Voices on Project Management

by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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.

About this Blog

RSS

View Posts By:

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
Soma Bhattacharya

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Business Transformation in Disguise

Tips for Project Success in a Functional Organization

Leadership Lessons From The Soccer Field

5 Steps to Reverse a Project in Chaos

Put Your Users First—Here’s How

Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne

6 Steps for Improving Organizational Maturity

Categories: Best Practices

By Lynda Bourne

After more than 40 years in project management, project controls and project governance, I’ve learned that every successful organization has its own unique culture and structure. Nothing works “out of the box.”

Each organization needs to identify the aspects of its existing culture and the parts of its management systems that offer the best opportunities for improvement, define options that may work (there are no guarantees), and decide on the steps needed to deliver the desired improvements.

This process is a journey, and the measure of success is achieving the level of maturity where continuous improvement is organic and internal.

Here are my tips for getting there:

  1. Set the right objectives. Projects and programs should support the organization’s strategic objectives. Achieving this requires a number of elements:
    • A realistic and achievable strategic plan
    • A portfolio management function designed to optimize the selection of the “right” projects and programs to undertake to maximize the delivery of strategy
    • A robust and reliable process to develop and test the business cases used in the portfolio management processes, as underestimating the cost or difficulty in delivering a project guarantees failure before it starts
    • A sound appreciation of risk and uncertainty to ensure adequate contingencies are in place by applying techniques such as reference class risk assessments
  2. Understand the objective and value proposition for each project and program. The outputs from a project enable the organization to undertake new or improved activities that are intended to create value. Decision-making needs to be based on a clear understanding of:
    • The critical success factors for each project—what really matters from an organizational perspective
    • The project’s overall value proposition, which involves more than simple cost accounting
    • The organizational changes needed to implement the project’s deliverables and realize the intended value
  3. Establish organizational capabilities to manage the work of a project or program. Select contractors and suppliers based on the three Ps:
    • The promise, ensuring the promised performance in terms of time, cost and scope is realistic, achievable, understood by all involved
    • The performance of the work based on a robust and accurate assessment of current performance against the promise, identifying all significant variances and determining the reason why they have occurred
    • The prediction of future outcomes based on current performance. The most reliable predictor of future performance is the performance to date. This will not change unless something in the performance space is done differently. Changing performance requires planning, takes time, usually involves cost and there are no guarantees of success.
  4. Optimize and manage risk. There is no such thing as a risk-free project. Mature organizations proactively manage all aspects of risk and opportunity ranging from safety and the environment to the achievement of the project’s objectives and value proposition.
  5. Prepare the organization to effectively manage change. Change is inevitable! Mature organizations have systems in place to assess and manage change requests in a proactive and time-efficient way based on the project’s overall value proposition.
  6. Document robust governance procedures. These should be focused on ensuring the organization’s systems and management structures are “fit for purpose” and continually improving.

 

Rely on These Resources for Help Along the Way

PMI has a range of resources to assist you on this journey. The newly created Standard for Organizational Project Management (OPM) provides a framework to align project, program and portfolio management practices with organizational strategy and objectives. This standard is supported by the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®), which defines a framework to measure progress toward maturity. These are assisted by Implementing Organizational Project Management: A Practice Guide. Finally, the Governance of Portfolios, Programs and Projects: A Practice Guide takes a closer look at the different types of governance and how you can implement or enhance governance on your portfolios, programs and projects. All of these standards are free downloads for PMI members.

This may not be the area many project managers focus on, but maybe it’s time for a change. After all, we cannot deliver successful projects when the project is set up to fail. Influencing senior management to focus on improving organizational maturity so that most projects have a fighting chance of being successful is good for everyone.

Have you created a culture of continuous improvement at your organization? I’d love to hear from you—please share below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 30, 2019 06:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

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)
ADVERTISEMENTS

"Impartial observers from other planets would consider ours an utterly bizarre enclave if it were populated by birds, defined as flying animals, that nevertheless rarely or never actually flew. They would also be perplexed if they encountered in our seas, lakes, rivers and ponds, creatures defined as swimmers that never did any swimming. But they would be even more surprised to encounter a species defined as a thinking animal if, in fact, the creature very rarely indulged in actual thinking."

- Steve Allen

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors