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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Cameron McGaughy
Lynda Bourne
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Wanda Curlee
Christian Bisson
Ramiro Rodrigues
Soma Bhattacharya
Emily Luijbregts
Sree Rao
Yasmina Khelifi
Marat Oyvetsky
Lenka Pincot
Jorge Martin Valdes Garciatorres
cyndee miller

Past Contributors:

Rex Holmlin
Vivek Prakash
Dan Goldfischer
Linda Agyapong
Jim De Piante
Siti Hajar Abdul Hamid
Bernadine Douglas
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Kelley Hunsberger
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Alfonso Bucero Torres
Marian Haus
Shobhna Raghupathy
Peter Taylor
Joanna Newman
Saira Karim
Jess Tayel
Lung-Hung Chou
Rebecca Braglio
Roberto Toledo
Geoff Mattie

Recent Posts

How To Establish Your Credibility as a Project Manager in a New Environment

Are Project Managers Salespeople?

The Planning Paradox

Project Management: Talent or Skill?

Project Management Is The Great Equalizer

What’s In Your Return-To-Work Contract?

During the long duration of the pandemic, each of us had to shift our work/life balance. We had to curate a new workday schedule, perhaps adding more flexibility to support multiple needs between work and family. A changing focus with customer and colleague engagement, repurposing commuting time, tending to family needs, caring for those affected by COVID-19, and supporting relief efforts are just some of the changes we had to adapt to. The pandemic forced each of us to make personal and conscious ethical decisions on the tradeoffs, but most have of us have set into a new work/life balance.

After almost 20 months, the world is deploying COVID-19 vaccines under health authorities like the U.S. FDA and Europe’s EMA, who have expanded access protocol for emergency use. The world is hopefully on a trajectory toward a post-pandemic world. Many organizations have established their return-to-work policies, criteria, and expectations of colleagues. One may observe a continuum of return-to-work guidelines built by organizations as a highly collaborative model focused on high-touch customer experience, an innovation-driven design model, or task-based transactional work. Each organization is calling to us to spend some time back in the office or in front of our stakeholders.

How does this affect us, and what do we do to prepare? Our choices can be to simply go back to a pre-pandemic “normal”; stay in the work-from-home pandemic style; or re-engage in a post-pandemic style. Regarding this last choice, we should consider how to maneuver ourselves into a post-pandemic style while still maintaining the agility of working from home. This disruption to our current way of working creates a sense of stress and anxiety as it asks us to re-engage. One must re-learn and adapt to new behaviors and approaches.

One opportunity to be better prepared may be to create a personal contract for the post-pandemic work world. The contract can be a statement or a list of priorities. Here are some tips that I will use to help make the transition better and reset myself:

  1. Revisit what you and your colleagues are professionally devoted toward, and why.
  2. Curate the difference of a workday at home versus in the office (or traveling).
  3. Coordinate specific dates and times for in-person versus virtual meetings.
  4. Make lunch plans with newly hired colleagues.
  5. Start a back-to-work focus group to help facilitate colleagues’ transition back.
  6. Be clear about your constraints on social distancing, work hours, and time off.
  7. Schedule healthy eating times, sleeping and exercise habits, family needs, etc.
  8. Identify your new peeves and triggers; be mindful of behavioral changes (from both you and your colleagues).
  9. Start a journal and chronicle your path and learnings.
  10. Remember: Everyone has a different path—but together we will get through it!

What would your list include to enable a post-pandemic transition back to work?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 20, 2021 12:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

3 Tips for Avoiding the Single Point of Failure

Categories: Agile, Best Practices, Teams

By Christian Bisson

In this article, I refer to “a single point of failure” as the situation when a company utilizes someone with unique expertise/knowledge that no one else has, or is the only one who does a particular task. By having these single points of failure within a team, you risk facing problems if that person becomes unavailable—or even worse, just isn’t part of the team anymore.

Fortunately, there are various ways to mitigate this!

1. Rotate roles within the team

There are several tasks that often fall by default on the scrum master or the “nice guy’s” shoulder. A good example is sharing a screen so everyone can see the backlog for a planning or a refinement session, or sharing the board in a daily scrum (if it’s not physical).

If that person is not there, then the meeting becomes less effective because the logistics (using Jira, screen sharing, etc.) is not necessarily well known by everyone.

By having a rotation system (by random name picking, for example), these tasks are eventually done by everyone and all can be efficient doing it eventually; therefore, the team doesn’t become dependent on a single person to know simple things like updating the story points of a ticket using Jira. 

I once came across a team that couldn’t do its own planning without the scrum master sharing the screen and going step by step with them, and it had been doing it for several months!

2. Conduct knowledge transfer sessions

This can be done in many ways, but I’ve seen a lot of teams planning a weekly knowledge transfer session, where each time someone presents something to the others (a new tool, something they just coded, etc.). Another good way for developers to share knowledge is for them to code pair. That way, the code itself is known by two people instead of just one; throw in peer reviews on top of that and you will be in better shape if someone leaves or is on vacation.

The idea is to avoid having only one person knowing something; always aim for a minimum of two people. If you want to identify gaps, there is always the classic “lottery winner” scenario you can use, which is to keep in mind that it’s possible for someone to win the lottery and therefore become unavailable without notice. Although it might seem unlikely, the idea is to ask yourself: For every member of the team, what would be the impact if that happened?

3. Rotate members among teams

This practice is debated, but I feel it’s a good way to make sure the knowledge is properly spread. The idea here is to have a rotation system of team members among the teams. This practice is questioned by some, who will argue that to be effective, teams need to be stable—and changing it will make it regress to the “forming” stage.

That is indeed important to keep in mind when thinking about how/when the rotation will occur, but in the long run, people will be accustomed to working in all the various teams—and also be knowledgeable in all the different pieces each team takes care of. This gives a much higher flexibility depending on deliverables/vacations/etc., and lowers the risk of losing knowledge on something within the organization.

What tips do you recommend?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: July 02, 2021 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Plan for the Velocity of Change to Keep Increasing!

Plan for the velocity of change to keep increasing

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D., M.B.A.

Today, developments in emerging technology, business processes and digital experiences are accelerating larger transformation initiatives. Moore’s Law means that we have access to exponentially better computing capabilities. Growth is further fueled by technologies such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, Internet of Things (IoT) and more across industries.

Emerging Tech
The global IT industry is valued at $5.3 trillion in 2020 and is poised to grow 6.2 percent by 2021, according to tech market research firm IDC. Emerging technology like augmented reality and robotics will make up an increasing share of that growth.

Business Process Maturity
Organizations are improving the maturity of their business processes. They’re doing this by automating tasks, eliminating them, improving performance or finding the lowest-cost way to perform a task. Organizations are connecting with experts to collaborate across a wider network of colleagues. This enables strategies to be integrated across the value chain to quickly drive business outcomes.

According to market research group IMARC, automation and the IoT are driving growth in business process management (BPM); the BPM market is expected to grow at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate between 2020 and 2025.

Customer Experience
In addition, having a formidable customer experience strategy can make the difference between customers choosing your brand or your competitors in 2020. That’s according to Core dna, a digital experience platform vendor.

Customer experience is redefining business processes and digitizing the consumption model to increase brand equity. Gartner reports that among marketing leaders who are responsible for customer experience, 81 percent say their companies will largely compete on customer experience in two years. However, only 22 percent have developed experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Economic Forces
Lastly, the potential for cash flow growth remains high in 2020, despite economic risks, according to the U.S. Corporate Credit Outlook 2020. This will likely lead to capital investments and a fair portion of companies funding transformational projects.

The Way Forward
While transformations have evolved, they encapsulate the way we think and operate. Old methods may seem encumbering and administratively difficult, creating bureaucracy and delays in decision making. The challenge is the velocity of change, which is very disruptive to organizations.

I’ve developed a few guidelines to help navigate this change:

  • Work with an agile mindset.
  • Fail often and fast to ultimately filter out winning initiatives.
  • Define the cultural attributes that propel staff and colleagues to succeed on their endeavors.

Change is now inherent and pervasive in the annual planning process for organizations. Given that, I like to ask: What is the plan to prepare staff and colleagues to compete in this hyper-transformation age?

What observations have you made to keep up with this new era’s velocity of change?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: February 13, 2020 04:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

3 Keys to Success for a Global Project Practitioner

By Conrado Morlan

As a project management practitioner, I’ve been lucky enough to deploy programs and projects across the Americas, supported by teams in South Asia and Europe.

Working on those assignments enriched my multicultural background and helped me learn and become proficient in Portuguese. But as I’ve learned throughout my career, language is just the tip of the iceberg.

Based on my personal experiences, here are three key areas of focus I recommend that practitioners consider before, during and even after their next global assignment:

  1. Gain Cultural Awareness

It is imperative that global project management professionals understand an individual's personal, national and organizational cultures, so they can better align the team and gain greater influence.

Learn about the country’s culture—do your research and find out similarities and differences. Include cultural differences as one of the topics on the agenda of the kick-off meeting. Use that time as an open forum for everyone to share and record their cultural experiences. Keep those cultural experiences in a repository with documents and useful video clips that can be later used to induct new team members.

