Voices on Project Management

by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina

Recent Posts

A Better Path Forward For Federal Programs - Part 1

Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management

4 Reasons I Love Portfolio Management

My Favorite Research Tools

The Impact of Unforeseen Risks

Viewing Posts by Conrado Morlan

The Impact of Unforeseen Risks

By Conrado Morlan

Risk identification is one of the first tasks many project managers tackle when they’re assigned a new project. But identifying risks can’t be a one-time effort.

The risk log is a living document that needs to be scrubbed and updated on a regular basis. Future internal or external factors can always impact the project.

And while it may be natural to think of risks as negative, that’s not always the case. Risks can also present opportunities that uncover new project benefits or enhance the benefits that were originally defined.

Here are a few examples of risks—and opportunities—that emerged during a project and took me by surprise.

Force Majeure: The Eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull

The eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland caused enormous disruption to air transportation across western and northern Europe in 2010.

While much of the media focused on air travel, freight-transport customers around the world also experienced parcel delivery delays.

At the time, I was deploying a regional project across the Americas for a global logistics firm. The project was put on hold so all employees could support the emergency effort to deliver parcels during the crisis.

The response plan rerouted flights originally scheduled for the hub in Germany to several cities in Italy where parcels were then transported via ground vehicles. And customer service representatives increased communication with customers about their shipment’s status.

In the end, the logistics company didn’t lose any customers and, in fact, many customers were pleased with how the force majeure was handled. The company also demonstrated to the customer the company’s effective emergency plan for crisis situations.

While this unforeseen risk delayed the regional project I was working on, I kept the project stakeholders informed frequently of the project team activities throughout the crisis and shared the actions to be taken to bring the project back on track.

Geopolitical Events: Fidel Castro’s Death

In December 2015, the United States and Cuba agreed to re-establish regularly scheduled flights, allowing selected U.S. airlines daily trips between the two countries.

During the first quarter of 2016, those airlines were launching projects to open new services to one or more destinations in Cuba. It was a daunting job. The projects would need to comply with U.S. and Cuban regulations. And information was not flowing rapidly between the two countries.

The airline I was supporting was awarded three Cuban destinations. But in November, while we were finalizing details for the first flight to Havana, we learned about Fidel Castro’s death.

During the mourning period, all communications with Cuban government officials and agencies were suspended. Trips airline employees working on the project had planned to take to Cuba were canceled.

The project team was uncertain what this delay would mean for the first scheduled flights to Havana. To address the potential risk, different scenarios that included the postponement and cancelation of flights were defined and mitigation plans were drafted for potential implementation.

After the mourning period, communications were restored and project activities normalized. Ultimately, the geopolitical event did not impact the scheduled flights, but it was a risk that could not have been anticipated.

As a project manager, what unforeseen risks have impacted your projects? How did you address and mitigate those risks?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: January 31, 2017 03:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Facing Generational Needs

Categories: Leadership, PMI, Volunteering

By Conrado Morlan

“Those who criticize our generation forget who raised it.” ―Unknown

I had the opportunity to attend PMI® Leadership Institute Meeting 2016—North America in San Diego, California, USA, and met PMI chapter board members from several countries.

An ongoing conversation during that meeting centered on how to renew and refresh chapter membership and appeal to younger generations.

One of the foundations that will help PMI chapters better interact with multi-generational communities is to develop and master “generational competence,” which according to Ceridian “describe the adaptations or competencies organizations must develop today to meet the very diverse needs of four generations in the workforce and the marketplace.”

While discussing the topic with my fellow chapter board members, I found there is a common belief that generations are defined by age when in reality generations are defined by common experiences and key events.

Also much of the research around generations and generational differences has grown out of the United States and therefore is U.S.-focused.

