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 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

Are Traditional Scrum Masters Becoming Obsolete?

 

By Kevin Korterud

 

I experienced my first agile project nearly a decade ago. At the time, agile was still an emerging concept. I remember thinking there were all sorts of activities going on that I had never seen on any of my projects. People were standing up for meetings, marker boards were filled with things called “stories” and delivery moved forward under the framework of a “sprint.”

 

At the center of this whirl of frenetic activity was a person who the team called a “scrum master.” At first, I thought this person was a project manager. But they were doing things that were outside of the traditional project management realm.

 

Since that first experience, agile has matured and continued to grow in popularity. This trend prompted me to examine the evolving role of the scrum master in complex agile delivery environments. Here are my observations:


 

1. Agile Delivery is Becoming Mature

Agile delivery teams used to function within isolated pockets. But, as the use of agile—as well as the size and complexity of solutions being delivered—grew, new methods, such as SAFe®, were developed to help orchestrate agile delivery across an organization.

 

With agile becoming more common in organizations as a delivery method, the overall need for scrum masters’ general process advice diminishes. Agile teams over time—as well as with the support of enterprise framework methods—will become more self-sufficient, which reduces the need for some of the current activities performed by scrum masters.     

 

2. Higher Engagement and Direct Accountability  

One of the guiding principles for scrum masters is that they are not supposed to intervene with the team and are not responsible for delivery outcomes.

 

While a focus on process advice was essential during the early days of agile, today’s larger and more complex solutions demand that delivery quality issues be identified as soon as possible. In addition, there is also a need to ensure on a more frequent basis that the solution being created will yield the desired business outcomes.

 

Given its proximity to agile delivery teams, the scrum master role is positioned to leverage a higher level of engagement and accountability. In addition to traditional agile process advice, scrum masters should also serve as a durable checkpoint for both delivery quality and alignment to business outcomes.

 

These checkpoint activities would include reviewing user story quality, monitoring non-functional requirements and checking solution designs against business needs. As other roles in agile delivery possess some form of delivery accountability, the scrum master must also become more engaged and accountable in order to remain relevant.

 

3. Emerging Project Managers Becoming Scrum Masters

While scrum masters are not meant to be project managers, that notion is preventing project managers from becoming scrum masters, especially earlier in their career. Emerging project managers invariably have some form of solution delivery experience. They know what makes for sound requirements (especially non-functional), designs, testing, quality and implementation plans.

 

As the level of complexity and scale increases with agile delivery, so does the need for some form of delivery oversight at the agile team level. With the scrum master position in their repertoire, teams would have developed competencies and know-how for scaled agile delivery, release train engineer, program manager, etc.    

 

Scrum masters have played an essential role in the growth and adoption of agile as a practical means of delivery. Their direct interactions with agile delivery teams create a unique opportunity to expand their influence in generating valuable outcomes for end-users, consumers, customers, employees or suppliers. To do so, they need to further extend themselves— both in terms of skills and engagement—to remain relevant in today’s complex delivery environment.

 

How do you feel the scrum master role has evolved? Are newly minted project managers the scrum masters of tomorrow? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 21, 2017 05:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Kick-Off Meetings: The Beginning of Success or Failure

Imagine this scenario: You are the project manager of a new, strategic project of your company. Excited, you prepare the necessary documents and schedule the project's kick-off meeting.

The kick-off meeting seem to be going well, until you start presenting the necessities and you notice resistance coming from functional managers in ceding their resources.

And it’s only then you realize your mistake: You should have invited the project sponsor to the kick-off.

Kick-off meetings, which should take place between the end of the planning stage and the beginning of implementation, are of paramount importance to the success (or failure) of a project. And you must prepare.

For the project manager, the kick off is a great opportunity to ensure that your stakeholders are identified, to demonstrate that there is a common gain in the success of the project, to map out the stakeholder predispositions and to ensure that their respective roles are understood.

Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. The Invite List: You must have the other relevant stakeholders in the room—functional managers, the customer of the project product and all those who can have an influence, either positively or negatively.

2. The Meeting Infrastructure: The size of the room, amenities, coffee break and everything else that make the environment appropriate.

3. The Presentation: The kick-off meeting will be your moment to demonstrate that the project is well planned with mapped risks. But, keep your audience in mind. For example, the sponsor, usually an executive with no time to see the details, will be present at this meeting. Make your presentation concise and objective by showing that you have a clear vision of where you want to go.

4. The Sponsor: The great benefit of the kick-off meeting is to get commitment to the development and success of the project. Without it, the project manager always runs the risk of having their needs not met. This is where the essential participation of the sponsor comes in. He or she typically has a politician's nature.

Even though it is up to the project manager to conduct the meeting, it is essential that, soon after the welcome is given, the project manager gives the floor to the sponsor. They can use their position within the organization to "suggest" to those involved to give their support, resources and conditions to the project manager on behalf of the expected results of the project. With the sponsor message given—even if he or she leaves right after they speak—there is a greater chance that everyone else will understand and support the project and that will make the rest of the meeting easier for you.

What other things should you keep in mind when planning a kick off meeting? I look forward to your thoughts.

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: June 21, 2017 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Hackers: A Safety Issue

By Wanda Curlee

Recently, my doctor’s office was attacked with ransomware—potentially causing a major safety issue.

Think about it: What happens if you have a life-threatening illness? All the medical records, including any tests and results, are no longer available. How can the doctor treat or even advise patients without that information?

For instance, a relative of mine recently had blood clots. To diagnose the issue, doctors performed a special blood test with the results delivered to the doctor within an hour. Had the doctor’s office been hit with ransomware, the results would have been lost—and there would’ve been a high probability of death.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and the number of devices that are now connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) heighten the risk of hacking—and the potential devastating effects.

So, how does this affect project management professionals? Project managers must understand that hackers are a reality and they must ensure that their team has the necessary training.

Program managers should establish the security protocols for all projects in the program. Each project will determine the security within the bounds of the program’s processes.

At times, the program manager may have to determine if security needs to be linked between the various projects. The program manager would need to monitor all protocols and make sure that program-level personnel coordinate the activities between the projects.

How does this affect the portfolio manager?

The portfolio manager needs to understand the company’s industry, the strategy objectives and the project/program landscape. At times, the portfolio manager may even have to present safety precautions as it relates to the industry’s IoT and AI to senior executives. By presenting the information, senior executives may alter a strategy or advise the portfolio manager to include security for IoT and AI in business cases.

And remember: In the future, project management tools may include IoT and AI. Can you imagine if a hacker were able to adjust settings, wipe out projects or use ransomware to block all access to project information that’s stored in the cloud?

This could be devastating. Let’s face it—a company without projects is a dead or dying company!

How are you ensuring hackers don’t devastate your projects or those of your customers?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: June 12, 2017 01:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

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)
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