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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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cyndee miller
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
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Yasmina Khelifi
Sree Rao
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
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Alfonso Bucero Torres
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Recent Posts

Let Team Preferences Guide Knowledge Sharing Practices

Earth Day: Urgency Meets Action with Projects to Heal the Planet

4 Essentials for Leading Remote and Hybrid Teams

What Does It Take to Build a Successful Project Team?

3 Backlog Pitfalls to Avoid

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Earth Day: Urgency Meets Action with Projects to Heal the Planet

By Cyndee Miller

It’s Earth Day and this year’s event comes with an even greater level of urgency—and action. Two-thirds of people say climate change is a “global emergency,” per a survey by United Nations. And some high-profile government and business leaders are stepping up. The United States rejoined the Paris climate agreement, and after unveiling its bold Green Deal in 2019, the European Union announced yesterday it’s increasing the number of companies required to publish environmental and social data. On the business side, General Motors proclaimed it plans an all-electric vehicle future by 2035 and BASF is sharing its map to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. While acknowledging Asian companies have lagged on investing in environment, social and governance efforts, Loh Boon Chye, chief executive of the Singapore Exchange, called 2020 an “inflection point.”

Of course, turning that sort of big thinking into reality requires an exceptional mix of capital, commitment, creativity—and projects.

Consider this your whirlwind tour:

As you might expect, there’s been serious action on the renewable energy front. Some are small-but-smart efforts, like the Spanish city of Seville launching a biogas pilot, turning its abundance of oranges into the power ingredient for clean energy at one of its wastewater treatment plants. And some are larger. Campos del Sol, number 43 on PMI’s Most Influential Projects 2020 list, is a US$320 million solar plant under construction in Chile. At full capacity, the 382-megawatt installation will generate enough energy per year to help slash annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 900,000 metric tons. That’s the same as taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road for a year—and could put the country a whole lot closer to meeting its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Project leaders are also mobilizing to reimagine urban development in more eco-friendly ways. Danish design studio C.F. Møller Architects is working on Storkeengen. What’s especially interesting about this project is that it balances needs on three fronts: urban planning to satisfy the city’s expansion needs, climate-change adaptation to help mitigate the impact of flooding and nature conservation to stabilize the local ecosystem.

Another approach that’s gaining traction is nature-based solutions, which promote climate resilience in urban areas by tapping into nature itself. One example is CityAdapt, a project by the United Nations Environment Programme. In El Salvador, the group reduced surface runoff from a coffee plantation, which can cause erosion and flooding in the ecosystem. Here, too, the project wasn’t just a good move for the local environment, it also improved coffee productivity, meeting local business needs. (For more on that one, check out the Projectified interview with Leyla Zelaya, the national coordinator for the CityAdapt project in San Salvador, El Salvador.)

A core piece of any urban development is mobility, and project leaders are making big, bold moves here as well. One of the biggest changes: bike and pedestrian paths—and lots of them.

Even fashion, not exactly known for its high sustainability cred, is coming around. Ecoluxe designer Stella McCartney is working with Google on a pilot project using data analytics and machine learning to give brands a more comprehensive view of their supply chain, with the goal to better measure the impacts of its raw material sourcing on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity. It’s not just the posh designers, either. Fast-fashion giant H&M launched Looop, billed as the world’s first in-store garment-to-garment recycling system. And footwear giant Nike is embedding sustainability into its product development projects. Look no further than Space Hippie, a line of eco-friendly sneakers made from yarns containing at least 85 percent rPoly made of recycled plastic water bottles, T-shirts and yarn scraps.

We can’t talk about Earth Day without mentioning some of the amazing projects to protect and preserve the plants and animals that we share our planet with. (They also happen to be some of my very favorite projects to follow.)

Case in point: Elephant World Cultural Courtyard, a sanctuary designed to bring the Kui people and their elephants back to their homeland in northeast Thailand. Launched in collaboration between the Surin Provincial Administrative Organization and architecture firm Bangkok Project Studio, the space spans 8,130 square meters (87,510 square feet) and includes a programming space, elephant hospital, temple, graveyard for elephants and museum dedicated to showcasing the Kui culture.

