By Cyndee Miller
Like most people, I am equally super excited and super terrified by technology. I do enjoy the idea of some adorable robotic creature handling all my mundane tasks. Yet I really don’t care for the idea of Alexa tracking my moves and monitoring my conversations.
But between chatbots and self-driving cars, this is the year where there’s no turning back on tech disruption. Why?
“Everything is data, data is everywhere,” said tech pioneer Inma Martinez, the closing keynoter at EMEA Global Congress.
And that comes alongside the rise of deep learning, the terrifying tech that aims to mimic the human brain. Again, equal parts super exciting, super terrifying.
So will project and program managers be replaced by a supercomputer? Will the machines eventually turn against us?
Machines will never be able to beat humans at understanding right from wrong.
“This is where deep learning fails and fails and fails,” Ms. Martinez said. “It goes into bias and bias and bias. And this is why people in the scientific community like myself are willing to say please stop doing this. You still want the humans to use their wonderful brain to make that decision.”
Instead, we should use data to tackle the big issues, like mental health and the mass migration to cities. “We’re all going to end up living in massive urban centers,” says Ms. Martinez, and data can transform them into truly smart cities.
Ms. Martinez called out Boston, Massachusetts, USA as a prime example. Why? Because the mayor decided a few years ago to make city data accessible to all—allowing any user to check out how services in Boston are faring.
“Because the data is shared across the board, citizens are engaged,” Ms. Martinez said. And armed with that data, the mayor could force companies like Uber to treat all the city’s denizens equally.
“They started to analyze how long you have to wait in a low-income area—and sometimes it’s like 20 to 25 minutes,” Ms. Martinez said. “So the mayor said, ‘You want to operate in Boston? You need to send Ubers to the people, all types of people.’ This is data in service of the people.”
That change will also drive a shift to humans acting, like, well, humans.
“Human life will seek sensorial stimuli, information disclosure and self-empowerment.”
Hmmm. Maybe I need to rethink—that doesn’t sound even vaguely terrifying.
It's auf wiedersehen for now. This human is off to explore more of the city's projects (and sneak in a David Bowie walking tour). But then I suppose I'll have my voice assistant friend book time for next year's congress in Dublin on 13 to 15 May.
What about you? How are you feeling about the robot revolution?
By Cyndee Miller
I write about project management—a lot. But there’s a certain adrenaline rush that comes when you actually get to check out a project and get the scoop from people in the know.
I was feeling mighty pleased that I scored a backstage pass to the Berlin Brandenburg Airport project—two years before it’s slated to make its long-awaited debut. So this intrepid reporter put on a super-chic red construction helmet (and complementary work vest) to get the low-down on one of the most notorious projects in recent history—as well as the strategy to get this baby open by 2020.
The team is refreshingly honest about the issues it’s faced since the project first launched in 2006: a “constant” increase in complexity, a spike in passenger volume that far exceeded expectations and a “difficult political environment”—which meant fielding requests and often brutal criticism from airlines, governments, the press and a slew of other stakeholders.
But the team has a blueprint and seems resolute it will deliver on its Master Plan 2040 that promises to deliver capacity to handle 55 million passengers. So what makes the team think it will actually be able to pull this off? The will to get things done—from the very top.
Sounds promising, but can they do it? Only time will tell. But there is a rather promising precedent, as my fellow reporter Matt Schur learned when he headed out on PMI’s other off-site excursion. The Hauptbahnhof train station, with rail lines extending in every direction, wasn’t built in a day—or 100 years for that matter. The project had been floated since the turn of the 20th century. But two world wars and a divided Germany stood in the way before the project started in earnest in the 1990s. Even then, complexity reigned.
Location is everything, I’ve been told. And while Hauptbahnhof’s spot in the center of the action is a major asset today, the location created one of its greatest challenges. Water and sandy ground surround the area, forcing the team to dig huge excavation pits, ultimately removing 1.5 million cubic meters of earth.
And despite being a century in the making, the team ran up against massive schedule compression: The German government wanted the train station done in time for the 2006 World Cup. With a slight shift in scope, the project closed a month ahead of the big deadline.
Getting that insider scoop was a boost for project managers, too.
"The visit was beneficial to me to see that complexity is everywhere—not just on my project," says Tamy Baddour, PMP, IT project manager at Bankmed, Beirut, Lebanon, who toured the rail station. "It's great to know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long it takes. It was an eye opener for me."
