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
Conrado Morlan
Kevin Korterud
Peter Tarhanidis
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
David Wakeman
Jen Skrabak
Mario Trentim
Shobhna Raghupathy
Roberto Toledo
Joanna Newman
Christian Bisson
Linda Agyapong
Soma Bhattacharya
Jess Tayel
Rex Holmlin
Ramiro Rodrigues
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Wanda Curlee

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Geoff Mattie
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

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Why Employees Leave Culture

by Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

Most people leave organizational cultures, not managers.

Organizational culture is defined as the collective behaviors, thoughts, norms and language of the people in the organization that signifies the "way of working." It represents the overall support system and resources of the organization. 

For example, if employees regularly start meetings late, then the culture of the organization may be to begin meetings late ("it's just the way things are"). Newcomers quickly learn this unwritten norm, and adapt to the late meetings, further propelling the status quo.   

It's important to understand that people leave organizational cultures because portfolios and programs can represent significant change to the organization—requiring new ways of working, behaviors and new operating agreements defined to support the change. However, if the organization is resistant to change—and the traditional ways of working remain—how do you change the culture?

First, let us understand why people leave the organizational culture and what we can do to model the right behaviors as leaders:

1. Misaligned Vision and Leadership

A common complaint is that there is "no perspective of where the organization is headed and not being able to see how my role fits into the bigger picture."

Leaders, starting at the top, must role model the behaviors they expect. Rather than simply talk about the vision or the strategy, they must roll up their sleeves to translate the vision very specifically and tangibly into everyone's work.

This is typically done through the strategic portfolio—employees identify with a stack ranking of strategic initiatives that communicate the most essential programs and projects of the organization. Each executive sponsor must then clearly translate the vision into day-to-day actions that the program or project is implementing. 

The strategic portfolio represents the "better state" of the targeted culture— what are the behaviors, ways of working, thinking and norms that need to be in the future. This is codified typically through team charters, operating agreements, and ground rules so that everyone on a team follows the same rules and ways of working.

2. Compromised Values, Beliefs and Increased Toxicity

When employees feel they are being coerced into doing things that don't align with their values, they will find other places to use their talents. Behaviors that result during large scale change may be burnout, rumors, and change fatigue.

Mediocrity may have been accepted as good enough, resulting in high performers, leaving the organization due to lack of challenge and opportunities. However, for those that remain, it may be difficult to absorb change since they never had to. 

As a portfolio or program leader, you don't need permission, budget or authority to start acting in ways that model high performance. Recognize and reward the right behaviors and call out the wrong behaviors. 

Growth needs to be the focus—desire is a powerful emotion—more than the fear/doubt that is often the first reaction when encountering change. The first emotion is Fear/Doubt. Left unmanaged, this can spiral into water cooler conversations, negativity and constant churn. 

However, having a growth mindset means that there are opportunities created from changing and learning new skills that can propel that organization to embrace new ways of working.

 3. Organizational Structures and Processes that Create Stagnation 

Not having structured processes that support high performance creates an environment that people leave. No one wants to stand out when something new is introduced—it's almost like a virus where the antibodies (the current organizational culture) start attacking it. There needs to be a core group of high performers that embrace and spread the targeted organizational culture across the organization.

High performers can't stand waste—wasted time in meetings, wasted use of resources, and wasted opportunities. Is the strategic portfolio management or program management office reporting to the executive leadership team level, or is it buried somewhere within the organization under a functional organization? 

Growing organizations embrace change as a constant and adopt a growth mindset. 

A growth mindset means that the organization is continually learning and sees change as an opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences. Rather than sit back and accept the status quo, we seek out how to design and build the change rather than be just the recipient of the change. Thoughts and mindset ultimately translate into behavior. Motivation and attitude are skills that are just as important as the technical portfolio or program management skills and can be developed over time. 

How are you developing your growth mindset?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: September 22, 2019 12:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Follow These 3 Steps to Validate a Variance

By Lynda Bourne

As you may know, any monitoring and control process has three components. The first is establishing a baseline that you plan to achieve, the second is comparing actual progress to the plan to see if there are any differences, and the third is taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective actions fix existing problems, while preventative actions stop problems from occurring in the future.

