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

Recent Posts

Project Management Triangles and Integrated Reasoning

Best Practices for Managing Project Escalations

Questions from Project Management Central - Interviews

The Ying and Yang of Resilience

3 Tips For Simplifying Complexity

Project Management Triangles and Integrated Reasoning

By Wanda Curlee 

There are two triangles commonly referenced in the project management discipline: The Iron Triangle (sometimes called the Golden Triangle) and PMI’s Talent Triangle®. Each provides insight into the complexity of even the simplest project.  

 

However, I think there is a big component missing: the human psyche. Let’s look at both triangles. 

 

The Iron Triangle

 

The Iron Triangle has many versions that have been enhanced by subject matter experts to help define how to manage a project. On the triangle’s sides, you’ll find time, cost and resources. Quality and/or scope, which was added later, can be found in the middle of the triangle. 

 

My preference is to put time at the bottom part of the triangle as it is constant. When time has passed, it’s gone for good (until time travel is invented). All other sides and the interior of the triangle change and often do.  

 

Some would say the scope is constant because there is a statement of work that defines the scope. A good theoretical basis, but reality normally prevails. For instance, out of ignorance, incompetence or “doing a favor”, the scope can change. It may also change because of a customer or vendor request. All these changes affect the other axis and interior of the triangle. However, your time is gone no matter how the scope changes. Quality may go up or down depending on scope, resources and time.  

 

The Talent Triangle

 

PMI’s Talent Triangle acknowledges that the project professional must have soft and hard skills. These skills include leadership, a technical knowledge and an understanding of the strategic and business alignment of the project, program and portfolio—while also ensuring that projects stay within the Golden Triangle. 

 

Understanding the industry helps project professionals realize the importance of the endeavor for the company. Finally, understanding the politics and strategic fit of the project or program is a must. If the project or program manager cannot articulate how the effort drives the company’s strategic objective, it might be time to move to a different project or maybe find a new profession. 

 

The Human Psyche

 

While these two triangles are good, they don’t incorporate the missing link—the human psyche.  

We need to understand how to drive the project team to make sure no sides of the triangle fail. What does this mean? If one side of the Iron Triangle falls short or goes long then the triangle fails. The same could be said for the Talent Triangle. 

 

Three inherent manners can help: integrated reasoning, strategic focus and creative thinking. I want to look at integrated reasoning.

 

According to neuroscience, there are three ways a person thinks. He or she can be a rock star, coach/playmaker or rainmaker.  

 

The rock star is the junior to the experienced project manager and is normally focused on one or two tasks. Think budget timelines, schedules and risk management, among other things.

 

The coach/playmaker is the senior project manager and junior to the experienced program manager. These individuals see the forest. The coach knows how to lead to the final goal.  

 

Finally, there’s the rainmaker. These are the senior program managers, portfolio managers and C-suiters. They can see years into the future. The rainmakers know how to decide which projects and programs make sense for the strategic objectives. They see success.  

 

Why is this important? It leads to integrated reasoning. Project and program managers should recognize where members of their team fall on the spectrum. He or she then needs to encourage and provide the opportunity to jump into a new reality so they can be more effective on all sides of the triangle.  

 

For example, I am very comfortable in the rainmaker role. However, I force myself into the coach and rock star role. This allows me to see the organization, strategy and people from many angles, which increases my political rationality.

So, what is the political reality of your project or program? Does your reality agree with that of the sponsor? How about the project management office or portfolio manager? If you do not understand your political rationality from all angles you will fail yourself, your team and the triangle. 

Stay tuned for the next post in which I will put integrated reasoning into reality to help drive the strategic focus of your project or program. 

 

 

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: October 12, 2017 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Best Practices for Managing Project Escalations

By Marian Haus, PMP

Throughout any given initiative, project managers must deal with issues that are sure to arise. Some are solvable within the project organization, with or without the project manager’s influence. Others however — especially those that could affect the outcome of a project — go beyond a project manager’s range of influence and authority.

Such major issues and risks can lead to escalations, which require special handling and management.

Various project management guidelines and specialized literature insufficiently cover the escalation management domain.

Escalation means trouble — so it’s a word very few people want to hear about. It also means that a higher authority will need to be called up to take action before it is too late.

When necessary, and if done in a timely and appropriate manner, escalation management can help a project manager solve issues outside of their authority or influence.

Here are some tips and tricks for project managers to better deal with escalations.

1. Be Prepared

From the project outset, define a clear escalation path and mechanism. For instance, establish an escalation committee (e.g., your sponsors or upper management board) and agree on escalating major issues when necessary and bypassing certain hierarchy levels in order to escalate faster.

