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
Soma Bhattacharya

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés 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

Business Transformation in Disguise

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Leadership Lessons From The Soccer Field

5 Steps to Reverse a Project in Chaos

Put Your Users First—Here’s How

Business Transformation in Disguise

Business Transformation in Disguise

By Jess Tayel

In the quest to uplift capabilities, better serve customers, improve the bottom line or acquire market share, organizations rely on a mix of projects and programs.

Some projects are scored as critical and complex. Some organizations have a clear and defined scoring system of what is critical and what is not, while others settle for a subjective measure.

But even after you’ve determined a project is critical, there’s more to consider.

Is it Change or Transformation?

When it comes to big, critical projects, ask yourself: Are you delivering a change initiative or a business transformation initiative?

Why is this distinction important? Because they both have different characteristics that dictate how they should be brought to life.

Change initiatives execute a defined set of projects or initiatives that may or may not impact how things work across the entire organization.  Examples include introducing a new payroll system, moving into a centralized shared services model or executing an office move.

Business transformation, however, is a portfolio of initiatives that have a high level of interdependencies, leading to change across the organization. They’re focused not just on execution but also on reinventing and discovering a new or a revised business model. That model is based on a significant business outcome that will determine the future of the organization.

With that in mind, business transformation is more unpredictable and iterative, and it’s about a substantial change in mindset and ways of doing business. The “how” may not be as defined as it is in change initiatives, which means you need to try different methods and be more experimental.

Set Your Organization up for Success

Because of these distinctions, business transformation should never start with finding a solution, i.e., bring in this technology, hire this firm, change model X to Y. It should instead focus on the following:

  • Why?
    • Define the purpose and the platform of urgency.
    • Why is this important?
    • What would happen if you do not achieve this transformation?
  • Who?
    • Who is your customer (internally and externally)? Tip: Internal customers, i.e., employees, are as important as your external customers. Understanding their point of view and what impact they will have on the success of this program is critical.
    • What would that mean for your customers?
    • What competitive advantage are you bringing to your customers and to the market?
    • What changes to behavior and mindset is required to make this change a success?
  • What?
    • Define success.
    • How do you measure success?
    • What does success look like in the future? Tip: Be as detailed as possible. Tell a story of success X months into the future.
    • What are the barriers to success?
    • What are the top three risks that may affect this transformation?
    • What are the top three opportunities that you need to capitalize on to deliver success?

You may say that these questions can be part of the initiation phase. But in my 20 years of experience around the globe, I have rarely seen the above steps executed diligently from a customer centricity point of view before teams start to dig for a solution.

That said, time spent clearly articulating those elements is well spent and directly contributes to the success of the transformation, while reducing rework and change fatigue. It’s like spending time to sharpen your saw before starting to cut the tree.

In my next post, I will talk more about what is required from the leadership and internal transformation teams to facilitate and create success.

Feel free to comment below and send feedback; I would love to hear about your experiences with business transformation

Posted by Jess Tayel on: July 03, 2019 01:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

There are fundamentally two types of organizations: functional and projectized. Of course, between those there are various combinations of functional and projectized in the form of matrix and hybrid.

Every organization type has its own advantages and disadvantages, but from the project point of view, functional organizations are most challenging, due to their focus on individual functional work.

A typical functional organization has departments like R&D, operations, procurement, human resources, quality assurance and—on occasion—project management. Each department focuses on its own area.

The challenge is, projects are often multifunctional, crossing various functions and requiring contributions from all departments. In a typical functional organization, there is no one who looks after projects end to end and connects all the dots. A project manager has little authority over the resources of other departments. All told, this results in several challenges:

  1. The project manager has little or no authority over team members as they report to their respective functional managers.
  2. Team members may not give much importance to project work due to their loyalty towards their department.
  3. Team members may work in silos due to the loose coupling among departments and the missing connecting thread.
  4. Trust among team members may not be strong as they work in silos.
  5. Functional managers or resources may not have equal zeal to achieve project objectives as they don’t own the end results.
  6. Resources are not dedicated for a project as they support multiple projects at a time.
  7. The project manager may not have any say in selecting team members.
  8. Changing priorities of function groups independent of project priorities may bring changes in resource allocation and can impact project progress inversely.
  9. The project manager may not have functional managers’ buy-in.
  10. Various functional managers and the project manager may have conflicting opinions. They may take time to reach an agreement or do not achieve an agreement all together.