This post looks at the middle phase. Before taking action to bring performance into alignment with the plan, make sure the variance you are seeing in the control systems is real. Corrective and preventative actions take time and usually involve costs, and there is no point in expending effort where it is not needed. 

The variance is the difference between two imprecise elements: the planned state and the actual situation. The plan is based on estimates and assumptions made some time ago about what may occur in the future. All plans and estimates have a degree of error built in; it is impossible to precisely predict the future of a complex system such as a project. Similarly, the measurement of the actual situation is prone to observational errors; key data may be missing or the situation misinterpreted.

So how do you decide if the measured variance is real and significant enough to warrant corrective action? I suggest considering the following:

1. Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?

2. Is the variance significant?

3. Is a solution viable?

Let’s explore these in depth.

 

Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
If a cost report says there is a profit of US$10,000 in a work package where you expected to see a loss, there’s a high probability some of the actual costs have been missed. It’s likely either your expectations were misplaced or the measurements contain data errors. You need to resolve this question before moving on. When the variance and your expectations agree, you can be reasonably confident the information as measured is correct.

Try looking at a couple of different monitoring systems, such as cost and time. Do the two systems correlate, or are they giving you very different information on the same group of activities? If they correlate, perhaps your expectations are misplaced. If they are giving you different information, there may be data errors.

Is the variance significant?
Next, look at the significance of the difference. Point measurements are prone to error simply because you have to assume a lot. For example, you may be sure a 10-day activity has started, and equally sure it has not been completed. But if the work is about half done should you record it 40%, 50% or 60% compete?   

If the predicted slippage on the completion date for a key milestone over a series of reports is bouncing around, any single measurement within the noise factor is likely to be insignificant.

Trends, on the other hand, highlight issues. Sensible control systems have range statements that indicate the variance is too small to worry about if it is inside the allowed range. This general rule is modified to take trends seriously and to require action to correct negative variances close to a milestone or completion.

Is a solution viable?
This third question looks at viability. Can you take action to resolve the variance for a sensible cost? Some issues are simply outside your control, such as changes in the exchange rate. Risk planning and mitigation may have been able to minimize the issue in the past, but if you need the import this month, for example, you have no option but to pay the current price. 

Other situations are simply not worth the cost. There is no point in spending US$10,000 to correct a -US$5,000 variance. However, this decision has to take into account any effect on the client and your organization’s reputation. Cost overruns are generally internal, whereas late delivery and quality issues may have a significant reputational cost, affecting stakeholder perceptions.

Where a viable option exists to correct negative variances, corrective and preventative actions need to be planned, prioritized and implemented.  There is no point wasting time on a controls system that does not generate effective controlling actions.  

Closing Thoughts
I’ll leave you with two final thoughts. First, don’t forget about positive variances. Similar questions need to be asked in order to amend the plan to lock in gains. If your supplier is going to deliver some equipment three weeks ahead of schedule, can you reorganize the plan to make sure the installers are available three weeks sooner? If this is viable, make sure it happens in order to lock in a three-week gain. If you fail to take action, the installers will turn up on schedule and the gain generated by your supplier will be lost.

Second, implementing corrective and preventative actions requires the resources working on the project to do something different. Variances don’t correct themselves, and simply telling someone to catch up is unlikely to have any effect. Sensible management action, decisions and leadership are needed to physically change the situation so there is a correction in the way work is performed. This is a core skill of every effective manager.

I’d love to know: How do you deal with variances in your projects? Please share below.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: August 23, 2019 04:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

3 Ways to Balance The Delivery Ecosystem

 

 

 

by Kevin Korterud

 

Once upon a time, projects were just projects. They were simple, had small teams and quite often finished on time. Projects were viewed as a path to operational improvements that reduce manual labor and free up people for other tasks.

 

As time marched on, the notion of a project began to increase in scale and complexity. Technology projects, for example, began as modest hardware and software initiatives. Over time, the technology project landscape has changed to include network, servers and cloud infrastructure. Software projects began growing into systems, software packages and complete end-to-end solutions.

 

As the quantity and business focus of project work increased, they became packaged into programs. Programs were created to help orchestrate myriad projects into cohesive outcomes. These were governed by an expanding slate of waterfall methods designed to both enable and oversee delivery.

