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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Cyndee Miller
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Just Ignore the Trends—and Run to the Noise

By Cyndee Miller

Real talk: I was deeply skeptical going into the closing session of congress starring so-called futurologist and trendspotter Magnus Lindkvist. I mean, come on, his bio heralds him as “the best import from Sweden since ABBA and meatballs.” That’s a pretty high bar for me—“Dancing Queen” is pretty perfect.

Yet, at some point—probably when he managed to link Swedish grindcore to talent management—he pulled me in.

This whole business of trendspotting is wildly treacherous, but Mr. Lindkvist has a healthy (and spectacularly humorous) perspective on it. The “darlings of last year” were artificial intelligence, machine learning and job-stealing robots, but turns out we’re really bad at predicting human behavior, he said.

Indeed, he actually advised the standing-room-only crowd to avoid trends: Look elsewhere. Read what other people are reading. Travel where other people don’t travel. Hire people that other companies aren’t hiring.

Don’t think for one second, however, this guy doesn’t follow what’s going on in business. Take that innovation thing. He said most company’s strategy relies on R&D … rip off and duplicate. And that leads to a lack of diversity—where everything new starts to look the same. Once the iPhone hit, for example, slowly but surely every telecom company starting morphing their product into some version of Apple’s.

Mr. Lindvist suggests seeking out a different kind of innovation—where something impossible becomes possible, where something magical becomes practical.

Uh, yeah, that doesn’t sound hard at all.

But in life, Mr. Lindvist contends, we can do one of two things: compete or create. “Competition is the theft of big ideas. Creation is a liberation movement.”

And creation is what actually shapes the future, although it might mean a little workout.

“I think the future is an activity,” he said. “It’s something we do, you and I. The future is always there—underneath dead ideas, underneath old ideas.”

Go ahead and experiment. “Human beings have one way of learning—trial and error.” And if your experiment fails, so what? “Failure is the sign of trying,” he said. Don’t shame failure, recycle it.

And, be patient, my friends. The best ideas are often rejected the first time. Get ready to be misunderstood for a long time.

Now the pessimist in me is cringing just a bit as I type this, but Mr. Lindkvist says optimism, as cheesy as it might seem, is the true secret sauce. “Companies and projects run on optimism, actively injected optimism,” he said. “That is the only important, vital ingredient. The only bad thing is doing the same thing all the time.”

All of this might be a bit much for some of the more risk-averse project and program managers out there. So I’ll leave you with the same parting words Mr. Lindkvist gave to the congress audience: Run toward the noise. Seek out the spaces, markets and technologies battling it out for dominance—and search for the new and the different and the better.

Now here’s my trendspotting tip: Break out your calendars and block out 7-9 May 2018 in next year’s EMEA congress in Berlin, Germany.

Ciao for now, baby—because this trendspotter sees a Gucci bag in her future.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 04, 2017 05:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

The Brexit Effect—Deal With It

by Cyndee Miller

PMI brought back its 21st century spin on the salon at this year’s EMEA congress. This time around, the panel talked turbulence and uncertainty—political shifts, workforce demands and the risks of global conflicts.

 

So, yeah, really not all that different from the stuff they covered in the grand salons of the 17th and 18th century France and Italy. Plus ça change and all that …

 

These days, we’ve got Brexit, U.S. President Trump and a whole cast of other political characters shaking up the status quo.

 

It’s hard to escape the feeling of uncertainty.

 

For pharma giant AstraZeneca, the shifting landscape spurred a move to niche medicines and away from the blockbuster drugs they built their name on.

 

Managing that kind of change—especially in such a large company—requires a strong communication plan to ensure buy-in across the enterprise. “There is an important element in big complex organizations that you have a common goal and a common understanding of why you need to change,” said salonnier Maria Hedwall, PMP, of AstraZeneca.

 

“It takes quite some time to cascade change announcements throughout the organization, by the time it gets to the bottom of the organization, management is ready to change again,” she said.

 

In times of great change, all organizations must be prepared to respond—and respond quickly. For Clare Savage of Deutsche Bank, that has meant raising the profile of project managers.

