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.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

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

Recent Posts

Tips For Leading an Effective Taskforce

The Project Manager-Powered Management Model

Standing Out as a Project Manager

Award Winning Metrics For 2018

Project Leaders Are at the Forefront of Today’s Operating Models

Viewing Posts by Marian Haus

Tips For Leading an Effective Taskforce

Categories: Taskforce

By Marian Haus, PMP

We’ve all heard about those projects in crises—the ones that required a quick and firm intervention with the help of a taskforce to bring it back on track.

No project manager wants to be in such a difficult situation, especially not with her or his own project.

But how do we, as the hero of the day, handle being tasked with saving a troubled project?

First let us examine what a project taskforce is and what it is good for.

A project taskforce is a mandate allotted by the project sponsors or the upper management of the project organization to a senior project manager or a senior leader. The goal is to find the best option for resolving a particular problem in a very short timeframe.

A taskforce is a management mechanism that should be only used in exceptional situations. It generally requires disrupting other project activities and deploying the best people to solve a particular problem under possibly highly stressful and energy-depleting conditions.

So how do we handle this? Here are some tips on what an effective taskforce needs:

  • One experienced lead: It can either be a senior project manager or a leader experienced with crisis situations. I put the emphasis on one, since single leadership is the key to getting the job done! The last thing you’d want in a taskforce is having two or more leads debating how to drive the taskforce. One person has to call the shots.
  • An elite team: The taskforce lead will need to quickly assemble an expert team, formed with the best people who have the required field expertise to quickly understand and resolve the problem. The smaller the team, the easier it is for the taskforce lead to motivate and steer the team to finding the right solution.
  • A sharp focus: The particular problem the taskforce is working on has to be clearly articulated and known to the entire taskforce team. The objectives the team will be working on also have to be clear to everyone involved. Secondly, several other project issues may come up along the way. But to be effective, the taskforce must remain focused on the main problem.
  • A short timeframe: Given the urgency, plus the high level of the deployed team’s energy, a taskforce is only effective if conducted in a short timeframe (matter of hours or a few days). If efforts go on for longer, it’s likely not a taskforce, since the energy and effectiveness dissipate over time.
  • The appropriate logistics: Due to the intensity and possibly a stressful situation, taskforces require an isolated project space—or war room. That entails a space that provides appropriate office materials (whiteboard, note cards, etc.) to facilitate brainstorming and for capturing the results (notes, action items, assumptions, decisions, solutions, etc.) of the taskforce.
  • Options for a solution: The taskforce’s outcome should include one or more options that lead to a resolution, with a recommendation for the best option. This option, even if it is technically the best the expert team can recommend, might not satisfy the risk appetite of the person or organization that has mandated the taskforce. Therefore, every option should also provide the related pros and cons.  
  • Qualified assumptions: Beware of unqualified assumptions. If the identified options are building up on assumptions that are not fully validated, highlight the risks or need for confirmation before making a final decision.
  • Plain outcome communication: To terminate the taskforce, its lead and the expert team will have to reduce the complexity and sum up the outcome of the conducted work (options with pros and cons, along with assumptions and their risks or opportunities). Ultimately the taskforce lead will communicate the outcome, confirm the decided solution and conclude the mandate of the taskforce.

If set up and executed properly, a taskforce can be an effective tool to resolving crisis situations in projects.

Have you ever worked on a project taskforce? What tips would you share?

Posted by Marian Haus on: March 06, 2018 02:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Best Practices for Managing Project Escalations

By Marian Haus, PMP

Throughout any given initiative, project managers must deal with issues that are sure to arise. Some are solvable within the project organization, with or without the project manager’s influence. Others however — especially those that could affect the outcome of a project — go beyond a project manager’s range of influence and authority.

Such major issues and risks can lead to escalations, which require special handling and management.

Various project management guidelines and specialized literature insufficiently cover the escalation management domain.

Escalation means trouble — so it’s a word very few people want to hear about. It also means that a higher authority will need to be called up to take action before it is too late.

When necessary, and if done in a timely and appropriate manner, escalation management can help a project manager solve issues outside of their authority or influence.

Here are some tips and tricks for project managers to better deal with escalations.

1. Be Prepared

From the project outset, define a clear escalation path and mechanism. For instance, establish an escalation committee (e.g., your sponsors or upper management board) and agree on escalating major issues when necessary and bypassing certain hierarchy levels in order to escalate faster.

