Project Management

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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Soma Bhattacharya
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Recent Posts

How Can We Keep Project Conflict in Check?

A Roadmap for Continuous Learning

The Power of Agile Team Cohesion

What Qualities Do the Best Project Managers Have?

The Power of Pauses and Silence

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Viewing Posts by Soma Bhattacharya

How Can We Keep Project Conflict in Check?

Categories: Agile

By Soma Bhattacharya

Conflict is an inevitable companion in the realm of project management. It can arise from differing stakeholder interests, resource constraints or communication breakdowns—and how it's managed can make or break a project's success. Understanding the intricacies of conflict management within project management is crucial for effective leadership and achieving desired outcomes.

According to a study by Thomas and Kilmann (1974), conflict in project management can be categorized into five modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. Understanding how individuals approach conflict resolution is essential for project managers to navigate through challenging situations effectively. This can be initiated simply and can be scaled up as required depending on the complexity and root cause of the conflicts.

One of the findings from the research reveals that projects characterized by constructive conflict resolution mechanisms tend to exhibit higher levels of team cohesion, creativity and, ultimately, project success.

How do we keep conflict in check in today’s environment?

  1. Governance model of the project: The setting up of the model allows stakeholders and their roles to be defined in detail, along with details of how its run. The governance model is vast; however, the basics can outline a regular communication cadence, operations reviews, and parameters to set up escalation calls or meetings. Details mapped to the project’s operation and expectations might be one of the stepping stones to create clarity and foster healthy discussions that can lead to less conflicts.
  2. Team culture: I have always believed one of the differences between a highly effective team and one that’s isn’t is the team’s culture. We all know how strong team dynamics can help a team perform better. While it’s a challenge if teams are distributed, we can definitely build strong culture for all teams to encourage trust and team bonding. While this doesn’t guarantee zero conflicts, it does ensure that differences of opinion are better handled and understood. A safe environment where everyone really opens up in a retrospective is more welcome than a team that keeps things bottled up—which is a disaster waiting to happen.
  3. Role of the project manager: Effective conflict management can drive better innovation and originality. While challenging, simple things like keeping a strong, detailed, output-oriented agenda for meetings; publishing and looking for resolutions when there are conflicts or uncertainty in decisions to look for common ground; being objective and aligned to the project goals; reminders on why we are together with catchups or lunches; and maintaining a platform to access project details, updates and communication all might be good ways to keep everyone in sync and informed on the everyday details of the project. A skilled PM in any project might be the key to ensuring better conflict management.

The bottom line is always to foster open communication channels, because prevention is better than cure.

As Dr. Stephen R. Covey aptly puts it, "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." Embracing conflict as a catalyst for innovation and collaboration is the hallmark of exceptional project management.

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: May 16, 2024 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Governance Models: The Secret to Successful Agile Projects

By Soma Bhattacharya

Everyone associates stand-ups and retrospectives with the agile way of doing things. Yet very few
give credit to the governance model that needs to be set up to ensure things are working. This isn’t
just about keeping the project running, but also to ensure:


1. Alignment with objectives: A well-thought-out governance model aligns with the project’s goals,
expectations and outcomes. A good way to look at the objectives and their success is to compare the
planned versus delivered features on a quarterly basis. Conduct retrospectives at the project level on
the spillovers, misses and root cause analysis for defects coming in—and what can be done to ensure
the objectives are still met. 


2. Decision making: When there’s clarity built into the governance model, it helps enable quick
decisions that are required in the everchanging market (often with shifting priorities) to deliver a
project. This can range from the prioritization required for “big room” planning when a new quarter
starts, or decisions for the sales and marketing of the product (and what the minimum viable product
is).


3. Risk management: When potential issues need addressing or help from stakeholders, the
governance model helps with risk management, too. During most regular meetings that are set up
over the period of the project, risk management issues are brought up and resolved to ensure the
project is still on schedule. These are very high-level, complex risks that would need the interference
of the stakeholders to get things done. This could mean bringing in a new vendor, looking into SLAs
or simply bringing in new teams and budget approvals to get something done.


