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

Recent Posts

A Scrum Master’s Duty

Avoid the Internal Project Trap

Take Advantage of the Talent Gap

Project Success Buzzwords: Are These the Same?

Understanding Expert Judgment

A Scrum Master’s Duty

Categories: Agile, Teams

by Christian Bisson, PMP

A scrum master is an essential part of an agile team. However, it seems their role is often underestimated or misunderstood. In this article I’m hoping I can shed some light on the value they bring.

A scrum master is an essential part of an agile team. However, it seems their role is often underestimated or misunderstood. In this article I’m hoping I can shed some light on the value they bring.

How People See Them

Here’s what I’ve heard over time:

Elves of happiness

Since scrum masters want teams to perform well, they want to make sure team members are happy. That sometimes makes others think that all scrum masters are trying to do is to make everyone happy without an actual purpose behind it.

Coordinators

Since scrum masters often talk to the team and gather information about the status of a project, they are often mistaken for coordinators—people tasked with giving a status report to the product owner or taking notes during meetings.

Useless

Some people simply have no clue what scrum masters do, thinking they are an overhead that could be removed without any impact because they don’t actually “produce” anything.

What They Actually Do

Help teams grow

One of the scrum master’s main tasks is to educate the team with agile principles, but also to help the team become self-sufficient. In a way, their main duty is to actually become useless as the team becomes more mature.

Scrum masters can do so by sharing agile knowledge and by coaching teams as they go through retrospectives where the team is motivated to talk about how they can improve.

Facilitate anything

There are so many different roadblocks that can reduce a team’s efficiency—whether it’s poorly defined requirements, inefficient meetings, lack of documentation or communication, or conflicts. A scrum master can help tackle anything that might slow down the team.

Keep the focus on the right place

Not being hands-on in projects allows scrum masters to have a different point of view that allows them to re-focus teams when needed. Whether it’s toward the developers and their commitment to the sprint, or product owners and their focus on a product’s vision, scrum masters make sure to remind everyone where their effort should go.

 

It can be hard to quantify a scrum master’s usefulness since they do not actually produce deliverables. But having experienced an agile project both with and without a scrum master, I can vouch for their role. They bring so much on a day-to-day basis to the teams they work with, which in turn brings quality products to clients.

Have you experienced working with scrum masters? What do you think is most important about their roles? 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: August 11, 2017 04:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Checklist for Shared Outcomes

By Peter Tarhanidis

I was recently assigned to transform a procurement team into one that managed outsourcing partnerships. I realized the team was very disengaged, leaving the strategy up to me to define. There was no buy-in. The team and the partnerships were sure to fail.

But I was determined to make the team successful. For me, this meant it would be accountable for managing thriving partnerships and delivering superior outcomes.

To get things back on track, I had to first get alignment on goals. Setting shared goals can help to shape collaborative and accountable teams that produce desired outcomes.

Establishing goal alignment can be a difficult leadership challenge; however, leaders must gather the needs of all stakeholders and analyze their importance to achieve the desired organization outcome.

I often use this checklist to tackle this challenge:

  1. Set shared goals in consensus with teams to motivate them to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Link shared goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Integrate goals into individual and project performance reviews to drive accountability.
  4. Measure KPIs to keep teams on track.

I used this checklist during the procurement team project and it helped to reset and reinvigorate the team. Once we aligned around shared goals, team collaboration increased and the organization started to achieve the targeted business benefits.

If you’ve used a checklist like this before, where have you stumbled and how did you turn it around?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 18, 2017 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Leaders exert influence for success

By Peter Tarhanidis

Whenever I’m in a leadership role I try to be sensitive to the level of influence I gain, retain and lose. Influence is a precious commodity for a leader. And it can be disastrous if you lose your team or if tensions arise that reduce one’s effectiveness to achieve a goal.

I recall one of my client assignments where the goal was to ensure a successful integration of a complex merger and acquisition. The team had slipped on dates, missed key meetings and there were no formalized milestones.

I set up casual meetings to discuss with each member what would motivate them to participate. One clear signal was that management had changed the acquisition date several times. This disengaged the team due to false starts that took time away from other priorities.

During the sponsor review, I reported there was a communication breakdown and that no one shared this effort as a priority. At that point, the sponsor could have used his position of power to pressure everyone to do their part. However, the sponsor did not want to come off as autocratic.

Instead, he asked if I would be willing to find an alternative approach to get the team’s buy in.

I realized my influence was low, but I wanted to help improve the outcome for this team. So I talked again with each team member to negotiate a common approach with the goal to be integration-ready without having an exact date.

Ultimately, our goal was to have all milestones met while a smaller core team could later remain to implement the integration when management announced the final date.