Don’t overdo it! You should not escalate every encountered issue—only escalate major issues that have considerable impacts.

2. Assess and Qualify the Risk

Is it serious enough to escalate? Is there anything else you can do to avoid an escalation? Is it the right time to escalate?

Certainly, in order to be effective, the escalation should be raised in a timely manner. Therefore, neither should you exaggerate with going through an elaborated risk assessment, nor should you wait too long until raising the escalation (e.g., do not wait until the next reporting period is due).

3. Communicate the Escalation

After you’ve done everything you could have to prevent the escalation (you raised awareness, you communicated, you have pushed and pulled), it is time to escalate!

To escalate effectively and efficiently, first keep a calm and clear head. Then, follow these tips:

  • Escalate via the channel that is most appropriate for your project context. Ideally, the escalation should be communicated in a face-to-face meeting or call. Emails can be the most ineffective escalation tools, because they can delay the resolution if the emails are not handled in a timely manner. Emails also can lead to misunderstandings if the context is not well understood. Additionally, they can lead to a deadlock if sent to multiple and unnecessary individuals or when it is unclear who the targeted person is for taking action. In short: Avoid escalations via email.
  • Avoid getting personal and refrain from finger pointing. Focus on the issue at hand. This should be communicated and addressed objectively.
  • Explain the major issue and its implications. Keep it short and simple, so that everyone requested to help you can understand.
  • Explain what you did to avoid the issue and escalation. Again, keep it short. Otherwise, you will end up in endless apologies.
  • If possible, make a proposal with two or three resolution options. Explain their potential effect on the issue at hand and ideally make a recommendation on which options to go for.

4. Follow Up

Generally, every escalation requires some resolution time for when the project manager and the project team will implement the decisions agreed upon by the escalation board.

You will need to regularly inform your escalation committee with status and progress updates until the risk and problem are completely resolved. And, after getting back on track, you should conduct a lessons-learned exercise with your project team to learn and grow from the encountered crisis situation.

Would you agree? How are you managing escalations in your projects?


Posted by Marian Haus on: October 06, 2017 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Best Practices for Moderating a SWOT Analysis

Categories: planning, risk management, swot

By Marian Haus, PMP

The SWOT framework is a very useful analytical tool for identifying risks and opportunities. It can be used across industries and in a range of scenarios, from project planning and risk management to strategic business and corporate planning.

When used in project management, SWOT can help capture internal project aspects (strengths and weaknesses), as well as the external aspects (opportunities and threats) that can positively or negatively influence the project.

Here are four steps for preparing and moderating a two-hour SWOT session:

1. WHAT: Explain what SWOT is, elucidating each of the four terms and giving some examples of each. For instance:

  • Strength might be the technical skills of the project team.
  • Weakness might be the team’s limited experience with the type of project you are conducting.
  • Opportunity might be a favorable technology trend that your team can leverage.
  • Threat might be hardened regulatory conditions in which the project is conducted.

It’s important to highlight that strengths and weaknesses are characteristics internal to the project, while opportunities and threats are external.

From the very beginning, it’s equally important to define what goal you’ll be assessing under the SWOT framework. This will narrow the focus from generic to articulated obstacles and prospects that can hinder or support reaching your goal.

For this part, allocate a time-box of 15 minutes from the total two-hour session.

2. HOW: Now that everyone knows what SWOT is, explain how the analysis will be conducted.

You’ll need to prepare in advance. First, get a whiteboard and draw a simple SWOT matrix, with a quadrant for each attribute (S, W, O and T). Highlight that “S” and “W” are internal factors, while “O” and “T” are external.

Next, make sure you have sufficient Post-its for capturing the SWOT information. I recommend using separate colors for each attribute—this will improve the visualization of the SWOT matrix.

Allocate a time-box of five minutes for this part of the session.

3. CONDUCT: Conducting the SWOT analysis is the easiest part. Now that everyone understands the approach, engage the participants in capturing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats on the colored Post-its.

For a team of 10 people, allocate 10 minutes for capturing and 30 to 50 minutes for presenting and posting the results on the SWOT board. Each contributor should individually capture the SWOT and present the results.

4. STRATEGIZE: Now that you know the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your project, it’s time to do something about them. There are different strategies and approaches for dealing with the SWOT outcome.

One strategy is to apply a risk management approach: Qualify the captured information by urgency and impact, and define responses for risks and exploits for opportunities.

Another strategy is to convert weaknesses and threats into strengths and opportunities.

