Viewing Posts by Conrado Morlan
By Conrado Morlan
When it comes to project management, Murphy’s Law often rings true: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. So it’s up to project leaders to be ready and willing to pivot at a moment’s notice. And it’s a lesson learned that I’ve taken from a number of projects.
In this post, I’d like to share one example. During the first wave of a regional billing implementation project in the Americas, my team and I were learning the ropes of replacing the local application with a centralized regional application.
The first stop was Central America. This region was the first choice because Costa Rica was centralizing its billing operations for the area. Costa Rica already had a dedicated team to manage the billing functions for each Central American country. But this shift meant configuring and training seven countries in a single location.
The outcome was successful, and my team and I identified areas of opportunity to enhance the implementation process for the next countries in the wave.
The next country to implement the program was Chile. We started gathering customer data, cleansing the data, and configuring the training and production processes.
The audience for the training, which lasted one week, included people from finance, billing and IT. After the training, the participants were able to practice for a week in the training environment, and my team and I addressed any questions they had. The planned go-live date was slated for two weeks after the training and practice.
During the two-week break period in Chile, my team and I went to Ecuador as scheduled to begin implementation activities.
One week before the go-live date, the Chile country manager called me and delivered the news: “All the people in the billing department resigned.” The country manager wanted to throw in the towel and postpone the initiative’s launch date. His first comment was, “I will not be able to hire and get the new hires ready in a week.” I asked him to wait before making any decision and that I wanted to discuss alternatives with my team.
I shared the news with my team and asked them to come up with ideas that would keep the program on schedule or at least minimize the impact caused by an unexpected delay. We reconvened at the end of the day and discussed some potential solutions:
Option one and two were similar, assuming that the hiring process would be completed and the new hires would be available for the two-week training/practice. This would also double the workload for the in-country implementation team and the support team in Malaysia.
Option three was feasible but would put a heavy burden on the in-country implementation team and would require assurance that Chile would expedite the hiring and training process to release the members of the in-country implementation team.
Option four was a bizarre idea, but this option would cover all the bases, as the team in Costa Rica was already providing remote support for the billing operations.
My team and I decided on option four. I called the billing and finance head in Costa Rica, explained the situation and asked if the proposed idea would be feasible. They responded that they would need to talk with their Chilean counterparts to check to see if their team could take on the extra workload, but, in general, they found the option feasible.
I also shared the news and the alternatives with the regional CFO and CIO, and both agreed to delegate the final decision to me.
After the call between the Costa Rica and Chile counterparts, it was agreed that Costa Rica would temporarily support Chile, and Chile committed to start the hiring process right away.
This situation reminded me of a basketball player handling the ball from one side of the court to the other and encountering opponents along the way: Sometimes the player must stop to check the conditions and pivot to the left or to the right to continue with the play and be able to put the ball into the net.
While facing issues or risks, project management professionals need to be confident making informed decisions quickly and thinking on their feet to keep projects moving forward.
How have you pivoted from unforeseen occurrences to make project progress? Share your story below.
By Conrado Morlan
“A man may have wisdom and discernment, but that is not like embracing a favorable opportunity. A man may have instruments of husbandry, but that is not like waiting for the farming seasons.” — Mengzi
I do not know a project management professional who has not faced challenging situations during their career. The range of challenges can include unforeseen risks that quickly became issues, such as geopolitical events, acts of God or, most recently, a pandemic.
Those kinds of stressful situations help to forge the resilience skills and traits characteristic of the modern project management professional. Resilience is not about toughness; it is about equanimity. It’s about how you manage your temperament in challenging situations and move forward.
During these times, stakeholders expect you, the project management professional, to act and act fast. There is a desire for instant gratification and often a misinterpretation of the concept of “being agile” by both stakeholders and project management professionals.
I remember one time in which I was leading the negotiation process with a prospect in South America. On that Friday morning, I recommended that my manager hold off on sharing the final proposal until I met with the prospect in person on Monday. On Saturday morning, I received a text from my manager telling me that he was about to leave for South America for the Monday meeting, which was not in the original plan. Due to personal commitments, I was flying in on Sunday night. As soon as I landed, I already had two missed calls from the customer and a couple of texts asking for an explanation about the drastic changes in the proposal and why the purchasing department was copied in the email.
My approach, based on Fabian strategy—a military strategy in which pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection—was not successful. Much like when Fabius fought Hannibal, a third party involved took action without my knowledge.