The need for these kinds of projects has only been accelerated by the climate crisis. When wildfires consumed half of Kangaroo Island, they decimated one of the world’s most iconic biodiversity hubs. Tens of thousands of creatures—from kangaroos to cockatoos—were left stranded in a barren wasteland without food, water or shelter. As the smoke cleared, rescue teams raced in to launch the Kangaroo Island Recovery, number 11 on our list of Most Influential Projects of 2020. Now the team is out to minimize the impact of future bushfires by planning buffer zones, fire breaks and small-scale ecological burnoffs. “If we can protect lots of small patches, it gives these threatened species a greater chance to survive a bushfire in the future,” says Pat Hodgens, a fauna ecologist at Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife.

Last year around this time, I wrote about prospects for a green economic recovery: With the right investments in the right projects led by the right people, we can conquer the coronavirus, rebuild our fragile economy and protect our planet—all at once. Now I had no idea we’d still be in that same situation, but I still believe that’s the path forward.

And on Earth Day this year, it’s worth considering how project leaders can step up and take responsibility for delivering a more sustainable future.

Posted by cyndee miller on: April 22, 2021 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wanted: Innovators (And It’s Okay If They Fail Sometimes)

By Cyndee Miller

No one could have possibly made it through this pandemic unchanged—as a person or as a professional. Existing skills have been put to the test and new ones were developed along the way. Sometimes it was something relatively simple like mastering the mute button. Other times, it was a gamechanger, like learning no-code and developing an app or two.

The basic idea? To move forward, we all had to let go of business as usual. That includes letting go of the antiquated notion that somehow you can pursue breakthrough innovation without a massive flameout every now and then. It happens. It’s how you respond that matters.

“Failure is the best teacher,” said Wladimir Klitschko, PhD, as he opened PMXPO, the latest in PMI’s Virtual Experience Series. An Olympian gold medalist at age 20, the heavyweight boxing champion has consistently used his losses an opportunity to learn.

These days, he’s an author and business leader—and was more than ready to go a few rounds on overcoming challenges to transformation with PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara. “I love challenges. I eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s my food for thought, for life, for energy, for everything,” Klitschko said.

He outlined four principles for transformation: focus, ability, coordination and endurance. And through his Klitschko Foundation, he’s driving that message home to young people: “The more they learn, the more secure they’ll feel,” he said. “The more knowledge they have, the better they’ll execute their plan.”

Part of that knowledge base will no doubt be linked to emerging tech. But digitalization was created by people to simplify life, Klitschko said, and we shouldn’t forget the human side of technology.

That means developing technology that actually delivers value. And one of the emerging ways of doing that is through citizen development, using low-code/no-code platforms to build apps without software expertise—and to do it significantly faster and at a fraction of the cost.

It’s like when your boss says: Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. Well, citizen development “allows you to bring an actual solution,” said PMI’s Chief Strategy & Growth Officer Dave Garrett.

Citizen development isn’t new, but much like agile 10-15 years ago, it’s been held back by concerns about maintaining control and transparency. That’s changing as more organizations adopt low-code/no-code strategies and establish greater governance.

Let the citizen development revolution begin.

“In the past we had users in spreadsheets working in an isolated fashion,” said Manpower Group’s Eric van Antwerpen. “With maturity, we’ve seen it evolve into more of a treasure box than Pandora’s box.”

Some of this comes down to the basic rule of supply and demand: “I believe everyone needs to learn to code, but it’s not going to happen,” said Microsoft cloud advocate Dona Sarkar. Citizen development is a way to empower teams to get to the business problem—with guardrails.

It’s a future of work that will require hyper-collaboration. The next generation of citizen development “isn’t just citizen developers work over here and professional, traditional coders work over here,” said Sarkar. There will be fusion developer teams, in which citizen developers work on front-end things while traditional developers work with IT teams. 

The widespread adoption of low-code/no code is also helping companies uncover hidden potential in their employees, said Qrew Technologies’ Stefan Quartemont. “The future of citizen development is building strong teams and engaging in rapid problem solving.”

