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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View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Conrado Morlan
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Kevin Korterud
Mario Trentim
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Soma Bhattacharya
Cyndee Miller
Jess Tayel
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributers:

Jorge Vald├ęs Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Follow These 3 Steps to Validate a Variance

Unlock the Value of Artificial Intelligence

Stakeholder Management for Traveling Families

3 Tips For Cultivating Your Executive Presence

Beware the Dangers of Technical Debt

Follow These 3 Steps to Validate a Variance

By Lynda Bourne

As you may know, any monitoring and control process has three components. The first is establishing a baseline that you plan to achieve, the second is comparing actual progress to the plan to see if there are any differences, and the third is taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective actions fix existing problems, while preventative actions stop problems from occurring in the future.

This post looks at the middle phase. Before taking action to bring performance into alignment with the plan, make sure the variance you are seeing in the control systems is real. Corrective and preventative actions take time and usually involve costs, and there is no point in expending effort where it is not needed. 

The variance is the difference between two imprecise elements: the planned state and the actual situation. The plan is based on estimates and assumptions made some time ago about what may occur in the future. All plans and estimates have a degree of error built in; it is impossible to precisely predict the future of a complex system such as a project. Similarly, the measurement of the actual situation is prone to observational errors; key data may be missing or the situation misinterpreted.

So how do you decide if the measured variance is real and significant enough to warrant corrective action? I suggest considering the following:

1. Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?

2. Is the variance significant?

3. Is a solution viable?

Let’s explore these in depth.

 

Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
If a cost report says there is a profit of US$10,000 in a work package where you expected to see a loss, there’s a high probability some of the actual costs have been missed. It’s likely either your expectations were misplaced or the measurements contain data errors. You need to resolve this question before moving on. When the variance and your expectations agree, you can be reasonably confident the information as measured is correct.

Try looking at a couple of different monitoring systems, such as cost and time. Do the two systems correlate, or are they giving you very different information on the same group of activities? If they correlate, perhaps your expectations are misplaced. If they are giving you different information, there may be data errors.

Is the variance significant?
Next, look at the significance of the difference. Point measurements are prone to error simply because you have to assume a lot. For example, you may be sure a 10-day activity has started, and equally sure it has not been completed. But if the work is about half done should you record it 40%, 50% or 60% compete?   

If the predicted slippage on the completion date for a key milestone over a series of reports is bouncing around, any single measurement within the noise factor is likely to be insignificant.

Trends, on the other hand, highlight issues. Sensible control systems have range statements that indicate the variance is too small to worry about if it is inside the allowed range. This general rule is modified to take trends seriously and to require action to correct negative variances close to a milestone or completion.

Is a solution viable?
This third question looks at viability. Can you take action to resolve the variance for a sensible cost? Some issues are simply outside your control, such as changes in the exchange rate. Risk planning and mitigation may have been able to minimize the issue in the past, but if you need the import this month, for example, you have no option but to pay the current price. 

Other situations are simply not worth the cost. There is no point in spending US$10,000 to correct a -US$5,000 variance. However, this decision has to take into account any effect on the client and your organization’s reputation. Cost overruns are generally internal, whereas late delivery and quality issues may have a significant reputational cost, affecting stakeholder perceptions.

Where a viable option exists to correct negative variances, corrective and preventative actions need to be planned, prioritized and implemented.  There is no point wasting time on a controls system that does not generate effective controlling actions.  

Closing Thoughts
I’ll leave you with two final thoughts. First, don’t forget about positive variances. Similar questions need to be asked in order to amend the plan to lock in gains. If your supplier is going to deliver some equipment three weeks ahead of schedule, can you reorganize the plan to make sure the installers are available three weeks sooner? If this is viable, make sure it happens in order to lock in a three-week gain. If you fail to take action, the installers will turn up on schedule and the gain generated by your supplier will be lost.

Second, implementing corrective and preventative actions requires the resources working on the project to do something different. Variances don’t correct themselves, and simply telling someone to catch up is unlikely to have any effect. Sensible management action, decisions and leadership are needed to physically change the situation so there is a correction in the way work is performed. This is a core skill of every effective manager.

I’d love to know: How do you deal with variances in your projects? Please share below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: August 23, 2019 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unlock the Value of Artificial Intelligence

By Peter Tarhanidis

Artificial intelligence is no longer a tool we’ll use on projects in the future. Right now, many organizations are formalizing the use of advanced data analytics from innovative technologies, algorithms and AI visualization techniques into strategic projects.

The maturity of advanced data analytics is creating an opportunity for organizations to unlock value. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates AI’s global economic impact could climb to US$13 trillion by 2030.

As an example, in the healthcare industry, Allied Market Research reports rising demand for data analytics solutions due to the growth in data from electronic health records, among other factors. The global healthcare analytics market was valued at US$16.9 billion in 2017, and the report forecasts it to reach US$67.8 billion by 2025.

