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
Conrado Morlan
Kevin Korterud
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Recent Posts

Bring on the Praise

Credit Where Credit Is Due

The Unsung Hero of a Mega Transformation

Victory Is Fleeting

Change Is Cool

PMOs Are a Beacon of Agility? Prove It

Monday's executive panel at the PMO Symposium in Houston, Texas, USA. From left: moderator Ed Hoffman, Mario Arlt, Anne Sparrenberger and Gordon Gaenzle.

By Cyndee Miller

It’s the great divide. More than 90 percent of executives get it: Organizational agility is table stakes for surviving in a disruption-laden world. Yet only 27 percent of them consider their organizations highly agile, according to Achieving Greater Agility, the latest in PMI’s latest Thought Leadership Series.

Closing that gap will take more than changing processes or delivery approaches, PMI President and CEO Mark A. Langley told leaders at the PMO Symposium in Houston, Texas, USA. It requires shifting mindsets and culture.

So move past the old agile versus waterfall debate. Leaders should be worrying about bigger things. Like staying relevant.

“The role of the PMO is changing just as rapidly as the world around it,” Mr. Langley said.

Reinforcing a common refrain across the morning’s discussions, Anne Sparrenberger of FedEx said organizational agility is about listening to — and incorporating — the voice of the customer.

But here’s a wakeup call: Barely more than a quarter of executives say they can leverage PMOs to be more agile.

Therein lies the opportunity.

PMO leaders need to step up and foster a culture of agility across their organizations, Bruce Rogers of Forbes Insights told attendees.

And they’re in a prime spot to do so.

“The PMO can play an important role in partnering with the C-suite to drive change,” IBM’s Gordon Gaenzle told the audience.

It’s been said that change is hard—people don’t always want to get on the bus, so to speak. Indeed, some people don’t even want to acknowledge there is a bus. For ABB’s Mario Arlt, PMOs prove their strategic value by convincing people affected by the change that the it’s necessary to the organization’s future.

“Ultimately, cultural change happens at the individual level,” he said.

Mr. Arlt also acknowledged that with agility — inevitably — comes some failure. The big question: Are you learning from those mistakes?

Howard Bagg from KPMG ticked off the four biggest transformation missteps: a dearth of exec sponsorship, lack of the enterprise view, failure to recognize the sheer amount of organizational change and the transition time required for that change.

What’s happening in your PMOs? Do executives at your organization see the PMO as a partner for change? Share your thoughts below. 

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 07, 2017 08:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Importance of Iteration

by Christian Bisson, PMP

We’ve all encountered them on a project or two: stakeholders that want everything right away.

The result of this rush is often lots of money invested, a tight schedule, negative impact on the quality and frustrated people. But, carefully planned iterations of a project can help avoid the negativities of rushed efforts.

Here’s why:

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

A well thought out MVP is the first iteration of your project. It means planning for the smallest scope possible, keeping in mind that it still needs to bring business value.

Let’s say you’re building a website. In this scenario, you’d identify the main features your website should have — based on goals — and focus on those instead of spreading the effort on all the features that might seem great to have.

There are many advantages to the MVP approach:

  • It can be deployed much faster compared to the complete scope.
  • You can monitor your project in action (ex. Google Analytics).
  • You can gather valuable feedback from people who use it.

Room to Adjust

Since you haven’t spent all the budget on the entire scope — and you now have precious data gathered from various sources — you can plan based on facts rather than hypotheses.

For example, after the MVP is deployed, you might have planned to work on a new feature. However, if new data suggests that the main feature of your project is not quite user friendly and needs adjustments, you can prioritize the adjustment and quickly add more value to your project compared to adding a new feature that might be less important.

Deploy When Ready

The MVP is only the first of many iterations. Do not fall back into the trap of building everything before you deploy your first update. Using the example above, if the first feature is actively affecting the quality of your project, adjust it and deploy right away. That way you will gain the added value of your improvement right away.

Some might argue that deployments cost money so you shouldn’t deploy all the time, and it’s a fair point. But keep in mind that the cost of those well-planned deployments are negligible compared to all the budget you can waste on a misfocused effort or a wrong hypothesis.

Taking a step-by-step approach to project management is crucial to the long-term success of projects. How do you manage the iterative or MVP approach? 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: November 04, 2017 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

3 Metrics For Project Manager Performance

I’m frequently asked for insights on performance measurement criteria for project managers. This comes as a bit of a surprise given how professional certification programs, such as PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, have brought more consistency to project management skills.

 

Organizations’ typical performance measurement framework for functional roles is focused on growth and results. But that framework is becoming less effective at measuring project managers.

 

Project managers differ from functional roles in that they perform their duties with definitive time periods, outside influences, ever-changing activities and a higher level of uncertainty.

 

At the same time, more and more companies are seeking both individual and aggregate project management performance measures. Aggregate measures provide insights into overall capabilities and indicate if improvement initiatives — training, methods, processes — are actually increasing project manager productivity.

 

I’ve spent some time thinking about how to improve measurement criteria for project manager performance. Here are three areas I believe must be included:

 

  1. Project Metrics: Companies go to great lengths to capture and share metrics on project performance. If that same data is analyzed based on a project manager, it serves as a current and historical view of project manager performance.