Yet while there’s a genuine curiosity about citizen development, National University of Ireland Galway’s Noel Carroll said companies want quantitative evidence. “We really need to showcase the evidence behind this. What’s the return on investment?” he said. “There are some pieces of evidence out there, but we need to make it much more transparent for industries that are flirting with the idea of citizen development but haven’t really been convinced yet.”

Citizen development needs to deliver. And as with any innovation, the path to ROI is loaded with roadblocks.

So what will it take for project leaders to put up a good fight when faced with inevitable challenges? A little patience and some ingenuity, said Prashara.

“There’s hope for a more united future everywhere, but we’ll need to be incredibly patient and find new ways of working to help us become better at what we do,” he said.

If you missed out on the action or want to catch it all over again, PMXPO is available on demand. And don’t miss the next Virtual Experience Series on 2 June.

How are you exploring innovation and new ways of working?

Posted by cyndee miller on: March 28, 2021 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

2021 Jobs Outlook: Chaos, Risk—and Opportunity

Categories: Careers, Innovation, Leadership

By Cyndee Miller

We’ve been mired in the COVID muck for more than a year now. The toll on our physical and mental health can’t be understated, but we’ve also seen how it’s fundamentally altered the world of work. And even as more vaccine shots make their way into more arms, some regions and sectors will continue to feel the effects well into 2021. Yet all that uncertainty doesn’t mean project leaders are lacking job opportunities, especially as companies start to see a light.

When asked about their outlook on the global economy, 76 percent of CEOs said they believe it will improve during the next 12 months, according to PwC. This is big: That’s nearly 20 percentage points greater than the previous record high for optimism. The ManpowerGroup Q2 employment outlook survey echoed the sentiment, with 77 percent of companies expecting to return to pre-pandemic hiring levels by end of the year.

Still, the PM Network 2021 Jobs Report reveals that prospects may vary greatly by region:

Africa: After surviving its worst economic recession in half a century, Africa is projected to recover in 2021, with GDP projected to grow by 3.4 percent, according to the African Development Bank Group. But the tension between managing costs and pushing for innovation and growth can be difficult to navigate for project leaders—and their careers. “You have companies that have strategies for the new normal and related innovation investments,” says Ernesto Spruyt, founder of Tunga.io, a company in Kampala, Uganda dedicated to providing tech jobs to young Africans. “But you also have companies who try to sit it out and wait for things to go back to normal. I think the latter ones, in the end, will not prevail.”

Middle East: The pandemic’s economic toll has been exacerbated by the collapse in the price of oil, wreaking financial havoc. The lingering risks from the coronavirus and low demand for oil is ratcheting up the need for the region to diversify its economy. “The pandemic raises the importance of innovation and R&D,” says Nahlah Alyamani, PMI-RMP, PMP, PgMP, planning lead for the Eastern hub, Health Holding Co., Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Europe: Fears of a so-called third wave of COVID cases across Europe is dousing hope for a return to job market normalcy. While the economic pain varies and hiring may not have fully rebounded, look to jobs in knowledge-intensive sectors, like financial services and telecom. And there’s no denying the mass move to ecommerce. “I have noticed a huge spike for project managers in the digital space because of the pandemic,” says Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP, head of portfolio management transformation, DWP Digital, Newcastle, England. “Many digital projects have been accelerated and require a larger number of resources.”

United States: It wasn’t pretty: The world’s top economy saw the worst economic contraction in its history during the second quarter of 2020. But by March of this year, the Federal Reserve was predicting GDP would increase 6.5 percent—a sharp jump from the 4.2 percent forecast made just in December. As in so many economies, the project action was driven around companies strengthening their online infrastructure and offerings to meet consumer demand, says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago. And that means they’re on the prowl for project talent with serious digital chops.

Latin America: One of the last regions to be hit by the pandemic, Latin America is likely to also be one of the last to exit, according to S&P Global. While economic fates vary across the region, a proven track record with managing virtual teams, leading digital transformations or change management can all set candidates apart in an otherwise crowded talent pool, says Gustavo Pastrana, PMP, senior manager in global banking software, Diebold Nixdorf, Mexico City, Mexico.

