Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.
However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.
Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.
Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.
1. Where are we now?
Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.
Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.
2. Where will we be in six weeks?
An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.
This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.
Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.
3. What changed from the original project scope?
Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.
While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.
In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.
What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for?
by Dave Wakeman
Project management is a hot topic lately. In casual conversations, I’ve heard about the rise of project managers in legal, in sports and in government.
But this recent fame doesn’t mean we’ve gone mainstream. It’s likely that most people still don’t have a full grasp of what project managers do, why they are valuable and what they can really mean to an organization.
That’s why we have to continue promoting the role. I’ve pulled together a few talking points you can use the next time project management comes up in casual conversation.
1. Project managers are great at helping to solve the right problems.
This came up when I was talking about project managers in law. The question was, “How do we know we are doing this project management stuff correctly?”
The answer is a little more complex because you can never be completely sure if you are solving the right problems.
But, project managers who are very active in the planning and scope phases can frame the conversation in a manner that helps get to the root cause of the challenge. That helps organizations not just solve the loudest or most immediate challenge, but address the issue that is going to provide the most valuable long-term ROI.
2. Project managers aren’t just techies.
I’ve never led a technology project in my life. And, unfortunately, too many people equate project management with IT projects.
Ultimately, our best professionals—no matter what their industry—are often project managers without even knowing it.
This is a point you can highlight with your friends, colleagues and curiosity seekers by talking about the way that you communicate, plan, look for logical next steps and adapt to the situation.
In that way, project managers are just like everyone else.
3. Project management can take an organization from failure to success.
In startups, you hear “project management” thrown around pretty regularly. But, in truth, having solid project managers involved is the difference between success and failure.
In many startups, or new project situations, the whole framework of the project is based around an idea, a solution or a theme. This can often lead organizations down a road of throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks. No rhyme or reason. Just action.
Fortunately for us, as project managers, planning is drilled into our psyche—and planning is the skill most crucial to success.
You don’t need more ideas for how to solve the problem, and you don’t need more people trying to figure out what will stick.
You need a plan of attack with a process in place for collecting feedback and adjusting accordingly. This is basically the textbook definition of a project manager’s role.
To me, any attention to the project management role is great. But if we don’t talk about project management in the right way, I think we miss an opportunity to expand the profession’s impact across industries.
How do you talk about project management and promote the profession?
By Conrado Morlan
“Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” —Morris Chang, founding CEO, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd.
In the first part of this series, I outlined the groups in the organization that must support the strategic alignment of the project portfolio:
Let’s dive into those groups a little further.
The Executive Group
The executive group shares the strategic plan with the organization, highlighting the high–level strategic objectives that will support its growth and move it to the next stage.
This group defines the strategic governance processes — that includes policies and monitoring guidelines to ensure the strategic objectives will be achieved. It establishes a governing body that will ensure accountability, fairness and transparency. The project portfolio governance will adhere to the strategic governance to align the project portfolio and drive the execution of the strategic plan.
During the development of the strategic plan, a thorough risk assessment should be conducted to assign a risk level to the initiatives included in the strategic plan. The risk assessment will feed into the strategic alignment process to ensure the portfolio of projects will keep these risks top of mind each step of the way.
The governance body will also monitor the performance of programs and project to ensure the expected benefits are being delivered as planned.
The executive group will interact on a frequent basis with the project group to address governance issues, changes in strategy that may impact the portfolio and risks. Meetings with the operations team, on the other hand, will focus on monitoring whether benefits are being created and harvested, as well as how those benefits are impacting — postively or negatively —the strategic objectives.
The Project Group
The project group will cover all areas of the project management profession: portfolio management, program management and project management.
This group will “translate” the strategic plan into elements of the project portfolio and align them with the strategy. Priorities, sequences, dependencies, risks and other elements from the strategic plan will cascade into the project portfolio.
The project portfolio will establish an execution framework that will consider the organization’s existing cross-functional capabilities, operations, and processes, and assess technical and operational requirements to identify gaps that need to be filled to support the successful execution of the project portfolio.
The project tam will:
The project group will interact on a frequent basis with the operations group to ensure projects will deliver the expected benefits, and define how those benefits will be “harvested” and used as an input to subsequent phases of the protfolio and strategic plan.
The Operations Group
The operations group will support program and project teams during implementation and will be the recipient of the benefits delivered by the programs and projects. The execution of the strategic plan is a cross-functional effort and every function in the organization will need to contribute to its success.
