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
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David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
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Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
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Help! I Have Both Waterfall & Agile Projects in My Program (Part 2)

By Kevin Korterud

I’m frequently asked how program managers can synchronize projects using waterfall approaches with those using agile or other approaches. As programs are launched to address larger and more complex business problems, harmonizing a program’s projects becomes an essential component of success.

In my last post, I shared two tips for achieving harmony: remember that there’s no such thing as agile or waterfall programs, and make the correct delivery approach choice before a project begins.

Here are two more tips.

3. Establish a Program PMO and an Agile COE

One of the critical success factors for any large program is the program management office (PMO). The program-level PMO enables the program manager to spend time on higher-value activities while the PMO creates the operational governance, reporting and overall management foundations required to run a program.

As agile and other delivery approaches mature, there is a great need for a COE (Center of Excellence) model that fosters efficient and effective delivery approaches for projects on programs. Just as PMI has created a consistent approach to project management, agile and other delivery approaches are at a point in their maturity cycle where consistency is needed for them as well.

An agile COE can facilitate this consistency while serving as a clearinghouse for improved agile practices. This COE can also address different variants in waterfall, supplier and governmental delivery approaches, thus resulting in an overall harmonized approach for program and project delivery. 

4. Speak the Same Metrics Reporting Language  

George Bernard Shaw once said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Being a program manager with projects utilizing multiple delivery approaches can feel like living in one country separated by multiple languages!

On a program, it is essential that no matter their delivery approach, projects need to be able to both accurately describe their progress and do it in a way consistent with other projects. When dealing with projects with multiple delivery approaches, a suitable translation needs to be in place for progress metrics. This is particularly necessary for stakeholders such as finance, human resources or other business functions where an easily understood definition of progress is critical.

For example, agile projects do a great job in counting projected versus actual requirements and their weighted points. Using the total and completed requirements, a percentage completion can be calculated that is consistent with a waterfall delivery approach. Other agile-specific metrics such as effort per story point can be used to supplement the core progress metrics.

In addition, even between waterfall delivery approaches there needs to be defined a consistent approach for earned value structures, tracking actual cost and other progress essentials. (Note that aside from progress metrics, the concepts of risks, issues, dependencies, milestones, cost forecasts and governance escalations all remain the same no matter the project delivery approach.)

Program managers are orchestrators of both project delivery and the attainment of business results. They need to be always thinking about eventual business outcomes, no matter which delivery approaches are in play. Remember: no one chooses an airline or car model because the company used agile or waterfall on their projects—it’s all about the experience.

What methods have you seen employed in programs to handle multiple delivery approaches? 

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: February 19, 2016 05:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Help! I Have Both Waterfall & Agile Projects in My Program

By Kevin Korterud

As both a project and program manager, I’m always keen to have projects and programs take the right first steps toward success. In the past, this would involve selecting the unified delivery approach used for all of the projects on a program. The idea was to impart consistency to the way projects were managed as well as produce common metrics to indicate progress.

It’s not that easy anymore. Today’s programs have projects with agile, waterfall, supplier, corporate and sometimes regulatory-mandated delivery approaches. In addition, these approaches as well as the different arrangements made with suppliers (e.g., time and materials vs. fixed price with deliverables) have dramatically increased the level of complexity and diversity of delivery approaches within a program.

So as a program manager, how do I keep all of these projects in sync no matter the delivery method? As a project manager, how can I execute my project in concert with the overall program in order to maximize the value that will be delivered, while avoiding schedule and cost overruns resulting from projects not operating in harmony? 

These are emerging challenges for which there are no single easy answers, of course. But I have found a handful of tips useful in getting a program’s projects to operate in a synchronized manner. I’ll share the first few in this post and the final ones in my next post, appearing later this week.

1. Remember: There’s No Such Thing as Agile or Waterfall Programs  

Given the mix of project delivery approaches, the program needs to properly segment work to manage the budget, resources and schedule regardless of the project delivery approach. In addition, the schedule alignment points, budget forecast process and deliverable linkages need to be identified between the various projects.

Typically, I find that while there is effort to plan for these items at the project level, the upfront effort for this harmonization at the program level is underestimated or sometimes left out altogether—program managers think the project teams will figure this out themselves. This sets the program up for schedule and budget overruns as well as overall dilution of the program business case.