 

“Project managers are right in the thick of it but they are very seldom the decision makers,” said Ms. Savage. So she’s created a framework that allows project professionals to stick their neck out, take charge of an effort and make the necessary assumptions as part of the decision-making process—without having to worry that said neck would get chopped off if things don’t work out as expected. The blame game, in essence, is over.

 

She’s also putting a priority on answering the “why” question. “One of the things we’ve been doing with the more junior project personnel is [ensuring] they understand the true value of the why of the project they are delivering,” says Ms. Savage.

 

In such a chaotic environment, the company cultures that get it right are the ones that encourage innovation, said Gabor George Burt. “Once people are freed up to be creative they can deal with change.

 

Moderated by PMI’s Murat Bicak, the salon pulled back the curtain on how companies are dealing with Brexit and the onslaught of other changes. It was a good discussion, although for what it’s worth, I think we need fancier clothes and maybe a nice aria or two if we’re going to have a proper salon.

 

What’s happening at your organizations? How are you dealing with Brexit and all the other shifts?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 02, 2017 10:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Meet the Change Agents—Yes, We’re Talking About You

Roma called to me—the wine … the cheese … the shoes ... the project management.

This is, after all, the home of many an ancient megaproject. The Colosseum, for instance, was launched around A.D. 70-72 with a massive scope, including underground tunnels, seating for thousands and, if the suspicions of many archeologists are correct, drinking fountains and latrines to serve the needs of its patrons. At the same time, the schedule for the building—while relatively short for that day and age—stretched out a decade.

But we can’t get all caught up in the magnificence of Rome’s ancient megaprojects. Today’s project and program managers must follow a different grido di battaglia. And that battle cry is focused squarely on the future.

“As project managers you are the engineers of progress in your companies,” said author Gabor George Burt as he opened PMI® EMEA Congress 2017.

To survive in a business environment where disruption is the norm, organizations must reshape their futures. And, according to Mr. Burt, project and program managers should be leading the charge as agents of change.

Building on the Blue Ocean strategy, Mr. Burt outlined three levels organizations can operate in to make themselves indispensible:

  1. Blue Ocean: Create new value propositions that drive your company’s overall strategy  
  2. Blue Sea: Expand your current value prop for broader relevance
  3. Blue Lake: Refresh and optimize your current value prop

It’s an intriguing concept, especially for those daunted by the big, blue ocean. But even once a company chooses which waters to swim in, it must continuously stretch the definition of the value it brings to its target audience. “There is no mercy in the marketplace for companies that define what they do too narrowly.”

Companies and their project managers should also embrace the innovation shortcut. Instead of trying to invent something, he suggests mixing existing things in new ways. “The art of recombination is all around us,” said Mr. Burt. “It’s the most high-impact way for us to innovate.”

No matter the level, waters are sure to be choppy. But companies that get stuck in the past, or even the here and now, are destined to struggle—or worse, drown.

That’s it on project management for today. I need to answer the siren call of wine and cheese now. And maybe shoes tomorrow.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 01, 2017 06:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Fast Forward: A Peek at Project Management in 2017

Categories: PM & the Economy

by Cyndee Miller

Now I love a good futurism piece as much as the next person. The illustrious and insightful folks at Forbes, take a decent stab at predicting 2017. But the reality is that no one can predict what’s really going to happen. (It’s a heck of a lot easier to look back. Hence, my last post on the good, the bad and the ugly in project management 2016.)

Still, there are some pretty safe bets. Project managers can certainly expect some of the bleeding-edge innovations—machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, predictive analytics—to leave the theory room and enter the profession in a much more meaningful way. Even now, we’re seeing project managers combining IT and infrastructure to build smarter cities that not only deliver benefits to citizens, but also help urban areas address climate change and massive population growth.

And project management left 2016 with a massive win: In the United States, for example, President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at improving program management practices and bolstering workforce development through a formal career path for federal program managers.

What’s next? Well, that’s where the art of making predictions gets a little sticky, thanks to a little thing called disruption. Yes it’s an over-hyped, borderline ridiculous word. But it’s also a pretty succinct way of summing up the stuff that happens that no one saw coming—and changes everything.

