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
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Past Contributers:

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

Recent Posts

Find Purpose to Unlock Exceptional Performance

What is project success?

Predicting Performance: There Must Be a Better Way

Driving Diversity of Perspective

The Advantages of the Hybrid Project Manager

Machine Learning Isn’t Magic

Categories: Innovation, IT, Lessons Learned, ROI

By Christian Bisson, PMP

Machine learning is one of today’s hottest tech topics.

It’s essentially a type of artificial intelligence (AI) in which you give your software the ability to “learn” based on data. For example, you probably notice how YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and many other companies suggests videos or products you should check out. These suggestions are based on your previous online actions, or those of other people deemed “similar” to you.

For some time now I’ve been working on projects that involve this technology. We often have clients who want machine learning even though they do not know if it’s even relevant to them. Since “everyone is doing it,” they want to do it too.

Calibrating a project sponsor’s expectations is often a good idea. While the automated services generated through machine learning may seem magical, getting to that point involves challenges—and a lot of work.

1. It needs quality data.

The machine will learn using the data it has being given—that data is the crucial starting point. The data that’s available is what drives how the machine will evolve and what added value machine learning can bring to your project/product. For example, if you are trying to teach the machine to recognize vehicles on images it scans, and all you can teach it with are images of small cars, you are not set up for success. You need a better variety of images.

The machine’s ability to learn is directly tied to the quality of the data it encounters.

2. It needs lots of data.

Once you have quality data, you need it in high quantities. If you can only provide the machine with the website behaviors of, say, hundreds of users per month, don’t expect it to have enough information to be able to recommend the best products based on user trends. Its sample will be too little to be able to be accurate.

3. It needs to be tested continually.

Once you have the necessary data, the journey is not over. The machine may learn on its own, but it’s learning based on how it was built and with the data it’s being fed. There is always room for improvement.

4. It’s costly.

As amazing as machine learning is, it is not cheap. So keep an eye on your project’s budget. Machine learning experts can command high salaries, and there is a lot of effort involved with researching the best approach—creating the models, training them, testing them, etc. Make sure the ROI is worth it.

Have you had a chance to work on a project involving machine learning? What challenges have you faced?

Posted by Christian Bisson on: July 14, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

This Much I Know Is True

I don’t have a classic project management background, so I spend a lot of time thinking about ways non-traditional project managers can offer up great ideas to people with more traditional backgrounds. 

Sometimes I find that easy. 

Sometimes I find that rather difficult.

I also spend a great deal of time trying to push people past conventional wisdom. 

Again, sometimes that is easy, but most of the time it is incredibly difficult. 

This got me thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about this month: While the truth remains the same, the interpretation of the truth can change. 

What does that mean to project managers? A lot, actually. 

Here are a couple of the things we have always felt were true and how they can be interpreted differently. 

1. Project management is about implementation. As my 8-year-old son might say, “True! True!”

The reality is that project management is about implementation of a project plan with a desired outcome in mind. 

Yet, as we have seen general business matters change, we have also seen that project managers aren’t just involved in implementation — they’re also involved in strategy. 

How is this possible?

Because we don’t just do things, we also have to be in touch with the skills and desires of the organization and our teams. 

This means we do need to implement. But as much as we implement things, we also have to have business acumen that will allow us to offer up ideas, be confident in our ability to think strategically and drive our team toward the results. 

Like improv comedy, a project manager is all about the “yes, and…” 

2. A project manager’s most important skill is communication.

Communication is likely the most important skill for anyone today. But, for project managers, it’s not simply about communication, but communication that enables people to set priorities and take action.. 

Let me explain. 

Poor communication has stopped more projects from being effective than any other thing in project history. 

But good communication alone won’t fix every issue. Sometimes communication isn’t the real issue — instead it’s about also doing the right things. 

That’s why we need great communication in service of doing the right things and getting things done. Communication is key, but communication without commitment to the right things is the real issue. 

The idea that communication and implementation are super important is still true, but why they are true is up for debate. 

What do you think? 