China: It was the country’s slowest expansion in decades—but it was still the only major economy to grow in 2020. “China’s job market as a whole has basically returned to normal,” said Frank Fu, founder and chairman of Shanghai Changeway Management Consulting Co., Shanghai. Project leaders looking for new opportunities should check out healthcare, insurance and online education.

India: While India’s unemployment surged during the pandemic, numbers are turning around. The country’s growing digital economy is bolstering job opportunities, with online retail and last-mile delivery services seeing an ongoing spike in 2021, and insurance and healthcare maintaining an organic growth in demand. “This is a period of radical change for businesses as new definitions of work, agility and project management emerge,” says Vidhya Abhijith, PMP, a Future 50 leader and co-founder of Codewave Technologies, Bengaluru. “Organizations are embracing a future work environment that looks like a thriving social network, with smaller groups of people connected online and moving ideas into reality.”

With such great flux across sectors and geographic regions, some project leaders are looking for safety and sticking with their current companies. But others are considering new opportunities in a time of massive change.

Project leaders need to examine their personal appetites for risk, says Lindsay Scott, co-founder of Arras People, a U.K. recruiting firm focused on project talent. “People are seeing different pockets of opportunity that wouldn’t have been existing right now if we’d not had this year of a pandemic,” she told Projectified on a jobs outlook episode. “If you’re more inclined to take a few more risks, perhaps now really is the right time.”

How are you balancing risk and opportunity as you map out your 2021 career plan?

Posted by cyndee miller on: March 22, 2021 04:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

International Women’s Day: A Time for Celebration—and Reflection

By Cyndee Miller

This is normally the day where I’d write a post extolling all the amazing things that female project leaders are doing. And there’s certainly plenty to celebrate. Those women you see in the video above are leading the way in everything from space exploration and AI to healthcare and renewables. So let’s start with a simple note of recognition: Bravo!

But I’d be remiss not to also acknowledge a fundamental reality: The pandemic has taken an enormous toll on working women. A UN report found that while the unpaid workloads for both men and women have increased, women are bearing more of the burden. And according to a recent study by McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, senior-level women in the U.S. are far more likely than their male counterparts to feel burned out, exhausted and under pressure to work more.

Asked whether that aligned with her experience, Kat Megas, PMP, was blunt: “Yes, yes and yes,” she says on an upcoming episode of the Projectified® podcast.

And while she says she’s been “very encouraged” by peers and the organizations she’s worked for, there’s still some work ahead, says Megas, a program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in McLean, Virginia, USA.

Megas outlines a situation that I think every single female leader—particularly those in male-dominated fields—has experienced at some point: Your idea is met by a sea of confused looks until a colleague says the same thing—and it’s lauded as a brilliant idea.

She puts it down to different communication styles—that women try to bring people along and pose ideas “as a question and something to be thought through so that the whole team can come on board.”

It’s a fair point and one that some teams are even looking to technology to solve. UK global creative agency AnalogFolk saw that women often choose wording that makes them sound passive. So the agency developed a tool called BigUp.AI that uses natural language processing and machine learning to analyze blocks of text and offer users more powerful wording. It’s impressive stuff—earning it a slot on the PMI Most Influential Projects social good top 10 list.

But Megas rightly points out that she and other women shouldn’t have to do all the adjusting.

“I don’t want to have to change who I am to fit into the mold. I like the way I approach things. I like the fact that I am a consensus builder. I like the fact that I think I have the right answer, but I will always be open to a broader discussion,” she says. “I would like to think that that would be a world where one day that would not be perceived as being indecisive or not being willing to take leadership or make the decision, and there would just be a recognition for different styles.”

This is about respect. And the differences are felt even more deeply among Black women in the U.S. They were the least likely among all respondent groups to report feeling like a valued member of their team, that they were being treated with respect and that there's a climate of fair treatment among coworkers, according to a Gallup survey conducted late last year.

At the same time, the COVID crisis has highlighted the emergence of a new female force in leadership, according to two speakers at the Brightline [email protected] conference last November. And they pointed to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“One of the characteristics and attributes of what we’ve been seeing from women taking on those leadership and authority positions is decisiveness. Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand—obviously, incredibly decisive with a lockdown very early,” said Kit Krugman, head of organization and culture design at Co:collective.