The Evolution of AI Maturity
Gartner describes four growth stages of analytics and value activities. The first is descriptive analytics, which gains insight from historical data on what occurred in the firm or a project. This includes key performance measure reports and dashboards. Second, diagnostics analytics allow you to learn why something happened and the relationship between events. Third, is the use of predictive analytics to develop viewpoints into potential future outcomes. Finally, prescriptive analytics allow you to provide users with advice on what actions to take.

Everyday examples of these solutions range from simple automated dashboards, remote check deposit, Siri-like assistants, ride-sharing apps, Facebook, Instagram, autopilot and autonomous cars.  

Tips on Successful Transformation
Leaders must consider advanced data analytics as a transformational journey—not a complex project. Without thoughtful consideration of the implications of managing AI projects, one may create chaos in adopting these new services.

As a project leader, take these steps to avoid key pitfalls:

  1. Develop your understanding of data science tool kits and technologies and identify any centers of excellence. Start with basics such as descriptive statistics, regression and optimization techniques. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with technology such as machine learning and natural language processing.
  2. Determine how these AI initiatives integrate into the organization’s mission and vision. This may require a new strategic business plan, optimizing an organization, culture change and change management.
  3. Establish a data governance body and framework to ensure accountability, roles, security, legislative and ethical management of consumer, patient, customer and government data.
  4. Develop strong multiyear business cases that clearly indicate cost versus revenue or savings.
  5. Maintain an agile mindset and leverage design thinking methods to co-create the pilots into products alongside stakeholders.

Please comment below on what approaches you have taken to enable advanced data analytics in your role or in your organization.

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 12, 2019 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Stakeholder Management for Traveling Families

Categories: Communication, Stakeholder

By Wanda Curlee

I recently flew across the country with my two grandchildren, both under the age of three. While their mother was with me, we were not seated together., so I was understandably a little concerned about the trip. (And for the people around me.)

The trip did make me wonder, however, if airlines could take a project management approach when small children are traveling. Yes, they allow families with small children to board at the beginning of the process, but is there more that could be done?

All they would need is better stakeholder management.

Before the day of travel, the airline could send tips to those traveling with children. The tips can focus on what will help the child and the parent survive the lengthy trip, such as how to help kids with equalizing ear pressure, how to help with meltdowns and what to pack to keep the child entertained.

Next, for the day of travel, help those traveling with kids understand the rules. I was rather rudely told that I had to have the child in my lap for takeoff and landing. The child was standing between the seat and me (we all know there is not much room) and was between my legs. He was happy while in this position. Once he went into my lap, he went into meltdown mode. While this was not the problem of the flight attendant, it would have been nice to have known the rules and be able to prepare my grandchild for the final part of the flight.

The airline could also provide a small goodie bag for a child. There could be lollipops to help with ears, a list of the rules, a paper book—maybe a couple of pages for the children to draw or color. Maybe even some plastic bags that seal to take care of those dirty diapers that may occur during flight.

During the flight, the flight attendant could reach out to travelers with small children just to let the traveler know that he or she is there to help. I know at the end of flights, during landing, the flight attendant thanks me for being a million miler. So, just saying hi to the mom, dad or grandparent traveling with the small child will go a long way.

This is a little out of the way of what is usually discussed on the blog but taking a better approach to stakeholder management to help families that are traveling with young ones can be beneficial for the traveler, the child and those on the plane sitting around the child. Let’s make traveling a bit more humane for all involved.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: August 08, 2019 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

3 Tips For Cultivating Your Executive Presence

By Dave Wakeman

How do we present ourselves to our teams? That’s something I didn’t think about deeply until recently, when I started hanging out with Harrison Monarth, author of Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO

I had considered it, of course, but not as something I could focus on or change. And I never connected it to the effectiveness of our leadership. 

But as I thought about executive presence more and more, I realized that everything we do is marketing. So why wouldn’t that bleed into the way we manage our teams? That’s why I wanted to take a moment to highlight how you can improve your presence and leadership. 

Manage How People Perceive You

This became a big issue for me in January when I was at a conference in Texas. At least a dozen people came up to me, waving their phones in my face, practically yelling, “I listen to your podcast and I love it.”

First, I didn’t realize so many people heard my podcast, even though I knew the numbers said thousands of people a month were listening. 

Second, I never thought about the way I presented myself to others because I didn’t realize people were paying attention to me. 

I think many of us fall into that category. We take actions, live our lives and never realize we are being paid attention to. As leaders, we have to manage the way we are perceived. 

This means that our tone of voice, our dress, the way we delegate and lead meetings—basically everything we do—impacts how our teams see us, judge us and react to us. Everything counts. 

For all of you, this means you’d likely benefit from taking a few moments to jot down how you want to be perceived. Then ask yourself whether you are living up to those expectations. If you are, great! If you aren’t, what actions will you take to change that? 

Get Into the Motivation Game 

I like to think everyone has a certain level of self-motivation. I believe this is true, but I’d be lying if I said this means everyone is self-motivated in the way that I want them to be. As a project leader, you are likely confronting this same situation. 

