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

Recent Posts

A Scrum Master’s Duty

Avoid the Internal Project Trap

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

Understanding Expert Judgment

Leaders exert influence for success

By Peter Tarhanidis

Whenever I’m in a leadership role I try to be sensitive to the level of influence I gain, retain and lose. Influence is a precious commodity for a leader. And it can be disastrous if you lose your team or if tensions arise that reduce one’s effectiveness to achieve a goal.

I recall one of my client assignments where the goal was to ensure a successful integration of a complex merger and acquisition. The team had slipped on dates, missed key meetings and there were no formalized milestones.

I set up casual meetings to discuss with each member what would motivate them to participate. One clear signal was that management had changed the acquisition date several times. This disengaged the team due to false starts that took time away from other priorities.

During the sponsor review, I reported there was a communication breakdown and that no one shared this effort as a priority. At that point, the sponsor could have used his position of power to pressure everyone to do their part. However, the sponsor did not want to come off as autocratic.

Instead, he asked if I would be willing to find an alternative approach to get the team’s buy in.

I realized my influence was low, but I wanted to help improve the outcome for this team. So I talked again with each team member to negotiate a common approach with the goal to be integration-ready without having an exact date.

Ultimately, our goal was to have all milestones met while a smaller core team could later remain to implement the integration when management announced the final date.

A leader uses influence as part of the process to communicate ideas, gain approval and motivate colleagues to implement the concepts through changes to the organization. 

In many cases, success increases as a leaders exert influence over others to find a shared purpose.

Tell me, which creates your best outcomes as a leader: influencing others through power or through negotiation?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: May 31, 2017 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Business Transformation With the End in Mind

When market environments or conditions shift, organizations must often make fundamental changes to how they operate in order to cope

Business transformations—which are initiated in reaction to current or foreseen pain points, such as cost reductions, capability builds or digital transformation—create a new capability or a new reality in a sustainable, consistent and collaborative way

The process should be like film making

In filmmaking, everything starts with an initial story or a vision of what the film will be about, the message it is going to send, the general purpose and so forth. I have no doubt that great film directors can actually see the film in their head before anything is spent or made.

Leaders of business transformation programs must also understand their purpose and visualize success at all levels—including the end game—before making a single change.

At the same time, leaders should have a thorough understanding of the people involved and the business processes being changed. Before executing on tactical projects, a successful transformation should first seek a clearly defined purpose and attain a solid understanding of people and processes. After all, people and processes are the binding fabric of all transformation efforts.

The People

You must understand how the change you are bringing will affect how people behave, communicate, think and do business. To me, people are the single most important aspect of ensuring a successful and sustainable transformation.

So, start by understanding:

  • The landscape: Who is involved?
  • The motives and agenda of all affected.
  • How will those affected view success?
  • Answer the “What is in it for me?” question.
  • The baseline of skills and career aspirations for those involved. If you don’t, you could set those affected up to fail when you implement a change that is not supported by their aspirations or skillset.

That should serve as a good basis to build quality engagement and communications. The goal is to create a collaborative and transparent platform to ensure that all requirements are captured.

The Process

People and process go hand in hand. You cannot understand one without the other.

A successful business transformation seeks to understand the current processes, variations, inconsistencies, pain points and interdependencies before venturing into changing systems, organizational structure or implementing a new way of doing business.

A business process to a transformation is like a compass to a ship. It ensures the business transformation team is:

  • Moving in the right direction.
  • Focused on true issues or opportunities.
  • Understanding the complexity of changing the way business is done and the interfaces and dependencies this might entail on other parts of the business.
  • Rallying the troops around processes rather than around people.
  • Using meaningful metrics to measure success.

Has your organization undergone a transformation recently? How did you ensure you were moving in the right direction?

Posted by Jess Tayel on: May 24, 2017 11:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Move Beyond Herding Cats

by Dave Wakeman

Project managers are more than a bunch of cat herders. Yet, that’s frequently how I hear our role summed up, thanks to the team members, stakeholders, resources, deadlines and general chaos we’re often put in charge of wrangling.

But does it really need to be so difficult? I don’t think so.

Here are my methods for keeping control of the madness that sometimes ensues on projects:

Focus on communication: I had my Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification for about a week the first time someone told me: “90% of a project manager’s job is communicating.”

I don’t know if that stat is true or not, but over the years it has often felt about right. For many of us, getting the communication process correct is a challenge that stands in the way of actually getting people to work in a defined direction.

To maximize your ability to communicate effectively, I’ve long advocated for a communication schedule that lays out clear timelines for when you are going to communicate or expect to be communicated with.

For the top stakeholders, you may need to talk with them daily. For others, once a week may be all that you need.

The key is that you set the expectations and the processes early. This will help ensure that you have people on the same page.

Don’t micromanage: Our projects are so complex now that it is impossible for any one person to know and achieve every task in a project.

So don’t try.

If you have people that are great at their jobs, let them do the work. Trust them to make wise decisions. Set the objectives, not the actions.