A leader uses influence as part of the process to communicate ideas, gain approval and motivate colleagues to implement the concepts through changes to the organization. 

In many cases, success increases as a leaders exert influence over others to find a shared purpose.

Tell me, which creates your best outcomes as a leader: influencing others through power or through negotiation?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: May 31, 2017 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

A Recurring Interview Process Ensures a Good Fit

Great preparation goes into identifying the right project manager for the job—including determining the project’s delivery complexity, defining the role profile, selecting interview questions and validating professional certifications.

 

However, the interview process shouldn’t end once the new project manager is hired. A recurring interview process ensures project managers remain a good fit. It also helps showcase a project manager’s capabilities to instill confidence among leadership groups, stakeholders and team members—especially if elements drastically change, as they are wont to do.

 

Not every project manager is a good fit for every project. Original assumptions that lead to the initial acquisition of a project manager may not hold true as the project progresses. And poor outcomes often result from hasty decisions to get a project manager on-boarded as quickly as possible to start a project within a desired timeframe.

 

Here are three questions that not only ascertain the health of a project, but also the fit of the project manager. Depending on the outcome, you may choose to retain the project manager or replace them with someone who is a better fit.


 

1. Where are we now? 

Being able to confidently articulate and identify the true position of a project and the recent progress velocity to get to that position is a foundation of project management success. Failure to know where the project currently resides puts future progress at risk.    

 

Assisting the project manager in this determination of project position includes schedule and budget performance metrics, resource availability, dependencies, risk, issues and other inorganic position indicators. In addition, a project manager should be able to organically identify the “so what” implications and potential remedies required to create a three-dimensional view of project progress.

 

2. Where will we be in six weeks?

An old adage says that a point shows a current position, two points make a line and three points make a trend. Project managers should be constantly triangulating their project trajectory from their current position. If they can’t, they’re putting the project’s finish in jeopardy.

 

This six-week timeframe means a project manager can have a clear vision of the visible road ahead, but isn’t so far where they have to speculate well beyond a reasonable horizon.

 

Use of predictive quantitative methods and tools and prior project experience can help a project manager confidently state where the project is headed.

 

3. What changed from the original project scope? 

Change is constant. It takes many forms and has diverse impacts. Additions or revisions of functional requirements, technical requirements, different implementation approaches, new expectations, supplier complexity, unfunded mandates and other events make up the aggregate, ever-changing landscape of a project.  

 

While the project manager does his or her best to control identification, processing and action around changes, in some cases the aggregate impact of change can overwhelm.

 

In many cases, changes—such as leadership changes, new suppliers, as well as portfolio management actions that can merge existing projects—have nothing to do with the project manager’s capability. But when the depth and breadth of project change exceeds the capability of the project manager, it may be time to secure a replacement.  

 

What line of questioning might you use to ensure that a project manager continues to be a good fit for the project they were hired for? 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: April 28, 2017 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Project Manager’s Influence, Part 2

Categories: Stakeholder, Teams

by Lynda Bourne

In my last post, I discussed one of the more effective approaches for understanding team interaction: the McKinsey 7-S framework. The basic premise of framework is that there are seven internal aspects of an organization that need to be aligned for a company to succeed:  

  • Strategy: The agreed-upon approach to accomplishing the project’s objectives
  • Structure: The way the project team is organized, including who reports to whom
  • Systems: The tools, techniques, and processes used by the team to execute the strategy
  • Shared Values: The core values of the team that are evidenced in its culture and general work ethic.
  • Style: The behavior patterns of the team, how people interact, and their approaches to leadership and authority
  • Staff: The makeup of the team — “having the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great
  • Skills: The existing skills and competencies of team members

Project managers can have the most impact on style and shared values. These elements are typically set at the beginning of a project and new team members tend to adapt based on what they see from their colleagues.

Changing these elements mid-project is difficult. If you start right, the tendency will be to perpetuate the good behaviors as the team grows.

However, if you need to spur a shift, I suggest taking these steps:

  • Start with shared values. Are they consistent with your structure, strategy, and systems? If not, what needs to change and how can those changes be implemented?
  • Examine the hard elements next. How well does each one support the others? Identify where changes need to be made. The project’s objectives don’t change but everything else can be adapted (including the strategic approach) to maximize the chance of a successful delivery.
  • Finally, look at the soft elements. Do they support the desired shared values? Do they support the desired hard elements? Do they support one another? If not, what needs to change?

As you adjust and align the elements, you'll need to use an iterative approach. Make adjustments, then analyze how those changes have impacted other elements and their alignment. This may sound like hard work, but the end result of better performance will be worth it.

What are your tips for shifting your team’s style and shared?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: March 29, 2017 04:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)
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