Viewing Posts by Kevin Korterud
Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.
However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.
Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.
Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.
1. Where are we now?
Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.
Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.
2. Where will we be in six weeks?
An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.
This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.
Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.
3. What changed from the original project scope?
Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.
While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.
In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.
What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for?
In my last post A Better Path Forward For Federal Programs , I discussed how the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act empowers the Office of Management and Budget to create a program and project management strategy for the U.S. federal government.
The legislation also requires the heads of several U.S. government agencies—including the Departments of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy and Department of Education—to designate one senior team member to serve as its program management improvement officer. In this role, the senior team member will be responsible for implementing program management policies established by the agency and developing a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency.
The program management improvement officer also has another set of responsibilities that I find particularly interesting. The law says the project management improvement officer must develop a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency. This includes expanding training and educational opportunities for program managers. This portion of the legislation creates a formal process for program managers to strengthen their existing competencies and allows project managers to develop into program managers (I once wrote a post on this topic).
Given the complexities inherent to contemporary program management, professional development initiatives will successfully prepare program managers for progressively larger delivery responsibilities. In addition, they will create an opportunity to centralize lessons learned on existing delivery programs for even more effective future program management.
Admittedly, when I first heard of this legislation, I was somewhat doubtful of its ability to influence program management results. However, after diving into the details, I’ve become an advocate. I’m excited about the new standard it will set for federal program delivery—and the prospects it holds for building similar program management capabilities in the private sector.
We may jest about the effectiveness of government regulations, policies and practices—but this legislation has the potential to significantly boost program management innovation in the public sector.
Do you believe the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act will spur program delivery improvements in your workplace?
By Kevin Korterud
Program management made news in December (though perhaps not front-page headlines) when the United States Senate unanimously approved the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act. The legislation enacted a number of initiatives for improving federal program delivery, which has suffered from past budget, schedule and quality challenges.
While government legislation is not necessarily my weekend reading of choice, I recently spent time reviewing the new law. It quickly became apparent to me that, although targeted at improving the delivery of U.S. federal programs, it includes many considerations that are universally relevant to program delivery, even if you’re working in the private sector.
As part of the legislation, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget has been tasked with several new functions related to program and project management. Let’s take a look at two that I find particularly exciting and relevant to program managers around the world.
1. Chart A Strategic Course
Executives often tell me they don’t know where to start when it comes to improving program delivery. There are typically so many interrelated issues that it’s difficult to determine which actions would have the greatest impact on delivery results.
Other disciplines, such as technology architecture, business change management and customer satisfaction, typically work from some sort of strategic or transformational roadmap. The roadmaps identify common issues, solution strategies and transformational initiatives that drive success for that discipline.
The new federal legislation requires the deputy director of management to “establish a 5-year strategic plan for program and project management.” A program management maturity roadmap will provide a common vision around necessary improvements. And given the size and complexity of federal programs, it will also help teams avoid repeating prior delivery missteps, and enhance the performance of program management processes.
2. Lay a Solid Foundation
Early in my project and program management career, it was common for companies to have a homogenous, centralized employee workforce with strong business and technical domain knowledge that was built over many years. Today, the landscape of program delivery is much more fragmented and fragile.
Global delivery centers, various delivery approaches (waterfall vs. agile), business leaders that rotate every few years, contractors that play a larger role in delivery and emerging technologies are all components that complicate program delivery. It is a wonder that program delivery is ever successful!
The new federal legislation says the deputy director must also, “oversee implementation of program and project management for the standards, policies, and guidelines…” The creation of program management standards, policies and guidelines will serve as a foundation to harmonize the discordant realities of modern program delivery. By establishing unified rules, boundaries, practices and performance metrics that drive a cohesive approach, the inherent complexities of today’s programs can be successfully addressed.
What elements of the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act do you find most intriguing? I look forward to discussing.
By Kevin Korterud
Beware: Strategic initiatives aren’t the same as typical projects—they tend to be considerably more complex. For example, strategic initiatives are usually bound by some form of dramatic urgency around schedule (regulatory, market), costs (process improvement) or consumer satisfaction (subscription, satisfaction).
But the differences don’t end there. Let’s look at some other complex dimensions that must be considered when leading a strategic initiative:
1. Stakeholder Management
The stakeholder landscape is much more broad on a strategic initiative than a project. In strategic initiatives, stakeholders typically span multiple departments within a company, creating multiple primary stakeholder groups. And these stakeholder groups will often have nearly equal shares in the success of the initiative, thus creating potential authority conflicts.