BTW, if you like this blog, why don't you get my Sunday newsletter. There I focus on business acumen, value, and leadership...along with under ideas. If you'd like to get it, drop me a line at Dave@davewakeman.com with "newsletter" in the subject line. 

Posted by David Wakeman on: June 25, 2018 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Harnessing Bathroom Brilliance

by Lynda Bourne

Do really good ideas pop into your mind at the most inconvenient moments, like when you’re in the middle of taking a shower? This flash of bathroom brilliance presents two problems:

  • There’s no one to share it with (at least in our home).
  • There’s no practical way to record it (unless you take a wax crayon into the shower every day).

And typically, that flash of brilliance fades quickly and can be very difficult to reconstruct even a few minutes later. That may explain why Archimedes went running naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” following his flash of bathroom brilliance. This occurred when he discovered the relationship between volume and mass (density/buoyancy) by observing the change in water level as he entered his bath.

How can we unleash this kind of innate creativity on a regular basis and not just in the bathroom?

While everyone is different, there seems to be three key elements to being creative:

  1. Make sure you understand what needs to be solved. Most people jump straight into solution mode. Creative people spend the time needed to define and understand the problem without trying to impose a solution.
     
  2. Sleep on it. Allow time for your subconscious to work on the problem. It may take one or two weeks. This does not mean forgetting it, however. Set up reminders to keep prodding your creative ideas toward a resolution, whether they are notes you look at a couple of times a day, or a whiteboard with the issue drawn or sketched out. Adding notes and possible concepts keeps your subconscious focused. Remember: You need to stay relaxed and open during this period — stress kills creativity.

 

  1. Make room for quiet time in your day. This allows flashes of brilliance to move from the subconscious into your conscious mind. The key seems to be doing some enjoyable function such as showering or walking, where 90 percent of what you’re doing is automatic and run by your subconscious brain. At the same time, stop worrying about other things, so your conscious mind is just being present.

    Then you have the real problem: finding a way to capture the ideas before they fade back into your subconscious. Carrying around a notebook or downloading a recording function on your smartphone can work if you are enjoying a pleasant stroll through a park.

Now, think about your teams and how you work with them to develop creative solutions. Do you call them into a room, dump the problem on them, demand a brainstorming session right there and then wonder why it doesn’t work? Or, do you socialize the problem first, ask people to think about it and discuss it with each other offline, and then call the meeting to see what’s been developed? 

Creativity needs space, time and freedom from pressure. This is the antithesis of most modern work environments where people work in a high-pressure job and are constantly inundated with a stream of “stuff” via technology.

How can you make the time to be relaxed, creative and successful? 

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: June 07, 2018 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Can Frogs Be Stakeholders?

by Linda Agyapong

"Who" really is a stakeholder?

I enjoy breaking down some of the buzzwords in project management.

In my previous post, we looked at “project success” vs. “project management success.”

Today I’d like to focus on “stakeholder”—one of the most buzzworthy terms.

For this discussion, let’s check in with our three favorite project managers: Jim, Mary and Alex. They have been tasked with a major construction project in Europe. On the first day of their kickoff meeting, as they were documenting their project charter, they got stuck because the three of them could not agree on identifying all the stakeholders for the project.

Turns out the targeted site for the construction project had a natural habitat for a specific kind of protected species—the moor frog.

Jim and Mary jointly agreed that moor frogs should never be considered as stakeholders of the project—after all, they were not humans. But Alex maintained that they should be considered as stakeholders because the frogs would either be significantly affected by the project, or they would significantly affect the project.

Alex then explained that the classic definition of a stakeholder—from the legendary business theorist R. Edward Freeman—did not segregate animals from humans, nor living things from non-living things. In his award-winning book, Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, Mr. Freeman defined a stakeholder as “any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives.” He subsequently clarified that this definition can be expanded further to cover anything that the organization significantly affects, or is significantly affected by it.

Alex added that the very issue had been argued in the journal article Project Temporalities: How Frogs Can Become Stakeholders by Kjell Tryggestad, Lise Justesen and Jan Mouritsen. These authors took the stance that the natural habitat of the frogs provided some benefits to people in the community, such as via food, recreation or entertainment. Because of that value, the moor frogs should be classified as stakeholders.