Don’t overdo it! You should not escalate every encountered issue—only escalate major issues that have considerable impacts.

2. Assess and Qualify the Risk

Is it serious enough to escalate? Is there anything else you can do to avoid an escalation? Is it the right time to escalate?

Certainly, in order to be effective, the escalation should be raised in a timely manner. Therefore, neither should you exaggerate with going through an elaborated risk assessment, nor should you wait too long until raising the escalation (e.g., do not wait until the next reporting period is due).

3. Communicate the Escalation

After you’ve done everything you could have to prevent the escalation (you raised awareness, you communicated, you have pushed and pulled), it is time to escalate!

To escalate effectively and efficiently, first keep a calm and clear head. Then, follow these tips:

  • Escalate via the channel that is most appropriate for your project context. Ideally, the escalation should be communicated in a face-to-face meeting or call. Emails can be the most ineffective escalation tools, because they can delay the resolution if the emails are not handled in a timely manner. Emails also can lead to misunderstandings if the context is not well understood. Additionally, they can lead to a deadlock if sent to multiple and unnecessary individuals or when it is unclear who the targeted person is for taking action. In short: Avoid escalations via email.
  • Avoid getting personal and refrain from finger pointing. Focus on the issue at hand. This should be communicated and addressed objectively.
  • Explain the major issue and its implications. Keep it short and simple, so that everyone requested to help you can understand.
  • Explain what you did to avoid the issue and escalation. Again, keep it short. Otherwise, you will end up in endless apologies.
  • If possible, make a proposal with two or three resolution options. Explain their potential effect on the issue at hand and ideally make a recommendation on which options to go for.

4. Follow Up

Generally, every escalation requires some resolution time for when the project manager and the project team will implement the decisions agreed upon by the escalation board.

You will need to regularly inform your escalation committee with status and progress updates until the risk and problem are completely resolved. And, after getting back on track, you should conduct a lessons-learned exercise with your project team to learn and grow from the encountered crisis situation.

Would you agree? How are you managing escalations in your projects?

 

Posted by Marian Haus on: October 06, 2017 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Questions from Project Management Central - Interviews

Hi! I'm so pleased to join you on the Voices on Project Management blog! I works for best of breed technology companies around the world managing programs of change, projects, and people. My areas of expertise are talent management, building high performing teams, working globally, and changing cultures to adopt new ways of working like DevOps and Agile methodologies, and my blog entries will be sourced from YOUR questions on ProjectManagement.com.

The Questions forum on Project Management Central is a great place for you to ask questions on… almost everything! One of the recurring questions you have is around preparing for an interview – what types of questions should you expect; what type of interview formats do hiring managers use; and general tips and tricks to help you secure that next position in your career.  Over the next columns, we’ll be looking at industry advice as well as your comments and feedback. This week we are focusing on Types of Interview Formats:

Is there really more than one type of interview format???” some people ask… “Surely its just people asking you questions and determining your fit for the role???”… “Be yourself”, the advice reads. “Be the person the company wants to hire” say others. How can you use the interview format to your advantage, and crucially, not be caught off guard when you walk into the room.

There are different interview formats depending on the stage of the interview process you are in. These interview formats are typically used at the beginning of the candidate selection process, instead of identifying the chosen candidate for the role.

Screening is an important step of a recruiter’s role. They want to ensure that candidates they are putting forward is a good fit for the role and the company. These screenings sometimes take place by email, and sometimes on the phone, lasting 15 -20 minutes. The downside of screening is that you might not have long to prepare, so fall back on your elevator pitch; your key successes and achievements; why you are right for this type of role; why you are right for this industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions “why is the role available – is the business expanding or is this a replacement”; “what are the success factors associated with this role”, “how does this role fit into the organisation”

Sometimes you will match what the recruiter is looking for, sometimes you won’t. Don’t despair, as making a great impression here will add real value for your job search later on as the recruiter will likely have similar roles in future.

Telephone interviews are usually screening interviews with the company, instead of the recruiter. They will be focused on getting to shortlist of candidates to interview face to face, so the trick is to be on message. Do your homework on the company strategy, how the company is performing in their respective industry, and their recent news (big deals, reorganisations etc). Read the job profile very carefully, identifying what the real criteria are for the role – these items will be repeated in differently terminology  across the job spec – and practice your answers to likely questions, which could be competency based. Have questions you are ready to ask: “what metrics will define success for the role”; “is the project team centrally located or distributed across offices [in the country / in the world]”

Tip: Find the job posting on multiple sites (eg. LinkedIn, Monster) to help you identify those key criteria for the role. 

