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
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
Sree Rao
Yasmina Khelifi
Marat Oyvetsky
Lenka Pincot
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
cyndee miller

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Recent Posts

3 Agile Disconnects We Need to Address

What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends

Governance Models: The Secret to Successful Agile Projects

3 Valuable PM Lessons I Learned in 2023

The 4 P’s of Successful Modern PMs

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3 Agile Disconnects We Need to Address

Categories: Agile

By Lynda Bourne

The never-ending debate between agile and waterfall seems to be fuelled by different groups of people talking about completely different concepts with little understanding of other’s perspectives. From my viewpoint, some of the key disconnects are:

Agile vs. Agility: In the modern VUCA[1] environment, agility is important. But organizational agility is not the same as the organization choosing to use an agile project delivery process.

Organizational agility is constrained by the nature of the organization and its assets. A major mining company cannot suddenly decide to stop mining iron ore and focus on rare earths; is has billions invested in its existing mines, and new mines take many years to bring on-line. It can refocus investments “immediately,”, but the results take decades to be fully realized?and suddenly deciding to reverse the decision in a few years’ time will waste millions. Adaptability is important, but decisions have to be nuanced.

Conversely, a small consulting business whose main asset is its people can decide to shift focus on an almost daily basis to keep up with fast moving trends?think of applying AI in almost any sphere.

However, any type of organization can choose to use an agile methodology to help deliver those projects that benefit from an inherent flexibility in working.

Agile vs. Projects: Agile methods are not exclusive to projects, and not all projects benefit from agile.

Agile methods such as Kanban and Scrum can be used for operational maintenance (particularly of software) without the overhead of project management. The maintenance team use its preferred method to prioritize the repair and upgrading of the operational system and keep track of the backlog. New requests are added to the backlog, prioritized, and completed in a stable business-as-usual function.

Where using a project approach to undertaking a defined scope of work is desirable, some projects are suitable for the use of agile methods, others are not. Most “soft” projects creating an intangible product such as software will benefit from an agile approach to development. But heavy engineering projects where safety and structural considerations are paramount need a fully planned and disciplined approach to avoid disaster.

There is a continuum from projects that are suited to agile through to those where a tightly controlled planned approach is essential. Deciding on how to best manage projects along the spectrum is as much a cultural decision as a technical one.

Non-Agile Projects vs. Waterfall: Agile advocates continue to try to divide the world into “agile = good”, “waterfall = bad”. I discussed this issue in my post “The Problem with Waterfall, Agile & ‘Other.’

The simple fact is very few software projects use waterfall; the concept was promulgated by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1988 for software development and abandoned in 1994, but some organizations have hung onto the perception of “control” for various reasons. However, outside of the software industry, no one uses waterfall.

Contrary to the view of most agile advocates, the concept of change as defined in the Agile Manifesto and change in almost all other projects is based on the same premise. From the Manifesto’s second principle: Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage. Change that destroys customer value is no more welcome in an agile project as any other.

Every contract for the delivery of a project to a client I’ve seen in the last 50 years has included clauses for the management of change. What varies is the cost of implementing the change. If you have delivered 15 out of 20 software modules and the client asks for five more, there will be time and cost implications based on the 25% increase in scope. If you have built 15 stories in a 20-story high-rise building and the client demands an additional five stories be added, the only option is to demolish everything, install stronger foundations and start again. But if the client decides to change the building color scheme from pale grey to pale blue before the paint is ordered, the cost of the change will be minimal. Regardless of the project delivery approach, change is only beneficial if it creates additional value.

Where the Agile Manifesto is of value across all project type is in its focus on relationships, people, and communication. These concepts are becoming more important in all industries and across all project types.

Conclusion
We need to move on from the “agile/waterfall” debate and recognize:

  1. An appropriate level of organizational agility is essential in the modern VUCA world.
  2. Agile project delivery methods have benefit in the right situations; they are not a silver bullet to solve all project delivery challenges.
  3. Waterfall is not a synonym for bad project management; no one uses waterfall, but there are plenty of examples of bad project management around.
  4. Good project management focuses on relationships, communication, and people by motivating the right people and using the best approaches to deliver value to the project client. But the best approach depends on the nature of the project deliverable.

What do you think?


[1] VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: February 16, 2024 06:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

What to Expect: Anticipating and Adapting to Dynamic Economic Trends

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate strategic planning, organizations face the perpetual dilemma of choosing between capital spending for growth—and optimizing operations for efficiency. Striking the right balance amidst economic trends and leveraging organizational strengths becomes paramount when navigating through strategic projects. Meeting shareholder and stakeholder needs, while aligning with the organization's mission, presents a constant challenge.