When we met with the customer, I tried to regain control of the situation, but it was too late. Now the purchasing director was at the negotiation table, something that was not part of the original negotiation strategy. After several hours of renegotiation, the contract was signed, but the two parties left money on the table. The customer saw a reduction in their IT budget, as the planned spend was reduced by 15 percent.
History Repeats Itself
Similar to what happened to Fabius during the Second Punic War, my manager was hailed as the key negotiator who closed the deal, and my perceived lack of action was recorded in my annual performance review.
The desire for instant gratification was satiated, but it made the company lose sight of the future. When the contract was about to end, the customer called to notify us that they would not renew the contract for the second phase of the project.
My strategy not to share the proposal ahead of time was focused on the long term, and on building a strong relationship with the customer—which would later translate into more business for the company. After the contract ended, my manager and his boss realized the reason for my “lack” of action and changed their views.
This event was one of the best learning experiences in my professional career. It gave me the knowledge of how to bounce back and the strength to learn the lessons I needed in order to move to the next stage in my career.
Cultural awareness cannot and should not be ignored. Contract negotiations have strong ties to culture, and local and national business etiquette should be followed to be successful.
Recognition for your efforts may not happen at first. It may take some time, but it will help confirm that your decisions were for the best.
It was one of the many setbacks in my career, but I am grateful for the experience.
As a project management professional, what events or situations have forged your resilience?
By Conrado Morlan
In a previous post, “The Impact of Unforeseen Risks,” I described how two major events have impacted projects I’ve lead in the past: the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010 and Fidel Castro’s death in 2016.
Many project professionals don’t include unforeseeable circumstances in their risk log, unless their projects are being executed in an area where natural and unavoidable catastrophes are known to occur. Due to the dynamics of geopolitical events, they may not be included during the initial risk identification process. As the project progresses, however, the risk log should be updated to identify the impact of these risks on project progress and the enterprise as a whole.
Risk management strategies help project management practitioners forecast and evaluate risk, while also identifying ways to avoid or minimize their impact on desired project outcomes.
Conducting SWOT on COVID-19
Late last year, news of a novel illness affecting a city in China failed to capture the attention of most people and businesses around the world; many thought the impact would be similar to SARS or swine flu—a blip on the breaking news radar and no real threat to the global economy. They were wrong.
Many organizations failed to consider the COVID-19 outbreak an enterprise risk and continued their business-as-usual operations. Around mid-February, I met with colleagues and friends who work in the telecommunications industry, and they expressed their concerns about how their projects would be impacted if the factories in China that produce the electronics needed for their work shut down. They wondered if that would break an important link in their supply chain and if it would jeopardize the final delivery of their projects.
Those in the telecommunications industry were not alone. Supply chains in multiple industries have strong ties to China. By the time they were primed to react, the risk was already an issue and without the procedures to avoid or minimize the impact, industries and countries were facing a pandemic with no plan in place.
Sharing enterprise risks identified during the planning and strategic phases of a project isn’t always a common practice within organizations. But not being aware of such risks has a direct impact on project success, and important assumptions may not be considered for the projects and programs that lie ahead.
People in charge of developing the multi-year strategy at an enterprise can use SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis to identify potential risks. This analysis uses a matrix, in which the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are listed and prioritized.
The SWOT matrix can be evaluated and updated as the enterprise strategy is reviewed or on an ad hoc basis. Moreover, threats identified during the SWOT analysis may have an associated opportunity. For example, in the event that the plant producing vital electronics in China shuts down, it will impact the supply chain. An opportunity to avoid that threat would be identifying another country where the vital electronics could be produced in order to reduce supply chain disruptions.
As we’ve learned, the importance of communicating the risk identified by the enterprise risk management process needs to be shared with business units to achieve strategic alignment and empower teams to achieve strategic objectives.
As a project professional, how do you interact with the strategic team within your organization to learn about enterprise risk?
By Conrado Morlan
Project management practitioners know the importance of communication during the project execution, hand-off and operations stages. For each of these, the communication plan should cover all the different forms of communication and the target stakeholders.
The frequency of communication during project execution often has a defined cadence and uses different artifacts to deliver the message to stakeholders, who usually are internal.
During the operations stage, the project is usually in production and practitioners are communicating directly with customers, either internal or external. While the specifics depend on the situation, communication with customers must be regular, concise and delivered in a timely manner through the proper channels.