Tip: Don’t forget to get the names of who you speak to as they might be in subsequent interviews.

++++

These next interview formats are usually Face to Face. There will normally be two people interviewing you, and they will likely be asking the same questions for all interviews, and ranking you against other candidates they are seeing.

Competency Interviews, sometimes called Behavioural Interviews, are quite common and are designed to predict future behaviour based on past behaviours and experiences. This is why all questions start with “tell us a time when…” as the answer will inform the interviewer on your competency and your approach

Competency interviews are driven by the competencies required for the role. These will be listed in the role description, and can be identified in part by answers received to your questions in the screening and the telephone interviews.

Tip: Competency questions can focus on the good (“tell us a time when you built a successful team that…”) or bad “tell us about your worst project management experience and what you learned”. Be prepared for a negative competence question.

Panel Interviews will have multiple people attending the interview, sometimes dropping in for a section, to ask questions relevant to their area. They will introduce themselves and their role / role description will contain clues for what competencies they are particularly interested in. Have a question prepared on their area “what type of technology do you use for…” that will demonstrate that you understand their responsibility and role.

Presentation Interviews usually are a part of an existing interview. You will be given very clear instructions on the presentation, which might be intentionally vague. For example, the presentation might have a fixed length and an idea of a topic for you to interpret, or vice versa. My advice would be to follow  your intuition, but not to break any of the guidance. I once had a five minute presentation take 45 minutes, which meant there wasn’t enough time to run the rest of the interview. One of the competences was to communicate clearly and effectively, which definitely was not demonstrated with a 900% increase on time.

Assessment Centres & Group Interviews are ways for the company to review multiple candidates simultaneously, ranking them against one another. They are traditionally used when a number of roles are available, perhaps the creation of an entire department or area. Assessment Centres do exactly that – they assess your competence and capabilities across a range of activities. These activities can be team based (to measure how well you get on with others), or individual one on one and are usually a mix of the two. In assessment centres, my recommendation is to be the best version of yourself, relying on the preparation you’ve done for the telephone interview, and refining your elevator pitch, key competencies and experiences based on the answers.

Also prepare answers to competency based questions “tell us about a time that…” based on the criteria you’ve identified from the job spec.

Note that in Group Interviews, you will be in a single interview with multiple candidates. Ensure you get enough “airtime”

Role Play Interviews are rare but do sometimes happen in project management roles. This will be to assess your competency deeply in a single area or network of competencies.  There will be a script which may be given to you to prepare answers from.

That wraps up the types of interview formats you can expect to encounter in your job search, and I hope you found it helpful. Next time we will focus on how to prepare for interview questions; and tips and tricks. Share your tips and your experiences in the comments below.

See you next time!

 

Posted by Joanna Newman on: October 02, 2017 12:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

The Ying and Yang of Resilience

By Lynda Bourne

In the world of materials science, resilience is the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape after it has been deformed by a force or load. Resilient materials absorb the stress by flexing under the load —typically with increasing levels of resistance the further they bend.

Provided the material’s elastic limit is not reached, it will return to its original state once the stress is released. Plastic materials perform similarly under load but retain their new shape after the load is released.  Brittle materials do not deflect under load, they retain their original shape until the load exceeds their load-resisting capacity (strength) and then they break.

Most practical materials used in the modern world combine these attributes in different ways to optimize performance: 

  • Strong materials typically combine aspects of resilience and plasticity.
  • Hard materials combine aspects of resilience and brittleness.
  • Fragile materials are brittle with very little in the way of resilience or strength.

For more than 1,000 years, Japanese swordsmiths have combined resilient steels to provide strength with hard, brittle steels to provide a “cutting edge” in the manufacture of their swords — the Celts, Vikings and Saxons used similar techniques. In the days when having a good sword was literally a matter of life-or-death, the best weapons combined steels with different aspects of resilience, hardness and strength — no single option was “the best.”

Now, however, everyone is talking about “resilience” as being desirable, both as a personal attribute and as an organizational characteristic.

But is this really the best option? 

 

The Case For Resilience

In terms of a personal or organizational characteristic, resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances or bounce back from adverse events. This is particularly important when dealing with the unknown in risk management. By definition you don’t know these risks exist and therefore cannot put management processes in place to deal with them. 

Only after the risk eventuates can the organization start to adapt to the situation and deal with the issues. Flexibility and strength are essential. Once the risk is controlled, the organization returns to its original “shape” and work can resume as planned.

