Project Management

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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cyndee miller
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Wanda Curlee
Christian Bisson
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Lenka Pincot
Emily Luijbregts
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
Marat Oyvetsky

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Rex Holmlin
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Abdiel Ledesma
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Roberto Toledo
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Viewing Posts by Wanda Curlee

Your Next Project: Transitioning Back to the Office

Categories: Disruption, Technology

By Wanda Curlee

Spikes in cases. The new normal. Limited opening. Social distancing.

These are all new taglines that we’re hearing as we slowly move back to the office. Granted, some of us were already remote workers and in that case, the change will be minimal. But those returning to the office will experience a radically different environment.

What does this have to do with project management? Well, project managers play an integral part in the transition, and it started sometime back.

When the pandemic first hit and lockdown started, project managers were needed. Companies could not just send their employees home with their laptops and hope that work would continue as usual. Project managers had to put in extra work to ensure employees and resources were prepared for the transition. And there was minimal time to prepare.

I am sure that many companies did not expect to be on lockdown for months. For many, it has been devastating. But now it is time for project managers to help transition employees back to the office.

Compared to going remote at the beginning of the pandemic, project managers now have more time to plan and execute the project to transition work back to the brick-and-mortar office. But a project to transition work back to the office is also quite different from transitioning to a totally remote environment. Transitioning back to the company’s physical location requires setting up the office to meet social distancing requirements and other regulations established by the state and the federal government, making sure IT is in place to handle the transitioned workforce, instituting updated processes for the new environment, ensuring contractors are hired to maintain new cleanliness procedures, helping the workforce learn the new cleanliness policy and what to do if an employee is sick, and so forth.

Or will it be a different type of project? Companies’ leadership may have considered how well the remote workforce did. Recently, I read that some companies located in Manhattan may not return to their office spaces at all. The leadership saw that working remotely was much cheaper and resulted in a happier workforce, with more or at least the same amount of work accomplished. Sure, we heard about parents who had to work while also looking after or homeschooling their children. But for many, this is a temporary phenomenon.

If the leadership decides to keep the workforce remote, the tasks will be different. The project manager may have to look at helping all employees move their offices back to their homes, make the IT system more robust, develop procedures to support the workforce with upgrades, create processes to help employees with broken laptops and keep them working while the computer is fixed, develop new processes for hiring and assisting new employees in understanding daily expectations, and assess whether new tools are needed, such as online signatures and secure conference systems, among other tasks.

Project managers will need to think outside of the traditional ideas of a virtual environment or a brick- and-mortar office. These project managers will be establishing the new normal for their companies.

How are you helping your team transition?


Posted by Wanda Curlee on: June 20, 2020 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Leading Your Project Team During a Crisis

Categories: Crises, Disruption



By Wanda Curlee

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is bringing international markets to their knees and threatens to cripple project progress at every turn. Each of us has a different response. Some are afraid, some are wondering what all the fuss is about, many are devastated due to loss or quarantine, while others are on the front lines. And I am sure there are many other reactions. How we as individuals—and a global community—react to coronavirus has implications that ripple beyond our physical well-being and mental health. And its impact on projects cannot be underestimated.

For all project professionals, the coronavirus is now a project within your project or program. Based on what your country or business decides to do, a response is inevitable. The response might be shutting down the project (permanently or temporarily), requiring personnel to work from home, ensuring staff has proper safety equipment, reviewing processes that may need to be changed or relaying the latest information from credible sources, among other actions. In the face of coronavirus, project leaders must step up to manage expectations and guide their teams across finish lines that may be shifting. It’s a tall order—but it’s not impossible.

Empower Your Team

As a leader, you must set an example. Setting an example means that you need to acknowledge the situation and demonstrate urgency, while maintaining control over deadlines and team morale. Inside you might be overwhelmed—and that is alright. But be careful not to project those uncertainties.

Lean on the team to determine what needs to be done. Empowering team members will help them to feel like they have some control. Are there individuals who may need to go remote before others? Do they have what is required to go remote? You, the leader, need to make sure that your team is taken care of. 