How Not to Communicate
As I did not meet the pre-registration requirements, the open registration was my only option. On registration day I was ready: My account was available, all my personal information was filled out, and I had my credit card on hand. At the designated time I visited the registration website to compete for a spot with thousands of runners from across the world.
I thought I would be directed to start the registration process, but instead, I was directed to an electronic queue page. After a few minutes, my expected waiting time was listed as 25 minutes. I got a little anxious thinking that the limited number of entries would sell out in less than that time. A few minutes later, the waiting time changed to 40 minutes, then to more than an hour; all of a sudden a message about “experiencing technical difficulties” was displayed.
In the meantime, upset runners from across the world took to social media to vent their frustration and dissatisfaction. But the organizers did not acknowledge the blast of posts until three hours after the designated registration time. That’s when they posted a message stating that they were trying to figure out the problem, and if they were not able to resolve it soon, a new registration date would be announced.
That message ignited the runners, who inundated social media with posts venting their resentment.
By this time, the organizer’s website was down, and the homepage showed the “experiencing technical difficulties” message. I stayed away from the postings on social media and kept refreshing the website persistently.
Finally, five hours after registration began, the website came alive and the new registration time was posted. I checked social media for postings from the organizer but found nothing. Right at the new posted time, I started my registration process while thousands of runners kept venting their frustration. This time it only took me 20 minutes to complete my registration for the Popular Brooklyn Half.
The Project Management Takeaway
In general, production problems have a resolution time window, which may vary depending on the seriousness of the issue. This is usually unknown for customers, but that does not hinder the communication process. We as project management practitioners need to consider that we are living in times dominated by instant gratification; customers expect that issues will be resolved immediately. At the same time, they expect frequent progress status reports.
As a project management practitioner, have you experienced a similar situation? If so, what did you do to keep your stakeholders/customers informed? What channels of communications did you use? How effective were they? Share your experiences with the community.
By Conrado Morlan
Did you know PMI is supported by volunteers from around the world? I had no idea when I first joined PMI in 2005.
That changed in October 2007 when I joined the ranks of PMI volunteers, a community of practitioners who give their time to work on activities that make a difference around the world. I learned about the many services undertaken by volunteers, including writing PMI standards, preparing questions for certification exams, organizing global conferences and presenting at PMI events. And the list goes on and on.
My first opportunity as a PMI volunteer came three or four months after I registered as a volunteer: participating in an item-writing session for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. At first, I had too many questions and felt daunted. Would I be able to deliver? Am I experienced enough? Would I be called again after this session?
When I arrived in Philadelphia, I put that feeling away and got ready to spend three days with a selected group of experienced project management practitioners from the United States and Canada. The session was quite productive; we shared our personal experiences and produced great material for the next version of the PMI certification exam. The experience was one of a kind; I could not believe everything I learned in three days, and for free.
I went on to participate in sessions in São Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, D.C., USA; Macao, China; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and more. I had the fortune to write items for the PMP, Program Management Professional (PgMP)® and Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP)® certification exams.
But that was just the beginning. I kept looking for volunteering opportunities and, on several occasions, submitted papers for PMI congresses in North America and Latin America. Many of my papers were accepted and well received by audiences across the globe.
Through the years, I also have supported local chapters as a keynote speaker or guest speaker in Dallas, Texas, USA; Mexico City, Mexico; Costa Rica; and Nuevo León, Mexico. This has enabled me to share my experiences working with multicultural project teams and meet practitioners from different latitudes.
In 2009, at the congress in Orlando, Florida, USA, I tried something new: writing columns for a special edition of PMI Today. I then co-authored articles for PMI Community Post, have been quoted in several PM Network articles and, as you know, am a frequent contributor to Voices on Project Management.
My proudest moments as a volunteer were when I was selected as a core team member to develop the Implementing Organizational Project Management: A Practice Guide and The Standard for Organizational Project Management in 2013 and 2016, respectively. The opportunity to interact with other project leaders from around the world and contribute to the profession was extraordinary.
If you’re still wondering why I am grateful to be a PMI volunteer, try it for yourself. Take the opportunity to live your profession with passion. See what you can gain by sharing experiences with other colleagues while developing and mastering your skills in a friendly environment.
What are you waiting for? Make your mark and join the local or global volunteer team to grow and advance the project management profession.