Viewing Posts by Wanda Curlee
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?
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.
By Wanda Curlee
Portfolio management is slowly being adopted by corporations. Or is it? I am speaking from my perspective, which admittedly is narrow, but I wonder if company leadership has what it takes.
I have worked at different organizations—from retail and legal to medical and government—and they all say yes, they are ready to do the hard work. But when you try to start developing requirements or even do a gap analysis, there are many reasons why it doesn’t happen: leadership is not in sync, resources aren’t available or there’s not an appetite for change. Or even worse, there is only one person who champions the cause, and he or she does not have the political momentum to push the effort.
The pushback can be major or minor. Leadership might say they had no idea you would need their people to develop the processes, templates and tools. Or leadership might ask if the company can just get a tool instead? There are solutions to all of these points, but leadership may not want to hear them.
So, how do you get over these hurdles?
For some, it’s a matter of providing training and knowledge. Leadership may truly have no idea what portfolio management is. In their eyes, it’s simply knowing what all the projects are in their area. That is one aspect, but there are several steps before you even get to that spot.
For instance, will you look at all projects in the organization, or only those of a certain budgetary value or length? Perhaps a combination of both?
Then there is the question of how to slice and dice the projects.
To slice and dice, you need to understand how to relate projects to strategy. Does your organization meet several of the corporate strategies or only one? If you have a project that is not allocated against a corporate strategy or sub-strategy, then why are you doing it? It’s taking resources and budget away from projects that do have strategic value. Even operational projects, such as upgrading software to a new version or implementing new enterprise software, need to map to a strategy.
For example, imagine your company has a strategy to increase sales by 20 percent in three years. The current sales tool has received well-deserved criticisms, and the tool is too small for the current sales volume. Implementing a new sales tool probably makes sense. However, the new tool would require the company to be running the latest version of operating software. The portfolio manager would recognize this, along with IT, and the portfolio manager would argue the case that these are interrelated. The opportunity exists here to make these two software projects and all the peripheral workstreams, such as training, into a program.
Do you have what it takes to push portfolio management forward? Or will you just succumb to pushback?
Don’t be afraid to speak up. If project portfolio managers don’t advocate for the correct way to do project portfolio management, organizations will suffer in the long run. The wrong way to do something is expensive and not beneficial.
Don’t let your company fall into that trap.
What experiences have you had when pushing portfolio management forward? Please share below.
by Wanda Curlee
Imagine this: You’re walking in San Francisco, California, USA, when you spot an out-of-control trolley car headed toward a group of five people working on the track. You yell for them to get out of the way, but they don’t hear or see you. You’re standing next to a switch, which would send the trolley on a different track. But there’s one worker on the alternate track who, like the five other workers, doesn’t hear you or see the trolley.
You have a choice: Do you flip the switch? Do you take one life over five?
There is no right or wrong answer. It’s an ethical dilemma.
As project managers, we routinely face dilemmas, although they’re not typically as dramatic as the trolley scenario.
In project management, our answers to ethical dilemmas are typically driven by our moral compass or the company’s statement of ethics. Does that mean we are correct? Correct by whose standards?
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) could bring new factors into our decision-making process. As project managers, we will use AI to make decisions or assist us with decision making. What the AI tool(s) decide to present can drive our decision making one way or another. What happens if AI presents us information that compromises the safety and efficacy of the projects? What happens if AI makes a decision that seems innocent but has dire consequences based on the logic tree—results that you, as the project manager, might not be visible to?
When revealing an ethical issue in a project management logic tree, it would seem that the decision making should be automatically deferred to the project manager. But whose ethics are used to decide when there is an ethical dilemma? What may seem a common decision to you is an ethical one to someone else.
AI is coming. It most likely will arrive in small bits, but eventually, it will be part of the project management landscape. So take steps to prepare now. Make sure you help with AI decision making when you can; participate in studies and surveys on AI and project management; study ethical dilemmas in project management and understand how the AI tool(s) are coded for ethics.
Be ready because project management is getting ready to change, not by leaps, but by speeding bullets in the near—and not so near—future.
By Wanda Curlee
What is the state of portfolio management technology?
That, of course, is a loaded question. Many factors—including the company and the industry—come into play. Nevertheless, most will agree that the tools of portfolio management have progressed.
While portfolio management can still technically be done with spreadsheets, it’s a labor-intensive approach that doesn’t make sense for every organization. So, if you’re ready to upgrade your spreadsheets, how do you know what tool is right for you?
If your organization lacks the expertise, you may need to hire a consultant to help. A consultant can assess the situation and determine the most effective approach to follow. It might be as simple as creating spreadsheets that need to be completed and analyzed differently, or as complex as implementing a new customized tool.
Whether you hire a consultant or not, picking the right portfolio management tool for your organization is a project. And there are many moving parts.
1. Create a wants and needs—or requirements—list. As many of you are already well aware, this is a wish list and there is probably no tool that will meet the full list. The requirements need to be ranked and maybe even weighted to provide a true assessment among tools. One tool may provide only one highly sought requirement but many less-desired requirements. On the other hand, another tool may provide multiple highly sought requirements but no less-desired requirements.
The weighted average can help those make a case for one tool over another. Those making the recommendation should be different from the final decision maker.
2. Customize the tool. The customization should not be done with rose-colored glasses. There should be a pilot program to see if the requirements are producing the results expected or if tweaking is required.
3. Begin implementation. Since this is a portfolio, I would recommend the big-bang approach. That means all projects and programs within the portfolio must be loaded. They need to be analyzed to ensure that the correct information is inputted. The project and program managers need to be trained to understand what is needed on the new tool. Remember, most portfolio tools also work for some (or extensive) project and program management.
Team members working in the portfolio need to be trained as well. Those producing reports and what-ifs must understand how the tool does these things correctly. Without understanding the tool, results may be less than adequate.
4. Compare the before and after state. Once the tool is implemented, the portfolio manager should run a couple tests to see if the previous state and the new tool produce similar, if not exact, results. If not, then there is an issue that needs to be resolved. It may be an easy fix, but more than likely there will need to be some analysis done.
Remember: A tool is not a silver bullet. However, if you have a large portfolio, a tool might be necessary. But don’t expect miracles. You will still have to do the value-add!