If you have problematic people, help them set next steps, actions and get focused on where you need them to get to. But don’t try to do everything for them. That’s a recipe for failure and won’t help you stop “herding cats.” 

Be the positive example: I’ve been told on many occasions that when I’m involved with a project, even if things are going sideways, that everything “feels” under control.

I focus a lot of energy on being composed and pulled together. Leadership flows down from the top: If your team witnesses you always being out of control, flustered and in a state of panic, they will mimic that behavior as well.

This is why a lot of projects and new initiatives fail—the people at the top don’t live the actions that they want their teams and organizations to embody. 

To help maximize the leadership on your project, make sure you act as a positive example for your teams. This means communicating effectively and as necessary. This means approaching your projects with an eye to problem resolution and not just problem overwhelm.

While these concepts aren’t new or even revolutionary, they are things we have to consistently be focused on or we can easily slide back into a situation where we are struggling to keep our projects on track.

How do you ensure that your teams are focusing on the right things and moving in the same direction? Let me know below!

 

 

Posted by David Wakeman on: May 19, 2017 07:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 2

Categories: Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

In part one of this post, I introduced the management concept VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Managing VUCA effectively at the project level should not be underestimated: The agility and decision-making needed to respond to VUCA will inevitably have effects on the outcomes of projects and programs and, consequently, the direction of the organization.

Naturally, there will be a difference between planned and implemented strategy. One approach is to see this gap as “strategic non-alignment” and assume it’s bad. The alternative is to see the gap as strategy that emerges from the work of the organization and changes in the environment, then actively manage its effect to capture as much value as possible.

This idea is not new. It’s been nearly 40 years since the concept of emergent strategy was developed by academic and management author Henry Mintzberg. This concept seeks to create a framework that can identify and act on emerging strategies, resulting in a more incremental approach to strategy formulation. Developing strategy from the bottom up may be a novel concept for many organizations but academic studies suggest this is an important value-adding process. 

Projects and programs are a rich source of VUCA, and almost everyone says successful project management offices (PMOs) and portfolio managers should have a strategic focus. Given that, I suggest it’s time to start conversations with your executive management about identifying and managing the emergent strategies that are appearing in your organization as a consequence of projects and programs responding to VUCA. This will maximize the value created and influence the next iteration of formal strategic planning.  

In their 1985 paper Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent, Mintzberg and fellow academic and author, James A. Walters, concluded by suggesting “strategy formation walks on two feet, one deliberate the other emergent.”

The challenge for PMOs and portfolio management professionals is to engage with the gap between implementing strategy and adapting strategy. They also have to engage with the challenges that arise from allowing sufficient agility and flexibility to maximize value in a VUCA environment without sinking into undirected chaos. 

By adapting these elements to the strategic levels of the organization, you may be able to reduce the potential chaos of VUCA within a project or program:

  1. Use a staged, adaptive approach to planning. We really don't know that much about the far future.
  2. Be agile. Act quickly to manage emerging issues and problems—things will not get better on their own.
  3. Be adaptive and flexible. When you need a new plan to achieve the project’s objectives, be prepared to make the changes.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Things happen—watch for approaching Black Swans.
  5. Use emergence to your advantage. Seize the opportunities you did not expect.

How do you reduce the potential chaos of VUCA?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 18, 2017 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 1

Categories: Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

Traditionally, strategy and strategic alignment are viewed as a deliberate process. An organization’s governing body determines the vision and mission. Then, along with executive management, the governing body crafts a strategy to move the organization toward achieving that vision.

The result is a strategic plan that forms the basis for effective portfolio management. This plan sets the objectives for projects and programs and measures their success in terms of contributing to implementing the strategy and creating value.

In the last few years, however, management thinking has embraced the concept of VUCA and developed approaches to dealing with the challenges that the modern world presents. 

VUCA, which originally emerged from military leaders, stands for:

  • Volatility: The unpredictability, speed and dynamics of change. The correct response to volatility, according to the concept of VUCA-Prime developed by Robert Johansen, is vision. When things are changing unpredictably, it is vital to keep a clear focus on the organization’s overall vision. Knowing where the organization is heading will ensure that short-term planning can be adjusted to stay on course when external circumstances are turbulent.
  • Uncertainty: The lack of knowledge or an inability to determine the course of future events. Working to understand the environment around the project or program helps reduce uncertainty but can never remove it entirely—this is the domain of risk management.
  • Complexity: The degree of unpredictability regarding the outcome of an action or decision. There will always be a degree of complexity involved in every project, but clarity of vision and seeking to simplify processes wherever possible will minimize its effect. However, there will always be some unexpected consequences (good or bad) that emerge from managing a project or program.
  • Ambiguity: The requirements, instructions or situations that can be interpreted in different ways or are not fully defined. Ambiguity can be reduced by effective communication and the application of many of the processes defined in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide); but agility is required to resolve the remaining ambiguity as it emerges. You need the freedom and flexibility to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

Have you encountered VUCA on your projects? What form did it take?

Be sure to come back for second post on VUCA in a couple of days.  

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 17, 2017 03:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)
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