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

Recent Posts

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Kick-Off Meetings: The Beginning of Success or Failure

Hackers: A Safety Issue

Leaders exert influence for success

Business Transformation With the End in Mind

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 (8)

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)

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)
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