Make a Plan (and Stick to It)

Does your company have a business continuity plan? Do they have a crisis plan? If not, do you have one? Look at the business continuity plan and the crisis plan. Did you overlook anything? We are all human and there is a lot that can be forgotten. Make a plan and follow through.

Once the initial response is made, and the team is working again, make sure that the team has what it needs. Focus on running the project or program, but also put plans in place in case the unfathomable happens: Members of your team contract coronavirus. Maybe you will be fortunate. But you can’t rely on luck. What happens if you get coronavirus? What if other team leads end up with the virus? Have you thought of contingencies? What happens if you have to shut down the project or program? Who in the company needs to know? What will be the plan of attack to try to bring the project or program back to life?

Anticipate Next Steps

Finally, how will the project or program team transition back to the work environment? Will everyone, one day in the near future, show back up in the office? Will it be done in a staggered fashion? How will you handle those employees who still may be sick? How about those who still have kids out of school? Will processes need to be updated based on the lessons learned?

Remember, while this may never happen again, another crisis that may be localized, national or worldwide could arrive sooner than you’d expect. Don’t be caught off guard!

How is your project team navigating the challenges that come with coronavirus? Share in the comments below.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: March 16, 2020 05:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

What Does the Future Hold for Project Leaders?

By Wanda Curlee

Some believe that project management needs a complete overhaul. Whether you agree or not, there’s no doubt that technology is driving radical change. As I have mentioned in different blogs and presentations, I believe that artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will have a large impact on the next generation of project managers. Thanks to this new tech, project managers will be adding more value, versus completing mundane tasks.

Technology will do the mundane for the project, program or portfolio manager. So, what will be left for the practitioner to do? For starters, the project manager will be able to focus on the many things put to the side because they’re doing their best to keep stakeholders informed and complete routine tasks, as well as trying to maintain their sanity.

Targeting the Mundane
So, what constitutes a mundane task? This includes creating schedules, communications, status reports and presentations, along with tracking down resources, reviewing issues, assessing problems and reviewing risks, among other jobs. These things need to be done and many times, the project manager needs help doing them. But leadership may not understand the need for this assistance, or the resources may not be available.

The good news is, AI and IoT will take on these mundane tasks. Technologies will be able to review a schedule and track down those who haven’t inputted their time. The schedule options, along with recommendations, will be provided to the project manager.

And that’s not all: Tech can also assist with drafting presentations and status reports. The project manager can then add the final touches. Potential risks can be assessed and the probability and cost to the project can be determined.

Impact on the Project Manager
What does this leave the project manager to do? Plenty, of course. They need to determine what resources are needed and negotiate with functional managers, human resources and the project management office if one exists. Human resources are one of the biggest headaches for a project manager.

They’ll also have to deal with problem resources already on the project. This may mean less qualified individuals who aren’t able to do the work (through no fault of their own), those who are unhappy on the project and are projecting the feeling throughout the project, and those who are lazy, among other things. The project manager may need to counsel these individuals or may even have to fire them, which, of course, creates risk for the project.

In addition, the project manager may have to deal with subcontractors and vendors. More attention can be paid to higher-level risks and preventing or minimizing their occurrence.

Integration management is also an area of focus. There are project managers who put this aside because they feel if the schedule is all right, the project integration is handled. This is not true. There may be individuals who are not sharing their information promptly, or those who are producing a major milestone but have a family emergency. Without them, no one else can finish a milestone that’s critical to the remainder of the project.

Predicting the future is hard. Time will tell how technology will be used in project, program and portfolio management. Technology should not be considered a silver bullet, but a means to provide help with everyday tasks, allowing leaders to devote time to value-added work.

What do you think: How will future technology change the way we manage projects?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: January 17, 2020 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Lessons Learned From 3 Decades in Project Management

By Wanda Curlee

PMI is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, an occasion that has led me to reflect on projects from my past. While I don’t have 50 years of experience, I do have 30.