One survey found nearly three-quarters of CFOs cite uncertain economic conditions as the top risk to their companies in the coming year. Even a small twitch in the geopolitical landscape can fundamentally alter the project landscape—for better or worse. Will Colombia’s bold commitment to peace translate to a boom in project investment or not? How will U.S. president elect Donald Trump’s wildly ambitious infrastructure vision play out? And then there’s Brexit, which one think tank predicts will result in a decade of disruption for the United Kingdom. Uncertainty continues to swirl and the repercussions are real. Yet at least one PMO director spotted an opportunity to showcase the value of project management.

Indeed, in such a volatile environment, companies, NGOs and governments around the world increasingly recognize the power of project management—if it’s done right.

The new program management law sparked some serious celebration. But the big question for 2017: Will it inspire similar action in other governments and corporations? Over at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, Elizabeth Harrin put a focus on professionalism as one of her list of top trends to watch in 2017. “Project-related work and jobs are growing too quickly for our approaches to professionalism to keep up. I think we’ll quickly see companies that don’t have professional methods for project management in place wanting to shift away from planning on the back of a postcard to taking more robust approaches to doing projects,” she writes.

The PM Network 2017 Jobs Report shows strong demand for top project talent, especially in growing economies like India, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, not to mention upstarts with rocketing GDPs like Vietnam and Botswana. Organizations want people with strong strategic thinking, leadership, change management and communications skills. But what they really need are forward-thinking project, program and portfolio managers who understand that things aren’t always black or white. (Gray should be their favorite color.) In an age of ambiguity, organizations will seek out the project professionals who don’t just deliver on time and on budget, but have the agility to adjust on the fly.

No matter their sector or level of experience, project professionals must actively anticipate future needs. That requires far more than integrating the latest and greatest trends into project plans. It means finding creative ways to juxtapose long-term strategic thinking and day-to-day execution.

Project, program, portfolio and PMO managers have the power to change the world. What have you got planned for this year? Dare to share what you see on the horizon and how you’re future-proofing for 2017—and beyond?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: January 03, 2017 12:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

2016 in Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

by Cyndee Miller

Ahhh, late December—my time for curling up with some holiday bonbons, a nice bourbon and obsessively reading every year-end recap article, deep analysis, listicle and infographic out there. There’s loads of stuff on music, politics, books, technology, business and just, well, 2016 life in general. (The Economist even has a country of the year. Spoiler alert: It’s Colombia.)

But there’s not a whole lot of ink devoted to what went down in project management over the past year. So consider this a not-so-super-scientific look at the year that was in Project Management Land.

Not every project went precisely to plan. The Rio Olympics, for example, got mixed reviews: some good, some less so. And there were some straight-up flameouts: the GalaxyNote project, for example.

But on a grand scale, things were looking pretty good. The global economy continued to regain its footing (although not quite everywhere.) And project, program and portfolio managers remained in high demand across sectors and around the world. With good reason, they’re getting stuff done even amidst mind-boggling change.

No shocker here, much of that change revolved around tech, with industries like aviation and healthcare going in for major upgrades and overhauls. The Internet of Things entered the buzzword lexicon a few years back, but in 2016 we started to see what it might mean for project pros in everything from mobile to the once-staid auto industry. And as more and more devices get connected, project managers entered the front lines of the battle against cybersecurity threats. Then there are the drones, coming soon to a project site near you.

Even in such a tech-drenched year, there is no doubt that it still comes down to people. Robots will not take over the profession any time soon. For one thing, their leadership skills are just not where they need to be. Plus, they stink at managing teams.

2016 was a powerful reminder that project, program and portfolio managers are at heart change agents. Sitting at the intersection of strategy and the status quo, they’re the ones who figure out how to make change happen—and stick. And process-fueled technical knowledge alone isn’t enough. Strategic leadership skills are a must-have—and that message came through again and again and again.

Strategy is all about the pursuit of advantage—which means achieving the right goals at the right time. There’s a reason PMI’s Thought Leadership Series and Pulse of the Profession In-Depth reports focused on benefits realization. In 2016, it wasn’t just knowing how to deliver the goods, but why the goods matter.

Those are my highlights. What’s your big takeaway from the year? Is the great debate over agile approaches actually still a debate 15 years after the manifesto was published? How are PMOs faring? And what happens when there’s a PMO agile smashup?

Agile, connected cars, change management, whatever—what are you thinking about as 2016 closes?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: December 23, 2016 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
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