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
Marian Haus
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David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
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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)

There’s No I in PMO

by Cyndee Miller

Executive coaches love their sports metaphors. But for me, a good PMO is a lot like a killer band. From the singer to the manager to the unheralded sound-check guy, it takes everybody doing their part to get results.

At BC Hydro—this year’s PMO of the Year—everyone from the document controllers and project managers to the project directors and portfolio managers are working together.

“It’s really them who won the award,” said Ken McKenzie, vice president of capital infrastructure project delivery for the Canadian utility. “They put in the hard work every day.”

And wow, are they delivering results: In the last five years, over the course of 563 projects, BC Hydro’s projects came in an aggregate CA$12 million under budget.

Like any successful band, the BC Hydro PMO also relies on buy-in from above. “Without that executive sponsorship it’s really difficult. They’re a big part of why our PMO is so successful.”

Mr. McKenzie graciously recognized the other two finalists as well: “I’d really like to congratulate the other two finalists, Entel and Parker Aerospace.”

He encouraged other organizations to pursue the award—and not just for the cred. “It makes companies get an external perspective,” he said. “It’s a fantastic process, and I learned a lot about our PMO in the process.”

For an inside look at the three PMOs, check out videos on PMI’s YouTube channel and look for in-depth case studies on each of them in upcoming PM Network issues.

That’s an official wrap on this year’s coverage. Fear not, we’ll be headed back for more PMO Symposium action 5-8 November in Houston, Texas, USA.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 11, 2016 03:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Beware of Instajudgments, Imposter Syndrome and Saber-tooth Tigers

by Cyndee Miller

Sizing people up doesn’t require much time—13 milliseconds to be precise. That’s how long it takes for people to read and judge facial expressions. (I really hope your face doesn’t smack of boredom as you read this.)

People say a lot without saying anything at all, leadership expert Olivia Fox Cabane said during the PMO Symposium closing keynote. And if PMO leaders want to start having better (read: more inspiring) relationships, they’d be wise to take a good, long look in the mirror.

Let’s step back for a bit, though. Rather, let’s step back hundreds of thousands of years. What’s driving all this insta-judginess? It’s evolution, specifically the necessity of developing flight or fight responses back in the time when risk registers were mainly filled with saber-tooth tigers.

Sure, we’ve come a long way, but we still make judgments every single day. Consider how you sit during a meeting. Not making eye contact? That can come across as being untrustworthy. Taking up a lot of space? That comes across as a play for dominance, for better or worse.

It can’t be all about you, you, you, either. The best leaders look out for those they manage and make sure they don’t succumb to things like the dreaded imposter syndrome. You know it, the sinking feeling that deep down, you have no idea what you’re doing in your job and it’s just a matter of moments before you get exposed. “At least 80 percent of your junior members feel it,” Ms. Cabane says.

Thing is, that’s a natural emotion. (And self-criticism isn’t necessarily all terrible—doubt leads to a desire to work harder, which leads to better skills, etc.) But as a leader, even if you can’t get rid of that tugging notion inside your protégé, you can help them handle self-doubt. “You’re the person they look to to react to how they should feel about something.”

Ultimately, Ms. Cabane said, the secret to relationships isn’t about wit or wordplay. It’s about attitude. If you want to make a difference, Ms. Cabane says, treat whoever you’re talking to “as if they are the most fascinating individual you’ve ever met.”

Unless that’s a saber tooth tiger. If that’s the case—run.

 

 

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 10, 2016 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

It’s Time to Wield Your Social Influence

by Cyndee Miller

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a meeting. Someone throws out an idea. It’s weak. Actually, it kinda stinks. Yet somehow, it spreads like wildfire when others—perhaps you—had ideas that were objectively better.

Even out of the context of conference rooms, the phenomenon begs some fundamental questions: Why do people dress the way they do, buy the cars they do, even like the music they do? The answers may lie less in the products themselves and more with the context surrounding them, according to Jonah Berger, PhD, author of Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior.

Say you’re buying a car. “You’re more likely to buy a car if it’s on sale or if you need a new one. That’s obvious,” Dr. Berger said in his day two keynote as PMO Symposium®. “But if your neighbor bought a new car, you’re also 8 percent more likely to buy one.”

That right there is what he dubs social influence. It isn’t random. It’s not luck or chance, he said. It’s a powerful tool—but only if it’s done right.

Let’s go back to that meeting, for example. It doesn’t have to go down like that. If you’re looking to shape group decisions, Dr. Berger would prescribe speaking first and then building consensus by making it visible.

He also recommends taking the Goldilocks approach. “If it’s too different, people don’t want to adopt it. If it’s too similar, people don’t want to change.” The sweet spot? “If you can be optimally distinct, you’ll be more likely to change behavior,” Dr. Berger said.

This motivation business is nuanced stuff.

Say you’ve got a team that’s struggling. It’s natural to wonder why it can’t be more like that other team, the one that’s killing it. Just keep that comparison to yourself. Being down one point at the half in a basketball game, for example, can give a team just the kick in the @#$% it needs.

Indeed, Dr. Berger says teams down one point at halftime are actually favored to win games. But if a team’s down 15? Forget about it.

The idea is to harness proximal peers. “If you’re too far behind, you’re going to be demotivated,” Dr. Berger says. So if there are eight divisions within the PMO, don’t compare the bottom-performing unit to the top one.

And I bet you thought social influence was just for celebs and politicians. Maybe it’s time to try it out in the real world.

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: November 09, 2016 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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