Here are some alternatives to the typical generational buckets:

U.S. Generation Name

Approximate Years of Birth

Alternate Terminology


1914 - 1945

Traditionalists (USA), Silent Generation (USA), Veterans (USA),

Baby Boomer

1946 - 1963

Generation Me (USA), Unlucky Generation (China), Dankai Generation (Japan)

Generation X

1964 - 1980

MTV Generation (USA), Baby Bust Generation (USA), Génération Bof (France), Crisis Generation (Latin America), Burnt Generation (Iran), Generation Bharat (India)

Generation Y

1981 - 2001

Millennials (USA), Generation Next (USA), Yutori Generation (Japan), Generation Pu (Russia), Born-Free Generation (South Africa)

Generation Z


Mid 90’s or Early 2000s -

Globals (USA), Post-Millennials (USA), iGen (USA), Digital Natives (USA), Globalized India (India)

Even individuals born in the same approximate marker years are defined differently by the events they have experienced. For example while the U.S. Baby Boomer generation is associated with the notion of the "American Dream,” the Unlucky Generation in China lived through three years of famine and cultural revolution.

At the same time, many of these generations are tied to stereotypes. For example, “Millennials are entitled narcissists,” “Gen Y looks for instant gratification,” “They are not capable of interacting offline,” are some of the comments I’ve heard. Stereotyping, however, fuels conflict within a multigenerational community.

What Generation Y Thinks

During the Leadership Institute Meeting, I looked for opportunities to speak with Generation Y attendees. Across the board, they felt PMI board members from older generations need to develop generational competence to bridge the gap of understanding. This competence will help them learn how to communicate, connect and engage with potential PMI members of different generations.

Membership campaigns will need to align with Generation Y values—happiness, passion, diversity, sharing and discovery, according to Patrick Spenner, a strategic initiatives leader at CEB.

PMI chapters will need to promote the profession as one that:

  • Offers continuous challenges as changes in projects happen
  • Enables growth in organizations and makes the work exciting
  • Opens new opportunities in different industries as project management skills are highly transferable

Perhaps the most important takeaway in my discussions with Generation Y members was that they reject generational labels. Call them young professionals

As a project manager volunteering for a PMI chapter, what is the most challenging situation you have faced within a multigenerational community?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 16, 2016 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wading Into the Deep Waters of Regulatory Compliance

By Conrado Morlan

During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, you may have seen them on TV: men around the Olympic pool in red trunks and yellow t-shirts, with whistles around their necks and flotation devices tucked beneath their arms.

Yes, they were lifeguards.

Why are lifeguards needed in a pool where the world’s best swimmers are competing? The answer is simple: regulatory compliance.

FINA, the sport’s international governing body, states in its guidelines that “owners of public pools or pools restricted only to training and competition must comply with the requirements established by law and the health authorities in the country where the pool is situated.” The law in the state of Rio de Janeiro requires the presence of lifeguards at swimming pools larger than 20 feet by 20 feet, according to The New York Times.

As a project manager leading the efforts of a global or regional project, you will need to be aware of all the regulations that may impact your project. Assuming that you can lead a project in the same way you do in your country of origin is a bad assumption.

Preparing for Compliance

Complying with regulations can mean big hurdles in project deployment, so you need to plan ahead to avoid any major impacts. At the same time, regulations may be an opportunity to establish relationships with governmental entities that define the regulations (as Amway did in China in the last decade).

When dealing with regulations in your projects, remember:

  • You are not always in control. The existing standardized and repeatable processes to execute projects, as well as the existing technological platform to implement the project, may not be applicable or available in certain countries. You will need to think “outside the box” and move out of your comfort zone to make your project successful.
  • The rules in other countries are unique. Regulations, culture and resources vary. Get insights from your local team to understand and take advantage of the established rules.
  • You may need to take a step backward. Adaptation is key in global projects. All the features and functions delivered by your project may not be necessary for a particular country. Have a list of the minimum features and functions required to make your project successful.

As a global project manager, you need to develop and master your cultural awareness. This will help you to establish the foundation of communication and identify cultural values, beliefs and perceptions.