 

With the advent of agile, a different form and pace emerged. Product delivery moved toward quicker and more frequent outputs, with delivery cadence driven by what an organization believed was best for customers and consumers.  

 

Today, organizations have a delivery ecosystem of project, program and product delivery work based on internal and external dynamics. As the ecosystem changes over time, the balance of projects, programs and products does as well.

 

With project, program and product delivery all moving in different directions and at different speeds, how can an organization prevent these efforts from crashing into each other? Here is an approach I follow to help define, oversee and enhance the natural delivery ecosystem:

 

  1. Define the Ecosystem   

First, ensure that definitions are in place. These should be clear and concise portrayals of the work to be performed. Having these definitions commonly understood will go a long way in matching the correct policies, processes, controls and people to the form of work.

 

Here are some sample definitions:

 

  • Projects are work efforts that reflect process and system interactions with fixed durations to complete. They contain teams that form and disband, have a budget under $10 million and last under a calendar year.

 

  • Programs are packages of projects intended to contribute to a common business with a budget of over $10 million and that last longer than a calendar year.

 

  • Products reflect process/system-to-consumer interactions with delivery cadence based on dynamic market needs. They have a mutually agreed-upon spend, typically employ agile methods and employ a continuous team that improves delivery efficiency over time.

 

These definitions also serve to identify the portfolio proportion of these different types of work, which helps determine the right people and supporting structures for success.

 

The ecosystem can change and flow to meet the needs of organizations, market forces, suppliers and people. Given this ebb and flow, one practical reality of this ecosystem is that any one form of project, program and product work cannot exist as 100% of the work.

 

2. Govern the Ecosystem  

Any delivery ecosystem left to its own resorts will result in chaos with teams having different perceptions of how project, program and product delivery  should be executed. This chaos will result in delays, additional costs and sometimes stalemates as teams negotiate over the execution of work efforts.

 

There needs to be balancing forces in place that help direct delivery. A delivery ecosystem governance model sets the boundaries for delivery work from ideation into formation and through execution. The governance model implements policies, processes and enabling artifacts that create predictable and repeatable attainment of desired results. This governance model is typically overseen by an enterprise delivery management office.

 

For example, one process within this model sets the venue to identify, confirm and release for execution the proper delivery process for a type of work. A portfolio review board based on input from the sponsor would analyze the characteristics of the work and determine whether it is a project, program or product. The outcomes from this portfolio review board promote consistency, ensure impartiality and avoid costly re-work due to poor decision-making.  

 

  1. Harmonize and Improve the Ecosystem

Even an effective delivery ecosystem needs to have a “tune-up” every once in a while. As changes in business strategy, support for new regulations, market expansions and technical innovations come into play, the delivery ecosystem needs to change accordingly. These drive the need for a function to continuously harmonize and improve the delivery ecosystem. An EDMO will be the primary vehicle to both harmonize and improve the delivery ecosystem within an organization.

 

Improvements can include initiatives to reduce mobilization time, avoid resource contention and improve supplier integration. These initiatives are universal in nature and can be consistently applied to improve project, program and product delivery.   

 

With the increased complexity of work and differing approaches for projects, programs and products, you need a means of harmonization to prevent misalignments, conflicts and collisions between work efforts. Harmonization processes can include release, dependency, data integration and test environment management.  

 

Embrace the New Normal

Organizations need to recognize and embrace the different forms of delivery that are now the new normal. By adopting a structured approach to the definition, oversight and enablement of projects, programs and products, they can be delivered in a synergistic manner to lower costs while improving time to market and quality. 

 

How do you balance the project, program and product initiatives at your company to avoid weather problems?

 

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 08, 2019 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

How to Lean In—and Thrive—in Project Management

By Jen Skrabak, PMP, PfMP

Over nearly two decades in project management, I’ve learned a number of strategies to make my voice heard and advance in my career. Much of that success has come by “leaning in,” as Sheryl Sandberg advocates.

