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
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Recent Posts

A Checklist for Shared Outcomes

Ground Preparation: Closing an External Project

Best Practices for Moderating a SWOT Analysis

What Defines Project Success?

The Problem With Paradox

Just Ignore the Trends—and Run to the Noise

By Cyndee Miller

Real talk: I was deeply skeptical going into the closing session of congress starring so-called futurologist and trendspotter Magnus Lindkvist. I mean, come on, his bio heralds him as “the best import from Sweden since ABBA and meatballs.” That’s a pretty high bar for me—“Dancing Queen” is pretty perfect.

Yet, at some point—probably when he managed to link Swedish grindcore to talent management—he pulled me in.

This whole business of trendspotting is wildly treacherous, but Mr. Lindkvist has a healthy (and spectacularly humorous) perspective on it. The “darlings of last year” were artificial intelligence, machine learning and job-stealing robots, but turns out we’re really bad at predicting human behavior, he said.

Indeed, he actually advised the standing-room-only crowd to avoid trends: Look elsewhere. Read what other people are reading. Travel where other people don’t travel. Hire people that other companies aren’t hiring.

Don’t think for one second, however, this guy doesn’t follow what’s going on in business. Take that innovation thing. He said most company’s strategy relies on R&D … rip off and duplicate. And that leads to a lack of diversity—where everything new starts to look the same. Once the iPhone hit, for example, slowly but surely every telecom company starting morphing their product into some version of Apple’s.

Mr. Lindvist suggests seeking out a different kind of innovation—where something impossible becomes possible, where something magical becomes practical.

Uh, yeah, that doesn’t sound hard at all.

But in life, Mr. Lindvist contends, we can do one of two things: compete or create. “Competition is the theft of big ideas. Creation is a liberation movement.”

And creation is what actually shapes the future, although it might mean a little workout.

“I think the future is an activity,” he said. “It’s something we do, you and I. The future is always there—underneath dead ideas, underneath old ideas.”

Go ahead and experiment. “Human beings have one way of learning—trial and error.” And if your experiment fails, so what? “Failure is the sign of trying,” he said. Don’t shame failure, recycle it.

And, be patient, my friends. The best ideas are often rejected the first time. Get ready to be misunderstood for a long time.

Now the pessimist in me is cringing just a bit as I type this, but Mr. Lindkvist says optimism, as cheesy as it might seem, is the true secret sauce. “Companies and projects run on optimism, actively injected optimism,” he said. “That is the only important, vital ingredient. The only bad thing is doing the same thing all the time.”

All of this might be a bit much for some of the more risk-averse project and program managers out there. So I’ll leave you with the same parting words Mr. Lindkvist gave to the congress audience: Run toward the noise. Seek out the spaces, markets and technologies battling it out for dominance—and search for the new and the different and the better.

Now here’s my trendspotting tip: Break out your calendars and block out 7-9 May 2018 in next year’s EMEA congress in Berlin, Germany.

Ciao for now, baby—because this trendspotter sees a Gucci bag in her future.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 04, 2017 05:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

The Brexit Effect—Deal With It

by Cyndee Miller

PMI brought back its 21st century spin on the salon at this year’s EMEA congress. This time around, the panel talked turbulence and uncertainty—political shifts, workforce demands and the risks of global conflicts.

 

So, yeah, really not all that different from the stuff they covered in the grand salons of the 17th and 18th century France and Italy. Plus ça change and all that …

 

These days, we’ve got Brexit, U.S. President Trump and a whole cast of other political characters shaking up the status quo.

 

It’s hard to escape the feeling of uncertainty.

 

For pharma giant AstraZeneca, the shifting landscape spurred a move to niche medicines and away from the blockbuster drugs they built their name on.

 

Managing that kind of change—especially in such a large company—requires a strong communication plan to ensure buy-in across the enterprise. “There is an important element in big complex organizations that you have a common goal and a common understanding of why you need to change,” said salonnier Maria Hedwall, PMP, of AstraZeneca.

 

“It takes quite some time to cascade change announcements throughout the organization, by the time it gets to the bottom of the organization, management is ready to change again,” she said.

 

In times of great change, all organizations must be prepared to respond—and respond quickly. For Clare Savage of Deutsche Bank, that has meant raising the profile of project managers.

 

“Project managers are right in the thick of it but they are very seldom the decision makers,” said Ms. Savage. So she’s created a framework that allows project professionals to stick their neck out, take charge of an effort and make the necessary assumptions as part of the decision-making process—without having to worry that said neck would get chopped off if things don’t work out as expected. The blame game, in essence, is over.

 

She’s also putting a priority on answering the “why” question. “One of the things we’ve been doing with the more junior project personnel is [ensuring] they understand the true value of the why of the project they are delivering,” says Ms. Savage.

 

In such a chaotic environment, the company cultures that get it right are the ones that encourage innovation, said Gabor George Burt. “Once people are freed up to be creative they can deal with change.