Some ways for a program manager to harmonize projects on a program include:

  • Determine which agile sprint cycles will be used for aligning data integration, requirements and deliverables with the other projects.
  • Forecast the number of agile sprint cycles possible given the program schedule and budget parameters.
  • Use an integrated schedule to constantly generate awareness of relative project progress within a program—no matter the delivery approach.
  • Identify key dependencies between projects in the program; this can include event, deliverable and external dependencies.
  • Use active resource management across all projects on the program. 

2.  Make the Correct Delivery Approach Choice Before a Project Begins

The type of delivery approach for a project is determined by the type of work being performed and the end consumer of the project’s deliverable.

For example, a project on a program that is slated to create a consumer portal would be a desirable candidate for an agile delivery method. Another project that involves heavy system integration that a consumer never sees would be a candidate for a waterfall approach. A project to pass data into a government system would likely have its delivery approach set by the governmental body.

So before a project starts, program and project managers should agree on the optimal delivery approach that is the best fit for the project.   

Look for more advice in my next post on synchronizing a program’s projects, regardless of delivery method.

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: February 13, 2016 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Are You Managing For The Right Outcomes?

by Dave Wakeman

Last month I wrote about measuring your project’s ROI. Part of that discussion included the idea that in the end, your projects need to be measured according to the outcomes they produce and not the actions that are taken.

So I wanted to take a few minutes to go back over the concept of outcomes and how outcomes, execution and strategy play together to deliver successful projects.

1. Outcomes are all that matter: Every project has deliverables and actions that are meant to drive the project forward and give stakeholders an understanding of where things are and what is happening. The fact is, things like schedules, a work breakdown structure and risk assessments are just tactics that are meant to move your project closer to its end goal: the outcome!

In every project the only relevant measurements of success are the outcomes. Outcomes mean things like a fully functioning product or service, a project delivered on time and schedule, and one that meets the goals of the client and stakeholders.

So try to frame your project conversations in terms of the outcomes and the tasks important to those outcomes. Instead of an activity, think about how these activities play into timelines and budgets or into the overall success of the project.

2. Outcomes aren’t always obvious to everyone: It can be very easy to take a black-and-white view on outcomes. But the truth is that depending on where you are in a project and the role you play, the outcomes may not always be obvious to you.

Why? It’s pretty simple, really. In any situation, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the actions and activities that are most important to us. So when we look at projects, it can be easy to just think about the tasks we need to do to clear out our schedule or to move onto the next task on our checklist.

Most of this isn’t intentional, so you may have to spend some time relating to team members how activities play into the desired outcomes or even spending time communicating the vision of how the project will play out in the organization.

3. Always be prepared to change: We spend a lot of time talking about risks and change in projects, but I think that in many instances these two skills aren’t applied with as much success and consistency as desired.

But the process of implementing your strategy and optimizing execution comes with the basic jumping-off point of needing to understand, prepare for and embrace change as a constant within all projects.

To better prepare yourself for change, develop this mindset: you are going to communicate consistently with your stakeholders and proactively manage where your project stays within the marketplace, the desired outcomes that the project will produce, and changes in the circumstances of resources and other internal factors.

The simplest way to think about a project is as a set of activities that can be checked off on the way to completion. In fact, a lot of projects are managed that way.

But to be the best project manager and a partner to your organization’s success, you have to make the effort to keep strategy top of mind while executing for the right outcomes. I think these three tips will get you started.

What do you think? 

By the way, I write a weekly newsletter that focuses on strategy, value, and performance. If you enjoyed this piece, you will really enjoy the weekly newsletter. Make sure you never miss it! Sign up here or send me an email at dave@davewakeman.com! 

Posted by David Wakeman on: December 08, 2015 09:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Why I’ll Be in Arizona Next Week

By Wanda Curlee

I’m a big fan of PMI’s annual PMO symposiums. I presented at last year’s symposium in Miami, Florida, USA and I’ll be presenting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA next week at this year’s event.

Why do I make the trip each year? There are many reasons. Each symposium acts as a crossroads of sorts between general management and project management. Each gives me a chance to speak with senior leaders in a one-on-one environment. And copies of PMI’s latest installment of the Thought Leadership Series, which features in-depth original research and analysis, are given out to attendees.

This year’s series is on “The Power of Project Portfolio Management.” As a certified portfolio manager, I want to leverage that research to increase my ability to provide powerful portfolios for my current company and future clients.

