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

Recent Posts

A Scrum Master’s Duty

Avoid the Internal Project Trap

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

Understanding Expert Judgment

Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne

Understanding Expert Judgment

Categories: Leadership

By Lynda Bourne

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) uses the concept of “expert judgment” in most of its processes, but only has a relatively brief description of the concept. It describes expert judgment as “judgment based on expertise appropriate for the activity being performed and advises, “such expertise may be provided by any group or person with specialized education, knowledge, skills, experience or training.”

This description leaves three questions:

  • What is expertise and how did you define it?
  • What is the judgment process needed to apply the expertise?
  • Where do you find the necessary expertise to assist you in making a wise judgment?

Obtaining the expertise necessary to arrive at a wise judgment is not the exclusive responsibility of the project manager—you do not have to be the expert! However, the project manager is undoubtedly responsible for the consequences of any judgments that are made.

Instead, project managers should focus on knowing how to obtain the necessary expert advice and how to use that advice to arrive at the best project decision.

 

Finding an Expert

The first challenge in applying expert judgment is identifying the right people with the right expertise to provide advice.

By definition, an expert is a person whose opinion—by virtue of education, training, certification, skills or experience—is recognized as holding authoritative knowledge. But this definition is subjective and different experts will frequently have very different opinions around the same question or set of facts.

Also, as the Dunning-Kruger effect explains, people with limited knowledge are often absolutely certain about the facts.

Experts, however, being more cognizant of what they don’t know and having the knowledge to appreciate the complexity and depth of a problem, will frequently only provide a probabilistic answer, such as, “I would suggest this option, but….”

The decision-maker must ensure that the information brought into the judgment process is the best information—not the information that is advocated most loudly. 

The organization needs to make information available to its managers about the sources and types of expertise available, and the location of useful experts. This information needs to be updated on a regular basis and be accessible.

 

Wise Judgments

In the context of expert judgment, judgment is an action verb—it is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions based on information and knowledge derived from the application of expertise. Consequently, while the project manager can, and frequently should, seek expert advice to help inform his or her judgment, ultimately the considered decision that comes out of the judgment process is the responsibility of the project manager.

The defining competence of every good manager, project managers included, is their ability to make effective and timely decisions. The challenge is balancing the decision’s importance, the timeframe in which the decision is required, the cost (including opportunity costs) accrued in reaching the decision and the availability of the resources used in the decision-making process.  

The key elements of effective judgment are:

  • Obtaining the best information available in the allotted time (you’ll never have all the desired information).
  • Balancing and weighing information within an appropriate decision-making framework.
  • Making the decision in the timeframe necessary.

The judgment portion of expert judgment is part of the individual manager’s skill set. Their innate abilities should be supported with training and a culture that rewards a proactive approach to deciding.

 

Making an Expert Judgment

Bringing expertise and decision-making skills together to form an expert judgment works best in a structured process. PMI’s publication, Expert Judgment in Project Management: Narrowing the Theory-Practice Gap, outlines the framework:

  1. Frame the problem.
  2. Plan the elicitation of expert opinions.
  3. Select the appropriate experts.
  4. Brief/train the experts so they can contribute effectively.
  5. Elicit their opinions/judgments.
  6. Analyze and combine the information to create your expert judgment.
  7. Document and communicate the results.

When significant decisions are needed on a regular basis within the organization, standard operating processes should be defined to reinforce the practice of obtaining an expert judgment using the organizations knowledge resources.

How do you go about making expert judgments?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 30, 2017 09:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

The Problem With Paradox

Categories: Decision Making

by Lynda Bourne

The dictionary defines a paradox as a statement or group of statements that, despite sound reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems to defy logic or intuition. An example of a paradox is: “This statement is false”—if it is, it is not; and if it isn’t, it is.  

A well-known project management example is Cobb’s Paradox: “We know why projects fail; we know how to prevent their failure—so why do they still fail?” The apparently true statement is that we know how to prevent project failure, but do we really know how to make projects successful?  And if we do, the illogical element is, why do we let them fail?