For those project and program managers who didn't make the sojourn to the airport or the train station, experiences were front and center in some new-fangled immersive sessions. Attendees worked in groups and partnered up with colleagues to brainstorm potential breakthrough innovations, debate the differences between good project managers and great ones, and test out their strategic leadership skills.
Fellow reporter Kelley Hunsberger checked it all out and declared her favorite immersive experience to be Escape from Earth! A Project Management Board Game. Attendees were broken up into different teams and left to figure out how to save humanity from certain extinction after the planet had become hostile to human life. Teams completed a bevy of challenges through a series of sprints to rescue the human race
Saving a world, now that would be an adrenaline rush.
by Cyndee Miller
Innovation has an odd rep, tied to a rather romanticized notion that it rests with only a small cadre of some bleeding-edge R&D types.
That’s just not how it plays out in today’s hyper-competitive world, though.
Innovation must become an “all-the-time, everywhere capability,” said author Rowan Gibson, the opening keynote speaker for PMI EMEA Congress. “It must become a corporate way of life.”
Absolutely. But how do you actually do that?
“We have to become trend surfers,” he said, people who make change work for them rather than against them.
So, project management friends, Mr. Gibson has a big question for you: “Are you up there riding these waves of change? Or are you lying on the beach waiting for the tsunami to hit you?”
Don’t get swept away. Trend surfers know they have to go with flow, not stay chained to the past.
“What if the dominant conventions in your field, market or industry are outdated, unnecessary or just plain wrong,” he said.
That leaves you oblivious to new ways of thinking—the kind of thinking that could very well end up changing the whole project landscape.
The world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own a single cab. The world’s largest retailer doesn’t stock a single product. “Ten years ago this type of business model would have been unfathomable,” Mr. Gibson said.
That’s not only possible. Uber and Alibaba have made it reality.
It’s not just the upstarts. Every company has core competencies and strategic assets. They just need to figure out how they can repurpose those resources into new growth opportunities. Disney, for example, wasn’t content with only having its live characters and shows taking a starring role at its theme parks. They used those skills to create a cruise ship model, a travel agency and even some smash Broadway hits.
“Most companies don’t do this,” Mr. Gibson said. “Most companies define themselves by what they do—we’re a bank, we’re a software company, we’re a supermarket—rather than by what they know.”
They’re missing out by not connecting the dots between their competencies and their customers.
“Innovators search for unsolved problems and unmet needs or wants,” said Mr. Gibson, pointing to the lowly paint can. The heavy, hard-to-carry and even-harder-to-use object hadn’t been redesigned since its debut. Paint manufacturer Dutch Boy launched a project to redesign the container in a way that put the customer first. Their new paint “can” is made of plastic, and has a screw top, a handle for carrying and a spout for pouring. “In just six months, the new package tripled their sales and tripled the number of retail outlets stocking their product.”
To move ideas from mind to market, make it about the customer—not rules and regulations. This may be a rough one for project managers in the thick of the action on innovation projects. But ideas need time to grow, so try not to impose too stringent of a process.
Are you ready to ride the wave?
by Kevin Korterud
The technology found in today’s automobiles is simply amazing. Front and side traffic radar units, anti-dozing head movement detectors, driving timers that alert drivers when they should stop for a break — all good examples of accident prevention mechanisms.
Projects to some degree are like automobiles: They are on a journey to deliver passengers (the project team and stakeholders) to a pre-determined destination. However, despite the introduction of many modern project management technologies, research shows that we continue to experience project accidents. These accidents result in extensive and costly rework to get a project back on track.
I think part of the solution to avoid these potential problems is to borrow from recent automobile technologies as a way to detect troublesome signals. These signals are not readily perceivable from traditional project management methods.
Here are a few examples of anticipatory signals that portend the onset of a skid that often leads to a project accident.
A core competency of a project manager is to determine the schedule, budget and progress trajectory of a project. The project forecast is essential to determine where the project will finish for these measurements. Schedule, budget and progress forecasts from team members that exhibit great degrees of change over prior reporting periods are indicative of trending to an accident. This downward spiral is exacerbated when the forecast measurements come with great uncertainty; e.g., “I don’t know what this will take to finish.”
