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
Vivek Prakash
Christian Bisson
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Rex Holmlin
Roberto Toledo
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Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya

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Separating Standards and Knowledge Management

Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne

Separating Standards and Knowledge Management

by Lynda Bourne

In my last post—It’s Time for a Long, Hard Look at Processes—I questioned if A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) should be updated every four years, or if it should become a dynamic knowledge management system similar to Wikipedia. The post generated a number of comments, which I’m going to try to address now.

The fundamental purpose of a standard is to offer standardized advice organizations can rely on. Standards are frequently referenced in contracts and other formal documentation, and they form the basis for certifications. The PMBOK® Guide fulfills all of these purposes. In this situation, stability is essential. Globally, standards are reviewed and updated every four to five years to balance the need for currency against the need for consistency. 

The PMI Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.) community has a busy few months each time the PMBOK® Guide is updated, requiring them to go through their training materials to bring them all up to date. This is magnified many times over as organizations around the world update their documentation to align with the new standard.

But the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard is only one part of the PMBOK® Guide. The guidance part is the larger aspect of the book and also, in my opinion, the most useful. This element is a knowledge repository and if access to validated information is readily available, knowledge management systems should seek to be as up to date as possible. To achieve this, most knowledge management systems are web-based and assume that once information is printed, it is no longer current. Managing a knowledge management system needs skill and knowledge but should be a real-time, full-time function.

Given this, I suggest that PMI separate the standard part of the document from the knowledge element. The standard section would consist of the ANSI Standard (part two of the current PMBOK® Guide) and the supporting core knowledge that does not change much. This standard and supporting information would remain on the four- to five-year update cycle. The resulting document would be much thinner than the current PMBOK® Guide.

The knowledge element builds onto this as a cloud-based resource and should be the subject of continual improvement and updating. Allowing PMI members to contribute their knowledge on a continuous basis, subject to review and edit, would allow the body of knowledge to grow and adapt as project management grows and adapts.

A careful design of the knowledge structure based on the PMBOK® Guide—augmented with information from the other standards published by PMI and enhanced with current developments from industry—would create a very useful and dynamic source of knowledge for the global project management community.

If access to this project management knowledge bank is free to members and available for a fee to commercial users and non-members, the value of membership would be enhanced and PMI would be positioned to maintain its position as a global leader in the development of project management.

It’s an interesting challenge. What do you think?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: April 25, 2019 07:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

It’s Time for a Long, Hard Look at Processes

Categories: PMBOK Guide

by Lynda Bourne

Project managers and processes go hand in hand. But are the processes of the past the right ones to guide future projects? And if project management is evolving beyond today’s generally accepted 40 or 50 processes, what should the next version of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) look like?

 

The Evolution of Process as a Concept

To consider these questions, let’s start by looking at the way processes have evolved. The concept of describing the process needed to accomplish a task emerged as part of the development of scientific management in the early 20th century. Scientific study and careful analysis defined the “one best way” of doing the work and the time it needed. Shortly after, the application of learned experience entered into the equation as a way to improve the current “best method.”

By the 1950s the concept of a process with defined inputs, transformed by the application of defined tools and techniques to produce outputs, was firmly established in quality control and management. Process improvement was central to the rapid development of post-war industry.

During the development of the 1996 version of the PMBOK® Guide, PMI adopted processes as the best way to organize and explain the complex flow of information through the life of a typical project. The PMBOK® Guide came to embody “generally accepted good practices that apply to most projects, most of the time.” Over the years, the 37 processes in the 1996 version of the PMBOK® Guide expanded to 49 in the Sixth Edition (released in 2017). Through the editions, PMI has progressively increased the emphasis on the need to customize and tailor processes to meet the needs of each individual project. But is this enough?

 

Looking Ahead

The questions I want to ask in this post are:

  • Can a practice as diverse as project management still be adequately described in some 50 processes?
  • If not, how can the PMBOK® Guide be structured in the future?
  • Is a four-year cycle appropriate, or given the rate of change in the profession, should “the Guide” be updated more frequently?

In the past, processes were developed around the concept of transforming specific inputs in a defined way to create consistent outputs. Business processes define how the how work is done within an organization, to meet the needs of its customers. PMI’s approach to generalizing processes across a management discipline adapted this basic concept. 

The idea was powerfully successful when most projects, most of the time, had similar characteristics. They were approved, planned, built and closed. The same approach was used in construction, engineering and most other industries that did projects in the 1990s—and the concept remained largely true for the next 20 years or so.

However, does this generality still apply in the current environment, where some projects still follow the traditional approach (e.g., construction/engineering), others use various iterative approaches, while others take a fully adaptive and agile approach?