Despite all these challenges, a project manager still has the responsibility to make the project successful. How can they do this?

Let’s discuss some tools and techniques that a project manager can use:

  1. Stakeholder Analysis

Until you get to know the stakeholders and analyze their engagement, a project cannot be successful. The communication strategy is key to bind stakeholders, and any communication strategy without proper stakeholder analysis will be ineffective. Moreover, it will lead to chaos.

  1. Kickoff Meeting

A project launch, the kickoff meeting is an important event and may decide its fate. It helps in onboarding functional managers, securing their buy-in and building trust. Take time to ask each functional manager what they want from the project in order to support it.

  1. Trust-building

The project will become a struggle if trust is not built among stakeholders, especially in a functional organization. The kickoff is the starting point. Project managers need to build transparency and create opportunities for networking and exchanging ideas. Keep functional managers informed about project progress and seek their help when required. In turn, offer help when they need it. A helping mind set could be key to build trust.

  1. Networking

In a functional organization there is a fair possibility that people on the project work in silos. Therefore it is important for the project manager to create networking opportunities for greater interaction among contributors and supporters. Informal networking events could be more effective.

  1. Conflict Management

Due to the different goals of independent functions, varied personalities and the loosely coupled structure of functional organizations, different functional managers may have opinions that differ from the project manager’s. To get a functional manager’s buy-in, conflict management skills are essential. Please refer my post The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict. A project manager has to find a solution where both the functional manager and project manager feel they’re winning and achieving their goals.

  1. Communication

Communication is an underlying skill required to apply all the tools we’ve discussed so far. A project manager has to focus on two aspects: establishing an information system and ensuring effective interaction with team members and stakeholders. A project management information system keeps stakeholders informed and fosters collaboration. Effective interaction requires active listening skills. Here, refer to my posts Listen Up and 8 Steps for Better Listening. Listening skills help you understand others better, do stakeholder analysis, make up your mind and thereby communicate effectively.

I’d love to hear from you: How do you drive your projects to success in a functional organization? I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 03, 2019 12:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Leadership Lessons From The Soccer Field

Categories: Best Practices

by Dave Wakeman

I’ve been doing some reading on leadership. I don’t know exactly what brought the topic to mind, but I think it’s a combination of coaching my 9-year-old son’s soccer team and seeing institutions struggle to get people to take responsibility for their actions. 

As project managers, you are leaders in your organization and your team. That’s why I wanted to highlight a few leadership lessons I learned coaching a bunch of 9-year-olds—lessons you can apply to your teams.

Simplify Your Message

When we were coaching our soccer team, the other parent coaching with me came up with the 3 Ps that symbolized what we wanted our kids to learn over the course of the season. 

Those Ps were:

  • Passing
  • Possession
  • Pressure

Each P represents a principle we wanted to teach the kids about life and soccer. Passing was about being a good teammate and recognizing that you have to work together. 

Possession was about paying attention to what is going on around you and making the proper decision.

Pressure was about taking action and initiative. 

You can see how much these things apply in life. What would happen if you broke your own message down into a simple format? Maybe even 3 Ps for your project? 

Be Decisive

In a lot of businesses and teams, people love responsibility but never want to make decisions. In coaching youth soccer, you learn pretty quickly that if you don’t have a plan and you don’t act with intention, the kids will run all over you. I think the same happens in projects without strong leadership. 

If you aren’t acting quickly and decisively, your team can start taking actions that are inconsistent with your goals and ambitions. But how do you act decisively, especially when you are operating in situations with little clarity? 

Four steps stand out to me:

  • Have a plan for what you want to achieve.
  • Gather information about your decision.
  • Consider your options.
  • Be confident and fake it if you have to. 

Recognize the Buck Stops With You

The most important thing in coaching and project management is that you have to be responsible—win or lose, succeed or fail. You have to take ownership of the outcomes you produce, no matter what. 

Why is this so important? Because when a team doesn’t have a strong talisman to identify with and look to for support, it can create a situation where the team underperforms, has a lot of disagreements and doesn’t meet its goals. 

The best way to accomplish this is to be decisive, as mentioned earlier, be clear in your communications, and be consistent in your demands and expectations. 

If you do all of that, you will hopefully find that you are not just a project manager, but a project leader. 