To anticipate potential initiatives, project managers must consider global macroeconomic conditions and CEO outlooks. A preliminary assessment based on the United Nations World Economic Situation and Prospects and OECD Economic Outlook reports for 2024 reveals a projected global economic growth slowdown from 2.7% to 2.4%. This trend suggests a delicate balance between slow growth and regional divergences. Key considerations include:

  • Global inflation showing signs of easing from 5.7% to a projected 3.9%
  • Slowed global investment trends due to uncertainties, debt burdens and interest rates
  • Fading global trade growth attributed to shifting consumer expenditure, geopolitical tensions, supply chain troubles, pandemic effects and protectionist policies
  • Notable regional examples include the United States expecting a GDP drop from 2.5% to 1.4%, China experiencing a modest slowdown from 5.3% to 4.7%, Europe and Japan projecting growth rates of 1.2%, and Africa's growth expected to slightly increase from 3.3% to 3.5%

Examining the corporate landscape, a survey of 167 CEOs in December 2023 indicated a confidence index of 6.3 out of 10 for the 2024 economy—the highest of the year. The CEO upsurge assumes inflation is under control, the Fed may not raise interest rates and instead reverse rates, setting up a new cycle of growth. Furthering the CEO agenda, McKinsey & Co. identified eight CEO 2024 priorities:

  • Innovating with GEN AI to dominate the future
  • Outcompeting with technology to drive value
  • Driving energy transition for net zero, decarbonization, and scaling green businesses
  • Cultivating institutional capability for competitive advantage
  • Building out middle managers
  • Positioning for success amidst geopolitical risks
  • Developing growth strategies for continued outperformance
  • Considering the broader macroeconomic wealth picture for identifying growth

As project managers, navigating the uncertainty of economic shifts necessitates staying vigilant. The year may bring variables and predictions that impact the execution probability of strategic projects. Shifting between growth plans and efficiency drivers demands different preparation. To stay prepared, consider the following:

  • Regularly monitor global economic indicators and CEO outlooks
  • Foster agility within the team to adapt to changing priorities
  • Develop scenario plans that account for potential economic shifts
  • Collaborate with key stakeholders to gather real-time insights
  • Continuously reassess project priorities based on evolving economic conditions

In an environment of perpetual change, proactive monitoring, adaptability and strategic collaboration will be key to successfully steering projects through the dynamic economic landscape.

How else can you stay prepared as the demands shift on you and your team?

References

  1. JP Morgan: Economic Trends
  2. Economic outlook: A mild slowdown in 2024 and slightly improved growth in 2025
  3. UN: World Economic Situation and Prospects 2024
  4. McKinsey: What matters most? Eight CEO priorities for 2024
  5. CEOs Gain Confidence About 2024 On Hopes Of Lower Rates
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: January 26, 2024 12:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Governance Models: The Secret to Successful Agile Projects

By Soma Bhattacharya

Everyone associates stand-ups and retrospectives with the agile way of doing things. Yet very few
give credit to the governance model that needs to be set up to ensure things are working. This isn’t
just about keeping the project running, but also to ensure:


1. Alignment with objectives: A well-thought-out governance model aligns with the project’s goals,
expectations and outcomes. A good way to look at the objectives and their success is to compare the
planned versus delivered features on a quarterly basis. Conduct retrospectives at the project level on
the spillovers, misses and root cause analysis for defects coming in—and what can be done to ensure
the objectives are still met. 


2. Decision making: When there’s clarity built into the governance model, it helps enable quick
decisions that are required in the everchanging market (often with shifting priorities) to deliver a
project. This can range from the prioritization required for “big room” planning when a new quarter
starts, or decisions for the sales and marketing of the product (and what the minimum viable product
is).


3. Risk management: When potential issues need addressing or help from stakeholders, the
governance model helps with risk management, too. During most regular meetings that are set up
over the period of the project, risk management issues are brought up and resolved to ensure the
project is still on schedule. These are very high-level, complex risks that would need the interference
of the stakeholders to get things done. This could mean bringing in a new vendor, looking into SLAs
or simply bringing in new teams and budget approvals to get something done.


4. Resource allocation: To deliver a high-quality product, resource allocation is essential—in
particular, “getting the right ones” from across teams in the organization. While adding more team
members might need to go through approvals with project stakeholders and sponsors, resource
allocation could also entail temporarily moving teams from one product to another to get things
moving and to maintain timelines.


5. Stakeholder engagement: The governance model defines the roles and responsibilities of the
project and allows for better communication and collaboration among stakeholders. This could range
from multiple ways of sharing the governance updates (like formal emails and reports), to the sharing
of a tool dashboard (to give an overview that anyone can look into at any point in time). What this
ensures is the right level of engagement can be requested based on the requirements.


6. Performance monitoring: This can include key performance metrics, ensuring the data is
available to make the decisions, and also to look at continuous improvements. Most teams and
projects these days have tools and dashboards that are automated and generate the required
performance reports. The reports can be made specific based on what information needs to be
dispersed—from delegations to check-ins, everything can be made available to monitor project
wellness.

What does your team or project do when defining the governance model?

