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
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Wanda Curlee

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Viewing Posts by Wanda Curlee

How Storytelling Can Improve Your Presentations

by Wanda Curlee

I often write about neuroscience and its affects on project management. So I spend a lot of time scouring academic research, trade journals and even LinkedIn for new information on the topic. That’s how I came across this recent Business Insider article about what makes a good speaker.

Neuroscience is the very first thing mentioned in the piece, which makes the cognitive case for storytelling. It argues that understanding how our brains work can make us better speakers.

According to the article, you have about 15 seconds to grab your audience—and the average attention span is about 5 minutes. So how do you keep people engaged?

By using stories, says Princeton University researcher Uri Hasson. Mr. Hasson and his colleagues used fMRI machines to measure blood flow to regions of the brain of a speaker and the audience while a story was being told.

This research “found that the brains of a speaker and his or her listeners ‘exhibited joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.’ Simply put, the listeners' brains mirrored the speaker's brain—only when the speaker was telling the listeners a story.” The implication? Our brains are wired for story.

While I was in the Navy, stories were often used as a learning tool. And as a university professor, I’ve seen this approach work with students, as well. But what does this mean for people working in project management?

Relate and Resonate

Project professionals need to be storytellers. We may not all be on a large stage speaking to a big audience, but we’re always presenting, whether it be to stakeholders, sponsors, senior executives, etc. And think about the mundane information we often have to report.

An effective presenter is able to tell a story that will resonate with his or her audience and make mundane information more interesting.

Recently, I was a speaker for the Human Capital Institute (HCI). I used stories to make neuroscience resonate with the audience. I was delighted with the feedback I received. Each person that approached me remembered one of my stories that stuck with them and even resurfaced previous memories.

So when it’s your turn to talk to the C-suite, interject stories. You will be remembered by your ability to relay the information well—and that may serve you well when the next difficult assignment comes up.

What’s one of the best presentations you’ve ever heard? Did the speaker use stories to illustrate his or her presentation?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 31, 2017 07:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

My Favorite Research Tools

Categories: search, Tools, tools

By Wanda Curlee

Do project and program managers need to be experts in the industry or sector they work in? While many would say yes, others argue that a competent and experienced project or program manager can lead initiatives in any area.

I would agree with the latter—with one caveat. Project and program managers who lack experience in a given field must be willing to do research and fill any knowledge gaps to make their efforts successful.

Research is the key to staying current. As a program or project manager, you must be able to ask subject matter experts smart, targeted questions. By arming yourself with the right information, you’ll be able to challenge assumptions and better navigate schedules, risks and other issues. And raising these questions will also drive creativity and innovation.

There are several online tools that I often use to conduct project–related research, including:

Google Scholar: This is a good tool for Boolean, or combined keyword, searches. It returns a list of reputable articles, books, abstracts and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other websites. For most results, the title, author's name and abstract can be seen, but the full piece is behind a paywall.

Semantic Scholar: This engine—still in beta—has artificial intelligence built into the search, which is amazing. For those who have used EBSCOhost or ProQuest as a student or an academic, Semantic Scholar will look somewhat familiar. It’s based on Boolean searches as well, but, unlike Google Scholar, 99 percent of the returned articles are available as PDFs.

Semantic Scholar also lets you narrow your search. For example, you can search based on author(s), limit the search to a certain publication timeframe and only review articles in certain journals.

Depending on the search, some articles can also be sliced and diced by topic. For example, when I did a search on neuroscience and leadership, I was able to pick articles on certain areas of the brain. Even more fascinating, I could filter down to the type of brain cell discussed.

These are two of my go-to tools. Where do you turn when conducting project research and preparing to lead an effort in a new field?  

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: February 08, 2017 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Project Management on the Brain

By Wanda L. Curlee

Could neuroscience be the next big thing for the project management profession?

Today, there are many theories about leadership, management, and psychology, yet, no one is quite certain how the brain works in concert with these theories—or even if it does.

In the pursuit of more information, neuroscience—including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) —is being used to study what the brain activity of business-minded individual’s looks like during thought and during motion. (This technology can map new neural pathways as they are created—pathways that can be created until death.)