 

Over time, individual project manager metrics, such as schedule and budget, can be analyzed to show the project manager’s track record. Supplementary metrics, such as change control activity, deliverable finish date delays and cost of poor quality, can provide a complete picture of project manager performance.

 

By aggregating and averaging these metrics — as well as using other data points such as labor cost — the enterprise capability of project managers can be measured.

 

 

 

2. Project Manager Engagement Reviews: The ability of a project manager to successfully engage with stakeholders is a key success factor for projects. A high level of engagement allows for early visibility to potential delivery issues, as well as a stronger understanding of the success criteria for a project.

 

The most effective means to measure project engagement is to conduct a post-project review with the project’s primary stakeholder. As engagement is not a binary yes/no condition, open-ended questions allow for deeper insights into the project manager’s level of engagement. For example, probing when project managers anticipated potential project issues would help to reveal engagement. These reviews are not meant to be punitive, but instead to guide and educate.

 

In addition, the reviewer should also look at the engagement level of the primary stakeholder. It’s not uncommon to find unengaged stakeholders, which can lead to poor delivery results for which the project manager is unfairly held to account. A balanced view of both the project manager and stakeholder will give the reviewer a true measure of engagement.

 

  1. Project Manager Histories: Beyond capturing fundamentals of project manager experience, credentials and projects, capturing performance details of projects led by project managers is of great value.


When interviewing project managers, I ask them to complete a table of both project fundamentals as well as performance histories. This profile helps me determine what would be the next best project for them, thus enabling a better chance of delivery success.  

Capturing project performance data allows project managers to share successes, as well as provide rationale for when things might not have gone as well as anticipated. It serves as a platform for career growth.

A project manager that comes to an interview prepared with structured project histories is usually well prepared to take on the next level of projects.

In today’s world of ever-increasing project complexity and scale, both companies and project managers need to expand their demonstrated performance results beyond what is found today.  

 

How do you measure project manager performance? Do traditional performance measurement frameworks for functional roles continue to meet the need? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: November 03, 2017 05:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Don’t Put Projects on Autopilot — No Matter How Busy You Are

By Cyndee Miller

There are a slew of training courses, business books, and, yes, even blog posts about situational awareness. It’s a fairly straightforward theory: Pay attention to what’s going on around you.

Mercedes Ramirez-Johnson added a new depth to the topic in her closing keynote at PMI Global Conference. She shared her story of surviving a 1995 commercial plan crash over the mountains of Colombia that killed 160, including her parents.

A multiyear investigation into the crash revealed the pilots made two fatal mistakes. First, they entered the wrong airport code into the flight computer and veered 130 miles (209 kilometers) off course. And second, when the alert started to sound that they were getting too close to land at too fast a speed — it was a mountain — they pulled up, but forgot to release the speed breaks.

Had the pilots released those breaks, experts said they had a 95 percent chance of clearing the mountain and not crashing. It’s a perfect example of knowing what to do and not putting it into practice, says Ms. Ramirez-Johnson.

It’s a loss of situational awareness. And it can easily happen to business leaders and project leaders of every ilk. When people are busy trying to survive project to project, deadline to deadline, they won’t thrive, Ms. Ramirez-Johnson

The physical recovery of the ordeal included a prolonged stay in the intensive-care unit and weeks in bed, not moving, not eating. For a while, she was bitter and entered a “why me” tailspin (and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t?).

To pull herself up, Ms. Ramirez-Johnson says she started plotting the life she wanted to live with her second chance. “Even though I didn’t have control of what happened to me, I had 100 percent control of how I was going to move on,” she said.

Ms. Ramirez-Johnson made the choice to live with intention, to reset her perspective and to persevere. And she says project and program managers can — and should — do the same. "When we put projects on autopilot, we lose situational awareness and we don’t have the sense of what dangers are around the corner or what opportunities exist," Ms. Ramirez-Johnson said.

How are you using situational awareness in on your projects?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 01, 2017 05:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

So, You Fancy Yourself a Mind Reader? You’re Wrong.

By Cyndee Miller

It’s probably the bracelets and the boots. But I long harbored a desire to be Wonder Woman. I had big plans for using her Lasso of Truth on my sister.
 
But conference keynoter Nicholas Epley came in with a reality check for me: “Of all the superpowers, reading minds is the only one you already have.”

It’s that innate human ability to understand what others think, feel, believe, want and know. And it’s what makes humans the most dominant species, he said.

But it's complicated. At best, the ability can help project professionals connect with their team. At worst, our egocentrism, stereotyping and behaviorism can spark misunderstanding or even conflict.

“There’s only one mind that you’re engaged with all the time: your own,” said Mr. Epley. “We tend to oversimplify other peoples minds.”

Body language tends to be another culprit of missed connections, says Mr. Epley — and this after I’ve spent years covering it as it as a way to get ahead in business. “The problem with body language is that we misread it,” he says.

To really understand someone, you have to really get inside their head, Mr. Epley offered a few tips:

  1. Be wary of gimmicks. Facial expressions and body language can mislead — and there’s no proof that training can improve a person’s ability to read it.
  2. Cut the confidence in half. Approach people with humility.
  3. Be painfully clear when you communicate. Ask direct questions, listen carefully, reiterate clearly and ask for confirmation.

Do you experience misunderstandings with your teams? Do you think Mr. Epley’s approach could help? 

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: October 30, 2017 01:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)
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