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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Recent Posts

In the Rearview Mirror: The Year in Project Management

A Guide to Perfect Planning

The Secrets to Business Transformation Success

Specialist or Generalist: The Great Career Conundrum

Project Management Is For Everyone

Viewing Posts by Vivek Prakash

A Guide to Perfect Planning

Categories: Project Planning, Strategy

A Guide to Perfect Planning

We are well aware that good planning leads to smooth execution and early delivery. Most of us, however, still fast track the planning phase and jump into execution. The result is often a downward spiral of issues, defects and rework.

So why do we do this?

I have observed that most project managers are not clear on what exactly needs to be planned. At the same time, we often lose patience because planning takes time with no quick tangible results.

Here is my road map for a successful planning process.

Step 1: Write down the business case.

If we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t solve it. As project managers, we must understand the problem that’s going to be solved through the project and what the expected benefit to the organization will be. Until we understand it, we may not achieve the solution despite meeting all stated requirements. Writing a business case is the foundation of the planning.

Step 2: Establish objectives.

A lot has been written already on setting objectives, so I will limit myself. Objectives should be driven by the business case. We should set objectives that, if achieved, ensure the complete problem is resolved.

Objectives should be:

  • Very specific so that they are easy to understand.
  • Quantifiable so that we can demonstrate the success at the end.
  • Time bound as our project has an end date. 

Step 3: Set expectations with stakeholders.

Identifying all stakeholders and understanding their requirements is important for project managers. However, this may not be enough. Stakeholders often have expectations that they may not explicitly lay out but use as part of their assessment process. My customer, for example, may set expectations based on his past experience with a previous vendor. He or she may not share it with me as these expectations are not firm and not backed by anything substantial.  The best way to reset these expectations is to set new expectations with the stakeholder. By setting these new expectations, I nullify expectations coming from my customer’s previous experience and set a fresh ground for performance assessment.

Step 4: Kick off your project.

The main purpose of the kickoff is to let everyone know about the project, what support the project needs from them, and when we will need that support. It’s also important to present our strategy, high-level plan and project needs to all stakeholders and ask them what inputs they need from us to provide required support.

Step 5: Prepare a project management plan.

What planning documents like schedule, risk register, communications plan etc. do for project executing team, project management plan does for project management team. It creates a roadmap for the project management team and provides clear guidance to prepare planning documents. For example, a risk management plan—a component of project management plan—describes a methodology for identifying risk, a system for monitoring those risk, a format for the risk register, and tools and techniques to prepare the risk register and risk response plan.

Step 6: Prepare a meticulous work breakdown structure (WBS).  

The WBS is the foundation of further project planning. And the better the WBS, the better the plan. All project team members must participate in developing a WBS with necessary and sufficient details.

Step 7: Prepare planning documents.

Now we have all the building blocks to prepare planning documents such as schedule, budget, resource plan, communication plan, procurement plan, quality plan, risk register etc. Planning documents will guide the project team throughout execution and, if meticulously prepared, guarantee project success.

Planning takes time, so consider a progressive approach. By planning the first phases and kicking it off, you may help your team produce early results and buy time for the meticulous planning required for subsequent phases.

What tips do you have for successful project planning? Please share your experience in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: December 13, 2017 08:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

Give Up Power to Lead the Team - Part 2

In my last post, I discussed how powers of position—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward—don’t create a productive environment. To continue the discussion, I’d like to look at how to turn over powers to team members to create more productive environments.

1. Delegate work: This is the first step toward releasing power. Delegating creates opportunities for us to entrust powers to team members. However, be cautious of downloading—searching for candidates to do work simply because we’re overloaded. Delegating is more strategic. It involves identifying the right work to delegate, finding potential in the team, assessing skills gaps, preparing a plan, providing training and then sparing time to support.

2. Take risks: Even if we delegate, the accountability for work still lies with us and we are answerable to their faults. In fact, giving work and power to team members is filled with risks. However it has its own rewards. Taking risks is essential to provide opportunities to team members, grow their capabilities and create a productive environment. We can mitigate the risks with better planning, by assessing skills gaps and by preparing a response plan. Reviewing and supporting the team members during execution is an important part of risk mitigation.

3. Be an enabler: Acting as enabler is the most powerful practice to entrust our power to the team. It means we are no longer only an actor, doing the work, but also a resource to our team members. An enabler provides direction to team members, coaches them to take new steps, enhances team members’ skills and lets them face challenges. He or she helps teams find the solutions rather than providing a readymade one.

Enabling also means providing praise and constructive feedback regularly—or even sometimes in the moment.  

4. Empower: When we become a resource for our team we stop executing our formal powers because it was the manager who had these powers. One of those powers we are giving up is the power of making decisions. Empowering team members to make decisions requires patience. We shouldn’t panic and start acting like a manager to see quicker results. These moments are tests of our trust in our people. Instead, go back to the enabler mindset—explain the circumstances, suggest options and describe the benefits of finding a final or intermediate decision within a given timeframe.