Several techniques can be employed to reduce the volatility of forecasting. Some of these techniques include initiating a peer review of the forecast with another project manager or supplier subject matter expert, as well as pausing the project to recalibrate the forecast in a dedicated working session. Taking time to implement these and other techniques to mitigate forecast volatility will get the project back on track before an accident.
2. Static Project Status
Project status reports can offer a tremendous amount of value to a project manager. They accumulate both qualitative and quantitative data that sheds light on the current project state. But, despite the visibility status reports provide, they’re just a snapshot. That limits their ability to show progress trends. In addition, a project status report that does not show content changes week over week indicates that the project is likely stalled and headed toward an accident.
To increase the anticipatory value of a project status report, introduce trending and predictive data for risks, issues, deliverables and milestones. This allows the project team to determine what level of progress has been achieved, as well as what progress to expect. It also better positions the project manager to escalate mitigations to avoid an impending project accident.
At the beginning of a project, stakeholder engagement and enthusiasm is typically high. This is not unlike the start of a road trip. But, as time passes on a project, the level of enthusiasm and engagement can begin to wane. Stakeholder engagement over time will face tough tests from project risks to resource challenges to dependency conflicts. Each can sap the energy levels of stakeholders. This leads to passive engagement at best and complete disengagement and absenteeism at worst.
To keep stakeholder engagement at the proper level, stakeholders need to be treated like any other resource on a project. Their time needs to be managed in work plans to avoid oversubscribing their capacity. In addition, their work should be focused on higher value activities that promote project progress. Providing the team access to project support staff to maximize productivity also helps further stakeholder engagement and leads to persistent engagement.
Perhaps one day in the future there will be technology solutions that provide anticipatory signals for projects headed for an accident. Until that day comes, however, project managers still need to think organically and look for hidden signals of dangers to project budgets, schedules and progress.
What do you see as the leading indicators that a project is trending toward disaster?
Lead With Value
by Dave Wakeman
Where do you stand on the value vs. benefits debate?
As someone who spends most of my time managing projects in marketing and revenue-generating roles, I likely see the idea in a much different way.
To me, value is the most important thing that you can sell to your sponsors, stakeholders and your team.
I think it’s pretty simple: If you are selling benefits, you have allowed yourself to slip into the world of commodity.
As the need increases for project managers to advocate for resources and execution in projects, it’s important that we don’t give weight to commodity thinking. If we allow ourselves to become a commodity, it becomes much easier to ignore our project, cancel the project or not give the project the resources it needs to be successful.
Value, on the other hand, allows you to explain your project in terms of impact. And if your stakeholders, sponsors and team see the impact and the improvement of what your project will mean to the organization, community or stakeholders, it becomes much easier to sell the importance of the project, the need for resources and the benefits.
Here are a couple ideas on how you can prioritize value in your projects.
Lead with impact. Think about how the work you are doing is going to improve people’s lives, the success of an organization or some other high impact measure that will get people excited.
Here’s an example: In working on the New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York’s Times Square for several years, I could have easily said my main job was to make sure that I expedited people’s access to the restricted areas, hastened the process of getting people in and out of Times Square and ensured that the primary entertainment events went off in a timely manner.
That would be missing the point. The impact that I created was that I ensured that the logistics of the ball drop didn’t stand in the way of people having a safe, enjoyable New Year’s Eve experience.
In the first example, those are just commodity activities.
But if I do the job of selling the value the right way, it’s much more likely that the project is going to go through in a way that I hope for.
Don’t just think of the tangible benefits; think of the intangible benefits too. The core of the benefits argument is that tasks are the only thing people value in business or project management.
As someone that started out my career working in entertainment exclusively, I recognized pretty early on that what people view as a benefit often is independent of what they are actually getting from physical goods.
For all of you thinking about value over benefits, this boils down to tangible versus intangible value.
If you are selling the value of your projects, and you want to increase the impact of your conversation, focus on impact. Think about it from both the tangible and intangible angles.
The tangible value in your project might be how much more money they are going to earn, how much money they are going to save or how much more efficient something will be.
Your sponsor or stakeholders might really be much more excited by less stress from commuting, in the case of a mass transit or road project. They might find that the reduction in time allows them to spend more time at home with their family.
Or, the intangible might be something else entirely.
The key is to not allow your project to just become a checklist of activities. If you do, you are likely dealing with commodity status and no project team does their best work in that situation.