“There is fierce resolve. There is decisiveness. There’s this determination coupled with the sense of relating to what others are going through—that empathy—that really seems to speak to people at this moment in time,” said Vince Molinaro, PhD, CEO and founder of Leadership Contract.

“It’s exciting to see just great leadership—full stop. And the fact that it happens to be a lot of women in political roles or political leaders, running our countries, is no coincidence. It’s great to see that playing out, and there’s lots to learn from what they’re doing. It’s just great to see how they’re managing the complexity of our times.”

How are you seeing women rising to these complex times?

Posted by cyndee miller on: March 08, 2021 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Race to the Red Planet—And Why Mars Matters

Categories: Disruption, Innovation

by Cyndee Miller

Like most kids, I was obsessed with space. The thought of wandering the solar system blew my wee little mind. That sense of sheer wonderment hasn’t diminished—I’m a space geek for life. And there’s certainly been plenty to pique our interest. Look no further than PMI’s 2020 top 10 list for Most Influential Projects in space. And now there’s a new space race among the earthlings. Last July, Earth and Mars aligned at their closest points in two years—and space agencies around the world jumped at the chance to explore the Red Planet. Following successful launches last July, spacecrafts from China, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are all now officially checking out Earth’s closest neighbor. Another mission, ExoMars by the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos, aimed to join the action but ran into delays and must now wait for the next opportune planetary alignment in 2022.

Following seven or so months of travel, the UAE’s first interplanetary spacecraft, Hope, and China’s Tianwen-1 were already exploring the Marian orbit by mid-February—and sending back amazing pictures of volcanoes and other features.  And so it was that last Thursday I found myself cranking Bowie’s Life on Mars? and watching NASA’s Perseverance make its amazing touchdown. Entry, descent and landing is often dubbed the “seven minutes of terror” because of the precision required—and Perseverance was headed to “the most challenging Martian terrain ever targeted,” according to NASA. But the rover landed—and now even has its own Twitter feed. (Hobbies: Photography, collecting rocks, off-roading.) China’s space agency plans to place its lander and rover later this year.

Some might question the wisdom of investing all these dollars, dirham, euros and yuan into such an esoteric pursuit, especially in the middle of a pandemic and one of the worst economic meltdowns of the past century. NASA alone estimates it spent roughly US$2.4 billion to build and launch Perseverance.

It’s a fair question, although awfully short-sighted. And it also overlooks all the benefits space exploration can bring to life here on good old Earth.

NASA estimates more than 1,600 innovations grew out of the Apollo space program—changing the trajectory on everything from mattresses to mobile phone cameras. (There’s a reason it came in at number 3 on PMI’s list of Most Influential Projects of the past 50 years.) And the Mars program is no slouch, either. Just one example: Autonomous navigation on the planet requires complex neural networks and deep learning algorithms—tech the space agency says can also be used here on Earth in cars, drones and toys.

And it doesn’t stop there. Along with its trip to Mars, NASA is ready to embark on the first foray into extraterrestrial construction, joining forces with U.S. construction tech firm Icon, U.S. startup SEArch+  and Danish architecture hotshots Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The goal for Project Olympus is to develop a space-based construction system for creating small cities—complete with landing pads, habitats and roads—on the moon and eventually Mars. But all that pioneering of new frontiers “materially, technologically and environmentally” may also help advance construction on Earth, too, said Bjarke Ingels, BIG founder and creative director. “The answers to our challenges on Earth very well might be found on the moon.”

At the same time, we have a slew of private companies— SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic—plotting out the business of space tourism. Now that coffeemaker Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency figured out how to make zero-gravity espresso, I’m good to go.

Do I expect to be packing my bags for an interplanetary trip anytime soon? Nah. For right now, though, the Mars missions spark new ways of thinking—a much-needed dose of joy and astonishment to an exhausted humankind. And that’s some impressive ROI.

What do you think of the Mars projects? Can they help teams here on Earth deliver more innovation?

Posted by cyndee miller on: February 22, 2021 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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