By turning over these powers to our team members, we not only show our trust in their capabilities, but give them opportunities to enhance their career. This will surpass all the benefits of reward power. It will also generate a positive energy of ownership, collaboration and cooperation, leading to a productive environment that can never be achieved via the negative energy of legitimate or coercive powers.

I look forward to hearing your experience. 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 14, 2016 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Give Up Power to Lead the Team

As project managers, we are entrusted with power. We assume three types of powers as soon as we become a project manager—legitimate power, the power to penalize and the power to reward. Also called powers of position. We often use these powers to get the job done, resolve conflicts among team members, pressure the team to fast-track, quickly make a decision, etc.

Yet the powers we use can come with a hefty price that we often ignore. In fact, that price can even outweigh the benefits we receive. Which raises the question: Why make this loss-making transaction?

One reason is that we pay the price either at a later date or we pay it gradually or indirectly. Therefore we don’t realize we are paying it at all, or we are just more interested in the short term.

For example, if a team member resigns, he may not give you the real reason behind his departure. We only realize there is a problem when several people quit! By then, too much damage may have been done to the organization or project.

Another reason we make this loss-making transaction has to with perception. Most managers think the power to penalize is bad. They believe using legitimate power is fine and using the power to reward is preferable. However, if you analyze carefully, you will find both of these powers have serious limitations.

Power Problems

You may find the only benefit of using these powers is saving time. What we sacrifice for quick results, then, are harmony, mutual understanding, unanimity, openness, fairness and justification.

By wielding power, we force decisions. If we penalize team members, we create fear. That makes people agree to what we want while putting their reservations aside. Openness is lost and communication breaks down.

When we use legitimate power, we tell people to do something because we are the project manager. Indirectly, we convey that we don’t have time to explain to you or convince you or respond to your reservations. The harmony and mutual understanding are lost.

The power to reward could be better than the other two, but it has several limitations and should be used very carefully. Rewards motivate people, but only if they are implemented with true honesty and transparency, which is not easy or common.

The risk is that people may agree with you in expectation of a reward, putting their legitimate doubts or questions aside. In addition, there may be more people who feel they are eligible for reward, but only one gets it, making others unhappy.

Our tendency to give rewards to excellent people does not allow us to recognize and reward average team members. They are not even getting motivated because they know they will not reach that league of excellence.

Or, people may be productive until they get what they are expecting. Then you have to continuously give something to everyone if you want them to be productive. It’s like keeping a carrot in front of a horse all the time—not as productive as it appears.

So what is to be done? The answer is simple: Give your powers to team members. In the end, this approach will be much more productive. It creates a healthy environment—healthier than what follows from deploying power in the traditional top-down ways.

In my next post, I‘ll discuss how we can give these powers to team members and how this will help create a productive atmosphere. Meanwhile, please share your experience and views on using powers below! 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: July 04, 2016 02:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

7 Easy Tricks to Kill Innovation on Your Team

Innovation is a natural skill in human beings—that’s how we moved from the Stone Age to the Space Age. The corporate world, however, seems like it’s in a different universe, where everyone wants innovation but appears to be racing to kill it. Here are a few easy-to-use tricks for you to join the race.

1. Focus on the quarter

Make sure you’re not allowing your team to think beyond a quarter. Quarterly results are dear to CEOs. So only focus on the next quarterly result and make sure everyone on your team does too.  

2. Be Impatient

Patience is a weapon of lethargic people. You should never allow it to develop in your team. Any project or idea that takes time to materialize should not be your cup of tea. Let your team members continue to focus on your short-term goals.

3. Keep the team busy

You should be a very strict taskmaster. Check what time your team comes in and leaves for the day, and all the activities they do in between to ensure they are continuously busy in day-to-day activities. Keep their task list overflowing so that no room is left for any free time or “blue sky” thinking.

4. Maintain order

You should lay down strict processes and not allow any deviation at any cost. Teams must follow the process even if it is not required. You never know how a simple deviation could turn out to be an innovation. Explain to your team that doing things differently is the job of other teams!

5. Stay safe

Just in case the above suggestions do not impress you enough, and some little spark in the corner of your heart wants to allow a deviation, let me warn you—they all are full of risks. Risks mean uncertainty that can put your project in trouble or jeopardize your dearest short-term goals. They can even hit your reputation of consistently delivering linear results. You should play it safe by taking the routine paths already proven by others.

6. Don’t listen

Listening will be seriously injurious. If anyone comes to you suggesting a solution to a problem or a new way of doing something, don’t listen. Sometimes, you may be tempted, especially if someone’s sharing success stories. But ignore it all, lest innovation seeps in. If anyone suggests any idea, reject it immediately, giving a very routine reason, such as “it will not work in our project.” You should not give any new reason, otherwise it will appear that you are doing some innovation.