 

Moderated by PMI’s Murat Bicak, the salon pulled back the curtain on how companies are dealing with Brexit and the onslaught of other changes. It was a good discussion, although for what it’s worth, I think we need fancier clothes and maybe a nice aria or two if we’re going to have a proper salon.

 

What’s happening at your organizations? How are you dealing with Brexit and all the other shifts?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 02, 2017 10:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Meet the Change Agents—Yes, We’re Talking About You

Roma called to me—the wine … the cheese … the shoes ... the project management.

This is, after all, the home of many an ancient megaproject. The Colosseum, for instance, was launched around A.D. 70-72 with a massive scope, including underground tunnels, seating for thousands and, if the suspicions of many archeologists are correct, drinking fountains and latrines to serve the needs of its patrons. At the same time, the schedule for the building—while relatively short for that day and age—stretched out a decade.

But we can’t get all caught up in the magnificence of Rome’s ancient megaprojects. Today’s project and program managers must follow a different grido di battaglia. And that battle cry is focused squarely on the future.

“As project managers you are the engineers of progress in your companies,” said author Gabor George Burt as he opened PMI® EMEA Congress 2017.

To survive in a business environment where disruption is the norm, organizations must reshape their futures. And, according to Mr. Burt, project and program managers should be leading the charge as agents of change.

Building on the Blue Ocean strategy, Mr. Burt outlined three levels organizations can operate in to make themselves indispensible:

  1. Blue Ocean: Create new value propositions that drive your company’s overall strategy  
  2. Blue Sea: Expand your current value prop for broader relevance
  3. Blue Lake: Refresh and optimize your current value prop

It’s an intriguing concept, especially for those daunted by the big, blue ocean. But even once a company chooses which waters to swim in, it must continuously stretch the definition of the value it brings to its target audience. “There is no mercy in the marketplace for companies that define what they do too narrowly.”

Companies and their project managers should also embrace the innovation shortcut. Instead of trying to invent something, he suggests mixing existing things in new ways. “The art of recombination is all around us,” said Mr. Burt. “It’s the most high-impact way for us to innovate.”

No matter the level, waters are sure to be choppy. But companies that get stuck in the past, or even the here and now, are destined to struggle—or worse, drown.

That’s it on project management for today. I need to answer the siren call of wine and cheese now. And maybe shoes tomorrow.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 01, 2017 06:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Recurring Interview Process Ensures a Good Fit

Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.

 

However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.

 

Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.

 

Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.


 

1. Where are we now? 

Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.    

 

Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.

 

2. Where will we be in six weeks?

An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.

 

This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.

 

Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.

 

3. What changed from the original project scope? 

Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.  

 

While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.

 

In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.  

 

What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: April 28, 2017 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Promoting Project Management In Conversation

by Dave Wakeman

Project management is a hot topic lately. In casual conversations, I’ve heard about the rise of project managers in legal, in sports and in government.

But this recent fame doesn’t mean we’ve gone mainstream. It’s likely that most people still don’t have a full grasp of what project managers do, why they are valuable and what they can really mean to an organization.

That’s why we have to continue promoting the role. I’ve pulled together a few talking points you can use the next time project management comes up in casual conversation.

1. Project managers are great at helping to solve the right problems.

This came up when I was talking about project managers in law. The question was, “How do we know we are doing this project management stuff correctly?” 

The answer is a little more complex because you can never be completely sure if you are solving the right problems. 

But, project managers who are very active in the planning and scope phases can frame the conversation in a manner that helps get to the root cause of the challenge. That helps organizations not just solve the loudest or most immediate challenge, but address the issue that is going to provide the most valuable long-term ROI.

2. Project managers aren’t just techies.

I’ve never led a technology project in my life. And, unfortunately, too many people equate project management with IT projects.

Ultimately, our best professionals—no matter what their industry—are often project managers without even knowing it.

This is a point you can highlight with your friends, colleagues and curiosity seekers by talking about the way that you communicate, plan, look for logical next steps and adapt to the situation.

In that way, project managers are just like everyone else.

3. Project management can take an organization from failure to success.

In startups, you hear “project management” thrown around pretty regularly. But, in truth, having solid project managers involved is the difference between success and failure.

In many startups, or new project situations, the whole framework of the project is based around an idea, a solution or a theme. This can often lead organizations down a road of throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks. No rhyme or reason. Just action.

Fortunately for us, as project managers, planning is drilled into our psyche—and planning is the skill most crucial to success.

You don’t need more ideas for how to solve the problem, and you don’t need more people trying to figure out what will stick. 

You need a plan of attack with a process in place for collecting feedback and adjusting accordingly. This is basically the textbook definition of a project manager’s role.

To me, any attention to the project management role is great. But if we don’t talk about project management in the right way, I think we miss an opportunity to expand the profession’s impact across industries.

How do you talk about project management and promote the profession? 

Posted by David Wakeman on: April 24, 2017 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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