Over those years, I have been a project manager or project team member across many industries. But by far, I’ve learned the most on Department of Defense (DoD) projects. In fact, my very first project was a DoD project. I’ve found that in this industry, the project manager is responsible for all aspects of a project. And when I say all, I mean all.

The project manager needs to understand the contract from beginning to end. From my first federal project to the most recent one, the contract was well worn, as I would look at it many times a day.

On a federal project, there are various sections of the contract. For example, Section B describes how the supplies or products are to be formatted and supplied. Section C is always the statement of work (SOW). Other sections provide the names of administrative and technical contacts, how invoices should be formatted, when the invoices need to be submitted and what supporting information is needed.

There is a section that lists all the rules, regulations and laws that the contractor must follow and obey. This list usually runs more than five pages, printed on both sides and single-spaced. 

The statement of work is also always very detailed. Think about a contract for a nuclear submarine, an aircraft or some other vessel—the SOW would be tens of thousands of pages. While I never managed those types of contracts, I did oversee some pretty intense technology programs, where the SOWs were thousands of pages.

I learned that having a team I could trust was instrumental in delivering a complex project. Trust meant that the team understood the needs of the project. They knew when deliverables were due and what the client expected, and they kept everyone informed if there were issues or delays. The team also kept detailed records and updates. This meant the project manager should never be blindsided, and with that, neither should the client.

Of course, I did not learn all this on my own. I had a wonderful boss/coach who saw my potential. He took the time to explain why things were happening the way they were. I was allowed to work in different departments to learn how each area affected the project. To this day, I am very thankful, and I pay it forward. I have always taken the time to mentor and coach those on my project teams or in organizations I ran. The greatest reward was to see those I mentored surpass me in rank within the organization.

When I think back to the moment where I earned my chops, it was a U.S. Air Force project to design a paperless office and non-hackable email system. Don’t laugh! As you may have guessed, the initiative was not successful. Within two years, the government canceled the project. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is this: Unsuccessful projects provide a wealth of learning, maybe even more than successful projects. 

What have been the most influential projects you’ve worked on throughout your career?

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: October 22, 2019 07:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Stakeholder Management for Traveling Families

Categories: Communication, Stakeholder

By Wanda Curlee

I recently flew across the country with my two grandchildren, both under the age of three. While their mother was with me, we were not seated together., so I was understandably a little concerned about the trip. (And for the people around me.)

The trip did make me wonder, however, if airlines could take a project management approach when small children are traveling. Yes, they allow families with small children to board at the beginning of the process, but is there more that could be done?

All they would need is better stakeholder management.

Before the day of travel, the airline could send tips to those traveling with children. The tips can focus on what will help the child and the parent survive the lengthy trip, such as how to help kids with equalizing ear pressure, how to help with meltdowns and what to pack to keep the child entertained.

Next, for the day of travel, help those traveling with kids understand the rules. I was rather rudely told that I had to have the child in my lap for takeoff and landing. The child was standing between the seat and me (we all know there is not much room) and was between my legs. He was happy while in this position. Once he went into my lap, he went into meltdown mode. While this was not the problem of the flight attendant, it would have been nice to have known the rules and be able to prepare my grandchild for the final part of the flight.

The airline could also provide a small goodie bag for a child. There could be lollipops to help with ears, a list of the rules, a paper book—maybe a couple of pages for the children to draw or color. Maybe even some plastic bags that seal to take care of those dirty diapers that may occur during flight.

During the flight, the flight attendant could reach out to travelers with small children just to let the traveler know that he or she is there to help. I know at the end of flights, during landing, the flight attendant thanks me for being a million miler. So, just saying hi to the mom, dad or grandparent traveling with the small child will go a long way.

This is a little out of the way of what is usually discussed on the blog but taking a better approach to stakeholder management to help families that are traveling with young ones can be beneficial for the traveler, the child and those on the plane sitting around the child. Let’s make traveling a bit more humane for all involved.

Posted by Wanda Curlee on: August 08, 2019 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

"Next week there can't be any crisis. My schedule is already full."

- Henry Kissinger



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