Have you found a way to distill your leadership strategy into a simple message for your project teams? Please comment below.

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: June 27, 2019 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

5 Steps to Reverse a Project in Chaos

By Ramiro Rodrigues

 

Recently, an acquaintance pointed out to me that the projects environment is susceptible to chaos. In his view, all it takes is a lack of effective leadership. If leaders aren’t constantly focused on solving the problems that occur in an environment of resistance and change, chaos will take place. After 20 years of professional work on corporate projects, I couldn’t disagree.

 

Obviously, the forces that pave the path to chaos in projects are not exact, but rather derived from human factors. Without adequate leadership, distinct interests, personalities and priorities will drive any corporate enterprise to disorder and, consequently, failure.

 

But if chaos has already taken hold, is there a way to reverse it?

 

In order to determine an effective solution, you’ll need to research and analyze the environment. Here, I present a practical and relevant framework for projects in this situation:

 

Step 1: Investigate carefully and critically all the variables that are exerting power in the project. These could include the political context, governance, financial and operational applications, organizational models, skills and the human characteristics of those involved.

 

Step 2: Based on these investigations, develop a list of items that are bringing negative interferences to the success of the project and seek to prioritize them with the support of the project sponsor. Consider all the layers of issues that are creating turmoil on the project. 

 

Step 3: With the list in your hands, develop a proposal of actions aimed at the effective recovery of the items. The tip here is that one should be attentive so that the proposed actions to recover the specific items do not divert at any time from the ultimate goals of the project.

 

Step 4: Validate whether the project sponsor is truly engaged and committed to making the proposed recovery plan viable. Without their engagement, the effort will be worthless.

 

Step 5: Execute the recovery plan as a parallel project, albeit one related to the original project. In this stage, it is important to implement best practices of project management, such as status meetings with the analysis of obtained results and clear communication with those involved.

 

It’s obvious this process will require more effort from the leadership, but if the sponsoring organization is committed and interested in project recovery, the investment is justified. And in this context, the project manager will have a great opportunity to demonstrate his or her resilience and ability to overcome challenges.

 

Have you turned around a project in chaos? Share your experiences below.

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: June 25, 2019 08:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Put Your Users First—Here’s How

by Christian Bisson, PMP, PSPO, PSM

In agile, users are everything. So it only makes sense that users—anyone who will use or interact with your product—should be a team’s main focus. In order for the product to be viable, whatever is produced must bring them value.

But it’s perhaps too easy to forget users when you build your backlog. We often jump too quickly to features, assuming “the users will use this.” But what if we took a step back? Consider taking the following steps:

Identify Your Target Audience

First, for whom is this product intended? Identifying a target audience will help you determine who you’re building for.

For example, if you expect users who aren’t tech-savvy, then you need to be mindful of how complex the interface or even the wording are throughout.

It’s important to describe these users. One common practice is to create “personas,” which are fictional characters that represent the users. These will help you better understand your audience.

Understand Their Goals

Now that we know our audience, what are they trying to achieve? Instead of jumping from personas to features, stop and think about their goals.

Are they trying to purchase something online? Are they trying to fetch information? Are they trying to plan a trip? The answers to these questions will shape your direction.

Predict Their Path Forward

We know who is trying to achieve what. The next key step is to define “how” the users are going to achieve their goals.

Let’s assume the user wants to purchase a toy. That user will most likely need to:

  • Search to find toys
  • Be able to view the toys
  • Add a toy to a cart
  • Make the official purchase

Let’s keep it simple. We can extrapolate that this user might be interested in items related to this item, or many other scenarios, but for now, the above is our user’s steps.

Once this is clearly defined, it is much simpler for:

  • Our product owner to create user stories clearly stating what the user needs and for what: “As a customer, I want to search for products by categories so I can more easily find what I am looking for.”
  • Our development team to understand why this (these) features matter, and how we’ll architect them, because we understand why we are doing it.

Keep Users Top of Mind

I’ve seen too many teams skip these important steps. Often, people are so quick to execute what is instructed by managers, or by assumptions from the team, that they forget to think about who they are building the product for. The user, of course, will ultimately decide the product’s success. That’s why it’s so important that our product brings value to users.

What do you do to focus on users? How do you verify if you are bringing value to them? Share!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: June 19, 2019 09:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
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