surveys for internal tools used by engineers within the companies that I worked at, and here I summarize my experience. While I talk about internal surveys, most of what I describe here is applicable for external surveys as well.

Before starting any survey, think through the three questions—why, what and how:

1. Why are we counting? It takes up valuable time creating a survey, administering it, analyzing the results, and acting on it. Respondents must spend time as well. Without a clear “why,” it’s a waste of time and effort. So always start with the “why.”

2. What are we counting? The next obvious question is the “what.” Determine what you are going to count. Ensure there is no ambiguity in the attributes you plan to count.

Also determine which metric you are going to use. There are several metrics: Net Promoter Score (NPS), Net Satisfaction Score (NSAT), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), etc. Based on my experience, NPS is often used for external surveys, and it is often just one question followed by an optional open-ended question for feedback. This might not give you a good enough signal for internal tools. NSAT and CSAT are the most common ones that are measured for internal tools.

3. How are we counting? To eliminate any biases or fallacies, we need to determine how we are going to count. Here are some sub-questions to think about:

  • How many people are we going to survey? This is to make sure we have a statistically significant sample size before we draw conclusions, and we are not prey to any base rate fallacy.
  • Do we have a representative sample? We need to make sure the survey studies different personas that use the internal tools. Example: If the tool is a reporting tool, executives, engineers, researchers etc. might be some of the personas involved.
  • Are the definitions clear? This is to ensure that people do not interpret definitions differently. If you use any abbreviations or acronyms, elaborate what they mean in the survey.
  • Framing the questions will impact the survey responses. Keep the following in mind:
    • Pseudo opinions - People give an opinion even if they do not have any opinion. To prevent this, include options like “Don’t know enough to say” or “Don’t know.”
    • Answer sets - Open answer sets allow people to give their automatic perceptions. Closed answer sets provide options that the user might not have thought about. Closed answer sets will get higher completion rates and have the potential for more extreme answers. Ensure the surveys are a mix of both closed and open questions.
    • Response scales - Scales will skew the data. Example: If you are looking to determine how many times the users use the tool, the answer set could be daily, weekly, monthly, or once a week, twice a week, thrice a week. So, think through what makes more sense for the scales.

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when you think of a survey:

Do’s:

  1. For every question you want to include in the survey, think about what you are going to do with the responses.
  2. Keep the number of questions to the absolute minimum.
  3. Anonymous surveys ensure that the respondents are candid; however, the drawback is that if you have any follow-up questions, you will not know who submitted the feedback. My recommendation is to go with non-anonymous surveys for internal tools.
  4. Always follow up on the feedback coming out of a survey and publish the results. Let the respondents know how the survey results have been used. This encourages them to submit the survey the next time.
  5. Be mindful of the number of times you send out a survey and carefully choose the cadence. I have seen quarterly, half-yearly and yearly cadences. Choose the one that gives you enough time to act on the feedback.

Don’ts:

  1. Do not ignore survey fatigue. It is real, particularly for internal surveys.
  2. Do not use a survey if there are other ways to get meaningful feedback.
  3. If you are not going to use the responses to a survey question in any meaningful way, do not include that question in the survey.
Posted by Sree Rao on: December 01, 2021 09:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Do You Miss the “Old Way” of Communicating?

By Conrado Morlan

In project management, communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. Most likely, you have worked hard to master your communication skills. Then all of the sudden, the way we communicate changed. The style had to adapt, evolve and amplify with the support of technology during the pandemic.

We were accustomed to more traditional ways of communicating, such as in-person meetings (with groups, or one-on-one with stakeholders), spontaneous conversations around the office, and conference calls, among others. But most of these methods were totally erased when, by necessity, we started to work remotely.

In a matter of weeks, we had to close the communication gap by learning on the fly how to use new technology tools featuring virtual rooms with a mosaic of participants, featuring screen sharing, tool chat, or instant messaging (IM). We faced the challenge of having to define new rules of communication and common ground (like having cameras on or off during the meeting, and muting your microphone if you aren’t talking).

In just a few months, we adjusted to a new way of communication: online calls instead of phone calls; recorded online meetings with automatic transcripts instead of handwritten meeting minutes typed out afterward; more IM communication instead of email communication.

For many project managers who are still remote, this continues to work well; for others who have returned to the office, they are starting to readapt to (or are missing) the “old way of communication.”

Readapting to the “way things were” won’t be an easy task. Many people have lost that sense of personal interaction, and it is becoming more difficult to bring several people together at the same time in a meeting room to discuss the project. People’s preferences have also changed, and many prefer a virtual meeting as they think that there will be no difference to a meeting’s outcome if the meeting is in-person or virtual.

Perhaps the outcome of the meeting will be no different, but what about in-person human interaction—a key element for communication? Reading non-verbal cues is becoming more difficult, a valuable element that will confirm if a “yes” is truly a yes or instead a “maybe.”

As a project manager, what has been your biggest challenge in adopting and adapting the “new way of communication” in your projects?

After a recent project progress meeting with my team, one of the senior members and I discussed the face-to-face communication challenges we have with other members. We concurred that when the person receiving the information has low retention, it results in false assumptions and a misunderstanding on the topic of discussion.

Why is this happening? If the person receiving information confirms that everything is clear, why do we still have communication issues in projects? Usually, it's because taking notes in a meeting is going away, as many team members wait for a meeting recap that summarizes their action items.

In face-to-face communication, we spend most of the time listening—and apparently, we're not good at it. We filter what we want to hear, and that may result in a broken message.

That senior member of my team is part of the silent generation. He mastered his listening skills in an environment without all of the ways to "replay" conversations that we use today. In addition, he mentioned that the communication environment before was "less polluted" than today, where we are bombarded with things that affect our ability to pay attention.

I asked the senior team member what the key elements of good listening skills are, based on his experience. He recommended:

  • Pay attention to the dialogue and receive the message.
  • Acknowledge the message using positive expressions, such as "Okay" or "I see."
  • Confirm the message was received by summarizing what was discussed.
  • Ask questions to the person giving information during and after the discussion.

What are the face-to-face communication challenges you have experienced with your team? Do your team members pay attention when you speak? What advantages and disadvantages do virtual meetings have?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 25, 2021 01:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
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