Cultural awareness is a skill that should be developed and mastered. Incorporating a cultural differences exercise establishes respect and empathy for diverse values and behaviors, which in turn creates an open and accepting team environment.

  1. Embrace the Chinese Army Approach

As a global project management professional, you may worry about resource planning. Resources may not be your direct reports, meaning you don’t have control over their schedules.

Instead of struggling, apply the Chinese army approach: Imagine you have unlimited resources available. Assume you have resources with the right skills who can be assigned to the different roles in your project. Do not worry yet about assigning names to the roles.

You may find that the roles can’t be filled with internal resources because of a lack of required skills or capacity, so your solution may be to outsource resources.

To complement the approach, you’ll need to adapt and remaster communication and negotiation skills, which will help you get the best resources.

  1. Be SMART

The project management profession now goes beyond just managing projects. The profession helps to achieve business objectives and explore new ways to lead, execute and deliver. Technical expertise in project management is not enough; global project management practitioners must adopt a business-oriented approach.

My suggestion is to become SMART. The SMART concept includes a portfolio of skills the global project management practitioner must master to meet the needs of the organization in the coming years.

Being SMART means you are:

  • StrategicDemonstrate an understanding of the organization’s business goals to help it get ahead of the competition.
  • MindfulDevelop cultural awareness and leadership styles to influence and inspire multicultural and multigenerational project teams. Foster strong relationships across the organization’s business functions.
  • AgileBusiness strategy is not static and is frequently impacted by internal and external factors. Projects will need to be adjusted to remain aligned with the business strategy, so embrace change.
  • ResilientRemain committed and optimistic. Demonstrate integrity when realigning or repairing projects facing hardships because of miscommunication and problematic behaviors, as well as cross-cultural issues and conflicts.
  • Transparent. Whether the project is in good shape or facing challenges, the status needs to be shared promptly with relevant parties.

To become SMARTer, global project management professionals need to continually strive for excellence and master new skills to support professional growth and help the organization achieve its business strategy.
 

If you’ve been exposed to global programs or projects, what advice would you offer to other practitioners?

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: November 20, 2019 09:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Lessons Learned From an Inspiring AI Project

By Christian Bisson

When I was asked to write about a project that inspired me in the last 50 years, I didn’t have to look back further than last year. That’s when I had the chance to act as scrum master for a newly formed team.

The Challenge

We had seven weeks to build software from scratch that would be demonstrated at a conference and used by hundreds of people. Since the conference was centered on artificial intelligence, it was mandatory that our demo used AI. Our idea was a game where the player spelled words using real sign language. The game was displayed on a television hooked up to a camera, which filmed the player’s hand.

The hand’s position was then recognized and matched to a letter of the alphabet. The player received points based on the speed at which he was spelling the words displayed on the screen.

The Team

We had a great team composed of two developers, a designer, two AI researchers, a product owner and me (scrum master). Our small, dedicated team would empower us to deliver the software we needed to build from A to Z.

Although concerned about the short time available, everyone was motivated and excited to build this amazing software, knowing the visibility it would get.

How We Would Work

Since the scope wasn’t fully defined and the user experience was key, we needed to deliver usable increments to test. We needed a framework that would allow us to deliver quickly and adjust to the requirements as they were refined. Scrum was the obvious choice, even though most of the team was completely new to it. The majority of the team came from a software background, so they knew what it was on paper. However, for the AI researchers, it was completely unknown.

Where it All Came Together

Many start off with the team they need, but then obstacles come their way and prevent them from moving forward. These could be anything from unavailable stakeholders to people being pulled off the team to poor requirements.

However, in this case, it was everything you would want from agility/scrum:

  • A team collaborating together without anyone coordinating them
  • Busy stakeholders making themselves available for us to collaborate
  • Everyone following scrum, even though it was new to them
  • The team working at a sustainable pace
  • A usable increment of the game delivered every sprint
  • Continuous improvement through the retrospectives
  • A healthy backlog that was properly refined by the team

It was amazing to see the collaboration when we needed users to test; after a quick Slack message to everyone in the company, we would suddenly have a lineup of people available to play the game.

 

What Inspired Me

When I think back on our success, all I remember are the people working together to create something great. It wasn’t even about being “agile.” For the team it was, “Let’s get this done!” and for everyone who supported us, it was “Let’s help our colleagues!” There was nothing more, nothing less—exactly how it should be.

 

I’d love to hear about the most inspiring project you’ve worked on in your career. Please share below!

Posted by Christian Bisson on: November 13, 2019 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)
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