Some core objectives are consistent across of all of these approaches. For example, they all use some form of schedule management to get the right people into the right place at the right time, adequately resourced to do the right work. However, the processes applied to accomplish this objective have very little in common. For example, resources are allocated to logically constrained activities by the planner in traditional critical path method scheduling, in agile resources choose which activities to include in their next “sprint.” Similar challenges exist across most, if not all, of the knowledge areas. Has creating processes that can work across all of the different delivery strategies become impossible?

 

Focusing on the next edition

This brings me to the second question. What should the next edition of the PMBOK® Guide look like?

  • One option would be to significantly increase its size to include many of the alternative approaches as discrete processes.
  • Another may be to produce different versions of the PMBOK® Guide for different approaches to managing projects, expanding on the concept of “industry extensions” that already exist. This may result in a smaller “core document” people could complement by adding on the appropriate extension, or a series of books with a common frame but different processes.
  • A radically different approach would be to create some form of intelligent web-based tool that offers viable combinations of processes across different knowledge areas based on previous decisions.

As our profession rapidly changes and diversifies, it remains central to the development of the world’s economy. So how do you think the PMBOK® Guide can best evolve to maintain its preeminent position as the global reference defining the management of projects?

Your answers will help inform my next post looking at managing the accelerating rate of change in our profession. 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: January 15, 2019 04:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Predicting Performance: There Must Be a Better Way

Categories: Motivation

By Lynda Bourne

Accurately predicting project outcomes has always been difficult. The standard tools in use today for doing so don’t offer much help. These tools work on the assumption that the planned duration or cost of future work is the best option to use for calculating completion outcomes.

The significant exceptions to this approach are earned value (EV) and earned schedule (ES). EV, ES and some other tools do adjust future performance based on past performance to predict outcomes—and they have demonstrated significantly more accuracy as a consequence. But no mainstream control tools deal with the management opportunity to actively change future performance with the use of incentive and motivation.

The performance of any activity is influenced by:

  • Management competence, in organizing the work and the workers
  • The availability of the right resources, tools and equipment
  • The skill of the workers
  • Workers’ incentives and motivations. Incentives are extrinsic, while motivations are intrinsic.

Incentive Schemes and Motivation Theory

Incentive schemes

Incentives in the form of piece rates have been used since the commercial revolution of the 11th and 12th centuries. Then in the 20th century, a range of more sophisticated payment schemes were introduced by management consultants looking to drive enhanced productivity (some of the better known are outlined in the chart above – click for more information).   

The word “piecework” first appears in writing around the year 1549. Under this system a worker is paid for each piece of work he produces. Since the 16th century, a wide variety of incentive schemes have been developed to encourage productivity by directly linking payments to performance.

Individual schemes are either time-based, with incentives being paid for completing on time or early, or production-based, with workers paid based on the number of items produced.

Group incentive schemes reward team performance by paying a group bonus instead of individual bonuses. The bonus is distributed among all the employees of the organization or team.

From the 1920s onward, management researchers began to realize simple incentive schemes were not sufficient and a range of motivational theories were developed.

Management theorists are still debating whether it is possible to motivate a person or if motivation is an internal state that can be encouraged. However, there is a consistent view that when motivation is increased, productivity increases.

 

The Planning Conundrum

From the 12th century on, managers have known that well-directed incentive schemes can influence worker behaviour. Consequently, we know the productivity of a worker is a variable based on how he or she responds to various incentives and motivators.

Similarly, the emergence of scientific management and other management theories in the 20th century also highlighted the importance of organization and planning of work, and the workspace, in enhancing productivity. Improvements are always possible.

However, these concepts are largely ignored in project planning and control disciplines. Plans are set based on estimates made at the beginning of the project and rarely changed; at best, tools such as EV adjust future estimates based on performance to date.

What seems to be missing is a process that takes an objective look at productivity and identifies the changes needed to improve productivity to the levels needed to achieve project objectives. The concepts of process improvement and total quality management exist in general management and are mentioned in the A Guide to the Product Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), but no one seems to have moved these concepts into the domain of project planning and controls.

How do you think we could better approach the management of future work to enhance productivity and deliver better outcomes?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: September 08, 2018 07:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (23)

Knowledge Is Creative

Categories: Knowledge

by Lynda Bourne

In my last post, Information Is Subjective, I outlined the way data is gathered and transformed into information by the subjective application of personal knowledge. Now, let’s look at how knowledge is created and shared (the gold connections in the diagram above).

People know things: Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created. It exists in the minds of people. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit—they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is tacit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights, grounded in the person’s experience.

