By Kevin Korterud
Program management made news in December (though perhaps not front-page headlines) when the United States Senate unanimously approved the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act. The legislation enacted a number of initiatives for improving federal program delivery, which has suffered from past budget, schedule and quality challenges.
While government legislation is not necessarily my weekend reading of choice, I recently spent time reviewing the new law. It quickly became apparent to me that, although targeted at improving the delivery of U.S. federal programs, it includes many considerations that are universally relevant to program delivery, even if you’re working in the private sector.
As part of the legislation, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget has been tasked with several new functions related to program and project management. Let’s take a look at two that I find particularly exciting and relevant to program managers around the world.
1. Chart A Strategic Course
Executives often tell me they don’t know where to start when it comes to improving program delivery. There are typically so many interrelated issues that it’s difficult to determine which actions would have the greatest impact on delivery results.
Other disciplines, such as technology architecture, business change management and customer satisfaction, typically work from some sort of strategic or transformational roadmap. The roadmaps identify common issues, solution strategies and transformational initiatives that drive success for that discipline.
The new federal legislation requires the deputy director of management to “establish a 5-year strategic plan for program and project management.” A program management maturity roadmap will provide a common vision around necessary improvements. And given the size and complexity of federal programs, it will also help teams avoid repeating prior delivery missteps, and enhance the performance of program management processes.
2. Lay a Solid Foundation
Early in my project and program management career, it was common for companies to have a homogenous, centralized employee workforce with strong business and technical domain knowledge that was built over many years. Today, the landscape of program delivery is much more fragmented and fragile.
Global delivery centers, various delivery approaches (waterfall vs. agile), business leaders that rotate every few years, contractors that play a larger role in delivery and emerging technologies are all components that complicate program delivery. It is a wonder that program delivery is ever successful!
The new federal legislation says the deputy director must also, “oversee implementation of program and project management for the standards, policies, and guidelines…” The creation of program management standards, policies and guidelines will serve as a foundation to harmonize the discordant realities of modern program delivery. By establishing unified rules, boundaries, practices and performance metrics that drive a cohesive approach, the inherent complexities of today’s programs can be successfully addressed.
What elements of the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act do you find most intriguing? I look forward to discussing.
By Marian Haus, PMP
Project managers have a major influence on the projects they run. Attitudes and leadership styles play a large part in how the team works together, how projects are delivered and the general environment for everyone involved.
Here’s a look at two very different project management approaches— authoritarian and participatory—and how they impact the entire project team.
Authoritarian Project Management
An authoritarian project manager dominates the project with his or her personality and ego, putting objectives first with a low emphasis on how the project team feels about the project journey. He or she imposes unquestionable edicts that must be followed no matter what. And goals and milestones are set without necessarily consulting the project team.
An authoritarian management and leadership style generally creates a tense project environment, with little room for independent actions and joy.
While an authoritarian style may be suitable in a rigid organization or in government or military institutions, this style will rarely work in other project environments where participation is encouraged or decisions must be made with the input of multiple departments.
Participatory Project Management
A participative project manager involves other team members or leaders in the decision-making process. A participatory project environment is, in general, a positive working environment, where responsibility and accountability are shared.
A participative project manager is typically more successful in small and collaborative teams and in projectized organizations where the project and its outcome are prioritized over obedience to the chain of command.
Without radical cultural changes, the participatory management and leadership style can be quite challenging when applied in a rigid and functionally organized project environment.
To quote author and management expert Kenneth H. Blanchard, a participative project manager understands that “the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”
What attitudes and leadership styles have you encountered? I’d like to hear your story.
By Jen L. Skrabak, PfMP, PMP
The #PMLoveStories theme on ProjectManagement.com in February got me thinking about why I love portfolio management.
1. Portfolio management closes the strategy to execution gap
Simply doing projects better by focusing on scope, time and cost is not improving our success rates. It’s time to improve portfolio management by identifying and selecting the programs and projects with the highest value.
2. The portfolio represents your organization’s actual priorities.
Look for the gap that may exist between what the organization’ says its strategy is and what its portfolio does.
By examining your portfolio, you can start assessing how many programs and projects are truly aligned to the organization’s defined vision, mission, objectives and strategic plan. You can see where the resources are focused and what the actual vs. anticipated performance of the programs and projects are.
In the end, you, the portfolio manager, are the conduit to strategic alignment and execution — a powerful role in an organization if done right. The key is to not only know the portfolio’s status, but also to monitor, react to and embrace change so the highest value work is done.
3. Portfolio managers have to think like CEOs.
For portfolio managers, it’s about more than managing or controlling scope, schedule and cost. You are ultimately accountable for the results. You’re empowered to allocate resources (human and financial), and you have the ability to negotiate with and influence executives to determine the path forward. The portfolio manager is the only person who can oversee and communicate the state of the portfolio by aggregating data into actionable information, ensure the decisions are made in a timely manner, and proactively address key issues, risks, and opportunities.