The operations group may encompass many of the functions of the organization and will be active participants throughout project implementation. But this group’s participation is most important in the post-implementation phase to ensure a sustainable environment for the achievement of the strategic goals.
This group will work closely with the project group on the ongoing management of the portfolio to monitor benefits realization, and will play an active role in the orchestration of demand management and capability management to ensure resources will be available when needed in order to avoid any delays in the portfolio.
If you’ve worked on strategic initiatives, how have you collaborated with these groups in your organization? What advice can you share?
By Conrado Morlan
“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” —Michael Porter
Over the last two decades, organizations looking to remain competitive have realized that creating a strategic plan is not enough. The smart execution of that strategy is also needed to move an organization to the next stage.
One way to drive better execution is to align the project portfolio with the organization’s strategy. This should encompass all current and future initiatives, programs and projects — including business projects, operations projects, technology projects, etc.
The project portfolio is the strategic plan’s execution framework. It calls for cross-functional efforts that provide a holistic view to the participating areas, and helps them better understand the strategic goals and how their contributions will move the organization to the next level. This instills a sense of ownership among the participants.
Strategically aligning the project portfolio allows an organization to establish an execution approach that will allow it to improve existing processes and optimize the selection and sequence of initiatives.
Leaders should screen, filter, and select programs and projects based on the organizational strategy and — for those selected — they should define:
Roles and responsibilities: Who will be involved, as well as each person’s level of involvement and authority
Stakeholders: Who will be impacted by the initiatives and their level of influence in the organization
Resources: What resources could be assigned to programs and projects, and their current capacity and capabilities to support the selected initiatives
Funding: What funds will be available to implement the selected programs and projects
Risks: What internal and external risks would affect the strategic plan and therefore the portfolio of projects, and what risks will be accepted or mitigated
Benefits Realization: What benefits will be produced by each program and how those will be harvested
To achieve that alignment, the following groups must support the initiative:
In the second part of this series I will explore how these groups interact to establish the best execution approach and achieve the strategic goals defined in the strategic plan.
As a portfolio, program or project manager, have you been involved in the strategic alignment of the project portfolio in your organization? What was your experience?
By Marian Haus, PMP
Projects are rarely conducted in a vacuum. Whether the project you’re managing is small or large, simple or complex, you will most likely encounter dependencies tied to assets outside your project organization.
Here five simple steps to help you manage project dependencies that are spread across teams, departments and assets.
1. Assess and document potential project dependencies: Determine each dependency’s type, profile, specifications, timeline and owner. For example, you might have to rely on the QA or legal department to check your work, end-users to validate your product or other teams that will have to adapt their products because of your project’s outcome.
You could document HR dependencies in your project’s HR plan. Non-HR resources could be documented in a hierarchical resource breakdown structure (RBS). Or you could just use a simple spreadsheet, where you store all your dependencies organized by types, ownership, etc.
2. Align and interlock scope: Define a clear and determined purpose/scope for each dependency and align with the team providing or fulfilling it. Interlock your dependencies with the related teams or organizations.
For instance, if your project will need a certain setup from your company’s infrastructure team, ensure that you define the requirements (how many servers you need, what the technical specs are, what software needs to be installed, etc.). Finally, confirm that this setup can be delivered as requested.
3. Align dependency timelines: Specify exactly when your dependency is required and for how long. Interlock the timeline to secure its on-time delivery or availability.
To continue the previous example, you might request your company’s infrastructure team to deliver the servers no later than July 31 so you can use the setup during a testing period that would stretch from August 1 to September 30.
4. Monitor and control dependencies throughout the project: It will probably be impossible to precisely plan for all of your project’s dependencies from the very beginning—and then stick to that plan until project closure.
Therefore, you should maintain and review your dependencies list, HR plan or RBS throughout the project. New dependencies might show up while others might become dispensable.
5. Collect sign-offs: Sign-offs are as important as interlocks. You have to secure and collect them from your counterparts.
Interlocks enforce commitment, responsibility and accountability, whereas sign-offs confirm the delivery or the fulfillment within the agreed boundaries.
For instance, an end-user outside of your project team will sign-off on the product change your project generated, confirming that it conforms with his or her requirements or expectations. Or an interface project team will sign-off on your revamped software component, confirming that your project’s outcome did not break their related components or business processes.
How do you identify all of a project’s related dependencies? How do you manage them as the project progresses?