4. Resource allocation: To deliver a high-quality product, resource allocation is essential—in
particular, “getting the right ones” from across teams in the organization. While adding more team
members might need to go through approvals with project stakeholders and sponsors, resource
allocation could also entail temporarily moving teams from one product to another to get things
moving and to maintain timelines.


5. Stakeholder engagement: The governance model defines the roles and responsibilities of the
project and allows for better communication and collaboration among stakeholders. This could range
from multiple ways of sharing the governance updates (like formal emails and reports), to the sharing
of a tool dashboard (to give an overview that anyone can look into at any point in time). What this
ensures is the right level of engagement can be requested based on the requirements.


6. Performance monitoring: This can include key performance metrics, ensuring the data is
available to make the decisions, and also to look at continuous improvements. Most teams and
projects these days have tools and dashboards that are automated and generate the required
performance reports. The reports can be made specific based on what information needs to be
dispersed—from delegations to check-ins, everything can be made available to monitor project
wellness.

What does your team or project do when defining the governance model?

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: January 18, 2024 10:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Do You Have the Courage to Break the Process?

Categories: Agile

By Soma Bhattacharya

The entire purpose of creating a process is to ensure that the roadmap is followed. Everything is supposed to unfold as planned and predicted. 

But following the status quo has always been a problem for me, because we should have the courage to break it when we know it can be done better. In most cases we don’t, because that’s how we are mentally wired. 

Why do we follow the regular path? Why do we never think of breaking the process? I recently read the book The Pathless Path: Imagining a New Story for Work and Life by Paul Millerd, and that led me to believe that there are people who are questioning the status quo (of course, the percentage is very low, but still there). 

Process in most organizations or teams is something that, once determined, is just part of the routine. Numbers and reports come up every month, but no one takes the time to actually look at and question them. When that’s the path we take, the meaning of every ceremony or sync-up or meeting gets lost. Now we just do them because we are supposed to. 

So, does the process really lead you anywhere? Self-discovery? Team bonding? Dynamic teamwork? Better thinking? If the answer is no, it’s time to change the process.

Process for me triggers thinking. So instead of looking into the “tasks to get done” every day, do you want to replace it with something else? Maybe look at team deliverables with detailed data? When you run a team survey, do you want to include sensitive questions like, “Are you experiencing burnout?” And instead of pushing back the evitable, we try to create a system that allows everyone to develop insights into their own (and the team’s) performance. 

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Replace the standard three daily standup questions with better questions, so the work you do is acknowledged. Focus on the work done as much as you focus on what needs to get done.

  2. Team retrospectives can be done with anonymous surveys to bring out better inputs that actually improve team health. Remember, happier teams = better outputs.

  3. During planning, look at how much churn happens every sprint, and why. What can be done to reduce it? Is any rework taking a toll on teams?

  4. Encourage everyone to question the planning, and come up with better plans (especially the newcomers—they need to feel engaged and listened to).

  5. Don’t be afraid to bring in a new way of thinking or planning if it works for everyone. 

Agile is for everyone, not just for team leads and domain experts. When everyone participates, they feel included and acknowledged—and the process brings out the best.          

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: September 07, 2023 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Triads in Agile: The Path to Efficient Decision Making

Categories: Agile

By Soma Bhattacharya

When it comes to working on larger projects that combine multiple teams spread across locations with a tight timeline, formalizing a triad is one of the easiest ways to streamline the process. While working with everyone is required in all projects, a triad can help you and your team irrespective of the role you play in the project.

The simplest things create the most impact. A triad involves bringing together the product, UX and development teams. You can change the composition of your triad based on your project and invite various functions to the core team.

Once that’s finalized, the triad is responsible for the project moving forward in a timely manner. It adds accountability at all levels and requires unanimous decision making, thus removing uncertainty and the multiple approvals that often lead to a back-and-forth dialogue.

When done at all levels, decision making in a triad takes care of strategic, tactical and operational issues for the project. To ensure that the triad is efficient at all levels (from planning to implementation), it can be created at multiple levels (from governance bodies to scrum teams). This ensures the right group is involved with making decisions.