This concept extends into the realm of project management. Virtually every management system generates a range of contradictions that can be removed by better design. It also creates a series of paradoxes that can’t be removed because both factors that create the paradox are important, but at the same time contradict each other.

This type of management paradox is defined as “a persistent contradiction between interdependent elements that resist a simple binary choice between the elements.”

Some of the more common paradoxes found in most organizations include:

  • The need to manage the tension between consistency (following the rules) versus flexibility (creativity to enhance outcomes)
  • The need to mitigate risk to provide certainty versus the need to take risks to seize opportunities
  • The need for planning and control versus the need for agility to respond to issues
  • The need for standard operating procedures to maximize quality versus the need for continuous improvement to enhance quality

The persistent nature of every paradox means the decision maker has to get used to living with contradictions. Dealing with the paradox requires intuitive judgment to decide on the best balance to strike between the competing elements in the current situation.

Group decision making, diversity, and consensus can help achieve the best judgment call. But there will always be viable alternatives—and any change in the situation will usually require the judgment to be adjusted. The problem with any intuitive judgment is that different people will arrive at different conclusions because they apply a different frame of reference to the problem.

The final element that makes paradox hard to live with is hindsight.  Regardless of the decision made, balancing the competing elements in a paradox involves a compromise and different people will have differing opinions of the optimum balance point.

When circumstances at a later date show there was a better balance point, criticizing the original decision (and the decision maker) is very easy. The 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight rarely matches the uncertain fog that surrounded the possible futures confronting the decision maker. 

Math does not help either; binary decisions have a 50/50 chance of being correct and these odds can be improved by the application of good decision-making processes. A paradox presents a continuum of choice. That means there is an almost unlimited array of possible options and the one chosen is highly unlikely to be the best in hindsight—the best outcome one can hope for is one that is reasonably close to the optimum.

This type of decision presents a real challenge to trained engineers and technical managers who expect to find the right solution for every problem.

Generally, at the technical level, there are correct solutions. But, if not, in most cases you know a decision is needed and can choose the lesser of two evils.

Good managers decide—lucky ones get it right (and you can usually correct wrong decisions).

The further up the organizational ladder you move, the more you will be exposed to paradox. Every decision you make to balance the competing elements in a paradox will be open to criticism.

It’s a tough place to be. How would you deal with a paradox in your environment?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: June 26, 2017 09:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 2

Categories: Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

In part one of this post, I introduced the management concept VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Managing VUCA effectively at the project level should not be underestimated: The agility and decision-making needed to respond to VUCA will inevitably have effects on the outcomes of projects and programs and, consequently, the direction of the organization.

Naturally, there will be a difference between planned and implemented strategy. One approach is to see this gap as “strategic non-alignment” and assume it’s bad. The alternative is to see the gap as strategy that emerges from the work of the organization and changes in the environment, then actively manage its effect to capture as much value as possible.

This idea is not new. It’s been nearly 40 years since the concept of emergent strategy was developed by academic and management author Henry Mintzberg. This concept seeks to create a framework that can identify and act on emerging strategies, resulting in a more incremental approach to strategy formulation. Developing strategy from the bottom up may be a novel concept for many organizations but academic studies suggest this is an important value-adding process. 

Projects and programs are a rich source of VUCA, and almost everyone says successful project management offices (PMOs) and portfolio managers should have a strategic focus. Given that, I suggest it’s time to start conversations with your executive management about identifying and managing the emergent strategies that are appearing in your organization as a consequence of projects and programs responding to VUCA. This will maximize the value created and influence the next iteration of formal strategic planning.  

In their 1985 paper Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent, Mintzberg and fellow academic and author, James A. Walters, concluded by suggesting “strategy formation walks on two feet, one deliberate the other emergent.”

The challenge for PMOs and portfolio management professionals is to engage with the gap between implementing strategy and adapting strategy. They also have to engage with the challenges that arise from allowing sufficient agility and flexibility to maximize value in a VUCA environment without sinking into undirected chaos. 