Or you can apply the simple USED approach, by addressing the following questions:

  • How can we use our strength?
  • How can we stop our weakness?
  • How can we exploit the opportunities?
  • How can we defend from threats?

For this important part of the process, you should allocate up to 50 to 60 minutes of the session.

The SWOT analysis is a subjective assessment because the level of knowledge and state of information might vary among the attendees. Nevertheless, the outcome could help to prevent issues or exploit opportunities during your project journey.

What tips do you have for moderating a SWOT analysis?

Posted by Marian Haus on: July 09, 2017 02:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

5 Steps to Manage Project Dependencies

By Marian Haus, PMP

Projects are rarely conducted in a vacuum. Whether the project you’re managing is small or large, simple or complex, you will most likely encounter dependencies tied to assets outside your project organization.

Here five simple steps to help you manage project dependencies that are spread across teams, departments and assets.

1. Assess and document potential project dependencies: Determine each dependency’s type, profile, specifications, timeline and owner. For example, you might have to rely on the QA or legal department to check your work, end-users to validate your product or other teams that will have to adapt their products because of your project’s outcome.

You could document HR dependencies in your project’s HR plan. Non-HR resources could be documented in a hierarchical resource breakdown structure (RBS). Or you could just use a simple spreadsheet, where you store all your dependencies organized by types, ownership, etc.

2. Align and interlock scope: Define a clear and determined purpose/scope for each dependency and align with the team providing or fulfilling it. Interlock your dependencies with the related teams or organizations.

For instance, if your project will need a certain setup from your company’s infrastructure team, ensure that you define the requirements (how many servers you need, what the technical specs are, what software needs to be installed, etc.). Finally, confirm that this setup can be delivered as requested.

3. Align dependency timelines: Specify exactly when your dependency is required and for how long. Interlock the timeline to secure its on-time delivery or availability.

To continue the previous example, you might request your company’s infrastructure team to deliver the servers no later than July 31 so you can use the setup during a testing period that would stretch from August 1 to September 30.

4. Monitor and control dependencies throughout the project: It will probably be impossible to precisely plan for all of your project’s dependencies from the very beginning—and then stick to that plan until project closure.

Therefore, you should maintain and review your dependencies list, HR plan or RBS throughout the project. New dependencies might show up while others might become dispensable.

5. Collect sign-offs: Sign-offs are as important as interlocks. You have to secure and collect them from your counterparts.

Interlocks enforce commitment, responsibility and accountability, whereas sign-offs confirm the delivery or the fulfillment within the agreed boundaries.

For instance, an end-user outside of your project team will sign-off on the product change your project generated, confirming that it conforms with his or her requirements or expectations. Or an interface project team will sign-off on your revamped software component, confirming that your project’s outcome did not break their related components or business processes.

How do you identify all of a project’s related dependencies? How do you manage them as the project progresses?

Posted by Marian Haus on: April 07, 2017 03:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Authoritarian vs. Participatory Project Management

Categories: Communication, Leadership

By Marian Haus, PMP

Project managers have a major influence on the projects they run. Attitudes and leadership styles play a large part in how the team works together, how projects are delivered and the general environment for everyone involved.

Here’s a look at two very different project management approaches— authoritarian and participatory—and how they impact the entire project team.

Authoritarian Project Management

An authoritarian project manager dominates the project with his or her personality and ego, putting objectives first with a low emphasis on how the project team feels about the project journey. He or she imposes unquestionable edicts that must be followed no matter what. And goals and milestones are set without necessarily consulting the project team.

An authoritarian management and leadership style generally creates a tense project environment, with little room for independent actions and joy.

While an authoritarian style may be suitable in a rigid organization or in government or military institutions, this style will rarely work in other project environments where participation is encouraged or decisions must be made with the input of multiple departments.

Participatory Project Management

A participative project manager involves other team members or leaders in the decision-making process. A participatory project environment is, in general, a positive working environment, where responsibility and accountability are shared.

A participative project manager is typically more successful in small and collaborative teams and in projectized organizations where the project and its outcome are prioritized over obedience to the chain of command.

Without radical cultural changes, the participatory management and leadership style can be quite challenging when applied in a rigid and functionally organized project environment.

To quote author and management expert Kenneth H. Blanchard, a participative project manager understands that “the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”

What attitudes and leadership styles have you encountered? I’d like to hear your story.

Posted by Marian Haus on: February 15, 2017 04:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

"I once took a cab to a drive-in. The movie cost me $190."

- Stephen Wright