In addition, there are also governance functions—risk management, legal, etc.—that will have either a primary or secondary stakeholder role.
The complex stakeholder landscape necessitates communication processes that serve vastly different audiences. There exists both a two-dimensional communications problem: one dimension is horizontal (i.e., across stakeholders) and the other is vertical (i.e., involving higher levels of leadership). What once was a linear communication process on a project now becomes more of a matrix process to deal with the breadth and depth of stakeholders.
Communications will need to be carefully tailored to different functions and levels of stakeholders. For example, more detail for operational functions, and simple, high-level summaries for leadership consumption.
3. Progress Tracking
Strategic initiatives bring with them inherent complexities that can quickly overpower the progress report tracking processes that are commonly used to manage projects.
For example, strategic initiatives will typically have more suppliers than on a typical project. These additional suppliers bring with them different commercial arrangements, delivery methods, status reporting formats and progress metrics. On top of that, all of these progress tracking components need to be harmonized across the various suppliers in order to achieve a cohesive and durable view of progress position.
Project managers will need to review, refine and agree on common progress tracking processes, reporting and metrics that are universally accepted by all suppliers. By creating this single harmonized view of progress tracking, you are more readily able to identify and address delivery volatility.
When first presented with the prospect of leading a strategic initiative, project managers need to balance the excitement of leading a high-visibility engagement with the practical realities of effectively and efficiently managing delivery. By putting essentials in place, project managers can successfully move on to the next step in the career journey: leading their second strategic initiative!
What essentials can your share with project managers new to strategic initiatives that will put them on the path to success?
By Kevin Korterud
As project delivery methods have evolved, so has project leadership. Hybrid approaches have emerged: Traditional waterfall project and program managers are now faced with the prospect of having a portion of their work use iterative agile approaches. Agile Scrum Masters and product managers executing rapid iterations of new products now have to contend with budgets, financial forecasts, release schedules and business case benefits, as well as with aligning implementation of products with other projects across the enterprise.
With this as a backdrop, a frequent question that comes up from my colleagues is whether an industry needs a project manager who knows agile, or agile leads who are competent in more traditional project management practices. In today’s complex world of delivery, we urgently need both.
1. Project Managers Need to Understand Agile
It’s inevitable that a project manager will at some point oversee an agile delivery process. So it’s important that project managers start their journey to competency as soon as possible. This journey can begin with training in agile methods as well as shadowing an agile lead to see how the iterative process works.
As the journey continues, project managers will start to immerse themselves in advanced areas such as agile metrics, alignment of agile to testing and release processes as well as the people factors. A project manager will soon see what sort of projects can best be delivered through agile vs. waterfall methods, as well as the linkages to enterprise functions required regardless of delivery approach.
2. Agile Leads Need to Understand Project Management
Agile leads typically have experience with iterative methods used to quickly shape and deliver solutions. In addition, they typically have a strong business analysis background that comes into play when defining user stories.
In the past, these skills alone were sufficient for agile delivery efforts.
With the complexities of contemporary delivery, however, many agile leads now encounter similar expectations when it to comes to schedule, budget, product quality and business case realization as their waterfall counterparts.
These expectations compel agile leads to gain skills in traditional project management areas such as estimation, forecasting, resource management, technical requirements as well as testing and implementation practices. Acquiring these skills will enable agile leads to deliver higher-quality products in a more timely and efficient manner.
3. Everyone Needs Enterprise Function Support
As hybrid project delivery approaches become more common, the considerations for aligning delivery activities to produce the most value to an organization become more numerous. These considerations can include (but are not limited to) the speed at which agile produces product iterations, business and technology complexities, and the increasing expectations of consumers.
All of this amplifies the importance of enterprise functions such as portfolio management, release management and resource management. These and other traditional enterprise delivery disciplines have been identified by the Scaled Agile Framework (“SAFe”) as being key to success.
It’s not so much that the SAFe framework has had a “eureka moment” around enterprise functions as new innovations. Rather, it has identified the critical need to have these functions in place and engaged for all types of delivery. Both project managers as well as agile leads can be more successful when tightly integrated with enterprise functions. Without having robust enterprise functions in place, organizations will struggle with more frequent schedule, resource, dependency, testing and implementation conflicts. And those conflicts dilute the business value of projects regardless of delivery style.
What do you think? Do organizations need agile leads with project management knowledge, or project managers with agile knowledge? I welcome thoughts regarding delivery successes and failures relative to either or both roles.