At the individual level, resilience is defined as the psychological capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances and to bounce back from adverse events. It is a highly sought-after personality trait in the modern workplace. But is too much resilience a bad thing?

 

Too Much Resilience

Too much resilience can easily drift into a stubborn refusal to accept reality. “The Serenity Prayer,” written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, says “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

In many situations, an excess of resilience can be very counterproductive. It can lead to:

  • Being overly persistent with attempts to achieve unattainable goals.
  • Being overly tolerant of adversity and putting up with boring or demoralizing jobs.
  • Reduced leadership effectiveness and, by extension, team and organizational effectiveness.
  • Being focused on the original “goal” at the expense of stakeholder satisfaction.

Persistence and resilience are valuable attributes in the right place at the right time but need to be applied sensibly.

 

The Challenge

As with the manufacturing of swords, resilience, plasticity, hardness and softness are all important characteristics that are needed at different times. However, unlike a sword, people can adapt their behavior to each situation.

At times an agile/adaptive approach is best, bending to the needs of other stakeholders and changing the goals you are working towards. At times a fragile approach is best — break the relationship and walk away from the unnecessary stress (but you do need the internal resilience to accept the break and move on). In other circumstances, resilience and persistence are precisely the right response to adverse circumstances.

The difficulty we all face is knowing which option is best in each situation both as an individual and as a member of an organization or team. Acquiring the practical wisdom to know the difference is never going to be easy. Perhaps one solution can be found in an effective team. Melding people with different characteristics into a strong and effective solution — it worked for the ancient swordsmiths, why not you?

How do you balance resilience and adaptability?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 29, 2017 08:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 Tips For Simplifying Complexity

By Dave Wakeman

Project managers have an essential—but sometimes thankless—job. They stand at the intersection of complex projects filled with countless stakeholders that don’t always see eye to eye.

This can lead to a great deal of frustration—but great communication skills can make the job easier.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about being a better listener. But over the last few weeks, I’ve come around to an even better goal for all of us: making things as simple as possible, even when the answer is complex.

Great communicators make the complex simple—and for project managers that can be the difference between success and failure.

The good news: With practice, we can all get better. Here are three ideas for turning the complex into something much simpler.

Focus on logical steps: When you’re working on a complex project, it can be easy to focus only on the finish line while all of the steps in between become weights hanging around your neck. This can lead to decision fatigue or analysis paralysis.

But, if you can train yourself to think about the project and how to simplify it for your teams, you can usually look to your milestones and see how the project might breakdown into micro-projects.

Within each micro-project there are likely a number of logical steps. Your job as a project manager is to make sure that your team sees those steps so that they can take action on them ASAP.

Thus, you’ve removed the roadblock of prioritization and simplified implementation.

Emphasize clear communication: Many of us communicate unintentionally. We don’t think about how we are saying things or that each audience might have a different understanding of our common language.

I tell my clients that it often helps to communicate like you are talking with a novice. That may be extreme, but you have to make sure that your communication is getting across clearly.

Over the years that I have been writing for PMI, I’ve written almost exclusively about the importance of soft skills. Communication is probably the most essential of these soft skills. And the most important rule of communication is that if someone doesn’t understand what you have instructed them to do or what you have shared with them, it’s your fault, not theirs.

To simplify your projects, I want you to think about how you can make communication clear to someone who may not be as deeply entrenched in the acronyms and jargon as you are.

And, if you aren’t sure that you are being clear, you can always ask: “Did that make sense, or did I make it sound like a foreign language?”

Always work to improve your processes: Logical steps and communication should teach you a lot about your project and your team. Over time, this should help you and your teams develop a high level of expertise and a number of best practices.

One great thing about best practices is that they can help simplify hard projects, communication and the amount of setup that goes into any project. The down side is that if you aren’t careful about capturing those best practices over time and working to spread these ideas across your organizations and teams, they become useless.

After all, without implementation, you have nothing but more knowledge. And knowledge without action is just noise.

As a leader, you must work to continuously improve the delivery processes that you and your teams use. The ultimate simplification is developed over time by improving processes, focuses and actions.

While improvement in this area isn’t necessarily a given, if you have been focusing on next logical steps and great, simple communications, it is likely that your processes will improve because the complex projects are likely to be slightly simpler.

With simplicity comes a greater awareness of what’s working and what isn’t. With that, you can be efficient. Something we should all hope to achieve.

How do you strive to simplify things for your teams?

 

BTW, if you like this stuff and the stuff I usually post, I do a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending me an email at dave @ davewakeman.com

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: September 25, 2017 09:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)
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