4. Portfolio managers see the big picture.
How would you describe your portfolio personality when you look at it holistically—aggressive, innovative, keep the lights on, or confused? What’s the overall value your portfolio delivers and how did managing it comprehensively boost that value?
When value is not measured by time, scope, and cost, but aggregate and measurable results, it puts different priorities into focus. That drives the identification, selection, and execution of the right programs and projects.
Share your #PMLoveStories!
By Wanda Curlee
Do project and program managers need to be experts in the industry or sector they work in? While many would say yes, others argue that a competent and experienced project or program manager can lead initiatives in any area.
I would agree with the latter—with one caveat. Project and program managers who lack experience in a given field must be willing to do research and fill any knowledge gaps to make their efforts successful.
Research is the key to staying current. As a program or project manager, you must be able to ask subject matter experts smart, targeted questions. By arming yourself with the right information, you’ll be able to challenge assumptions and better navigate schedules, risks and other issues. And raising these questions will also drive creativity and innovation.
There are several online tools that I often use to conduct project–related research, including:
Google Scholar: This is a good tool for Boolean, or combined keyword, searches. It returns a list of reputable articles, books, abstracts and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other websites. For most results, the title, author's name and abstract can be seen, but the full piece is behind a paywall.
Semantic Scholar: This engine—still in beta—has artificial intelligence built into the search, which is amazing. For those who have used EBSCOhost or ProQuest as a student or an academic, Semantic Scholar will look somewhat familiar. It’s based on Boolean searches as well, but, unlike Google Scholar, 99 percent of the returned articles are available as PDFs.
Semantic Scholar also lets you narrow your search. For example, you can search based on author(s), limit the search to a certain publication timeframe and only review articles in certain journals.
Depending on the search, some articles can also be sliced and diced by topic. For example, when I did a search on neuroscience and leadership, I was able to pick articles on certain areas of the brain. Even more fascinating, I could filter down to the type of brain cell discussed.
These are two of my go-to tools. Where do you turn when conducting project research and preparing to lead an effort in a new field?
By Conrado Morlan
Risk identification is one of the first tasks many project managers tackle when they’re assigned a new project. But identifying risks can’t be a one-time effort.
The risk log is a living document that needs to be scrubbed and updated on a regular basis. Future internal or external factors can always impact the project.
And while it may be natural to think of risks as negative, that’s not always the case. Risks can also present opportunities that uncover new project benefits or enhance the benefits that were originally defined.
Here are a few examples of risks—and opportunities—that emerged during a project and took me by surprise.
Force Majeure: The Eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull
The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland caused enormous disruption to air transportation across western and northern Europe in 2010.
While much of the media focused on air travel, freight-transport customers around the world also experienced parcel delivery delays.
At the time, I was deploying a regional project across the Americas for a global logistics firm. The project was put on hold so all employees could support the emergency effort to deliver parcels during the crisis.
The response plan rerouted flights originally scheduled for the hub in Germany to several cities in Italy where parcels were then transported via ground vehicles. And customer service representatives increased communication with customers about their shipment’s status.
In the end, the logistics company didn’t lose any customers and, in fact, many customers were pleased with how the force majeure was handled. The company also demonstrated to the customer the company’s effective emergency plan for crisis situations.
While this unforeseen risk delayed the regional project I was working on, I kept the project stakeholders informed frequently of the project team activities throughout the crisis and shared the actions to be taken to bring the project back on track.
Geopolitical Events: Fidel Castro’s Death
In December 2015, the United States and Cuba agreed to re-establish regularly scheduled flights, allowing selected U.S. airlines daily trips between the two countries.
During the first quarter of 2016, those airlines were launching projects to open new services to one or more destinations in Cuba. It was a daunting job. The projects would need to comply with U.S. and Cuban regulations. And information was not flowing rapidly between the two countries.
The airline I was supporting was awarded three Cuban destinations. But in November, while we were finalizing details for the first flight to Havana, we learned about Fidel Castro’s death.
During the mourning period, all communications with Cuban government officials and agencies were suspended. Trips airline employees working on the project had planned to take to Cuba were canceled.
The project team was uncertain what this delay would mean for the first scheduled flights to Havana. To address the potential risk, different scenarios that included the postponement and cancelation of flights were defined and mitigation plans were drafted for potential implementation.
After the mourning period, communications were restored and project activities normalized. Ultimately, the geopolitical event did not impact the scheduled flights, but it was a risk that could not have been anticipated.
As a project manager, what unforeseen risks have impacted your projects? How did you address and mitigate those risks?