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: January 18, 2024 10:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 Valuable PM Lessons I Learned in 2023

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

We are almost at the end of 2023! As I take a moment to reflect on this wild ride of a year, here are three key lessons I learned that I wanted to share with you all.

1. Embrace change: Projects are like a box of chocolates…you never know which ones might get canceled.
As program managers, we are no strangers to change. Yet some types of changes are easier to deal with than others. 2023 has been a turbulent year for me with multiple project cancellations right before releasing them to production.

It was super demotivating. But as technology continues to evolve, customer needs shift and market trends change, it's essential to stay flexible and change course as strategy demands. If you ever have to deal with such a situation, rather than feeling demotivated you should embrace it as an opportunity for growth and learning. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to lead your team through the ups and downs.

One of my mentors gave this perspective, which has helped me immensely: “We get paid to do the work without promises that the features/projects will be released to production. So as long as you get paid and you are continuing to learn, do your best work and leave the rest.”


2. About pursuing your passion: Stop comparing yourself to others.
You might have heard this advice from several people: If you pursue your passion, your work will be more enjoyable. For the longest time, I have been beating myself up because I don’t have any passions (unless binge watching TV counts as a passion? :)). I personally do not find this advice to be practical, so I made peace with the realization that it is important to be content with myself rather than compare myself to others who are “pursuing their passion.”

What I realized is that we can pursue our interests in other ways and means instead of completely switching careers or trying to turn hobbies into a living. We can pursue our passions/interests in small ways like finding opportunities in the domain that we are interested in. As an example, if your hobby is photography and photo editing, perhaps you could continue being a program manager but find a job in a company that specializes in photo editing software like Adobe.

Find the domain or area that brings you joy—whether it's event management, innovation or team building—and find opportunities in that domain. When you enjoy what you do, everyone benefits—not just your own well-being, but also your program's success.


3. Attitude of gratitude: The secret ingredient to well-being, in both your professional and personal life!
Last but not least is cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Sure, there are always things that could have gone better (like projects not getting canceled), but be grateful for what we have.

As a program manager, we have the privilege of working with talented team members who contribute their skills and expertise to our projects. Rather than thinking “they are doing their job,” make it a point to express gratitude toward them regularly. A simple "thank you" or acknowledgement can go a long way in building positive relationships within your team
and fostering a supportive work environment. Additionally, practicing gratitude can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

By embracing these three lessons, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of program management in 2024 and beyond. Remember, as a program manager, our role goes beyond managing projects; it's about leading people, fostering collaboration and driving impactful results.

As we bid farewell to another year, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for your thoughtful comments and engagement. (A special shoutout to our editor Cameron for inspiring me to write and for shaping my musings a better way). Wishing you all a blessed 2024!

Posted by Sree Rao on: December 11, 2023 11:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

The 4 P’s of Successful Modern PMs

Dave Wakeman

November 2023

I recently wrote about the nature of artificial intelligence in project management, and I think people might have been confused that I’d put the highlight so heavily on the person managing the project.

My take has nothing to do with not believing that AI can be a powerful tool, if used well. Nor should my take imply that you should ignore AI.

As always, my take is about the people involved in managing a project. The things that only us humans can do.

With that in mind, I wanted to revisit some of the foundations of the human skills that we need to be successful PMs, no matter what kind of project we are working on.

1. Presence: You need to be there when you are working on a project. You need to listen to the stakeholders and team members you are talking with. You need to be aware of the situation you are involved in. You need to not try and juggle many things at once.

Great project managers are in the moment, working through the task at hand, even when there are tons of other tasks demanding their attention.

2. People Skills: People manage projects. People work on projects. Without people, there are no projects.

To be successful as a PM, you have to be successful in dealing with people. This doesn’t call for over-the-top extroversion, but it does require that you be able to build coalitions, negotiate and get people to take actions.

One of the challenges we all struggle with from time to time is our individual area of responsibility, but the best PMs recognize that everything is connected.

3. Perception: Another name for this is business acumen. I’ve written about business acumen in the past. I’ve even hinted at it in the point above. The key for PMs is that you need to know the context of your project and be able to actually take action on what’s going to deliver the most value for your organization and the stakeholders you serve.

Perception requires you to bring context to every encounter with team members, stakeholders and sponsors. It isn’t enough to look at the scope of work; to be truly successful, you have to go beyond the first level and look deeper to the core value that the project is creating in your world—and the world around the project.

4. Proficiency: You have to be able to deliver. As a PM, proficiency might come in the form of great negotiation skills. You might need the ability to get people to see their responsibilities and roles from a different situation, a more expansive POV.

Proficiency is also likely to change from moment to moment because one of the biggest skills we all need is managing change and uncertainty. Being proficient at that is likely the most important skill we can all develop, now and into the future.

Let me ask you: What are the core skills that you feel need to be in the tool kit of the modern PM?

Let me know in the comments below.

Posted by David Wakeman on: November 30, 2023 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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