Last year, the symposium focused on talent management, and PMI’s talent triangle was a focal point. That, coupled with the introduction of the portfolio management certification (PfMP), made for an exciting and fruitful experience.

Senior leaders from many organizations discussed the value of the talent triangle and how portfolios, programs and projects help drive the talent in their respective organizations. Hearing executives discuss and present the practical side of what the project management discipline has done for their organizations was invaluable.

But the bit that I found most fascinating had to do with corporate citizenship. When running a portfolio, trust should be established so that program and project managers are willing to give back funds in excess of actual projects and programs.

It’s an odd concept, but when followed on a quarterly basis, it builds the understanding that more projects and programs can be funded and—most important—there are funds on hand if you find your project or program is in trouble. There’s no concept of shoot the messenger.

This year’s PMO symposium, held from November 8th to the 11th, will once again draw senior leaders from an impressive array of organizations. The networking opportunities will be vast.

If you’ll be in Phoenix, stop by my educational session on why a portfolio manager should be the CEO’s best friend. Yes, I truly believe that portfolio management can drive better management of corporate resources and increase the bottom line for all companies. Resources are finite at every company—and portfolio managers work to allocate them efficiently.

If you don’t agree with something I say, speak up—I’m there to learn, too.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: November 05, 2015 07:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

5 Things Unsuccessful Portfolio Managers Do

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

I am amazed that so many projects and programs (and by extension, portfolios) are still so challenged. Forty-four percent of projects are unsuccessful, and we waste $109 million for each $1 billion in project expenditures, according to the 2015 edition of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession.

One solution that the report identifies is mature portfolio management processes. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of five things that unsuccessful portfolio managers do—and what they should focus on doing instead.

1.  Worry about things they can’t change.

Unsuccessful portfolio managers worry about the past or dwell on problems outside their immediate influence. Successful portfolio managers learn from the past and move on. Sometimes, failures turn into lessons that create the foundation for future growth and opportunity.

Portfolio managers should stay focused on what can we influence, negotiate and communicate, as well as what we can start, stop and sustain. Every month or quarter, assess the processes, programs and projects in your span of control. Decide which to start, stop and sustain, and develop action plans around those decisions (including dates, resources required and collaborators).

2.  Give up when things get too hard.

It may be easy to throw in the towel when conditions become challenging. But the hallmark of a good portfolio manager is the ability to find solutions.

Sometimes, our immediate reaction to a proposal is to think the timeframes or goals are not possible. However, when we get the team together to focus on what can be done, we come up with creative solutions. It’s necessary to gather the facts and do the analysis instead of jumping to conclusions.

3.  Set unattainable goals.

There’s a difference between a stretch goal and an impossible one. Sometimes, projects or programs don’t start off as unattainable (see #2 above) or undoable, but they become so.

Although we may be good at starting projects or programs, there’s not enough emphasis on stopping them. The environment (internal or external) may have changed, key resources may no longer be available, organizational priorities may have shifted, or the business buy-in might take too long. Rather than calling attention to the situation and recommending a “no go,” unsuccessful portfolio managers tend to press on with blinders. This wastes time and resources.

Once I was managing a $500 million portfolio of international expansion programs and projects. The portfolio sponsor told me, “I want to know if we’re falling off the cliff.” Although we hope our programs or projects never get to that point, his words did clearly specify the role I was supposed to play.

4.  Stay in your comfort zone.

It’s easy to create a portfolio in which the potential for risk and failure is low. But that means we may be missing out on opportunities for innovation or great returns. Advocating change in your portfolio requires taking calculated risks that you can learn from or will pay off in the longer term. The successful portfolio manager will advocate taking good risks (aka opportunities) instead of blindly going forward with bad risks.

Taking advantage of opportunities is the key to transformation and reinvention. It’s essential to any organization that wants to survive long-term. For example, who could’ve predicted just a few years ago that Amazon, Netflix and even YouTube would become rivals to TV and movie studios in providing original entertainment? This required calculated risk taking.

5.  Forget about balance.

Balance is important, whether it’s balancing your portfolio or balancing your work and your life. If you’re not performing your best because you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to affect your portfolio. Especially with technology blending our work and personal time, it’s sometimes hard to think about balance. One survey showed that we’re checking our phones up to 150 times per day. But remember the basics: eat well, exercise, take time to de-stress, and set aside time for yourself, family and friends. 

What do you notice unsuccessful portfolio managers do, and what would you recommend instead? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: October 10, 2015 11:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)
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