As a woman in project management, I believe the following are key:

  1. Show grit. Demonstrate courage, show your perseverance and never give up in the face of obstacles. Know that it’s a multi-year journey, and you must demonstrate the passion to achieve your long-term goals as a leader in project management.
  2. Be the best. Knowledge, skills, abilities—you need to consistently demonstrate that you’re the best, and not be afraid to speak up and show it. Throughout my career, I have always assessed gaps in my knowledge or experience, and actively worked to close them. For example, although I started in IT, I wanted to transition to the business side to lead business transformation programs. I actively sought out progressive assignments by building a track record of successful projects that became larger in scope and team size with each project, until I achieved my goal of an enterprise-wide program impacting hundreds of thousands of users.
  3. Execute flawlessly. Execution is an art, not a science, and it requires creativity, impeccable organization, exceptional communication and most of all, follow-through. Many of these skills are intuitive in women, and the key is to understand that execution requires the leadership of large teams through four stages:
    1. Awareness: Create the right “buzz” around the project.
    2. Understanding: Teams need to understand their role and how their actions fit into the larger picture.
    3. Acceptance: Teams need to accept the message or change by changing their behavior and taking the appropriate action.
    4. Commitment: To demonstrate true commitment, teams should help champion the message throughout the organization.
  4. Build confidence and trust. Multiple studies support the notion that women are not only better at assessing risk, they are also better at guiding actions and decisions accordingly. Women should use this natural decision-making ability and risk management expertise to build confidence and trust as project leaders.
  5. Communicate clearly and concisely. Keep communications rooted in data and facts, not based on subjective information or personal preferences. Women in leadership roles tend to rate themselves lower than men on key attributes such as problem solving, influencing and delegating, and rate themselves higher than men on supporting, consulting and mentoring. How much time are you spending on communicating the right messages and influencing to gain commitment to your viewpoints versus supporting others?

International Women’s Day is March 8, and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter. Please share your thoughts on how we celebrate the achievement of women while we continue to strive for balance for women socially, economically and culturally around the world.

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: March 05, 2019 10:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

What’s Holding Women Back in Project Management?

By Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP

As a woman who’s worked for the past 18-plus years in project, program and portfolio management, as well as building and leading enterprise project management offices for Fortune 500 companies, I wanted to address the topic of women in project management.

In the United States, women hold 38 percent of manager roles, according to a study conducted by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org. And while women have made gains in some STEM fields, particularly healthcare and life sciences, they are underrepresented in many others. U.S. women hold 25 percent of computer jobs, and just 14 percent of those in engineering, according to the Pew Research Center.

In project management, as in other professions, women earn less than men. For project managers in the United States, men earn an average US$11,000 more annually than women, according to PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey.

Historically, women have been pigeonholed in project administrative or project coordination roles instead of project management roles, and the key question is “Why?”

We’ve all heard that we need to “think differently,” and as Sheryl Sandberg advocated in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, women need to raise their hands, project confidence, be at the table and physically lean in to make themselves heard. The dictionary definition of “lean in” means to press into something. So when faced with an overwhelming force such as wind, you need to lean toward the force rather than away in order to not be blown away. 

“Lean in” can be a metaphor for asserting yourself as a leader in project management. As women, we may be held back by self-doubt, our speaking voice or body language that conveys a lack of self-confidence. The advice here is not limited to women; people of color can “lean in,” too.

There are three key cognitive biases that may hold women back in project management. The key is to recognize that these exist, and work to build awareness while overcoming them:

  1. Affinity Bias: We naturally like people who are like us, including those who are the same gender or ethnicity. Men tend to be over-represented in leadership positions and in industries where project management predominates, such as IT, engineering, manufacturing and construction. It is natural that men would prefer to work with and report to people like themselves.  
  2. Inter-Group Bias: This can occur with many groups, such as people from a certain geography (cities or regions), university, culture or other characteristics such as an interest in sports. We naturally feel an instant connection to people with whom we share the same background or a common characteristic, versus those with whom we don’t have anything in common.
  3. Confirmation Bias: A widely held belief is that women appear to not be as confident as men. And when people believe this, they embrace information or experiences that confirm that belief. Research has shown that women are usually expected to be nice and warm, instead of assertive, direct and confident.

By understanding and recognizing these biases, we can work to defeat them. I’ll explore these topics more in my next post, which will coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8. How do you combat biases in the workplace?

Posted by Jen Skrabak on: February 25, 2019 11:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)
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"One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."

- Bertrand Russell

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