Therefore, managing knowledge means managing people.

The fact that knowledge exists in people’s minds does not preclude joint activities to create knowledge, share knowledge and refine knowledge. But the people involved need to be in communication with each other.

Some of the structured ways this can be accomplished include:

  • Various forms of meetings. People working together to debate or brainstorm a challenge and build on each other’s inputs often enhances creativity.
  • Mentoring and coaching to help transfer tacit and explicit knowledge from the coach or mentor to the trainee or mentee.

Structured approaches work well if the information that needs to be transferred or created is understood, and the people involved focus on creating or acquiring the required new knowledge.

Less formal approaches are better for generating completely new information or insights that people did not know they were about to create.

Spontaneity and serendipity are encouraged through social interactions, such as:

  • Communities of practice where people with a common interest interact. Good communities draw members from a diverse range of workplaces, backgrounds and knowledge levels.
  • Member associations such as PMI.
  • Other social networks and the activity of networking by an individual.
  • Creating an organizational culture of open communication that allows and encourages both the asking of questions and the provision of advice. People cannot know what they don’t know and a small piece of friendly advice at an opportune moment can prevent a painful learning experience.

Knowledge will never be uniform in its distribution or in the way people interpret what they know. The function of a creative knowledge management system is to smooth out the differences as much as is practical and to facilitate the creation of new knowledge through the synthesis of different people’s ideas and insights.

So as you venture forth to share knowledge, remember:

  • An effective knowledge management system is built on a symbiotic relationship between an effective information management system and a culture that encourages and facilitates the open exchange of knowledge and ideas between people.
  • An information system on its own will at best simply make useful information available to people. There is no control over how, or if, the information is accessed or used appropriately.
  • A knowledge management system on its own may create brilliant insights, but the information is organic and transient. Everything is in people’s minds and their knowledge leaves the room when they do.
  • A knowledge management system is most effective when it combines these two elements and provides governance and oversight to extract the maximum value from the information held within the organization through personal interaction, conversation and other social processes. 
Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 30, 2018 07:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Information Is Subjective

Categories: Knowledge

by Lynda Bourne

Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created—it exists in the minds of people. A person’s store of knowledge is built from their life experiences, their observations, and their formal and informal learning. Consequently, what one person knows will be different to what everyone else knows. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit, meaning they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is implicit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights grounded in the person’s experience.

Information is recorded, held in systems and made accessible to people. Good information management systems contain verified information in a useful format. This information is based on data. Because it is written, it is consistent—but it may not be correct. How the data is interpreted to create the information depends on people’s knowledge and perceptions.

Data Is the Starting Point

Data is a set of observations or measurements. If nothing changes in the world, another person can perform the same measurement or observation at another time and gather the same set of data. Data may not be accurate or reliable but it is based on observed facts about something. The potential for error rests in the way the observations or measurements were made.

The Interpretation of Information

Information is organized data. It provides the answer to a question of some kind or resolves an uncertainty.

However, transforming data into information is not automatic; it requires the input of knowledge. Someone has to look at the data and observe patterns that indicate something of significance or make decisions on what is important in a particular context. Information is refined data in a context that is designed to communicate a message to the receiver of the information.

The problem is different people with different knowledge frameworks will interpret the same set of data in different ways. You only need to listen to politicians arguing about the state of the economy to see how different the interpretation of the same set of data can become. The old adage applies, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

When I reduce my knowledge to a codified or written format it becomes available to others as information. But I have no way of knowing how you or anyone else will use or change the information I have created.

Information Management Systems

Changing data into information is the first application of knowledge in an information management system. And the journey from data to useful information may need several passes through the information management system. PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) identifies:

  • Work performance data (gathered by someone during the course of doing project work)
  • Work performance information (the data processes by discipline experts into basic information)
  • Work performance reports (the basic information, selected, compiled and placed in context to be used by stakeholders).

At each step in this flow, a person applies their tacit and explicit knowledge to the information they have received. They then codify their new knowledge to create another piece of information ready for use by others. The problem with this process in isolation is it is asynchronous and based on individual transactions. This is suboptimal and potentially dangerous. 

However, the model of the information management system above is very common and spans global systems, such as Wikipedia down to simple knowledge repositories in project web portals. What’s missing in this type of system is the knowledge management element, which we will look at next time.

An information system on its own will at best simply make useful information available to people. There is no control over how, or if, the information is accessed or used appropriately. In a full knowledge management system, information is the bridge between data and knowledge:

  • The raw data represents values attributed to parameters of something.
  • Knowledge signifies understanding of real things or abstract concepts.

More on this next time.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: June 30, 2018 06:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)
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