I recently read an interesting story about Pat Riley, the legendary coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. He’s famous for throwing a bag of championship rings on the table when he was recruiting LeBron James to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami. 

Riley clearly knows a thing or two about motivation, but the story I read took this to another level. I learned that he would give a new 20-minute motivational speech to his team each day. From what I can gather, he never repeated them. 

This alone is impressive, but what is relevant to our discussion here is that Riley used these stories to motivate his team and to instill the right mindset and values. 

As we consider how we want to be reflected to our teams, it’s important to think about how we want them to act and behave. That doesn’t happen by chance. It is our job to motivate and inspire our teams to do their jobs in a way that reflects our shared values and goals. 

I challenge you to spend a few moments thinking about how you can inspire and lead your team. Consider the following: What stories should you share, which examples should you use and what values do you want to instill? 

Be Willing to Have Difficult Conversations 

I don’t know anyone who has rushed headfirst into every difficult conversation. Everyone has struggled to begin a conversation at some point. Yet one of the keys to successful leadership is the ability to deliver difficult conversations when you don’t want to. Often, this ties into the idea of accountability. 

If you bought into my idea about motivation, you probably recognize the importance of accountability. In many instances, accountability, motivation and difficult conversations go hand-in-hand. 

If you aren’t holding people accountable with real deadlines, consequences and feedback, you aren’t really being a leader and your presence is suffering. 

To maximize your presence, you have to be willing to have difficult conversations. You can make them easier by understanding exactly what you need to convey and sticking to your planned talking points to ensure you hit your key objectives. Couple this with meaningful accountability in the form of clearly spelled-out expectations, deadlines and consequences in case of non-performance. By doing so, you can achieve real accountability and ease some of the pressure of tough conversations. 

This idea of presence is something I’m still working through, but I’m curious about what you think. Let me know in the comments. 

         

Posted by David Wakeman on: August 07, 2019 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Beware the Dangers of Technical Debt

By Lynda Bourne

Have you ever experienced technical debt on a project? As the debt builds up, everything looks good from the outside. However, when the crunch comes and that debt has to be repaid, a major reversal in fortune can occur.

Technical debt refers to the costs of having to go back and resolve problems that arise because an earlier decision was made to take the easy route, instead of the best one. By taking the easy option, the team incurs a debt to the project that will have to be repaid later. While the concept comes from software development, this insidious effect can be seen across industries.

The Crossrail project in London offers a current, extreme example. In July 2018, it was reported that on-time and on-budget completion of the £14.8 billon rail project would occur in December 2018. By August 2018, completion had slipped by a year. Currently, the delay extends to the end of 2020, with a cost overrun of 20 percent.

What’s the main driver of this delay and associated costs?

It appears to be decisions made to ignore problems in the signaling system development. According to Construction Manager magazine, while giving evidence to a government inquiry, Crossrail’s new chief executive Simon Wright said, “We were testing on incomplete systems. Productivity was under stress, but we fought hard to maintain the schedule and thought all along that we could find a solution to bring it back, just like we have done on countless other problems that occurred during the construction program.”

This is a classic example of management decisions building up a technical debt. 

In 2015, The Independent newspaper reported that rail experts and engineers were having difficulty creating interfaces for the signaling systems. At the same inquiry, Crossrail’s new chairman Terry Morgan said “problems that emerged were mostly due to difficulties with developing software to allow Crossrail trains to travel safely at speed through three separate signalling systems,” according to Construction Manager magazine. The problem was identified in 2015 and hadn’t been resolved by 2019, despite time and money wasted testing incomplete systems. In fact, the irrelevant testing probably added to the delay and costs by distracting people from the real challenge.

Fixing the problem properly the first time would surely have caused a delay and cost blowout between 2016 and 2018. But in all likelihood, the costs would have been lower, the delay would have been shorter, and the current furor surrounding the project would have been minimized.  

The problem with technical debt is that often, the people who need to know about a problem aren’t informed. We will never know what the chair and CEO of Crossrail (both sacked) really knew in the 2016 to 2018 period, or what their senior managers knew about the build-up of the technical debt in the Crossrail signalling systems. But the problem could have been avoided, or at least minimized, if the technical debt had been acknowledged. If people are unaware of technical debt, then they’ll be more likely to identify paths that will result in it being created.

To avoid this lack of insight, everyone in the project group, especially team members, must be in a position to offer insight into technical debt.

The project manager can then choose to act, or not. Aware teams bring up the subject of technical debt in planning meetings, and they keep focused on it. Aware managers pose questions such as, “If this proposed shortcut is the right choice, what is there to gain, and what are the challenges and future implications?”

As with financial debt, there are times when going into debt can be beneficial, but only if you can pay back the accrued debt and interest at the right time.

How much technical debt is your project running? Please share your experiences below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 19, 2019 07:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)
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