This will help you understand the local environment and market, build long-term, trusting relationships and keep your project in track.

As a global project manager, how do you face regulatory compliance in different countries?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: September 02, 2016 05:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Stereotyped Project Manager

By Conrado Morlan

If you’ve been a project practitioner for a long time, you’ve probably heard a variety of opinions about you and your colleagues. Many of those opinions may have reflected an oversimplified image of the project management profession. In other words, you and your colleagues were stereotyped.

The project management profession has given me the opportunity to travel across three continents and to work with people from different cultures and generations. I lost count of all the different stereotypes I was associated with, which involved my country of origin (Mexico), the country I lived in (the United States) and people’s previous experience with IT project managers, But many of the stereotypes were common despite the different situations where I worked.

Being stereotyped gave me the opportunity to change people’s oversimplified idea of me and my profession. On top of my daily duties, I had to transform that bad and/or ugly perception into a good one. Even when my title was IT project manager, my role was not purely technical—in many projects, the business function was also part of the project team.

Working with business and technical functions put me between a sword and a wall. On the business function side, people stereotyped me as too technical, while on the IT side, co-workers assumed I was not technical at all and too structured. In many meetings with business functions and IT team members, I had to show that the “real me” did not fit the stereotype they had in mind.

My credentials exacerbated the situation a couple of times. When team members learned I had several certifications, they feared I was going to “play by the book” and make them change the way they had been working.

Instead, I merely promoted discussions in which the team realized there were areas of opportunity in their way of working that could be improved.     

The “manager” stereotype popped up quite often. Team members openly told me I was not their direct-line manager and did not have authority over them. I had to address this stereotype and help people understand I was not there to manage but to lead.

So I held meetings with team members and their managers, in which roles were defined, the importance of the project was communicated and lines of communication were established.

At the end of the day, it’s incumbent on projects managers to face the stereotypes that are out there and work to change negative perceptions. As a project manager, how do you react to stereotypes? What are you doing to erase the stereotype you have been associated with?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: June 18, 2016 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

When Project Benefits Erode

By Conrado Morlan

The project you led is complete! You are celebrating with your stakeholders and other project managers. The company is right on track to achieve its strategic goals based on the benefits delivered by your project.

After handing over the project to the business functions, you are now ready for your next move. You are nervous and excited about discovering your new assignment, so you don’t worry about your recently completed project. Somebody else will be following up on the project’s contributions to the organization. You’re done, right? Well, let’s find out.

During the first six months of your new assignment, you overhear that the benefits of the project you recently completed are not at the expected level. In parallel with your current assignment, you start looking for clues about what’s gone wrong.

Your findings reveal that related processes supporting the product or service delivered by your project are not aligned and are producing damage and losses, resulting in the erosion of benefits. Examples may include:

  • Regulatory fines—The project’s support processes did not provide regulatory reports on time or were missing data requested by federal and/or local authorities. The lack of compliance results in fines.
  • Overtime—The lack of clarity about the process and the changes brought by your project led the operational areas of the business to continue to do work as usual, producing incorrect results that had to be redone.
  • Overlooked tax deductions—The finance department was not notified of the new process, and the organization continued to pay taxes that were supposed to be exempted after the project was completed.
  • Union disputes—The implementation of the new project impacted union workers’ duties that weren’t contemplated in the current contract. New contract negotiations tend to be long and have a large impact to the organization.

So what should you do? Focus on your current project assignment and ignore the benefits erosion? Or work on a solution with the project’s stakeholders?

Whatever your answer, one thing you will need to do for sure is update the project’s lessons learned. The project may be over, but benefits didn’t reach the expected levels. So as the former project manager, you’re obligated to document what went wrong to support efforts at establishing a solution.

Have you ever learned of benefits erosion after completing one of your projects? If so, how did you react?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: May 25, 2016 01:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"

- Abraham Lincoln



Vendor Events

See all Vendor Events