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 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?
By Christian Bisson, PMP
A deadline is the project objective defined in terms of time. But on some projects (a lot of them, unfortunately) the delivery date is not necessarily realistic.
When projects get delayed, the obvious solution is to push back the deadline. But it’s not so simple for every project.
Here are a few factors to weigh before deciding how to move forward when facing project setbacks:
The Client Relationship
Assuming the agency runs client-facing projects, not internal products, this is typically the most important reason to deliver a project on time. Happy clients bring in more projects—and other clients by word of mouth.
Determining whether or not your client will react negatively to a project delay may depend on the cause of the holdup. Is the delay related to client actions, such as adding new requirements or delivering assets late? Or is it due to internal errors, such as poor estimating or planning?
Keeping clients happy also presents a sort of balancing act for many agencies. You have to keep clients happy because they bring in the money that runs the agency. But, on the other hand, you don’t want your team members so bogged down with additional requests and revisions that they become tired or frustrated to the point they will leave.
Projects often have what we call hard deadlines, meaning the date cannot be changed under any circumstances. For example, in e-commerce, there are projects tied to holiday sales and, obviously, those dates cannot move. Missing those opportunities can have a drastic impact on sales. In these cases, it might actually be more cost-efficient to invest in more resources to speed up the project and have it ready on time.
The Big Picture
Delaying a project can have a direct impact on other projects, as well. Team members may be scheduled to move to another project once the first is completed, for example, so delaying that transition date can have a chain reaction on an agency’s planning. Talk to someone with a wide-angle view of the organization’s portfolio to better understand these potential implications.
There’s no magic solution for dealing with a delayed project. All you can do is balance the pros and cons and make a judgment call.
What factors do you typically weigh when deciding whether or not to push back the deadline on a delayed project? What advice do you have for other project managers facing a delay?
by Christian Bisson, PMP
When a new person joins the team, there’s always a bit of a learning curve. But when teams fail to prepare new members, it takes even longer for them to provide efficiencies and improve performance.
Here are three training tips to help new recruits hit the ground running:
1. Don’t Put Trainees In Control
Being available to answer questions isn’t a sufficient way to train new team members.
While knowledge is transferred when you answer a question, new recruits can only ask about issues they’re aware of. This means they’ll often make mistakes that could have been avoided.
Rather than let team members learn things the hard way, share important information before questions are asked—and remember that details matter. For example, project briefs are done differently everywhere, and it’s not always clear who should be included if no one has been specified. A new team member might not think to ask if he or she has sent briefs a specific way at previous jobs.
2. Create an Onboarding Plan
Don’t make new team members chase people down to discuss processes or protocols.
I once joined a team where I was told to set up meetings with a dozen different colleagues so they could explain how they work. I didn’t really know how the conversations would turn out, but I expected the others would be prepared to meet with me.
The result was a bit surprising. The list of people I was supposed to meet with was outdated—several were no longer with the company—and those who were still around expected me to lead the meeting since I had set it up (which made sense). So they didn’t quite know what to say.
This experience was an eye opener. To make new members feel welcome, teams should plan onboarding discussions in advance and have information ready to share.
3. Take a Phased Approach
More often than not, generic training sessions bore and demotivate people, wasting everyone’s time.
Instead, training should be relevant to a person’s role and immediate needs. For example, not everything that a new team member should know will be relevant on day one. If you give them information they’ll need a few months down the road during onboarding, chances are they’ll have forgotten everything when that time comes.
Training and knowledge sharing should be done gradually. The gaming world offers a useful example. Many games have ongoing tutorials where bits of information are shared throughout gameplay, requiring the player to practice a new skill right before it’s needed. This approach maximizes the learning experience and keeps training from becoming tedious. It makes lessons easier to absorb and more likely to be remembered.
Training is often thought of a secondary need for new team members, being conducted as time allows—which might be never. How do you make time for training on your team? What type of knowledge transfer do you prioritize?
By Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Because human resources is so process-oriented, it’s easy to overlook its need for project and program management.
The human resources department’s projects may not be customer-facing and highly visible, but it is very likely that they will make your work life easier! They might be focused on integrating or retrofitting an HR information system, changing an organization-wide benefits provider, developing a new employee handbook or designing and releasing an employee satisfaction survey.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on several HR projects. Though they weren’t product launches delivering external customer value, they were critical to internal business operations. Because they are so essential to internal success, if you’re the person responsible for enterprise roadmapping, you must ensure HR projects are part of the way forward.
One human resources area that benefits exceptionally well from stellar project management is organizational design. Don’t pass up the chance to work on an organization redesign project—you’ll be teaming up with not only human resources, but also with service designers, team managers and executive leadership.
There are many stages to an organizational design project. Organizational design projects have a lot of moving parts. Early on, it can be easy to get stuck in the research and design parts, constantly reviewing and revising. Later, ensuring companywide adoption can seem like a never-ending slog. A project manager can be a boon during these critical phases by keeping the focus on smaller, incremental milestones, and communicating when that milestone progress is made. This keeps the project moving forward, the momentum continuing even though the results of the final goal may be nebulous and still too far away.
In the end, you’ll deliver a model that will become the operating structure for the entire organization—helping all of its employees navigate through a changing business environment. And maybe even disruptive changes that pose grave threats to the organization.
What types of human resources projects have you led? Where else do you thinking project management could be beneficial for human resources?