Robert A. Phillips and Joel Reichart argued the opposite in their article, The Environment as a Stakeholder? A Fairness-Based Approach. They said that this natural habitat cannot be classified as a stakeholder because, “only humans are capable of generating the necessary obligations for generating stakeholder status.” Their basis was that stakeholders can only impact a project when they “make themselves known as part of the empirical process to develop the project.”

Tryggestad, Justesen and Mouritsen, however, advised that non-living things could be actors of the project if they make a visible difference within the project, such as significantly impacting any of the triple constraints of the project (namely time, cost and scope). Their rationale was that “an actor does not act alone. It acts in relation to other actors, linked up with them.” The frogs were then considered to be “an entity entangled in a larger assemblage consisting of both humans and non-humans.” At the end of their research, the frogs were classified as actors or stakeholders of the construction project.

To bring it home, Alex calmly advised his colleagues that the frogs have peacefully lived in that part of the community for several years. To avoid incurring the residents’ wrath, they should classify frogs as stakeholders and subsequently make the necessary arrangements to appease the community accordingly.

In the end, Jim and Mary unanimously agreed to this great suggestion.

I encourage you to think outside the box to identify all the potential stakeholders for your upcoming projects. Good luck!

Posted by Linda Agyapong on: May 23, 2018 05:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Calling All Trend Surfers

Categories: Innovation, PMI EMEA 2018

by Cyndee Miller

Innovation has an odd rep, tied to a rather romanticized notion that it rests with only a small cadre of some bleeding-edge R&D types.

That’s just not how it plays out in today’s hyper-competitive world, though.

Innovation must become an “all-the-time, everywhere capability,” said author Rowan Gibson, the opening keynote speaker for PMI EMEA Congress. “It must become a corporate way of life.”

Absolutely. But how do you actually do that?

“We have to become trend surfers,” he said, people who make change work for them rather than against them.

So, project management friends, Mr. Gibson has a big question for you: “Are you up there riding these waves of change? Or are you lying on the beach waiting for the tsunami to hit you?”

Don’t get swept away. Trend surfers know they have to go with flow, not stay chained to the past.

“What if the dominant conventions in your field, market or industry are outdated, unnecessary or just plain wrong,” he said.

That leaves you oblivious to new ways of thinking—the kind of thinking that could very well end up changing the whole project landscape.

The world’s largest taxi company doesn’t own a single cab. The world’s largest retailer doesn’t stock a single product. “Ten years ago this type of business model would have been unfathomable,” Mr. Gibson said.

That’s not only possible. Uber and Alibaba have made it reality.

It’s not just the upstarts. Every company has core competencies and strategic assets. They just need to figure out how they can repurpose those resources into new growth opportunities. Disney, for example, wasn’t content with only having its live characters and shows taking a starring role at its theme parks. They used those skills to create a cruise ship model, a travel agency and even some smash Broadway hits.

“Most companies don’t do this,” Mr. Gibson said. “Most companies define themselves by what they do—we’re a bank, we’re a software company, we’re a supermarket—rather than by what they know.”

They’re missing out by not connecting the dots between their competencies and their customers.

“Innovators search for unsolved problems and unmet needs or wants,” said Mr. Gibson, pointing to the lowly paint can. The heavy, hard-to-carry and even-harder-to-use object hadn’t been redesigned since its debut. Paint manufacturer Dutch Boy launched a project to redesign the container in a way that put the customer first. Their new paint “can” is made of plastic, and has a screw top, a handle for carrying and a spout for pouring. “In just six months, the new package tripled their sales and tripled the number of retail outlets stocking their product.”

To move ideas from mind to market, make it about the customer—not rules and regulations. This may be a rough one for project managers in the thick of the action on innovation projects. But ideas need time to grow, so try not to impose too stringent of a process.

Are you ready to ride the wave?

Posted by Cyndee Miller on: May 07, 2018 12:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
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