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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Viewing Posts by Cyndee Miller

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Categories: Agile

by Cyndee Miller

It was almost like watching rival cliques at school, die-hard agilistas matching wits with waterfall purists. The drama was always quite civil, mostly limited to snobbish comments dismissing the merits of the rival approach.

But lately — and frankly, I never thought I’d say this — they’re learning to play nice.

Some of this comes down to organizations not willing to take sides. They’re simply letting the best approach win.

“Most companies are becoming more results-oriented and less methodologically dogmatic,” said Bryan Berthot, PMI-ACP, PMP, project manager, AT&T Entertainment Group in a recent article on PMI.org. “They empower their project teams to choose their preferred project management framework — as long as they deliver results.”

Forget the preconceived notions. Teams are using whatever they need for the project at hand.

Check out the numbers in PMI’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession: While plenty of project professionals said they relied on agile or waterfall for recent projects, 20 percent used hybrid. And 23 percent relied on something other than agile, hybrid or plan-driven approaches, which could be a further blend or customization of approaches.

Social networking king and Silicon Valley mainstay LinkedIn seems like a natural for all agile, all the time. But when the company launched an overhaul of its website, the project leaders decided to go hybrid.

Mind you, this is a company steeped in sprints and fast-track developments, and now it’s adopting an agile/waterfall hybrid approach. The rationale? Allow project managers to incorporate user and stakeholder feedback — while retaining a sense of urgency.

“This hybrid approach enabled us to define requirements at the beginning of the project and provided the needed flexibility and transparency to adapt to the fast-changing requirements,” Ranjit Dhaman, PMP, senior staff technical program manager at the company, told PM Network. “We were building a foundation for future product innovation, and a quick turnaround time was needed to keep up the pace with daily product releases.”

It’s not just agile teams adopting waterfall ways, of course.

French tire-maker Michelin says it’s developing an agile approach to project, program and portfolio management.

“We believe that agility could also be used in multiple ways — in everything we do,” Philippe Husser, senior partner, progress direction, said in PMI’s latest Pulse of the Profession. “The world is changing very quickly around us, so much so that we cannot afford anymore to have projects taking two to five years to deliver because, during this time, the initial requirements have changed.”

The company now has project managers, along with a steering committee and project sponsor, select the best approach for each project together.

It’s just like those fine ladies of En Vogue would say: Free your mind and the rest will follow.

What’s happening on your projects? Do you and your teams gravitate toward one approach? Or are you doing whatever you need to do?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 19, 2017 07:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Agile Evolves

Categories: Agile, PMI

by Cyndee Miller

Agile is the punk rock of project management. After years of living on the fringe, it’s officially gone mainstream—much to the joy of some and the utter dismay of others.

Like punk, it was built around a call to disrupt the status quo.

When a group of software programmers wrote the agile manifesto 16 years ago, the big goal was to embrace change: “to be aware of changes to the product under development, the needs and wishes of the users, the competition, the market and the technology,” Andy Hunt, a co-author of the agile manifesto, told PM Network last year.

While that purpose still holds true, the agile club is no longer limited to software developers, startup leaders and waterfall haters. An HPE survey showed agile’s ascendancy from anti-establishment to mainstream really took off in the past five years, with a significant adoption inflection point occurring around 2010. And check out the current numbers: Ninety-four percent of the survey respondents in the latest VersionOne State of Agile survey said their organizations practiced agile. PMI recently partnered with Agile Alliance on an Agile Practice Guide.

Some of this comes down to the business world’s obsession with digital transformation, which 42 percent of execs say they’ve begun, according to a 2017 Gartner survey. As Jason Bloomberg, president of Intellyx, wrote: Companies are increasingly going agile “to successfully navigate the disruptive waters that threaten to drown them.”

Take South Africa’s Standard Bank. Facing competition from a rapidly expanding fintech sector, this 155-year-old bastion of financial service embarked on a multiyear digital transformation—with a shift to agile software dev at the center, according to McKinsey.

Not everyone, however, was onboard. I know, shocker, right? To change hearts and minds, the company’s CTO and his team held town hall meetings to explain their logic and set targets for the transition, gave teams autonomy to make decisions on how to go about their day-to-day functions, and co-located team members for better collaboration.

So far, so good. In early agile engagements, Standard Bank reported productivity increases of up to 50 percent and unit-cost reductions of up to 70 percent per function point.

But for some, agile’s entrance into the mainstream has given rise to a new challenge: the dilution of the very term. Mr. Hunt told PM Network the word has become “sloganized” and is “meaningless at best, jingoist at worst.”

In that same article, Jordi Teixido, PMP, COO at Strands, Barcelona, Spain, said: “Agile is wonderful when you’re really iterating and collaborating, but it’s also a refuge for mediocre practitioners who are unable to document or express their requirements or forecast what they want to build. If you don’t follow the rules of the game in waterfall, everyone knows it. But in agile, that’s harder to tell from the outside—and because of that, some people use agile on projects that would be far better under waterfall.”

What do you think? Is your organization using more agile? And do companies have a grasp on what the term really means?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: September 07, 2017 05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

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 (12)

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 (5)

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 (8)
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