7. Reward only the million-dollar idea

Rewards are precious and should be given to the best of the best people. If a stubborn team member implements a good idea despite all your efforts, immediately point out a flaw in it, ignoring everything else. If this person meets some early-stage failure, that’s an opportunity for you to explain to the team why they should not try new things. Thoughts of rewarding someone should not even occur to you until the idea is recognized by some external agency.

I’m being facetious, of course. My point is that breakthrough innovations are not harder in practice than many seem to think—but our day-to-day responsibilities and deadlines make it hard to step back and change thinking.

What do you think are the most common practices that prevent innovative thinking? How can they be avoided? Please share your thoughts in a comment below.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: March 05, 2016 10:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

The Team That Skipped the Storming Stage

PMBOK 5th Edition - Hindi Translation Team

The PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi Translation Team Gets Recognition

This piece continues my previous blog posts, “The Techniques That Don't Resolve Conflict” and “The Only Technique That Resolves Conflicts,” which looked at why no technique other than collaborate/problem-solve truly resolves a conflict.

Researcher Bruce Tuckman suggested that a project team generally goes through the forming, storming, norming and performing stages. In this post, I will discuss a team that skipped the storming stage—or, rather, they managed their conflicts so well that they spent most of their time in the performing stage. Fortunately, I was part of the team.

The Project

PMI India took up the task to provide the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition in Hindi to promote project management in Hindi-speaking regions. The project initiated in February 2013 and aimed to finish by August 2013 so the new Hindi version could launch at the PMI National Conference in Delhi in September 2013. We had only six months, and the team was yet to be recruited. We had to onboard a translator and form a Translation Verification Committee (TVC) of subject matter experts who were native Hindi speakers with sound knowledge of the PMBOK Guide—Fifth Edition.    

PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi VersionThe cover of the PMBOK 5th Edition Hindi version.

The Team

PMI India already had some volunteers for the TVC. We selected a few names and started interviewing. We also tried to persuade people who were part of the TVC for the Fourth Edition to participate. We intended to select eight people for the TVC, but we settled for seven.  

Challenges

  1. The challenges were many, and the short timeframe was the first. We had to complete the project by 31 August.
  2. The translation had to be simple, easy to read and use the language of common people.
  3. Another big challenge was to find the equivalent word in Hindi. It is very common to find many Hindi equivalents for one English word, but none of them exactly matches the meaning. So you have as many opinions as people on the team. This was the most time-consuming challenge. If not addressed appropriately, it could cause serious delays.
  4. Committee members came from four different cities and could not meet frequently. All had full-time jobs and would verify the translation after work.
  5. One translator was the only team member hired professionally. His pace set the pace of the whole team.

Facing and Overcoming the Challenges

After finalizing the team, the kickoff meeting happened on 31 March, 2013. So we had only five months to complete the job. We met the first time to understand each other and set the agenda. We prepared a schedule with our best estimates. It turned out those estimates had us completing the project in October! That was not acceptable, but we decided to start work on the first three chapters and revisit the schedule later. We decided on one face-to-face meeting per month on a weekend and to connect via a conference call in between.

In the first call, we could see what we feared most. There was a lot of discussion to select the right word and sentences, and we couldn’t make much progress.

At the second meeting, the target was to finalize Chapter 1 on the first day, but again there was a lot of discussion about choosing the right word, and we could not complete the chapter. It was a matter of concern now.

We decided to set ground rules:

  1. Based on the skills demonstrated so far, we made two people the final word on Hindi and two others the final word on the PMBOK Guide. In the case of long debates about these two issues, the group would accept what these people decided.
  2. If we could not conclude a word debate in a specified time, we would have an online vote, with everyone voting within three days. The word that had the most votes would be selected with no further discussion.
  3. To maintain quality, we decided on two levels of review. Every team member would do a first-level of review and pass it on to a specified person for the second level of review.
  4. As the project was taking longer than expected, we decided to appoint one of the TVC members to help the translator fast-track the work.

At the third meeting, we lost one of the team members. Before the fourth meeting, another was transferred out of the country, reducing his availability significantly. Now the only way to complete the project before 31 August was to take less time in review. The only way to do that without losing quality was to keep our conflicts in control. Forming the above rules turned out to be the most critical factor. Obeying these rules reduced unnecessary discussion and considerably improved the pace. We completed all the activities by 27 August, leaving two weeks for printing and publishing.

Conclusion

Working on this project, I closely observed how a team can manage its conflicts and focus on delivering the work. The following five factors were most critical:

  1. Form ground rules based on the project’s objectives
  2. Identify skills in the team and assign responsibilities accordingly.
  3. Build a decision-making tool with consensus
  4. Build a process that can deliver quality
  5. Follow the rules with discipline

Do you have a similar experience or opposite to it? Please share your view.

 

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: October 03, 2015 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)
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