Here are few ways to involve the triad throughout the release:

  1. Release/Big Room planning: The goal is to ensure that the triad is available at all levels for planning. This ensures that all requirements and risks are covered and ready while we initiate the project and continue with planning. For quarterly planning, triad leadership is involved to ensure requirements for the upcoming quarter are discussed beforehand—and everyone comes ready with the work done for the teams to start pulling in features and stories for the quarter.
  2. Discovery calls: These calls can help the triad come together to plan for the upcoming quarter. They can be attended by the leadership triad as well because it involves decision making on prioritizing and reviewing features like design and architecture.
  3. Team meetings: Ensuring the triad is available at the team level keeps everyone onboard and prevents unwelcome surprises. This involves the scrum team-level triad and leads to better acceptance and demos because the triad is constantly working and reviewing things together—and not waiting on last-second feedback or blockers that need discussion or escalation. These include anything from design reviews to regular standups.
  4. Retrospectives: These provide a good way to understand the pain points from everyone—and start working on them through the sprints, especially when you are constantly learning and innovating as a team (whether it’s the process or technology).

Of course, there are problems that can happen throughout, but the triad allows everyone not to just function as a team, but also feel like a team. And as we all know, happier teams can better resolve complex problems.

Do you think a triad can help your teams?

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: February 19, 2023 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Quiet Quitting—and How Agile Can Help Combat It

Categories: Agile

By Soma Bhattacharya

The phrase “quiet quitting” is all over the internet as the trend has gained in popularity over the last few years of the pandemic. The one thing you need to confront the temptation: motivation.

Motivation for today’s generation is something that’s in sync with purpose and autonomy. In one of his Instagram posts, Adam Grant—an organizational psychologist and best-selling author—says this about quiet quitting: “Doing (the) bare minimum is a common response to bull$#!* jobs, abusive bosses and low pay.”

While it may be true for some, for others it can be lack of alignment in seeing the purpose they serve within the organization. So, we might need to fix the flawed system and also highlight what’s in place.

In any agile team, most of the ceremonies always carry an inherent meaning (at least that’s what I have always stressed). Release planning or “big room planning” is about communicating the purpose, the big picture and how each team or individual comes together to contribute.

If done correctly, teams are happy to have the knowledge and prepare for it. It also allows team members to raise concerns and flex their mastery at what they are going to work for the next three months. It’s designed for social communication, bringing in multiple teams in one room or platform.

Encouraging teams to participate and normalize conflicts is a healthy practice—as long as it’s moderated and everyone is looking at the end goal. Conflicts can foster higher creativity and better solutions within teams. That in turn that will also engage individuals and negate the “quitting mentality.”

A small team brings in autonomy to a great extent and allows everyone to feel empowered, like they’re playing their part. The whole concept of limited size in scrum teams means better communication, stronger bonds and faster decision making. The bonhomie improves team harmony and creates its own culture, one that can only come together with openness and trust.

A simple initiative like buddying up, mentoring or pair programming is a common practice. Giving everyone a way to relate and connect to the big picture and to a team can also result in better learning, and an enhanced social life at work—leading to a sense of belonging, which is essential for growth and individual engagement.

Any team or organization that practices any of the above will tell you than when team participation is higher, so is the interest in coming back to the office—and that a better quality of work is a byproduct.

Often in any agile teams, we forget why we chose agile. Building a culture of trust, openness and empowerment can benefit everyone. Choosing wisely to see what needs to be changed or adapted can allow for better vision and a stronger roadmap for the team—not just for the product, but for team building. Choosing the right team imbibes a great attitude.

We must all be aware that with every generation, social change and work environments go through major shifts. So, what worked five years ago might not be the right environment post-pandemic. So, blaming the system or organizations for certain practices might not be the right choice. Understanding a team and what it wants out of work is equally important to confronting negativity. Maybe consider that change is a refreshing thing—not just for newcomers, but for management as well.

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: October 04, 2022 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
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