Already this scientific field is creating new fields of study across the business landscape. Neuroeconomics, for example, is “the application of neuroscientific methods to analyze and understand economically relevant behavior such as evaluating decisions, categorizing risks and rewards, and interactions among economic agents,” according to Dr. Zainal Ariffin Ahmad, a professor in the Business Research for Applied Innovations in Neurosciences (BRAIN) Lab at the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Graduate School of Business.

There’s also neuroaccounting, neuroethics, neuroleadership and neurogoernance.

With portfolio management still in its infancy, neuroleadership and neurogovernance could potentially assist portfolio managers. By extracting knowledge from the sciences of neuroleadership and neurogovernance, PMI could differentiate itself and its body of knowledge from the various other project management associations and standards.

By using cutting-edge knowledge about how the human brain works to help create standards, PMI could move project management closer to a profession such as medicine. When the standards of the profession are based on empirical scientific knowledge, rather than good practices done on most projects most of the time, project management could become even more science than art.

What do you think? Can and should neuroscience be part of the future of project management?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: December 16, 2016 08:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

The Importance of Situational Awareness

Categories: IOT, Portfolio

by Wanda Curlee

I recently came across an article by consultant Melanie Nelson about project management and situational awareness. In the article, Nelson argues that project managers need to be more than just technically savvy.

They must also be able to see the bigger picture and understand the context they are working in—including industry culture, employee pain points and the other projects and business goals competing for attention in the company. They must hone their situational awareness.

Situational awareness is the ability to understand what is happening around you, why it is happening and what you need to do or not do in reaction. Some call this a soft skill, but I believe it goes further than that.

As rookie project managers, we learn about which processes and procedures are done in what order. However, project managers with situational awareness may question, for example, whether or not all steps in the process need to be completed, what processes must be changed to accommodate the needs of the organization or even if the correct methodology is being used.

For a software project, that could mean questioning if agile or waterfall is the best approach or if lean should be used instead. To paraphrase Nelson, she loves Kanban but she knows that it is not appropriate for all projects.

Situational awareness is a skill beyond understanding earned value management, creating status reports, or managing conference calls and client meetings.

It is about asking, for example, in those client meetings questions such as:

Do you have the attention of the client? Are the right people in the conference room? If not, why not? What will you do about it?

It is not easy and takes a lot of practice.

Do you have the situational awareness needed for your project?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: September 08, 2016 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Will IoT Disrupt the Mobile Industry?

Categories: IOT, Portfolio Management

by Wanda Curlee

The Internet of Things (IoT) will change the cell phone landscape.

For many years, the smartphone has been our link to apps. We could lock our cars, play games, spy on our pets—the list is almost exhaustive.

But, I am constantly brought back to a question of whether or not smartphones will always be necessary—or will they become obsolete as more IoT devices are created that combine the hardware, software and user interface into one place.

Is this pie in the sky? Based on how our technology is rapidly progressing (which I started discussing in my last post), I don’t think so.

As Maurice McGinley, design director for Amsterdam-based AVG Innovation Labs said, “Instead of having one universal device—your smartphone—controlling your environment, you would have simple controls placed where you need them, available when you need them.”

While I have no insight into the strategic direction of the companies developing smart devices, I would contend this is the direction they will be going.

And this is great for the project management discipline.

Smartphone manufacturers and network providers (Verizon, AT&T, etc.) will need to change or broaden focus, and that means investing in new projects and programs. And the portfolio manager will need to ensure the projects and programs are on the roadmap to deliver the right value for the enterprise.

Smart device manufacturers will need to figure out how to provide a friendly user interface similar to the mobile experience.

The project management discipline would be used in a similar way as the cell phone industry. The portfolio manager should scan the enterprise for projects and programs that meet the need. If there are none or not enough to help drive the strategy, the portfolio manager needs to work with the portfolio sponsor to determine the issues. The project and program managers would deliver the capabilities needed.

So, where will you be when the industry is stood on its head? How will you help to focus the IoT to deliver the right technology for consumers and companies?

Project practitioners that truly understand their industry and where it is going can be drivers of that change.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: August 25, 2016 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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