By adapting these elements to the strategic levels of the organization, you may be able to reduce the potential chaos of VUCA within a project or program:

  1. Use a staged, adaptive approach to planning. We really don't know that much about the far future.
  2. Be agile. Act quickly to manage emerging issues and problems—things will not get better on their own.
  3. Be adaptive and flexible. When you need a new plan to achieve the project’s objectives, be prepared to make the changes.
  4. Expect the unexpected. Things happen—watch for approaching Black Swans.
  5. Use emergence to your advantage. Seize the opportunities you did not expect.

How do you reduce the potential chaos of VUCA?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 18, 2017 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Strategy In a VUCA World—Part 1

Categories: Strategy

By Lynda Bourne

Traditionally, strategy and strategic alignment are viewed as a deliberate process. An organization’s governing body determines the vision and mission. Then, along with executive management, the governing body crafts a strategy to move the organization toward achieving that vision.

The result is a strategic plan that forms the basis for effective portfolio management. This plan sets the objectives for projects and programs and measures their success in terms of contributing to implementing the strategy and creating value.

In the last few years, however, management thinking has embraced the concept of VUCA and developed approaches to dealing with the challenges that the modern world presents. 

VUCA, which originally emerged from military leaders, stands for:

  • Volatility: The unpredictability, speed and dynamics of change. The correct response to volatility, according to the concept of VUCA-Prime developed by Robert Johansen, is vision. When things are changing unpredictably, it is vital to keep a clear focus on the organization’s overall vision. Knowing where the organization is heading will ensure that short-term planning can be adjusted to stay on course when external circumstances are turbulent.
  • Uncertainty: The lack of knowledge or an inability to determine the course of future events. Working to understand the environment around the project or program helps reduce uncertainty but can never remove it entirely—this is the domain of risk management.
  • Complexity: The degree of unpredictability regarding the outcome of an action or decision. There will always be a degree of complexity involved in every project, but clarity of vision and seeking to simplify processes wherever possible will minimize its effect. However, there will always be some unexpected consequences (good or bad) that emerge from managing a project or program.
  • Ambiguity: The requirements, instructions or situations that can be interpreted in different ways or are not fully defined. Ambiguity can be reduced by effective communication and the application of many of the processes defined in PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide); but agility is required to resolve the remaining ambiguity as it emerges. You need the freedom and flexibility to respond quickly to changing circumstances.

Have you encountered VUCA on your projects? What form did it take?

Be sure to come back for second post on VUCA in a couple of days.  

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: May 17, 2017 03:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Project Manager’s Influence, Part 2

Categories: Stakeholder, Teams

by Lynda Bourne

In my last post, I discussed one of the more effective approaches for understanding team interaction: the McKinsey 7-S framework. The basic premise of framework is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned for a company to succeed:  

  • Strategy: The agreed-upon approach to accomplishing the project’s objectives
  • Structure: The way the project team is organized, including who reports to whom
  • Systems: The tools, techniques, and processes used by the team to execute the strategy
  • Shared Values: The core values of the team that are evidenced in its culture and general work ethic.
  • Style: The behavior patterns of the team, how people interact, and their approaches to leadership and authority
  • Staff: The makeup of the team — “having the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great
  • Skills: The existing skills and competencies of team members

Project managers can have the most impact on style and shared values. These elements are typically set at the beginning of a project and new team members tend to adapt based on what they see from their colleagues.

Changing these elements mid-project is difficult. If you start right, the tendency will be to perpetuate the good behaviors as the team grows.

However, if you need to spur a shift, I suggest taking these steps:

  • Start with shared values. Are they consistent with your structure, strategy, and systems? If not, what needs to change and how can those changes be implemented?
  • Examine the hard elements next. How well does each one support the others? Identify where changes need to be made. The project’s objectives don’t change but everything else can be adapted (including the strategic approach) to maximize the chance of a successful delivery.
  • Finally, look at the soft elements. Do they support the desired shared values? Do they support the desired hard elements? Do they support one another? If not, what needs to change?

As you adjust and align the elements, you'll need to use an iterative approach. Make adjustments, then analyze how those changes have impacted other elements and their alignment. This may sound like hard work, but the end result of better performance will be worth it.

What are your tips for shifting your team’s style and shared?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 29, 2017 04:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)
ADVERTISEMENTS

A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.

- Anonymous

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsors